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.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

DC Deckbuilding Design Falls Short

Some new images have been posted on the Boardgame Geek page for the upcoming DC Deckbuilding game. The images show the box, and some cards of various types. My excitement for seeing the cards was quickly pushed aside as I realized that these were some of the worst designed cards I'd seen in a while. Luckily they are still easy to read and the information on them is relatively clear. Its just the details that are crying out for some help.

The Cards
First off, I have to point out that these cards look like they're using a modified template from the last few runs of cards from the Vs. System CCG. Nothing particularly wrong with this, but to me it just exemplifies the problems when they're compared with a design that uses the same skeleton, but succeeds more often.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Wits & Wagers Live

Tonight Northstar Games is hosting a live game of their newest edition of Wits & Wagers, Wits & Wagers Party via YouTube. The game will be hosted by Ryan Metzler.

The game itself will be played by Matt Carlson of Gaming With Children, Elliot Miller of The Gaming Gang, Matt Morgan of MTV Geek, Scott Nicholson, Tom Vasel of The Dice Tower and David Miller of Purple Pawn.

It all starts at 7:30pm tonight so don't miss it. To add to the appeal, they are also giving away a copy of the game to one lucky viewer who comments.

The game starts out like any other trivia game. A question is asked to the players and everyone writes down an answer. The difference is that each play then places their answers down in order of smallest to largest. The players then place their bets on which answer they think is either the correct answer or closest to the correct answer. Points are awarded for answering right, betting on the right answer and getting bets on your answer.

I've played the original game a couple years ago and it was a lot of fun. It rewarded a general knowledge of trivia, but it wasn't required to win. Just knowing who knew was enough. Any version of this game would be a welcome addition to any collection and great for families and groups who like party games.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Marvel RPG: Civil War Review

I've had a chance to read through the Civil War Event book for the Marvel Heroic RPG from Margaret Weis. This is the first of many announced additions to the game and features a large-scale story, new resources for Watcher's and new Data Files for the players.

New Tricks
The book starts with new tips and ways to play for the Watcher and Player characters. There is a new optional rule for using scene distinctions that is aimed to encourage their use in story-telling. The idea looks good and I think that this is a good way to get more things included and utilized in the game rather than just what's printed on the data files.

There is also a new concept called Troupe play. This gives a way for players to play as more than one character throughout a campaign. This allows for a more dynamic story that can always involve every player since even if a player's 'main character' doesn't make sense to be a given scene. With this type of play awarded XP is given to the player, not the character so that the player can choose which of his characters to advance in the story in a way that makes sense to him. A suggested use of this rule in the case of this event is that each player takes the role of a hero on both sides of the conflict. I could see this being a great idea with the game leading to some fun player vs player conflict and interaction.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Neuroshima Hex: Android review

Neuroshima Hex is one of the newest board games to make its appearance to the Android Play market. It been on the iOS for a while, but now I finally get a chance to play. The physical game was released back in 2006 by Wydawnictwo Portal and has since been reprinted by various companies.

It has a medium-weight strategy game for 2-4 players. The app comes with the original 4 armies, while there are many expansions with additional armies for the physical game. I got to play the actual copy once, and I wasn't too thrilled by it, but I knew that was mainly due to my opponent (it was his game, but I had to teach him how to play, but that's another topic.)

Hex Power
In Neuroshima Hex, players control various armies in a bleak, post-apocalyptic future. The armies range from the remaining humans, cybernetic beings and mutated soldiers. Armies are composed of a HQ tile with is placed on the board at the beginning of the game. The rest of the army is shuffled and stacked or placed in a draw bag. The majority of these tiles feature a unit. They have a nice variety of icons on it  that signify initiative, in what directions they can attack as well as the strength of the attack and the type of the attack (melee or ranged.) There are also tiles and icons that buff or inhibit other tiles. This can include making attacks more powerful, raising or lowering initiative or adding health. Then there's actions tiles, which allow players to move units or destroy enemy units.

Players take turns placing tiles until a battle is started. Battles are started by either playing a special battle tile or when the board fills up. When a battle commences, units attack in initiative order, starting with the highest numbers. All units with the same number attack at the same time, which means two units can take each other out. When all units of a certain initiative number have activated, then the next number down goes. Once all units have had their turn, then the the normal game play commences.

The game ends when either one player is left with the only HQ on the board or when one players runs out of tiles, in which case the HQ with the highest remaining health is the winner. Game play is fast, with games lasting around 30 minutes. A game on a digital device can be even faster.

Digital Warriors
I was very excited when this game was announced. I had been wanting to try again for a while and this seemed a great way to do it. This implementation met all my expectations and it plays great. The game looks good and it runs smooth on my HTC Sensation. The menu is easy to navigate and responds very well. I have been satisfactorily challenged by the AI on its medium difficulty.

It can play up to four players locally in a mixture of human and AI participants. The android version does not currently have online multiplayer, but Big Daddy Creations has said that it will come if the app sells well enough. The iOS version, which was released a while ago, already has multiplayer.

I am very happy with this game and love to go to it for a quick strategic game. I really hope that it does well enough for the online multiplayer to get implemented as it would really help give the game some staying power. If you've ever been interested in the game or are already a fan, check it out.

Tsuro: Path to a Good Time

I don't always touch upon art and visual impact when I talk about games. But when I do, thre's a good chance I'm talking about Tsuro. Tsuro: The Game of the Path in a abstract tile-laying, path creating game that can accommodate from 2-8 players. It was designed by Tom McMurchie and is published by Calliope Games.

The Path
Tsuro is a very simple and elegant game that can be taught in a matter of seconds. Each player controls a dragon piece soars along paths that are created as the game progresses. They have a hand of three tiles that show a variety of paths connecting eight points (two on each side.)The paths range from straight across, to a slight curve to the side or a complete u-turn. On their turn, a player will lay down a tile in front of their dragon. Each dragon touching the new tile then continues along its newly extended path as far as it goes. If a dragon falls off the edge of the board or crashes into another dragon, then they are out of the game. From there, its last man standing.

Friday, June 22, 2012

It's a Good Friday

I'm always on the lookout for a good solitaire game. I often find myself in the mood for a good game, but no one to play with. It was because of this that I decided to pick up Friday: A Solo Adventure, designed by Friedmann Friese and published by 999 Games.

A Shipwrecked Theme
Friday is based on the story of Robinson Crusoe, the victim of a shipwreck who must struggle to survive on a strange an unforgiving island. The player takes the role of his companion, Friday and must aid Robinson in overcoming a series of hazards to build up his strength. The game does a great job of relating to the theme as you can actually see your own strength and power increasing as the game progresses. What would have been impossible tasks at the beginning of the game can become minor nuisances with smart gameplay. But at the same time, the hardships on the island slowly whittle away at your life points, forcing you to accept your own mortality and (mostly) inevitable demise.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Inspecting Scotland Yard

Goodwill continues to surprise me when it comes to finding deals on great games. It doesn't always work, but when it does, its amazing. One of my latest finds is the Milton Bradley version of Scotland Yard. This classic game pits one player taking the role of Mr. X against a team of 5 Detective Inspectors who attempt to deduce his whereabouts and capture him before escape. Mr. X begins the game in an unknown location and moves around the map in secret, trying his best to evade capture. If he is successful is eluded the law for 24 rounds, he wins the game. If at any time an Inspector piece moves onto the same space as Mr. X, the other players win the game. It's a brilliant game of cat and mouse, logic and deduction, bluffing and bold moves.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Step up from "Choose Your Own Adventure'

While listening to a recent episode of the Plaid Hat Podcast, I became aware of a genre of games that I can best described as a 'choose your own adventure' game mixed with an RPG. They play much like the classic book series that I was such a fan of as a child. You'll read a paragraph and then be presented with a choice which will then lead you to a subsequent paragraph and the cycle continues throughout the story. They do have an extra twist in that you also need some dice. Throughout the game there will be situations, such as combat, or performing tricky maneuvers, that the fates intervene.

Since discovering these types of games, I've been pleased to stumble upon a couple of them to explore a little deeper. The first one, "Cities of Gold & Glory" is the second book in the Fabled Lands series of books. The series of 12 books (although only 6 were released) spans the large region of the Fabled Lands, each books focusing on a certain region. You can start with any books, using either one of their pre-made characters or crating your own, and begin your adventure. Traveling from city to city and exploring whatever you come across. The interesting addition being that you can venture throughout the regions by moving between books, all while keeping your same character and stats.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

inFamous: Festival of Blood

I finally finished playing through inFamous: Festival of Blood, the the download only entry into the inFamous franchise. The original game in the series was one of the first games that I played all the way through when I got my PS3. I had gotten it as part of Sony's forgive us promotion after their massive blackout last summer.

I was really impressed with the controls and the massive city that you got to play through. I often found myself killing a few minutes by simply running around the rooftops and searching for some of the games hidden items.

When I finished playing through the game I wanted more of Cole's antics but wasn't ready to buy the second game, so this seemed like a good fix. It used the same engine as inFamous 2 so I'd be able to see the evolution of the series as far as graphics and control which I was quite interested in.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Taking a Breather: D&D Encounters

Every Wednesday night for over a year, I've headed to my local game store to participate in the Dungeons & Dragons Encounters program. For the first bit I've been going as a PC, but starting with March of the Phantom Brigade, I've been running games as a DM. It was great practice to run games get comfortable with the role as well as meet new people and make some new friends. Tonight though, my seat will be occupied by another, as I am taking a hiatus.

I have enjoyed seeing the progression that the seasons have made and I applaud Wizards of the Coast for improving their program. Back when I started playing, the games were little more than dungeon crawls with a sprinkle of story. Since then the backgrounds and stories being told have been more interesting with some encounters actually offering players a meaningful choice as opposed to railroading them where the author wants then to go. But even with these improvements, I still recognize that I'm playing someone else's game. I'm telling someone else's story, and that's getting old.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Getting Rules Wrong

So many rules, so little time
I had some friends over last night to play some games and have some fun. We started with a 4 player game of Lords of Waterdeep, which I am still enamored with. Quick note on this before I move on, I just played a two player game with my wife over the weekend and it was interesting to see the difference in how the game scaled with a different number of players. In a two player game, each player gets 4 agents to place as opposed to only 2 in a four player game. This leads to games with more players feeling more tense and increasing the wish that you wish you had just one more move. The number of agents in the game remains relatively the same so the board will always fill up, its just a matter of how much you get to do before it does so.

We then played a game of Saboteur, which was pretty nice. Players act as dwarves trying to dig for gold that is placed in one of three possible locations. The catch though, is that there's a possibility that one or more of the players is secretly a saboteur, trying to stop the operation in its tracks. This is a great mechanic that adds some nice tension and really forces players to analyze each others movements to try to detect who the traitor might be. Even if the players figure out there is no traitor, the player who finds the gold first gets the highest reward, which still causes the players to try and slow each other down, just a little bit. I'd like to play this game again, hopefully with more players.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Arkham Asylum Is Crazy Good

When I got my PS3 a few months back, I knew that one of the first games I had to get was Batman: Arkham Asylum. It seemed like a no brain brainer; the reviews were stellar across the board and Batman is great character.

The Story
The game starts by setting up the story. Batman has just caught the Joker (again) and is delivering him to Arkham Asylum. They begin the long walk through the halls to the holding wing while being joined with guards, doctors and Commissoner Gordon. Batman thinks aloud that this time it seemed too easy, like the Joker actually wanted to get caught. The group finally reached a checkpoint that Batman would not be allowed to pass through, as his presence would greatly disturb the other patients, and that's when the real story starts.

As soon as the Joker is out of Batman's reach, he breaks free of his restraints and runs off deeper in the facility. It is also quickly revealed that his loyal sidekick, Harley Quinn, has already taken control of the main security room and is quickly able to head off Batman's pursuit. And thus Batman now has to explore the island of Arkham Asylum, which is not swarming with angry inmates as well as a handful of super powered criminals.

The Game
The highlight of this game is great mix of action and stealth. There are some rooms where you will be met with a large mob of released prisoners. At time like this you use the nice and fluid combat system to chain attacks together between enemies. You can punch, throw, block & counter, toss some batarangs and perform nasty finish moves that lead perfectly into each other. The controls for these parts are just wonderful.

On the other side of the coin are rooms that are rooms that swarm with armed gunmen, intent on ending Batman's career. These rooms feature the stealth aspects of the game. To survive, you need to stick to the shadows and air vents in attempt to take down the inmates one by one without alerting the others. This mix of gameplay styles really epitomizes the essence of Batman's character and how he operates.

The Goodies
At the heart of it all, this game is a love letter to Batman and a real treat to all of his fans. The game is littered with secrets and easter eggs that cover the gamut of his mythology, rogues gallery and secrets. The super villains that they used as bosses are a great selection and are done extremely well, especially scarecrow's very eerie and disturbing sections. There is plenty of content to keep a gamer going.

I'm glad I finally got a chance to play this great game and I'm looking forward to getting to Arkham City.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Lords of Waterdeep: Review

Lords of Waterdeep from Wizards of the Coast
Lords of Waterdeep is the newest Dungeons & Dragons board game from Wizards of the Coast. Hot on the heels of the Castle Ravenloft and the other D&D Adventure Game series as well as Conquest of Nerath, this one sticks out as being 'not like the others.'

Lords of Waterdeep is a euro-style, worker placement, resource management game. That's right. While the other games focus on groups of adventurers fighting through dangerous dungeons or battling waves of monsters, this game focused on the political power that lies in secret behind the scenes.

The Secret Lords
In this game, players take the role of one of 12 secret Lords of the city of Waterdeep. Each Lord has certain interests that they want seen accomplished in the form of quest cards (and in one case, real estate). Players then take turns dispatching their agents around the city to recruit adventurers, collect money, retrieve, construct buildings and more. After 8 rounds, the game ends, players reveal their Lord cards and the winner is announced.

The Meat of the Game
The core of the game is the deck of quest cards. They are the main source of victory points in the game. The quests are spread over 5 categories; warfare, commerce, piety, arcana and skullduggery. The majority of the Lords favor two of those types of quests and will award extra points at the end of the game for completing them.

To complete a quest, the players needs to have the appropriate resources in the form of adventurers (cubes representing fighters, rogues, wizards and cleric) and gold. These resources are collected by either dispatching agents to certain buildings on the board or through the use of the other deck of cards, Intrigue Cards.

Intrigue cards comes in three flavors; utility, attack and mandatory quest. Utility cards reward you directly and may even help other players. They allow you to do things such as collecting 4 four and one other player to collect 2 gold. Attack gold are direct attacks on other players, either stealing resources or forcing them to discard resources. Mandatory quests are also played on other players and force them to complete that quest before any other. They are generally good for slowing down your opponent and forcing them to waste resources.

The Lord of my Gameshelf
I am enamored by this game. I love playing it and when I'm not playing it I'm thinking about playing it. It just works so perfectly. The competition is tight and fierce and there are plenty of decisions to make. Even the end game gets tense as those final bonus points are counted up.

Marvel Heroic RPG: A Review

Marvel Heroic by Margaret Weis
I got a chance this last weekend to play the new Marvel Heroic RPG from Margaret Weis with two different groups, my home group and at my FLGS. I wanted to take a couple days before writing this to really make sure that I had a chance to think over my impressions of the game and now I can safely say that its great. I had a great time playing and was really impressed by the Cortex Plus system.

Cortex (Gets an A) Plus:
The Cortex Plus system is a dice pool mechanic, which means that you add dice to your pile based on what action you're trying to take and your characters data file (example: Captain America). Each character has stats for affiliation (whether they're alone, with one other hero or on a team), distinction (personal idioms and viewpoints), lists of their power sets and any specialties. Using Captain America as an example, say he is leading the New Avengers and going to throw his shield at the Grey Gargoyle.

He would get a d10 for being in a team environment, a d8 for leading by example, a d8 for using his super strength to throw, another d8 for using the shield as a weapon and finally a d10 for being a combat master. In total he would roll 3d8+2d10. After rolling, the player adds 2 of the dice to get a total and uses a third die as the effect die (the number rolled has no effect, just the size).

This system can take a couple rolls to really get the hang of, but once you've got that under your belt it becomes very fast to read down the page and add dice as you go. I also really like how it opens up the characters and power sets for interpretation and creative uses. If you want to use Cap's shield to deflect bullets, just use its durability instead, if you want to use it as a sled to go down the side of a building, use the durability and Captain America's acrobatic expert. The stats and power sets really become a toolbox and let the player decide how to use them.

A Story Telling Game:
My favorite thing about this game is that they really designed it to feel like you're playing out a comic book. Players rounds are compared to a panel in a book, so if it could fit in a panel, you can do it. This eliminates worry about timing details such as character speed that I feel can slow down other games.

For example, in one game, Matt Murdock (played by me) needed to run to the security room to retrieve his briefcase that contained his Daredevil costume. In other games, this could have easily kept me out of the action for multiple rounds, but it just took me saying what I needed to do and it was done. my actions could easily fit into a panel or two and thus I didn't need to worry about slowing the story down.

The initiative system also reflects the emphasis the game places on story. Essentially, after one character performs his actions, he gets to choose who goes next. This keeps the action focused on where the players want. Do you want to see how Carnage responds to Spider-Man jump kicking him? Or would you rather go and see how Iron Man is doing with the security system? This can also keep everyone alert to what's going on, as you never know when it will be your turn to roll.

Extreme Opposition
Every dice roll in MHRPG is an opposed roll, meaning that two players roll their dice and compare the outcome. If the attacking character gets a higher total, then the attack is a success. If the defender wins, then the attack misses and the defender has a chance to counter-attack. Everything flows, actions can lead into other actions. The game feels very organic and smooth as play proceeds around the table.

Never Split The Party (Unless You Want To)
In most games I've seen, it really behooves the players to stick together at all costs. MHRPG is designed so that sometimes it may be in your best interest to split up into teams of 2 or even go it alone. This leads to difference scenes being played simultaneously across a larger set piece.

I played the same event in both of the games I played in, the Breakout story included in the Basis Manual. What was really cool though, was that the story played out completely differently based on the characters that were chosen. In the first game, Iron Fist and Luke Cage were escorting Foggy Nelson to the lower levels while Iron Man and Human Torch were above ground when the event started. This caused the game to be broken into the two scenes. In my second game, all three characters (Spider-Man, Daredevil and Luke Cage) started together which had the majority of the battles to occur in the same area, although characters did split off from time to time to do their own thing. It was fantastic not to feel boxed in by what was written or by what the game master had planned for us.

What's Not Too Love
I'm trying not to lavish too much praise so I don't come across as a paid stooge (although I'd gladly become one), but I can't really think of anything I didn't like about the game. The only thing I can think of is just to make sure this is right for your group. If you want a more structured game where every conceivable possibility has a (mostly) clearly defined rule, then this may not be for you. This game rewards free play and open interpretation of the datafiles and rules.

I look forward to playing this some more and for more events and character to be made available. Especially the upcoming Annihilation book. I loves me some Marvel Cosmic.

Have you had the chance to play yet? Did you like it as much as I did?

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Marvel & DC: RPGs

Battle of Champions
I've recently taken the time to  do a cursory reading of both the DC Adventures RPG from Green Ronin Publishing and the new Marvel Heroic RPG from Margaret Weis. Since the companies have always been the subject of debates comparing their take on characters and story, I thought it would be interesting to compare these two games. Keep in mind, this is not a review. I have yet to play either (I'll be playing Marvel this weekend, so expect an actual review next week) so this is based solely on my first impressions of the games.

Main Mechanic
Marvel: The Marvel uses the Cortex Plus system which Margaret Weis uses a variation of for all of their games, such as Leverage, Smallville and Supernatural. The basis of the system is a dice pool mechanic. On each character's datafile there are number of traits, distinctions and power sets with corresponding value that relate to sizes of dice, from d4 to d12. When performing an action or reaction, the players chooses one entry from each set of distinctions to form his dice pool. That pool is rolled, and two dice are chosen to make up a total with a third used as an effect. This is then compared to the opposing roll and the proper effect is carried out. There's a little more detail than that, but that's the basics of how the game is played. One of the great things about this book is that there are a lot of well-written examples of how the game is played in each section, which makes the rules very easy to pick up.

DC: DC uses the Mutants & Masterminds game as its base, which is a d20 system. I was able to grasp the basics of this game a little faster, because I'm already familiar with the basics of it from playing Dungeons & Dragons. This game also uses character sheets, but they list out more detailed descriptions of powers (from super strength to laser beams to teleportation) and skills (such as acrobatics, endurance and stealth) with positive or negative modifiers. When performing an action, the players rolls a d20 and adds the appropriate modifier. This result is then compared to a target number, weather is be the defensive value of the villain or an abstract number that represents the difficulty of the task being performed. If the total value equals or beats the target number, then the action is a success.

Marvel: The Marvel Basic Rules is a paperback book that retails at $20, which in my opinion is a fantastic deal. Everything you need to get started playing is in the one book. It starts with the Operations Manual (core rules), a two-part event (based on the Breakout story of New Avengers #1-6) and data files for 23 heroes (including stars such as Iron Man, Wolverine and Spider-Man). This is definitely one of the better values I've seen. A lot of games sell just the the player's book for $30, in addition to whatever the game master needs and a starting adventure.

DC: The DC Adventures book is a hardcover book retails for $30. This also a pretty good deal as it includes almost everything that a player needs to play. It does have all of the rules as a well as a wide variety  of characters to choose from; 28 full character sheets of super heroes and villains. It does not however, have any introductory adventure included. It doesn't seem that complicated to make your own, just think of a story, throw in appropriate super villains and supporting cast and go. There are some good chapters on the history of the DC universe and some key locations. If you're new to role-playing though, and need a little more support starting up a game, you'll need to find something elsewhere.

Character Creation
Marvel: The character creation is Marvel is one of the most abstact takes that I've seen. It doesn't really focus on character balance, but instead focuses more on just building a character that is representative of who you want to play. There is no point budget or even set statistics.

The first thing to be determined is decided the character's affiliations, or how well they work solo, in a buddy environment or on a team. These are given values of d6, d8 or d10. Then there are distinction, which are three guiding phrases for the character. They can be catch phrases or ideal that guide the character and either be a help or a burden. Then there's powersets and specialties. These make up all the cool things that heroes can do. These are given values between dd6 and d12. There's really no limit to how many powers your hero can have, beyond what your fellow players will put up with. The manual even states to just do what feels right and you can always tweak it later. The final thing is creating milestone. These are the key way that characters earn xp. They are story points that the character will eventually have to deal with one way or another. For example, one of Captain America's milestones is that he puts the Avengers back together.

DC: DC takes a more traditional stance on character creation. The first thing you do is set a power level for your hero, whether it be more a more street level hero like Batman or a demi-god like Superman. This  choice will give you a certain number of points to spend. These points are used to add and upgrade powers, skills and other special features. This ensures a more balanced party and help the game master know how tough to make the adventure.

Additional Content
Marvel: The Marvel game is brand new and as of now, there is only the basic book available. There are already three supplements planned to come out later this year based on the Civil War, Annihilation and Age of Apocalypse story lines. These books are described as including full event adventures and more hero datafiles. I am looking forward to these, but I will say that Margaret Weis hasn't had the best track record of releasing books on time (if at all).

DC: Green Ronin currently has two supplements for the DC Adventures game, both of which are full of additional character sheets for heroes and villains. Additional content in the book is information on teams, side characters, animals and more guidance on creating your own characters based on existing creations. Again, there are no adventures available.

Final Thoughts
Marvel: I've been reading through a lot of RPG rules lately, just to see what else is out there, and Marvel just struck me as being very different. I was very intrigued by its focus on story and keeping the game moving as opposed to getting bogged down with loads of rules and exceptions. The couple paragraphs I wrote above cover just about 75% of everything you need to know, and the other 25% can easily be explained as you get to it at the table. Even the character creation is very abstracted and focus driven. I like the idea of just making what feels right. It may take a little more time to fully grasp but it really forces you to know who the character your playing is.

DC: On the opposite end is DC. Not that there's anything wrong with the system. It looks like it would be fun and I would enjoy playing it, it just didn't excite me. It may just be that I've mainly played D&D, but moving to another d20 game isn't that appealing.

I think its fantastic that the two games are so different. If you're a comic book fan and want to try out an RPG, one of these will be up your alley. If you just to tell stories, don't want to get lost in pages of rules and are ok with abstraction, then Marvel is where you should go. If you need more structure and want to ensure character balance then check out DC. Either way, I'm sure you'll have a good time. Even if you're more intrigued by the Marvel game but really want to play Green Lantern, or want to play a d20 game with Hawkeye, there's no reason that you can't create the appropriate character sheet and get your game going. That's the great thing about role-playing games. You can play who want to wherever you want.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Happy Easter with Chuck-It Chicken

I wanted to write something special for Easter, and so I looked through my collection to find something thematic. There's wasn't much but I did find Chuck-It Chicken!, published by Ravensburger Games.

This is actually one of my many great finds when perusing one of my local Goodwills. It was a steal at $2 even though it was missing some pieces. I figured I could make or find some kind of replacements. Worst case scenario, the board itself looked really cool and I only wasted a couple bucks, but luckily for me, a quick email to Ravensburger got me a full set of replacement pieces. I was quite ecstatic when I opened that envelope and realized I didn't have to worry about making pieces.

Chuck-It Chicken has the players trying to get one of their chickens to the top of the rooster at the top of the board. Each player has a team of three chickens of their color, but wearing different types of hats; safari, football helmet and baseball cap. On their turn, each players rolls 2 dice and moves their chicken that matches the hat rolled. Each die also has a chicken symbol and if that gets rolled, thats where the real fun comes in.

Attached to the large rooster, is a small slide. If a player rolls the chicken symbol, he can choose to roll an egg down the slide, aiming to knock his opponent's chicken back to the bottom. This is made a little difficult by the random bouncing of the egg and the various barriers that chickens can hide behind. This adds a great dexterity element to the game and makes for some fun and tense moments. Especially when you actually knock over one of your own chickens and you have to suffer the heckling of your opponents.

This is a great, fun little game that kids would get a kick out of. The components are brilliant and really sell the light and fun theme. I'm hoping to get this to the table today, just to say I did. Who knows, it just might become my new tradition..

What about you? What are you playing today? Anything Easter themed?

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Commands & Colors

Richard Borg is most known for his design of the Commands & Colors series of games. The series started with the design of Battle Cry, a Civil War themed war game with easy to learn mechanics and fast gameplay. The system is best identified for three key elements; a hex board divided into three sections (left, middle, right), units being divided into categories (whether is be color or type) and cards that are used to activate certain units.

The game board also features a modular and customizable design. The board itself is bare and has no features, but the game comes with stacks of hexagonal cardboard terrain features that quickly turn a large, flat field into a hilly landscape or a dense forest. These terrain pieces allow for an almost endless variety of scenarios and battlefields.

The differentiation of the units is important in combat when it comes to the attacking die rolls. The dice have different colors or symbols that correspond to each group, depending on the game. When attacking, a certain number of dice are rolled, depending on the attack value of the attacking squad and the object is to roll the symbol corresponding with your target. For example, in Memoir '44, if you are attack a tank, you want to roll the tank symbol and in Battlelore, if you are attacking a red cavalry unit, you want to roll the red helmet. This mechanic makes combat very fast and easy to follow but still adds a nice amount of luck and tension.

The deck of command cards come in two varieties, section and tactic. The section cards allow you to order a certain number of units on the different parts of the battlefield, such as move 2 units on the left flank. The tactic cards are much more powerful and versatile, allowing for things such as order 4 infantry units anywhere on the board, or allowing certain units to move father or attack with additional dice.

Since the publication of Battlecry, there have many other games in the series covering a wide range of time periods. Commands & Colors: Ancients warfare from the begging of military history (3000 BC) to the  Middle Ages (400 AD). This installment also has expansions that add in other armies such as Roman, Greek and Egyptian. Next up (chronologically) is Commands & Colors: Napoleonics, which depicts the campaigns in the Napoleonic Era, focusing on England against France. Then there is Memoir '44 which takes place in World War 2. The base game is Axis against allies, but this one also has many expansions that add in Russia, Japan and various terrain types. Battlelore is a fantasy-themed version of the system that is based on the Hundred Years War and features dwarves, giant spiders and ogres as unit types.

Despite using the same basic system as the skeleton of the game, each game has its own personality and tweaks to the ruleset. Some games focus more on keeping your units in tight formations while in others you can spread out more. Some rely more on ranged attacks while others have more melee combat. Battlelore also has an additional deck of cards called the Lore Deck which allows the players to collect magic points to spend on powerful attacks and maneuvers.

This year will see the release of two new games into the family. Abaddon is a sci-fi themed game that features giant mechs in battle. This one is interesting because it does differ in some of the key elements that I mentioned above. First and most obvious is that the board uses square spaces, not hexes. Also the funtion of the cards and dice are switched. With the dice being used to select which units can be ordered and the cards are used to resolve combat. I am interested to see how these changes will affect the gameplay and the experience.

The other new new release is Samurai Battles. This one features combat in feudal japan between armies of samurais. The interesting thing about this one, is that the game actually comes with two completely different rulesets. It has the Commands & Colors rules as well as rules based on the Art of Tactic game designed by Konstantin Krivenko. This is the one I am most looking forward to as I am very curious how the two systems will compare.

All in all, I a fan of the Commands & Colors system. I haven't played as much as I'd like but I love Memoir '44 and Battlelore is pretty good too (although a little clunkier, in my opinion). I hope to one day be able to play more in the series to really get a good understanding of it.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Days of Wonder: Online

Best of Both Worlds
In today's world of iPads and handheld gaming, its been exciting to see the growing trend of board games finding their way to a digital format.

Days of Wonder, in my opinion, has been on the forefront of this movement. By the time that I had gotten into the hobby, they already had a version of Ticket To Ride for PC/Mac/Linux. It provided a great way to get a quick game in when I didn't have another player available or I wanted a small distraction when watching TV. The initial download comes with the original USA map. Many of the expansions (USA 1910, Europe and Switzerland) are also available for and additional purchase.

Back in 2011, they also released a digital version of Memoir '44 for PC/Mac/Linux. This game featured a freemium model of play. The game itself is free to play and an account initially starts with a certain amount of in-game gold. Each game requires a certain amount of gold based on the chosen map and scenario, with additional gold available for a small fee. This game features a wide variety of expansions and maps and can either be played solo against a computer opponent or online against another person. Recently, Memoir '44 has also been made available on the Steam platform.

Since then, Days of Wonder and began to release some of their games on iOS. Ticket to Ride has a version for the iPad and iPhone/iPod and Smallworld is available for the iPad. Both games have pass n play as well as online asynchronous gameplay.

Personally, I think that this transition is great for the hobby. These versions lower the barrier to entry and makes games much more accessible to new players. The game itself takes care of any initial set up, lowering the time it takes to get a game started to just the time it takes for the game to load. Another great thing is that the games themselves can track and enforce rules, freeing the players to focus on their strategy instead of having to reference rules over small details. In Ticket To Ride, for example, no matter how many times I play, I can never remember starting hand size; TTR Online takes care of that for me.

Obviously there are drawbacks to these as well. First of all, there just isn't the same feel and impact of looking at a small screen as opposed to seeing the board, large and real. There's also just the feeling of board games that can't be replicated. There's something satisfying about slapping down the winning card, feeling the dice in your hand or keeping your hand on your piece as you take one last second to analyze your move. In fact Eric Hautemont, CEO of Days of Wonder, talked to Ben Cachura at Penny Arcade about how the success of their apps has actually increased sales of the physical game. As great as it can be for a family to be able to play a quick game at a restaurant, nothing can replace the experience of setting up a game on the dining room table.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Congrats Dice Tower!

The Dice Tower
Back when I first got into board gaming and was spending way too much time browsing Boardgamegeek, I was trying to find a good podcast to listen to. Over and over again, I was reading about The Dice Tower and its host Tom Vasel. The name was everywhere and so I finally decided to check it out.

After listening to an episode, I was hooked. It was funny, clever, had reviews on games (both new and old) and a variety of guests and opinions. This was exactly what I had been looking for. Since then, The Dice Tower has become my second source of board game information (after BGG). Tom Vasel himself, has become my favorite and most trusted reviewer. He does a great job of explaining a game in clear terms and really breaks down the pros and cons of a game. Whenever I hear of a new game, I immediately check if he has reviewed it, preferably in video form.

Tom started his show seven years while he was a church pastor in Korea with another member of his game group, Joe Steadman. Since then, it has grown into a weekly show, a huge series of video reviews and an entire network of podcasts, videocasts and blogs with many contributors from around the world.

This morning, Tom released the 250th episode of the Dice Tower. This is a huge milestone and a I'm so gracious to have so much content to enjoy and amazed how he has grown so much in the last seven years. So congratulations Tom, Eric and everyone involved in the show. I look forward to many more years.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Gamestorm Wrap-up

I had a blast at Gamestorm. For almost 32 hours straight, pauing just long enough to eat and sleep, I played as many games as I could. I got in 14 total, most of which I had never played before. I liked most of them, loved a couple and was fortunately only a couple fell short of my expectations. I may talk about more of these in detail later on, especially as some select few make their way into my collection. Until then, here's some brief thoughts of what I got to the table.

Cargo Noir was the first game of the weekend. I had played it once before as a demo at my local game store. I am a huge fan of Days of Wonder games. This is a light, auction game with a smuggling theme. The theme is a little thin, but makes for a nice atmosphere as the players bid for weapons, uranium, art and more. This one is on my wish list; just want my wife to try it first.

Wrath of Ashardalon is the second in the Dungeons and Dragons adventure game series. I own the first one, Castle Ravenloft, but have not tried the others. This is a great game system that allows for a quick dungeon crawl experience without too much hassle. I haven't finished playing all the scenarios in Ravenloft yet, but this one is also on my wish list, albeit a little farther down the list.

Pitchcar was a time kill for 10 minutes as I waited for one of my scheduled events. Its a light disc flicking race game. It plays pretty fast and could be a lot of fun with a large group and great for a party. From what I've seen the price tag is a little more than I'd like to pay, so this is a pass for now.

Formula De is a deeper racing game, based on Formula 1 races. This has some great push your luck aspects as you try not to blow through curves too fast in fear of risking your cars integrity. I played with 9 other players which slowed down the game quite a bit. I played once before with only 5 and that went along at a nicer pace. Has basic and advanced rules which make it great for gamers of all skill levels. Would gladly play again, especially a longer race. Lower on the wish list, but may pick up one day.

Mansions of Madness is a Lovecraftian game. 1 player takes control of the cultists and monsters within the evil and corrupt mansions while the other players, as the investigators, try to stop the onset of the ancient ones. We tried to teach ourselves, which slowed us down quite a bit as he rules are quite beefy and theres a lof of setup. It has some really nice story-telling components but was also bogged down by a weird puzzle mechanic. I'll be passing on this one.

Cosmic Encounter is a classic game, first published 28 years ago. I've been wanting to play it for quite awhile as it has some mechanics that I really like, such as player negotiation and individual player powers. The game has some really quirky alien abilities but still manages to self balance really nicely. It was clear to see that this game has had decades to be polished. I don't think I'll be buying this one, but I'd definitely like to play again.

A Game of Thrones is based on the popular book series by George R.R. Martin. Another game that I'd heard a lot about and been interested to try. We tried to teach this to ourselves, but luckily a kind stranger walked us through. Didn't really click with us though; we played 3 out of the 10 rounds before calling it quits. Couldn't tell if is was trying to be a political negotiation or a war game. Passing on it, but could be convinced to try again with experienced players.

Wiz War is a reprint of a classic game. We grabbed this right after Game of Thrones and it was almost a 180 as far as game feel goes. Very light and quirky with clever spells and mechanics. Not sure how long I could play it but was fun for what it was. Only game we played twice since it played so fast. Would definitely play again, but probably won't buy.

Red Dragon Inn is a light filler game. Players act as adventurers hanging out at a bar, trying to get each other drunk. Had a fun and light theme. Played pretty fast, but kind of mindless. Will pass on this one.

Lords of Waterdeep is a new D&D themed euro-style worker placement game. This was by far my favorite game of the weekend. Had really tight mechanics. The theme, while kind of pasted on, still worked really well and made sense. Another game where you just can't do everything you want to do and have to make some really hard choices sometimes. Great game. Top of my wish list.

Battlelore is the fantasy themed addition to the Command & Colors series of games. I had this for a short time but quickly traded it off. I much prefer Memoir 44 which feels more streamlined and polished. I've heard that when you get into the more advanced campaigns of making your own general and using the lore deck is really good. I just like the simplicity of Memoir and would rather get a game done quickly and easily. Will continue to pass.

Kingsburg is another game that I've been wanting to play for a while. I've heard a lot of comparion to Alien Frontiers, which I like a lot, and just as many citations of differences. They both use dice placement as the central mechanic, but apart from that there aren't that many similarities. In this one, dice are used to influence the King's court in order to gain resources and military strength. Has a very cut throat feel to it as its very easy to get blocked by other players. Really liked this one. On the wish list.

Space Hulk: Death Angel was the final game of the weekend. This is the only game I played that is currently in my collection. I usually play this one solo so it was nice to play with other. Based on the Warhammer 40k universe, the players act as space marines to make their way through a series of rooms, clearing out the aliens. Its a fun little card game with some great strategic decisions that can fall apart easily with unlucky die rolls. Very difficuly to win and we did not fair well, losing in the 3rd room. Still, had a lot of fun though.

Final Score Sheet:
Total Games Played: 14
Total New Games Played: 10
Favorite Game: Lords of Waterdeep
Biggest Disappointment: A Game of Thrones
Excitement For Next Year: Enormous