Drew's Top 7 in 2019 List

I’m on the mend! I’ve had some time to think about what I want my last solo post in 2019 to be. I haven’t watched a ton of movies or TV shows this year so I am going to do a Top 7 list. These are 7 things that I really, really enjoyed in 2019. Hopefully it’s something we share in common or something you can look into!

Next week, Ryan and I will be back with our last d20 list of the year which I’m assuming will be some sort of “Best Games” or “Favorite Games” list.

Anyway, on to the list!

  1. Simple Games: With my daughter getting older and more independent, I continued to grow an appreciation for games with a simple rule set and a short play time.
  2. World of Warcraft: I had never played World of Warcraft prior to this year, but with the (re?) release of Classic, I decided to jump in based upon the thoughts of one of my friends, a long time player. I’ve loved it, and I think it’s something I’ll continue to do in the year to come.
  3. James Bond: I have loved James Bond since I was a kid. With the announcement and trailer of “No Time to Die” and the release of the Legendary version of James Bond, my wife and I have been revisiting the series from the beginning.
  4. Bourbon: Bourbon has continued to be a favorite drink of mine, and this year was no different. I discovered Japanese Whisky and managed to buy my first bottle of Buffalo Trace, both of which have been delightful.
  5. Nintendo Switch: I’ve had my Switch for over a year now, and this year was the best yet for games. From Fire Emblem to Pokemon to Link’s Awakening, I really enjoyed getting lost in other worlds just as much as I enjoyed playing board games.
  6. Train Games: 2019 was the year I discovered train games like 1889, Age of Steam, Brass, and Paris Connection. This is wholly thanks to Edward over at Heavy Cardboard, but I’m excited to get these games to the table and explore them in 2020.
  7. Critical Role: In 2019, I became a full blown #Critter. I still don’t watch the live shows, but anytime I need something to distract me, I’m probably watching episodes from Campaign 1 (Currently on Episode 50). This lets me get my DnD fix since my normal group doesn’t meet as often as I’m sure we all would like to.

There you have it. My 7 favorite things in 2019. Is there anything here that’s on your list as well? Let me know in the comments below!

Recovery

Hey all, Andrew here.

I know you were probably expecting some very very VERY witty remarks on wargames or the board gaming hobby we all know and love, but you’ll have to wait another week.

I went to my doctor on Tuesday morning with severe stomach pain, and by the end of the day had an emergency appendectomy to remove the sucker. I’m doing well, but still am sort of out of it.

I’ll be back next week with some topic I cook up between now and then, and then Ryan and I will discuss our top games of the year in our final d20 List.

My First Wargame: Ambush!

As a history major, I love learning about different events and time periods. My favorite, though, was World War II. I’m not sure why I was drawn towards it, but I loved learning about why it happened, how the war unfolded and the stories of various soldiers and their feats of heroism.

I think this is why I was drawn to wargames. Unfortunately, in the circle of friends I had when I started gaming, no one was really into wargames. I did find a class of games that focused on war, but could be played solo. You played against the game itself instead of an opponent. The first one that was recommended to me was Ambush!, which is an older game (It was printed in 1983 by Victory Games).

The box cover of Ambush!
The box cover of Ambush! (Photo taken from user FrUnit7 on Boardgamegeek, https://boardgamegeek.com/image/964790/ambush )

In Ambush!, you take control of an American Squad in World War II, taking them on a variety of predefined missions in Europe. The beauty in Ambush! is that the mission unfolds by making a series of checks when you enter a new hex. You do this by putting a card that contains a series of numbers into a “Viewing sleeve” and then looking up the number it gives you in a paragraph book. That paragraph book contains a variety of things, from German soldiers firing at you to “You notice a British plane flying overhead, spewing flames from the tail”. You may then encounter the plane later in the scenario, if you come across it.

The Mission Cartridge sleeve with a Mission Card enclosed. (Photo taken from user Jeff on Boardgamegeek, https://boardgamegeek.com/image/93878/ambush )

Ambush! also has an RPG feel to it. There are tables so you can roll and generate your own squad, and of course you have to name them, outfit them with gear, etc. You can play a campaign game where your soldiers gain experience and can gain better skills. But that means there are also rules for replacing your soldiers when they are incapacitated or killed. I love this aspect of the game. I really get tied to characters and that causes me to play the game differently depending on the situation I’m in.

As a wargame, the rules can be a little dense, but once you read through them and play a mission or two, things get pretty straightforward. The great thing about the rules is that it will introduce the first sections you need to play the first mission, and then add the extra rules you need to play the following missions. If you are familiar with wargame concepts, then you’ll feel right at home with Ambush! but as a new wargamer it could be a little intimidating.

A mission in progress. (Photo taken from user Blastpop on Boardgamegeek, https://boardgamegeek.com/image/2461950/ambush)

Ambush! has 3 expansions (that are pretty hard to find at an affordable price) as well as a Pacific base game and expansion (Called Battle Hymn and Leatherneck, respectively). These add more missions and different enemies, vehicles and weapons. These can definitely add the the replayability factor, because most of the missions are one use only: that is, once you’ve played it, since they are pre-programmed through the scenario cards, it’s easy for you to remember where certain events or soldiers are.

The Ambush! base game, 3 expansions, and the standalone Pacific version “Battle Hymn”. (Photo taken from user bdegroot on Boardgamegeek, https://boardgamegeek.com/image/720726/ambush)

Ambush is probably my favorite solitaire wargame of all time…and if it isn’t first, it’s definitely top 3. If you can find a copy (they appear on eBay and the BGG Marketplace from time to time at a decent price), I highly recommend it. It’s worth the learning curve, especially if you are looking for an immersive, individual soldier wargame.

Extra Life Recap!

This past weekend, I took part in my favorite gaming event of the year: Extra Life! Each year, in the first weekend of November, gamers of all sorts stay up and play games (video and board) to raise money for Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals.

This was my 7th year participating, and it’s always a good time. We usually have a raffle, but this year we made a change and held a silent auction. In addition to that, we also had a “bring a game, take a game” table. This was a fun way to swap out some games, even if not everything is an SdJ winner 😉

Our silent auction raised over $700 for Extra Life, and at the time of this writing, we have raised $2,126 (but if you are so inclined, we are still taking donations here).

As always, we had a great time playing games. I figured I would give a brief recap of what I played and my thoughts on it.

  • Cartographers: This was a straightforward flip and write game set in the Roll Player universe. I really enjoyed this one. The best thing about it, in my opinion is the player interaction, which you don’t normally get with these “X + Write” games
  • Hadara: This is a candidate for my game of the year. I keep referring to this as “Good 7 Wonders”. It’s an engine building, card drafting game with a Civilization builder theme. I feel like this is more straightforward and quicker than 7 Wonders as there isn’t any player interaction and it’s much easier to track resources and costs for things.
  • Lords of Vegas: This was my second or third time playing this game, and I still don’t have great feelings about it. It was enjoyable enough, but I think that was due to the people I was playing it with instead of the gameplay. If people requested to play it, then I would, but it isn’t one I’ll ever think “Oh man, we really need to play Lords of Vegas”.
  • Quacks of Quedlinberg with the Herb Witches Expansion: This is another one of my favorite games this year. This push your luck bag builder is another quick game to play, and the rules overhead is really minimal. The expansion adds a few once per game player powers that add a nice twist too.
  • Samarkand: This was an interesting route builder. We played a few rules wrong, but I’d really like to give this one a try again with a group of people not late in the day.
  • Clank in Space: We played this last Extra Life and this one as well. This is a good one to play later in the evening. I am not sure if I like the space version more than the castle/dungeon version, but seeing as I don’t own Space, it’s a good chance to play something different.
  • Tsuro: Phoenix Rising: I had just gotten my Kickstarter version of this, and so we had a bit bigger group, so we played this with 6. It really adds some unique dimensions to the base Tsuro experience, but we all agreed that playing it with 6 was too many. I think the sweet spot for this game would probably be 4.
  • Undaunted: Normandy: This is my wargame of the year, hands down. I taught it to two players and both seemed to enjoy it well enough. I really like deckbuilders that let you do something in addition to building your deck, and the casualty mechanic and lack of complicated Line of Sight rules make this one a great introductory wargame.

I’m always excited for Extra Life, and this year was no exception. While I didn’t make it all 24 hours, I got pretty close this year. Extra Life is always worth participating in, and if you haven’t tried it, you should!

Sometimes Simpler Is Better

I wrote a post a while back about how I love playing thinkier games because they really stretch my mental muscles.

Wargames are no exception. Wargame rule books are usually pretty dense, with sub clauses and exceptions: Sometimes they remind me of my law school text books. In some wargames, there’s a lot of figuring out attack strengths, defense strengths, if a unit has line of sight (LOS) to another unit, what the range is, and on and on.

I enjoy playing games like that, but lately I’ve been appreciating simpler games. Not just wargames (although there is one that really made me want to write this, I’ll touch on that later) either.

There’s a real joy in coming home after a hard day at work and playing something like Tsuro or playing a game of Zombie Dice or Kingdomino over a lunch break. There are times where I’ve been programming all day, and I feel like doing something social but I really don’t want to sit down for an hour or so: it’s nice to pick up a game that I can remember the rules to without reading anything and play it in 20-30 minutes (maybe shorter).

It’s really hard to find a wargame that fits in this space, but I recently got Undaunted: Normandy (designed by Trevor Benjamin and David Thompson and published by Osprey games), and to me, it really fits this description well.

Undaunted: Normandy is a wargame deckbuilder that is super accessible and has a very simple ruleset. The couple of games we’ve played have taken between 20 and 40 minutes. The great thing about Undaunted is that you don’t have to worry about determining line of sight or attack value and finding out the defense value is very straight forward. My wife isn’t the biggest fan of wargames, but she seemed to really enjoy this take on it, even if it’s not a traditional hex and counter wargame.

This was a shorter post, but I guess I’m just keeping in line with the topic: short and simple. What are some of your favorite short or simple games? Let us know in the comments below!

Revisiting Childhood Favorites

Apparently I’m in the mood for a board game throw back Thursday. I’m working from home today, waiting on someone to show up and fix our microwave. My office is also my game room, so I was sitting here thinking about what I could write about and my eyes settled on the copy of Fireball Island (reprinted edition) that I just purchased from a friend locally. It got me thinking back to where my board game habits really started.

I was sick a lot as a kid, and so my parents would end up playing board games with me to pass the time. These were your typical mass market games, but my favorites were Monopoly Junior, Life, Payday and Stratego. I also learned to appreciate abstracts like Checkers, Mancala, and Chess. Our family also enjoyed playing larger group games at the holidays; I fondly remember marathon games of Yahtzee and Clue. Maybe the Yahtzee games directly tie in to my love of dice games today.

There were also games that I always wanted for some reason or another, but never owned. I always appreciate going to board game conventions and finding people to play one or two of these games with me either during a late night where I don’t have anything else going or, or on the last day of the Con. Some of these have included 13 Dead End Drive and Star Wars: The Queen’s Gambit.

Even though it’s a little early, my wife and I have been slowly picking up some of the games we remember from our childhood to share with our daughter. She’s only two and a half, but she already likes playing games with us. It is only a matter of time before we introduce her to some of our favorites. I even found a copy of the same version of Monopoly Junior I used to play at a local antique mall for a steal, so it’s patiently awaiting it’s time on the shelf, along with other classics we’ve bought like Mousetrap and Chutes and Ladders.

Do I think these games are groundbreaking, or the best games ever designed? No. But the point of gaming is to have fun, and there’s a bonus if you are doing it with people you care about. I’m excited to revisit some of these games that I loved while I was a child, and experience them through my daughters eyes for the first time. In the end, people should play what they enjoy, because that’s the reason we are all in this hobby.

Review: Rise of Tribes

I am a sucker for any sort of Civilization/4X game (4X is an abbreviation for games where you Explore, Expand, Exploit, and eXterminate) . I suppose it’s because I’m a history major, and so any sort of game where I can look back on civilizations and help build something huge and grandiose from nothing.

I know that Tapestry by Stonemeier Games is all the rage (and indeed, I did preorder a copy), but I recently picked up a game from 2018. It was funded via Kickstarter, but I found this at a local FLGS. I was trading in some games, and it happened to catch my eye. The owner (who is also a friend of mine) suggested that I might enjoy it as it’s a lighter, quicker civ building game.

Rise of Tribes is published by Breaking Games and was designed by Brad Brooks. Up to 4 players compete to guide their civilization by completing goals and developing research. Each player has the same set of goal cards, and each have a certain number of victory points. The winner is the first player to 15 points. No tie breaker, no equal number of turns. It’s the first to 15.

A photo of the box cover
The Box Cover

The rules are relatively simple; each turn you will roll two dice and use those dice to take 2 of 4 total actions. There are three spots for dice on each action, so when you take an action, you push an existing die off (so the next player can roll it). Depending on the die faces (three in total), you may get a stronger or weaker version of the action you decided to place. So in this manner, you can really mess with someones later turn by ensuring you place the die on an action that will force them to take a weaker one.

A compilation photo of the various components:  Dice, Terrain Hexes, Meeples
Each player color has a different meeple ‘sculpt’. Above, you can see the three die faces. Moons provide weaker actions, while suns provide stronger. Blank is the standard.

Over the course of the game, you will add settlers to the board, move those settlers around, gather resources from hexes based upon the terrain type, and lead your civ to get more goal cards. There is a global population limit for each hex, so if you (and your opponents) ever find yourself with settlers over the limit, then conflict occurs. Conflict is simply taking turns removing settlers until there is only one color of settler left in a space (or until you are at the population limit if you are the only player on that space).

The map is made of modular terrain tiles and has a specific layout for each player count, so it’s just as tight with 2 as it is with 4. Additionally, there is a basic game which uses basic tiles and no variable player powers and an advanced game, which gives each player a specific power of their civilization as well as some additional terrain and a special meeple. I haven’t yet played the advanced game, but I am very interested to see what the variable powers bring to the game.

A photo of a portion of the insert
The game comes with a very functional and helpful insert; it even has a little divider to keep the advanced game components separate from the base game.

I really enjoyed my play of this game. Even if I’ve only played it once, I can see that there is replayability and that it’s something I want to keep playing. It’s a quick(er) civ game that doesn’t feel like you have to focus on going to war or playing “take that” with your neighbors just to survive. The fact that all players have the same goals available to them, but that may not be in the same order can help you guide your strategy and figure out what your opponent is doing, so you can make it difficult for them to accomplish it, but that may also cause you to hurt your standing.

This was a blind buy for me, and I’m glad I did. My wife enjoyed playing it, and I think it’s in that sweet spot of light and heavy that I can get other people in my group to try it out, even if they don’t like heavier civ/4x Games. The dice mechanic was something I hadn’t encountered before, so that was a neat twist on placing dice to get the most out of your actions, and the artwork and components are solid as well.

Have you played Rise of Tribes? If not, what are some of your favorite Civ/4x games? Let us know in the comments below!

Parting With Games

Hey all! It’s been a hot week here in the Midwest, in both the weather and in gaming news. Last week was GenCon, where us board games find out all the new shiny stuff that we can look forward to getting (sometimes not soon enough).

GCMS Login Image
Image taken from Gen Con LLC website <http://www.gencon.com&gt;

I got the chance to play games with a member of our game group who I haven’t seen in a while, and he was in the middle of culling his and another group member’s collection. It got me thinking: How much is too much? How many games do I need? What do I get rid of? How do I get rid of them?

So I sat down with my BGG collection exported as a .pdf and figured out what games I definitely could get rid of, and what ones I could consider getting rid of, either for the right price or pending my wife’s approval.

I normally try to sell locally, and if that doesn’t work, take them to Facebook. This time, though, after not getting many nibbles locally, I decided to try out a Math Trade. I have some really great stuff (at least in my mind) and I figure this is a great way to get some games that I’m interested in but might not ever buy at retail.

The games I settled on trading off

So, how did I decide which games to part with? You might think “Simple, get rid of those you haven’t played in a while”. That definitely is an approach I take, but I have to be careful, because there are some games I own that I love to play, but they may only see the table once a year. I also take into consideration who would play games with me. I have a couple there in that photo that I really, really enjoy but other people who I play with didn’t. To me, it isn’t worth taking up space on the shelf (which is usually my biggest reason for selling off large amounts of games) if I’m the only one who likes it.

I’ll also get rid of games if I’m upgrading to a newer or better version. This time around, I know I have the Collector’s Edition of Suburbia coming, so I’m trading off the copy I have. I know that this isn’t a novel concept, but I feel like it at least deserves a mention.

A lot of people try to keep one game of each mechanic on their shelf, and that’s never really worked for me. I focus on each game individually. Sometimes, if I start to get a ton of games in one area (like Deck Building) then I might look and ask myself “Okay, if I had to play a deck builder, what would my top 3 choices be” and whatever I don’t name makes it on the “For Trade” list. That’s usually the exception though, not the rule.

In the end, it really comes down to thinking about what I’m actually going to play. As my friend put it (paraphrased) “There’s so many games that are just good. They’re enjoyable to play, but they don’t make me want to buy them”. This is a mindset I’m going to try to adopt as I go forward. This is going to be tough though, as I tend to really enjoy any game I play.

Do you have any strategies for culling your collection? Let us know in the comments!

d20 List: Top 6 Short Games

It’s good to be back with another d20 list this week. Ironically, we had chosen this topic right before we broke for the 4th of July thinking we could get it done in a short amount of time. But that didn’t happen, so you get it today.

Drew’s Picks
What do I consider a short game? For me, it’s one you can play in 30 min or less (although I would say 30 is really pushing it, and I don’t really have any that take that long). But in addition to play time, I think a Short Game is one that is light on rules and doesn’t take long to teach and/or setup.

1) Mint Works: This is a quick worker placement game that still asks players to make difficult decisions. The rules are simple (place a mint (worker) and do what the card says. This could include buying or playing a building, which will give you the ability to modify rules or gain victory points.

2) Martian Dice: This is a light press your luck game. It’s one I keep at work to play with coworkers if we have a spare moment or for our Friday game lunches. Taking your turn is just as fun as goading other players into rolling far after they should stop.

3) Love Letter: As far as deduction games go, this is probably my favorite. The rules are simple and the strategy is really easy to pick up after a few plays. It’s another one I keep at work since it’s good with a group and you can play it multiple times in a row.

4) Concept: Charades the board game. Playing with the rules as written, you may not be able to play in 30 minutes, but I’m not sure…we’ve never played with the actual rules. We usually just take turns giving clues and going around the table trying to guess. This is a great one for families and it also encourages players to think outside the box.

5) Eight Minute Empire: A great, quick area control game. This involves both holding areas and moving pieces on a map, but there’s also a really rewarding (and straightforward) set collection piece to it. This was one the first games by Ryan Laukat that I played and really kind of kicked off my love for his games.

6) Ganz schön clever: One of my favorite roll and write games, this one goes a little deeper than your normal roll and write. There are plenty of times where an opponent takes a die you needed or otherwise ruins your plan and you are forced to change your take on the game.

There you have my top 6 quick games. Let’s see what Ryan picked.

Ryan’s Picks
I really enjoy a good short game. Especially with a group, because you’ll almost always get a second play in. But some of these I wish would last a little longer, it feels like you’re done too quickly when it’s fun. That kind of contradicts my first point, but that still doesn’t make it any less true. Here are my Top 6 Short Games in no particular order.

1) Codenames: Duet: So this one is made to be a 2 player version of the very good Codenames (Which also could have made this list.). It is playable as teams like standard Codenames, but the cooperative way this game works is extremely fun.

2) Palm Island: Still my favorite quick solo game. It can play with more players, although I haven’t tried it out yet.

3) Fairy Tale: I’ve been in love with this game since I first heard of it. It was a bit of a grail game until it got a US release (I do have the original Japanese version though.). Card drafting to create combos for scoring, it’s a lot of fun, and creates tough decisions at times.

4) Star Realms: One of the best deck building games in general, but it’s quick, and fits in a very small box. Just a ton of fun. Although it probably only short when playing 2 player.

5) The Game: So simple, but a really tough cooperative game to win. It’s just laying down numbered cards, but it’s tricky how to do it well without telling your partners exactly what’s in your hand.

6) The Mind: See my description for The Game, only take away ANY communication. You just have to have a good vibe with your teammates. Pretty difficult, but one where the successes feel like major victories.

There you have it. Our top 6 quick games. Do you have a favorite we didn’t include? Do you agree with our classification of quick games? Let us know in the comments!

Checking In

Hey everyone.

Long time no….read? write? Both? Anyway, I haven’t been shy about my issues with anxiety, and some personal stuff the past week had me in a bad head space, so not much gaming or writing going on.

I’m doing better now, though, so I figured I would give a brief update.

My wife and I haven’t been playing a ton and she’s been gone at a work conference for the past few days, but we did get a game in of Last Will and Roll Player with the Monsters and Minons expansion.

We both enjoyed Roll Player and I especially enjoyed the addition of fighting monsters; one of my biggest frustrations of the base game was that it didn’t seem like there was any sort of end goal. M&M fixes that because the points you gain from making sure you are going to fight well against the big baddie can definitely help, especially if your dice weren’t rolling well.

The big surprise, though, was Last Will. I had played it a few times and enjoyed it, but Samantha had never played it before. She really, really liked it, and I could see the wheels turning in her head how she might have spent a few more dollars each turn so that she would have come out ahead. It was one I was ready to trade away, but based on our first play, it’s going to stay in our collection for a while.

I also managed to start a campaign of Thunderbolt/Apache Leader which is always a good time.

We picked up some games on Prime Day that I’ve played before but am excited to own. We snagged Tokaido and Pandemic: The Cure, along with some mass market games that we can start playing with our daughter. I also picked up One Night Ultimate Super Villains which probably would surprise those of you who have been following the blog for a while, since I don’t normally like those games. However, it was a good price and it’s good to have for larger impromptu game nights or for my Friday work game hours.

Anyway, I think that’s good enough for now. We’re going to get back in the swing of things, both playing more games and writing about them. We already have our next d20 List ready! What have you been up to lately, gaming or otherwise? Let us know in the comments below.