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.

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).

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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!

What I’m up to Lately

I haven’t been able to game in almost 3 weeks. No particular reason, my family has been busy, my wife has been using the table for sewing purposes, and kind of the doldrums I mentioned in a previous post.

So I’m just going to kind of ramble a bit today. This may end up short, this may end up long. It will not stick to gaming exclusively.

One thing that’s been weighing on my mind is Minnesota in general. I have been missing my friends and family lately. My parents have had some health issues. Dad had a hip replaced and Mom had something else that left her staying with my sister for a couple of days. It sounds like things are ok now, and they are both back at home. I doubt my siblings will ever know how much I appreciate all the things they do to take care of them while I’m not close enough to help. We had been hoping to go to MN this summer, but for some reason that vacation just never seems to have worked out, so now it seems less likely, and I’m bummed out by that. But we’ll see what we can do next year, although with Katlyn being a senior, we may be too busy with graduation and college stuff.

Joe, my oldest, turned 21 this week. A lot of reflection back on our lives since he was born and feeling old myself because my oldest can drink now. Not too bad, but it was interesting having a beer with him Monday night, going to take some getting used to.

While I haven’t been gaming, I have been watching a lot of videos. I pre-ordered Underwater Cities, and then started getting cold feet. After watching several videos, I think I made a good choice. It looks like something I’ll enjoy. It’s supposed to be similar to Terraforming Mars, which is another one I keep thinking about picking up. I have picked up a few games this month. Aeon’s End Legacy, which I’m really excited to get to, but it may be awhile before we can get everyone together to play it, and Welcome To…, a roll and write style that I played before and liked, and I think Dina and the family will like it too.

Drew is teaching us Food Chain Magnate this weekend, so I’ve watched a how to play and a review or two. The Shut Up & Sit Down review made me laugh, although I may have just been tired. It seems like a relatively simple game to play, but also a game that I will only do well with pure luck, because it’s going to take me a bit to figure out how to make it work, and by then I’ll probably be too far behind to win. But it seems relatively simple to understand, just how to make things work to your advantage, and I suck at planning in games like that.

Lack of gaming has also meant Dina and I have been watching a lot of TV. We’ve finished The Americans, Fleabag, Veep, Good Omens, caught up on Barry, and started the new season of Big Little Lies. I’d highly recommend ALL of these shows, especially Barry & Fleabag, they are doing some crazy things with the Dramedy genre. I’ve also been watching a lot of baseball, mostly because the Twins are really fun to watch right now, but I’m a fan in general and will watch any game when the mood strikes.

I’m kind of slowly using my vacation time up this year, so I’ve been taking random days off here and there. Have I mentioned my 17 yr old decided to play a sport for her senior year? Kansas recently approved Girls Wrestling as an official High School sport, and she’s going to participate in her school’s inaugural season. I mention it with my vacation because I am planning on taking a day off to go and watch practice in the next few weeks. I can’t wait till February when her season starts to be able to watch her compete.

I think that’s mostly what’s been on my mind lately. We’ve haven’t seen our friends much lately, but it sounds like that might change here over the next week due to our gaming, a former game group member visiting next week, and maybe hanging with Drew & family on the 4th of July, which can be a tough day for Dina and her PTSD. Actually, most of the next week or so can be rough once firework sales open in Kansas, but the 4th is the worst.

If you have any comments, please leave them below. Gaming, TV, life in general, all are welcome. I should get some gaming going again soon, so hopefully my next post will be more on topic.

The Pursuit of Awfulness –Why I play Heavy Games

I work as a developer for a pretty specific IT Management product; it’s a job that can include a lot of programming or other logical thinking about how I might go about solving a problem.  It can be pretty brain burny at times, but I really like this aspect of the job:  it’s what appealed to me during my brief stint in law school too.  I like being challenged to think about things.

I like this in board games too.  I enjoy needing to follow a variety of threads and think about the implications if I pull on a specific one at the right time.  I like games that take a while to play where you really have to invest in what you are doing to be successful.  I like heavy games that require you to think waaaaay ahead, or juggle umpteen variables in your determination in what to do.

To me, a game can be rules lite and still be heavy.  The heaviness comes from the ability to understand optimal play quickly or where it takes quite a bit of mental capacity to play well.  It can also take the time it takes to play the game into consideration, but there are other games that take a long time that I wouldn’t necessarily call “heavy”.  I know that this definition can vary for people, so I wanted to use this as a starting point.

I can really thank the folks over at Heavy Cardboard for really getting me to dive into these games (note: if you are a fan of “medium to heavy board games, war games, 18xx, and thinky fillers”, you should really be following all the content they put out at https://www.heavycardboard.com/ and consider becoming a patron of the show).  I never thought I would be interested in economic games like 1889, Brass Birmingham, or Age of Steam, but after watching some of their playthroughs, a new board gaming world opened up to me.  I always thought I had to have a strong grasp of how stock markets work to play and enjoy these games, but I was wrong.  Sure, that understanding can help you make competitive moves, but there’s a joy in “pulling some levers, seeing what happens, and enjoying it” which is paraphrased from HC’s host, Edward Uhler.

The reason these games appeal to me is because they challenge me.  I know I’ll never play Age of Steam or an 18xx title enough to fully grasp the optimal play for each situation, but that’s okay with me. I can keep trying different moves out to become good, though.  Playing these games sub-optimally with my friends, who also play what I would consider sub-optimally, has provided me with some of the best “hold my beer” and most enjoyable moments in board gaming.  I actually enjoy it more when I can’t figure out a board game in my first few plays of it, because it drives me to try to think a little harder about the game and I’m more likely to play it more often.

I think I can best sum it up by saying I really enjoy the journey or the process in what makes a game work. Even if I’m terrible at the game, figuring out what is under the hood is the thing that appeals to me most, and with heavy games, there’s a lot more to understand and unpack.

Don’t get me wrong.  I enjoy playing party games in the right crowd, and I have plenty of lighter games I love, but I think medium to heavy games are really where my most fulfilling gaming experiences come from.

What is the heaviest game you’ve played?  What makes it ‘heavy’ for you? Have you been scared off by games because you thought the theme would be too heavy, or it would be too difficult to play well? Let us know in the comments!

Gaming Doldrums

I’ve noticed a pattern for me the past couple of years. I tend to have a period of a month or two where I don’t play many board games. Sometimes it’s because I’m playing video games (Like Spider-Man in February this year, or likely September when Borderlands 3 comes out.), sometimes it’s just life (Like March the past couple years.).

I’m a father first. That’s often a lot of my time. My 17 yr old both works and is very active in theater, so we are often driving her places. My 20 yr old also doesn’t have his drivers license, so we need to drive him too (He’s working on it.). We only have one of our 2 cars running right now too, so that means our single vehicle is in use all the time. And my wife had chronic pain, so I try to drive as much as I can

I have a lot of other hobbies. As I’ve said before, I read, play video games, and play disc golf. I tend to read year round, video games when the mood strikes me, and disc golf as much as my body will let me in spring-fall. I’m also a bit of a football and baseball junkie, so I watch them when I’m in the mood. And of course TV shows and movies take a lot of my time too.

But I can binge on games too. I played over 100 games in one month last year. We have a beer & boards occasionally, and I tend to go to Extra Life events locally.

But tonight and the past couple weeks are a really good example of not gaming. I have been wanting to play games for a while now, but haven’t since our Beer & Boards almost 3 weeks ago. My wife had surgery a couple weeks ago, so we haven’t played anything. Last Friday we went to the First Friday Artwalk in Topeka, Saturday my 17 yr old had prom, Sunday we had pictures of the 5 yr old and the 17 yr old worked. Monday night we caught up on Last Week Tonight, Veep, and Barry and took the boy to D&D. Tuesday the 17 yr old worked. Tonight, I don’t know. I had a post to write, and I intended to write that review of Palm Island I’ve been promising, or play something with anyone in the house who’d play a game, yet I did neither. I watched the Twins, and wrote this. Too often we don’t have a clean space to play, often due to the 5 yr old doing crafts on the table.

I know I can usually get someone to play a game with me, but for the time being I have more desire to play than actual will to play. I haven’t played anything with the 5 yr old in about a month. I really wish I knew why…

Anyway, I think I’m going to play a quick game of something tonight still while I have time. Hopefully something to help with one of my challenges or two. But who knows, maybe I’ll drink another beer or have some ice cream and check on my fantasy baseball team. Or go try to finish my Sword & Laser book club book for April.

What about you? Do you go into a gaming funk at times? Any suggestions on how to get out of one? Let me know in the comments.

# x # Challenges: Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying About Forcing Myself to Play Games

I wrote earlier this year about how I had set up a 15 x 5 challenge this year, as the 10 x 10 I tried to play last year didn’t go well.

Well, spoiler alert: The 15 x 5 isn’t going well either.

This is my usual thought process:

Hey, I want to play a game!

Let’s look and see what games I need to play for my challenge.

All of those are okay, but I want to play something else.

I should really play one of my challenges though.

Play what you want.

What’s the point of having a challenge if you aren’t going to play those games?


Anyway, at this point I usually shut the door to my game room/office and go play a video game.
I get the appeal of challenges, especially for people who are in groups like I am that tend to not replay games a ton.  But when my wife made me a deck of “what should we play” cards for Christmas this past year, I specifically requested that she not include specific games.  “What if I don’t feel like playing the game that week? Shouldn’t we play things that we want to?”

I don’t know why I felt compelled to keep up with a yearly challenge, especially when I’ve acknowledged the mindset of playing what I want being more important.

So, I’m going to be pulling down my Challenges page.  In it’s place will go a “Bucket List” page where I list games I want to play at least once.  There will be a list for owned games and a list for not owned games. I think this will help me focus on games that actually need a dedicated day where everyone is on the same page to play, because I had actually been keeping up with my 5 x 1 challenges throughout the year.  So I’m going to lean in to that. As I play games on the lists, I’ll strike them through so I can keep track of what has been completed on my bucket list.

What about you? Do you do any challenges in gaming?  Do you stick with them? Let us know in the comments!

How I Prepare to Teach Games

Hey all, Andrew here: I figured I would write about something a little different this week.

I was preparing to teach my wife Fortress: America and so I started about my normal way of relearning games and preparing to teach.  For whatever reason, I tend to teach most of the games in our game group (I think it’s probably because I’m pushy and want them to play my stuff first, so I have to know the rules) but I realized that this process is the same for me, whether it’s playing something light like Kodama or the latest entry in the SCS catalog.  I figured I would give you all insight into how I do this in the hopes that it might help someone out there.

A word of note:  this may seem like I’m overprepared.  I am. I have pretty bad social anxiety and board games alleviate that.  However, if I feel like I’ve screwed up in front of people (especially friends and family) I start to feel super embarrassed and anxious, which tends to lead to me shutting down a bit.  By (over) preparing in this manner, I’m ready to teach the game in a way that’s comfortable to me, and hopefully more enjoyable to those I play with. This is also why I get frustrated if I get interrupted during a rules explanation; it takes me out of the zone so to speak.

First, I normally see if there is a rules teach video or playthrough on YouTube.  My two go to channels are HeavyCardboard and Watch it Played, and if they don’t have a video for the game I’m about to teach, I’ll usually check out the video section of BoardGameGeek for the game in question.

I watch videos for a few different reasons.  I don’t like to reinvent the wheel if I don’t have to, so seeing how masters of game teaching (IMO) structure their teach really helps me get a basic outline in my head and may bring up points that I want to be sure to highlight. Additionally, if I’ve never played the game watching people play it or at least an explanation gives me a better idea of what to expect.

Once the video has been watched and I can wrap my head around the gameplay and the mechanics, I read the rulebook.  Now, this isn’t a detailed readthrough of every single bullet point, parenthetical, and subcase. Instead I get the major ideas, how the rulebook is organized, and use that to further my mental outline.

This outline then gets put down to paper.  It is at this point that I comb through the rulebook, summarizing each major and minor point in an outline format that makes sense for the game and the way gameplay is structured.  This forms the core of my teaching notes and is what I refer to when I actually explain the game I will usually print them out, but sometimes I don’t. This is also my favorite part in the process.  Something about me internalizing then repeating (on paper) what I just read is really when the rules to the game ‘click’ for me.

From here, I will generally call my process complete.  I have a better idea of how I want to approach teaching.  I do try to anticipate questions that players will have, and I make sure that I take frequent breaks to allow players to ask questions, move pieces around to set up situations that might be better explained visually.  And then, we play!

That’s a look into how I find it helpful to learn games so that I can teach them.  Do you have any steps you take when you are planning on teaching a game? I’d love to hear them.  Leave a comment below!

Guest Post: X-ing the Xpansions

Eric Carter is back with another guest post this week. He writes about a struggle we all have as gamers: Expansions!

The Book of Meeple Chapter 23, Verse 5, states: “My box runneth over.”

This entry was inspired by a recent trip to a game store where I saw an expansion for Sagrada on display. Even though I’ve only played Sagrada a few times I had a strong urge to buy this, because…

… I have a problem. If I like a game I tend to become a completionist about it. The first game I owned that sparked this obsession was the second edition of Talisman, back when I was in college. There was one comic/game store an hour away that carried Games Workshop stuff and when I had a spare $30 I would gas up the car and make the trek. Over a couple of years and hundreds of miles I had every retail expansion for the game. But the setup became too much, the game lasted too long, and the fun was sucked out of it. It never got played again.

Twenty-plus years later I have the same problem with Dominion. And Carcassonne. And Race for the Galaxy, Eminent Domain, Last Night on Earth, and several more. I will over-expand a game to the point that I don’t even want to get it out anymore.

When I buy an expansion for a game I enjoy, I’m doing so just to add more of what I like. Maybe it’s simply more cards, like most of the Dominion expansions. Maybe I just want more heroes and scenarios for Last Night on Earth, or more tiles for Carcassonne.

The first Race for the Galaxy expansion – The Gathering Storm – was relatively simple. It gave you more cards and a starting hand for a fifth player, plus solo rules. This is what I would consider as the perfect expansion. But along comes the second expansion, Rebel vs. Imperium, which added a Takeover mechanism that just looked so convoluted I never bothered to learn it, and it added more direct conflict to the game, which would turn it into something I didn’t want. I just wanted to add cool new cards, like the previous expansion did. I did buy the third expansion, but I gave up trying to get RftG played in my game group. I did NOT want to try to add more explanations to this already difficult-to-teach game.

Dominion has suffered the same fate. I still love the game, but it’s now so hefty I have to warm up first before lifting it or I’ll throw my shoulder out. I still haven’t bought Nocturne or Renaissance, the latest available expansion of us this writing, even though I have a couple pieces of art in one of them. I hate to admit it, but I haven’t even tried playing Eminent Domain with the expansions yet.

Our game group does not stay with one game very long, which has its advantages and disadvantages. I love the fact that all of us are keeping an eye out for new and interesting games, but since there is a new and interesting game coming out every 6.2 seconds, we hardly ever play one more than once or twice. On game days there are enough new games to choose from that we often have difficulty even settling on one to break out. Again, our cups runneth over.

So from now on I must give up on expanding any multiplayer games. Solo-capable games, however, are still fine. I just received the Xia: Missions and Powers deck. I’m looking forward to the two player expansions coming out for Star Trek: Ascendancy. I’ll still get pretty much anything for Aeon’s End.. These games don’t have to compete with the new releases we all want to try. All it takes for them to get to my table is a few hours of free time, and if I decide something from an expansion is taking away from my experience instead of adding to it, I can easily leave it in the box.

But I like to think I’ve learned my lesson. If there’s another expansion released for Rebellion it’ll have to go unbought until my base game (plus the expansion I bought with it, of course) finally gets played. Cards Against Humanity and many of its additions will have to stay cramped in The Bigger, Blacker Box until it sees the light of day (and the darkness of our souls) again. I’m glad I got rid of my copy of Firefly because the urge to get everything for that would’ve been overwhelming, and it would’ve found itself in my gaming graveyard next to RftG.

Part of me wants to get new copies of Last Night on Earth, Race for the Galaxy, Memoir 44, and so many others, and just keep them in their original, lean condition. All of them got played before they packed on the pounds. And isn’t playing them the whole point of having these games in the first place?

Do you, dear reader, have any games you’ve overfed? Comment below and tell us your story.

Grow the Sport

Among board gaming, another one of my hobbies is Disc Golfing. One of the many mantras of disc golfers is “Grow the Sport” which can be used in many different ways: as reminders to people to extoll the virtues of disc golfing to others, as ways for people to stay active in local leagues to drum up interest, or even as a reminder to people to be kind, friendly and welcoming to new disc golfers, in an effort to ensure that the sport will flourish. But, despite the mantra and best efforts, there are still jerks out there who exclude newcomers, who chide them for asking questions or for making comparisons that may seem way out of the norm, or who generally make disc golf courses terrible places for new individuals looking to share in the experience.

Boardgaming isn’t all that different. How many times have we heard stories of someone playing a game that piques the interest of a passerby. Polite conversation is had up until the new individual mentions Monopoly, Risk, or some other mass produced game. It can be met with a snort, a scoff, an unkind “oh, we don’t play that” or any other reaction. But in any of these cases, it can make the onlooker feel unwelcome and excluded. I should know. I have been both the scoffer and the scoffee (In fact, when I founded the Board Game Society at my undergraduate university, I included a clause in the bylaws that Monopoly would not be played. It was meant as tongue in cheek, but boy did it provide a rude awakening when I presented it to the Student Senate for approval).

To most boardgamers, those mass market games are no fun to play at all. And that is perfectly fine! But instead of meeting this potential player with derision, why not engage in further conversation? Why shut them out? Why not describe why the game you are playing is similar or different? Why not try to explain about the game you are playing? Why not try to introduce the world of gaming to someone, especially someone who shows at least a little bit of interest?

The only thing I care about when I am playing a game is if the person is fun to be around while gaming. That can vary on the game. I know there are some games that I would never play with specific people, including my wife. And that is okay! But to exclude individuals because they may not meet any preconceived notions of how much of a gamer they are is ridiculous. We all started gaming somewhere. Not everyone started playing Twilight Imperium, 1822 or Bios: Megafauna.

Not everyone started playing Twilight Imperium, 1822 or Bios: Megafauna.

My gaming resolution this year is to step out of my comfort zone and be more inviting to those who are just learning the hobby. Greet them with a smile and an open seat at the table. We hear over and over how gamers don’t like cell phones at the table because they like the social aspect; I’m going to put this into practice. I’m going to be more social and ensure I highlight the social aspect of the hobby.

In the coming weeks, Ryan and I are going to write about some tips for “growing the sport” of boardgaming. We’ll talk about some of our favorite introductory games to non-gamers, some tips for individuals who are just starting to game, and some tips for us gamers who have been doing it for a while but want to do better about including others, especially newbies.

I’m going to help grow the sport this year. And I hope you will as well.