Saturday, December 10, 2011

The Game of Thrones, The Boardgame


Some time ago I discovered George r.r. Martin in connection with his novel The Armageddon Rag. The book was considered an out-of-print secret gem and sounded exotic and mysterious. I eventually tracked the book down and over time read most of Martin's work. He's been a prolific writer with a lot of talent but little visibility until quite recently. Now, of course, his Game of Thrones series has received lots of exposure through its presence on HBO and the franchise has generated a number of games.

Which is to say what a fiction-forward person I am, Heh.

I actually find the Game of Thrones series to be self indulgently lengthy and the body count amongst the main characters eventually makes you distance yourself from any emotional investment in the story. Further, it seems like each critical event in the book is accompanied by one or more characters displaying jarring intervals of carelessness or stupidity which allow hugely telegraphed traps and treacheries to take away yet another likable character.

Back to the games. I got a chance to play the Game of Thrones boardgame several times recently and it's a lot of fun, perhaps even more fun for someone who dislikes the books. In the game you take the roles of one of the warring factions in the game world. Your job is to conquer a good portion of the island of Westeros and prevent your opponents from doing the same. Much of the game mechanic is similar to Risk- you move tokens representing armies around the board and, generally speaking, larger armies defeat smaller ones and take territory. Like Risk, the GoT boardgame features some diplomacy as you try and convince your neighbor to leave you alone or expand in some other direction and eventually some backs are going to get stabbed when these little deals go awry.

The GoT boardgame expands on Risk in a few ways. Players have combat cards that add to their fighting strength. Some cards are better than others but you need to use them all before using any given card again. Thus, you have to decide whether to use a great card or wait for a more important battle later, and your opponent is doing the same. Further, there are several decks of event cards that impose random restrictions or cause game events to take place. The cards don't unbalance the game once you know what they can do- you simply accept a bit of chaos into your plans and sometimes even hope for it.

I enjoyed the GoT boardgame immensely. The combination of diplomacy, strategy, and luck is well balanced. Each faction has some strengths and interesting playing qualities. If you like the books then it's exciting to pretend to be one of the Starks or Lannisters. If you dislike the books it's equally fun, I'm not sure why. Maybe because it's fun to poke at such a serious and humorless series.

The only possible drawback to the game is that once you start falling behind I don't think there's much of a chance to catch up or have a huge effect on the game. The players may pile on the leader and a new leader will emerge but it's unlikely to be a player who's lost a lot to start with. If you're going to play GoT then you have to be OK with the possibility that you'll spend an hour or two losing, or at least definitely not winning. For some people that can be demoralizing, myself for example.

I think the Game of Thrones boardgame is a great choice for people looking for a longer game with lots of players that combines military strategy and diplomacy. Basically, if you want to move on from Risk this is a great choice.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Star Trek Deck Building Game- not a big hit


In the years following the release of Dominion I've been on the lookout for a deck building game that was a well crafted and also carried more of a compelling theme. Up to now I've been pretty unimpressed by what's on the market. When the Star Trek Deckbuilding game was released I thought this could be the game to purchase. I got a chance to play it recently and I walked away happy to not own it.

In the Star Trek Deckbuilding Game you start the game with a small starship and a few crew members. Over time you can add functions to your ship, add crew, and eventually replace your ship with a more powerful model. The game has several scenarios- we played a cooperative one in which we had to defeat the Borg. Most of the game mechanics were familiar enough and we started play quickly. I'm going to skip the mechanical details and just move to my impressions.

My chief concern with the game is that I never felt like I was able to steer how my deck was developing. Players have a good assortment of cards to choose from but the abilities of the cards are often so specific as to make them of limited use when they crop up again in the game. Further, the game "currency" ran out midway through our game and on about one third of our turns we found we couldn't buy any cards even if we wanted to. That felt very odd.

The designers certainly tried to add theme to the game. Players can "explore," they can upgrade their ship's crew or engage in space battles. Sadly, little of this is easily directed so it all feels a bit random. I never felt like I was choosing whether to have an "exploring" deck or a "combat" deck. Each turn just seemed to be "well, what can I afford?"

The entire experience reminded me of Ascension. Both games feature "factions" and in both cases cards within a faction will help other cards of the same faction. And in both games I rarely was able to string together useful combinations of cards or use faction abilities in synchronicity.

I was pretty disappointed with the Star Trek Deckbuilding game. I had hoped for a good combination of theme and gameplay and this game does not deliver. Unlike Fleet Captains I can't even imagine Trek fans enjoying this game simply for it's Trekishness. I suppose the one perk to this game is that it makes me want to try Fleet Captains again.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Twilight Imperium- At Last!


No matter what sort of store you like to shop in there are basically cheap items, typical items, and then a few over-the-top and absurdly expensive items. You may buy a six pack of Sam Adams every week and always glance musingly at the $100 bottle of champagne, for example. I've been shopping at gaming store now for thirty years or so and there have always been certain games that fall into the same category. Games so large and expensive that they are only purchased by the elite gamer, the ultra hard core gamer. For me the epitome of that sort of game has been Twilight Imperium. The cover art is superb. The box is gigantic, it seems to weigh fifty pounds. I never met a person who had purchased it or played it or even looked in the box. At the same time it's in its third edition, so Someone must be playing it. Well this weekend that someone was me.

Joking aside, Twilight Imperium (TI) is a game well known for its complexity, number of components and playing time. I got a chance to play it at Vermont's Carnage gaming convention. Suffice it to say that TI actually surpasses its hype. It's a terrific monster of a game. I don't think I could easily describe the game mechanic in any detail. In brief, players manage an alien civilization that is part of a huge galactic organization. They take turns making decisions regarding their race and accumulating victory points for various achievements. The player with the most points wins the game.

The beauty of TI is that there are dozens of ways to rack up victory points, including exploring space, fighting and conquering, trade, technological development, and politics. This game is about as open ended as any boardgame I have ever played. It's a trade boardgame, it's a miniatures space battle game, it's an exploring game and a civilization development game. Each player can direct their race in the way they see fit and play by the style that suits them best. I don't think I can imagine another boardgame with that degree of flexibility- ironically Race for the Galaxy comes close.

That being said, one could imagine that the price you pay for that design is insane complexity but the rules for TI are, well, not insanely complex at least. It's not well suited for rank beginners but people comfortable with boardgames can be playing comfortably fairly quickly. At our recent game I started play sleep deprived and sick and still picked up on play within about a turn.

Finally, everything about this game screams quality of design. The art is fantastic. The alien races are well conceived. The rules and "color" writing is top notch. After three editions the publishers have ironed out this game and produced a fabulous product well worth the price.

The only caveat to TI is really the playing time required. I suspect a full game is a ten hour affair. Certainly not a dull ten hours but ten hours nonetheless. This is not going to be played every month unless you have a certain lifestyle not featuring, say, work and children.

I would whole heartedly recommend Twilight Imperium for gamers who enjoy science fiction and have some time to play. The rules could be managed by interested teens and the victory options allow all sorts of playing styles to lead to success. Truly an epic and amazing game!

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Star Trek Fleet Captains- Pricey Nostalgia


I was a Star Trek fan growing up and suffered at the time from feeling like only myself and twenty other people knew how great Trek was. I would search through issues of The Monster Times or Creepy magazine for any mention of the show and once made it in to the Federation Trading Post in Manhattan- the first store dedicated to Trek and one that would fit into my living room today. So let me tell you- Kids These Days just don't know how good they have it. You can barely throw a stone in a game store now and not hit a Trek related product. But how many of these products are worth a look?

Star Trek Fleet Captains (FC) is a new game from Wizkids. I got a chance to give it a go a week ago. In the game the players control Klingon or Federation ships and cruise the galaxy having Trek-esque adventures. For example, you might have to prevent a civil war, add a new race to your stellar empire, or test a new warp drive. Success gets you victory points. You will also have a set of ongoing missions which can be finished at any time during the game for extra victory points. Some missions are combat oriented while others involve exploring a certain number of areas or some other peaceful task. Players can attack other player's ships and that may fulfill a victory condition or simply prevent your opponent from completing one of theirs. The winner player or team is the first to accumulate a set number of victory points.

On the positive side the game manages to include missions and characters from all the Trek series' very well. It's almost like you're playing out lost episodes that were never broadcast but could have been. I think the writers really grasped what makes a Trek adventure and that comes through beautifully in the game.

On the negative side I found the degree of luck in the game to be a bit much. Unless you spend valuable time "scanning" before moving you stand some risk of driving into a black hole while adventuring and losing a ship. Many of the encounters are also so difficult as to be close to impossible and may result in the loss or crippling of one of your ships. Finally, players may have special cards in their hand which can drastically alter an encounter which you may have spent some time in setting up.

This last issues touches on the heart of the problem with FC. The game has miniature spaceships and there are space battles but it's really not a miniatures game. I wouldn't tolerate a minis game with the amount of randomness that FC has. On the other hand, boardgames like Talisman and even Race for the Galaxy have a good amount of chance and are still lots of fun. One approach to FC is to keep on repeating "Not a minis game" to yourself as you play and instead see it as Talisman version of Star Trek.

That being said, the game is quite expensive because it does include lots of plastic miniatures and a modular space playing board. You end up spending a good amount on minis for this non-minis game. And, as with Talisman, you have to decide if you can tolerate lots of chance in a game. The rules could be a bit less ambiguous as well and players may have to make some on the spot decisions regarding gameplay.

Star Trek Fleet Captains has some good things going for it. It's terrific fun as a Trek simulation and fans will recognize the affection and care that went into it's design. The rules are simple and the game is playable by new gamers and teens alike. At the same time it's expensive and minis gamers may want to consider one of the many alternate Trek miniatures games available. I think a player who doesn't love the show will find it a pleasant diversion but this game is clearly aimed towards the fan.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Quarriors- Rolling Dice is Fun


I recently tried to pick up some games that might be fun to play with my wife and potentially other friends who are not intense games. One game I thought to try is Quarriors.

Quarriors is a new game published by WizKids and it came with a lot of positive and negative buzz. I picked it up because it looked light and simple and a good choice for a two player game with the wife. Quarriors is a "deck building" game. Instead of building a deck of cards you play with dice. Players start with a small selection of dice and each turn they draw six randomly from bag and roll them. At first the dice simply give you game money with which you can "buy" a fantasy creature of some sort- a dragon, or wizard, or warrior for example. Once you buy a "dragon" you place a dragon die in you bag and it becomes part of your supply. As you can imagine as you add dragons, oozes, and witch dice to your bag you increase your chances of rolling those dice when you draw your random six. If you draw a dragon die and roll well you can then "summon" a dragon to fight for you. If your dragon survives a round of combat you score points and the first person to score a set number of points wins.

The idea behind deck building games is that you add cards or dice to your supply that you think will be helpful in later turns. Then other players add things in their turns that might counter your choices or they might just follow their own strategies. Deck building games are great for people who like to shape their own strategies and fine tune their games. They can have huge replay value and prompt lots of deep strategy.

Quarriors uses dice instead of cards and that is the source of its great strength and its great weakness. Rolling dice is fun. In Quarriors you get to roll lots of them! Further, it's exciting to roll and hope to get lucky and summon powerful creatures. At the same time, it's frustrating to roll your dragon dice and not actually get any dragons because of bad luck. Serious deck building players dislike Quarriors because of the luck factor. The truth is that Quarriors is not a serious game and probably shouldn't be approached in the same spirit as one approaches, say, Dominion. Quarriors is fast, light, and not very strategic.

We've played Quarriors a few times now. My wife picked up on it in no time and she had a good time playing. I think we've had better times playing different games but probably each of those took twice as long to learn. So for now I think of Quarriors as a great introduction game for young players, as a good game for casual players or as a filler for experienced players. It's fast and colorful and not un-fun, but not the next big thing.

Blood Bowl Team Manager- Sports Fun!


Blood Bowl Team Manager is a game I've been looking at wistfully for a while now. Blood Bowl is a game in which fantasy creatures play a version of football against each other. I always thought it sounded like a lot of fun and also appealingly silly, as it features all manner of fierce monsters dressed up in pads and throwing a ball around in a medieval stadium. I never got the chance to play Blood Bowl but when the boardgame came on the market it sounded like a chance to get a taste of the experience without painting the miniatures and finding other players.

I got my first chance to play Team Manager tonight and this is one fun, simple game. Each player has a team of elves, dwarves, orcs, or what-not and has to help the team win a series of football games. The player's team's race may give it certain advantages- for example, orcs are great at tackling while elves are very speedy. In each game round there are a number of Blood Bowl games being played. Players can choose which games their teams will compete in and then take turns adding their players into the games. The winning team in a given game may get additional fans, special additional players, or some special bonus ability which can be used in future games. After five rounds of play the team with the most fans wins the game.

The strategy of Team Manager stems from deciding which game has the best rewards associated with it and then allocating your players well. Orc players may look for chances to tackle weaker opponents, elf players may wait till some crucial moment and then unleash their towering tree-man. You may decide to add star players to your team or try and pump it up with bonus powers an special abilities. The decision making is deep enough to be interesting but not intimidating.

The essence of Team Manager is that it's simple and, at heart, silly. The cover suggests some brutal and aggressive sports game but in reality it's quite goofy. This game features giant rats playing football. It features giant walking tree men playing football. This is not a serious game. The rules are brief and easy to learn. There is a decent amount of luck and while careful players will do well there is plenty of room for a casual player to walk away feeling satisfied. Probably my only complaint about the game is that the cover art could have been a little sillier.

That aside, this is a good fun game with lots of replay value. I'll be introducing it to my non-gaming friends and I think it'll be a hit. Certainly it's appropriate for teens and up and would be a fun family game as well.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

The Tragedy of Warhammer 40K

I recently bought a lot of miniatures for the Warhammer 40,000 game through Craigslist. A man was selling his son's collection because his son had stopped playing the game. I sent them through eBay and did alright but walked away with the sense that Warhammer 40K is just a tragic game.

For one, I can't count how many times I've purchased from parents who got their kids piles of 40K miniatures and watched as the child lost interest and moved on. In my hobby of historical and fantasy miniatures you Never give away your minis. You play Basic Dungeons and Dragons and WRG at age 14 and then thirty years later you've played Warhammer Ancient Battles, Hail Caesar, Songs of Blades and Heroes and, well, Dungeons and Dragons with the exact same figures. As my friend William once said, "Games come and go but minis are forever." But pity the poor 40K army, it seems to have a lifespan of a few years at best.

Then what's worse is that the value of the pieces drops by about 70% the moment you open the box. It's astounding how little you can get for a miniature that retails for $60 on the shelf. I might expect as little as 10$ for some items. There's something just sad about a $45 Dreadnaught that sells for less than the price of a plate of Pad Thai. Poor thing!

I know many older Warhammer 40K players so this is not meant to be a universal, but this game just seems designed to be purchased by hopeful dads for their sons to play and then forget a few years later, and then for the sad neglected army to be sold cut rate online. Harumph! My son is going to inherit a thousand lovingly preserved lead soldiers and if he has a mind to (time will tell) he'll be able to put them on the field of battle and rack up more battle honours. And if he has better things to do, as crazy as that sounds, the troops will have a lively time playing on someone else's table, not languishing in the dusty corner of eBay.

Railways of the World- Rail Fun


Since moving to rural New Hampshire I've become more aware of railways. This is in part because this area has many scenic rail bridges and lines, and in part because a freight train goes through our back yard every night at 2 AM. So the Train Game which seemed quite esoteric in suburban Boston is much more a part of our lives.

This week I played Railways of the World. This is quite a sizable game and allows you to build and manage a rail line. Railways is different from Ticket to Ride in that it actually simulates a railway business, as opposed to Ticket which is a sort of 3 dimensional Gin Rummy. I personally find Ticket to be terrific fun, so how was a more realistic simulation? Happily it was a great game as well. In Railways you take out loans and then use the money to lengthen rail lines or improve your trains. You can then deliver freight to various cities and make money. Upgraded trains can travel along longer rail routes and players make more money with progressively longer distance deliveries. The game becomes a balancing act between making sure to borrow enough to build your line effectively and not borrowing so much that your debt cripples you for the rest of the game. There are some other elements at play to make each game slightly different but that's the basic premise.

Railways of the World is a fun challenge. You have to manage your funds, make a long term plan, and pay attention to where freight and markets are located. None of the game elements are terribly complicated but an organized player with a vision is going to do well. The map is very pretty and it's quite satisfying to create your rail empire and watch it in action. The game moves quickly and there is minimal waiting time between players.

One caveat I found with the game is that it does take 90-120 minutes to play and once you fall behind it may be difficult or impossible to catch up. I'm sure a skilled player could do it but family members and younger folks may find this frustrating. I think this makes Railways best suited for people who are present to spend time together and also play a game, rather than people who are there to play and win and only by coincidence talk and socialize. This game has a potential to be frustrating if you're a bad or impatient loser.

As with many contemporary games there is also the question of whether this is actually fun. For whatever reason I thought it was fun to manage a rail empire while I found managing a power station empire left me cold. Still, it's worth considering whether this train game is right for Your family. Unlike Ticket, Railways is pretty clearly a rail simulation. For the right people it's a great deal of fun and a nice looking game.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Magazine Followup- Wargames, Soldiers, et al


A few months ago I listened to an interview with the editors of Wargames, Soldiers and Strategy (WSS). They explained that their business plan was to produce a magazine that catered to the historical gamer, but primarily in the aspect of gaming. Thus, rather that presenting extensive historical background the magazine would get right to the play itself. At that time I had read the first of the new issues and found it decent but not remarkable.

With the second of the new series WSS has become a very exciting magazine that delivers exactly what it promised. This month's issues has so many good qualities I don't even know where to start. For starters, WSS has developed a distinctive editorial voice. In the majority of articles I feel like I'm chatting with an upbeat enthusiastic chap (heh) who loves gaming in the same way I do- a bloke (and yes, I'm loving the British terms) who likes a fun, friendly game where the object is a relaxed afternoon with friends rather than a cutthroat tournament battle ending in in an argument over obscure rules. The writers in WSS seem like people you'd want to hang out with.

Further, the theme of WSS is clearly that all miniatures gaming is fun and who wouldn't want to know about more periods, styles of gaming, scenarios, and hobby techniques? This month featured pieces about a pirate battle, a series of battles in the English Civil War, and a playtest of ancient battle rules. I'm left wanting to play pirates, ECW, and ancients! There's a review of a set of rules for a fantasy pirates campaign and news regarding new plastic War of the Roses figures. Well, I always did want a WotR army and fantasy pirates- sign me up!

Finally, WSS features a great selection of photos that are taken from personal collections of actual players. Many of the miniatures are of showcase quality but some are simply well done- well done enough to be inspiring in that I could do a similar job. Once again WSS is getting me excited about the hobby.

Now in reality I'm studying for a medical exam and will not be painting up pirates, pikemen, or men at arms anytime soon. Still, WSS is proving a very enjoyable magazine. I'm looking forward to the upcoming issues.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Commands and Colors Followup


I picked up a copy of Commands and Colors: Ancients a few years ago and maybe played it once. It was too much of a board game for the wargaming crowd and too much of a war game for the boardgamers. I recently unpacked it and gave it a run at Triple Play in NH for an ostensible miniature gaming night at which I had forgotten any actual miniatures.

In a game of C&C you move tiles around a board. Each group of tiles represents a party of soldiers- cavalry, bowmen, swordsmen, etc. The players have miniature battle on the board and the game supplies a variety of sample scenarios from history to play out.

C&C has several qualities that are really just charming. For one, it's fairly simple. I taught the rules in maybe fifteen minutes and we played with a minimum of time spent glancing back in the book for clarification. Further, it's fairly exciting. The players have a hand of random cards that determine what sort of orders they can give their troops. You may not have exactly the card you want and find yourself struggling to make the best of what fate has handed you. I don't like that mechanism for a game set in modern times but it's pretty fitting for an ancient battle.

Finally, as the above suggests, the game plays out fairly realistically. Even if you don't know the rules you can do well just by using good tactics. Or, if you do know the rules, you can learn good tactics by remembering what works best. I think it's rare to find a historical miniatures game that's both simple and realistic.

Of course, this isn't a miniatures game, it's a board game with wooden tiles. Except that industrious players could replace the tiles with miniature soldiers and the board with a hex marked cloth and voila! Miniatures game!

I would once again recommend Commands and Colors for anyone interested in ancient warfare. I think it's especially well suited for beginners and happily enough is also a challenge and pleasure for experienced gamers.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Megawatts- More Cerebral Eurofun


I got lucky and ended up settling near Triple Play Games in New Hampshire. Each week Triple Play hosts a board game night and I've been able to play oodles of new games. The plus side of this is getting to play weird but fun games like Chaos in the Old World. The downside is noticing a trend in some games towards clever rules that are increasingly disconnected from actual visceral fun.

Megawatts is part of the Power Grid line of games. In these games the players compete improve and enlarge their power plants and to provide power to more and more cities. Megawatts is set in Eastern Canada and allows you to serve Quebec, Montreal, and nearby areas. Other versions of the game cover other regions of the world, in a fashion similar to the Ticket to Ride line.

Play in Megawatts has several phases. Players bid on a random selection of power plants. Next the players buy resources which activate the plants and then claim areas of the board to serve. Each area that is successfully powered earns you money with which to buy better power plants, more resources, and serve more regions. The game combines a bidding mechanic which is fun enough with some basic math as you try and make sure you have enough money to purchase resources and expand your services.

Megawatts is fun. It's fun to bid well and plan your power empire. But I'm not sure it's any More fun than successfully saving and paying your real life taxes, or more fun than budgeting for your week and successfully having money left over for more games. So yes, there is the thrill of successfully completing a task, but is that task really entertaining per se? The success of the Power Grid line suggests that enough people find it plenty fun indeed but I'm feeling a certain failure in visceral enjoyment.

I think Megawatts is probably a great group game for people who enjoy an intellectual challenge. It is well designed and seems balanced. But creating the best power delivery structure seems to me to be even less thrilling than Airlines:Europe. In summary- a great system design but for me- lacking in narrative strength.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Dystopian Wars- Lovely Incoherent Fun


Some time ago Spartan Games out of the UK released Uncharted Seas, a fantasy naval combat game. I enjoyed Uncharted Seas- it was simple and fun. It did suffer from being set in a vaguely defined fantasy world that didn't provide enough gripping backstory to really pull you in. That, combined with pleasant but not incredible miniatures, left Uncharted Seas on the "yeah I should play that again some time..." table. Recently Spartan Games released Dystopian Wars, a semi-modern naval combat game. How does it fare in comparison?

Dystopian Wars (DW) is set in the early 20th century in some alternate "steam punk" universe. There are ships and planes but also giant robots, energy weapons, personal jetpacks, and super scientists living in a buried utopia in Antarctica. The backstory is completely jumbled and appears to be written by a committee of manatees holding science textbooks and atlases from the 1920s. It's improbable and not in the good way.

That being said, the game play is surprisingly... realistic. In a game of DW you marshal a force of tanks, blimps, ships and what-not and battle another player. In our trial games we used ships, dirigibles, and aircraft. The rules are simple and involve taking turns moving squadrons of vehicles and then firing. I hadn't read the rules carefully and so just tried to play as though I was commanding Napoleonic ships and Great War aircraft. The result was historically appropriate! DW rewards players who use careful formations and manage air and sea assets realistically. Granted there were few (well, zero, really) battles combining sail and torpedo bombers But if there had been then DW would simulate those encounters pretty closely. I think its a good sign when you can score well in a game not through knowing every small rule but rather by playing historically.

Further, Spartan Games has really stepped up their game in the miniatures department. The figures for DW and well crafted and designed, look good, and paint up well. These miniatures will look good when beginners paint them and they'll look great when good painters get at them. And at $50 or so for a usable force they're priced pretty well in the world of miniatures gaming.

I'm looking forward to playing more Dystopian Wars. While the backstory is loopy the product is affordable, of great quality, and fun to play.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Airlines: Europe- Great Family Game


If Chaos in the Old World touches one end of the gaming spectrum then Airlines Europe certainly hits the other. This is a very family friendly game designed by the fellow who brought us Ticket to Ride.

In Airlines Europe the players invest in airlines and then try and make their stocks as valuable as possible. The game has two mechanics. The first involves a board which resembles the Ticket to Ride boards. Players pay game money to add cities to a given airline's network. Each time an airline gets a new city it's value on the stock market increases. There are some simple rules governing adding new cities to an airline that result in some tough gaming decisions but the key here is that the rules are simple.

The second game mechanic in Airlines involves purchasing stocks. Players may opt in their turns to "buy stock" in an airline. You have a random selection of stocks to purchase so you may or may not be able to get the stock you want on the turn you want it. If you have the most stock in a given airline the you can score points and the player with the most points wins.

The game play end up with players trying to pump up the values of certain airlines and then desperately trying to buy that airline's stocks. Of course, once the players see an airline's value going up they will All try to buy that stock. What results is a very interactive game that rewards a player who can pay attention, make the most of the stock they can get, and make the most of the resources they have at hand.

Airlines has a lot going for it. It is very, very far from the group solitaire type of game- players really need to watch what their opponents are doing and buying. I liked the fact that you can slow down an opponent but never really demolish them. Thus, the game is competitive but not viciously so. Finally, it's surprisingly exciting for a game based on airline stocks.

That does touch on Airline's weakness. Unlike Chaos in the Old World, which is about a very dramatic process, Airlines is a little dry. As a gamer I enjoy it but I suspect that a typical 17 year old boy will gravitate to Chaos. Saying that this is the most exciting game of airline stocks I've ever played pretty much says it all- I would absolutely play it again and even buy it to play with genteel friends, but Airlines is a game for gamers.

In summary, I really enjoyed this game. I reminded me of Ticket to Ride (for good reason) and it shares Ticket's strengths and weaknesses. It's a great family or group game as long as the players have the interest.

Chaos in the Old World, Fun, but for Whom?

Do you sometimes wonder what it would be like to be an evil god of Chaos and compete with other evils gods to see who can destroy the world first? Well if you you then you probably wouldn't admit to it! But others have been pondering the question because Fantasy Flight Games' Chaos in the Old World allows you to find out.

The dilemma I face with Chaos is that the setting and background is pretty lurid. This is certainly not a game for young children and for same families it may be inappropriate for any aged player. I think the reason I find the game acceptable is that the story is so completely over-the-top that it becomes hard to take seriously. I find video games like Modern Warfare troubling because they seem to blur the line between fantasy and reality. Chaos falls more into the category of a Conan novel- taken literally it's quite inappropriate but something about the presentation just seems less troubling.

That being said, the game is set in the Warhammer universe's Old World. The players compete to corrupt and ruin areas using magical powers specific to whichever Chaos demon they are playing. They may fail as a group and the Old World survives to fight another day. Or they may succeed and one player will score the most points and win the game.

Given the lurid and colorful nature of this game one might wonder why it's worth mentioning. For one, it's a very well balanced and designed game. Each demon has special powers that make it very different in play. The players have many opportunities to oppose their competition and the game rewards people who pay attention rather than playing "group solitaire" as some modern games can run to. I enjoyed tthe game's narrative nature- you get the sense of an epic struggle sweeping across continents and lands. And finally, there are enough random events to ensure lots of replay value.

Secondly, Chaos is in the end a fun game to play. Many games have well designed rules. Chaos offers you an experience that is horrifying in reality but oddly entertaining on a game board. I would feel uncomfortable playing Pandemic (a game about global illness) and yet playing Nurgle, Demon God of Plague, was a hoot.

Chaos in the Old World is clearly not for everyone. I think it's a great choice for people who have already gamed in the Warhammer world. I think it's a fun game for older teens and adults who can separate game from reality and who don't find the game concepts deal breakers. So for that population this is a game well worth checking out.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Magazines! Wargames, Soldiers, and Strategy


I've found that there's as much or more gaming up here in rural New Hampshire than there was in the center of Boston. That's been a nice surprise but at the time of our move I thought I'd be completely out of the loop here in the big woods. For that reason I got some magazine subscriptions in order to keep in touch. They haven't been needed as a lone lifeline to civilization but they have been fun and worth mentioning.

The first magazine I picked up was Wargames, Soldiers, and Strategy (WSS). WSS has a complex history- it was originally a Spanish magazine which was imported to the United Kingdom and translated into English. British wargamers enjoyed the magazine but not enough to keep it in print and the Spanish publishers let it go. Dutch publishers then purchased the rights to the title and it returned to the shelves this year. I heard about it over the grapevine and it seemed like an interesting title to try.

WSS looks pretty promising one issue in. The editor's goal is to provide a magazine very much dedicated to gaming and the hobby behind it. As a result they feature columns by famous game designers Rick Priestley and Richard Clarke, very useful pieces on painting techniques and terrain construction, and a variety of gamine and campaign suggestions. The quality of the material is top notch and the photographs are stunning.

On a positive note WSS acts as a great source of inspiration for gamers. The technical articles were handy and the gaming material did it's job- it made me think, "wow, that could be a fun time period to try out." I hate buying a magazine and finding it packed full of advertising and WSS certainly delivers a good ratio of content to fluff.

I would like to see WSS develop more of an editorial voice. Issue 54 is good but a little generic. I like a magazine with it's own identity and "feel" to it. I'm hoping that future issues will begin to present material in a fashion that says "sure you can find reviews and articles online but you can only find them written in this appealing way here at WSS." I think the magazine has that potential and certainly with the high powered columnists they have on board I have every reason to be hopeful.

In summary, Wargames, Soldiers and Strategy is a gorgeous wargaming magazine that delivers a lot of inspiration and content for the dollar. I'm looking forward to the next issue. I got my subscription through On Military Matters.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Thunderstone Revisited


My wife and I sat down to give Thunderstone another try last weekend. Imagine my dismay when I discovered that I had been playing it wrong. The details would only make me look like a fool but after playing the game Correctly my take on it changes quite a bit.

The game (when played by someone who reads the rules) turns out to be quite challenging and exciting. There's a good bit of thought involved in deciding which cards to buy and which to discard in order to take on monsters that are (roughly) three times more fierce that we had believed. So that being said my ambivalence has shifted into a keen interest in playing the game again.

Coming up- more game news and more attempts to read all the rules and not every other sentence like when I read Tommyknockers. Which didn't seem to suffer from a 50% edit.

Board Game Arena - Internet option


You would imagine that the internet and board games would be a natural match but the options for modern gaming online are actually surprisingly few and far between. I suspect some of this is related to licensing and some of it may reflect the fact that it's hard to make money offering online gaming. Online gamers want to play Call of Duty and board gamers just aren't a big enough demographic to prompt investment in subscription-based services. As a result most online gaming servers I've encountered are amateur productions that usually collapse once they generate enough traffic to stress their capacities.

One happy exception to this is Board Game Arena. This is a French based service which offers several popular games online. You can find Dominion, Race for the Galaxy, Puerto Rico, and several others.

I enjoy Board Game Arena. The controls are simple and the system runs smoothly. The players are distributed across the globe so you get a chance to embarrass yourself trying to resurrect high school German or use medical Spanish in a gaming setting. The service is free and offers upgrades at a small fee. Most importantly, it is still running after months of use. Check it out!

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The World of Tomorrow- edited!


I've had some trouble finding a steady supply of cassingles lately and thought it might be time to upgrade my Walkman to something a bit more convenient. I was very surprised to discover that Apple computers was still in business and sells a Walkman-like device!

Older readers may remember Apple from back in the 1980's. They had a popular advertising on TV and flourished briefly before being swamped by Windows. I had always assumed they had just gone out of business but it seems as though they have struggled onwards by manufacturing music players! I picked up one of these "I-Pods" and fooled around with it a few weekends ago.

I was excited to find that not only can I play my Taylor Dayne and Howard Jones songs but I can also listen to internet broadcasts called Podcasts (which is probably why Apple called their product an I-Pod, kind of riding on the coat-tails...). For gaming purposes I've hit upon Meeples and Miniatures. While most gamers are probably aware of this podcast it's worth mentioning just in case.

Meeples and Miniatures is a series of gaming related podcasts produced by a British fellow named Neil Shuck. He reviews games, talks about his gaming experiences, and discusses the state of the gaming hobby. On occasion he has interviews or guests on the show. Put briefly the podcast is a great source of information regarding the hobby. But there's more to love.

For one, the show is a great chance to listen to British men call each other mates and chaps. I think gaming shines as a social activity and it shines the brightest when it's done with mates and good chaps. The American "dude" just doesn't compare.

Secondly the show is a great source of affirmation. Feeling silly about your insanely huge game or miniature collection? You will feel like a frugal miser when you hear about Neil and his friend's collections- thanks Neil!

Finally, many of the episodes are thought provoking or even heartbreaking. In one episode the two men talk about their inspirations for gaming. They both relate how their dad's built them gaming terrain and equipment by hand. Then they describe specific pieces- certain model planes or a model airfield. Now as a parent you wonder if the things you do for your kids make any impact. How moving to hear how in these men's lives their father's handicrafts remain treasured some fifty years later! Then the bomb drops- editor Henry Hyde's father died when he was eleven. While his father never got a chance to give a speech at his wedding or share a beer on some summer evening, his love will be forever manifest in the things he made for his young son as he shared his bobby! Man, I tear up just thinking about that. Folks- the pastime we enjoy is absolutely a family hobby and whether we're playing boardgames or crafting miniatures or both we can and should involve the kids and share our interests.

That last came from the View From the Veranda episode number three. Look for it and then range through the other episodes for more interesting conversations, news, and gossip.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Huzzah! Shopping Wrapup

Rural New Hampshire has a lot more miniatures gaming resources than you might expect but"lots more" than zero leaves me needing hobby supplies. Huzzah! was a chance to pack up the wagon with furs and head on over the the big city and trade them for some much needed gear.

One thing I noticed at the event was a string of big expensive rule books that actually contain fairly simple systems accompanied by many pages of pretty pictures and chatty text. I picked up a copy of Rick Priestly's Hail Ceasar as one example. The system is an evolution of his Warmaster rules (available free on the interweb btw) and I'm excited to play it but it's quite a switch from Flames of War or Warhammer 40K, both of which are quite rules-dense (and suspiciously similar in a hillbilly-esque fashion as well). Priestly's Black Powder is similar and you might say the same about recent purchases Lasalle and Rank and File. Still, I'm happy to play good rules if they're simple so we shall see how Hail Ceasar fares.

I also jumped further onto the plastics bandwagon with sets of Vikings from Wargames Factory and Gripping Beast. Part way into assembling both sets I'm very happy with how they're coming together. Gripping Beast does great work so that was no surprise. I never felt the love towards Wargames Factory that seemed to grip so many in the hobby and many of their other products did not seem exactly top notch. That being said their Viking bondi are nicely sculpted and are assembling very well. Plastic figures don't carry the satisfying heft that metals do but the price is so very very right. For purposes of throwing together a fast dark ages opfor group to take on my Scots these are just ideal.

Finally I managed to spend so much money on raffle tickets in a wasted attempt to win Command and Colors Napoleonics that I really could have just purchased the game outright. I can't imagine this will sway me from my belief that raffles and scratch-offs are great investments but it does keep my from putting my lovely 10mm Napoleonic miniatures onto the tabletop anytime soon. I'll get you next year Red Baron! And maybe just shell out for the da%$ game this summer. The system is getting great reviews and I think it sounds perfect for miniatures.

Huzzah Wrapup



So the big wargames convention in Maine has come and gone. I have to say that this year's Huzzah! was just as much fun as last year's. Here are a few thoughts in hindsight.

For one, Huzzah! is a great example of how the tenor of an event relies on the people who are in charge. The Maine wargamers are a friendly and efficient bunch and that spirit really permeated the con at all levels. Certainly a good lesson that carries into all aspects of our lives.

In terms of games themselves the event was a good opportunity to try some new systems. I played my second game of Fields of Glory (FoG). FoG is blessed with a fabulous looking rulebook and cursed with forbidding and impenetrable appearing pages of charts. It was a real pleasure to discover how fast moving and intuitive the game turns out to be. At the same time it makes one wish for a better presentation somehow as the FoG rulebook's appearance completely blocked our club from ever trying it.

I also had a chance to play a game of Aerodrome. This is a First World War aircraft game and it was just fabulous. I found it simple, quick to learn, but full of potential in terms of actually mastering the play. The team that demonstrated the system has some gorgeous model planes and beautiful wooden control panels that added up to make it a great event. Here's a photo of my plane and control panel, and my medal for shooting down an enemy!

I did find that some of the con's games suffered from being spectacular in theory and just terrible as actual convention events. In a club setting you can relax, chat, drink a beer (or soda!) and potentially spend 6 hours playing a single game with no trouble. In fact, that sort of afternoon is pretty ideal. In a convention setting, however, you really need a game with rules that can be learned in ten minutes and game turns with a scant minimum of player downtime. I do wish that con game masters would consider those factors when deciding which rule sets to use. I feel like a complete heel when I sign up for a game and then start to drift off and look bored when ten minutes pass between moves. Or when the game master is explaining the historical significance of each tree on the map and I start looking around for some sort of way out. I appreciate that level of knowledge and complex games have their role but at a con I want to get started fast and then keep the action going.

None of that is to detract from the overall awesomeness of the event. I would so recommend Huzzah! to any interested gamer in the Northeast, even over bigger events like Historicon. The event is well produced, the games are high quality, and Portland Maine is just a terrific city. I'll be looking forward to next year's event, at which I am hopefully going to be running a game or two myself...

Friday, May 6, 2011

Thunderstone- Dominion in the Dungeon


I enjoyed Race for the Galaxy so much that I've spent the last few years trying to find a game that would be its equal in fun and satisfaction. Since Race features cards I've probably unwisely assumed that another card game is the direction to look into and that's taken me through Magic, Dominion, GoSu, and quite a few others. Toy City in Keene had a discounted copy of Thunderstone and since it featured cards I knew that at last I'd located the successor to Race!

Well I was wrong but Thunderstone has some nice qualities and is a decent choice for a family game so let's talk about it. Thunderstone is a deck constructing game. Players start with a few cards and then add new cards to their deck. The desk is repeatedly shuffled and hands are dealt so that the cards you purchase in the last turn may come up to help you in the next turn. Over the course of the game you "construct" a deck of cards and hopefully choose to add cards that will be useful later in the game.

Thunderstone has a fantasy theme and features a "village" location and a "dungeon." Some of the cards you can buy represent items like magic swords or spells. Others represent "heroes" like dwarves or amazons. Over the course of the game you can use hero cards in your hand to kill monsters in the dungeon. You might use a magic sword card to make your hero more powerful or use a torch card to help light their way. Each monster earns you victory points and also has a cash value that can be used to buy more gear.

Thunderstone has enough role playing elements that you might think of it as a role playing game. In reality the winner is the person who can most efficiently slay zillions of monsters and manage their deck well. The challenge isn't necessarily that the creatures are very tough. The challenge is to do the job quickly and make sure your deck remains useful.

I found Thunderstone to be fun but not outstanding. I expect a bit more complexity in my card and deck games and Thunderstone is somehow disappointing. One way to win? I'm spoiled by Dominion and Race for the Galaxy which both seem to feature a multitude of winning strategies. I'm also not struck by a huge variety of action combinations, again a result of being spoiled by other games. On the positive side it is easy to learn and relatively inexpensive, and I've been told that the expansions add some challenge and variety. I'm glad I got my copy on sale and I see this as a game that's appealing without being brilliant. And if you're addicted to deck building games it's certainly worth a look.

Survive- It's fun to Survive...


Triple Play Games in New Hampshire keeps the game nights coming and after a bit of a dry spell we have a game that's really pretty appropriate for almost all ages. In the game of Survive you try and get your play people off a sinking island and across the ocean to safety. The game is fast, simple and fun.

A game of Survive starts with the construction of an island out of several dozen hexagonal pieces. At the center of the island are grouped pieces depicting mountains, then comes a ring of forest pieces, and then beach pieces. The players then place tiny wooden tokens on each island hex representing their poor subjects who have to now escape from the sinking island.

Each player takes a turn removing one hex piece, starting with the beach tiles and moving in. Under each tile is printed some sort of game effect. A shark, whale, or sea creature may appear, a whirlpool may suck everyone in the vicinity down, or the player may get some special ability to use later in the game. The player then has a chance to move their people a limited distance across the island or into the ocean around it. Finally, a sea creature is picked randomly and the player gets to move it.

Over the course of the game the players try to move their people across the ocean while avoiding sharks and whales headed their way. Simultaneously they try and direct the various creatures Towards other player's tokens. Some tiles give you special movement abilities and some allow you to place sea creatures on the board. Finally, you can move one type of creature at the end of you turn but the specific type is picked randomly.

In practice Survive is a pretty light game. You have little chance of picking which sea monster you're going to be able to move so you can't work with any long term strategy. Instead the game devolves into a frantic race across the waters while sea creatures zip hither and yonder knocking over boats and devouring swimmers. In this sense it's a bit random but still fun. A single player may end up with a crushing victory or defeat but it would be as much from luck as skill and thus Survive works well as a game for younger players. There is some thought to the game, and that makes it fun for older folks as well. The game itself is very colorful and the wooden pieces are lots of fun to play with.

I don't see Survive as a game for the ages but I think it fits a nice niche as a filler game for experienced players and a good family game when younger kids are involved. I might think of it as a good choice to bring on vacation.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

The Battlestar Galactica Boardgame, well....


On my first visit to Triple Play Games boardgame night a friendly gang of guys invited me to play the Battlestar Galactica boardgame (BGB). It's been a while since I've met a new group of players as fun as this one but the game did not totally grab me.

The BGB is a cooperative game. The theme is that the humans are trying to escape their enemies the Cylons and in the process have to survive various "crises." The crises spawn from a deck of cards and require the players to work together and donate cards from their hands to avert riots, water shortages, and sabotage. Players accumulate cards that help deal with crises and may also have special powers based on which Galactica character they are playing. For example, the Lee Adama character has special piloting skills. If you fail to avert a crisis the ship loses supplies, fuel, or human population.

The twist in the BGB is that several players are secretly enemy Cylons. Their goal is to sabotage the human's efforts and destroy the Galactica. Thus, they may play harmful cards during a crisis or try and convince the players that one of Them is an enemy Cylon. The game rules allow for secret play and since the players know that there are in fact Cylon players once harmful cards appear in play the paranoia starts to mount. Characters can be executed or thrown in the brig so there is the potential for the body count to start to rise and if humans are executed by mistake the game can take a turn for the worse, at least from the human player's point of view.

Experienced gamers will recognize quite a bit of Shadows Over Camelot in BGB. That's not necessarily a bad thing since games featuring paranoia can be very exciting. In fact, the players relate that in one game there were No Cylon players (by accident) and despite that it was a hugely exciting game simply because of the mounting atmosphere of suspicion and fear. I'm sure there's some political commentary lurking in that scene! So if suspenseful gaming is appealing then the BGB has a lot to offer.

I was not blown away by the game, however. The crises change in each turn and I never got the sense that my character was improving or that we as a team were building anything lasting. You deal with a crisis with your cards and then boom- off to the next. In contract I prefer games like Talismen or Arkham Horror in which your character can accumulate useful gear, or games like Race for the Galaxy in which you create something that then can help you in later turns. Further, the BGB is really fun only if the players are willing to let themselves go with the paranoia and fear. The Cylon player has limited effect by themselves and if the humans fail to go on an execution and imprisonment spree there's a limit to what the Cylon can accomplish.

Finally, just as with the television series, I can't completely enjoy a game that features executions, show trials, and psychological torment. Yes it's all very gritty but I think I'm too old for that much grit.

That being said, a fan of the series or someone who enjoys what the game has to offer will probably love the BGB. It's not a bad game at all, but it hasn't risen to the top of my list as a game for a wide population of players.

Huzzah! Best Con Ever!


Just as the Druids used to gather in sacred groves to practice their mysteries, gamers love to gather in Holiday Inns and convention centers to practice theirs. Conventions can be a great chance to meet people and play new games, or they can be depressing forays into the worst antisocial behaviours a big gang of beardy home brewing men can come up with. Huzzah! is a convention in Maine which embodies all the best of gaming cons and blessedly little of the worst.

Huzzah! was first held last year in Portland Maine and was a huge success. The games were generally spectacular, both visually and in fun of play. The people were cool and friendly. The setting was spouse friendly. The whole experience was just terrific. This year's event is taking place on May 13th in Portland and I would highly recommend it to anyone in the region with an interest in miniatures gaming. I would even suggest that a weekend at Huzzah! gives you more quality gaming than, say, Historicon, and at a much lower price.

Take a look at the event webpage and see if anything grabs your interest. I loved my experience last year and I'm already set for this year's fun!

Settled!


So I'm settled in a nice new house in New Hampshire. My hobby room is a pile of boxes which are too intimidating to even try to consider opening. We're learning all the exciting features of living in a 250 year old house. And there are twice as many Indian restaurants in rural New Hampshire than you would expect, since zero multiplied by any number remains zero.

That being said this area has a thriving and friendly gaming scene. West Lebanon hosts Triple Play Games which features a great board game selection and a very lively game night on Wednesdays. Newport has the Dragon Maze, a game store based in two brother's living room, that is small but fun and friendly. I suspect there is more gaming to be discovered and since unpacking is so depressing I'm set to find it!

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Dungeons and Dragons Saves a Marriage


As my family moves from Massachusetts to New Hampshire I've spent some time thinking about the last few years. I made some good friends, met some adorable patients, and my wife and I had a daughter. All those things are so important but this is a gaming blog so...

One of my fondest memories turned out to be playing D&D with my wife and friends. Especially striking was our last game in Massachusetts in which she and I were confronted by a giant evil fungus monster. Very scary at the moment believe me. She and I both had the same idea about how to defeat it and shouted it out simultaneously. There were some laughs but I thought about it a bit afterwards.

I'm sad to say that married couples may have few chances to work together on fun challenges. We certainly work together to change diapers and brush our kid's teeth but I don't find those challenges very exhilarating or uplifting. Yet in this last year of couple's D&D we've solved riddles, defeated trolls, and at one point blew up a dragon. I believe that our gaming has been a great source of fun but in addition I think it's reinforced our sense that we are a team and can work together and have fun.

Granted we could probably achieve the same thing by building a treehouse or playing softball so D&D is not necessarily unique in this capacity. Of note, though, the cooperative nature of role playing is a bit different from, say, Monopoly. Further, you finish the game with an exciting story to remember. I believe playing has really brought us together. It's been an interesting discovery and something that I plan on exploring with my kids as they get older. For some couples and families the role playing experience my really reinforce those vital bonds.

Black Powder - Old School Gaming


My Boston wargaming group recently ran a demonstration game of Black Powder. This is a set of rules designed for battles with miniature soldiers from the era of "black powder," the American War of Independance, War Between the States, or Napoleonic period. The game was marked with quite a bit of grumping but in the end I believe the rules have some qualities that are ideal for younger players.

The Black Powder rules were designed by some of the world's best game designers. Serious wargamers had high expectations for Black Powder to rock the gaming world. They probably should have read the book's forward which states that these rules are designed to allow players to put lots of toy soldiers on a table and play a quick simple game.

Our demonstration game bore this out. Black Powder ignores a multitude of details which experienced wargamers expect. Instead, a game involves laying out as many miniature soldiers as you can on a nicely decorated table and then speedily zipping them around until the battle is over. I found the game to have a very charming quality. It's a hardcover version of game rules designed by clever ten year olds who own 300 green plastic soldiers and want to have a battle.

Specifically, I'd recommend Black Powder for anyone with lots of soldiers who is looking for a simple fast game. That would include a parent who wishes to introduce their kids to miniature games. I might consider combining these rules with the Walkerloo figures or the 54 mm figures available through outlets like the Hobby Bunker. Alternately, I think Black Powder is terrific for experienced gamers with lots of figures. It is not, however, a complex or detailed game and I would look elsewhere if that's your desire.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

I'm So Unwise


My group is running a campaign of Dungeons and Dragons featuring first level characters. As some readers may already know, first level characters are quite frail and no first level character is more so than the magic user. A first level magic user can cast a single spell, can't use any serious weapons, and can be killed by a thrown potato. Playing such a character can be insanely frustrating unless you just love, love, love to roleplay and the other players join in the fun.

As an aside, if that's the case then a first level magic user is a hoot and a holler to play!

A friend has been playing the magic user in our campaign and over the last few games was showing signs of boredom and frustration with his character. The GM asked my advice. He was planning on giving the player a wand that fired magical bolts. Was that a good idea? "Oh no," I replied," that's not very creative. Give him a deck of cards that summon tame wild animals to do his bidding. That's much more open ended and interesting."

After some discussion regarding open ended, tool oriented magic items, the GM thanked me and went to work. That night he gave the magic user two Wands of Magic Missiles. The magic user tied them together to make a magical sawed off shotgun and proceeded to have the time of his life blasting away like a hillbilly on Red Bull. I'd never seen him so happy. So much for creative, open ended items!

GM's Challenge Afterthoughts


A while back I convinced a group of friends to take off a whole Saturday for a set of GM's Challenge Dungeons and Dragons games. The idea was to hand the GMs a random selection of story elements and then run three back-to-back games. The GMs would have to feature the story elements and also segue from the previous game into their own seamlessly.

There were a few things I found appealing about the idea. One was to be thrown the challenge of making a fun adventure that featured elements someone else picked out- including bizarre or silly things like Lurkers Above or the Flumf. I also liked the idea of having to deal with whatever cliffhanger ending the last GM left you with and link your adventure in smoothly. In essence I was aiming almost for Comedy at the Improv, Dungeons and Dragons style.

Of course, eighty percent of live improv comedy is actually pretty horrible and our first GM's challenge left lots of room for improvement. I don't think any of us really considered how to segue from one adventure to our own and so the transitions were not quite as clever as they could have been. Further, I think the idea of an adventure based on an outrageous Dungeons and Dragons creature may be immediately funnier to me than to the other GMs.

In hindsight I think the GMs challenge was a good idea that deserves a second try. I think the other GMs really needed to have the monster theme spelled out- for example, not merely to have a Roper appear, but to base the whole adventure on the city of the Ropers. Returning a lost Roper baby to its worried parents. Or thwarting an evil Roper wizard who seeks to enslave a beautiful Roper princess. It's completely silly but that's the challenge- how much mileage can you get from this absurd monster? It could be wildly creative. But again, for every hilarious improv act you see there are a dozen that just flail and it may take a bit of practice to bring the GMs to the level of Reno 911 or Upright Citizen's Brigade.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Quiet Month

My family and I are getting ready to move! I hate moving (or change of any sort) but it will be for the better in the long run. In the short run, however, it's going to be a little quiet here at Gamenight. I have to figure out how to pack eleventy zillion painted minis, all the games, and of course furniture and our possessions. I have to convince my wife that our 36 inch 1996 Zenith television, the opposite of flat screen since it is actually deeper than it is wide, will someday be a collectors item and should be moved with us. I also have to convince her that paperback science fiction books are better than kreugerrands as investment items and if even one was thrown out it would be a tragedy. Yes indeed, busy days ahead.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Seven Wonders- Great Group Fun


I fall prey to hyped up games more often than I should. I have several AT-43 armies, a copy of Dungeon Lords, and two fleets for Uncharted Seas. So I wasted no time in starting off the new year with a copy of Seven Wonders. This game has been gathering some good buzz and I needed a group game that could accommodate seven players and move along at a quick pace. Happily enough Seven Wonders earns the hype and has been a big hit.

Seven Wonders is a game about building up your civilization better than your opponents build up theirs. Your civilization could include a "wonder" but might also feature trade routes, civic buildings, scientific discoveries, or powerful guilds. The game mechanics of Seven Wonders are twofold. Firstly, each player gets a handful of cards. The players simultaneously play one of the cards and pass the rest to the left. Then you resolve whatever effect the played cards have and repeat the cycle. Eventually there are no more cards to pass and one of three "ages" has come to an end.

The second game mechanic of Seven Wonders involves the cards themselves. A card may represent a civic building, army barracks, a scientific advancement, or a source of resources such as "clay pit." Some cards may be placed for free. Some require you to have already placed certain cards- for example, some buildings require the "clay pit" card to already be in play to simulate having the bricks needed to build. Over the course of an age you may choose to play some resource cards and then later on "build" with the resources and have a "temple" or "library." Overall this is a pretty simple process and the cards are easy to read and understand.

Finally, at the end of three cycles of card play the players are scored for their achievements. In general it pays to have a lot of something so the player with lots of buildings or lots of scientific achievements is going to do well. The scoring process takes one practice game to really grasp but is basically simple.

Seven Wonders has several great qualities. For one, it's fast and there's little downtime spent waiting for other players. You can influence other players to some extent but there's no way to really harm or disadvantage your opponents. I think that's a big plus for families as well as sensitive adults who find cut-throat play dreary. I like building civilizations and Seven Wonders rewards someone who has an imagined goal for theirs. It's fun to say "I would love a civilization based on trade routes and guilds" and that's a winning strategy. Your friend might say, "nope, for me it's libraries, laboratories, and universities," and that could win too. The only option that seems weak is the military one, which is fine with me.

The only real caveats to Seven Wonders are that you do have little effect on other players during the game and it is a bit of a light game. I think there's plenty of replay value but I don't know if it is quite as deep as Race for the Galaxy or Catan. Not a terrible flaw but it should be noted.

Caveats aside, Seven Wonders is highly recommended for groups and families. It's fast, fun, and unlikely to lead to hurt feelings or grumpy, aggressive play.