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!