Guest Post: “So, What Kind of Games Do You Play?”

Hey all:

Real life has been real crazy in the past couple weeks, so I’m going to turn the blog over to recurring guest author Eric J. Carter.  He writes about getting asked the question “What kinds of games do you play?”

Recently I was at a dinner party when the subject of hobbies came up. I mentioned that I like to collect and play board games, which prompted the response “What kind of games do you play?”

I hesitated. I couldn’t decide how to answer that. Being a colossal introvert, I rarely get asked that question. So many things went through my mind… I wanted to present my hobby in a good light, I wanted to blurt out everything I love about Star Trek:Ascendancy, I wanted to talk about deck builders, and I wanted to say that I definitely didn’t play Monoply.

But my fellow guest was not looking for any of that. He was making polite conversation and just wanted a simple one-sentence answer instead of the fumbling, incoherent babble I came up with that now I can’t even recall.

So I decided to put some thought into it, so when asked again I’ll have an answer at the ready.

Most likely the person asking has played some type of board game in their youth. Checkers, Chess, Candyland, Chutes and Ladder (The 4 Cs), and of course they’re familiar with Monopoly. No matter what your opinion of Monopoly is, to the world at large, ‘board games’ equals Monopoly. It will take a long, long time before ‘board games’ equals Settlers of Catan, Ticket to Ride, Dominion, Carcassonne and other titles you’ve got on your shelves.

So when asked “What kind of games do you play,” how can you answer them? How do you let them know that you play games for the social interaction, for the chance to really get your brain burning or to just give it a rest? How do you avoid the cliched “So like Monopoly?” response?

Do you say “I roleplay. I conquer. I amass great wealth. I settle worlds. I connect cities. I discover where the rebels are hiding. I blow up Death Stars. I slay dragons. I beat everyone to the finish line.” Or do you hit them with the big whammy – “I trade resources for goods and then sell them for points.”

Therein lies the problem. The games we play are legion. There are hundreds of genres of games and there are many different types of games inside each of those genres. In fact, the question of what kinds of games we play can be as distinct as what kind of music we like, what kind of books we read or movies we watch. And therein also lies the solution.

The sports fan does not watch all sports. The music lover does not listen to every style. Movie lovers do not watch every flick ever made. If you ask any of these people about their hobbies, they are not going to answer “I watch sports”, “I listen to music”, “I like to read.” Well, maybe that last one… No, they’ll tell you which sport, what type of music, or the kinds of books they enjoy.

The simple answer for the question “What kind of games do you play” is unique for each of us. Maybe your answer is “I enjoy train-themed economic games” or “I like deck-building style card games” or “I like many types of games, but right now I’m concentrating on sci-fi themed wargames.”

This treats our hobby with the respect we wish it had. We’re communicating to others that we have a multifaceted hobby, something so expansive that we have distinct choices within it, just as they may be a Chiefs fan, or they’ve been to every Foo Fighters show, or like to curl up with a great mystery novel.

There is no one-sentence, generic answer to “What kind of games do you play?” Thank goodness for that, right? If there were, the hobby would not be exploding like it is. Each of us has to figure out that answer for ourselves, and we have to figure out how to keep it brief enough to not bore or overwhelm the other person, or worse, make ourselves look like colossal introverts who don’t know how to answer simple questions.

But who knows, perhaps your answer will connect with them somehow? Maybe your love of Age of Steam will connect you with a model railroader. Maybe your love of social-deduction games will connect you with a mystery novel enthusiast, and perhaps mentioning miniature war-gaming will bring up fond memories of when your fellow guest played Risk back in the day.

Turns out that your hobby has more than one way to help you make new friends.

Kickstarter

Gamers have a love/hate relationship with Kickstarter. I personally have 1 KS that never delivered their things (Which is of course one of the bigger pledges I’ve made to a campaign.), and another that I backed because they pledged an Android version of a popular board game after hitting a pledge goal, and they never delivered that, but the campaign was for an iOS app, which they did make, and I’ve heard is pretty good.

But while there are horror stories (And mine are definitely NOT horror stories, just something I lost out on.), there are many huge successes.

So what is Kickstarter? It’s a site where someone can have an idea, and pitch to get funding for their idea. THere is a HUGE range of things this could be. I’m obviously going to focus on what I am most familiar with, tabletop games.

And even the tabletop game part of this has a large range. I’ve seen RPG’s that only want $100. And there are miniature games that as for 100K+.

Some campaigns try to put in a level to get this base item. Then you can add this bonus item. Then you can add on these deluxe pieces. And then an expansion pack.

I won’t even consider those. While I am working on my need to have all expansions, many of these items will only be available through the Kickstarter campaign. And that means I won’t ever be able to get everything if I don’t buy it now, and that turns me off.

I want a simple batch of pledge levels. I prefer cheaper items, but I understand that many people have more to spend on these things than I do, so while I won’t pay $120 for your game, many others will. And that’s fine.

I’ve backed several games over the years. Not all have been winners, but I do tend to still own most of them, so I have been pretty good as knowing what I like. It sucks to order these and have to wait months, but as long as I know it’s going to be awhile, I’m good with it. Although I’ll warn folks that in my experience, they rarely ship on time.

Here are some of the games I’ve backed:

 

The Good

Mutant Meeples – Fun Ricochet Robots style game with meeples having powers to help reach the goals.

Fate Core – This one was crazy. I backed the very popular RPG core rules, and was still getting additional content 2 years later, all was promised as stretch goals. I have some great stuff from this one.

Wok Star – A really fun, but very intense, co-op recipe making  game. Fulfill orders to earn money. Simple to play but difficult to do well.

Tiny Epic Galaxies – A fantastic little game that plays like a larger board game. By far my favorite of the Tiny Epic games, although I’ve only played a couple of them. This is the game in the title pic.

Roll to the Top! – A new roll & write game, I haven’t played it too much, but it’s got some interesting ideas. You basically keep moving up the map with matching and higher numbers till someone completes there sheet.

Eminent Domain – One of my favorite deck builders, helped by the fact that occasional contributor Eric J Carter did some of the wonderful art. But his name being on it isn’t what makes it a good game, it’s a bonus for me.

 
The Not So Good

For the Win! – Here is an example of where Eric couldn’t help it. The game was just really dull, and I typically like abstract games. I think I sold it to someone.

Heat – Another one I wanted to like, and didn’t enjoy. Just wasn’t what I wanted it to be I guess. I think I traded this one, but it may have gotten sold also.

Tiny Epic Defenders – I love co-op games, and this seemed like an interesting one. Joe and I played it once, and it just didn’t do anything for us. It has gotten an expansion, so maybe we just didn’t get it, but I traded it away almost immediately.

 

I like that Kickstarter exists. It genuinely helps games get made. It also helps reduce the commitment a publisher needs to make to create a game that people may not like. I’ve become a lot more discerning in what I purchase, so my more recent games are almost all successes for me.

I am currently waiting on Factory Funner & Bigger because we really like Factory Fun. I have a kids game from Eagle Games called Nut Job that looks like a clever take on traditional memory games.

What’s your take on Kickstarter, especially for board games? Do you have any games you are really looking forward to? Anything you’ve really liked or disliked? Do you back any non-board game projects? Let me know in the comments.

 

Extra Life!

I’m taking this opportunity to take a break from reviews and lists to talk about a cause that is pretty close to my heart.

In November, I and other gamers will be taking a full day, that is 24 hours, to play board games.  Now this may not seem like anything special to write about, but in the lead up, we’ll be raising money for Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals.  We take part in Extra Life.

I took this blurb from their website:

Extra Life unites thousands of gamers around the world to play games in support of their local Children’s Miracle Network Hospital. Since its inception in 2008, Extra Life has raised more than $40 million for sick and injured kids.

Instead of video games, we get together to play board games for 24 hours.  There are always some standards, like party games later in the night and I tend to wrangle 3 or 4 people to learn something heavier at 3 in the morning (I know for sure one year it was Clash of Cultures, but I don’t remember the specifics of others).  We also do other things such as a donated game raffle and have some local sponsors who tend to donate some awesome stuff as well.

I’ve been taking part in Extra Life for quite a few years now, and it’s an amazing experience.  I’m not going to write about it in depth here, but I wanted to at least introduce the concept for those who weren’t familiar.  We’ll be taking some time in later weeks to write about why we choose to participate and what we are looking forward to doing.  I might also try to get a few guest authors to write about what Extra Life means to them.

So keep an eye out for those posts in coming weeks, and if you are planning on participating, let us know in the comments!

Challenge Update!

Hey all!

We are almost ¾ through the year, and so I thought it was a good time for Ryan and I to give an update on our 10 x 10 (and other) challenges.

Andrew’s Challenges

On my 10 x 10 front, I am not looking so hot.  I’ve played 46 of the 100 total games, and have finished 10 plays of 2 games:  Azul and Ganz schon clever.  I need two more plays of Kingdomino, and that will finish it off as well.

Even though my wife and I loved Charterstone, we lost a lot of momentum midway through the year.  We could normally count on our daughter to go to bed and give us enough time to get a game in during the week, but as bed time has become a more drawn out process, we are finding that the time and mental effort of getting back into the swing of things during the school year is making it difficult.  We still want to finish it, but I am not sure if we can get 7 more games in by the end of the year.

I have quite a few solo wargames on my challenge to play as well, but I also have newer games coming in that are vying for my attention (and I’m sure I’m the only gamer on the planet who has this problem).  I should just focus on one game at a time and get a proper campaign in, but this is also compounded by the fact that I’m a huge video gamer and that’s been taking my attention as well.

As far as my 5 x 1 challenge, I only have one more game to play on it, and I’m not sure if we will play it or not.  It’s a pretty complicated entry in the system, so I have been trying to work on a VASSAL game of an easier game in the system, but again, finding time to get that set up and working has been difficult.

Even though I may not complete my full challenges, the width of games from the deck of cards has been nice (even if we’ve fallen behind on that as well).  I definitely consider this year a success so far, but I’m excited to try to at least get 75% of the way done with my 10 x 10 games.

Ryan’s Challenges

My gaming numbers have been up a lot this year from previous years. Part of that is my dedication to getting the 10×10 list completed.

I am not doing a hardcore 10×10. I am willing to add games if I think it will get that many plays. My goal is to end up with 10 games played 10 time, regardless of when I started playing them. You will see a pattern in the completed games mostly being new acquisitions, almost all this year.

I have a 4 year old who likes playing games. I have several games on my list that she enjoys. Kids games are pretty quick and easy to get to the table.

Gaming over the past couple of months has slowed a bit, not really sure why exactly. I’ve just been lazy about getting anything to the table, In fact September has already had more games played than August, 10×10 games or otherwise.

I won’t go into details on every game on the list, but wanted to talk about the games I’ve finished, and where I am as far as the rest.

I have played 86 games so far, so I only need 14 more plays to finish. Being so close to finishing, I have obviously completed several games already.

The first one I completed was Friday, partially due to it being a solo game. I enjoy it quite a bit, although now that the pressure is off, I haven’t played it since. I actually borrowed Drew’s copy to complete this, so I kind of packed them into a short time.

Charterstone was a game that got added once we bought it. After 2 plays, I knew we were going to finish this game quickly. It’s a legacy game that requires 12 plays to complete, and we flew through it in a couple of months. Eric, DIna, and Joe and I really enjoyed it, so much that Eric bought the recharge pack so we can do it again, and I can try to avoid some mistakes I made that quite possibly contributed to my overall win.

The Dresden Files Cooperative Card Game is a fun, quick co-op game. It’s difficult, plays in about a half hour, has a nice variety of characters to play as, plays solitaire, and I am a huge fan of the book series. I enjoyed my couple of plays from last year, and added it to this list so I would play it more. We have completed 4 of the 15 novels in our 10 plays, so we are winning more often than I would have expected, but they are rarely easy wins. I am not sure if all 15 are available to play for the game yet, but it’s close to that many.

Ganz schön clever was a game that fascinated me from the moment I first heard of it. I have discussed it in a previous article. It plays solitaire, but I rarely have trouble finding someone to play it with me. It’s a fantastic game.

Codenames Duet is one of my most recent purchases. It takes a great party game, and cleverly designs it for 2 players. We are usually willing to sit and play it multiple times in a sitting, so I got in 9 plays over Labor Day weekend alone. It’s not easy, we’ve only won twice, but it’s a ton of fun, and can be played in 15 minutes.

The last game I have on the completed list is The Lion Guard: Protect the Pridelands. It’s a kid game that has really nice bits, plays in 15 minutes, and is a cute little co-op. Aleksia obviously enjoys it, and it’s not too grating on a parent playing it multiple times.

Some other games that are really close and will likely contribute to the final 14 plays:

Legendary: A Marvel Deckbuilding Game  (7 plays)

Outfoxed! (7 plays)

Sagrada (6 plays)

The Castles of Burgundy: The Dice Game (6 plays)

Ghost FIghtin’ Treasure Hunters (6 plays)

Azul (6 plays)

There are a few more at 5 or less, and who knows, maybe they’ll jump up suddenly, but I think these are the most likely games to complete the challenge. I do love that I’ve gotten Legendary to the table that many times, it’s probably my favorite game right now.

Quick update to my other 2 challenges. Nothing has changed since my last post about them. I have finished playing 10 of my Unplayed games as of January 1st on June 12th, so I am pleased with that.. The other challenge of playing 10 “It’s Been too Long” games, I’m still at 9. I am kind of holding the last spot for Power Grid, but may just play something else anyway.

d20 List: Top 6 Games to Play With 2 Players

Hello out there! This is our latest d20 list, where either Drew or I roll a twenty sided die, and pick a topic to make a list based on the roll. This week I rolled a 6 and chose to have us choose our favorite 2-player games.

I apologize for not showing a video or picture of the die roll. I kind of forgot to do it at home, so I used an app to get our d20 roll this time. I’ll try to do better next time.

I didn’t realize how hard this list would be to make. I’ve been busy at work, and I was happy to roll low, and thought I’d pick an “easy” list. I had several games in mind when I chose the topic, yet only a couple of those made the cut. Not adding some of these games almost broke my heart. The following list is in no particular order.

Ryan’s Picks

1) Memoir ‘44: A game I traded away or sold a few years ago, but not for lack of really liking it. I always loved the simplicity of it, and massive number of scenarios. I had several of the expansions, and it’s a game I really miss having, even though I don’t think my wife would play it with me.

2) Yinsh: I am really intrigued by abstract games. I am terrible at them, but the idea of designing something with no theme fascinates me. THis is the best one of the GIPF series, which are all amazing and beautiful looking games. I sold these off too, and I really wish I hadn’t needed to.

3) Eldritch Horror: The one game on my list that isn’t 2-player only. The reason I included it is because I have yet to play it with a different quantity than 2. I really love this game, the theme is fantastic, and I’m not typically a Cthulhu mythos fan.

4) StreetSoccer: I continue to preach about Corné van Moorsel’s games. This one is abstract, but with a die it takes a little less pure strategy than Yinsh or Chess. The better player will still almost always win, but it’s not a brain burny this way.

5) Patchwork: I grew up playing Tetris when I got the original Gameboy. This game takes those style of pieces and makes 2 players make a quilt. I love trying to make things fit together, and I enjoy that just because you have the most buttons (Money) coming in when you are able to gain them, you may not have the higher scoring board in the end.

6) Perry Rhodan: The Cosmic League: Another one from my previous d20 list (StreetSoccer). I love the art, I love the simple pick up and deliver, and the way you buy add ons to your ship can make for some tough decisions. I mentioned before this one doesn’t get enough love.

Andrew’s Picks

1) Memoir ’44/Commands and Colors: Ancients
I am sort of cheating here, because this is technically two games, but they really are the game system, and I like them equally, it just depends on the comfort level of my opponent.

I’ve written about it before, but these games are introductory wargames that are all card driven.  Ancients is a little more complex with rules such as battling back and evading combat, but Memoir comes with minis and a ton of additional flavor added through expansions.  My advice:  just get them both J

2) 7 Wonders: Duel
I really enjoy 7 Wonders, and I like Duel even better.  I wrote about it in my Top 10 Quick Games for 2 Players, so I’m going to repost what I said about it there here:

Card drafting is a hit or miss mechanic with me mainly because I have a hard time focusing on one strategy.  Duel, though, is compact enough it’s fairly easy for me to keep track and get an engine going and there are multiple routes to victory.  In fact, if you aren’t paying attention to what your opponent is doing they may sneak by and win by Science or Military.  This is on our 10 x 10 list for the year, and I’m really looking forward to getting it played; no two games are the same due to the card layout and I don’t think of the games I’ve won, I’ve won with the same strategy more than a couple of times.

3) Alhambra
This one has a special place on my list because it does something rare in games with a minimum 2 player count, but that are designed for more:  a dummy player.  Of all the games I’ve played with a dummy player that both players compete against, “Dirk” (as he is called) has provided us the best combination of both challenge AND ease of implementation/lack of changing the game.  I would rather play a game that scales appropriately to 2 by limiting components/map space/etc, but Alhambra is one of those “oldies but goodies” I keep coming back to.

4) Codenames Duet
Another one I wrote about in my Top 10 Quick Games for 2:

The only cooperative game on this list, we are terrible at Codenames.  The couple of games we have tried did not go well, but we still had a really good time.  Each person has certain clues (with some overlapping) they have to get the other person to guess but there is a limited number of turns.  Stressful and probably the game that has also caused the most frustration between us, I’m looking forward to getting this to the table more.

Since I wrote that, we’ve added Codenames: Disney into the mix which means we are still terrible but we get to look at pictures of movies we both love.

5) Viticulture: Essential Edition
This is probably the longest game on my list (definitely the longest Euro) and it’s one of my favorites.  It’s thinky and it is still very tight at 2 players for a worker placement game as the number of spaces are limited based upon the number of players.  This is also one of my top 10 Non Solo Non Wargames, so if you want to find out more about what I think on it you can check that out here.

6) Quest for El Dorado
This deck building race game deals with 2 players by requiring each player to get two adventurers across the finish line instead of 1.  This, to me, adds even more strategy to the game.  Do I focus on one and leave the other behind? Do I use one to block my opponent? What card do I use on what figure?  It’s a very approachable deck builder, and I’m really glad I finally added this one to my collection, even if we haven’t played it a ton.

Start Player Review

Have you ever had game night ruined due to two players getting into fisticuffs over player order? Ever had a table flipped over due to people wanting to be the first player?

Well, have I got the solution for you. It’s small, it’s quick, it probably can even cure rabies*.

The solution I have is Start Player: A Kinda Collectible Card Game. It’s a game, it’s a helper, it’s the greatest thing since bread cutting knives!

What is Start Player you ask? It’s a game that helps you out when the game rules aren’t willing to settle disputes before the game starts. You just randomly draw a card, and read the rule, and somebody is declared the winner!

The concept is so simple a baby who can read would be able to do it. Why? See above. I can’t count how many times we’ve had a scuffle break out over who wants to be the start player. So many additional games I could have played!

Here, let’s play a sample game. I’ll shuffle the cards. Then I’ll draw one. I drew the Cold Milk card:

img_20180823_2123071695468230122075555.jpg

Hey! I ate ice cream just 2 nights ago. I think I win this one!

See how easy that was. Let’s try another. I’ll shuffle and I draw Dexterity Jones:

img_20180823_212432__019123387776828172079.jpg

Let’s see, this one is a little trickier, but I appear to have the smallest hands out of everyone present.

Admittedly, this works better with more than one player, but I just picked up 2 wins!

The whole game is like this. Quick, simple, and fun. Even if you have a tie, do you see that arrow on there? Closest person to where that points wins!

And the art. Don’t get me started on the art. It’s from game designer Ted Alspach’s now defunct cartoon series Board2Pieces. I always loved that strip.

So, I have a little bad news. This game is out of print. While I’m giving you a sales pitch, I don’t have any available to sell.

I know I know, you’ll pay me handsomely for my copy, but it’s not for sale!

Ummm. Hmmm. Ok. You seem like you’re getting a little upset. I wasn’t trying to…

Hey! No need to throw your shoe. I’m leaving. Now.

 

* All medical claims unproven as of this writing.


 

Ok, in all seriousness, I’ve always loved this idea. So simple, so silly, and I love the art. It was one of those “Why didn’t I think of this” type games. It was re-released as a non kinda collectible card game under the name of just plain Start Player. I never had a copy of that, although I’d like one.

Any thoughts on this game? What solutions do you use to determine the start player in your games? Would you even consider this to be a game?

Top 5 Wargames I’m Itching to Play

Hey all!

I’m here with a short post…I’ve been dealing with Vertigo for the past few days so I haven’t really been doing much of anything in my free time. No gaming, no video games, no nothing.

So, with it being a Wargame Wednesday, I figured I would post my top 5 Wargames in my collection I’m itching to play.

  1.  Up Front: I was part of the whole Kickstarter debacle, but luckily I was able to get a copy printed at WargameVault.  I have heard so many great things about this one that it’s jumped to the top of my must play pile.
  2. Combat Commander: Europe:  I just got back into this about 6 months ago, so I’m always dying to get it to the table.
  3. Unconditional Surrender: I have everything ready to go for the Case Blue “scenario” so now it’s just time to find to play this as an intro into the whole game.
  4. Breakout Normandy: A buddy and I try to get together once every (other) month or so to play a wargame.  This was going to be last month’s choice but due to real life, neither of us got to read the rules, so it’s still on my list for us to play at our next wargame day.
  5. Iwo: Bloodbath in the Bonins: This is a solo folio game from Decision Games.  It’s something different that I could play over my lunch hour(s) at work, so I’m reading through the rules now to figure out the best way to get it to the table.

There you have it. Short, sweet, and to the point.  I think the next Wargame Wednesday we have will be how I read and parse rulebooks, which, while not the most exciting of topics, may prove beneficial to some of you out there.

Guest Post: Exploring Strange New Worlds Just to Get Your Butt Kicked – A Review of the Borg Assimilation Expansion for Star Trek:Ascendancy

Hey All:

It’s been a busy week this week, so haven’t had time to write.  Luckily, my friend Eric Carter is back with a guest review of the Borg Assimilation Expansion for Star Trek: Ascendancy.  You might remember our playthrough of the base game, but if not, you can find it here: https://swordboardandpen.com/2018/07/08/guest-session-report-star-trek-ascendancy/

My game collection has evolved over the past decade. It grew into a highly-varied mass of 200 titles and expansions, then shrank to less than half that when I needed to keep my freelance business going. Now my collection grows deliberately with just a few titles added each year. One of the aspects that a game needs to have is the ability to play it solo. If it’s sci-fi themed then deliberation is out the window and it’s time to clear some Kallax space for my new acquisition.

Star Trek:Ascendancy’s base game is not a solo experience, so while the game remained in my sensor range, the $100 price tag kept it out of my tractor beam for quite some time. Finding it at a store closing sale for an unbeatable price resulted in quickly stowing it in the trunk of my shuttlecraft. By the way, I make no apologies for the any Star Trek puns, jokes or wordplay in this review, and I invite you to read this in the voice of Captain Jean-Luc Picard hence forth while you sip on your freshly replicated Earl Gray.

Even though it can be considered a 4X game, base Ascendancy initially feels like a standard engine-building Euro-style game. You begin with meager resources to build up and send out your fleet to establish more resource-generating colonies, which gives you more options for improving your ship’s various abilities and defenses. These decisions have to be balanced out with the goal of the game – being the first player to acquire 5 Ascendancy tokens.
Within these mechanics, the publisher, Gale Force Nine, has built an exceptionally thematic Star Trek experience. The Federation, the Klingons, and the Romulans all have their restrictions and rule exceptions that encourage different playing styles. However, to play solo, you need the Borg:Assimilation expansion.

What the Borg brings to your Ascendancy game is similar to what a tornado brings to a trailer park. The box comes with five Borg cubes that ruthlessly seek out the player’s ships, starbases, and home worlds, assimilating the colonies and civilizations they find along the way. The worlds they take over become a cruel parody of their previous existence… the player’s control markers that potentially house three resource-generating nodes are replaced with obsidian Borg spires, and the resource node spaces become a three-turn countdown timer that heralds a newly-constructed Cube to add to the Borg menace.

These Borg cubes, when they encounter your ships, fight with 9 combat dice. Roughly speaking, a fresh Borg cube has the same strength as a fleet of 9 starships, but unlike a player’s fleet, a Borg cube can regenerate itself after a round of combat. If a cube survives a round and rolled any 6’s during that round, it recovers one of its combat dice from the Cube’s damage tracker. What’s more, the Borg’s shields increase in strength each round, therefore it’s imperative that your ships destroy a Borg cube swiftly before it becomes impossible to overcome. The only advantages you have against the Borg are a First Strike opportunity during the first round of combat, and any Borg advancement cards you’ve happened to get due to successfully destroying a Cube or freeing a Borg-infested world in a previous turn.

The expansion adds Borg-specific system discs and exploration cards, creating even more thematic possibilities to the game. This, however, is where Gale Force Nine has slightly fallen short of perfection. While the plastic playing pieces are exceptionally scuplted, the printed elements of the game do not visually match up with the base game. They are slightly darker and more glossy, which makes them stand out during play.

During one of my first solo games I chose not to Explore because I saw that the next system I would reveal was going to be a Borg system disc, and quite possibly one of the two Warp Conduits that would give the Borg a shortcut to my home world. This is potentially a huge problem for solo play. However, my completionist’s mentality had already compelled me to buy both of the player expansions, namely the Ferengi and Cardassian factions, which also come with additional exploration cards and system discs. Thankfully these all have the exact same production issue, which means that the workaround for the Borg system discs problem is to simply add in even more! In my later games I did just that and now have a very large stack of system discs and exploration cards. I believe the stack was 51 discs high at the start of the game. It’s a simple, yet admittedly costly, solution.

In a solo game against the Borg they begin with their Transwarp Hub system disc already in play and, during their Build phase, must roll higher than the number of Borg cubes currently on the map in order to place a cube. This means that the Borg are already gunning for  you before turn two. Their movement rules send them exploring towards your home planet unless their Command cards tell them otherwise. A compliment to the designers… there is rarely a moment where you as the player need to make any decisions for the Borg’s actions.

One of the joys of playing with an intellectual property such as Star Wars, Battlestar Galactica, Marvel, etc., is recreating a moment from those beloved stories. One of my plays did this remarkably well by having a seemingly promising game end suddenly after encountering Q, who sent my galaxy-class starship a space lane away onto a Borg Transwarp Conduit, harkening back to the Next Generation episode where Q first brought the Enterprise into contact with the Borg. Earth was assimilated soon after.

Something the Borg expansion makes you forget is that the base game already presents plenty of dangers to your ships. Hazardous systems can destroy them if they’re not shielded, Exploration cards can wreak havoc with your plans, and the simple random configuration of the system discs can mean that  you don’t have the necessary resources available to you to build up your fleets or improve your weapons before the Borg arrive. Most of my games had me struggling to get an engine going before even thinking about futilely resisting.

After four easy defeats I decided to take advantage of the rule variations in the back of the base game. One of them allows for the player to start with 8 Production, 6 Research and 4 Culture instead of the usual 3 of each. Sadly, both games I played this way ended the same as the others.
The next time I play will involve adding in other possible rule variations, and even using two factions. I have a feeling a second faction will help quite a bit, because the Borg won’t be constantly bee-lining for a single home world. However, it may just delay the inevitable, and make the defeat even worse, because if a faction becomes assimilated, the Borg now effectively have two turns to your one. The expansion is not only designed to give a player the option to play alone, but it also gives a multiplayer game a collective threat, something which they must cooperate against or perish. And an assimilated player is just that… they are now Borg, and their turn becomes another turn for the Collective.

Simply put, expect to lose to the Borg resoundingly often. However, if you’re willing to endure these defeats, you’ll have an amazing Star Trek experience. When you finally prevail, it will become a game so legendary that the Klingons will write grand operas about it.

Roll & Write Games

Roll and Write games are currently very hot in some gaming circles. It’s not a new idea, but there has been an explosion in creative ways to roll dice and mark something on a page. I haven’t played all of them, or even very many of the latest games, but I wanted to wander down memory lane with this style of game. I’m going to do most of this from memory of how to play the games, so while I’ll do my best to fact check, I may mess up some details.

Let’s start with the one we all know. Yahtzee is one of the games that nearly everyone has played at one time or another. You roll dice, and mark off certain criteria. You lock some dice, and re-roll the others, eventually marking off parts of the page like straights, full house, 2’s, etc. The mechanics are very similar to the newer R&W’s today, and I still enjoy the game from time to time. It can go on a tad long for my tastes though. Like Monopoly, there seem to be a billion different themed versions of this now. I currently own a Dr. Who version with the cup/box being the Tardis.

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Dr Who Yahtzee

The first modern version of a R & W I can think of is Roll Through the Ages: The Bronze Age. At this time it was kind of becoming vogue to make card or dice themed games of well-known board games. This was based on Through the Ages, which was probably in the BGG Top 10 at the time. It took the set collection aspects of Yahtzee, and made it so you were earning and spending resources on a board based on the die faces. One interesting thing it did was created a way to earn additional dice, but at the cost of requiring more food every turn, or else you lose points. You got to build wonders and buy additional abilities/bonuses. It was a bit of a revelation for me into what you can do with a simple idea of just rolling dice.

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Roll Through the Ages: The Bronze Age

The next one that caught my eye was Qwixx. I’m pretty sure I first noticed it when it got nominated for the 2013 Spiel des Jahres, eventually losing to another game I enjoy a lot, Hanabi. Once Gamewright came out with a US version, I rushed to get it. It was deceptively simple, but the die rolls were used in a completely different way than the previous 2 games. First off, everyone was involved on every die roll, regardless of who rolled them. You’d roll 6 dice, everyone can use the sum of the white dice, and the active player can add a white die to one of the 4 colored dice, and cross off something on their sheet in a row. The trick is you must cross off numbers from left to right, so if you skip a number, you can’t go back and cross it off later. 2 of the colors go from 2-12, and 2 go from 12-2. Once a couple of rows have been completed, the game ends, and you get points based on how many numbers you crossed off in each row. It’s simple, but has some tough decisions. It’s also cheap and very simple to teach non-gamers.

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Qwixx

The past couple of years has seen many of these types of games coming out. I won’t go into detail for all of them, but I’ll mention which one is my current favorite, Ganz schön clever. This was nominated for the Kennerspiel des Jahres this year, which is the “Gamer” Game of the Year award in Germany. It’s simple, but has some legitimately tough decisions to make each turn.  You roll 6 six-sided dice, and you lock one. The trick to locking one is that you then lose any dice that you rolled that are lower than what you took, and those dice become available to your opponents after you are done rolling. You repeat the process two more times, and whatever dice that are left over are also set on the tray for your opponents to use. So your opponents are actively using some of the dice you rolled. Now, I’m not going to get into specifics, but the other trick is the brilliant use of the colored dice and the sheet to write on. Each color does something different, and can score you points at the end of the game in different ways, so while the numbers matter, the color also means something. And you gain bonuses by filling out your sheet, which can range from additional dice to use on your turn, re-rolls, bonuses for other colored sections on the sheet, and foxes. The foxes are often the difference between a big score or not, because once you add up your total scores in each color, you then take the lowest score and multiply the number of foxes. So it rewards you for trying to balance out your usage of each color, not just maxing out a couple of them. It all sounds complicated, but once you’ve played it, it makes sense, although it’s not easy to do well.

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Ganz schön clever

I’ll stop here. I have played many others over the past year, and I really enjoy the genre. Some of the mechanics are getting really interesting, and it will be exciting to see what comes out next.

What Roll & Writes do you enjoy? I know I am missing several above, but I could have doubled the size of this post easily if I would have mentioned them all. Feel free to mention more in the comments, I am really loving them right now.

 

d20 List: Top 5 Hidden Gems!

D20 List: Top 5 Hidden Gems

It’s time for our first d20 List! I (Andrew) had the pleasure of rolling our first dice, so what better way to do it than through a trusty dice tower.

I rolled 5. (Check out our Instagram for the video)

With the number 5, I decided to make Ryan and I search high and low for our games that we love, that are really, really great, but that everyone may not have heard of or that, for any reason don’t seem to get much love or play.  So, without further ado:

TOP 5 HIDDEN GEMS

Andrew’s Picks

1) FITS:  I am generally not a big fan of abstract games, but I will almost always play a game of FITS.  For those who aren’t familiar, it is basically Tetris the board game.  It plays up to four, but the game isn’t any different whether playing through one or four players.  The pieces are tactile and colorful and this game appeals to gamers and non gamers alike.  I definitely think this one has a FIT (pun definitely intended) in every gamer’s collection.

2) Time of Soccer:  I love sports games, especially anything soccer related.  I heard on BoardGameGeek about a worker placement game that simulates being a manager of a futbol club from Spain.  As I was reading more about this game, I knew I had to give it a shot.

In Time of Soccer, you play the manager of a futbol club.  Throughout the week, you travel around the board signing players, holding press conferences and getting sponsors.  At the end of the week, you play a game against another team (which might be controlled by the game or the other players) and you gain points in the league.  There are various cup tournaments you participate in, and your position in those tournaments, sponsorships and the final league standing determine who wins.

This is a unique worker placement game that really captures the theme well.  I am really glad I picked up a copy (it is hard to find in the states, but I heard rumors of a second edition coming).

3) Among the Stars:  This game has been around for a while and it’s one of my favorites, but it never seems to get much play.  This is a tile drafting/placement game where you are building a spaceship, and like most drafting games, there is a component to engine building.

I don’t recall if many people in our group don’t enjoy this game, but this is one of my favorites to play.  I like drafting, it’s quick, and I really enjoy the art and other gameplay additions.  Because we don’t play it very often, I haven’t picked up any of the expansions, but this is one I’d like to get to the table again soon.

4) Walnut Grove: I described Walnut Grove as a combination of tile laying, worker placement with some worker movement that can interrupt your plans.  It’s done by Lookout games, so if you are familiar with their other offerings then this one might seem similar, but at the time it was like nothing I had played before, and each time it comes out, I am reminded both how much I enjoy the game but also how bad I am at it.

5) Tobago:  I love deduction games.  I love thinking about a problem and eliminating possibilities until I know what the answer is.  I love games with chunky components.  Tobago has it all.

Tobago is a hand management games with a modular board where you are trying to find the hidden treasures before your opponents.  There is also a press your luck portion to it as, when you find the treasure (done by playing cards until only one possible spot can remain on the map), and other player who played cards to narrow down the location and yourself get to split the treasure up, with you only knowing a portion of what’s in that particular treasure’s deck.  This is a great game for families (and is actually ranked in the Top 100 of BGG’s family game sublisting), but for some reason it doesn’t get played all that often.  It is definitely family friendly, especially if you all work together to figure out what spaces can (or cannot) have treasure in them.

Ryan’s Picks

1) Powerboats – Probably the most well known game on my list (It was nominated for 2 Golden Geek awards), but still not a game many people know about. My gaming groups, both in Kansas and Minnesota, definitely know about it. I preach about this game as often as I can. It’s simple, like many racing games, fun, and looks great on the table. The 3-sided dice are neat too. Corné van Moorsel has always been my favorite lesser known designer, and this is my favorite game he has created.

2) Perry Rhodan: The Cosmic League – This is probably the highest ranked on BGG off of my list, but I suspect my American friends don’t know much about it. Perry Rhodan is a popular Sci-fi novel hero in Germany. This game is a great 2-player pick up and deliver game. It’s English release came a few years after the original German, so I think that hurt the buzz. I think it belongs in the small 2-player pantheon with games like Patchwork and 7 Wonders Duel.

3) Streetsoccer – I believe I mentioned Corné van Moorsel was my favorite lesser known designer? I’d have added more of his games had Roll to the Top not been too new and Factory Fun been more popular than everything else on this list. Gipsy King was close to making it, but I tossed it out in favor of the other 2. This game is probably my favorite sport game. It’s an abstract game at heart, but the soccer theme works incredibly well. I used to play this on a turn based online site, so my number of plays is a bit skewed, but it’s been one of my favorite 2-player games for years.

4) Igel Ärgern – Loosely translated as “Annoying the Hedgehogs,” This is a fun racing game that involves getting your hedgehog pieces to the end of the track. You are able to stack onto other players pieces, but you are allowed to move other players pieces. It’s simple, and can be a little meaner than I typically like my games, but we’ve always enjoyed our plays. I’ve only played the base game, but I also have several variants for the game included, although those were printed out by the person I traded the game with.

5) Mutant Meeples – Take Ricochet Robots, add some super powers, and you have Mutant Meeples. I tend to enjoy many of Ted Alspach’s more popular games too, but this one has been fun since we originally got it on Kickstarter. It is typically a little simpler than RR once you get the special abilities figured out, so it’s a little more newbie friendly.