Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Five & Dime: A Fond Farewell

After 15 years of publishing the Five & Dime lists (both here on this blog & over on the Opinionated Gamers website), it's time for me to let the Five & Dime "go gentle into that good night."

There are, of course, a trio of reasons for this:
  1. My new job and commute eat into the time that I once used to compile and publish the Five & Dime lists.
  2. The resources available through BGG and folks who scrape that data are much more extensive than what I am able to muster.
  3. I want to spend more time playing (and reviewing) games than I do crunching stats.
I've had a wonderful time over the years putting this together - and I still think there are interesting things to be learned from these numbers - but it's time for us to bid a fond farewell to the bar graphs & percentages.


Tuesday, December 30, 2014

#56: Industrial Waste (Mark's 100 - 2014)


Industrial Waste

Mark's Ranking
  • 2014: 56th
  • 2012: 51st
  • 2010: 47th
  • 2005: 35th
  • appeared on all four lists
  • rank: 869
  • rating: 6.78
Print Status
  • OOP
Why It's On The List
  • Though overshadowed by the appearance of the 900 lb gorilla of Euro gaming (Puerto Rico), Industrial Waste was and is a very good game of trading off speed & income generation for knocking the rough edges off your production system - particularly in how you deal with (wait for it) industrial waste.
Tips & Tricks:
    • Don't forget that it takes an advisor (2x) card to pay off a loan.
    • Loans are not bad - and if you're going to take one, don't wait until you are circling the drain to do so... it will just speed up your demise.
    • There are multiple paths to victory - but all them require that you deal with the creation of waste at some level.
    Extras
    • While some folks have come up with 2 player variants, I wouldn't recommend them - this is much better with 3 or 4 players.
    • Industrial Waste is living evidence of great game development - because (by contract), Hans im Gluck was required to publish the "designer's variant" rules (actually the original rules to the game). Note: not a good game with those rules.
    • Here's what I wrote about Industrial Waste for The One Hundred.

    #57: Bohnanza (Mark's 100 - 2014)


    Bohnanza

    Mark's Ranking
    • 2014: 57th
    • 2012: 69th
    • 2010: 64th
    • 2005: 18th
    • appeared on all four lists
    • rank: 265
    • rating: 7.1
    Print Status
    • in print
    Why It's On The List
    • An innovative use of cards (you can't rearrange your hand!), a clever theme (bean farming), and some nifty rules to create a barter economy combine to make a great, great game.
    Tips & Tricks:
      • Just because you can trade something doesn't mean you should trade something - pay attention!
      • A third bean field is only a good idea if you do it EARLY..
      Extras
      • While the game will play with 3-7 players, I think that the sweet spot is 5-6.
      • I'm a huge fan of the High Bohn expansion for the game (which adds Cosmic Encounter-ish powers & a Wild West theme)... but I never get to play it.
      • The 2 player version - Al Cabohne - is actually a lot of fun... but kinda tough to locate.
      • Here's what I wrote about Bohnanza for The One Hundred.
      • Here's a page from my old website (Game Central Station) about rules mistakes & Bohnanza expansions.

      Monday, December 29, 2014

      #58: Web of Power (Mark's 100 - 2014)


      Web of Power 

      Mark's Ranking
      • 2014: 58th
      • 2012: 12th
      • 2010: 12th
      • 2005: 36th
      • appeared on all four lists
      BoardGameGeek
      • rank: 276
      • rating: 7.34
      Print Status
      • out of print... though it has just been re-published as Han 
      Why It's On The List
      • An extraordinarily simple game of brinksmanship as various monastic orders struggle to influence medieval Europe. Quite possibly one of the best three player games ever designed.
      Tips & Tricks:
      • Web of Power was reprinted as China - with some board & rules changes. I like the original better. (I have not played the newest reprint, the aforementioned Han.)
      • The designer (Michael Schacht) has an online gaming site where you can play not only Web of Power & China... but a series of 12 different boards using the same game system!
      • Make plays that enable you to put pairs into your hand - since they act as wild cards.
      • Tricky scoring tip #1: advisors only help if you win/tie on both sides of the connection. Don't get in a war you can't win - you're only helping the other guy.
      • Tricky scoring tip #2: don't take all but one building site in a country - you leave a spot open for one player to collect a lot of points w/a single play. You only need a majority in a country to garner all of the points.
      • There are a couple of expansions - both are print & play: The Vatican (which is ok) and Kardinal & Konig: Das Duell (which does a great job of making Web of Power work as a 2 player game).
      • One complaint: a direct translation of the German name (Kardinal & Konig) would have been much better name than Web of Power... it would have been "Cardinals & Kings".
      Extras
      • Here's what I wrote about Web of Power for The One Hundred: personal & "official".

        #59: Forbidden Island (Mark's 100 - 2014)


        Forbidden Island

        Mark's Ranking
        • 2014: 59th
        • 2012: did not appear
        • 2010: prior to publication
        • 2005: prior to publication
        • rank: 365
        • rating: 6.93
        Print Status
        • in print
        Why It's On The List
        • A beautiful and incredibly inexpensive cooperative game by Matt Leacock (designer of Pandemic) that offers a nail-biting play experience every time.
        Tips & Tricks:
          • Stranding players is an ongoing problem - and you don't have enough helicopters to keep rescuing people.
          • Use your helicopters and sandbags before reshuffling the deck... that way, you'll have an opportunity to see them again (and slow down the oncoming flood/tide).
          • The reason this didn't appear on my 2012 list is that I counted it as a "kids game." That's not fair to this very enjoyable design - about half of my plays have been solely with gamers.
          Extras
          • The American edition of the game did not come with alternate board layouts - but you can find a jpeg of the official variant layouts on BGG.
          • Here's my extensive review of Forbidden Island from 2010.

          Wednesday, December 24, 2014

          #60: Ausgebremst (Mark's 100 - 2014)

          Ausgebremst

          Mark's Ranking
          • 2014: 60th
          • 2012: 40th
          • 2010: 21st
          • 2005: 39th
          • appeared on all four lists
          • rank: 2271
          • rating: 6.94
          Print Status
          • very OOP
          Why It's On The List
          • This redesign takes the card-based movement system from Ave Caesar (and Q-Jet) and injects some interesting decisions into the mix - you can tune your deck (fast, average or slow) as well as use your four 'gear' piles to give you more control - and there are 8 tracks included in the box.
          Tips & Tricks:
            • You MUST pay attention - particularly on the longer tracks, you have little or no leeway to get forced to the outside.
            • Don't play this game if you have trouble with people blocking your way... well, let me rephrase that - "gleefully blocking your way."
            Extras
            • The game is better with more players (4-5 is good but 6 is best) and when you play three races and accumulate racing points based on your finishing position.
            • The picture above is from my copy, where I've replaced the not-very-attractive cardboard standee race cars with Micro Machines.
            • Here's what I wrote about Ausgebremst for The One Hundred.

            Monday, December 22, 2014

            Disneyland at Christmas (Classic)


            This post was originally written in December of 2009... and it would be three more (2012) before we'd find our way back to the Disneyland Resort. That's not the point, though. (Note: the pictures with this post are from the 2012 trip.)

            It's Christmas time at Disneyland... and for the first time in 3 years, we aren't there. (This would be the appropriate time to say "thanks" to my Imagineering buddy for getting us in last year & to Klutz Publishing for making me a consultant the year before that paid for most of our trip... and to the folks @ NewLife, who are incredibly generous about vacation time for myself & the rest of the staff.)

            One of the added bonuses of homeschooling our kids (in tandem with me pastoring a church) is the flexibility it allows us in taking vacations - we're not restricted to weekends, holidays & summer. In fact, weekends are pretty much out (seems the good people of NewLife Community would like me to show up on Sunday mornings & talk to 'em!). So, we go to Disneyland during the week while public school is still in session between Thanksgiving & Christmas.. meaning the crowds are low, the park is decorated beautifully & there are fireworks every night.

            I really do have a spiritual point to this... hang on a minute.

            The first time we went (back in 2003 - Braeden was only 2 years old!), we had a number of wonderful experiences:

            • taking pictures of Braeden & Shari riding Dumbo from the elephant in front of them - which is almost a perfect echo of a picture my dad took of my mom & me 40 years ago 
            • riding Heimlich's Chew Chew Train enough times that we memorized all the dialogue... (btw, one of the downsides of low crowds - if your kid likes a ride, you're going to get to see a lot of it) 
            • Braeden getting his picture taken with Mickey... and as he left, turning around & running back to hug him and tell him, "I love you, Mickey." 
            But the particular memory I want to focus on is standing in line for It's A Small World right around dusk. They turn off all the surrounding lights... there's some dramatic music... and then the colored lights come on all at once. There's an almost collective gasp/intake of breath at the beauty of the moment... and then people erupt into spontaneous cheers. (I've seen this a number of times now - in fact, we try to time it so that we're near Small World around dusk if we can - and it's the same response every time.)

            That moment awe & wonder, that childlike delight in the lights & the music & the "magic" of Disneyland - frankly, that's just a taste of what we're meant to enjoy when we realize the meaning of the Christmas celebration. We are kneeling (physically or metaphorically) at the feet of a baby who is fully man & fully God, who will - in a short 33 years - give Himself up on the cross in order to pay for all the cruddy, evil, horrible things we've done. We are in the presence of God - it's worth a gasp of breath & an eruption of cheering & praise.

            I love to turn the lights on our Christmas tree... particularly when it's dark in the living room. It reminds me - just a bit - of the amazing show Disneyland puts on each night through the holidays. I want to challenge myself (and you, by extension) to be reminded each time you see the lights wink on & the room fill with color to remember the amazing grace of God that He showed so clearly through the birth of Jesus Christ.

            Merry Christmas!

            Friday, December 19, 2014

            Core Worlds: Revolution & Core Worlds: Galactic Orders (Expansions Review)

            • Designer: Andrew Parks (Galactic Orders), Andrew Parks & Sara Sterphone (Revolution)
            • Publisher: Stronghold Games
            • Players: 2-5
            • Time: 90 minutes (though I’d say it’s about 30 minutes per player)
            • Ages: 10 (officially – though my 9 year old does just fine with it)
            • Times Played: 4 (Core Worlds only), 7 (with Galactic Orders), 3 (with review copy of Revolution provided by Stronghold Games)
            Some games are weighed down by expansions. They become bloated like beached whales, ripe for bundles of critical dynamite to be strategically used to blow their blubber to kingdom come. (It’s at this point in the review that I must recommend you watch a very old piece of video that humorist Dave Barry refers to as “the most wonderful event in the history of the universe”. You can find this video, along with a number of other interesting related tidbits, at TheExplodingWhale.com.)

            Case in point: my beloved Anno 1503 is a fast-paced (15 minutes per player) development/race game – the expansion (Aristokraten und Piraten) has some great sounding ideas that simply make the game slower, longer & only slightly less tedious than watching bread mold. That fact that it is very OOP just makes it expensive and hard to find – without reducing the tedium level.

            On the other hand, Core Worlds is the poster child for a game that started well, but has actually become richer and more enjoyable with each expansion. The basic structure of the game (a deck-builder with a 5 staged decks of cards crossed with a tableau-builder with military units & worlds) has not changed – but layers have been added by Galactic Orders and Revolution that create more room for strategic & tactical play.

            Moving Into The Universe, And She’s Drifting This Way & That

            Back in March of 2012, our own Jonathan Franklin (with able assists from some of the other OG writers) wrote a positive review with some reservations about the Core Worlds base game. Though I didn’t contribute (I hadn’t actually played Core Worlds by that point), I would agree with his general assessment. The basic game was solid but tended to run a bit long, especially learning games and games with 4+ players. (Important safety tip: this is still NOT a game you want to teach to a full 5-person table of new players.)

            But by the time I managed to play the game, Galactic Orders (the first expansion) was in the production pipeline and promised to add some new twists & turns to the universe. The space conquest theme was like catnip to my Star Wars-obsessed son (and his dad, if I’m being honest), so it hit the table a few times. We began to see the various paths to victory:
            • focusing on acquiring the appropriate units to conquer and best utilize one or two of the core worlds 
            • building massive energy reserves in order to scoop up most of the Prestige cards 
            • a balanced strategy that included a core world, units with victory points & a Prestige card or two
            And then Galactic Orders arrived.

            Ya Better Hop on the Cosmic Wagon Train

            At the time, all I knew was that adding the Galactic Orders expansion to the base game felt like when my family had gone from owning a black & white TV to our first color television. I didn’t realize until doing research for this review that Andrew Parks (the designer) and his playtesting team felt the same way.
            After months of testing the expansion, the base game itself was nearly ready for submission to the printer in Germany. During this time, we realized we had to stop playtesting the expansion and playtest the base game with the new graphic design so that we could discover any potential interface issues…

            Well, something happened right after we played the base game without the expansion for the first time. We stared at one another with looks of consternation. The playtest had gone smoothly, and other than a few graphic tweaks, everything was functional and balanced the way it should be – but we realized that, as much fun as we had playing the base game, it was nowhere near the experience of playing with the expansion. I mean, not even in the same league…

            At first we panicked, not sure what to do. Would players still like the base game even though it didn’t have all the fun juicy awesomeness of the expansion? And so Chris, Chris, and I thought back to all the time we had spent playtesting the base game in 2009 and 2010. We really enjoyed the game during those playtests, and so had all of our developers and remote testers. We assured ourselves that players who had never played with the expansion would enjoy the base game just as much as we had.

            But one thing was for sure. Once you play with the expansion, you will never play without it again! (from Andrew Park’s designer diary on BGG)
            I’ll explain why in a minute – but let me put it as simply as I can: I believe that Galactic Orders is an ESSENTIAL expansion that takes the game to whole new level, deals with some areas of frustration in the design, and just generally makes for a splendid gaming experience.

            There are four major changes introduced in Galactic Orders – three of which open up paths for more player control.
            • Advancements make their first appearance in this expansion – and even though it’s just one card (Capital City), the power to cull cards from your deck separate of attacking a planet gives you more options to streamline your deck in very specific ways. 
            • There are two rules changes that make a huge difference as well: players can now draw an extra card if they have less units in their Warzone than they have Worlds, and players are no longer limited to garrisoning conquered planets with Snub Fighters or Galactic Grunts – any unit involved in the fight may act as a garrison. Both of these rule changes give more control back to the player… a very good thing! 
            • The biggest change introduced in Galactic Orders are, well, the Galactic Orders. The six symbols of the orders are already on the unit & tactics cards found in the five sectors – and when you deploy one of those cards, you place a faction token with  your symbol on the card of that order. It has two possible uses: 
              • at the end of the game, the players with the most & second most tokens on an order receive victory points, or 
              • during the game, you can discard a faction token to invoke the order’s special power – which could give you more energy to spend, more military power for an invasion, or even another action
            It’s easy to see how these layers open up the game without undue complication rules-wise… though they will slow play down the first time they are added to the game.

            The final wrinkle added by the Galactic Orders expansion are Events. They are seeded into the various sector decks and are flipped onto a single stack as units & tactics cards are added to the center of the table. When the requisite number of units/tactics are on display, the event on the top of the pile takes effect. Early in the game, the events are generally positive… but as the players get closer to the core worlds, the events become more difficult to deal with.

            There are more units and tactics added to each sector, as well as a new core world. And, for your storage needs, a better box set-up. (Don’t buy it for the box – but it’s certainly nice to have.)

            We played a number of games with Galactic Orders, slowly but surely learning how best to utilize faction tokens and the galactic orders. In games with 2-3 players (my preferred way to play Core Worlds), the tokens are generally more valuable for their special powers than for scoring. However, there are some significant scoring benefits in games with more players, as point spreads tend to be tighter.

            And then Stronghold Games confirmed that they would be publishing Revolution.

            Ch-ch-ch-ch-Changes

            I was afraid that this new expansion would be Core World‘s “jump the shark” moment… and at the same time, I was incredibly hopeful that this would take the game to the next level. Thankfully, my fears were unfounded and my hopes realized.

            It’s no surprise that there are new units to draft & deploy as well as new worlds to conquer tucked away in the Revolution box – but the designers have expanded one previously introduced card type (Advancements) and added another (Heroic Tactics).

            The Capital City first seen in Galactic Orders is now joined by a plethora of other Advancements that enter the game in the same fashion as Events. They are purchased with energy and placed adjacent to one of your conquered worlds. Each planet is limited to a single Advancement. They offer a wide variety of special powers: extra energy, discounts on certain purchases, end game scoring, and the like. They also have the added benefit of not clogging up your deck since they are played immediately.

            Heroic Tactics adds three cards per Hero (a card type) in the game. These are tactics cards with a different hero-specific backs that form their own deck for each player. When a player drafts a Hero card, he has the option to add the Heroic Tactics cards for that Hero to his Heroic Tactics deck. When he later deploys that Hero, he takes the top Heroic Tactics card IF it matches the Hero played. (There are ways to manipulate the top of the Heroic Tactics deck, so it’s not just a crapshoot.) These Tactics cards are pretty powerful, so you’re limited to holding onto one Heroic Tactic at the end of a round… and only for a Hero that is deployed in your Warzone.

            Just as with Galactic Orders, Revolution adds layers to the base game that don’t overwhelm the system. Instead, it enhances an already strong base game by adding new options and paths to victory. In our plays with both expansions, we’ve found that you can focus on Advancements to great effect – as well as wisely working your Heroic Tactics deck to create big opportunities to build your empire.

            A nice touch: the cards are coded so that you can play only with the Revolution expansion.

            And, In the End

            I’ve pretty much said it throughout the review, but I think that both expansions for Core Worlds are not only enjoyable but essential to make a near-perfect gaming experience. This system takes deck-building & tableau creation and combines them to create an epic space empire game.

            Note: I’ve said this before, I’ll say it again… players need one game under their belts with the base set before adding the expansions. I don’t think it would be a big deal to add the two expansions at the same time, though.

            Song references (in order):

            Talking Heads, “And She Was”
            The B-52s, “Cosmic Thing”
            David Bowie, “Changes”
            The Beatles, “The End” 

            This post originally appeared on the Opinionated Gamers blog.

            Monday, December 15, 2014

            Surprise! (A Christmas Classic)

            This happened almost exactly 6 years ago... but it's still a story that warms my heart. I've made some changes to the original Grapevine post - hope you enjoy it. Merry Christmas!

            Back in December of 2008, we were given the rare & wonderful gift of a day at the Disneyland Resort by friend who works for WDI (Walt Disney Imagineering)... his generosity enable us to experience both Disneyland & California Adventure for the day. We had a wonderful time riding the rides & watching our boys experience the parks.

            But the story starts a bit farther back, as Shari & I decided to surprise the boys with this trip... especially the final destination. We'd been hinting that a special surprise was coming - but not that it was a trip. When we locked down the details with a few weeks to go, we began letting them know that a trip was coming, but not where we were going.

            Braeden tried to figure it out, seeing if how far we were traveling (4 hours) or where we staying (Anaheim) would tell him anything... but that's one of the disadvantages of being 7 - he didn't realize that Disneyland was in Anaheim, just 4 hours away.

            We did all sorts of things to keep things hidden - I took a different (slightly longer) route into Orange County to avoid all the Disneyland signs along I-5. (Plus, I hate driving through downtown L.A. on the 5... even at mid-day, it's stop-n-go traffic.) We brought the boys in through the side entrance of the hotel so they wouldn't see the big Mickey Mouse statue in the lobby. I even hid the Disney ads in the room so they wouldn't be reminded.

            We had all kinds of slip-ups & near misses as well - a good friend wished us a great day at Disneyland with the boys in the room, but they didn't notice. Shari & I had to cover up a question about the Christmas parade at the parks with a long-winded discussion about the Visalia & Caruthers Christmas parades. I was very aware that I was talking about the theme parks a lot - so I tried to find ways to make the conversation seem "natural"... ha.

            I'm not sure why, but Collin was pretty sure that he was going to Disneyland. Braeden patiently explained to him Tuesday afternoon why that couldn't be true (he thought we'd driven the wrong direction).

            The close calls kept coming - our hotel was about a mile & a half from the parks, but it was right by one of the major intersections for Disney Way. Tuesday night, we could hear the fireworks in our room, but the boys were distracted by the TV and didn't seem to notice.

            I had been telling Braeden & Collin multiple times that I had an appointment on Wednesday morning & then we'd have our surprise - of course, the appointment was with my friend from WDI. We drove down Katella & turned on Harbor Blvd, going right past the hotel we'd stayed at when we'd gone to the Disneyland Resort 
            in December of 2007  - but still no recognition. It wasn't until we were in the turn lane for the parking area (note: I miss the old Disneyland sign...) that Shari asked Braeden if he knew where we were.

            "Disneyland," he answered.

            "So what's the surprise?" she asked.

            With a catch in his voice, he questioned, "Disneyland?," and when Shari & I told him he was right, he started laughing & yelling, "Collin, we're going to Disneyland!" The surprise & excitement in his voice was worth all the effort.

            If you want more details about the trip, I blogged about most of it...
            On the way home (we drove back after Disneyland closed), I had lots of time to think & pray - Shari & the boys fell asleep and I had 4 hours of driving to do. So my mind wandered from surprise trips to Christmas celebrations at Disneyland to the real reason for the Christmas season.

            Some random thoughts:
            • it was a surprise to the Jews, even though God had littered clues all the way through the Old Testament writings - starting with Genesis 3 and continuing through the promises to the patriarchs... and just in case they hadn't figured it out by then, He gave the prophets one hint after another
            • just like Braeden, even with the evidence staring them in the face, it seemed too good to be true that the Messiah had finally come...
            • as I pondered this stuff, I realized that my role in the story is similar to the Enemy's role in our story, as he attempts to  distract us from the story of Jesus Christ at the center of Christmas and instead tries to get us to focus on other things
            • finally, as cool as Disneyland is (and I'm a HUGE Disney parks fan), it doesn't compare to how amazing & wonderful it is that God sent Jesus to Earth
            How much surprise is left in your Christmas celebration? No,  I'm not talking about the sticker shock you have when the Visa bill shows up in mid-January... I'm talking about Braeden-like wonder & awe at having been given such an incredible gift.

            Friday, December 12, 2014

            Essen 2014: A Weekend to Remember

            I had a wonderful weekend (well, extended weekend) with good friends playing a large pile (45!!) of Essen 2014 games. The following list is my attempt to give you my quick reactions to the games that were new to me.

            I plan to write longer reviews on some of these games in the upcoming months. Questions are welcome in the comments - I'll do my best to answer them.

            The games are listed in alphabetical order under each category.

            LOVED IT
            • The Battle at Kemble's Cascade - creative mechanics do a great job of capturing the feel of old skool video games... specifically side-scrollers like Defender or Gradius
            • Castles of Mad King Ludwig - a cousin to Suburbia... but with some great spatial challenges and some tricky decisions about setting prices
            • Colt Express - an incredible 3D board (of a Western steam train) makes an excellent platform for a delightfully random gunfight (your mileage may vary drastically, depending on your tolerance for wackiness & fluff)
            • Deus - a blending of tableau-building and Catan-like building to the map works like a charm
            • Hook - a speed pattern recognition game with a pirate theme... that doesn't lock out slower players
            • Nations: The Dice Game - taking a different approach to dice + civ-building than long-time favorite Roll Through the Ages, this is more interactive (due to the limited tiles)
            • Pathfinder Adventure Card Game: Skull & Shackles - my younger son dubbed this a "role-playing deck-building game"... he's right. And we've had a lot of fun playing this cooperative game together. As of last night, we've played the first four scenarios.
            ENJOYED IT
            • Abraca...what? - a deduction game for people who don't like deduction games... and kid-friendly as well
            • Fresh Fish - the new edition of this classic game is MUCH easier to figure out while retaining the nastiness of the original
            • Gib Gas - blind bidding game with a theme (auto racing) and some interesting twists (note: my friend, Dale Yu, designed this, so I may be biased)
            • Orleans - I really liked the puzzle element of putting your turn/moves together - but not my normal type of game
            • Sheep & Thief - a card-drafting game with Carcassonne-like placement... and a simple but effective interaction mechanic (the thieves)
            • Spellcaster - very fast magical card battle game...
            • Spike - my friend, Stephen Glenn, pays homage to crayon rails & Ticket to Ride... the end comes quicker than you think it will... need to play this one again with some experience under my belt
            • The King of Frontier
            • Uruk II: Die Entwicklung Geht Weiter - much like Fresh Fish, the new edition (esp. the English rule set) makes Uruk MUCH easier to play
            • Villannex - mind-warping micro-game of bluff & double bluff - there's a lot going on for such a small game
            LIKED IT
            • Camel Cup - not sure that it's SdJ material... but it's nicely produced, works as promised - and I had fun playing it
            • Murano - Venice? Again? Sigh. Well, I did like the gondola mechanic.
            • Pandemic: The Cure - If I hadn't played the board game, this would be rated much higher. It's a well-done and enjoyable cooperative game - but I found myself missing the board.
            • Roll Through the Ages: The Iron Age - Again, if it wasn't for Roll Through the Age: The Bronze Age, I think this would have been a hit for me. As it is, fun but I don't need to own both of them. (Note: we did not play with the Mediterranean expansion board.)
            WOULDN'T REFUSE TO PLAY IT AGAIN
            • 7 Steps - abstract multi-player stacking game... very, very tactical (in other words, almost NO look-ahead ability for players).
            • Ciub - While I love the ideas behind this, I found myself wishing I was playing To Court the King (also designed by Tom Lehmann) instead.
            • Der 7bte Zwerg - Very light press-your-luck / gambling game... not much here but was fun with the right crowd.
            • Grog Island - Pirate theme slathered across a pretty standard "new Euro" auction game... though I will admit to enjoying the tension created by the extra resource system.
            • Orongo - a decent family game that is definitely crippled by some mystifying component choices (tiles that blend into the board when you need to see them, conch shell pieces that roll away from where they are supposed to mark the board). We were all surprised by this behavior from Ravensburger.
            • Pandemic: Contagion - This is an area majority game disguised as a cousin to Pandemic. Your willingness to enjoy this game may depend on how well you liked games like Nuclear War. (Yes, I'm dating myself. Again.)
            • Rolling Japan - Take It Easy with dice & an abstracted map of Japan. I wish this was an iOS app rather than a board game.
            • Samurai Spirit - very well-designed cooperative game that is (a) tough to win, (b) filled with gorgeous artwork, and (c) still a little soulless. Found myself wishing we were playing Geister, Geister Schaumeister (which we did play during the weekend) or Pandemic.
            • Soqquadro - a real-time "play in your house" scavenger hunt party game that could be fun with the right crowd
            • Time Masters - a deck-builder with some interesting interactions and tableau-building elements. Not sure it will hold up to 10+ plays.
            • Who Am I? - deduction game with way too much packaging for what is essentially a set of paper dolls. Did produce one of the funnier moments of the weekend, though.
            • Witness - a sophisticated game of Telephone crossed with Sherlock Holmes, Consulting Detective
            • Viceroy - Russian game of tableau-building that works just fine but lacks the proper oompf
            • Yardmaster Express - simple drafting game that would be very family-friendly: quick, good-looking & an accessible theme. 
            WOULD AVOID IF POSSIBLE
            • Crowns - standard dice game in the same vein as Wurfel Bingo... only not as interesting
            • Da Yu: The Flood Conqueror - a clever mechanic (card-flipping to change values) did not help me like this game as much as everyone else at the table
            • Johari - an irritating exercise in converting money to gems to points
            • Marchia Orientalis - some nice ideas sabotaged by an economic system that has very little tension after the early going as well as some difficult-to-read artwork
            • Nehemiah - pseudo-Biblical theme doesn't win it any points with me... neither does the trap of avoiding helping out others (but I did like the cascading actions for later plays)
            • Neptun - The base game mechanics are nice - but it is too long by half.
            WOULD GNAW OFF MY OWN LEG TO GET AWAY FROM PLAYING IT AGAIN
            • Artificium - the only game we aborted the entire weekend
            • Cubo - pointless and frustrating dice game
            • Moscow to Paris - card game with one of my least favorite gaming problems: avoid setting up the player on your left
            • Planes - do not let the similar artwork fool you... this game is NOT related to the very enjoyable deck-builder Trains. The core mechanic is Mancala if it was set upon by rabid gamers... with action/scoring cards added. We found ourselves trying to figure out how to end the game - never a good sign.

            Thursday, December 04, 2014

            More Than A Handful of Change in the Bell Ringer's Bucket (Classic)

            People just seem to be more generous around the Christmas season... we can speculate why that is so:
            • they've been enculturated to give during this time of year
            • they're already spending a lot of money on friends & family so giving a little extra to a church or charity doesn't seem like a big deal
            • they're already spending a lot of money on friends & family so they feel guilty and give to assuage their guilt
            • they're more likely to receive a generous end-of-the-year bonus and therefore feel more comfortable with being generous themselves
            I could go on.

            But I want to suggest that there may be another reason for our willingness to give. The central stories of the season, both in the Jewish & Christian traditions, are about a generous God.

            I'm probably not the best person to explain Hanukkah (heck, I even had to look up how to spell it correctly), but here goes nothing. Hanukkah is the "Festival of Lights", which celebrates God's gracious provision to the Jewish people of a lamp that burned in the newly rededicated temple (following the Maccaben revolt) - it was a symbol, along with the victory over Antiochus, of God caring for His people. (1 Macabees 4) (The dreidel wasn't a part of the early celebrations - no more likely than Mary & Joseph hanging stockings next to the fireplace in their home in Nazareth.)

            Christmas marks a time in which God gave his only son in the form of a baby (John 3:16) ... who grew up to die on the cross as a ransom for our sins (Mark 10:45) . Essentially, he gave us Himself.

            This generous God went one step further:

            So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. (Genesis 1:27)

            If we are created in the image of God... and we assume that doesn't mean we have His nose & His white hair... then that means we bear His image in a deeper & more meaningful way. We are built to act like He does.

            And that means we are... well, we can be, generous. During a season of the year in which generosity is honored not only in religious traditions but also in popular culture...
            • the conversion of Ebenezer Scrooge in "A Christmas Carol"
            • the compassionate hero, George Bailey, from "It's A Wonderful Life"
            • and, of course, the jolly old elf who gives children toys, Santa Claus
            ...should it be a surprise that the way we were made bubbles to the surface?

            This Christmas season, I encourage you to find ways to express the generosity that echoes the heart of the One who created you. Give richly from your time, your talents & your treasure in order to touch hearts & lives.

            Please note, however, what John Ortberg said at a conference I attended a few years back: we have a tendency in church circles to talk about generosity in general terms, leading to "superficial agreement and unchallenged apathy." Your mission, if you should choose to accept it, (why, yes, I did watch too many re-runs of Mission: Impossible as a kid), is to get specific:
            • how are you going to be generous this Christmas season?
            • when are you going to do it?
            • how much?
            In the words of the old Nike shoe campaign, "Go for it."

            Wednesday, December 03, 2014

            #61: Vegas Showdown (Mark's 100 - 2014)



            Vegas Showdown

            Mark's Ranking
            • 2014: 61st
            • 2012: 45th
            • 2010: 35th
            • 2005: did not appear
            • rank: 185
            • rating: 7.27
            Print Status
            • out of print
            Why It's On The List
            • This is the best implementation of the climbing auction mechanic first seen in Evo, then in the (excruciating, IMHO) Amun-Re, and most recently in 20th Century. I also like the need to plan what rooms you'll add to your Vegas resort... and in what order to build them.
            Tips & Tricks:
              • There are a variety of winning building configurations/mixes - your mission is to choose the one that best dodges what other players are doing... .
              • ...and then make it expensive for other players to get their "key" rooms.
              Extras
              • While the graphics for this one are generally good, I do wish the player boards had been mounted. If someone reprints this (which would be a great idea, btw), they should take care of that AND of adding some tokens in to track "extra" victory points. (We use glass beads to track points that are not found on the player boards - that way, you can check & make sure you haven't missed any points during the game.).

              #62: Starship Catan (Mark's 100 - 2014)


              Starship Catan

              Mark's Ranking
              • 2014: 62nd
              • 2012: did not appear
              • 2010: did not appear
              • 2005: did not appear
              • rank: 525
              • rating: 6.86
              Print Status
              • out of print
              Why It's On The List
              • The love child of The Starfarers of Catan and the Settlers of Catan Card Game... it may well be stronger than either of the games that birthed it.
              Tips & Tricks:
                • This is an economic game - if you mess up your cash flow, you will not be able to win.
                • This is also a memory game - you cannot play well if you don't work at remembering where various planets are in the four space sector dates.
                • Finally, this is a two player game... though I think (from a bit of reading & researching) that Klaus Teuber's newest game, Norderwind, is a multi-player implementation of this system.
                Extras
                • There are three print-and-play expansions for Starship Catan: The Space Amoeba, The Asteroid & The Diplomatic Station. I have very nice versions of the first two (thanks, Clint!) and enjoy them both. (I haven't played the third one yet.)
                • I have actually have a signed copy of the German version of this game from the first print run that I won - a prize possession that I can't actually play. 

                #63: The Downfall of Pompeii (Mark's 100 - 2014)

                Picture by EdRoz

                The Downfall of Pompeii

                Mark's Ranking
                • 2014: 63rd
                • 2012: 65th
                • 2010: 45th
                • 2005: did not appear
                • rank: 301
                • rating: 7.15
                Print Status
                • back in print!!!
                Why It's On The List
                • An odd and possibly disturbing theme (the volcanic destruction of the Roman city of Pompeii) turns to make a very nice tactical placement & movement game... along with a healthy helping of "throw your neighbor under the metaphorical bus".
                Tips & Tricks:
                  • Do not neglect the power of family members - use your cards wisely to set yourself up to place extra "dudes" on the board.
                  • Easy to miss rule: if an area is filled, you can use those numbered cards as wild cards BUT you can't place family members when you do that.
                  Extras
                  • I was pleasantly surprised to find that this game not only worked as an "adult" version of Midnight Party - but also worked great with my then (gamer) 5 year old son as a 2 player game. (He's 13 now and still enjoys it.)

                  Monday, December 01, 2014

                  Merry Holidays! Happy Christmas! (Classic)

                  And here's the Christmas classic from 2011... it's the fourth year I've posted it and it's still (sigh) necessary to do it again.

                  We all get "those emails" - you know, the ones where you are instructed to either pass the message on or forward it to five friends or whatever. (I've sounded off on this before here on the blog - go back & read my postForward Christian Soldiers.)  

                  And I got another one today.
                  I will be making a conscious effort to wish everyone a Merry Christmas this year ... My way of saying that I am celebrating the birth Of Jesus Christ. So I am asking my email buddies, if you agree with me, to please do the same. And if you'll pass this on to your email buddies, and so on... maybe we can prevent one more American tradition from being lost in the sea of "Political Correctness".
                  You may sit now, as I did, for a moment of stunned silence at this bit of ridiculousness. OK, silent time is over. Elton Trueblood once said:
                  “There are those places in ministry and theology that you must draw the line and fight and die; just don’t draw the lines in stupid places!”
                  Here are three reasons that the above email (and the philosophy behind it) are clearly one of those stupid places:
                  1. Please, please, please... any time you are tempted to use the phrases "celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ" and "American tradition" in the same sentence, you should use some of that cutesy holiday-themed scotch tape to shut your mouth. The celebration of Christ's birth is NOT an American tradition - it's a Christian tradition... and being an American doesn't make you a Christian, any more than walking into McDonald's makes you a hamburger. (Credit to Keith Green for that analogy.)
                  2. "Happy Holidays" is not a frontal attack on Christianity... it's an attempt by people (and businesses) to be inoffensive in a season in which there are two major religious holidays (one Christian & one Jewish), one cultural holiday (Kwanzaa), and New Years Day as well.
                  3. A methodological problem: email forwards and Facebook status updates tend to go to people who already agree with you - meaning you've created feedback loop of people who become belligerent about the way they wish people "Merry Christmas" because they're sure that everyone who doesn't do the same is opposed to all that is good & right in the world.
                  I'm not telling you to stop saying "Merry Christmas" - in the words of Reggie McNeal, "Don't hear what I'm not saying." Go right ahead & wish people "Merry Christmas"... you are celebrating the birth of Christ in this season. The sincere hope of those who are followers of Jesus is that more people would discover that for themselves.

                  However, I do want to give you a few tips in how to fulfill the command of Scripture while you're spreading holiday cheer:
                  1. Stop correcting salespeople who are obligated - in order to keep their job! - to say "Happy Holidays". It's not their fault. And arguing with them or chiding them is not going to bring anyone closer to embracing the true meaning of Christmas.
                  2. When you say "Merry Christmas", make sure you sound like Bob Crachit rather than Ebenezer Scrooge. Seriously, there are some folks out there who spit the traditional greeting at people like it's a bullet aimed straight at their pitiful heathen hearts. If you can't wish someone "Merry Christmas" with a heart filled with Christlike love, then don't say anything at all.
                  3. Remember that the (gosh, I hate this cliche) "reason for the season" is Jesus Christ... not the preservation of tradition or winning the "War on Christmas". The Incarnation is about God clearly & completely expressing His love for us - Immanuel means "God with us". When we are just working to accomplish a cultural agenda, we are communicating the exact opposite message... what we're saying is "if you don't accept my particular way of celebration & the theological beliefs that go along with it, I'll simply stuff it down your throat."
                  And, since I was a pastor, a Scripture to prove my point:
                  Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone. (Colossian 4:5-6, NIV)
                  BTW, Merry Christmas!