Sunday, October 31, 2010

Halloween Blogging

Some thoughts on Halloween from three (well, at least two) interesting sources:

Church Marketing Sucks - Trick or Treat: What Message Does Your Church Send on Halloween?

Consider the church that’s leery of zombies. Instead of a Halloween party, they have a harvest party with costumes and candy and smiling jack-o-lanterns. But it’s not Halloween—no sir! That’d be evil.

These churches are only fooling themselves. Everybody else knows it’s a Halloween party. You can’t decry something as evil but then co-opt it for your own message. That’d be like Mark Driscoll launching a yoga ministry. Instead you need to be sneakier and take over a pagan holiday, but that’s another story.

Stuff Christians Like - Feeling Bad You Didn't Blog About Halloween

Good n’ Plenty. (Worst candy ever. It’s like the reverse of candy. It’s candy punishment.)

Mark Jackson (yep, me... w/my pastor hat on!) - Costumes

I'm guessing I was 11 or 12 years old when I decided to put on my heaviest winter coat, a pair of swimming goggle with large individual eye pieces, a knit cap & my for-real camping/hiking backpack (stuffed with newspaper)... to be a climber. It actually was a pretty good looking costume, if I don't say so myself.

The only problem is where I was wearing these layers of heat-trapping stuff - in southern California on a particularly warm Halloween night. It was like being trapped in a sweat factory of my own making.

Follow the links to read all that we (yes, we) had to say.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Game Mini-Reviews: Be Not Afraid & Necromancer Island

Be Not Afraid (expansion for Small World)
  • designer: Philippe Keyaerts
  • publisher: Days of Wonder
  • date: 2010
  • BoardGameGeek rank/rating: not ranked/8.19
  • age: 8+
  • # of players: 2-5
  • print status: in print
  • cost: $20.00 (Days of Wonder)
  • designer: Philippe Keyaerts
  • publisher: Days of Wonder
  • date: 2010
  • BoardGameGeek rank/rating: not ranked/8.33
  • age: 8+
  • # of players: 3-6
  • print status: in print (while supplies last)
  • cost: free w/Small World product purchase (Days of Wonder)
Reviewing expansions is hard. By definition, if you liked the base game (in this case, the off-beat fantasy conquest game, Small World), you're inclined to enjoy the variety that a well-made expansion gives the game you already love. By the same token, if you didn't like the base game, you probably won't bother with the expansions.

That's why you have to be cautious about the ratings for expansions on Boardgamegeek... the folks who are rating these "add-on"s are a self-selected group of fans whose numbers will naturally tend to be higher than average.

Which brings me to my job today - as a fan of Small World (and 3 of the previous 4 expansions - guess which one I less enthralled with!), I need to help the rest of you fans out there decide whether Be Not Afraid and Necromancer Island are worth your hard-earned gaming dollars. (I'm choosing to review them together since they're being released at the same time, btw.)

Be Not Afraid

Be Not Afraid is similar to the previous race/power expansions (Cursed! & Grand Dames) in offering new races:
  • Barbarians (lots of them, but they can't reinforce)
  • Homunculus (who grow stronger every time they are ignored)
  • Leprechauns (and their pots o'gold... though no Lucky Charms, for those of you needing a snack break during the game)
  • Pixies (lots of them, but they're easy to squish)
  • Pygmies (every time you knock 'em down, they have the potential to multiple... it's like fighting a Pandemic virus!)

And new powers:

  • Barricade (you're rewarded for having a small kingdom)
  • Catapult (much like the French & their cows - Monty Python reference alert! - you can heave some of your troops to distant lands)
  • Corrupt (it costs your opponents gold to conquer you)
  • Imperial (you're rewarded for having a big kingdom)
  • Mercenary (spend money to make it easier to conquer regions, thanks to Dial-a-Merc)

The printing/art/components are of the same high quality we've grown to expect from Days of Wonder... and they match the base game & expansions perfectly. If you'd like to see the complete rules for the expansion, they are available here.

The other item in Be Not Afraid is a counter tray for all of the expansion races... which is a welcome addition, especially since they curved the slots, making it easier to find, remove & replace counters than the base game counter tray with straight-sided slots. There's room for the extra race & power boards - and even space for the Ghosts from the Necromancer Island expansion!

Finally, as yet another indication of the high quality of Days of Wonder customer service, there was a printing screw-up with the Catapult token for Be Not Afraid - it, well, wasn't in the box. So, DoW had a new punchboard printed up with the missing token... and added five Leader tokens for the races in the new expansion as well! It will be available with the expansion when you purchase it from your local retailer or directly from Days of Wonder.

Necromancer Island

This "scenario" for Small World consists of a new set of race tokens (Ghosts), a castle on an island (which ends up in the middle of the lake), and "The Well of Souls" (where dead combatants go for their after party... well, not really.) And, of course, the rules.

One player takes on the role of the Necromancer - his job is to get all of his Ghosts onto the board, profiting from the steady stream of dead combatants that the other players send to the Well of Souls. Every four tokens in the Well allows the Necromancer to add a Ghost in his castle... which he then uses to spread out across the center of the island.

The Necromancer player doesn't recruit like the rest of the players - instead, he draws 6 powers before the game begins, choosing one to start with and then buying the others with gold he obtains when his Ghosts conquer territory.

This is not, however, just another "us against him" game - if the Necromancer is unable to place all of his Ghosts by the end of the final turn, the player with the most gold wins!

The nature of the expansion requires at least 3 players - though it does do a nice job of adding an extra player without imbalancing the game. (You can now play with 6 players!)

One thing is unclear in the rules (but clarified by Eric Hautemont at Dow): the Necromancer does not start with any gold. (Our first playings saw the evil wizard winning in the next to last round, but the intial 5 gold bump made it much easier for that to happen.)

I really like the wrinkle this adds to the game - as it doesn't unnecessarily complicate the system while still giving Small World a different feel. I'm hoping they'll do more of this kind of scenario additions to the game!


I think the tandem purchase of these two expansions makes for a great deal - I like the new races (esp. the Barbarians & the Leprechauns), the Barricade & Corrupt powers make some of the smaller/weaker races more viable in the right situation, and Necromancer Island expands the number of players & the style of play.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Kid Game Review: Moo & Baa

Moo & Baa

  • designer: Thomas Liesching
  • publisher: Haba
  • date: 2009
  • BoardGameGeek rank/rating: not ranked/6.00
  • age: 3+
  • # of players: 2-4
  • print status: in print
  • cost: $17.99 (Maukilo)
The shortest way to describe Moo & Baa is to simply say that it's Go Away, Monster! with some actual game added. (Not to bag on Go Away, Monster!, mind you - we played a LOT of it when our boys were young.) But the folks at Haba have managed to take the simple "draw from the bag & fill your board" mechanic and tweak it in ways that make for a more enjoyable gaming experience for those over the age of 4.

For some reason, the farmers (that would be the players of the game) have managed to mix up their animals: cows, sheep and - because this is not your average farming community - frogs. There's even a few wild animals (beware the free range frog!) thrown in for good measure. The first player to retrieve his set-up for a very odd joke ("A cow, a sheep & a frog walk into a bar...") wins the game.

The animals are placed in three cloth bags (conveniently made from different prints):
  • with younger players, all the animals of the same type go in a bag
  • with older players (4+), the animals are mixed & placed randomly in the bags

Each player has 2 of each animal in their color... and then there are 3 blue-colored "wild" animals which don't belong to any player.

In turn, players draw an animal from the bag - if it is their animal, they keep it. If not, it goes back in the bag it came from. (With very young children, you could simply have them give the animal to the correct player to promote color matching & speed up the game.) Blue animals always return to the bag. The game is quick - someone usually wins in about 10 minutes.

That's it... my 9 year old son described it as "kind of like Bingo" which I guess I can see - but both he & my 5 year old play it gladly. Add to that the enjoyment my wife & I have playing it with our boys and you've got yourselves a really nice family game.

Two final notes:

  • Because the entire game focuses around drawing from the bags, there is a possibility of cheating (peeking in the bag when you're taking your animal). We've used this game to deal with those kinds of issues with our younger son.
  • I've brainstormed (but not tested) a variant for the game in which you would be allowed to put animals that are not your color back in ANY bag - thus making the memory component tougher & allowing for some tactical moves to "hide" an opponents piece and/or "clear" out a bag so you can find your piece.

Addendum: my mini-review of Go Away, Monster! (for comparison purposes):

This is BARELY a game... but for younger kids (3-5 years), it's one they will play over & over & over again. I wish it was more difficult to tell the good things & monsters apart in the bag - but the opportunity to throw a monster tile into the box & yell "Go away, Monster!" at the top of your lungs is an awfully strong selling point.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Expansion Fever!

Ah, dear & gentle reader, welcome once again to my sporadic commentary about my obsessive need to collect board game expansion sets. Place a variant way to play a game in front of me & I'm like a demented 10 year old with a Pokemon CCG addiction who has been downing Mt Dew and mainlining Red Vines for the last couple of hours.

With that sordid admission out of the way, proceed forward from here - read on, gentle reader! You can check out an
exhaustive list of 2010 expansions on the Geek... or simply continue with this more refined (read: "what Mark is interested in") list right here:

  • Be Not Afraid (Small World) - 5 new races, 5 new powers... and a very nifty plastic molded tray for all of the expansion races. There are - as always - some balance issues with particular races & powers combined, but the players can correct those by choosing & declining wisely. My favorite new race is the Leprechauns, although the Barbarians can be a lot of fun as well. There's even room in the tray for the Ghosts from...
  • Necromancer Island (Small World) - This free expansion will get a full review in the next day or so - for now, I like how it tweaks the game w/out breaking it. (One rules note: the Necromancer does NOT get any starting gold - clarified by Eric H. at DoW.)
  • Winter Wars (Memoir '44) - A Battle of the Bulge specific expansion for Memoir that includes a lot of terrain, some great scenarios & a couple of card decks... of special note is the Breakthrough deck, which coupled w/the Breakthrough map set makes those large scenarios really shine. (A full review will follow on BGN next week.)

Not Played

  • Asteros (Tannhauser) - It's a big honkin' minotaur to dovetail nicely with the Labyrinth board in the Daedalus expansion... and, in Tannhauser parlance, he's a Legendary Figure, which means he replaces 2 other characters on a team.
  • Bearded Brave (Battlelore) - I'm hoping this is the last box of Fantasy Flight "fixing" the holes left by the odd manner in which Battlelore expansions were released. If I were a betting man, I'd guess that this is the way they're cheapening the cost of a new base set... by dropping out the Goblins & Dwarves into separate expansions. Still, it's nice to have more dwarves for those really massive battles.
  • Cavern of Soloth (Catacombs) - this flicking dungeon game is getting 4 new heroes, 4 new bad guys, 40 new pieces & 60 new cards. Excellent. (As I've said before, Catacombs = Descent: Journeys in the Dark + Carabande - 4 hours.)
  • Daedalus (Tannhauser) - A new map set (along with new scenarios) for Tannhauser - now we'll have the Labyrinth at Minos and a French village to destroy with our Hellboy-ish combat.
  • Expansion Set #2 (Smarty Party) - 200 new categories... all I can say is "it's about time!"
  • Moltenclaw's Invasion (Heroscape) - The third set of D&D Heroscape figures... I've been pleasantly surprised at how much I've enjoyed the new figures, their powers, and the nifty scenarios/campaigns that go with them. This set looks really sweet, thanks to the previews over on
  • Zooloretoo Boss (Zooloretto) - While I'm not a big fan of the XXL expansion for Zooloretto, all the others have been top notch... and Boss seems to fit right in. There will now be ways to earn sponsorships & put people to work to increase the fame of your zoo!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

#86: Niagara

  • designer: Thomas Liesching
  • publisher: Rio Grande
  • date: 2004
  • BoardGameGeek rank/rating: 527/6.62
  • position on my top 100 in 2005: did not appear
  • age: 8+
  • # of players: 2-5
  • print status: in print
  • cost: $29.95 (Cardhaus)
Back in 2005, I handicapped the race for the Spiel des Jahres (German Game of the Year) between Niagara & Around the World in 80 Days with these words...
Frankly, I'll be happy if either of them win, but I'd probably choose Niagara as my personal favorite. And, just to be consistent, I'll make it my prediction.
I was correct - Niagara went on to win the award... and over time, I've proven the truth of the rest of that statement - both games are in my top 100 list. (As you can tell, dear reader, since Around the World in 80 Days hasn't appeared yet, I've grown to favor it - but only slightly.)

Niagara is a stunningly beautiful game of gem collecting on a moving river... and lasts about 45 minutes. A nifty set of clear discs simulates the flow of the river towards the waterfalls, while wooden canoes & plastic gems round out the excellent presentation. Surprisingly, there is no actual "luck" in the game - only the randomness of the players choosing their actions at the same time.

I've come to believe that the expansion, The Spirits of Niagara, is darn near essential to the game - it adds some interesting wrinkles that increase the number of decisions you must make without noticeably lengthening the game. (It also can increase the number of players to six, but we don't use that much.)

I'd also recommend the
Diamond Joe expansion - though all you really need is a single canoe of a non-player color & the rules, available on the Geek.

While some have decided that Niagara didn't "deserve" to win - [whine] "There's too much luck! It's just about the pretty bits! The jury could have awarded Power Grid! I'm ugly & my mother dresses me funny!" [/whine]... I'm still a fan. My boys & I played again just this last weekend - and while Braeden & I worked to trash each other with speeding up the river, Collin simply collected seven gems (with some skillful elk manipulation) and won the game.

Monday, October 11, 2010

#87: Oodles

  • designer: Brian Hersch
  • publisher: Milton Bradley
  • date: 1992
  • BoardGameGeek rank/rating: 2033/6.42
  • position on my top 100 in 2005: 30th
  • age: 12+
  • # of players: 3-10
  • print status: very, very OOP
  • cost: used copies are available pretty cheap through BGG &
A trivia game? In your Top One Hundred? Why, yes... cuz this is not the typical trivia game. It's closer to a rotating game show, rife with puns & semi-cryptic clues. Oodles actually rewards Jeopardy-ish "listen CAREFULLY to the question - the clue to the answer is hidden in there!" behavior, which I like. There's no board or dice, so it works great with people sitting around a living room (always a plus with party-type games).

It doesn't hurt that I rock at Oodles. In fact, taking a cue from Frank Branham, I don't play it nearly as much anymore, instead using the equipment to "host" the game for other players.

Friday, October 01, 2010

Breaking News From Haba HQ

The juggernaut that is Tier auf Tier continues to grow... now, you Americans may well know this game as Animal Upon Animal, but regardless of the name, it's slowly becoming a dynasty.
  • First, in 2005, there was Animal Upon Animal, a delightful dexterity for kids as young as 4, complete with chunky wooden animals.
  • Then, based on that success, Haba released Animal upon Animal - The Duel in 2008, a two-player version of the game that involved a little more dexterity skills coupled with real-time competition and was more appropriate for ages 6+. (It's also known in the gaming community as "the expansion pack for Animal Upon Animal" - two copies of this give you enough new animals to make for longer, trickier versions of the original game.)
  • That was followed (also in 2008) by Animal Upon Animal: The Card Game... a nice portable dexterity game but probably the least successful of the series.

But wait! They're not finished... it's time for a big yellow box game in the series, entitled Animal Upon Animal: Balancing Bridge. Here's the description from their website:

Flamingo, giraffe, panther, bat and iguana start the adventure of their life and together set off on a big journey. But there is only a wobbly hanging bridge leading over the four valleys. Fortunately the strong crocodile helps. Each player gets three secret piling assignments. Your task is to pile the animals shown on your assignment cards on the hanging bridge. Whoever proves to be the most skillful will accomplish the assignments first and win the game. A stacking game with animals for 2-4 players ages 5-99.

As far as I can tell, it's going to be released at Essen in late October. As soon as I can, I'll try to scarf up a copy & give my loyal readers a review! (If you'd like to read my review of Animal Upon Animal: The Duel - which includes my "explanation" why the original game JUST missed the Kid Games 100 - you can do so right here.)