Monday, March 31, 2014

I Had a Plan...

...but real life interfered. 

I was going to use the excuse of MLB's Opening Day to

(a) promote the Kickstarter for Mike Fitzgerald's new game, BASEBALL HIGHLIGHTS 2045. 

(b) note that Mike's classic Mystery Rummy games are coming back into print, thanks to the aforementioned Kickstarter. 

But instead, I'm standing in line at the county clerk's office, trying to register my Chevy Malibu. 

This is, BTW, one of my birthday gifts to my wonderful wife. 

Thursday, March 27, 2014

The Tennessee Bicentennial Rap Song

The title says it all... back in 1996, the Tennessee State Legislature actually acclaimed the following ditty as the official "State Rap Song".
Oh, how proud we are of thee!
Volunteer State since 1812 -
Glad our fathers picked here to dwell! 
Presidents, Presidents - proud are we!
Jackson, Polk, and Johnson - three!
Crockett, Forrest, and John Sevier;
Alvin York and Hull lived here! 
Baker, Gores, and Kefauver,
Served our country with honor!
U.T., Memphis and Vandy U.,
Tennessee Tech and Sewanee, too! 
Appalachian Mountains, mountains high -
Reaching up in the smoky sky!
Tennessee River, flowing through -
We will cross near the Choo Choo! 
Dollywood and Walking Horse Show!
Opryland and the Opry Show!
Whisky, whisky - sipping smooth -
Moon, Moon Pies and Goo Goo Goos! 
Reelfoot Lake and cotton fields,
Natchez Trace and Civil War fields!
Mocking birds and raccoons grow,
And tulip poplars and iris show! 
Bessie Smith and Memphis blues -
W.C. Handy and Elvis, too!
Eastman, Oak Ridge, and TVA -
Nissan, Saturn, and Country Music pay! 
Chickasaw, Sequoyah, and Cherokee -
Cumberland Plateau and Mississippi!

There's some problems... it's dated, of course - Saturn no longer exists, nor does the Opryland amusement park. And the repetition of "whisky, whisky" and "Moon, Moon Pies" sounds like we're stuttering. (Perhaps this could be explained by our diet of hard liquor and overly rich candy-like substances.)

But just try and rap it. It's horrible.

I apologize profusely for my inability to find a sound file or video of this.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

It's a Hit! - Baseball Highlights 2045

I am still very skeptical about Kickstarter... but there's been some really cool projects from some really reputable folks coming down the pike, so you'll have to put up with my boosterism at least one more time.

Of course, Baseball Highlights 2045 is designed by a favorite game designer of mine (Mike Fitzgerald) who was the creator of the wonderful Mystery Rummy series of card games. Mike is also a very nice guy and a joy to play games with...

...all of which make it even easier to tout his newest creation, Baseball Highlights 2045. I love how Mike has designed a baseball game that:
  • plays quickly
  • has strategic (drafting new players) and tactical (playing baseball games) elements
  • reflects a love for baseball without being sucked into the need for "simulation"
  • uses the sci-fi theme to help make game play "make sense" thematically
Much like some of my other favorite sports board games (for the record, that would StreetSoccer, Harry's Grand Slam Baseball and 1st & Goal), the game system gets the feel of the sport right without bogging down in detail and chrome. (No, I haven't played the game - but the videos do a great job of explaining it.)

BTW, this is the first time I've watched all the videos for a Kickstarter project. Normally, I just don't care that much, but I'm always intrigued by the design decisions Mike makes... and, well, Mike's voice is so dang radio-friendly that I can't help but listen. (Yes, Mike's "day job" is in radio - it shows. He reminds me a bit of Vin Scully announcing the Dodgers games.)

As of this writing, you've got 8 days to jump on board. Celebrate Opening Day by throwing some cash towards Mike & Gryphon/Eagle Games. $32 + $5 shipping (yeah, it's a weird way to do a board game Kickstarter, but that's how they roll) buys you the game & all unlocked stretch goals... and you can add on some of the later stretch goals as well as copies of the original four Mystery Rummy games!

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Still Haven't Found... Freedom

Sometimes songs don't work when they're covered - but in this case, U2's "Still Haven't Found" was covered by no less a band than, well, U2. (For the record, I like the gospel version from RATTLE & HUM better than the original.)

This time around, not only is the cover for a good cause (it's from an EP of covers by Jenny & Tyler entitled FOR FREEDOM that benefits organizations working against human trafficking), it's a good cover of a great song.

For those who haven't heard Jenny & Tyler, I think the band they remind me of the most is The Swell Season - though I'm not suggesting some kind of "if you like X then you'll love Y" kind of relationship. It's just that they give me that same kind of vibe.

So, without further ado, I present Jenny & Tyler (along with friends Levi Weaver and Vanita Joines) with a live rendition of "Still Haven't Found" (filmed at Common Grounds in Waco, TX).

Monday, March 24, 2014

Classic: Card Games & Paint Splatters

By now, pretty much everyone who reads this blog is aware that I'm somewhat obsessed with my hobby, collecting & playing board games. (Those of you who've seen the game room are sniggering at my use of the word "somewhat" in the previous sentence - stop it.) One part of my enjoyment of the hobby is online conversations about board games with other folks who share my enthusiasm.

One of those conversations yesterday (on Spielfrieks) took a very interesting turn. We had been talking about a new "take that" card game (the best known "take that" game is Milles Bornes) which has weak gameplay & even weaker card art. That got some folks wondering about the ugliest card art they'd ever seen... which then led someone to bring the cliché that "beauty is in the eye of the beholder". And then I felt compelled to tell my story:
I'm reminded of our visit to the Art Institute in Chicago... after hours of perusing art by Seurat, Rembrandt, Cézanne, Van Gogh and others, we found ourselves in the lower reaches of the Institute, in the "Contemporary" section. 
After looking rather askew at a Jackson Pollock (I understand intellectually that I'm looking at something "fraught w/meaning", but it still looks like paint spatter to me), we turned to see a small African-American woman in a guard's uniform standing beside. 
"I painted that," she said... and smiled. 
My wife & I laughed and turned to look at an abstract nude of an obviously overweight woman to our left. 
"That's my mother-in-law," she said. 
I don't think I ever appreciated art quite as much as I did that afternoon.
Matthew Frederick responded:
One afternoon at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, after having spent a week straight touring the city with my daughter, I plopped down exhausted on a bench to wait for her to finish with something and come find me.
I'd felt exactly as you do about Pollock, that it was just paint splatters, and that though in theory I should see something or be moved, there just wasn't anything there for me. Turns out I was sitting across from a huge Pollock, but I pretty much ignored it. Suddenly, though, WHAM, I could see it. Motion, and flow, and depth. The painting was simply stunning. My brain had finally worked it out.
To this day I can immediately find depth in Pollock paintings, but my brain's never quite worked out improvised jazz. Similar to the Pollock, I know it's a matter of my brain "getting it," and perhaps someday it will. I'll never forget my sudden awakening to the painting style, though, and the realization that there are some things that I just don't get yet, but that doesn't mean there's nothing there.
(Not saying that you're saying there's not... just a memory and an observation.)
To which I responded:
Actually, Matthew, you've just given me one of the best sermon/message illustrations ever. That's the way I feel when I try to explain the grace of Jesus Christ to someone - like I'm talking & talking andthey're looking at me like I'm trying to describe a Jackson Pollack painting. 
And then there's that moment when they "get it"... sweet.
With some more time to think about it, I've come to a trio of interesting conclusions about art & faith:
  1. I think we feel like it's our "Christian duty" to be able to explain everything there is to know about an infinite God... it's this impulse that leads televangelists to claim to know why God allowed 9/11 or a Christian friend to jump quickly to "they're better off in heaven" to a grieving friend. Since we can see, as Matthew put it, the "motion & flow & depth" of a life that orbits around Jesus, we want desperately for other people to see it, too.
  2. According to the Bible, our primary obligation is to live a life of "motion, flow & depth" - to do what Jesus did. (Romans 8:29) We should be "prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have" (1 Peter 3:15), but that verse doesn't imply that we should explain the ways of God. Our responsibility is to tell our own story... (BTW, explaining the ways of God is gonna be pretty darn difficult when the Bible claims that "his ways are higher than our ways" (Isaiah 55:9).)
  3. Finally, notice how Matthew ended up in front of the Jackson Pollack painting. He wasn't planning to be there - but someone (the curator) had placed a bench where he could take his time to soak it in. Another part of our job as followers of Christ is to metaphorically put up paintings & place benches so that people can have the opportunity to examine Jesus... the chance to have one of those moments where the "motion, flow & depth" becomes clear... a moment where they can clearly experience the grace of God. Our churches need to be that kind of place - where people weary from life can come in, sit down & see what it looks like when people in love with Jesus give themselves to Him 100%
So... what are you thinking? What's God saying to you out of my silly conversation about board games & art?

This article was adapted from an article originally published in the 7/26/07 edition of the Grapevine, the newsletter of NewLife Community Church.

If you'd like to join the aforementioned gaming discussion group, spielfrieks, here's a great article (from my buddy, Larry Levy) on why it's so diddly-dang hard to get into an "open" group... and how you can join the conversation!

Friday, March 21, 2014

Two Thoughts About Fred Phelps

In the last 24 hours or so, there's been a lot written about Fred Phelps & Westboro Baptist Church in the light of his death. I recommend to you:
A few years back, I wrote extensively about the Westboro Baptist Church & free speech following the Supreme Court decision in their favor - Westboro, Motown, Sesame Street & Tiny Tim.

For today, I simply have two personal thoughts for you:
  1. Despite having the name "Baptist" on the sign out front, Westboro Baptist Church is theologically on another planet.
  2. The following quote is both a rebuke to the Westboro Church AND a warning to those of us who are tempted to gloat and/or pontificate in the light of Fred Phelps' death: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”  (Martin Luther King, Jr.)
That's it. Live wisely & well in the light of God's grace.
Never pay back evil with more evil. Do things in such a way that everyone can see you are honorable. Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone
Dear friends, never take revenge. Leave that to the righteous anger of God. For the Scriptures say,
“I will take revenge; I will pay them back," says the Lord. Instead, “If your enemies are hungry, feed them. If they are thirsty, give them something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals of shame on their heads.”
Don’t let evil conquer you, but conquer evil by doing good. (Romans 12:17-21 NLT)

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Gaming: Activity -> Hobby -> Obsession

More accurately, the progression could be stated:
  • our family owns a copy of Monopoly, Scrabble and a couple of decks of playing cards
  • our family owns all of the above plus some mass-market kid games, Apples to Apples & Sequence
  • our family owns all of the above plus some "high end" kid games from the "educational" toy story that have this funny red pawn on them
  • our family owns all of the above plus a copy of Axis & Allies and The Settlers of Catan
  • our family owns all of the above plus some of these newfangled cooperative games (like Pandemic) and a couple of games with cool plastic miniatures
  • our family owns all of the above plus just bought shelving to store all of our games that we've recently bought after discovering BGG
  • our family owns all of the above plus has taken out a second mortgage on our house to finance a trip to Essen
  • our family owns all of the above plus it's about to be featured on an upcoming episode of Hoarders
I refuse to answer where I fit on this chart on the grounds that it may incriminate me.

Here's what inspired this... my good friend & gamer buddy, Jeff Myers, blogged about this topic in a different way - his When Does Gaming Move From an Activity to a Hobby? post is a lot of fun to read. (I actually feel kind of bad about hijacking the theme of his post... but if it gets you to take a look at his blog, I think that's a win.)

He included a quiz...
Do you keep track of your plays? If you also keep track of who was playing and who won, then give yourself a star.

Yes... and no. (Well, not any more. Unless I'm at a gaming event where I'm playing a lot of games, so keeping track of that helps me remember stuff later.)
Have you gotten excited about a game before it was published? Give yourself a star if you have translated a game into English (or whatever) because you didn’t want to wait.

Yes... and yes. A lot of times. (My profile picture includes three games which I translated from German to English.)
Have you ever purchased a used boardgame? Give yourself a star if you’ve participated in a math trade.
Yes. Yes. (I'm still very proud of my $5 copies of Tumblin' Dice & Betrayal at House on the Hill.)
Do your children understand the term Meeple? If you do not have children, then get some and come back to this post in five years. I’ll wait….. Good. Wow, you look like crap. Parenting is hard. Uh huh. Tell me about it… Yep. Give yourself a star if you own a Haba game.
Yes.  Yes. (Is having a professional reviewing relationship with Haba USA for a few years worth an extra star?)
Have you ever watched a video or listened to a podcast about a boardgame or tabletop games in general? Give yourself a star if you’ve been in one.

Yes. Yes. (I'm proud to have been a guest on BoardGameSpeak, Garrett's Games & Geekiness, BoardGamesToGo, The Dice Tower... and The Dice Steeple.)
Do you own more than 50 boardgames? If you have more than 200, then give yourself a star.

Yes. Yes. (200 was a line I crossed 15+ years ago.)

Look at your bedside table. Are there any rules to a boardgame or RPG? Give yourself a star if it’s not the first time you’ve read them.

No.... though if Jeff had said "work space", it would be Yes.
Have you ever played a game and then thought to yourself that it would be even better if those little wooden cubes were actually shaped like ships or sheep or grain? Give yourself a star if you have created specialty bits out of Fimo or other material.

Yes... and sort of. (I've replaced or added bits to a number of games.)
Can you name five games by a single game designer? Just one game designer, not a game designer that is unmarried. That would be weird if you knew which game designers are married or single. That’s just creepy, seriously. Give yourself a star if you have a copy of a game that is signed by the designer.
Yes... for at least 20 designers. Yes (Starship Catan and The Starfarers of Catan - both signed by Klaus Teuber.) 
Could you easily spend an entire day playing games? Give yourself a star if you already know what you’ll be doing for International Tabletop Day.
Oh yeah. And yes.

How did some of my faithful readers fare on the quiz?

Note: the picture is from my new game room / bonus room... and does not include all of the game shelves.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Patrick & the Pagans

On a day where some of us imbibe green beer (not a fan of beer - even less if it's colored day-glo green) and others wear green clothes in order to avoid being pinched (one of my least favorite holiday traditions), I thought I'd write a bit about one of the guy this celebration is named for... St. Patrick.

It's fascinating that we here in the U.S. remain mostly ignorant of the reason Patrick is historically important - it's not the casting out of snakes (probably a legend) but instead the fact that he was a wildly successful Christian missionary.

And, in a twist of fate that will surprise no one who's read their New Testament, pretty much on the outs with the religious establishment of his time...
One would naturally assume that the British Church which ordained Patrick and sent him to Ireland, would continue to affirm his mission and celebrate its achievements. This was far from the case. The British leaders had expectations that he was to be administer to local churches and care for faithful Christians. The British leaders were offended and angered that Patrick was spending priority time with "pagans", "sinners" and "barbarians". (George G. Hunter III, The Celtic Way of Evangelism)
Reminds me of...
Later, Levi held a banquet in his home with Jesus as the guest of honor. Many of Levi’s fellow tax collectors and other guests also ate with them. But the Pharisees and their teachers of religious law complained bitterly to Jesus’ disciples, “Why do you eat and drink with such scum?”

Jesus answered them, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor—sick people do. I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners and need to repent.” (Luke 5:29-32, NLT)
I love the way the New Living Translation catches an all-important truth in this story - as Jesus suggests that the "sick people" are not simply the "sinners & tax collectors" or "pagans & barbarians" - but those who are unwilling to see their need, no matter what religious title or background they have.

Those of us who claim to be Christ-followers could honor the memory of St. Patrick by examining our own hearts & lives - and then attempting to get into the same kind of trouble as Patrick & Jesus because we choose to spend our priority time investing in the lives of people who need the grace & love of Christ.

Friday, March 14, 2014

The Kitchen Sink: The "Go Check It Out" Edition

the lego movie

You should go see this.

I know, I know... it looks like a kid's movie (and it is) - but there's some wonderful stuff in there and some really nifty twists that I don't want to spoil.

So just go see it already...

disney dish podcast

The Unofficial Guide folks have teamed up with Jim Hill (who has a long history as one of the most interesting Disney Parks behind-the-scenes bloggers out there) to produce a series of really enjoyable podcasts. Give them a listen.

baseball highlights 2045

I'll probably write a full post on this in the next couple of weeks, but when Mike Fitzgerald (the designer of the Mystery Rummy series - which I love) puts out a game that Tom Lehman (the designer of Race for the Galaxy and Fast Food Franchise - both of which I love) gushes about, it's time for me to back it on Kickstarter.

Check out the project... and give it some financial love!

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Character Meeples

I am the first to acknowledge that these are NOT NECESSARY to enjoy your board games... but at the same time, we are the family that has appropriated tiny football player toys to use as replacement markers for the generic plastic pawns in one of our favorite games, Fast Food Franchise.

So, when I figured out that:
  1. you didn't have to buy "sets" of meeples & could instead pick the ones you wanted
  2. there were three "extra" meeples being included, courtesy of Miniature Market, BGG & Tasty Minstrel
...I jumped on board the Kickstarter campaign. I am looking forward to being able to play as the Luchador or the Mariachi. (Perhaps we can play Dia de los Muertos or Caramba!)

There are four days to go until the campaign is done - take a look.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

The Long Silence

Well... that was the longest I've gone w/out blogging since I managed to get the blog rolling again early last fall. My apologies to both my faithful & less-faithful readers.

My excuse is that we moved into a rental home this week - after 13 months of living with family & friends. We won't have Internet coverage at the house for another 48 hours, so we're busily using up our 3G bandwidth on our iPhones.

With all this transition, I think I'll be moving to a three times a week publishing schedule for a while... bear with me as I work the kinks out.

Regarding the picture with this post... my good friend & co-worker, Bob Trezise, had a knee replacement in mid-February 2014. One of the little doodads sitting on his desk is a pirate finger puppet who bears an amazing resemblance to Bob himself... and who I've named "Tiny Bob". If you'd like to know more, you can go to Pinterest and view The Adventures of Tiny Bob.

Thursday, March 06, 2014

Game Review - Tash-Kalar: Arena of Legends

382The original first line of this review was:
This is NOT your average Vlaada Chvátil game.
Then it occurred to me – I’m not sure what you’d call an “average” game from this prolific & creative game designer:
  • Through the Ages – a civilization-building card game with a long playing time
  • Space Alert – a cooperative game of space survival… where you program your moves in real time whilst a soundtrack ominously plays in the background
  • Dungeon Lords – a worker placement game where the adventuring heroes are the bad guys and you’re simply trying to keep your dungeon intact
  • Bunny Bunny Moose Moose – a party game with hand gestures, a poem to be read aloud to time the flipping of the cards, and gamer-friendly scoring
  • Prophecy – a sprawling re-imagining of the Talisman-style fantasy quest game (which, have I mentioned lately, is FINALLY being reprinted… again)
And I didn’t even name-check Mage Knight or Galaxy Trucker or Travel Blog.
Vlaada Chvátil’s designs are “all over the map”, so to speak – but they all have a spark of creative whimsy & inventiveness that set them apart from so many other games.
And, with that particular spark defining the average for Vlaada, the first line of this review should read:
This IS your average Vlaada Chvátil game.
This time around, the inventive part is the use of pattern building to create a fluid game of combat & positioning. The core mechanic is very abstract – and yet by the use of cards & subtle theming choices, Tash-Kalar: Arena of Legends has more “story” involved than you realize at first glance.
In Tash-Kalar (both the name of the ancient art of magical combat and the name of the arena in which you do battle), players are mages, trained as geomancers & able to create magical stones and use those stones to summon warriors and legendary beings to their side.

Variety is the Spice of Life (or Death)

There are four schools of Tash-Kalar: Highland, Sylvan, Northern & Southern Imperial – each of which has it’s own deck of cards. (The Imperial decks are identical, varying only in color.) Each player in the game has their own school of combat and plays cards from their own individual deck.
There are multiple forms (ways to play) as well.
  • High Form (the “thinking man’s Tash-Kalar“) uses a common task deck. Players strive to fulfill the various objectives (certain patterns, multiple kills, particular events) in order to score points with the Lords of the Arena. High Form is for 2 players or teams.
  • Deathmatch is simply dueling – the more stones you destroy, the more the favor of the crowd is bestowed upon you. Deathmatch can be played as a 2 player duel, a 3-4 player free-for-all, or a team match.
In Tash-Kalar, there are three ranks of magical stones – common, heroic and legendary. One of the actions players can take during their turn is to place common stones on the board… but heroic & legendary pieces must be summoned by matching the pattern on a card to your stones in the arena.
The arena (game board) is double-sided as well – one side for High Form and the other for Deathmatch. The score boards (there are four of them) are double-sided to be used for the different ways to play.
Finally, there are two other sets of cards that act as common decks:
  • Flares – which allow players to “catch up” when they are in a weak position on the board
  • Legendary Beings – beings of great power that have more difficult patterns to create

99fa2-tashSimplicity is the Ultimate Sophistication

The various ways to play have slightly different set-up routines… but once those are out of the way, players draw 3 cards from their “school” deck, 1 card from the common flare deck and 2 cards from the common legendary beings deck.
The starting player has only one action, but from then on each player may two actions on their turn:
  • place one of your common pieces on any open square of the arena
  • summon a being (play a card that brings a heroic or legendary piece to the board)
  • discard 1 being card plus any other cards you wish and draw new cards to replace them – may only be done once per turn (this is a very important rule that we missed the first time we played)
So, you could have a building turn in which you simply set out two common stones… or you could summon two different beings. (It’s a lot of fun to summon a heroic being in order to summon a legendary being.)
You may also invoke a flare for no action cost. Flares are “catch-up” cards that can be played when you are behind in number of stones on the board and/or number of heroic/legendary stones on the board.
And that’s pretty much it. (Really – the rules actually fit onto one 8.5×11 sheet – which CGE has thoughtfully provided for you in the box. There’s also a “guidebook” that explains in more detail & gives examples, but the basic idea of the game is simple enough that a one-sheet works just fine.)

One Man’s Wilderness is Another Man’s Theme Park

Something interesting has happened in gamer’s responses to Tash-Kalar… some folks have focused on the abstractness of the design while others have reveled in the fantasy art and thematic elements.
Although I’m not a fan of abstract games (with the notable exceptions of Zertz and Qwirkle), folks that enjoy that particular genre have a lot to like in Tash-Kalar. (In fact, as I was doing final editing on this post for publication, it was announced that it had won the 2013 Golden Geek award for Best Abstract Game.) One of the key skills to excel at the game is multiple levels of pattern recognition. Since you are holding 5 cards with patterns in your hand, the ability to recognize those patterns (which can be turned & mirrored) and the best ways to complete multiple patterns with the fewest possible moves is key to success – and is right in the wheelhouse of most abstract gamers.
At the same time, thematic gamers can enjoy the thought & imagination that went into the creation of those patterns and characters depicted on the cards. It may not be obvious at first glance, but Vlaada has been kind enough to post some of his design thoughts on the Tash-Kalar website.
empire-red-14An example:
All lone riders in the game so far (Knight, Wolf Rider and even Centaur Spearman) have an L-shaped pattern. The Gryphon Rider is no exception; his shape is just a diagonal L. Also, with a bit of imagination, you can see the prancing gryphon in the pattern, with the rider summoned right behind his neck. 
It is obvious: The gryphon rises to the clouds and then dive attacks any square of the arena. Then you may keep it as one heroic piece or dismount the rider from the gryphon and thus get two common pieces, the rider next to his gryphon. It is not written on the card that this option represents dismounting, but I am pleased that many players recognized that. :)

You Don’t Have to Freeze to Be Polar Opposites

Years ago, I wrote about Ricochet Robot that the game inspires both love & hatred – that people either gather around the table when they see the box pulled out of someone’s bag… or run in terror. (To be fair, you could also describe people’s reaction to Falling or Factory Fun in the same way. By the way, the reason I flee from Factory Fun is that they forgot to put actual live fun in the box.)
Tash-Kalar is not a real-time game (the commonality between the three games mentioned in the previous paragraph) but it has, so far, had the same kind of effect on gamers. Some find it a boring tactical abstract slog while others love the combination of fantasy theme & pattern recognition mechanic.
I count myself in the second group… the game is intriguing, quick-playing (once you learn how it works) and remarkably simple to explain. I like the tactical elements, the smart decisions on how to score the various forms, and the opportunity for clever plays setting up more clever plays. The flare cards offer a well-balanced “catch-up” mechanic that can keep wise players competitive even after their opponent takes over large chunks of the arena.

Show Me the Money!

My only concerns about the game have to do with the intersection of the component quality (serviceable but not spectacular) and the price of the game here in the U.S. At $65 MSRP, I can only recommend that you seek out your favorite online retailer to cut the price a bit.

The Arena Awaits!

Four thoughts before I send you out to summon legendary creatures and pummel your opponents into submission:
  • for many, this is probably a “try before you buy” game – especially given the MSRP
  • however, if you enjoy tactical games with the ability to directly impede your opponents’ progress, Tash-Kalar might be right up your alley
  • while I’m glad the Deathmatch rules for 3-4 players are in the box, I think the most interesting way to play is 2 player High Form (with the task cards)
May the patterns be ever in your favor!

This review originally appeared on the Opinionated Gamers website.

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

The Epitome of Fragility

First, there was Fragile is Not the Same as Broken.

Then there was My Fragile Apology.

And now...

Yes, my friends, it's time to pay honor to a very good game that is so stinkin' "fragile" (susceptible to wonky-ness due to newbie and/or suboptimal play) that I refuse to play it again:Modern Art

I know, I know... it's one of the "great" pure auction games. And the economic system is really nifty. But all it takes is one player who doesn't grok the system (or doesn't care) - and it feels like this:

In case you're unclear, the rogue player (and the game!) are Joel... you are playing the role of the hapless Chet.

Never again.

Tuesday, March 04, 2014

My Fragile Apology

This started yesterday with my post Fragile is Not the Same as Broken... and then I realized I'd written about "fragility" and "board games" before... which is, at some level, a mea culpa for pounding on Modern Art.

1st things 1st... I need to apologize to all of you for my nonstop belittling of Modern Art for, if I remember correctly, its "fragile" nature.

2nd things 2nd... the reason for that apology is that I've seen
Puerto Rico do the SAME DARN THING. Years ago, I played in a 5 player online game that was reasonably tight. Final scores as follows:

"The Winner" Total VPs: 46
Goods + $: 9 VPs Chits: 15 VPs Buildings: 21 VPs Bonus: 10

"2nd Place" Total VPs: 41
Goods + $: 5 VPs Chits: 23 VPs Buildings: 13 VPs Bonus: 5

Fluff Daddy (aka ME) Total VPs: 40
Goods + $: 8 VPs Chits: 24 VPs Buildings: 16 VPs Bonus: 0

"Braindead Player" Total VPs: 34
Goods + $: 3 VPs Chits: 20 VPs Buildings: 14 VPs Bonus: 0

"Other Guy Playing" Total VPs: 30
Goods + $: 9 VPs Chits: 16 VPs Buildings: 14 VPs Bonus: 0

I knew it was pretty much a 3-way race between "Winner", "2nd" and myself. (Names changed to protect the not-so-innocent.) Both "Winner" and "2nd" had built 4 pt buildings, but had as yet been unable to man them... and they went 1st & 2nd in the final round, using the craftsman & the captain.

"Braindead Player" inexplicably chose the Mayor, though it was clearly the last turn (the site is even kind enough to flag this!) and it was of ABSOLUTELY NO BENEFIT to him.

Take a look at the bonus points - without this generous gift, the final score would have been:

Me: 40
"Winner": 36
"2nd": 36 (less goods/cash)
"Braindead": 34
"Other Guy": 30

Heck, yes, I'm cheesed off. I'm ready to throw a tantrum of Derk-like proportions. It's one thing if "Braindead" gets something out of it... that I understand. But to just hand the game over with complimentary giftwrap makes me nuts! (Note: this event occurred three years ago... and is a perfect illustration that "time heals all wounds" is a logical fallacy.)

Note to self: stop playing Puerto Rico with random people.

This is not over - stay tuned for tomorrow's video illustration on fragility, in which Survivor meets Modern Art.

Monday, March 03, 2014

"Fragile" is Not the Same as "Broken"

Let's get this clear... a "broken" game is one that, played by the rules as written, does NOT WORK as a game. It locks up, it spirals needlessly until the players long to run from the table, it creates situations that keep the game from reaching the conclusion intended.

"Broken" is not "inadequate development", either - while I will never play
Vox Populi again (due to woefully bad playtesting/tuning of the action cards), that doesn't mean the game is unplayable - it's just unbelievably irritating to play. (I feel the same way about the end game of Krieg und Frieden.)

So, with those two things out of the way, the question remains: what is a "fragile" game?

Since it's my blog, we'll go with my personal definition:

A fragile game is one that is highly susceptible to newbie and/or substandard play.

And with that description, I realize that my personal frustration with fragile games is in inverse proportion to their length and in direct proportion to their gamerly qualities. Which, in part, explains the picture of Modern Art included with this post...

Discussion & comments are (as always) welcome.