Thursday, November 24, 2016

As the Years Go By (Mark's 100 - 2014)

It's finally done. I've managed to post all of my 2014 Top #100 games. Of course, we're nearly done with 2016, so it's not exactly timely any more. 

My plan is to do a one-time countdown of Top Board Game Expansions next... but I'm guessing that won't start for a couple of weeks (or more). 

In the meantime, here's a chart of when my top 100 games were published. I was intrigued by the low point of 1998 which was in the thick of my German game buying spree. (Man, I miss Adam Spielt.) There are a lot of good games that year - Elfenland, Samurai, El Caballero... but they are all games that I eventually sold or traded. I've still got Mystery Rummy: Jack the Ripper (but it's not my favorite MR game), Zirkus Flohcati, Basari & Medieval Merchant... but they all don't quite make my top 100.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

#1: Memoir '44 (Mark's 100)

Memoir '44

Mark's Ranking
  • 2014: 1st
  • 2012: 1st
  • 2010: 2nd
  • 2005: 3rd
  • chosen on all four lists
  • rank: 106
  • rating: 7.5
Print Status
  • in print
Why It's On The List
  • The best (and best supported!) of the Command & Colors games... it combines a wonderous toy factor (plastic army men & tanks!) along with remarkably evocative recreations of WW2 battles. This is the perfect collision of all the eras of my gaming life: it's got enough warfare &; tactics for the chit-pusher in me, the gorgeous plastic bits remind me of the day we cracked open Axis & Allies for the first time, and the speedy gameplay fits my current lifestyle. The plethora (si, Jeffe) of scenarios is a definite point in favor of Memoir '44, as well as one of the cleverest 'fog of war' mechanisms ever - the command deck.
Tips & Tricks:
  • Memoir '44 is splendid right out of the box... though the first couple of scenarios are probably the weakest and don't show off the game as well as they could. (They do a good job of getting players used to how the game works.) Don't give up on it until you've played some of the later scenarios.
  • There are a LOT of expansions... and I personally own at least one or two of each of them. (Point of fact: my Memoir '44 collection weighs over 30 pounds now.) There are no duds in the set... though probably the least valuable to a casual player is the Terrain Pack.
  • There's a desktop program for playing Memoir '44 online that is very good... I just don't get to play it as much as I'd like.
  • My favorite way to play is 2 player Breakthrough (using the Breakthrough deck included in the Winter Wars expansion). Close behind that is playing in Overlord (multi-player team) mode or playing a campaign (using one of the Campaign Books).

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Sentinels of the Multiverse: The Bloodsworn Arena

The boys & I are big fans of the cooperative superhero card game Sentinels of the Multiverse... we own all of the current physical expansions, we've sponsored the upcoming "final" Kickstarter for Oblivaeon, and we have the full digital version on our iPad. Son the Younger even has a plushy Mr. Chomps (see above).

Yes, it's a sickness. Let's not dwell on that.

When we (and when I say "we", I actually mean "I" - but it sounds better when I included my sons) pledged for the Season 2 Kickstarter of the digital version of Sentinels, one of the things we were most excited about was a Bloodsworn Arena mode. (What follows is the description from the Kickstarter page...)
How many villains can you defeat in a row with the ultimate hero team? Make your own storyline with this randomized campaign mode and last as long as you can. Fans of the game have made several versions of this idea on the tabletop.

If we can reach this goal, Handelabra Games will create an “Arena Mode” for the video game. The details and options of the new mode will be worked out when we get to the design and development stage, and we’ll be getting your input at that time. Some ideas and options include a single fixed hero team with no HP recovery; a drafting mechanic where fallen heroes are replaced; ramping up difficulty with advanced and challenge modes; and more! No matter what, this new mode will keep you on your toes.
Sadly, while the Season 2 Kickstarter was successful, it wasn't successful enough to reach this particular stretch goal.

So, after fruitlessly searching the InterWebs (Homer Simpson: "Oh, they have the internet on computers now!") for some home-brewed Arena rules, we made our own. We offer them here for you as an early Thanksgiving gift. (Homer Simpson: "And Lord, we are especially thankful for nuclear power, the cleanest, safest energy source there is—except for solar, which is just a pipe dream. Anyway, we’d like to thank you for the occasional moments of peace and love our family has experienced. Well, not today, but you saw what happened! Oh, Lord, be honest! Are we the most pathetic family in the universe or what?!")


The Arena Rules
  • We selected a number of the weaker villains
    • Akash'buhta
    • Ambuscade
    • Baron Blade
    • Deadline
    • Omnitron
    • The Ennead
  • After choosing our team and environment, we shuffled the villains and put the first one into play.
  • We played a normal game of SotM... and when we defeated the first villain, the following things happened:
    • The current hero finished their turn.
    • All defeated Villain cards were removed from the game.
    • All Hero and Environment ongoing cards stayed in place.
    • Heroes retained their current card hand & discard pile.
    • Heroes do not refresh hit points.
    • A new Villain was taken from the stack and set up as usual.
  • The new Villain went first... skipping any Hero turns and/or Environment turns.
  • Lather, rinse, repeat... until the team goes down in a blaze of glory.
  • Possible variants we didn't try:
    • giving each hero back X number of hit points when a villain is defeated (X = number of heroes in the game + number of villains successfully defeated)
    • allowing each player to choose one "backup" hero that jumps in when their hero goes down - would need to decide if incapacitated heroes still get to use their power
How We Did

  • Our team (in player order):
    • Parse
    • K.N.Y.F.E.
    • Unity
  • The environment:
    • Madame Mittermeier’s Fantastical Festival of Conundrums & Curiosities
  • The villains we defeated (in order):
    • Omnitron
    • Ambuscade
    • Akash'bhuta
    • The Ennead
  • The villain who took us out:
    • Deadline (but he only had 15 hit points left)
  • Most impressive attack:
    • Unity's team of robots managed to inflict 56 points of damage on Deadline in one turn... and then catastrophe(s) struck and destroyed them all.
  • Our "review" of our own rules:
    • While it runs a little long, we had a blast playing this way. Particularly with heroes that pile up ongoing cards, you can make some pretty spectacular plays - and that's always fun.
    • The boys & I are concerned that this might not work as well with the tougher villains.
    • We also wondered how this would work against Vengeance-style villains.
    • Overall, we had a lot of fun... and are talking about trying it again soon.

Monday, November 21, 2016

#2: The Settlers of Catan (Mark's 100)

The Settlers of Catan

Mark's Ranking
  • 2014: 2nd
  • 2012: 5th
  • 2010: 1st
  • 2005: 1st
  • appeared on all four lists
  • rank: 214
  • rating: 7.3
Print Status
  • in print
Why It's On The List
  • The game that launched the European "game" invasion... the first true "franchise" game for Kosmos & Mayfair... a game so simple & yet so innovative that it could inspire devoted play with almost any crowd. This infinitely variable game of trading & building is still a personal favorite, even when way too many gamers have left it behind.
Tips & Tricks:
  • While your first game may take 90+ minutes, it's not unusual for experienced players to knock out a game in 60 minutes or less. A lot of that depends on how quickly trading goes and how "aware" the people you're playing are - example: it doesn't matter how many times you ask for "brick", if we haven't rolled it in two rounds, it isn't there for trade. Sigh.

Friday, November 18, 2016

#3: 7 Wonders (Mark's 100)

7 Wonders

Mark's Ranking
  • 2014: 3rd
  • 2012: 21st
  • 2010: prior to publication
  • 2005: prior to publication
  • rank: 28
  • rating: 7.8
Print Status
  • in print
Why It's On The List
  • Card drafting meets civilization building... and it's playable with 3-7 players in a pretty consistent 45 minutes. No "wonder" it got all those awards... 
Tips & Tricks:
  • I'm a big enough fan to picked up all of the available expansions - Leaders, Cities, Wonder Pack & Babel. And with experienced players, I like playing with all of them, though it is a bit overwhelming.
  • Cities is the easiest expansion to add to the game - and it contains the rules for team play, which is actually pretty cool.
  • The laws portion of Babel and Leaders are the two most difficult expansions to add - they have lots of new symbols that can confuse players.
  • You don't have to jump on the science train to score big points - but you do need to burn up science cards for cash or wonder building to prevent others from doing it.
  • Military still doesn't make sense to me - the worst point loss you can take is -6... and it can be less than that if you can talk your neighbor(s) into a truce.
  • 7 Wonders: Duel is a fantastic game (a two player civ builder) and I can't wait to try Pantheon (the expansion).
  • Here's my first look at the Cities expansion after I played the prototype.
  • I wrote a preview of the Babel expansion back in 2014 as well.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

#4: Clash of Cultures (Mark's 100)

Clash of Cultures 

Mark's Ranking
  • 2014: 4th
  • 2012: new
  • 2010: prior to publication
  • 2005: prior to publication
  • rank: 146
  • rating: 7.7
Print Status
  • in print... I think (it's still reasonable on Amazon)
Why It's On The List
  • My favorite civilization-building game... the free-wheeling tech-tree and relatively simple mechanics make for an excellent play experience with 2, 3 or 4 players.
Tips & Tricks:
  • I've been involved in an online game of the Tresham version of Civilization... and it makes me like Clash of Cultures even more. The tech tree decisions are more interesting, the random events aren't earth-shattering, and the gameplay has more variety. I'm pretty much done with classic Civ.
  • There are multiple ways to win Clash of Cultures - we've had games that focused on military build-up and games where trade was king. The direction of the game is often affected by the layout of the board.
  • The expansion is highly recommended - it not only adds cavalry & elephants & extra buildings, it adds historically based civilizations to the game.
  • I have not written a lot about Clash of Cultures... I need to fix that!

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Abaddon: Shattered Command

Some ways back I wrote a mini-review of Richard Borg's Abaddon:



review copy provided by the publisher
Extremely Short Summary:

What we have here is your standard “giant robot armies skirmishing on the surface of a valuable but forbidding planet” scenario – filtered through a fog-of-war command system designed by Richard Borg that is a cousin to the Command & Colors system.

Thumbs Up:
  • very nice minis
  • options for play with 2, 3 or 4 players – all of which work well
  • variety of scenarios (with different objectives)
Thumbs Down:
  • the rules could use a polish (though I appreciate the willingness of Toy Vault to include an errata page when the game was published)
  • as in almost all multi-scenario battle games, the introductory/teaching scenarios do a lousy job of showing off how the good the system can be when it’s firing on all cylinders
The Verdict (a year later):

When I played Abaddon on a pre-production copy last year (4 times in a week!), I was delighted by the awesome miniatures and the fast & furious game play. I understood why some gamers didn’t like it – it is more chaotic due to the use of both dice & cards for command than any of Richard Borg’s C&C games. At the same time, I could see it really appealing to my elementary age boys.

Two other observations from a year ago:
  • Mike Gray (from Hasbro) passed by the table while we were playing and remarked that Richard had shown him this game as a prototype a number of years ago.
  • I was given the opportunity to play one of the first “web” scenarios – and both the reorientation of the board and the interesting choices that both players are forced to make from the beginning gave me great hope for Abaddon.

We've continued to play Abaddon - I still think it's a lot of fun and enjoy bringing it down for some rough & tumble battling.

So imagine my excitement when I saw that Toy Vault is launching a Kickstarter to expand Abaddon... with Abaddon: Shattered Command!

The expansion will add Command Bunker tokens (minis if they get enough $$ pledged), Unit Upgrades, rules for building scenarios and entering terrain... and, of course, more scenarios.

The expansion is $15 in the U.S. - and if you missed getting the base game, you can do that with the expansion for just $40. (That's an excellent deal, btw.)

The Kickstarter goes through mid-December - but you should jump on now.

Note: I am not being paid or reimbursed for this blog post. I was given a review copy of the game right after it was released... but I just found out about this new expansion project thanks to the folks at BGG.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Veterans Day 2016

Bunker Hill...

New Orleans...

Cemetery Ridge...

Belleau Wood...

Omaha Beach...

Chosin Reservoir...

Khe Sanh...


...and a thousand other battlefields. We will not forget the sacrifice of our veterans, the men & women who have given their lives so that we may live and worship freely.

Wednesday, November 09, 2016

"You like da juice, huh? Juice is good!" (10 Questions About Fabled Fruit)

  • Designer: Friedemann Friese
  • Publishers: 2F & Stronghold Games
  • Players; 2-5
  • Ages: 8+
  • Times Played (so far!): 11 "games" with a review copy provided by Stronghold Games
Far be it from me to reinvent the wheel… I’ll leave that as something for Friedemann Friese to work at on Fridays. (Though, to be fair, “wheel” is actually “Rad” in German… which doesn’t start with an F.) 

The wheel I’m actually referring to is Dale Yu’s excellent preview and description of Fabled Fruit's gameplay in his Opinionated Gamers post. If you need more details about how the game works, you should start there.

And then come back here.

10 Questions About… Fabled Fruit

Q1: Is Fabled Fruit a good family game?

A1: Yes. 

Of course, that depends on what you mean by “good family game”. If you’re asking about the ability to play with a wide variety of ages, the answer is a qualified ‘yes’. While the game will work best if all players are able to read well the juice cards are face up on the table and younger players (mid-elementary) can be assisted with decisions as necessary.

On the other hand, if you’re asking about the game working well with players of varying levels of gaming experience, the answer is an UNqualified ‘YES!’. I think it’s actually a great gateway game – the decision tree is never overwhelming but there is ample opportunity for clever plays and discovery of interesting combinations of cards. I plan on packing this in my luggage over the holidays - it will go over very well with my non-gamer family members. 

So, to sum up, yes.

Q2:  I’ve read the rules to Fabled Fruit… but I don’t get why people are so interested in it. What makes it interesting?

A2: Fabled Fruit is a near-perfect balance of simplicity (on your turn, you move your piece and either take the action on the juice card or buy it) and tactical cleverness (finding the right action to assist your plans without leaving your opponents in a better position than you). 

Of course, I would be remiss if I didn’t suggest taking some care with reading rules to make snap judgements about the quality/enjoyment of a game… especially simpler games. Personal story: I avoided Knizia’s Res Publica for a long time on the basis of reading the rules… which was a major mistake. (It’s a great game.)

Specifically, since the majority of the game-changing rules are on the cards in Fabled Fruit, you’re missing a big chunk of the actual game in your evaluation.

Q3: OK, it’s clever… but is it fun?

A3: Yes.

Of course, if you’re the kind of gamer who would describe fun as the following equation…

FUN = long-term strategy + engine building

Fabled Fruit is not the game for you.

Q4: Does Fabled Fruit work as a 2 player game?

A4: Yes.

Of course, I need to point out that we’ve found the game to be more enjoyable with 3-5 players. With two players, it feels like there is too much “room” in the game system. 

While I wouldn’t say “no” to playing it with 2 players, I’d prefer to play it with 3+.

Q5: With such simple gameplay, doesn’t Fabled Fruit start to feel a little same-y?

A5: I don’t think so – our experience has been that the morphing of the game state (through the changing juice cards) makes each game feel a little bit different. There are definite shifts between types of cards… but we’ve been intrigued enough to play on a regular basis since the game showed up on our doorstep.

Of course, that morphing will happen differently for each group – and certain juice cards can hang on in the 24 card tableau for multiple games, changing the options and combos that are available. (Currently, we have cards from #8 to #30 in our tableau – that’s a big spread.)

Q6: Can you compare Fabled Fruit to any other popular games?

A6: Well, it’s a set collection game, so it’s got a definite Ticket to Ride vibe in collecting particular types of cards.  While you acquire juice cards for scoring, there’s no tableau building (well, at least as far as we’ve gotten).

Of course, I don’t know of anything quite like the Fable system for morphing the game. The closest thing is the stacked Legacy deck from Pandemic Legacy.

Q7: How long does a single game last… really?

A7: It takes a minute or two deal out the cards and lay out the tableau… and then you’re off to the (jungle) races to concoct fruit smoothies. 15-20 minutes later, it’s done. (Our longest game was about 25 minutes with 4 players and a combo of cards that made it more difficult to amass the appropriate fruits; our shortest was about 10 minutes with 3 players.)

Of course, we play 2-3 games in row, awarding 2 points to the winner of each “game” and 1 point to everyone but the lowest player. That takes 40-55 minutes for 3 games.

Q8: How many “new” games can you actually get out of this system? 

Q9: We are averaging changing out 9-10 juice cards per game… at that rate, it should take 24-25 games to reach the end of the juice deck.

Of course, the order in which juice cards are purchased (and removed from the game) will make for different combos… and that means that you can play the game again and have a similar but not identical experience. (Look, I think this Fable system is right up there with the Legacy design ethic… both take gaming in some nifty new directions!)

Q9: Give me the elevator pitch on why I should buy this game…

A9: Fabled Fruit is easy to teach, fun to play, and offers a plethora of opportunities to make clever moves in your quest to quench the thirst of your jungle friends.

Of course, it’s also the first Fable game… and for those who are interested in game design, it’s a pretty amazing piece of work to dig into.

11 games in and I’m still excited to get it to the table.

Q10: I don't get the title of this review. Can you explain it?

A10: Hard to believe the SNL skit I referenced in the title of this post is 23 years old.

Of course, a few of us at work were joking about Garrett Morris' Headmaster of the New York School for the Hard of Hearing... just checked - it was first broadcast 41 years ago.

It's official. I'm older than dirt.

Friday, November 04, 2016

#5: Race for the Galaxy (Mark's 100)

Race for the Galaxy

Mark's Ranking
  • 2014: 5th
  • 2012: 2nd
  • 2010: 3rd
  • 2005: not yet published
  • rank: 41
  • rating: 7.8
Print Status
  • in print
Why It's On The List
  • After you climb the iconography mountain to figure out the game, Race for the Galaxy is an amazing adventure in hand management & reading your opponents' mind - made even better by clever card design & interaction as well as great sci-fi art.
Tips & Tricks:
  • Learning Race for the Galaxy can be a bit of a chore - of course, since I've ranked it #2 on my list, you know I think it's worth it - but there are some things you can do to make it easier.
    • First, don't add any of the expansions.
    • Second, the first time you play, play two games in a row.
      • The first game should be open-handed & use the preset hands from the base game.
      • The second game can be "normal".
    • Third, don't get obsessed about winning your first few games. Use them (they're short!) to explore the gamespace & see how cards can work together.
  • There are five expansion sets available for Race for the Galaxy, all of which add numerous cards to the deck:
    • The Gathering Storm (which adds a fifth player, goals & a robust solitaire system)
    • Rebel vs. Imperium (which builds on the previous expansion, adding a sixth player & rules for takeovers)
    • The Brink of War (which builds on the previous two expansions, adding prestige & the prestige/search action)
    • Alien Artifacts (Alien Artifacts does NOT build on the previous expansions but instead is meant to be combined solely with the base game. It adds a fifth player & a new mode of play in which you explore the Alien Orb.)
    • Xeno Invasion (the newest expansion - again, a stand-alone addition to the base game that adds the potential for a non-player adversary attacking all players.)
  • Someday, maybe we'll get an iOS app - until then, the best computer AI for board games out there is Keldon's AI - a free download for PC & Mac. I estimate I've played a couple thousand (2000+!) games against this over the years.
  • My favorite way to play is 2 player advanced with goals & prestige... and no takeovers.
  • I'm also a big fan of Roll for the Galaxy... but that's for my next top 100 (whenever the heck I do that).
  • I'm surprised how little I've written about Race for the Galaxy - evidently, I've been too busy actually playing the game to blog about it!

Tuesday, November 01, 2016

#6: Heroscape (Mark's 100)


Mark's Ranking
  • 2014: 6th
  • 2012: 7th
  • 2010: 4th
  • 2005: 23rd
  • appeared in all 4 lists
  • rank: 221
  • rating: 7.4
Print Status
  • out of print... which is so very, very sad
Why It's On The List
  • Heroscape is the ultimate blending of board game & miniatures game... and, in a slick move that allows them to make lots of cool figures, a great blending of genres, as all the characters are warriors sucked through time & space into the world of Heroscape. So, you've got Matrix guys & Braveheart & dragons & robots & kung fu monks & gorillas with guns... yep, it's the ultimate boy game. (And while kids can start with this one at 7-8 years old, there's enough going on that you keep playing it well into your adult years - in my case, age 52 & counting!)
Tips & Tricks:
  • While I have a complete set of figures (including many double & triple sets of squads) as well as two of each terrain expansion, I'm a relative lightweight in the realm of serious Heroscape players.
  • A tough side effect of our huge life change back in 2013 (three states/two moves/most of our stuff still in storage) has been the boxing away of the Heroscape armies... which was finally solved by three rolling carts and a set of shelves in our TV/game room. (Yes, we are playing again!)
  • If you get a chance, find someone and play this. (Alternately, watch garage sales & the BGG Marketplace and start your own collection!)