Monday, August 22, 2016

#9: Descent: Journeys in the Dark [2nd edition] (Mark's 100)

Descent: Journeys in the Dark [2nd edition]

Mark's Ranking
  • 2014: 9th
  • 2012: prior to publication
  • 2010: prior to publication
  • 2005: prior to publication
  • rank: 55
  • rating: 7.8
Print Status
  • in print
Why It's On The List
  • All of the design ideas I’d loved from the original version of Descent are still here – one roll combat, customizable characters, great miniatures & artwork. At the same time, FFG has managed to knock off the “rough edges” – simplifying the Overlord system, losing the silly transport glyphs, etc. Most importantly, they've broken adventures down into bite-size (read: playable in 60-90 minutes) pieces… and then connected them via a simplified campaign system that works like a charm.
Tips & Tricks:
  • There are a lot of expansions - I haven't worried about many of the hero/monster sets, but I've picked up all of the campaign boxes (which add plenty of new heroes & monsters as well as terrain & scenarios.)
  • The new Road To Legend mobile app is a fantastic way to play that turns Descent into a cooperative game.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

I'm Not Dead Yet

OK, so the blog's been in hibernation for a while... suffice it to say that my life has been complicated, my job (though financially a blessing) is a time sink, and I've been using precious blogging time to actually play board games.

I'm going to try and get going again - though I will warn you ahead of time that there could be dry spells through the early fall. 

If you have a question for me to answer - it can be personal, spiritual, weird or just hobby-related - leave it in the comments section. I'll see if that doesn't inspire some more interesting (and offbeat) posts.

 Recent & Recommended
  • APP - Descent: Road to Legend (app for the iPad that works with your Descent: Journeys in the Dark 2.0 games & expansions to create a GREAT cooperative experience)
  • BOARD GAME - 7 Wonders: Duel (fantastic re-imagining of a multi-player classic as a 2 player game... can't wait for the expansion!)
  • BOOK - The Aeronaut's Windlass (first book in Jim Butcher's newest series... steampunk-y and creative)
  • CARD GAME - Bear Valley (weird little racing game that is easy to teach and fun to play... a run through bear-infested wilderness)
  • MOVIE - Captain America: Civil War (all the ways it could have gone wrong... and it didn't)
  • MUSIC - Andrew Peterson: The Burning Edge of Dawn ("The Rain Keeps Falling" is the song of my heart some days)
  • PODCAST - Revisionist History (Malcolm Gladwell + odd bits of history + musing on human behavior)
  • TV - Limitless (it's on Netflix... and it's cheerfully wacky)

Friday, March 04, 2016

CatanCon 2015

I just realized that I never posted this report from last year's CatanCon on my blog... so I'm fixing that! The next CatanCon will be in Nashville April 22-24, 2016... and, yes, Collin & I will be there!
It all began because of an article in GAMES magazine... and this highly touted import board game from Germany, The Settlers of Catan. I plunked down $35 at a local hobby store and brought home the original brown box edition with the photo art on the tiles... and my gaming life was never the same again.
I soon traded in my American first edition for a German copy so I could get all of the expansions... and I began running Catan tournaments each year at my local game store.
Push forward roughly 20 years and it's no surprise that I found myself with a press pass to the first annual Catan Con, held in Nashville, TN, on the grounds of the Opryland Hotel. Mayfair brought the Catan van, a truckload of games for sale, an extensive games library and a bunch of their "big" versions of their games for 48 hours of Catan-focused fun.
I spend Friday evening, Saturday morning and Saturday evening at the convention (ah, the joys of living less than 20 minutes away). I'll go through some of my personal highlights, as well as the highlights for my 10 year old son who joined me on Saturday morning.
The 5th Edition
That's right, Mayfair Games has just released a fifth edition of Settlers (which is now simply called Catan)... and I have to say that the new tile art (from Michael Menzel, the same guy who did the art for Stone Age & Legends of Andor) has me almost convinced to buy myself a new copy. The subtle differences in each tile are wonderful.
Explorers & Pirates
I had Catan: Explorers & Piratesthe opportunity to play the "whole enchilada" version of the newest Catan expansion... and I really enjoyed it. The shipping of spice & fish added some interesting twists, as did the new method for settling islands. I don't think it will convince anyone to change their minds about Catan, but I do think it's a splendid addition to the palette of available expansions.
Of course, it probably didn't hurt my opinion that I managed to snake out a win from Morgan Dontanville (the designer of Asgard's Chosen and a long-time Facebook friend who I finally had the chance to meet face-to-face).
Talking with Robert Carty
Part of having a press pass was the opportunity to have some "face time" with Robert Carty, the Director of Sales & Marketing for Mayfair. We talked about a number of things:
  • that there are still people who wish they'd bring back the photo art tiles of the 1st & 2nd edition (really?!)
  • that Catan is more than 50% of Mayfair's sales (not a surprise...)
  • that he & I disagree about the Im Reich/Entdecker spin-off games (I like them a lot... Robert, not so much)
  • that they have big plans for The Big Game (more on that later in this article)
  • that Klaus Teuber may be working on something Catan-related that makes me very happy (but I'm not sure how much I'm supposed to say about... sigh)
  • that Downfall of Pompeii has sold really, really well since it's reprinting (which is a good thing, because it's a great game)
  • and a lot more "hey, we've both been in the hobby a long time" talk... but that's not why you're reading this
3D Settlers3D Catan
Even if one of my roads fell into the crack between two hexes and disappeared (indicating some sort of geological instability on the island of Catan), it was really neat to get to play Catan with my son & my good friend, Bob Trezise.
BIG Karnickel
KarnickelCollin (my son) noted that this was only "sort of Catan Con... maybe more like Mayfair Con". He wasn't entirely incorrect - the game library was liberally stocked with Catan and Catan expansions (both English & German), but there was also a pretty big selection of non-Catan Mayfair games.
We ended up playing a big version of Karnickel, which I hadn't played before. I'm not sure I'd love the small size version of the game - which is a kid/family game - but throwing stuffed rabbits around and collecting piles of plush carrots was a lot of fun.
BIG Downfall of Pompeii
Yet another big game with Collin... since we already own this, it was more for Collin than for me (he liked the big games, even the ones we didn't play). They had a huge Settlers of America map, along with two different Star Trek Catan maps, a couple of regular Catans, and even a copy of Hot Tin Roof with stuffed cats & sardine tins.
Catan Junior & Domaine
We closed out our morning (well, early afternoon) with one game we'd both played before (and Collin stomped me at)... and Domaine, a Klaus Teuber design that I actively avoided for a long time in deference to my much beloved Lowenherz. With a couple of plays under my belt, though, I think I've gone over to the 'dark side' and like Domaine better.
After this, I took Collin home and relaxed for a while before returning to the convention.
Catan: Ancient Egypt
I'm not sure I'm sold on the Helpers of Catan (which I'm told also appear in Star Trek Catan as crew members and here as Egyptian gods)... they add some twists to the game but at the cost of some down time. On the other hand, Ancient Egypt is a very pretty game. (For those of you who've been around the hobby a while, it has some similarities to the Cheops scenario first published as a poster and later found in the original Historical Scenarios box... but there are definite tweaks to the game.)
The Big Game
Catan: The Big GameThe highlight of the evening was Catan: The Big Game - an event that Mayfair has run before at GenCon and will soon make available in kit form for charity events, schools and libraries. Without going into too much detail about the rules, it's Catan meets Take It Easy, as production numbers are "called" (like Bingo) and play simply alternates between sides of the table. 44 people played and the winning score is 25 - I was pretty proud to have 19 (or 20, I can't remember).
Mayfair generously gave us all of us our wooden pieces and the card decks just for participating!
  • The attendance was lower than they were set up for... but I don't think that's a complete surprise. This is a new event that will need more publicity - but I can easily see it growing as it was a very positive experience.
  • There was a good mix of folks with a variety of experience in the hobby... and more women and kids than I normally see at conventions. There were also folks from across the U.S. - I played with people from Illinois, Ohio, Alabama, Tennessee, New York & Washington state (that I know of!).
  • If they remain in the Gaylord Event Center, it will be a popular local event - parking is free and very close in the Opry Mills lot. (This is a "for Nashville folks" note - the con was not in the hotel proper.)
  • You'll notice I didn't mention the tournaments - as they aren't my favorite way of spending convention time, I didn't play in any of them. There were qualifiers for Catan and for Settlers of America.
  • Like my son said, this is more than just Catan. I saw folks playing a number of "gamer-friendly" Mayfair games, including Automobile and Caverna... and there were prototypes in various stages there being playtested, including the upcoming Extra! Extra!.
All in all, a very good couple of days... and I'm looking forward to next year!

This post originally appeared on the Opinionated Gamers website... and I was at CatanCon on a press pass for the OG.

Thursday, February 04, 2016

#10: Eminent Domain (Mark's 100)

Eminent Domain

Mark's Ranking
  • 2014: 10th
  • 2012: did not appear
  • 2010: prior to publication
  • 2005: prior to publication
  • rank: 317
  • rating: 7.16
Print Status
  • in print
Why It's On The List
  • Yes, I know... it's another space empire-building deck-builder (right after I put Core Worlds at #11). Eminent Domain is tighter & quicker than Core Worlds (read: less sprawling) - and is easier to teach new players. Don't let that fool you, though - there's some nifty twists on classic mechanics from Race for the Galaxy and Dominion that add to an excellent game.
Tips & Tricks:
  • My first experience with Eminent Domain was off-putting: late in a long gaming weekend with two people trying to teach me the rules at the same time. I'm glad I gave it another chance - it's a game that reveals new wrinkles each time you play.
  • Learning when (and when not) to invest in technology is a key game skill - and one that took me a few plays to learn.
  • I think the Escalation expansion is splendid - though not for first time players. Especially nice are the scenarios, which give each player a different starting hand along with some technological advance.
  • While I think the game probably shines best with 3 players, my oldest son and I have played a lot of 2 player games and enjoyed them immensely.
  • Sadly, this is really the first thing I've written about Eminent Domain.
  • I did write a preview of Eminent Domain: Microcosm - a fantastic 2 player microgame in the same universe.
  • I also had the privilege of playtesting the upcoming Exotica expansion for Eminent Domain... which is very cool.

Monday, February 01, 2016

Happy 5th Birthday to Sentinels of the Multiverse!

My 2014 Top 100 Games ranked Sentinels of the Multiverse at #36... and I'm willing to bet SotM will be in the top 40 again in 2016. (Yes, dear readers, I'll be revealing the final 10 games of the 2014 list over the next couple of weeks... and posting my 2016 list not long after that!)

Sentinels is a cooperative comic book game that uses multiple card decks (heroes, villain, environment) to tell the story of a "battle royale". It's enhanced by a well-developed mythos and a plethora of sly references to various "real" (read: DC/Marvel) superheroes. It plays well with 3-5 players... and actually works alright as a solo game if you're willing to deal with a lot of cards on the table. (So, fans of LOTR: LCG or Pathfinder Adventure Card Game should feel right at home here.)

This last week was the celebration of five years of Sentinels... of course, since we didn't start playing SotM until the Enhanced Edition came out, it's just four years for us. Over time, we've acquired all the expansions (Villains should arrive here on Tuesday evening) and the majority of the promo cards (variant heroes and villains to play with the original decks). 

I've also picked up the Sentinels iOS app... along with the Season One pass for added content. I'll fully admit that it seems silly to buy digital versions of cards I already own - but the implementation of the app is flat-out amazing.

Another thought about owning both the app and the physical game: if I want to play the game by myself, the app is the way to go. But if I want interaction with other players, the physical cards are a much better means to an end. (Note: I still have not tried the Sidekick app, which helps "officiate" the game.)

But the end is near... or at least the end of this story. Greater Than Games just announced that the Kickstarter for the final expansion will go live on February 9th. No surprise - we'll be throwing our cash on the table.

This won't be the end of the Multiverse - Sentinel Tactics will continue (a skirmish game that we like better as a free-for-all rather than the published scenarios) with a new standalone game and expansion in early 2017... and the SotM RPG is due this summer. 

Saturday, January 30, 2016

This Time, It's Just Personal (2015)

Hey, campers... I may have stopped collecting the Five & Dime stats for everyone else - but I haven't stopped collecting my own!

Here's my own personal Five & Dime list (the games I played 5+ and 10+ times in 2015).
Games with an asterisk [*] were on my Five & Dime list last year, games with two asterisks [**] have been on my list for the past two years, games with three asterisks [***] have been there for three years, games with four asterisks [****] have been there for 4 years... and games with five  asterisks [*****] have been there (wait for it) for the past 5 years!

  • Star Realms 37 *
  • DC Comics Deck-Building Game (includes Teen Titans) 37 *
  • Race for the Galaxy 17 *****
  • Sentinels of the Multiverse 17 ***
  • The City 9 ***
  • Pandemic Legacy (Season One) 14
  • Summoner Wars 14 ****
  • Memoir '44 13 *
  • Roll for the Galaxy 13
  • Colt Express 12
  • Fast Food Franchise 12 ***
  • 7 Wonders 11
  • Machi Koro 10 * 
  • Ascension: Deckbuilding Game 9
  • Baseball Highlights: 2045 9
  • Catan 8
  • Favor of the Pharaoh 8
  • Pathfinder Adventure Card Game: Skull & Shackles 8 *
  • Pickomino 8
  • Rattlebones 8
  • Survive: Space Attack 8
  • Can't Stop 7 *
  • Castles of Mad King Ludwig 7 *
  • Crash Cup Karambolage 7
  • Fill or Bust 7
  • GUBS 7
  • The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King Deck-Building Game 7
  • Suburbia 7 ***
  • Arctic Scavengers 6
  • Eminent Domain 6 ***
  • Eminent Domain: Microcosm 6 * 
  • Mage Knight Board Game 6
  • Samurai Spirit 6
  • Star Wars: X-Wing Miniatures Game 6 **
  • Tash-Kalar: Arena of Legends 6
  • Tiny Epic Defenders 6
  • Blöder Sack 5
  • Castle Panic 5
  • Clash of Cultures 5 *
  • DC Deckbuilding Rivals: Batman vs Joker 5
  • Galaxy Trucker 5
  • Gold am Orinoko 5
  • Marvel Dice Masters: Uncanny X-Men/Amazing Spider-Man 5 *
  • Mystery Rummy: Escape from Alcatraz 5
  • Nations: The Dice Game 5
  • Quantum 5 *
  • Roll Through the Ages: The Iron Age 5
  • Rampage/Terror in Meeple City 5 *
  • Tiny Epic Galaxies 5

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Metro 2033: Breakthrough (Game Review)

  • box_3d_Metro2033CG_ENG_rightDesigner: Evegny Nikitin
  • Publisher: Hobby World
  • Players: 2-5
  • Time: 45 minutes (though I’d say it’s about 15 minutes per player)
  • Ages: 12
  • Times Played: 4 (with review copy of provided by Hobby World)
In my review of Rogue Agent in the fall of 2014, I began by noting the dystopian tidal wave in pop culture:

Dystopian visions of the future are all the rage in film (The Hunger Games, Divergent, Children of Men), in literature (The Giver, The Passage), in video games (Half-Life/Portal, EVE Online) and in board games (Arctic Scavengers, Bioshock: Siege of Columbia). At some level, the whole zombie mania (please, no more games about zombies – I beg you!) has elements of dystopia – and, in many cases, a severe lack of imagination.

The previous paragraph needs footnotes:
  • Yes, I’m aware that The Passage is a zombie book of sorts… I loved the first couple hundred pages & then completely bogged down when time shifted.
  • Yes, I’m also aware that there’s a lot of crossover between various media formats in my examples above.
  • No, I’m not likely to get over my dislike of zombies any time soon.
So it’s not really a surprise that even our friends in Russia have their own dystopian hit book… and video game… and now card game. (There’s also a board game set in the Metro 2033 universe, but I haven’t seen it – let alone played it – so I’m just going to link to it and otherwise ignore that it exists.) The novel which launched all of this was written in 2005 by Dmitry Glukhovsky – in which he imagines a post-apocalyptic world where people have retreated to live in the Metro stations of Moscow deep below the blighted surface. In addition to the usual problems of supplies and squalid conditions, there are the Dark Ones, mutated beings who attack the Metro dwellers.

In Metro 2033: Breakthrough, players take control of and attempt to grow one of the factions who lives in the subway system. By hoarding resources, occupying stations and successfully defending against attacks from the Dark Ones, the factions grow from mere survival to dominance… and the win!

Game Play

Each player begins with five faction tokens placed above his faction card. These represent your forces that you can send into the underground to scavenge for resources and locate new stations. They are also the measure of victory – if you manage to grow your faction to 10 tokens, you have successfully mustered the support of the residents of this post-apocalyptic world. Players are also dealt a hand of five cards.   
 On a turn, a player can do one of three things:
  1. play a card into his tableau, paying the cost of the card by taking tokens from above his faction card and sliding them below the card.
  2. discard a card and return tokens from below his faction card to above the faction card equal to the cost of the discarded card.
  3. discard three cards from his hand and draw three new cards
At the end of a turn, all players draw back up to five cards, using a Ticket to Ride-like open draw of three cards.

metro_weaponPlayers can play four different types of cards into their tableau:
  • Resources: from air scrubbers to automatic weapons, Resource cards have a value of 1, 2 or 3, which is applied to faction quests and settling stations. They come in two colors in 3 “suits” each:
    • Peaceful (blue) resources: Welfare, Food & Items
    • Military (red) resources: Weapon, Bullets & Equipment
  • Heroes: what would your dystopian world be without heroes to brave the wasteland? In Metro 2033: Breakthrough, Hero cards offer two benefits when played:
    • they help defend your faction (more on that in a minute)
    • they can be discarded with cards of a particular Resource “suit” in order to double the Resource value
  • Stations: Station cards give a discount on one “suit” of Resource cards immediately – and when finally settled, make that particular type of Resource free to play. As well, when they’re settled, they add more faction tokens to a player’s tableau.
  • Threat Protection: certain Resource and Threat (monster) cards can be played as Threat Protection cards by paying their faction token cost and playing them with their yellow shield(s) facing up. When a Threat attacks, a player can discard a Threat Protection card with the matching symbol to both prevent damage from the attack as well as giving him an out-of-turn card play with no faction token cost.
Two types of cards are not played to the table; instead, they are discarded in order to get back faction tokens as well as triggering some kind of effect:
  • Caravans: this clears the 3 card draw display as well as potentially allowing players with completed faction quests and/or settled stations to return back faction tokens.
  • Threats: monsters lumber out of the darkness to destroy supplies and take back stations.
metro_threatsThreats affect every faction – even the one that played them – if you are unable to defend, you lose whatever is indicated on the card. (The monsters that take away both blue & red resources can be particularly nasty.) If you can defend, you receive the aforementioned “free” out-of-turn play. If a station is taken away, the faction token moves to the faction card.
Play continues until one faction reaches ten faction tokens – indicating a critical mass of followers and supplies that allows them to gain control of the Metro and win the game.

So, How Is It?

I used to love “take that” games… in fact, another dystopian classic and personal favorite of 20 years ago, Illuminanti (and the CCG version, Illuminati: New World Order), are both basically old school “take that” card games dressed up in some gamer-y chrome. As I’ve grown older, that particular game mechanism is less appealing to me.

So I started playing Metro 2033: Breakthrough with a bit of trepidation – would the monsters overwhelm any chance to build up resources & stations? So far, that hasn’t been an issue, thanks to a clever design choice: monsters affect every faction, even the one that set them loose. This makes putting monsters into play something not to be taken lightly.

That said, I can anticipate that certain groups would be, shall we say, “monster-happy” and make the game run unnecessarily long with a succession of rampages. My solution: play King of Tokyo with those people rather than Metro 2033.

I am also concerned that a five player game (which we have not played) would have a tendency to increase the number of monster cards in circulation by the virtue of the deck size. We circled through the deck one and a half times when playing with 4 players – with five, that would easily reach two trips through.

Speaking of number of players, I was pleasantly surprised that the game worked well with 2, 3, and 4 players. It lacks a little “oomph” with 2 – but the design doesn’t bog down and it’s an enjoyable filler for a couple of folks who don’t mind the theme. It’s more of a super-filler (45 minutes or so) with 3 or 4 players.

The artwork is evocative without being obnoxious or overdone. As well, the iconography is clear and easy to use once you have a game under your belt.
Metro Breakthrough promoMetro 2033: Breakthrough has one other trait I really enjoy in a game: it speeds up towards the end. As players acquire more faction tokens and stations, they increase their ability to find resources and settle stations. (Note: this is not only good game design, it’s thematically solid.) In addition, this speedy ending hasn’t (so far) caused any blowouts – we’ve had a couple of very close finishes and a couple of wins that were a little more obvious, but no one has been left completely in the dust.

Metro 2033: Breakthrough wears its theme well… and it’s a very playable and enjoyable super-filler with a core mechanism (the ebb & flow of spending tokens) that’s both thematically evocative and an interesting design choice.

This review originally appeared on the Opinionated Gamers website...