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:

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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:

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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.

New Feature: d20 Lists!!

Hey all:

First things first:  Yes I know that’s a d4 in focus of the image.  But I liked it, so it’s what we are going with.

Sorry for the silence for a while.  Real life gets in the way sometimes… or I forget to talk to Ryan about setting a schedule so we both don’t post.

But anyway, I’m back, and I’m introducing a new feature that will premiere this Friday:  d20 Lists!!

I wanted a way for Ryan and I to collaborate on something, but wasn’t sure how.  We could do top 10 lists, but those can get pretty samey over and over, so being the DnD player that I am, we are going to leave it to the good ole d20.

This is how it will work.  One of us will roll a d20.  Based upon what we roll, that person will select a topic for the list that makes sense for the number rolled.  For example, if I rolled a “1”, we might write about our best gaming moment or the first game we played.  But if we roll a “20” it might be our top 20 quick games to play.

We have overlapping game interests, but we also have very different thoughts on games and genres, so I’m hoping this is a chance for you all to get to know us a little better and for us to interact a little bit more.

So, this Friday will be our first d20 List! I’ll be rolling the die and selecting the topic, and then we’ll start alternating.  So keep your eyes peeled, and we’ll see you on Friday!

Racing Games

I obviously love board games. Some games have amazing mechanics, others are just plain fun. I am a terrible reviewer, because I often don’t know why exactly a game fascinates me. Sometimes it’s a specific mechanic that I enjoy, another time it’s just watching everyone at the table use a different strategy and yet have a close game, once in a while it’s how much it makes my 4 year old laugh.

One style of game that I almost always enjoy is racing games. I’ve always been a fan of racing in general, be it track, cars, bikes, or pretty much anything. I am hard pressed to find a racing game I disliked, although I’ll try to think of some examples to mention below and why.

I own several racing games, and have sold/traded several more. The sell/trades often had nothing to do with how much I enjoyed the game, but often is just because I have another game that does it a little better, or I can only justify keeping a few race games, and it’s just not quite as fun as another game.

I want to highlight a few games, some very well known, others not as much. I am a racing game enthusiast, and occasional evangelist, but by no means have I tried all of them.

Let’s start by defining what a racing game is to me. It’s mostly games themed as racing. I mean, you could probably call Blue Moon City a racing game, it’s a race to build the most pieces of the tower first, but it’s not what I consider a racing game. Race for the Galaxy is not a racing game either, even though it’s in the title. Clank! is a bit more of a grey area, but I’m going to say no for this article purposes.

Formula D: Let’s start with what I am guessing is the most well known, maybe Formula De if you have an older edition. It’s purely a racing themed game. Be the first person to cross the finish line. It’s very simple, and easy to explain to new gamers. Roll this die to go. Roll this die to go faster. Be careful you don’t go too fast, you need to stop twice in that corner or you’ll take damage. There are some other ways to take damage, but they aren’t really avoidable, just part of racing close to other racers, or going as fast as possible. It has a neat push-your-luck element to it that creates some decisions to be made, although they aren’t difficult decisions, just nerve wracking sometimes. Another plus is variety. There are dozens of different tracks, although many are difficult to get and are long out of print.

It has been one of my most fun gaming experiences over the years. And this is my most memorable game. We had a 12 player game going at Con of the North (I forget which track it was sadly.). 3 of us are well out in front, but are slowing down for the final corner, while others are coming up from behind in higher gears. The player in the lead spins out. The player in second pulls up alongside him, but also spins out. There is one lane to pass them, it will take me on the longest route around the corner, but I can upshift and will win, as long as I don’t roll the highest roll on the 3rd gear die. Which of course was literally what I rolled. I spun out also. Now we have the whole track blocked. All of the cars behind us start downshifting to avoid crashing into us. The cars in the back on the other hand, do not need to brake, they actually maneuver around all the slower traffic and are in significantly higher gears now. I believe the person who was in 10th place with 2 corners to go, won the race, the person in 11th finished 2nd. I ended up in 5th or 6th, but had a fun story to tell. 

Pitchcar: Well known, and much more available for the past 15 years than it was early on. Pitchcar is a flicking dexterity racing game. You each get a disk, and flick the cars around the slot-car style track. There are walls around some of the track, so sometimes you can pass people with amazing ricochet shots, but sometimes you also shoot your car right off the track and have to go back to where you started. SIlly fun. We have the  miniature version that we don’t play nearly often enough. The game looks incredible laid out on a table, although the full game looks more impressive. You rarely hear people not laughing and creating a general ruckus when playing this game.

 

Pitchcar Mini

Powerboats: This one is a bit lesser known than most on this list, but is a ton of fun. It uses 3 sided dice for movement, and you can lock dice and move different numbers of spaces. The hex board means going in a straight line isn’t always the best way, but it can also mean multiple ways to get to your goal. You race around buoys placed on the board, so the race also isn’t a set track. Speeding up and slowing down involved adding or removing a die from your locked dice. You can re-roll the locked dice too if wanted, but you always roll an added die. People get into trouble by having too many dice locked and not being able to slow down enough to either make a turn or avoid hitting an island. Chaotic, but simple, it usually only takes people a couple of turns to figure out what they are doing, and it’s designed to have a series of three races, so one bad race doesn’t mean you can’t win.

 

Powerboats in progress. Notice the different ways the boats are pointed while still trying to go and the same course.

I could go on and on. A few other favorites summed up with a short comment:

Detroit/Cleveland Grand Prix : This uses the  same system as Daytona 500, Top Race, and Downforce. I’ve always enjoyed it, and am planning to pick up Downforce soon. The card play, with the bidding mechanics make it an interesting game.

Hare & Tortoise: An oldie but a goodie. Nice and mathy, but I’ve always enjoyed it.

Automobiles: Uses deck building mechanics. I’ve only played it once, but it was really neat, and I need to get it out again soon.

Igel Ärgern: Apparently per BGG it translates to “Annoy the Hedgehogs,” this is a bit of a cute and simple game, with a ton of blocking and messing with the other players, although it never seems to get annoying that way. A fun game that seems like it’s been forgotten over the years, it’s fun and has a TON of variants.

Monza: My First Racing Game would be an appropriate name for this one too. It’s great for kids, and Aleksia has been able to play it with a little help since she was 3. It’s set for ages 5+, and that’s not too far off. I’ll likely do a review for this one down the road.

Ok, I’ll stop there, but know I could have added cycling, motorcycles, horses, and robots to this list and barely broken a sweat.

On to a game that I was a little disappointed by. It was even more of a bummer because it was a BGG Secret Santa Gift (although it was part of a large number of games that they sent me, this was the only in shrink game.).

 

Bolide is a really cool idea. Vector based movement. But it was extremely slow to play with more than a couple of players. I believe we played with 4 or 5, which isn’t a large group for a racing game, and it took us several hours to finish. It’s been 11 years since that game, so I don’t remember too many details.

Another one, this one was a BGG classic and was out of print for a long time, Ave Caesar. It had been hyped for years, people raved about it, so I was excited about the reprint. I was lucky enough to play a friend’s copy, and I was really disappointed. My BGG notes say that 4 races was too many, it felt too repetitive and samey. I’d probably try it again, maybe my expectations were too high.

I’ll end my post here. I count over 20 more games that I didn’t bring up, some well known, others not as much, but the lowest rating I have given any of these was a 5 using the BGG rating scale. So even the games I didn’t like as much, I didn’t hate. I’m a racing game junkie.

Any racing games I should be checking out? Any rare gems I should be seeking out, or even something that BGG ratings hate but you love? Feel free to leave comments below.

Wargame Wednesday: Standard Combat Series

Hello everyone!

I’m back with another Wargame Wednesday, and this one ties in with my last post on VASSAL.

I mentioned in that post that certain games don’t lend themselves to playing via email well, because there might be a decision point in the middle of a turn that would require you to stop, have your opponent decide what they were going to do before you could take your turn.

There are certain games that are IGOUGO, which means I take my turn then you take yours.  These usually tend to lend themselves to play by email (PBEM) because there may not be tons of decision points where a quick back and forth is needed.  I mentioned in my last post Day of Days as my last 5 x 1 game, so today I want to talk about a great entry level wargame series (of which Day of Days belongs to) called the Standard Combat Series (SCS).

A wargame series normally is a variety of games that all fall under one ruleset, so instead of learning a ton of different rules, you learn the main rules, and then learn any game specific rules that the specific game in the series has.

SCS was originally published by “The Gamers” but is now published by MultiMan Publishing (MMP) who is really well known in the wargaming community.  Originally designed by Dean Essig, SCS is a great series for people who may be interested in getting to know more about traditional hex and counter wargames.  Many games in the system have a low counter density (which means there are few playing pieces on the map) and the rules are considered light (7 pages in the series rules, plus whatever game specific rules you are playing).

Essig writes in the designer notes of the series rules:

This series was designed for two reasons. First, it was meant to offset our other series which, by an order of magnitude, are much more complicated than the SCS. Second, it was designed to be a basic ‒ read FUN ‒ game which can be played at times when the others seem like too much of a good thing. These games are made for the “break out the beer and pretzels, and here we go” type of evening. While none of our games are designed with the beginner as their raison d’être, the SCS was designed as something the beginner would be able to handle ‒ as opposed to being devoured by.

So this series, while it might be difficult for a new wargamer, is not impossible to grasp and could be played in an evening (depending on scope of the game and scenario).

There are tons of games available in the SCS catalog, ranging from WWI to WWII to Modern Day.  The system rules adapt fairly well to various time periods (or so I’ve been told, I’m still waiting to play my first entry in the series, although I am very familiar with it and it comes highly recommended).

I am planning on playing Bastogne (World War II, Battle of the Bulge) with a friend, and starting in the coming days. I spent some time today outlining the rules and getting a grasp on the system, and I’m really looking forward to getting it played as a stepping stone and then onward to the monsters (very large games) in the series, including Day of Days.

If you are interested in the Standard Combat Series, you can find more information here:

http://www.multimanpublishing.com/Products/tabid/58/CategoryID/12/Default.aspx

http://www.gamersarchive.net/scs.htm

Latest SCS Rules

If you are a wargamer, what game(s) did you start with?  If not, but interested, are there any games you are interested in? Let me know in the comments!

Guest Session Report: Star Trek: Ascendancy

Hey all!

Last weekend, my friend Eric Carter brought Star Trek: Ascendancy over for him, Ryan, and I to play.  It was a blast, but Eric wanted to type up his thoughts.  Consider this a guest session report/review!  Ryan and I will be back to writing later in the week.

My name is Eric Carter. I’ve played games with Ryan and Drew and many other amiable Midwesterners for nearly a decade. As an expert introvert, board gaming has given me an avenue to connect with other people. Of all the gifts the hobby has given me, that one is the most treasured.

I managed to find a great deal on this game at a store closure sale, and knowing that there is an expansion out there that allows me to play it solo, it was a no-brainer. I found the two available player expansions at another store that was selling them at a deep discount, then started a search for the dice and playmats, but decided I needed to see if this game would get played enough before spending more money on it.

One thing we’ve been trying to do more often is schedule game days where we decide ahead of time what will be played. This gives us the opportunity to devote more time to games that take longer to play or that have rules that take longer to teach. ST:A is perfect for such an occasion, and this past Saturday we got it to the table.

The game consists of players exploring the galaxy from their home planets from equidistant points of the play area. Players can send their ships out to discover worlds and exploit (nicely or not so nicely) the civilizations found thereon, or finding virgin worlds and setting up colonies to gather the resources necessary to build more ships, research various advancements, or build up their level of culture. Culture tokens are traded for Ascendancy tokens, and the higher a player’s Ascendancy level the more Fleets they can build, the more Starbases they can have, and they reach 5 Ascendancy they win the game. They could also win the game by controlling 3 home planets, and controlling one’s home planet is necessary for either win condition.

After reviewing the components and rules we got busy boldly going. Ryan took the Federation, Drew the Klingons, and I took on the role of the Romulans. Board gamers are very familiar with Player Powers, and Star Trek: Ascendancy utilizes its theme tremendously well by providing the players with a Federation that has a Prime Directive restriction (preventing them from invading planets or colonizing pre-warp civilizations,) but also giving them a boost for exploration. The Klingons are restricted from retreating from a space battle, but also get a boost from defeating enemies in those battles. The Romulans will not quickly accept an opponent’s peace offering (Trade Agreement), but can get a boost from researching their advancements. Those advancement decks for all of our factions added more thematic abilities throughout the game.

During the Federation’s first voyage, Ryan ran into the Space Amoeba (from Star Trek: The Original Series – The Immunity Syndrome) that wiped out half his fleet. The Romulans discovered a couple of worlds that had a low maximum number of space lanes that could connect to them, so I decided use them to build up a wall, a separation… a type of Neutral Zone, I guess you could say, to help keep Romulus safe from the Klingons, who were discovering highly versatile worlds right next door to Kronos. My warbirds would be safe if the Klingons couldn’t get to them, right? While this idea allowed me to build up my forces in relative safety, it proved to be problematic later on.

Drew’s Klingon Empire was built on book-learning. He had quickly established or took over enough laboratories to invest his research tokens into half a dozen projects at once while Ryan and I struggled to gather enough of those research tokens to build up our shields to prevent us from losing ships to the hazardous planets and phenomena we were encountering. He also had three cultural nodes in play within 3 or 4 turns and had gotten his third, then fourth, Ascendancy token before the second hour of play was over.

Seeing Drew’s imminent victory, the Romulans reached out to the Federation to join forces to attempt to forestall it as long as possible. Honestly, the was no hope that either Ryan or I could eke out a win, but so far we had zero space battles and we felt the need to explore more of what this game had to offer. There was one avenue available to us – the Klingons could not claim victory if they did not control their home planet, even if they had reached the goal of five Ascendancy tokens. Here’s where the Neutral Zone, which had served me so well up to this point, became my biggest weakness. I had finally established a connection with Drew’s area of the galaxy, but Romulus and my starbases were a minimum of seven sectors away. I managed to maneuver an existing fleet to Kronos while Drew’s forces were elsewhere, and they wiped the Klingons off the planet while they were busy reading their copies of Stephen Kahless’s A Brief History of Time.

The Klingons quickly returned and calmly discussed their disagreement with the Romulans through the use of superior firepower. But thanks to the order of operations in the game Drew was unable to reestablish control of Kronos in that turn, preventing his fifth Ascendancy token from doing him any good. The Federation had a similar gap between its area of the map, but one of the border planets had the capacity for another connection, so Ryan was able to explore his way over to Drew’s fleet, hoping to keep the Klingons from becoming the dominant faction in the galaxy. But the Federation are essentially a peaceful, exploratory bunch and so their fleets do not have the same ship capacity as the other two factions in the game. Having six ships to Drew’s dozen, Ryan could not prevail, and once Drew was able to send down one of his Klingons to pitch a tent and raise the Klingon flag, the game was done.

Gale Force Nine, the game’s publisher, has a solid gaming experience in Star Trek: Ascendancy. The game took nearly three hours from start to finish, and if we had not turtled in our own areas of the galaxy for so long and we had started interacting quicker, the game would probably have lasted another two.

The game is a heavy time investment, so it’ll likely not see casual play and we all have enough games that we want to get to the table that it probably won’t get scheduled again for some time. If I do invest in more of the promised player expansions (Vulcans and Andorians) and additional components available (the play mat, the additional dice and ships available for each faction), I will likely try to run this game at local gaming conventions. It’s definitely a game that not only elicits memories from the various Star Trek series, it also inspires fond memories through the situations you and your opponents create together.

Andrew’s Note: Eric not only is a friend of mine, he also is a Board Game Artist who has done work for games such as Dominion, Eminent Domain, Fleet, and many more.   In addition to board game art, he also sells board game themed t-shirts, glassware, stickers, and more at https://www.cafepress.com/meeplehut.

My Half Year in Review

I am writing this and realizing the year is half over, which means that by now I should have played about 25 games from our “What should we play deck” as well as be about halfway done with my 10 x 10 and 5 x 1 Challenges.

The What Should We Play Deck has been a lot of fun.  We have been able to play some new games (and find some new gems) but also revisit games that we haven’t played in a while, for whatever reason.  I always seem to be looking for the new hot thing without realizing how many great games I have sitting on the shelf; case in point, I got out D-Day at Omaha Beach and played a few turns, and I forgot how tense and enjoyable this game is.  I know that this feeling isn’t unique to me, as many gamers probably feel this way, but having this deck guiding what we play instead of me staring at my collection and picking something I’ve played a lot has been really enjoyable.  My wife and I sort of picked “togetherness” as our word for the year, something to strive for, and this has definitely helped with that.  We don’t sit in front of the TV near as much or on our computers; we get our daughter to bed then play a game at least once a week.  I’m excited to keep this going for the rest of the year (and beyond).

I attended BGG.Spring this year and it was tons of fun as well.  I realized I never did a write up, but I played tons of classic games (or at least classic to me) that I don’t own or don’t get the chance to play very often.  I even went out of my comfort zone to ask complete strangers if I could join them in a game.  I want to try to attend a convention a year (or every 2) but I also want to try out a wargame convention as well.  It’s a different clientele than the BGG.cons (at times) so I think it would be another step out of my comfort zone.

My biggest surprise game to me this half year was: Space Base.  This is a dice rolling game that, to me, Is a better Machi Koro.  I haven’t played it a ton, but once I was introduced to it I had to get a copy.

My biggest disappointment game to me this half year was: The Mind.  I know it was up for one of the Spiel awards, but to me, this isn’t a game so much as an activity.  I don’t know.  I liked it more than I thought I would once I finally played it, but don’t want to play it again.

My biggest deep cut (game that I’ve had forever and finally played again) this half year was D-Day Dice.  I had not played it much due to the Kickstarter drama surrounding it, but I finally got over that and once we played it I forgot how much I really enjoy it.

My biggest Finally game (that game that’s sat on my shelf forever and I finally got to play) is a tie between The Colonists and Star Wars Rebellion.  Two very different games (Heavy, thinky Euro and Ameritrash goodness) but these hit just about everything I want in those respective categories, so I’m glad I’ve played them both, and hopefully will play them more frequently.

Most Memorable Gaming Moment So Far: Playing the six map version of Memoir ’44  D-Day landings at BGG.con.  I was really nervous about getting this together, but we ended up having a great time and it’s something I would consider doing every year.  It was organized chaos, and I definitely learned some lessons for if we do it again.

2018 has been a great year for gaming so far, and I’m really excited to see what I get played in the coming months.