Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Drive-By Board Game Reviews & Thoughts: July 2014

I write for a wonderful blog/website (Opinionated Gamers) that encourages conversation between the writers... and this post is a collection of three things I've written as a part of those conversations.

There's a new edition of Chinatown coming... and I can still remember playing it for the first time back in 1999 at Gulf Games III in New Orleans. We had the rules wrong (Greg Schloesser does a nice job of summarizing these in the review I've linked to) and it still was a blast to play.

Rio Grande didn't pick Chinatown up to publish... and over the years it's been in and out of print. Here's what I added to Dale's well-written review:
Somewhere lost to the mists of time (and older computers) is my analysis of how the game doesn’t work with 5 players. (Basically, there’s not enough stuff for players to negotiate with – and luck of the draw plays a HUGE role in getting something worth trading.) I still like it with four players… but not enough to hang onto it when I got a great offer. (As for negotiation games I did hang onto, that would most notably include Bohnanza, Basari and Zauberschwert & Drachenei.)
Feld Madness

Stefan Feld is the current darling/favorite of Euro gamers... nearly every game he releases brings new waves of praise & adulation. I have not jumped on the bandwagon.

A number of us contributed to an article about our varied opinions about his designs - with the "top" games from our aggregate ratings being Macao and Notre Dame.

Here's what I said:
As much as I admire some of his designs, I feel like a lot of Feld’s work is mechanics with little or no thematic connection – and life is too darn short for that. 
  • Love it: Rum & Pirates
  • Like it: In the Year of the Dragon, Rialto (but just barely)
  • Neutral: Macao, The Castles of Burgundy, Notre Dame, Roma, Roma II
  • Not for me: Name of the Rose
Game Recommendation

Every once in a while, we dip into our mailbag and answer a reader question - this time around, a fan with a love for lighter dice-heavy games asked for other suggestions. (I can't believe I missed adding Machi Koro and/or Gelini Nightlife to my list.)
First, I’ll echo Dale’s suggestions of Yspahan Bang! the Dice Game. 
Then, I’ll add a few of my own that might be a little tougher to find (but will be worth the trouble)
  • Nur Peanuts – this OOP game from Heinz Meister is a 45 minute gambling game with some vague abstracted similarities to Monopoly – but mostly just a great way to press your luck for 3-6 players.
  • Cheese Snatching (Kaseklau) – a small box Haba push-your-luck game with cute wooden cat & mouse pieces that works great as a short filler and/or a game with kids.
  • Abandon Ship – an overlooked Knizia game which (I think) is the best of the “you can move any piece – but you secretly want 3 of them to score” family of games. The very cool sinking ship board is a plus.
And if you haven’t played Can’t Stop (the King of Dice Games), you should fix that now!

Monday, July 28, 2014


This post was originally written in 2006 - when Collin was 16 months old. He's 9 now. (How time flies.) In the context of my spiritual walk today, I really really need to listen to Mark from 2006.

Collin has discovered the joy of putting small objects into slightly larger holes. Yes, it's that time the developmental progress of a young boy when everything is a puzzle waiting to be solved. So, yesterday afternoon, I found myself attempting to extricate an empty Mini M&M's container from one of his toys with a shish-kebab skewer. (For the record: no, I did not succeed.)

I've had a similar experience with my computer this last week. I returned home from vacation (which we enjoyed immensely) last Monday to find my e-mail box flooded with spam. And I when I say "flooded", I am in no danger of exaggeration. At one point, I had over 2500 new messages. (Evidently my mailbox on the network server was stuck - that's right, somehow a virtual piece of mail managed to get stuck in the virtual pipeline and cause a virtual overflow into my life.)

"Stuck" is a utility-fielder, word-wise.

OK, I'll take a short break to define "utility fielder" for those of you who don't live, breath & eat ESPN... a utility fielder is someone who can play multiple positions. We now return you to our regularly scheduled column.

We use the word "stuck" to refer to crushing football hits ("He stuck right under the chinstrap"), to register our disgust ("This chewing gum is stuck to my shoe"), and to commend someone who's stood up for what they believe ("They stuck to their guns"). We also use "stuck" to complain about our employment situation ("I'm stuck in this dead-end job"), grumble about the way our brain works ("I've got that stupid 'Macarena' song stuck in my head"), and describe what happened to our car when we drove through the mud puddle ("I'm stuck... call a tow truck").

And some of us live like we're just stuck...
And you are such a foolTo worry like you doI know it's toughAnd you can never get enoughOf what you don't really need nowMy, oh my You've got to get yourself togetherYou've got stuck in a momentAnd you can't get out of it Don't say that later will be betterNow you're stuck in a momentAnd you can't get out of it 
And if the night runs overAnd if the day won't lastAnd if our way should falterAlong the stony pass
It's just a momentThis time will pass     U2, "Stuck in a Moment"
Every time that song plays on my CD player, I'm reminded once again how easy it is to live as if I'm mired in the mistakes of my past. Each choice I make to focus on the muck & mud only serves to dig me deeper into worry & fear - which almost always leads to a frenetic search for ways to get myself distracted from the panic.

Thankfully, God speaks forcefully into our "stuck-ness" with the crowbar of His truth:
I don't mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection! But I keep working toward that day when I will finally be all that Christ Jesus saved me for and wants me to be. No, dear brothers and sisters, I am still not all I should be, but I am focusing all my energies on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I strain to reach the end of the race and receive the prize for which
God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us up to heaven.     Philippians 3:12-14 (NIV)
Wherever you've been, whatever you've done, what kind of mess you've left behind... it's time to stop living as if that one moment (or string of moments) is the definition of your life. You are not stuck - it just feels that way.

Homework for today: ask God for help in seeing your life through His eyes. When we see things this way, the prayer "Help me get unstuck" is accompanied by the clarity of vison & spirit in order to drive our lives back onto solid ground. OTOH, if all we want is for our Cosmic AAA Tow Truck to come & pull us out of the mud we've created, we'll miss seeing God at work in a thousand different ways.

There's a difference between seeing people/situations like God sees them and simply waiting around for Him to "work." Guess which one is more conducive to being stuck?

Friday, July 18, 2014

Tiny Epic Defenders

Some of you will remember that I was an enthusiastic supporter of the Kickstarter for Tiny Epic Kingdoms... and won't be surprised that I've chosen to back Tiny Epic Defenders.

I'll write more about the game later - but for now, you simply need to know:
  • it's cheap ($16 for the game, $24 for the "deluxe" version)
  • it's cooperative (in other words, it's the players together against the game system)
  • it plays well (I've played both solo and with two players with the print-n-play version... and so far we've only won one time)
  • it's fast (30 minutes)
And, most importantly, you've only got 21 hours to jump on board

What are you waiting for? 

Friday, July 11, 2014

5 Cool Vacation Pictures

This is here so that you guys don't think I died. And so I can show off some cool pictures from our mini-vacation to Ohio.

Here's Collin emerging from a submarine at COSI... 

...and for the gamers in the crowd, pointing out Gulo Gulo to everyone. (Sadly, we did not see any gulos, baby or otherwise, at the Columbus Zoo - they were hiding.)

Dinosaur attack! Braeden is much more blase about it than Collin.

An amazing view from the top of an Indian mound outside of Cedarville, OH.

I'm still in love with this woman - so thankful for her. (Taken at Clifton Mill.)

Tuesday, July 01, 2014

The Beautiful Game(s)

In honor of the USA vs. Belgium later today (go USA!), I bring you a hybrid classic post. That's right, it's the merging of two posts into one sprawling mess of a single post!

Soccer was the first sport I ever felt semi-competent at as a kid... which probably has a lot to do with my enjoyment of the game, particularly played at World Cup level. It's the only sport I've ever "officially" coached. (Note: I coached Under 6 soccer, which is kind of like saying, "I herded cats while they played with a white ball & got distracted by their surroundings.")

I'm not a great soccer player - I don't have the stamina, the coordination or the willingness to practice to get better in those areas. I can handle the ball & can "see the field," which means I was (once upon a time) a passable midfielder. (And by "passable midfielder", I mean "I was slightly better than having no one playing the position... but only by a small amount".)

Soccer, by the way, is probably the easiest of the team sports to teach to young kids. While I enjoy watching the royal mess that is T-Ball, those kids have no idea what they're doing and/or why. But as long as you can sling up two goals, mark the edges of the field & get a decent ball on the ground, you can play soccer. (You may not play it well, but you can play.)

All of this is introduction to my "real" topic, soccer board games. There are a LOT of soccer board games available (Tony A over on BGG has an excellent Geeklist entitled Kick Off & Goal! that contains 50+ of them)... and I've only played 5-6 of them. That won't stop me, of course, from commenting on them.

Soccer Tactics

This is a dice-based game which is played in real time (stopwatch included) and has a nice fluidity to the game (once you get past the tik-takky stuff in the rules). It has a bad reputation due to [a] a ill-conceived design choice to put the scoring spinner in the middle of the board (which has been solved by the addition of a scoring die), and [b] by the less-than-congenial relationship that the company has had with BGG.

The game usually runs a little long... so it didn't hit the table often enough to justify hanging onto it and was traded away in the Great Game Purge of 2013. I'd still be happy to play it - but I no longer have a copy.


Finale was only published in German in the 2-player Kosmos line... and as far as I can tell, is very much out of print. It borrows the rotating card mechanic from the Settlers of Catan Card Game combined with a set of tactics cards to create a pretty nice simulation of coaching a soccer team. Fouls & injuries are a little too common, though.

The problem with the game is that it's a tad fiddly, what with all the marking & turning of player cards. I've got my copy up for trade, but I like it enough that it would take a really good offer for me to part with it. It even managed to survive the Purge - but i'm thinking that mostly due to lack of interest.


This is a backgammon-ish 5-on-5 soccer game that plays quickly (25 turns) is incredibly simple to learn. Don't let that fool you - the folks who are good at the game are REALLY good at the game.(You can play online.)

It doesn't so much simulate soccer (like Pursue the Pennant attempts to simulate baseball)... instead, it uses a simple dice-based mechanic to simulate the feel of a soccer game - and does so brilliantly. In fact, it's not only my favorite soccer game, it's one of my favorite games, period.

Like playing backgammon, winning at Streetsoccer is as much about the position you leave yourself in as well as pushing hard to score. 

Here's two other soccer games:
  • Subbuteo - A very cool flicking game that has a RABID following. Someday, I'll trade somebody for a couple of teams so I can play it when I want to...
  • Lego Soccer - I have 3 different sets thrown together, so I can make a pretty large field. Sadly, it's cooler in theory than it is in actual play... but, hey, it's Lego!

Sadly, I have never played The World Cup Game... something I aim to remedy this year. I'd also love to try W├╝rfel Kick (from one of my favorite designers, Wolfgang Riedesser.)