Tuesday, April 28, 2015

#27: Summoner Wars (Mark's 100 - 2014)

Summoner Wars

Mark's Ranking
  • 2014: 27th
  • 2012: 4th
  • 2010: prior to publication
  • 2005: prior to publication
  • rank: 213
  • rating: 7.44
Print Status
  • in print
Why It's On The List
  • Here's what I wrote a couple of years agao: "Summoner Wars is a fantasy battle board game that involves positional board play, deck & hand management, and dice combat.” What got left out of that description was just how much fun it is to play. There’s a healthy helping of randomness to spice up the game, but there’s also some real skill in playing each faction well… and Colby Dauch (the designer) deserves a mountain of praise for getting such variety out of a simple & straightforward game system. Even if you don’t like fantasy combat games, you should give this one a try."
Tips & Tricks:
  • Each deck plays VERY differently... I can not emphasize enough the learning curve involved here. Because the game is quick, it's easy to get experience and "learn" the decks - but expect to get your rear end handed to you by an experienced player the first time you pick up a deck.
  • The easiest decks to play (this is my opinion) are Guild Dwarves and Tundra Orcs. From the Master Set (which is probably the best way to jump into the game), I'd suggest the Mountain Vargath or the Sand Goblins.
  • The deck-building aspect of the game is really nicely done... it adds another layer to the game but it's not required to enjoy it.
  • I would be remiss if I didn't mention the excellent iPad app for playing Summoner Wars.
  • There are now 2nd Summoner decks for all of the original 16 factions... and a new box called Alliances that combines factions together!
  • I wrote an extended review of the game system as part of my review of the Master Set for the Opinionated Gamers website.

    Wednesday, April 22, 2015

    #28: Lord of the Rings (Mark's 100 - 2014)

    Lord of the Rings

    Mark's Ranking
    • 2014: 28th
    • 2012: 17th
    • 2010: 15th
    • 2005: 33rd
    • appeared in all four lists
    • rank: 480
    • rating: 6.83
    Print Status
    • in print (but only in a newer/stripped-down edition)
    Why It's On The List
    • There had been cooperative games before this one... but Knizia broke the mold and created a sprawling (and gorgeous) cooperative masterpiece that reflects the tensions & storylines of the books in a highly abstracted way. And my wife likes it.
    Tips & Tricks:
    • There are three expansions to the already meat-y base game...
      • Friends & Foes (which added Foes as well as two new "locations" - boards - to work through) - yes, it did make the game longer by almost half.
      • Sauron (which added several different ways to play the game, including a "one player - Sauron - versus everyone else" variant that works like a charm)
      • Battlefields (which added another board for each location... is highly abstract... and, to be completely honest, I've never actually played.)
    • Suggestion: don't combine the Friends & Foes and Sauron expansions - it's just too darn long.
    • I've played 50+ games of this... and will happily play it again if someone asks.

      Tuesday, April 21, 2015

      #29: Ra (Mark's 100 - 2014)


      Mark's Ranking
      • 2014: 29th
      • 2012: did not appear
      • 2010: did not appear
      • 2005: 73rd
      • rank: 87
      • rating: 7.48
      Print Status
      • out of print?
      Why It's On The List
      • I'm not sure why Ra jumps on & off this list... it's a splendid auction game that scales well from 3-5 players and is filled with tension and constant reevaluation of values.
      Tips & Tricks:
      • Timing is everything. Seriously.
      • My first play of Ra was 90 minutes - which was miserable and turned me off the game for a good year or so. When I finally got to play it at normal speed (30-45 minutes), it jumped considerably in my estimation.
      • There are times (particularly in the final epoch) where winning an auction simply to trade up for a better sun is a good idea. These do not happen as often as I see people making these kinds of trades.
      • There are two spin-off games from the Ra family:
      • Here's what I wrote about Ra for The One Hundred.
      • There is an iOS app - which is OK but very slow.

      Monday, April 20, 2015

      The Lust, The Flesh, The Eyes And The Pride Of Life (The 77s)

      Well, I feel
      Like I have to feel
      Something good all of the time
      With most of life I cannot deal
      But a good feeling I can feel
      Even though it may not be real
      And if a person, place or thing can deliver
      I will quiver with delight
      But will it last me for all my life
      Or just one more lonely night

      The lust, the flesh
      The eyes
      And the pride of life
      Drain the life
      Right out of me

      Well, I see something and I want it
      Bam! Right now!
      No questions asked
      Don't worry how much it costs me now or later
      I want it and I want it fast
      I'll go to any length
      Sacrifice all that I already have
      And all that I might get
      Just to get
      Something more that I don't need
      And Lord, please don't ask me what for

      The lust, the flesh
      The eyes
      And the pride of life
      Drain the life
      Right out of me

      And I love when folks
      Look right at me
      And what I'm doing
      Or have done
      And lay it on about
      How groovy I am
      And that I'm looking grand
      And every single word
      Makes me think I'll live forever
      Never knowing that they probably
      Won't remember what they said tomorrow
      Tomorrow I could be dead

      The lust, the flesh
      The eyes
      And the pride of life
      Drain the life
      Right out of me

      In honor of my life group... and a not-so-subtle reminder to me to "stay awake",
      courtesy of Mike Roe and The 77s. (1 John 2:16)

      #30: Im Reich der Wüstensöhne (Mark's 100 - 2014)

      Im Reich der Wüstensöhne

      Mark's Ranking
      • 2014: 30th
      • 2012: 14th
      • 2010: 22nd
      • 2005: prior to publication
      • rank: 2914
      • rating: 6.52
      Print Status
      • out of print
      Why It's On The List
      • As much as I love Entdecker (and I loved it enough to put it in 42nd position on this list in 2012), I love this gamer-friendly take on desert nomads & the struggle for water & goods even more.
      Tips & Tricks:
      • The name literally means "in the realm of the desert sons". And while the game rules are in German, almost all of the actual components are language-neutral.
      • This is designed by Klaus Teuber - the same guy who gave us The Settlers of Catan.
      • There is one other game in this series: "In the Realm of the Jade Goddess" - which is a little more of a family game. There was supposed to be a third game - "In the Realm of the Demons" - but it was never published.
      • Water is your friend - do not (if you can help it) run out of water.
      • Camels are also your friend - you'll need some in order to win the game.
      • I need to actually write a review of this game... 

      Friday, April 17, 2015

      #31: Septikon: Uranium Wars (Mark's 100 - 2014)

      Septikon: Uranium Mining

      Mark's Ranking
      • 2014: 31st
      • 2012: prior to publication
      • 2010: prior to publication
      • 2005: prior to publication
      • rank: 4711
      • rating: 6.85
      Print Status
      • in print
      Why It's On The List
      • a two-player wargame with elements of tower defense, resource management, and lots & lots of destruction... defend your asteroid while demolishing your opponent.
      Tips & Tricks:
      • This is a Russian game that was Kickstarted in an international version last year - and is finally a little easier to locate a copy here in the States.
      • There are multiple ways to defeat your opponent - some of them are more obvious than others. Part of the fun is finding the less obvious ways.
      • The Kickstarter versions of the game came with some extra variant cards - they are fun but not necessary. The base game is great "as is".
      • Learning how to properly position your clones to give yourself a variety of options each turn is a key to winning. By the same token, cutting off your opponent from options is a splendid way to ensure victory.
      • I think that my review of Septikon is one of the best pieces of board game review writing that I've done - go take a look!

      Thursday, April 16, 2015

      My Top Five Podcasts (Which Could Change)

      Let's start with a few simple statements of fact/personal opinion:
      1. Podcasts are wonderful because I can listen to them in the car on my commute.
      2. I have no interest in watching a podcast. Internet video as a review/podcast medium is pretty much lost on me.
      3. I've actually gotten bored with most board gaming podcasts. 
      That said, here's the top five podcasts on my iPhone (in order of how excited I am to listen to them):
      • Pop Culture Happy Hour - I have not been shy over the years about expressing my love for the writing, humor & commentary of Linda Holmes, who is now runs the NPR pop culture blog, Monkey See. I first discovered her stuff on the (sadly) now-defunct Television Without Pity website where she recapped both Survivor and The Amazing Race. I'm not sure why it took me so long to add this roundtable discussion of music, film, books & television to my list, but I'm hooked by the witty conversation, the exuberant geekiness, and the "kicky theme music".
      • The Unofficial Guide's Disney Dish with Jim Hill - The titular Jim Hill is great - and his co-host (Unofficial Guide's Len Testa) makes a perfect foil as they delve into Disney theme park plans, history and general craziness. For my money, the best of the Disney podcasts out there.
      • Serial - I've written about Serial before... and goodness knows, the Internet has weighed in over & over about this podcast. During the first season, I downloaded the podcasts the MINUTE they were available and listened as soon as I could... it's a fascinating & evocative way to report on a huge story. Season 2 is coming...
      • BoardgamesToGo - Mark Johnson was one of the earliest podcasters... and certainly one of the earliest board gaming podcasters. His wry yet warm & endearing approach to talking about our shared hobby is a delight to listen to. (Note: I've been a guest a number of times on the podcast and consider Mark a good friend*, so I may be a little prejudiced here.) Mark is currently taking a sabbatical from podcasting - but you've got a great back catalog to listen to while he's having a well-deserved "vacation". 
      • Stuff You Missed In History Class - It's quirky, it's short (30 minutes), and the two hosts feel your geeky history nerd friends who can't wait to share their most recent research with you. 
      For the record, I also listen to (though much more sporadically):
      • Boardgame Babylon (why no new episodes, Eriku?! why!?)
      • Garrett's Games & Geekiness (another podcast I've been a guest on)
      • Ludology
      • On the Media
      • Theology of Games
      • This American Life
      I'm curious if my loyal readers have any suggestions for podcasts for me to add. What say you?

      * Mark Johnson & I are often confused for one another - similar names, similar facial hair, same hobby. Here's how you can tell us apart:
      • if you see us together, he's the tall one
      • if you see one of us playing a fantasy-themed game, it's me
      • if you see one of us working on actual science-y stuff, it's Mark Johnson

      Wednesday, April 15, 2015

      CatanCon 2015: More Details

      So, here's the schedule...

      ...which looks to be filled with all things Catan (as it should be).

      I'm not much of a tournament guy (though I ran a number of Catan tournaments back in the day), but there are lots of other things to do as well.

      Here's the press release from Mayfair:
      Catan Con 2015 - “Where Catan Day Comes to Life!”April 24 -26, Gaylord Opryland Resort - Nashville, TN

      Don’t miss your chance to play all things Catan, along with the entire Mayfair Games library. There will be an exciting event schedule with all Mayfair products including free open play!  
      Additional show highlights include:
      • Catan National Championship Qualifier - begins at 10am Saturday ($5 additional fee). - 1st place winner will receive a trip to Gen Con 2015 (travel included, standard hotel room/double occupancy, and guaranteed seating into the semi-final on Sunday)
      • Settlers of America Tournament - The Train Gamers Association (TGA) will be joining us for a modified Puffing Billy game track and a Settlers of America Tournament. Winner of the Settlers of America tournament will receive a 4-day Gen Con badge and a TGA ribbon for Gen Con 2015
      • Play your favorite Catan games and even a few you probably haven’t seen in years including the original Catan Historical series, Settlers of Nuremburg, Das Buch and more.
      • “The Big Game” - 8pm Saturday evening – play in a 100-player version of the world record setting Catan game.
      • Catan Teen Tournament (ages 12-17yrs) - begins at 11am Saturday
      • Cities & Knights Tournament - begins at 9am Sunday morning
      • Modified Puffing Billy track, beginning at 6pm Friday and running all weekend, including, 18XX, Eurorails, Express, Silverton and the Empire Builder train game series. 
      • Mammoth Carpet/Floor Games (Catan, Star Trek: Catan, Catan Junior, Pompeii, Hot Tin Roof and more) - All weekend
      • Giant Tabletop Games - Catan, Seafarers, Lords of Vegas, Empire Express - All weekend
      Registration link - CatanCon 2015.

      For those of us within driving distance, this sounds like a great weekend. (I'll be covering it for the Opinionated Gamers blog... and bringing my younger son along on Saturday, who loves pretty much everything Catan.)

      If you're a blog reader, look for me there and say "Hi!" Maybe we can get in a game!

      Tuesday, April 14, 2015

      Don't Give In (Classic)

      Anyone else remember the government sanctioned torture known as the Presidential Physical Fitness Award from the President's Council on Physical Fitness? I'm shuddering just typing that sentence - it was a nightmare every year in P.E. as our teacher seemed to delight in watching us painfully attempt to meet the criteria... and fail.

      The worst, of course, was the 15 minute walk/run... for a kid whose main physical activities included reading books, playing board games & hiding from neighborhood bullies, this was like being chased around the track with a cattle prod. "Keep movin', Jackson..." Dang, that still echoes in my head.

      With the hindsight of age & being a parent, I think I understand the point - the objective was to develop our bodies physically, and especially our ability to endure. Of course, that knowledge doesn't make my memories of those P.E. classes any fonder.

      Fast forward to today, where my primary concern is not endurance to circle a dirt track but the perseverance to make it through my life. It's been easy lately to find myself (metaphorically) with my hands on my knees, gasping for breath and just hoping that someone will tell me when I can stop running & lay down in the grass.

      More athletic friends have told me about "runner's high", which evidently happens when you reach past the wall of pain that comes when you hit the limits of your endurance & break through to the other side. I have not personally experienced this in the track & field arena... but one of the things that helps me start jogging again in my day-to-day life is the memories of those kind of moments sprinkled liberally by Jesus throughout my walk with Him.

      Sometimes, like last night, it takes someone else to remind me of that. In a conversation I didn't particularly enjoy (because, when I'm honest, I'd rather not be challenged about spiritual stuff & instead allowed to sulk & pout like a 5 year old), my wife did just that.

      And because God is nothing if not thorough, when I walked into the office at the crack of dawn this morning, the stuff I was studying for Sunday night's message (in James 1) was on perseverance. And when I flipped on the CD I'd stuck in my office boom box last night (Michael W. Smith's THE BIG PICTURE), it was playing songs with lines like:

      • Down on your confidence, it's a fight that won't let go. (But) you've got to realize that you're alright. (Cause) under your rubble lies a heart the Father holds... and when you see your life through His eyes, you're alright. ("You're Alright") 
      • Well, I tell you there's another way to be free - to be complete. But you've got to make it through another day and deny your own defeat. (Don't give in.) And I'm here to tell you there's another way to consume a hungry heart. Jesus is waiting just a prayer away... let Him in to where you are. ("The Last Letter")
      All right, enough all ready. I get the message. Hang on. Keep on keeping on. Run the race with... endurance. (Ouch - that's from the Bible.)

      God is not my P.E. teacher... he's not trying to push me into pain to see me fail. He has, according to Jeremiah 29, plans to prosper me... plans to give me a future & a hope.

      But how?! When life seems so stinkin' overwhelming, how do I "keep on keeping on"?!

      The answer came to me, in a flash. (This, by the way, is why we encourage people to read & study the Bible - it's a lot easier for those "in a flash" moments to happen when you've fed your head the good stuff.)

      Do you see what this means-all these pioneers who blazed the way, all these veterans cheering us on? It means we'd better get on with it. Strip down, start running-and never quit! No extra spiritual fat, no parasitic sins. Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we're in. Study how he did it. Because he never lost sight of where he was headed-that exhilarating finish in and with God-he could put up with anything along the way: Cross, shame, whatever. And now he's there, in the place of honor, right alongside God. When you find yourselves flagging in your faith, go over that story again, item by item, that long litany of hostility he plowed through. That will shoot adrenaline into your souls!

      Hebrews 12:1-3 (MSG)
      So, I have to ask myself this morning:
      • Where are my eyes? Am I looking at the track (of life) or my watch (impatiently waiting for all of this to end) or am I focused laser-sharp on Jesus?
      • What stories inspire me right now? Am I taking in cynicism by the heaping spoonful or am I digging deep into the good news of Jesus Christ? 
      • What am I carrying that I need to drop so I can run free? Is there sin in my life? (And not just the obvious stuff... pride & bitterness weigh just as much lust & greed.) 
      I want to run the race, God - not to get a certificate or to pass the class, but in order to please & honor You. In this moment, that seems impossible. But I know that You specialize in things I can't begin to imagine... so I surrender myself to You. Do what it takes.
      So do not throw away this confident trust in the Lord. Remember the great reward it brings you! Patient endurance is what you need now, so that you will continue to do God's will. Then you will receive all that he has promised.

      Hebrews 10:35-36 (NLT)
      This post originally appeared in October 2007 in the NewLife Community Church newsletter. I'd also like to refer you to a great article on the Presidential Physical Fitness Award from NPR.

      Honestly, I'm posting this today because I need to hear the message again... and I'm betting I'm not alone.

      Monday, April 13, 2015

      #32: Ascending Empires (Mark's 100 - 2014)

      Ascending Empires

      Mark's Ranking
      • 2014: 32nd
      • 2012: 23rd
      • 2010: prior to publication
      • 2005: prior to publication
      • rank: 446
      • rating: 7.24
      Print Status
      • out of print
      Why It's On The List
      • For a game of space conquest (complete with a tech tree), it zips along at a blistering pace. Turns are short, decisions are tricky, scores are close, and there are multiple ways to victory. Plus, you get to flick stuff!
      Tips & Tricks:
      • As much as I love flicking games (Catacombs, Carabande, etc.), the flicking here is not the whole game - it's just a part of a much larger space-empire building game.
      • The game scales really well from 2-4 players - which is odd, considering it has a four-quadrant map.
      • There are even some official variants for the game posted on the Geek... both of which are quite good.
      • Combat is NOT the most important thing in the game.While you can't ignore it, it won't win you the game by itself.
      • My Opinionated Gamers review of Ascending Empires... with lots more information and my thoughts on all the whining about the puzzle-cut boards.

      Friday, April 10, 2015

      #33: Quantum (Mark's 100 - 2014)


      Mark's Ranking
      • 2014: 33rd
      • 2012: prior to publication
      • 2010: prior to publication
      • 2005: prior to publication
      • rank: 311
      • rating: 7.45
      Print Status
      • in print
      Why It's On The List
      • A fast-moving game of space conquest with built-in variety and room for great tactical play. And I love the cover art.
      Tips & Tricks:
      • Thanks to the modular board format, the game works like a charm with 2, 3 or 4 players.
      • The combat system is pro-attacking... wise players will take advantage of this to slow down opponents, even if it doesn't directly benefit your plans for placing quantum cubes.
      • Learning how to use the "free" ship powers is the key to playing well. They are easy to overlook in your first play.
      • The technology cards may seem out of balance at first - but each card can be very helpful when paired with the right strategic and tactical play. I'm constantly finding new ways to combine card powers and ship powers.
      • When I say "fast", I'm not kidding. A long game of Quantum lasts an hour.
      • I haven't written much about Quantum - which is really too bad. It's a great, great game.
      • The Void expansion - available through the BGG shop - is a nifty addition to the game.
      • There's also a nice online implementation on Board Game Arena.

      Wednesday, April 08, 2015

      #34: Tash-Kalar: Arena of Legends (Mark's 100 - 2014)

      Tash-Kalar: Arena of Legends

      Mark's Ranking
      • 2014: 34th
      • 2012: prior to publication
      • 2010: prior to publication
      • 2005: prior to publication
      • rank: 384
      • rating: 7.29
      Print Status
      • in print
      Why It's On The List
      • An inventive pattern building mechanic helps 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.
      Tips & Tricks:
      • Experience is key - knowing what your opponent(s) can do can sometimes give you an edge.
      • I like "High Form" better than "Deathmatch" - but the game works well in either mode.
      • The way to learn the game is with 2 players - 3 or 4 player games are much more chaotic.
      • I wrote an in-depth review of Tash-Kalar for the Opinionated Gamers (which were then re-published on this blog).
      • I am working on a review of the Everfrost expansion deck - in short: it adds some nice variety to the game... and I hope there will be more expansion decks!
      • There is also an "upgrade" pack available for early purchasers of the base game - better art on the board & tiles + thicker pieces. I'm glad I have it.

      Wednesday, April 01, 2015

      ten years of aka pastor guy

      And the box score is...
      • 10 years
      • 1,648 posts
      • 3.4 posts averaged per week (my original plan - found on my first post - was 3 times a week)
      • 1,783 comments... of which probably half were spambots (sigh)
      The five most popular posts (in order) are: