Wednesday, August 1, 2012

D-Day Dice is Quite Nice

 After months of waiting and delay, the Kickstarter success story, D-Day Dice, landed on my doorstep. I eagerly sorted through all of my goodies and eagerly awaited a chance to play. I've since then gotten a handful of games in (both multiplayer and solitaire), I can say that this was well worth the wait.

Mission Briefing
D-Day Dice is a cooperative, war themed, resource management, dice rolling game for 1 - 4 players. It was originally released as a free print & play game back in 2009 and became a huge hit. More recently, it was picked up by Valley Games and launched as a Kickstarter.

The players take the role of military units that are advancing  on a German bunker in the middle of World War II. Every turn, six dice (colored red, white and blue) are rolled that give the players soldiers, tools, courage or stars. Soldiers are the basic health points of the unit, courage is used to advance closer to the bunker, tools are used to find helpful items and stars recruit specialists that have special abilities to aid in the assault. The sixth side of each die is a skull. If a skull is rolled, then one other die result is ignored. In addition, if you roll the same symbol on a die of each color, you earn an additional bonus to increase your fighting power.

These resources must be carefully managed to ensure victory. If you lose all of your soldiers, you lose. If you can no longer advance due to a lack of courage, you lose. Early in the game, it is easy to acquire a good stock of these resources but as you advance closer, the battleground becomes more deadly and casualties on both sides add up quickly.

When playing with multiple players, units can aid each other by trading resources and dice between them. This is a great element that keep all players aware of each others' status during the game. If one of their allies were to fall in combat, then the entire mission is deemed a failure.

Brutal Landscape
The game comes with a variety of maps. Eight are included in the base game with additional maps becoming available in expansions. Each map introduces new elements to the game which helps the players grow in skill as you play through the scenarios.

Each map is divided into a number of sectors, each with its own defense value. At the end of each turn, any unit occupying that sector loses soldiers equal to that number. Some sectors are closely guarded by landmines or machine guns, while others require the presence or sacrifice of specific specialists.

As you move closer to the final bunker, more courage is required from your troops, the defense value increases and more hazards become present. Navigating all of this requires luck in the dice roll and solid strategy from the player.

Mission Accomplished
I have greatly enjoyed playing this, both alone and with friends. The game provides a fun challenge with many opportunities for hard decisions. Knowing how to allocate your dice and being able to deal with unlucky rolls is key in the players success. The trading mechanism between players really help increase the comradery between players as you all try desperately to keep the others in the fight.

The production quality is fantastic as well. The maps are printed on a solid cardboard that will hold up nicely and the dice are very nicely crafted. All of the player aids and resource dials help make the game easy to manage and get through while the players learn.

D-Day Dice is a great, medium weight war themed game that would be great for a game with a group of friends on a quiet evening alone.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Patience and the Bigger Picture

I've been waiting to write this post for a while now. Mainly because I knew it would be easier from this side. Yesterday, two games that I backed on Kickstarter (D-Day Dice and Alien Frontiers: Factions) arrived in the mail. I have been eagerly awaiting them for quite a whole as both were originally scheduled to be shipped  back in March-ish. However, they both got delayed for various reasons (mostly for adding all sorts of goodies) and so I, along with hundreds of others had to wait patiently for the game to come.

It's easy to get anxious when you're anticipating a new toy arriving. Whether it be a board game, a movie or an event, the excitement has a way of building and building until you're about to burst. But the weird catch is that the longer you wait for something, the greater then enjoyment is when it finally arrives. Running over to my doorstep over the last couple weeks to check for a package successfully led to a yelp of joy when there was finally something there to see.

It's All Relative
When it comes to something like a game, its lifespan is more dependent on number of plays more than anything.Whether it be 5 or 500, there is usually a finite number of time that you'll bring something out to the table. The hard thing to keep in mind is that is doesn't matter in the grand scheme of things whether that first play is in March or July. In the end, you still have the game and you get to play it.

The Early Bird
Now for some people, there may be a second game in play. In addition to the enjoyment of the game itself, there's the satisfaction that you have it first. Or at least before any of your friends. Luckily, this isn't part of my struggles. I know that there are many people out there who missed these Kickstarter campaigns completely and can't wait for them to be released to retail store.

But while I get no particular pleasure of being first, I can get annoyed being last. I am currently waiting for one more game, Small World Realms, which is being held up on a friend's online order by something else he ordered. I will admit I feel a little bit of agony when I see other people's reviews of the game. The knowledge that they have something I want can sting. I try to remind myself that when the game does come, it won't matter that they got to play first. Just that I now too get to play.

The Bigger Picture
When it all comes down to it, I try to remind myself that in the grand scheme of things the individual game doesn't matter. It's the people. It's the hobby. Over the last couple months I haven't just been sitting by the door waiting for the mailman to lug a giant box to my door, I've been playing the games I already have and have had a great time doing so. Sure it would have been nice to add in Factions to my last couple games of Alien Frontiers, but the game was still great.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

The Five Phases of Game Collections

For most gamers, I'd imagine that their collection goes through phases. A cycle of mentalities and buying habits that grows and evolves as the gamer dives deeper into the hobby. For some there might be more extreme changes and fast growth between them while others may be more subtle and gradual. Some may never get past certain phases. I figure my own progression would be categorized as a moderate one. Out of my friends, I have one of the larger collections, by in the grand scheme of things, there are larger and more involved people out there.

The Honeymoon
At first they may just buy a game or two. They are still new to the hobby and don't want to make the wrong decision. Maybe they just try some basic gateway games of some various mechanics. For me this was purchasing Ticket To Ride and Smallworld. I quickly fell in love with Days of Wonder's games and then even added Memoir '44 to my collection.

The Boom
But then, maybe overnight, the gamer enters the collection phase. At this point, the gamer knows what they're looking for and swarm upon it. Expansions start being purchased without thought, regardless of how much the base game has been played. The one shelf of games quickly take over the entire bookcase and soon the wall. If left unchecked, then the gamer may soon find himself on Hoarders.

The Reassessment
If the gamer is lucky, then before their collection reaches critical mass, they will be able to take a step back and re-evaluate. This may come from lack of funds, lack of space or an intervention of loved ones.

This is the phase that I currently find myself in. I recently purchase Fresco and quickly decided to sell it. It wasn't clicking with me as a game and I already had some worker placement type games that I much preferred, Lords of Waterdeep and Alien Frontiers. I felt it didn't have any place in my collection as it would just collect dust and so it went away.

I also recently decided to wait on purchasing the new D&D skirmish game, Dungeon Command. I had participated in the playtest and thought it was a great game, but its not the time for it. I already have a two-player skirmish game, Summoner Wars, that I don't play nearly enough. I couldn't stand the thought of purchasing another game that I knew I would like but wouldn't hit the table enough. Unfortunately, this will also probably slow me down in buying the oncoming Second Summoners.  Maybe one day I'll pick it up (it will be hard to pass on the Undead set coming out later.) However, I felt it was better to put my money towards things that would get more playtime.

The Cull
I'm teetering on the line of this step. As I mentioned, I don't like having games that just sit around and give me dough eyes. I have some great games that sit on my shelf and I just can't get them to the table enough. Some of them have been replaced in my mind by other games in my friends' collections. The original Thunderstone has been overshadowed by Thunderstone Advance and DOOM by Descent 2.0. I'm holding onto them for now, but the day may come.

I often wonder if true balance can be achieved. There are always new games coming out and old games that will sit longer and longer. Perhaps the best that we can hope for is a 'one in, one out' scenario, but even that could be hard to maintain.

I'm happy with my collection. I have a good amount of great games that I enjoy playing with my friends and family. Sure, there's a couple 'white whales' out there that I would love to add. But at the same time, I know that when the time finally comes, I have some games that I could get rid of to free up some shelf space.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Catacombs: The Game That Got Away (Then Returned)

Years ago I played Catacombs at my game group and thought it was amazing. When I got home, I immediately ordered a copy. I got some good plays in, but it soon found itself sitting on the shelf more often than I would I have liked. Between my dwindling attendance to the group and then moving, my number of gaming partners was pretty much reduced to my wife. While it was still a great game, I always liked it best with a full 5 players.

So I sold it (or traded it. I don't remember.) and that was that. It was a sad departing, but there were some other games I wanted to get that I was sure to play more. I never really thought much about it until recently when it started coming up on conversations. As soon as it got back in my head, I couldn't get it out. I finally had a good size gaming group and I felt that this time it would get the play it deserved.

Flick into the Dungeon
Catacombs has the standard dungeon crawling theme. A group of adventures descend into the darkest depths to kill hordes of monsters and collect treasure to buy some loot. The twist on this game, however, is that Catacombs is a dexterity, disc flicking game. To move and attack with their characters, players flick small wooden discs across the board. If the disc hits an enemy, then damage is dealt.

The Heroes
Up to four players take the role of the adventuring party. These characters follow the traditional fantasy classes of barbarian, wizard, thief and elf. Each of these characters has their own special abilities to help them on their journey. The barbarian has a special rage attack that allows time to activate four times in a row, although it leaves him exhausted afterwards. The thief earns additional gold for killing monsters and has access to a wide variety of special tools and tricks. The elf can fire arrow from a safe distance. Finally, the wizards has a spellbook at his disposal of fireballs, shields and skeleton warriors at his command. Together, these heroes descend into the darkest depths to vanquish an ancient evil.

Speaking of Evil
On the other side of the table, another player acts as the overlord. Controlling the wide variety of monsters in the game, his aim is to destroy the heroes and end their noble quest. The overlord begins the game by selecting one of four end-bosses from the Dragon, Sorcerer, Gorgon and Lich. Each of these monsters has their own special abilities, from summoning reinforcements or even turning the heroes to stone.

In addition, a deck of room cards is put together. Each of these rooms details a specific room type as well as the monsters that dwell within. These monsters include skeleton archers, the cerebus and the ever-favorite zombie. Killing these monsters earns the heroes gold which can be used at set points in the dungeon to buy items, heal the party or even resurrect fallen comrades.

The Ins and Outs
The game does have it faults, mainly in the production area. The character artwork is rough and looks unfinished while the background textures on the game board is too muddy and busy. The game did have a redesign in a recent reprinting, and while this improved the layout on the character and boss cards, the artwork, unfortunately remained the same.

Despite this, the gameplay is excellent. It is a light, quick-paced game that is great for a casual game night. The flicking mechanic provides a good balance of skill and randomness as you can never bee 100% sure where you disc will bounce of to. There are some good tactical decisions to be made in when the heroes should use their powers and how they should spend their money. I also appreciate that the dexterity-based gameplay keeps everyone on their feet as they move around the table to scout out their best shot.

Critical Hit
As I said before, I am a fan of this game. I am happy to once again have it in my collection and look forward to many monster-slaying, hero-maiming, disc-flicking games.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Game Night: Separating the People From the Game

I had some friends over for some gaming last night. One of them brought over their copy of Star Trek: The Deckbuilding Game and suggested it to the group. I had played it before and it really doesn't rank on my list. I much prefer Thunderstone when it comes to deckbuilding. But some of the other people in the group hadn't tried it so I went along. Bad idea.

Quick Rant
I've mainly played ST: TDBG with two players, and once or twice with three. Like I said, it wasn't my favorite, but it was alright. Last night there were five players. Never again. The game lasted over three hours and just dragged on and on.

Star Trek has a couple major flaws in my opinion. First is the lack of theme and cohesion in the cards. You can build a deck with Federation, Ferengi, Romulans and Klingons all mixed together and it doesn't matter. There is no real benefit to stacking with only one race and it actually seems to hurt you as you fall behind on stats. I'm also not a fan of the giant stack of cards as opposed to individual stacks that Thunderstone has. This makes it much harder to plan ahead as cards constantly shift in and out of the play area.

My main problem is the battle system between players. When a players searched the space deck, there is a chance that he will initiate a battle between players. This completely halts the play of the game and disrupts the flow. And to make it worse, it constantly causes players to discard a great hand. It becomes more frustrating than anything and feels out of place.

On To Better Things
All that being said, I had fun. When I look back at the evening, I try to look past the bad gaming experience and focus on the jokes and laughs I had with my friends. We got to reminisce about Star Trek (although I'd prefer to do that over a game of Fleet Captains) and enjoy a beer.

Board gaming, at its core, is a social activity and thus the people you play with are a large part of your experience.  Even the right crowd can make a bad experience bearable. Unfortunately the inverse is also true and even your favorite game can crash and burn if played with the wrong people. I used to DM at my local game store for the Wednesday night D&D Encounters program. while there were many players that I had a lot of fun it, it was hard to look past the one or two that I dreaded would come play at my table.

I am quite happy and feel blessed that I have come across a group of new friends with whom I always look forward to playing with. Even if the occasional poor evening comes around, the quality of the relationships will always outweigh the games.

Monday, July 9, 2012

8 Shades of Fresco

One of the first games that really piqued my interest back when I got into the hobby was Fresco. As a graphic designer, I was really struck with the theme of collecting paints and creating a masterpiece on a cathedral ceiling. The mechanic seemed very clever and unique. All around I couldn't wait to try it out. I had the opportunity to watch a round being played, but I couldn't join in as I had to leave the game group.

I finally picked up the game when it hit the clearance shelf at my local Barnes & Noble and was eagerly looking forward to trying it out.

Getting Up
As I alluded to above, the players in Fresco take the role of painters in the Renaissance who have been commissioned by the local bishop to paint the ceiling of a cathedral. They compete to collect the choicest of paints and paint the most complicated sections in order to earn the best reputation (victory points.)

To aid in this task, each player has four assistants that they send around town to buy and mix paints, work on commissions or even relax at the theater. This worker placement mechanic is the core of the game and has some interesting decisions to make through the rounds.

Getting To Work
Each round is played across five different phases. At the start of the round, the players secretly decide how to assign their assistants over these phases to best accomplish their goals. After these decisions are made, the phases are executed in order, with every player performing the task before the next phase commences.

Before the main phases, the players decide the wake up time for their crew. This is one of the more interesting decisions because it affects three things. First is turn order; you get up first, you get to act first. The second thing is the mood of your workers. If you make them get up early, then they lose morale. Morale is important because if you treat your crew well, you can earn an additional assistant, thus allowing you more actions. If you make them get up early too much, then you can lose a worker, weakening your potential. The final part of the first phase is the price of paint at the market. If sleep in late, then paints will be cheap. The downside is that you'll also have a smaller selection. This first part part of the turn is really well designed and makes for some interesting choices.

The first phase is buying paint. There are three or four market stalls on the board, depending on the number of players, that have between two two and four paint tiles on them. The paint tiles various numbers and colors of paint. When performing this action, the players chooses one of the markets and buys one tile per assistant allocated there. The price of the paint depends on his wake up time. After purchasing, all the left over tiles on that stall are removed and the next player chooses which of the remaining stalls to visit.

Next, the players actually paint the cathedral. To do this, they trade in paints that correspond to one of the tiles on the board. Sections that require more complex paints are worth more.

The third phase is getting commissions for portraits from the local nobles. This is how players earn more gold to spend on buying more paint in future rounds. Each assistant assigned here receives three gold for their services.

The next phase is mixing paint. The game has two levels of paint (three in the included expansion) the primary colors of yellow, red and blue and the secondary colors of green, purple and orange. In this step, players can trade in the primaries for the secondary colors which are required for more valuable tiles.

And finally, the player can send his assistants to the theater to increase their mood. This is helpful if you keep wanting first crack at the market and making your crew wake up early. The game continues until there are only six cathedral tiles left on the board, in which case the final round triggers.

Dried Up Paint
I was very surprised when I first played this game, and not in a good way. I kept hearing it referred to as a gateway worker-placement, which is exactly what I needed for some of my family members. However, I found this to be much more complex and confusing than I expected.

In my opinion, one of its major faults is that lacks a clear direction for layers to take. When comparing it to other 'gateway' weight games, I found them to have a logical starting point for players to follow. Ticket to Ride has the ticket cards to complete. Settlers of Catan has the progression of roads, then settlements, then cities. But I felt that this game doesn't really have a clear goal to go towards. You just start doing things and see what happens.

Glossy Coat
One thing I do really appreciate about this game, however, is the production. I would expect a game about painting to be beautiful and this game delivers. All the pieces have a really nice classical aesthetic to them. The cardboard pieces are nice and thick. And the loads of colored cubes are fun to move and play with.

The inclusion of the three basic expansions adds some great value. I only played with the third tier of colors (pink and brown) and did appreciate that extra level of mixing and resource management. The other ones looked interesting as well, but no one that I played with cared to try again with them.

Closed Stall
I really am disappointed that this game didn't work for me. I really wanted to like it and have it be my intro to worker placement game. I haven't tried Stone Age yet, but from what I heard that may be better. I can't recommend this game to anyone. Maybe some day I'll try it again after some of the bad taste is gone from my mouth. I just like other worker placements in my collection better.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Game Night: King of Tokyo and Castle Panic

Last night at my game group I had the pleasure of enjoying two great games, King of Tokyo and Castle Panic. Both make for night casual gameplay that will be the cause of many cheers, groans and laughs all around.

King of the World
The evening began with King of Tokyo, designed by Richard Garfield of Magic: The Gathering fame and published by IELLO. The game was published in 2011 and quickly sold out. A second printing recently hit store shelves.

The premise of the game is that each player is a monster that is invading Tokyo. In the middle of the table is a small board with space for one monster (two in a 5-6 player game). Players try to occupy Tokyo for as long as possible in order to accumulate points. The game ends when one player earns 20 points or (even better) knocks out all the other monsters from the game.