Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Mark's Bundle of 2018 Essen Game Thoughts

Had the wonderful opportunity this last weekend to play a BUNCH of the new Essen releases... what follows is my "quick takes" on the 25 games I played.


Marble Bobsleigh: Silly but quite enjoyable real-time marble racing game - improved by having a crowd of people around to cheer & laugh. Players blow their marbles down the track - but not too hard, or they'll "crash". I don't need to own it, but I'll gladly play it as a late-night closer.

Trapwords: What if you made Taboo more difficult...? Well, that's what CGE did with Trapwords. The clue-giving rules are even nitpick-ier than Codenames, but with the right crowd (and we had the right crowd), it was a lot of fun. I'm afraid, however, that this one could flop with the wrong group. (The box does contain a wider variety of "map" tiles which can make the game easier - with kids and with folks who don't normally play word games, I'd start out with the "1" or "2" tile.)


Blackout: Hong Kong: Nicely crunchy Euro with some thematic tie-in (especially on the objective cards). The puzzling out of how to play your cards for maximum effect was really interesting. We played a 4 player game with newbies in 2 hours (not including rules). I really liked it... but I'd avoid like the plague with anyone with AP tendencies.

Western Legends: The game system works - turns are quick and players have lots of opportunities to do Western-y things. Billy the Kid trying to rob the same bank 6 times and only succeeding twice got funnier & funnier with each attempt. However, I think there are serious balance issues - this lovely looking game has the feel of something that was playtested by a small group of folks. 18 year old me would have eaten this up with a spoon; 54 year old me was glad for a chance to play but probably wouldn't make time for it again.

Gingerbread House: I hadn't heard much about this before seeing it - but it's a nicely produced building/collecting game - as you are witches using your ever-expanding gingerbread house to lure unsuspecting fairy tale creatures in for points & glory (and dinner). Very enjoyable in just under an hour with four players - and it looks like it would scale nicely. (This was one of the games that got positive marks from pretty much everyone who played it this weekend.)

7 Wonders: Armada: As others have said, this could well be the best 7W expansion yet. After one play (where I came in last), I think it would combine REALLY well with Cities to make a slightly longer but very enjoyable "epic" game. It's on my must-buy list - but no one is surprised by that, since I own all of the previous expansions.

Cryptid: I’m not a deduction game fan – but this scratched more of a Tobago itch than a Black Vienna itch. We played the basic version - there's a tougher setting that might have made my brain melt. Another one of the “don’t need to own but wouldn’t refuse to play” games.

Black Skull Island: Imagine if someone played Coup and thought “What this needs is more randomness and pirates.” The nicest thing I can say is that it functionally works as a game. Not recommended.

Blode Kuh: Very light family card game about passing the pain (in the form of increasingly shaggy-looking animals) around the table. (Seriously, the sheep looks like he’s been living in the gutter on the bad side of the farm.) Lots of laughs and a perfect choice for playing with non-gamer family over the holidays.

Shadows: Amsterdam: A real-time team vs. team puzzle, using pictures as clues for other pictures (spaces on the board). Enjoyable for a play, but I don’t need to play it again.

Fine Sand: Played two games using the solo mode – seemed to work just fine but I had trouble seeing from the rules where there would be much more game by adding more players to the table. It’s a Fable game (which I usually like), but my limited look at it feels like the base game is a little thin to hang a longer series of games on…


Monster Lands: Dice/worker placement game that is dripping with fantasy combat theme – a little rules heavy but much fun was had. However, our first 4 player game ran 2 ½ hours, which is too long for what it is. (I had similar issues with Roll Player – another nicely thematic game with “when does this finally wind down?” issues.) There’s a clear end to the game – but it took us a while to get there. I’d like to try this again with 3 players, which would cut down on the playing time.

Sunflower Valley: Simple family-oriented roll’n’write. I’d play it again but I don’t need to own it.

Concordia: Venus: I can’t compare it to Concordia… because I’d never played Concordia before. (I know, I know… revoke my cool kid gamer card for missing a very good Euro game.) I really liked this version of the game – it reminded me of a more fleshed-out take on Eminent Domain: Microcosm, a little 2-player card game that I’m a big fan of. (We did not play the “team variant”, which is evidently a big selling point for the Venus expansion.)

Lighthouse Run: Pretty game of sailboat racing – reminiscent of Selecta’s Viva Topo, except there’s a storm cloud rather than a cat. Perfectly playable, but a big tricky for younger kids due to moving around the beacons. It would be a difficult game for parents and older siblings not to run over younger children.

Luxantis: HABA uses an LED-loaded board to create a “maze” game of sorts – actually a cooperative adventure. We had a great time with it – there are different ways to adjust difficulty, though I think the rules could be clearer about how shadow creatures move on the castle board. If my boys were still young, I’d buy this in a heartbeat.

Walls of York: Nice bits, playable game – but I don’t need to play it again. The idea is clever – but the game itself doesn’t really go anywhere interesting. (And, once again, there are some unclear rules – come on, people, rules need playtesting as well as the game.)

Raccoon Tycoon: Massively over-produced… and yet, this was actually quite enjoyable. Turns are quick and there are a number of ways to work to acquire cash, resources and victory points. The buildings are extremely powerful – and the order in which they come out will affect the path of each game. (Another “should have been fixed in playtesting” gripe – the text on the chunky & attractive building tiles often needs clarification in the rulebook. They act in some ways that are non-intuitive.) I did not expect to enjoy this as much as I did.

Astro Drive: Fast moving space race that would easily fit in a backpack and can be played on a small table… and actually has some fun things going for it. It plays in less than half an hour and still offers a number of chances for clever decisions. Wish they’d added a “what does this space do?” cheat sheet apart from the rulebook, but it’s not that difficult to remember all of the various dangers.

KeyForge: Played for the first time with two decks that weren’t starters… and was pleasantly surprised that the game seems reasonably balanced and had lots of opportunities for clever play. A concern if I were getting into KeyForge purchasing: I wouldn’t want to get decks that were similar in composition – I’d like to make sure I have variety IF I was going to go down this particular gaming rabbit hole.


Neom: played 3 times in one day... 1 solo & twice w/4 players. This is a really enjoyable blending of 7 Wonders drafting and Suburbia-ish city-building. Different strategies work... there doesn’t seem to be a “best” way to approach the game. The iconography is pretty clear - except for the Cornerstone tiles, which are drafted at the start of the game and are all unique. A player aid would have been helpful... or at least a separate folio with the explanations so the back of the rule book doesn’t have to be passed around. All that said, I’ve had fun each time I played and look forward to playing again. 

Scorpius Freighter: This should have been the licensed game that went with the Firefly franchise... it’s a tightly designed game with three cleverly disguised rondels for picking actions. While the theme is somewhat abstracted by the design, the artwork and really nice production carries the day. It ran a little long on our first 4 player game... but I think this will end up being a 90 minute game for 4 once everyone has a game under their belt. It also looks like it will scale well for 2 or 3. 

Horizons: More science fiction theming... but it’s pretty much a complicated way to build an area control game. I won by pushing the timer hard. The UI has issues- players all need to be able to see top cards of five alien piles as well as those cards in front of other players and the thematic art eats up too much real estate on the cards to make that possible. I don’t need to play it again. 


AuZtralia: I don't usually love Martin Wallace's game designs... and I'm rather tired of people pasting on Cthulu themes. And yet, there's actually a really good game here about the Old Ones hiding out in the Australian outback, fighting against the encroaching colonists and their farms. Note: it's helpful to have some idea of what the Old Ones might choose to do (the Revelation cards) before you start playing - high-level baddies spawning on temples played havoc with our strategic plans.

Fast Forward: Fortune: Just got about 1/3 of the way through the deck in our first set of plays - it reminds me of Flee, which was our favorite of the first crop of Fast Forward games, so that's a positive. 

Monday, November 05, 2018

30 Years Ago - "You Belong With Me"

Thirty years ago, I took this cute girl from our college Bible study group out to see Tim Miner in concert at Footloose. 

Glossary for those not from the 80s and familiar with CCM
  • Tim Miner... incredibly talented "white soul" Christian artist who had put out one of the more groove-heavy albums of late 80s CCM
  • Footloose... a Christian "nightclub" in the Dallas/Fort Worth area (basically, just down the freeway from the airport) 
  • Tim Miner AT Footloose... since his home church was in Rockwall, TX (just an hour or so away), he had a full band and dancers... it was an awesome show
That cute girl said "yes" to a second date... and then there was the dating... and then, a little over a year later, she said "yes" to marrying me... and the love of my life really is the love of my life. 

But since this was originally intended to be a part of my "Christian Music From the 80s That Is Still Good" series of posts, I give you "our song" - from one of the more iconoclastic CCM artists ever, Tonio K. I put it on a mixtape for Shari Jo - and it still makes me smile every time I hear it.

For 80s music fans, the female vocalist with Tonio is Maria McKee (from Lone Justice). And there's a great article about the Romeo Unchained album here.

Two o'clock
The moon is down
We say goodnight
You're headed for bed across town
We haven't even known each other that long
But it doesn't even matter
When you leave it feels all wrong

You belong with me
Darlin' we belong together
And every time you leave
It's obvious we're still connected
You live in your world
And I live in mine
But the collision of worlds is just a matter of time
You belong with me

Now I can tell
You're so afraid
You've been lied to and taken for granted
And treated like some kind of slave
I'm not after your freedom, i'm after your heart
And I know it's gonna happen
And I knew it from the start

What happens to people in love is some kind of mystery
But what passes for love on the streets these days is a joke
So when people like us finally stumble into each other
We've got to hold on tight and never let go

Thursday, November 01, 2018

Hail & Well Met, Fellow Survivor Fans!

I used to describe myself as a "Johnny-come-lately" to Survivor... but the painful reality is that I've watched every season live since Season 10 (Palau)... so I guess I'm an old hand now.

Old enough, anyway, to follow Andy and his reality blurred site - and when he asked for input on the current season, I dutifully shot off an email to him that he quoted in yesterday's article: Why is the Survivor David vs Goliath cast so likable & fun?
1. They are interesting people – not just types. Examples: The wrestler (John) is self-aware & not just playing a character, evidenced by his delightful conversation with Christopher about Slamtown and hiring practices. The ex-cheerleader (Kara) has a meaningful faith that created a bond with another player and scared Natalie enough to behave badly & tank her game. She’s not just a cheerleader. Christopher is a nerd/geek… but w/real people skills and an amazing level of empathy.
2. There doesn’t seem to be a lot of “playing for the camera”—whether that’s a function of the weather conditions or something else, I’m not sure. But the focus has been on the game and relationships, and I’m enjoying it!
For the record, nothing that happened last night changed my mind about any of this... in fact, it seems like we have less self-serving interviews and more glimpses into camp life and relationships - so I missed #3... a better job of editing the show.

And, because it wouldn't be a Survivor old-timer post without it:
  • I'm Team Boston Rob NOT Team Evil Russell
  • My favorite winner is actually Yul Kwon (who had a really cool PBS series on the technology grid some years back)
  • I've gone back and watched all of the seasons I've missed except Amazon, Marquesas & Thailand