board games

Convention Report: GameStorm 19

April 3rd, 2017  |  Published in board games

This past weekend I attended my second GameStorm convention, GameStorm 19. If you are unfamiliar with it, it is a Portland area gaming convention that runs for four days.

Last year I had a good time but didn’t get a chance to play some of the stuff that I had brought with me and really wanted to (this was partially due to the venue, which the convention had outgrown). This year, the convention was in a bigger venue (which was also closer to where we were staying in Portland) which helped a lot, and I signed up to run three games: Mines of Zavandor, Panamax, and Edo. This helped immensely, as it provided a bit of structure to my convention experience (signing up for games that others were running isn’t quite the same, in my experience). If you are planning on going, I would recommend bringing your favorite game and signing up to run it, you are guaranteed a spot at the table, finding players is easier (and they will have a chance to prepare), and you will get to share a possibly obscure game that might not otherwise see the table (I didn’t see or hear about another session of Panamax, and I only met one person who had even heard of Mines of Zavandor).

In any case, you probably aren’t here for gaming convention advice, so here’s what I played:

  • Mines of Zavandor
  • Harbour
  • Mint Works (x2)
  • Panamax
  • Eridu (prototype)
  • Take the Gold
  • Wreck-A-Mecha (x2)
  • Quantum (x2 with three then two players)
  • Nocturnal
  • Tongiaki: Journey into the Unknown
  • Isle of Skye: From Chieftain to King
  • Hanamikoji
  • Armageddon (recent Queen Games version)
  • Yedo
  • Keyflower
  • Edo

 

Highlights:

  • Wreck-A-Mecha – This is the second game from Black Table Games (makers of the excellent Inglorious Space), and was probably my favorite game of the convention. It is simple and fast (with a playtime of 10-20 minutes), has great theme, great art, and was just a ton of fun. They are planning on launching it on Kickstarter in June, and I will definitely be backing it (and probably mentioning it here, too). My only complaint is that it isn’t on BGG yet, so I can’t log it.
  • Nocturnal – This is currently on Kickstarter (ending tomorrow), and though it looks like the kickstarter may not succeed (currently at 45% with 38 hours to go), I would recommend backing it to get a notice when the designer relaunches (though I will try to make a point of mentioning it here when it does). To me, the game has a vampire hunting theme plus some Carl Chudyk elements (Innovation, Glory to Rome, Mottainai, etc), minus the steep learning curve of Chudyk games. It teaches and plays fast, has good theme integration (the game reminded me a lot of John Steakly’s Vampire$, which I haven’t read in too long and now want to see if it stands the test of time).
  • Quantum – I had been hearing about this game for quite a while and now I’m working on how I can trade for it. It is a fast-playing spaceship game with an innovative use of dice and the perfect amount of player interaction (for me, at least). Combined with fully customizable maps and you have what feels to me like a near-perfect game.
  • Edo – Somehow, I always manage to forget how much I like Edo between plays. I had heard it negatively compared to Yedo, but after playing that for the first time I can’t really agree. There are some similarities between the two (they are both about the historical city of Edo, for one), but they are very different games, with Yedo feeling like a heavy version of Lords of Waterdeep (mostly due to the missions) and Edo feeling like a heavy version of Robo Rally (due to the action programming aspect). Personally I prefer Edo, but had fun with Yedo and would happily play it again even if I don’t feel there’s a home for it in my collection.

 

The other thing I did differently this year was to attend panels, and they definitely enriched the convention for me:

  • Golden Guidelines of Game Design – Dave Howell presented his Golden Guidelines, which was a list of things that suck the fun out of games and why. Even as someone who isn’t into game design (though I would be surprised if I didn’t eventually try my hand at it), the panel was an excellent examination of why some games don’t work. It helped me to put some of the things that bother me into words, and will probably increase the quality of my feedback to game designers when I playtest.
  • A Gamer’s Guide to the Resistance – This was a panel presented by Mike Selinker, Rebecca Meiers, Sara Waffle, George Kennedy, and Adrian Hayes about how gamers with a progressive mindset can work towards positive change in our current political and social climate. This panel was only an hour, and I feel that it really could have used double that time. I was most interested in Sarah Waffle’s story about how she ran for, and won, a local political office using the skills that she had developed as a gamer. I hope to write more about this panel in the next week or so.


In summary, I had a great time and am looking forward to GameStorm 20.

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Reporting back from GameStorm 18

March 23rd, 2016  |  Published in board games

Last weekend I was at GameStorm 18, Portland’s regional board game convention. I had a great time, and got to play a bunch of stuff:

  • Steam
  • Splendor (x2)
  • Favor of the Pharaoh (x2)
  • Raiders of the North Sea
  • The King is Dead
  • Traders of Osaka
  • Dice City
  • One Zero One
  • Krosmaster: Arena (x2)
  • Skull King
  • Lifeboat (with the Cannibalism expansion)
  • Shipwrights of the North Sea (with Townsfolk Expansion)
  • Isle of Trains
  • Fleet (with all the expansions)
  • Ca$h ‘n Guns (second edition)
  • Swinging Jivecat Voodoo Lounge
  • Eurorails
  • Medina
  • Inglorious Space

Overall, I had a great time. I didn’t run into any annoying people, and nothing I played fell flat (although a couple weren’t as fun as I expected). Here are some of the highlights:

Eurorails – This is something that I have been wanting to play for literally years (rather, I’ve been wanting to play any Crayon Rails game), but the weight of the game and long play time has been problematic. I definitely want to play more Crayon Rails games, and will probably buy/trade for Nippon Rails at some point.

Raiders of the North Sea – This game was just awesome, probably the best Kickstarter I’ve backed. In some ways it reminds me of Tzolk’in, but is a bit lighter and the rules are much more intuitive. I’m not sure if I had as much fun playing it as I did with Eurorails, but it will be much easier to get to the table. (Shipwrights was also great, the expansion really brings a lot to the game without adding much complexity.)

Inglorious Space – This game came as a complete surprise to me, given that I had never heard of it before playing it (not surprising since it is only a few days into its Kickstarter campaign), but I loved it. Based on classic space shooters like Galaga, it is a multiplayer with a semi-co-op mechanic. I had been excited about The Battle at Kemble’s Cascade, but after looking into it more, it just sounded tedious. Inglorious Space, on the other hand, plays quick, light, and fun, but has enough depth to keep it interesting. I’m definitely looking forward to playing it more.

Isle of Trains – Another game that I had never heard of. This is a tiny (52 card?) game about building a train and fulfilling contracts. It had some depth, interesting decisions, and good interaction. For $10, I can’t think of a good reason not to buy it.

All in all, a great weekend. Looking forward to GameStorm 19.

 

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Top 11 board games – 2014

January 30th, 2015  |  Published in board games

Anyone who spends enough time around me knows that I love board games (some of them no doubt wish that I would shut up about them, sorry Jennifer). Over the past couple of years, their importance has grown for me. Aside from being fun, when I play board games, it is something that I can focus the entirety of my attention on, allowing me to stop thinking about work or whatever might be stressing me out. That benefit, combined with providing a framework for social interaction (talking to strangers is a lot less awkward when you have something to talk about, board games are perfect for this), makes board gaming an ideal hobby, for me at least. So what am I talking about when I talk about board games? Monopoly? Risk? Not really. Both of those are board games, yes, but it in the same way that an Apple II is a computer: it is, and it was really cool when it came out, but it has long since been superseded by vastly improved computers. Modern board games are a huge and varied thing these days, and looking at the shelf of your Friendly Local Game Store (FLGS) for the first time can be an experience akin to looking at the craft beer section of a well stocked supermarket: You know sort of what is going on in front of you but you don’t have a good idea if you’ll actually like whatever you pick out. Towards that end, I am putting together a list of board games that I enjoyed playing in 2014.

This year, I logged 166 plays (not of 166 different games, mind you, Star Realms alone accounts for 24 plays). I have put together a list of my top 11. They aren’t games that came out in 2014, necessarily, but they are games that I played in 2014. In addition, I’m restricting myself to games that I’ve played at least twice, as a game can seem great the first time around then fall flat on the second play. These games aren’t in any particular order, I’m not going to attempt to figure out if one is better than the other given that I like them all for different reasons with different people in different conditions. Without further ado, here’s the list:

Star Realms – Star Realms is a light, competitive deckbuilding game. To my mind, deckbuilders come in two flavors, “Dominion” and “Ascension”. Dominion style have a common pool of cards for players to buy (which is how they build their decks) that doesn’t change much during the game, as there are multiple copies of each card. Ascension style games also have a common set of cards that both players can buy from, but the selection changes from turn to turn and there are only a few duplicates (of weaker cards). Both styles of game have their strengths and weaknesses, so I won’t go into which is better. Star Realms is part of the Ascension family of games. The thing that makes Star Realms stand out is how quick and inexpensive the game is (15 minutes and $15) and how much player interaction there is (the goal of the game is to destroy your opponent, not to collect victory points like in Dominion, which can feel like multiplayer Solitaire). If you’re on the fence, the app is free and very good. Recommended for: anyone who wants a light, inexpensive, deckbuilder; recovering Magic: The Gathering players who want something to scratch the itch without taking over their lives and ruining their credit scores.

Puzzle Strike Shadows – This one is another deckbuilder, but in the Dominion style. It doesn’t play as quickly as Star Realms, and is much more expensive, but I the gameplay is deeper (lots of combinations and permutations while still remaining very balanced). The really cool thing about Puzzle Strike is that instead of cards, you play with chips (think poker chips made out of cardboard) which you draw out of a bag rather than shuffling. As shuffling is the most annoying part about playing deckbuilders (you usually start the game with ten cards that you cycle through very quickly, meaning you spend a lot of time shuffling a tiny deck, which is just annoying). I picked up Shadows rather than the base game because it is a stand alone expansion and my wife liked the art better. I plan on getting the base game this year. Recommended for: people who want a rich and highly interactive deckbuilder.

Mr. Jack Pocket – Mr. Jack is a classic asymmetrical deduction game in which one player plays as Jack the Ripper and the other as Sherlock. Players take alternating turns trying to confound their opponent (Sherlock attempts to narrow down the pool of suspects and Jack does his best to avoid this). I liked the original, but I felt that the setup and rules were too cumbersome for what was actually going on. Mr. Jack Pocket (or Jack Junior as my wife affectionately calls it) fixes all this. It does not attempt to miniaturize the game, but rather reinterprets it in such a way that the game is distilled down to its purest essence. The setup, rules, and gameplay are elegant enough that I can teach the game to a new player and get two or three full games in over the space of an hour with enough time left over to eat lunch (I have done this a few times now). All of this without sacrificing the depth of the original. Recommended for: people who want a quick and intense two player game with high portability.

Province – Province is the first microgame that I backed on Kickstarter. A eurogame small enough to be shipped in a letter envelope and streamlined enough to play in 25 minutes. It is not a heavy game by any stretch, but there is a surprising amount of depth here. This sort of game is also one reason why I love shorter games: its brevity creates a sort of freedom, you can try all sorts of crazy strategies and if they don’t work out, you haven’t spent two hours in the learning. For $5 I can’t think of a reason not to buy this game. Recommended for: anyone with $5 to spare.

Burgoo – Another microgame that cost $5. This is my go-to lunchtime game for more than two players (although it plays quite well with two, as well), it is easy to teach, short, and being a game about soup, the theme fits perfectly. After I received it, it sat on my shelf for about a month, as I wasn’t sure I wanted to actually play it (it had been an impulse purchase) and the rules didn’t immediately ‘click’ for me (through no fault of their own, the mechanics are different from anything else I’ve played before, as soon as I actually started to play, it all made sense immediately). Once I gave it a shot, however, I absolutely loved it. It feels quick and light, but the endgame can turn into a bit of a brain burner (in a good way, as I usually play it at lunch and while one player is thinking of how to screw over their fellow chefs everyone else is actually eating, no one gets bored). Recommended for: anyone with $5 to spare.

Vikings – Vikings, you know them: longboats, horned helmets, axes, pillaging. This game has nothing to do with any of that, instead focusing on the other stuff they did, namely founding settlements, trading, and farming. This game consists of six rounds in which players take turns buying island tiles and viking meeples from a really clever rotating rondel that adjusts the prices for things as each turn progresses. The game plays quickly (about an hour), has plenty of indirect interaction, and is full of interesting decisions. I had been wanting to try it for a long time but it was out of print, so when I heard about the reprint I requested a copy from my FLGS. Money well spent. Recommended for: anyone looking for a quick mid-weight economic game.

Waggle Dance – One of my goals this year is to spend less money on Kickstarter, particularly for larger companies who are using it as a preorder system. I have nothing against that, personally, but it screws with my budgeting. So, going forward, I want to shift my  focus to backing games that might not succeed without me. Waggle Dance falls squarely in this category. It met its funding goal, but just barely. And man is it a great game. It is all about building a hive and making honey, with each player having a ton of dice representing bees which are used to take actions. It feels really elegant, has beautiful design, and you get to chuck a ton of dice (each player can get as many as eighteen, though ties are broken by the player with the fewest bees, which makes for a really interesting dynamic). Recommended for: anyone looking  for a “dicer placement” game that can range from light-weight lighthearted filler to a cutthroat medium-weight game.

Dungeon Lords – “Well, everyone got what they wanted this turn.” Wait, I must be thinking of a different game. Dungeon Lords is a game about building a dungeon and killing pesky heroes, in which you never have quite enough actions or resources to make things work out like you want them to. That might sound kind of harsh, but I absolutely love this game. It is hard (even when I win, I feel like I’m losing for the entire game), but very rewarding (even when I lose, I have a great time, partially due to the shared suffering of the rest of the players). The learning curve is steep (expect to spend some time learning how things work before royally botching your first game) and the game isn’t for everyone, but if you know someone who owns a copy, you need to at least give it a shot. Recommended for: people who are distraught that things are just too easy in their lives; people who want to feel like they have accomplished something, even when they lose.

Tzolk’in – Tzolk’in is one of those games that looked as if it might be a flash in the pan when it came out in 2012. It is a worker placement game (a game in which the primary mechanic is placing pawns–“workers”–onto a limited pool of actions that are available to the other players, too). It has a beautiful board with a giant rotating gear in the center. When it first came out, I thought that its popularity might be due to the novelty of the board, but it turns out that there is a solid game underneath those rotating wheels and that it does some interesting things with the mechanic. Usually in a worker placement game you take turns selecting actions and once everyone is out of workers, you get to do the things that you chose. In Tzolk’in, however, the workers stay on their spots until the player chooses to remove them, and because those spots are on gears that get rotated by the central wheel, the longer you wait to pull off your workers, the better the actions you can do. When combined with the variety of paths to victory, the result is a game that is packed with interesting decisions. Probably my favorite game of all time. Recommended for: anyone who isn’t afraid of some brain work.

2 de Mayo – When people ask me about games that I love but that no one seems to have heard about, 2 de Mayo is my go-to answer. It is often referred to as a wargame, but it lacks many of the stereotypical hallmarks of the genre: it is not a long, sprawling, complex game, but rather a short, tight, focused brain-burner. It plays really quickly (30 minutes) and I’m glad for that because I don’t think that I could handle it for any longer. The game is about Napolean’s invasion of Madrid on, you guessed it, May 2nd. The Spanish player’s goal is simply to survive ten turns and the French player is trying to destroy all of the Spanish forces while controlling all of the city entrances. The result is a cat-and-mouse game that is combined with secret orders and simultaneous actions. I may not always be in the mood for it, but I love it. Recommended for: People wanting a quick, tense filler. History buffs (the rulebook has an overview of situation and all of the event cards are based on things that actually happened).

Brass – I should be clear that I’ve only played this game twice and don’t know it nearly as well as the others on this list. That being said, I love it. It is the heaviest game on this list, I think, but doesn’t feel dry. I love just about everything about Brass, but there are a few things that stand out. First, I love the canal/railway dichotomy. Halfway through the game, all of the canals that you’ve spent so much blood and treasure building become obsolete, but most of the buildings in the cities that they connect stay around, leaving a very interesting puzzle as players have to rebuild the infrastructure. Second, it does interdependence very well, as you can sell cotton through your opponents ports benefitting them in the short term but possibly wrecking their timing (as they might have trouble selling their cotton after that. Finally, I love the theme. For me, well done theme means that the game feels like what it represents (Cash N Guns, for example, definitely feels like you are getting screwed over by your criminal associates), and Brass feels like a bunch of entrepreneurs scrambling to ride the tide of modernization. Recommended for: people who like economic games but want some flavor, too. Anyone watching Peaky Blinders.

Games I’m excited to play this year: Taluva, Panamax, Harbour, Impulse, Republic of Rome, and Tigris and Euphates. More on those in a future post.

Thanks to Zach Havok for pointing me to the post (worth checking out, by the way, as is the rest of the blog) that inspired this list, by eclectic blogger Keith Law. Zach is also the reason that the list is eleven items and not, say, ten (he really likes eleven, I guess).

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