Tuesday, July 27, 2010

New Games (or new to me, at least): Part Four

Yet more about the games that are new to me this year... you can also read Part One (A-B), Part Two (C-D), & Part Three (E-I).

New Games (to me): K-M
  • Kachina - Overly busy & very abstract game of tile placement - like some weird blend of Kingdoms (which I don't like) and Qwirkle (which I do like) on peyote. (The game is Indian-themed.) Not a game I would seek out to play again.
  • Kleine Magier - The prime feature here is the gimmick... multiple cloth magician hats that spin about on three gears & are picked up by a magnet in a magic wand. The game itself is pretty standard memory fare - but this has been well-received by my younger (5 year old) son. (review copy provide)
  • Klopf, Klopf - A real-time reaction game that just didn't quite work... the components are nice (though the art isn't up to Haba's usual standards) but the gameplay was kind of clunky. (review copy provided)
  • Level X - Multi-player dice game with some interesting decisions about what combinations to use... I need to try this one again.
  • Make 'n' Break Extreme - There are a number of Make'n'Break games from Ravensburger... all involve a timer & players attempting to build "sculptures" from the provided bricks to match the cards. I actually found this version easier (with the Tetris-like brick shapes) than the standard games where the bricks only vary in color.
  • Maori - I like the ideas here (the tile grabbing mechanic reminds me of Drôles de Zèbres & Kupferkessel Co.) but my only play was on yucata.de... I need to try this one face-to-face.
  • Masons - This is one of those "place pieces to get points" Euros that has a number of fans & probably as many detractors. (The theme is almost non-existent.) I didn't mind the game but I probably would find something else to play.
  • Memoir '44: Breakthrough - I've reviewed this elsewhere but I'll just remind everyone that I'm a huge fan of Memoir '44 and the Breakthrough expansion (which gives you deeper maps) just increases my enjoyment of the game. (review copy provided)
  • Mystery Express - Days of Wonder already had a beautifully produced deduction game, Mystery of the Abbey. However, it also contained some chaotic elements & an odd questioning system that drove some gamers batty. Mystery Express is a much better system - there doesn't seem to be any way for a player to "break" the game with a wrong answer - and the presentation is very nice... but it's really long for what it is: Gamer Clue.

Monday, July 26, 2010

New Games (or new to me, at least): Part Three

Hopefully, this post is more like "Toy Story 3" rather than "Jaws 3" or the "The Matrix Revolutions"... (you can go back to Part One: A & B or Part Two: C & D, if you'd like).

New Games (to me): E - I
  • Eketorp - This game became a running gag in our gaming group - Jeff brought it each week and then we wouldn't play it. Week after week, month after month... and then finally it happened! And it wasn't bad... the components (as has been true for Queen Games) were excellent & the gameplay was a reasonably enjoyable "take-that" brawl. I don't need to own it but I'd be happy to play it again.
  • Enuk the Eskimo - The box is a tad big for what's inside it... but the game itself is a really nice memory/push-your-luck game with some cute thematic elements. I actually like this one better than my kids. (review copy provided)
  • Forbidden Island - Pandemic for kids & people with short attention spans... and that's not damning with faint praise, as I really, really like this one. The artwork is perfect, the tension builds & every play of this cooperative game is a nail-biter. Well done, Mr. Leacock, well done. (review copy provided)
  • Gelini Nightlife - Who knew that (a) introducing a random element to Knizia's dry & abstract Tutanchamun and (b) changing the theme to gummi bears trying to fill up discos would take a mediocre game and make it a winner? Not me - yet that's what has happened here. It's extremely light but lots of fun - a great filler!
  • Gemblo Woodman - a simple dexterity game of knocking bark off a tree with a plastic axe... dexterity game haters need not apply. This one rewards some practice, as the balance can be kind of tricky.
  • Gloria Picktoria - the reboot of one of my favorite Alan Moon games, Get the Goods... but there are some odd rules changes that I'm not sure (after one play) if I like or not. The Doris M. art is cute, though. (review copy provided)
  • Halo Interactive Strategy Game - Bargain basement 2-player minis game... I've never played Halo but it doesn't feel much like a video game. The plastic stuff for constructing the board is pretty cool.
  • Heroscape: Battle for the Underdark - I'm a long-time Heroscape player/collector AND a former DM (back in the early, early 80's)... so I was curious what the melding of the two would look like. I'm actually pretty impressed with the new characters & the chaining of scenarios together to make a "campaign" (read: dungeon crawl). Well done, WOTC.
  • Hoppladi Hopplada! - Doris art & cute bits doesn't make this game go fast enough for me - it's a push-your-luck dice game. The fun ends 15 minutes before the game ends.
  • IGOR: The Monster Making Game - Reboot of an old Knizia dice game (Code Knacker) to go with the very unsuccessful film... game is light but playable. Nothing to write home about.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Dark = Artistic?!

Yesterday, while cruising across Fresno to pick up a pizza - which, yes, I ordered over the Internet, thus finally confirming all my wife's fears that had been inflamed by Sandra Bullock's 1995 thriller, "The Net" - I was listening to NPR's "All Things Considered" and caught the tail end of some commentary by Andrew Wallenstein on scripted cable shows:
Cable hasn't entirely lost its artistic streak. AMC is keeping the flame burning with the likes of "Mad Men" and "Breaking Bad." But "The Closer" and "Royal Pains," they get like three times the ratings.
I quickly Tweeted a note to my readers (and myself):
Did NPR just say that "dark equals artistic"? Huh?
BTW, if you'd like to read my Twitter feed, my handle is "akapastorguy".

Back to my story... so, this morning, I pulled by NPR's website & checked the transcript of the commentary to make sure I'd heard him correctly. And I did.

There's two underlying assumptions in the the lines I quoted above that really set me off:
  • First, the implied argument that "Mad Men", "Breaking Bad", and "The Shield" (mentioned earlier in the piece) are good because they are gritty & dark in tone... and not bland detective or medical shows. (After reading the whole piece, I realize that Mr. Wallenstein is attempting to prove that cable programming is becoming derivative & staid - but I still think the particular shows he chose to illustrate his point underline the "darker is gooder" critical viewpoint.
  • Second, the other implied argument is that shows that get better ratings must be, by definition, less artistic than shows which get lesser ratings. While this may be true at times (and at this point it's time to highlight something like "Two & A Half Men"), this isn't a hard & fast rule of thumb - and it's a lousy principle to use for evaluating the subjective artistic worth of any kind of work, be it television, literature, movies or music.

Finally, "artistic" is such a loosey-goosey word to use here - it's vague & subjective & used primarily to "bless" things you like, often in opposition to things that you do not like. (The word "fundamentalist" serves a similar function in religious journalism, except as a pejorative "curse".)

New Games (or new to me, at least): Part Two

The mid-year review of new games continues... (here's Part One: A & B)

New Games (to me): C & D

  • Carcassonne: Catapult - If you felt like Carcassonne needed more whimsy & a dexterity element, this is for you. Otherwise, it's a pretty expensive way to add a wooden flicking device & a few extra tiles to your Carcassonne collection. (BTW, this is not the worst Carc expansion - that honor goes to The Count of Carcassone.)
  • Carcassonne: Wheel of Fortune - OTOH, I really enjoyed playing this Carc spin-off/expansion as a stand-alone game... the wheel actually offers some interesting extra choices & not as much random silliness as you'd think. (It is not a roulette wheel but a rondel - that's gamerspeak for "it's actually a cool gaming mechanic, guys.") (Review copy provided)
  • Cardcassonne - This makes me sad to say this but the word that popped into my head is "pedestrian." There's nothing wrong with the game - it works - but that's all it does. It's not really a card version of Carcassonne except in theme... it's more of a brinksmanship/press-your-luck card placement game. (Review copy provided)
  • Castle Panic - Surprisingly enjoyable cooperative game of fending off monsters... has been a hit both with kids & with gamers. (There are rules included for a LOTR: Sauron-like variant as well as "coop but only 1 player wins" variant - but we haven't played those yet.)
  • Catacombs - I keep saying this in a variety of forums, but it's worth saying again: take the dungeon crawl/combat experience of Descent: Journeys in the Dark, subtract 3 hours & add the flicking element from Carabande... and now you have Catacombs. We've had a lot of fun with this one - it's cries out for an expansion!
  • Chopper Strike - Finally managed to trade for a copy to complete a set... this is weird combination between checkers & a simple wargame that is made palatable by the very cool two-level board. (In fact, the board & cool minis are my reasons for acquiring a copy of this 36 year old mass market game.) I see this mostly coming out with my boys.
  • Claustrophobia - Space Hulk + Kingsburg... really. Impressive game design w/pre-painted minis & easier set-up/tear-down than most dungeon crawl games. Seriously thinking about buying a copy.
  • Click Clack - The MSRP is way too high... but if you can get a deal on this very large kids game, it's a lot of fun esp. with the younger set. The pieces are big & chunky... and the board is a huge mass of molded plastic that sits in the box. (Review copy provided)
  • The Magic Labyrinth - The winner of last year's Kinderspiel des Jahres deserves every bit of recognition it gets... it's a memory/maze game done with magnets that feels like a combination of the best bits of A-Mazing Labyrinth & Goblin's Gold. It's even fun with adults (if they can relax & enjoy themselves.)
  • Dungeon Lords - The rulebook is stuffed full of D&D/WoW-tinged humor... and why not? You're the bad guy this time, using a variety of monsters & minions to defeat those pesky adventurers who keep coming & stealing your stuff. Mechanically, it reminds me a bit of Galaxy Trucker, but the mechanics are more complex and the game is not real-time. Probably my favorite new "think-y" game because of the theme & humor.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

New Games (or new to me, at least): Part One

Yet another "I've been meaning to blog about this" project - wherein I give you, my faithful readers, some quick reactions to the games I've played in 2010 for the very first time. (There's a lot of them - 51, to be exact - so I'm dividing this post into multiple parts.)

New Games (To Me): A & B
  • A Brief History Of The World - a redesign of a classic Ragnar Brothers game that not only shortens the playing time (with slow players, actual history could move faster than the original game) but also tightens up the system & gives each player more control. If possible, I like it even better than my much-loved copy of the Hasbro/Avalon Hill edition of the game. (But I do miss all the plastic minis...)
  • Adios Amigos - A real-time game of Wild West gunfighting that uses basic math (addition & subtraction) as a main mechanic. Yes, I know that sounds tedious - but it isn't. This 20 minute filler game for 4 players is a lot of fun.
  • Alea Iacta Est - I've played this dice game (with a Roman empire theme) with 2, 3, 4 & 5 players... and I think it's best with 3 or 4. Each additional player adds to the playing time and that finally tips over the edge with 5 folks at the table. I like the way you manage your supply of dice - but the Senate cards iconography is a little weird and makes the first play pretty slow for newbies. (Review copy provided.)
  • BasketBoss - I was really excited to try this auction/basketball team management by the designer of Streetsoccer... the changing value of the players from year to year is really nifty. The game, however, runs a little slow & the moving of the strips can be a bit fiddly - not enough to ruin the game but certainly enough with a full contingent of players to make me cautious about playing again.
  • Birds, Bugs and Beans - Standard issue speed recognition game with the added attraction of getting to make animal & farting noises. I will play it ONLY if one of my boys asks...
  • Buccaneer - Interesting think-y filler with a pirate theme... worked better than I thought it would but feel like there might be a kingmaker issue in the final turn.
  • Burger Joint - Disclosure note: the designer (Joe Huber) is a good friend of mine & I playtested one of the earlier versions of the game. With that said, I like Burger Joint a lot - while the theme is fun, it's a pretty abstract game of manipulating resources for two players that plays in 30 minutes. (Review copy provided.)
  • Burg der 1000 Spiegel - The mechanic (using mirrors built into the board) is awesome - you peer through a hole inside of the box & what you see is bounced around off a series of mirrors - but it's really just a standard memory game with a slight betting element. Fun with kids but doesn't have the oomph to be played by just adults.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The Problem With Sorting Kid Games By Age

I've promised a couple of you that I would eventually sort the Kid Games 100 (and other kid games I've reviewed) by appropriate age... but in the process of doing so, I've run into some snags.
  • Most importantly, there is a marked difference between "age at which a child can play the game with a parent/adult" and "age at which a child can play the game with kids his/her own age." For example, my 9 year old son can play a number of games (Thebes, Return of the Heroes, Axis & Allies: Battle of the Bulge, Battlelore) while I'm at the table that he would have a difficult teaching and/or "officiating" with his friends.
  • A similar issue: the intellectual maturity of kids varies wildly - while both my boys seem to have developed reading skills very quickly, some kids don't... and that keeps them from comfortably learning and/or playing certain games.
  • Along the same lines: the emotional maturity of kids also varies - my five year old can make the decisions needed to play Dungeonquest... but he was completely creeped out by his character being bitten by a vampire (for those who don't know the game, it's just a card w/some game effects) and refuses to play again. Other kids we know don't have the ability to play games with hosage without having major breakdowns.

Those three issues are making it tough to know how best to sort the games... I'm thinking that I'll probably make multiple lists, but that's going to delay the project a bit.


Friday, July 16, 2010

Through the Years: Yet More Gaming History

OK, I never thought this would spawn 3 different posts... weird, huh? (If you want to read the first two, here's the one about most played games by year of release & here's the one about most time spent playing by year of release...

So, we've got one 30 minute sci-fi card game, one 45 minute party/DVD game that the boys loved to play, one 60 minute tile-laying city-building game, one 15 minute backgammon-ish soccer game, one 30 minute Rummy-ish game w/a great exploration theme, and one of the best push-your luck dice games on the planet (playing time dependent on the number of players).

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Through the Years: More Gaming History

I already posted the first Through the Years post earlier this year... which simply listed my most played games by year of release. This time, I'm listing the games I've spent the most time playing (still by year of release):
  • 2009: Roll Through the Ages - Matt Leacock's inventive "Yahtzee meets Civilization" game has been successful with gamers & non-gamers... and it's very cool that he released an online print-n-play "gamer" expansion as a freebie bonus!
  • 2008: Pandemic - Interestingly, this is yet another Matt Leacock design - and one that works equally well with gamers & non-gamers (again!) This time, it's a cooperative game where the players attempt to save the world from a variety of killer viruses.
  • 2007: Race for the Galaxy - Tom Lehmann's magnum opus is this incredibly addictive card game about space colonization & war. With the addition of the third expansion, you have now have a complete epic game that still plays in 30 minutes or so (with experienced players).
  • 2006: Battlelore - While I don't love this to the same extent that I love Memoir '44, I think this fantasy/medieval entry in the Command & Colors system (created by Richard Borg) is a great way to blow a couple of hours. My oldest son really likes the newest expansions because they added more creatures for him to choose from...
  • 2005: Pizza Box Football - It's a pretty simple dice game with some slight simulation elements (there are team cards for each year, but they don't vary a great deal)... but that doesn't dampen the fun I have playing this game. I finally won a game earlier this year after going something like 0-18.
  • 2004: Heroscape - Little did I know when Frank Branham emailed me & told me "get thee hence to thy local Wal-Mart and pick up this game" that I would end up 6 years later with four shelves full of figures & 5 cartons of terrain. It doesn't hurt that Braeden loves the game - we're in the middle of an Orcs vs. Dragons battle right now - and that it's easy to teach to new players.
  • 2003: Return of the Heroes - Lutz Stepponat designed my favorite "D&D in a boardgame" game with this interesting hybrid of fantasy quest & Eurogame... I own all the expansions & have enjoyed in a variety of settings. The lack of direct combat between players speeds up the game & makes it very wife-friendly.
  • 2002: Puerto Rico - My first 4 plays were in 36 hours at the Gathering of Friends... it's wild to be introduced to such an important game in the company of so many really skillful gamers! This "build an economic/points engine" game is still (for me) the standard by which all other such games are measured.
  • 2001: Pig Pile - This is probably my favorite "better than Uno" game. (Yes, as a matter of fact I have created my own moniker for card games that are relatively mindless & great with non-gamers that don't make you want to have a frontal lobotomy 1/2 way through the game - see Phase 10 or Uno.)
  • 2000: Lord of the Rings - LOTR is not as non-gamer-friendly as Pandemic, but this Knizia cooperative masterpiece uses an abstract card-driven mechanic to ratchet up the tension in a way that reflects the writings of Tolkien brilliantly. We like to play with the Friends & Foes expansion or with the Sauron expansion (but not both at the same time).
  • 1999: Ra - I really disliked Ra the first time I played it - the scoring seemed convoluted & the game took FORever (almost 90 minutes). But thanks to a clearance sale, I picked up a copy to trade, broke it out again, and realized what a work of genius this auction game is... esp. when you play it in an appropriate 30-40 minutes!
  • 1998: Elfenland - This hasn't hit the table in way too long - probably because of the 2 hour playing time & the unforgiving nature of the game if you get behind. That doesn't change the fact that this re-imagining of Alan Moon's classic Elfenroads is a splendid game... and the addition of the Elfengold expansion turns into it a heavy gamer-friendly exercise.
  • 1997: Arriba / Lowenherz - It's a tie! Arriba is the first edition of what you can now buy in the store as "Jungle Speed"... it's the demented (and potentially physically dangerous) love child of Set and Spoons. OTOH, Lowenherz is 1/3 of the massive Klaus Teuber prototype that eventually gave birth to The Settlers of Catan & Entdecker... and it's one of the meanest Eurogames that I own. I would play it a LOT more if it didn't require exactly 4 players to work well.
  • 1996: Settlers of Catan Card Game - It's almost obsolete - Herr Teuber is publishing a new updated version of the game later this year - but that doesn't change the fact that this is card game implementation of The Settlers of Catan is a great game. It's too long & only plays with 2 players - but it's more than just a luck of the draw/dice card game. (Humorously enough, my first 10+ plays of this game were with a German set with a translation cheat sheet... that's how we did it back in the day - "kickin' it old skool." )
  • 1995: Settlers of Catan -If Helen of Troy was "the face that launched a thousand ships," then Catan is "the game that launched a thousand games." When this appeared back in 1995, it revolutionized the board game world. It certainly revolutionized my playing habits - my conservative guess is that I've played 250+ games of Catan along w/the plethora of expansion sets. If you haven't tried it, you're missing out on one of the classic gaming experiences
  • 1994: RoboRally - Before the umpteenth game of this with soul-deadening AP (analysis paralysis) burned out my love for it, this was a very popular game amongst myself & my friends. The reprint of the game by Avalon Hill solved a couple of major game problems (virtual status & the lack of help for setting up workable race layouts) but it came too late for me. Don't let my ennui stop you, though - there's a really neat programmed movement system here that's a lot of chaotic fun.
  • 1993: Ausgebremst - In the gaming world, most folks know the game this was based on (Ave Caesar) better than they know of this auto-racing themed follow up... and they mostly know of Ave Caesar because it was difficult to find & expensive to acquire for a long, long time. I like the "gear" system & variable tracks of Ausgebremst - but you've got to be prepared to get hosed early & often in this game of choke point racing.
  • 1992: Fast Food Franchise - Long before Tom Lehman created the masterpiece of Race for the Galaxy, he produced some other very interesting games - Time Agent, for example, is not quite like anything else around. In that same time period, he created an homage/re-visioning of Monopoly that adds some tactical decisions, a nice helping of theme & loads of "drive each into bankruptcy" fun. This is way, way OOP... but I keep hoping that someone will pick it up & reprint this - it's probably the most "non-gamer" friendly of the games on this list, due to the similarities with Monopoly.
  • 1991: History of the World - My first playing of the Avalon Hill "chit" version of HotW was miserable... enough to turn me off the game for life. But when H/AH re-issued the game with streamlined rules and tons of plastic minis, I took a copy off the prize table at Gulf Games & found a new gaming love. The epic sweep of this game is an absolute hoot. (Last year, the designers released their newest take on the game system, A Brief History of the World... and while I miss the plastic minis, the game is tighter, better & less chaotic.)
  • 1990: Sindbad - This is a French game of the early 90s, with all that implies: interesting artwork on the cards (you don't want to have to explain some of the pictures to the younger members of your family), odd dice/card combat system, a stock market-like mechanic of investing in commodities... all in the same theme-drenched game. There are substantial amounts of chaos but also great fun to be had...
  • 1989: Space Hulk - Back when Games Workshop was actually attempting to produce games & not just gaming systems, they created this shoot-'em-up space opera of outnumbered marines vs. hordes of Genestealer aliens... and the relatively clean rule systems plus the gorgeous minis & boards made for a great experience. They've recently republished this at an EXTREMELY high price point.
  • 1988: Blood Bowl - Another Games Workshop game (that soon spawned a miniatures gaming system - of course) that we had lots of fun with back in the day. You fielded fantasy squads to play a game that was more violent than rugby and had the same high-scoring tendencies as soccer. I think the system is out-dated now, but we played a lot of this early on.
  • 1987: Dungeonquest - This is very possibly the game I've played the most over the longest span of time... as I've described it elsewhere, it's like playing D&D with a DM (in this case, the game system) who hates your guts. Capricious death (trapped in a rotating room, eaten by a giant centipede, falling into a bottomless pit, etc.) are part & parcel of each game - but since it's only an hour long at worst, that's perfectly OK.
  • 1986: Fortress America - Not the last of the MB big box wargames series, but the one I've probably played the most - it's the U.S. vs. the rest of the world as they attack America. Cool plastic minis, partisan cards that read like someone O.D.'d on the movie "Red Dawn" & clean rule systems made this a great, great game to play. I'd love to see it re-developed & re-released.
  • 1985: Mosby's Raiders - A solitaire wargame about the Civil War guerrilla cavalry unit... I liked the way it played enough to spend a lot of time with this one during college & seminary.
  • 1984: Axis & Allies - Not the first of the MB big box wargames... but the best known and the one that's spun off the most games. I've never actually won a game of this, btw, but that hasn't stopped me from playing it over & over.
  • 1983: Talisman - This is the game by which all over fantasy boardgames are judged - and it's well-loved enough to have 5 different editions (I think it's five?)... I owned most of 2nd edition & all of 3rd edition. It's too long for what it is, but we had great times with it 20 years ago.
  • 1982: Family Business - Another game that is still in print... I didn't start playing it until the early 90s, but it became a "we need a game where we can beat up on each other" staple at our game nights.
  • 1981: The Broadway Game - I bought a copy of this in a clearance bin at a Toys'R'Us... and it became the game that defined the early years of our marriage as Shari & I taught it to every couple we spent major time with. Yes, it's overly long; yes, it has some game mechanics that can go completely haywire; yes, the voting at the end is a screwy way to finish the game... and yet, we love it all the same. (Man, we need to play that again! It's been too long.)
  • 1980: Can't Stop - Sid Sackson's dice masterpiece... there have been various editions over the years (and a really nice Flash computer implementation called Roll or Don't) - no matter which one you use, it's one of the best push-your-luck games ever designed.
I'll list the rest of these without comments... you'll note that all but two of them are Avalon Hill games. The exceptions are Tally Ho & Junta.