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.

My Year in Gaming: 6 Month Edition

I’ve been slowly playing less and less games over the past few years. My wife’s shooting helped contribute to this, because she couldn’t sit for very long. Our 4 year old helped contribute to it, taking up a lot of our free time (Not in a bad way of course.). Some of it was that I stopped counting app plays against real people, and then burned out on the apps themselves (I’m looking at you Ascension & Star Realms. Still great apps though.)

But I decided to change that this year. I decided to commit to playing more. It wasn’t just a New Year’s Resolution, because the last 3 months of 2017 were my busiest months of last year, but I was going to put in an effort.

I downloaded a new app to help track plays. I’ve been using BG Stats. This app is excellent. It makes it very easy to track, and I even decided to try to track game lengths too, and it has a timer built in. My only complaint is that while it will automatically post to BGG, it won’t automatically add the plays to Twitter like adding a game directly on BGG will do. I’ve adjusted to that by taking pics of everything I play and posting in Instagram so people know what I’ve been playing (Although I’ve never actually gotten any proof of if anyone actually cares about this info.).

What this app is the best at is giving me data. I LOVE useless data. I use apps to track what beers I try, what books I read, what TV shows I watch, and all of my disc golf scores. I love useless data.

Ok, so I decided to be very aggressive on what I wanted to do this year. I made a 10×10 list (10 plays of 10 games this year, see my current status here.), I made a challenge with myself to play 10 games that were unplayed as of January 1st, and I made a challenge to play 5 games that I love and hadn’t played in years (I have since bumped this up to 10 games.). The app also helps make these lists simple to make and track.

I’ve been killing at these challenges. To be honest, the 10×10 is always in a state of flux. I did not stick with my original 10 games, mainly because I get new games and some of those get played more as time goes by. As of this moment, I have played 73 out of 100 plays for this, and have played 3 games 10 times already: Friday, Charterstone, and Ganz schön clever. I’ve already finished all 10 unplayed games, and have played 9 of the It’s Been Too Long list.

I’m not going to bore you with all the numbers of monthly plays, but I have played 90 games a total of 227 times already. That’s probably more than 5 of the last 6 years, or at least close. The family has helped immensely, especially Aleksia, kid games play quick and are easy to get to the table, but my friends and I have been trying to play more often, even if it isn’t in big groups.

A couple of my more memorable plays/games this year:

Charterstone: A legacy game, so it should be an experience. 12 plays and it came down to only a few points between the winner and second place (Although I suspect I messed up a big thing and Joe probably won.). Changing the board, having twists change the rules, adding things to make game play vary from game to game, we had a lot of laughs and surprises. It was a fantastic 12 plays, and we enjoyed it so much that my friend Eric, who joined Dina, Joe, and me in our plays, bought a recharge pack so we can do it all again, although hopefully with the full 6 players.

Eldritch Horror: A game I acquired in a trade for Trajan late last year. My first play went terribly, but blew me away. It’s great fun, and I am now wondering why I took so long to play it. Joe and I literally had the game won unless we lost 2 doom points on our last turn in our second play, and of course that happened and we very narrowly lost.

Of course I have many other good memories of games this year. The amazing Ganz schön clever, the silly fun of The Mind (Sadly I seem to enjoy it more than my friends & family.), I won a solo play of Elder Sign, playing Runebound for the first time in 8 years (It’s still is one of my favorite games to play.), and after getting a great deal, playing Stuffed Fables with Joe and Aleksia, which is amazing, but sadly Aleksia is too young for it.

And of course my friends and family. I’m playing more games solitaire this year, but it’s only to keep myself on course and play things, it has no bearing on any of you, who have been helping me play so much this year. I know my 6 months aren’t quite done, and more games will get played this week. That’s not something I could have said often over the last few years

That’s it. I’m stopping now before more stuff flows out of my active and apparently sentimental brain. Have fun gaming!

Review: My First Stone Age

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My First Stone Age (2016)
Marco Teubner
Z-Man Games
2-4 Players
Ages 5+
15 minutes

Let’s face it, it was hard living in the Stone Age. It wasn’t all dinosaur garbage disposals or wooly mammoth vacuum cleaners.

It required scavenging for food and supplies, building shelters, and having pets.

Ok, so I’m not going to pretend that My FIrst Stone Age is historically accurate, but it is a pretty good kids game, combining memory and set collection.

Components: Nice thick cardboard huts & forest circles. The wood pieces are great, both the player pieces and the resources. My only complaint is the settlements, which are for putting finished huts on and storing your resources under. It is a little too low to get some of the pieces underneath. I also have a minor quibble about why the dog tokens are cardboard instead of wood. They are the only resource made of cardboard.

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Huts, forest tiles, berries, and the dog tiles (blurry bits by the hand in the back).

Game Play:  You flip a forest circle that is set up around the outer edge of the board. You then move either the number of die pips shown, or to the indicated spot on the board. Wherever you end up, you take a resource from that space, unless you end up on the construction space. If there is nothing available in the spot, you don’t get anything, except the dog space, then you steal from the person on your left who has a dog tile.

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The board all set up.

Note: We have been playing the trading post space wrong, treating it more like a general store. It is supposed to be a 1 for 1 trade, not just take what you want. Probably didn’t change much in our games, although it might have attributed to my concern about the game mentioned below.

If you land on the construction space, 2 things can happen. The thing that will always happen is that you flip the revealed forest tiles back over, and you must swap two of the tiles around. The optional thing is that you can pay the resources indicated on one of the face up hut tiles (Dog tiles count as a wild piece.), and then take that hut and place it on your base.

That’s it. The first person to build 3 huts wins.

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The fantastic wood bits.

Final Thoughts: This is a neat little kids game. The memory bits aren’t particularly difficult, and to be honest, the only thing I really focus on its location is the hut. You can just collect things until a hut shows up that you can buy. Aleksia (My 4 yr old.) hasn’t really focused much on the location of the hut tile, yet has won 2 of our 4 games.

It’s mostly lucked based early on, but teaches some set collection mechanics and how to use them to buy other things. The suggested ages feel pretty accurate, but a smart 4 year old can understand. Aleksia had no trouble with the mechanics in any way, in fact she won our first game.

It looks nice on the table. I do wonder if resources might get scarce in a 4 player game, we ran out of many of them in our one three player game. We never had any issues when playing two player.

Special thanks to Drew for letting us borrow this game.

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Aleksia planning her next move.

Wargame Wednesday: VASSAL

Image Credit: http://www.vassalengine.org

I’m going to try something out, starting this week.  On every other Wednesday (I think) I’m going to do a feature called “Wargame Wednesdays”.  I’ve talked about my love for wargames in the past, and how wargames are pretty much responsible to getting me into board gaming at large.  So I’ll stick with what I know.

I have an addiction, which is monster wargames.  I don’t think there’s a set definition other than you know it when you see it, but I consider a monster wargame a game that takes up a lot of space (so multiple maps) and a lot of counters.  The scale doesn’t matter, as I have heard or own some that look at the grand strategic scale (so, country to country and dealing with armies) to much smaller levels, such as examining the first 10 days of D-Day (so a very zoomed in look at the Cotentin peninsula).

The two main obstacles to playing monster games is size and time.  I know that I own a few games that are considered monsters, and the time it would take to play them and the space it would take to leave them set up in between turns means I will never likely get them played.

Or will I?

I’d like to introduce you all to a program called VASSAL.  VASSAL is an open source, free program that can be downloaded at www.vassalengine.org.  VASSAL allows you to download modules (all types of board games, but I’ve mainly used it for wargames) that can be played live with another player (usually using a voice chat program like Skype or Discord) or that can be played via email by transferring a log file that keeps track of your turns/moves, then the other player loads that log file and continues the game.

There are a few caveats to using VASSAL, though.

  • In most cases, the module won’t enforce the rules for you. This isn’t a wholly automated computer game implementation of the game.  Some modules do contain automated features but that depends on who designed it.
  • Speaking of who designed it, some modules are fully supported by the game publisher and some aren’t. Some will omit vital information (such as combat charts or other things of that nature) so that you must own the game to play it.
  • On game ownership: The rule of thumb is that one of the two players should own the game in order to play it.  Some publishers only make the modules available on their websites, others are available from the website itself.  Either way, please please please stick to this rule.  Support the publishers who keep this hobby alive.

I haven’t used VASSAL much, but my main wargaming friend and I are planning on starting up a game of Day of Days, which is the last game I need to play to complete my 5 x 1 challenge for the year.  I’m looking forward to exploring VASSAL more if this is successful, as well as maybe sharing session reports and screenshots from our games.

Have any of you tried VASSAL before? What did you think? Let me know in the comments!

Review: Champions of Midgard

One thing that my wife and I wanted to do this year was revisit some older ‘classic’ games that we really used to enjoy, but that have sort have been relegated to the corner of the game shelf as the new hotness arrives.  Sometimes, though, I find a game that revisits mechanics of these classics, and it can even replace the feelings I have for those classic games.  Champions of Midgard is one of those games.

Champions of Midgard is a worker placement/die rolling game designed by Ole Steiness and published by Grey Fox Games.  I would describe it best as a mix between Lords of Waterdeep and Stone Age, because the primary mechanic is worker placement, but there is also die rolling to determine if you defeat monsters or hunt successfully.

In Champions of Midgard, players are trying to vie for the Jarlship by recruiting 3 different types of adventurers and gathering resources that they can use to purchase or lease ships so that they can adventure to battle monsters.  Players can earn glory, but if they aren’t mindful to deal with the trolls that are rampaging outside the village then the villagers get angry with them and give them blame.  If no player defeats a troll each turn, they all take blame, which leads to increasing negative points at the end of the game.  If a player defeats the troll, then they get to give one blame to another player.  To fight monsters, you roll the adventurer dice you’ve assigned to the monster and have to roll enough symbols to meet the defense value of the monster.  You can also roll shields which block some of the damage you would have to take; for each damage you take, you lose a die.

The monsters you fight all have a different color, so there is an element of set collecting to this game as well.  You might try to fight a stronger monster because it’s the last color you need to complete your set (which means more end game victory points).  Each player also has a secret objective they are trying to complete (and a way to gain more throughout the game).

I really, really enjoyed my play of this game, and it’s one I’ve been itching to get to the table since.  It plays quick, is pretty simple to teach and pick up, and there is enough replayability that it would be pretty tough to play the same game twice.  The artwork is awesome and I do feel like it fits the theme really well.

I like the combination of mechanics in this game.  While I like Waterdeep, it can get a little bit samey to me (also because we played it a lot when it first came out) and I really like the dice mechanic in Stone Age.  By combining these two things, Champions is a fun game that provides some tense moments and some really meaningful decisions.

Gaming with a 4 Year Old

As I mentioned in my first post, we have 3 kids. My oldest is an adult (He turns 20 on Sunday.), and our middle child is 16.

Then we get to, as I often describe her, our little surprise. Don’t get me wrong, we are extremely happy having Aleksia join our family, but we were not expecting another child when she came along. She brings an incredible amount of joy to my life daily, but there are challenges being a 40+ year old with a preschooler, especially 12 years after your last child.

The one great thing we get to do is share my hobby with her. She can’t read a book (Although we read to her.), she can’t throw a disc golf disc (Although we let her try, and even have a small one for her to play with.), and she gets frustrated quickly when playing video games (Although again, she tries really hard. They don’t make a lot of small kid video games that aren’t mobile.). But we can play board games.

Do I break out Power Grid? Of course not, but we have a good group of games that she can play, and beats us frequently at.

We’ve never played games to just let the kids win. Will we always put our full effort out there? No. Do we stop them from making an obviously bad move? Yes. But we also don’t try to lose.

We might help her optimize her move in Monza. We do help her out some in Ticket to Ride: First Journey (The game is 7+, so she needs help, but loves the game.). We help her make some of her moves in a co-op game, but most of the time, we show her what would happen if she tried THIS move instead, although if she insists, she’ll probably get her way.

Part of the joy of playing this way is when you notice that she is making the best moves on her own. I’m never sure if it’s just her getting older and understanding better or just learning from how we helped her previously. Probably a little of both.

It’s amazing to see her outgrow a game she was playing only a year ago. The games get too easy very quickly at these ages. She might still want to play Go Away Monster, but she won’t want to play it 4 times in a row. She remembers it being fun, but realizes it’s not as much fun as it was before she could play more complicated games..

Although I will warn you, expect to play some games a lot. And I mean A LOT. They are still young kids, who will obsess about something. And don’t worry about picking up something in a thrift store used, especially if it’s really cheap. We’ve had some terrible games we’ve bought this way that she loved. They still had a little educational value, and we’d let her play those on her own if she liked. There wasn’t any need to worry about the pieces getting lost. And you can use them to teach how to properly pick up games.

We definitely play the games we enjoy more often, but sometimes you just have to bite your tongue and play whatever, because she’s 4, and she really wants to play this game, no matter how much you suggest we could play this other game.

The good news is there are a lot of good kids games. The bad news is, some of them still don’t get a US release, but thanks to Amazon.de & BoardGameGeek, they are easy to get and there are often rules translations. Although it seems like the majority of the best ones are either already being made by US companies, or are imported by someone else.

Haba Games are kind of the gold standard of kids games. They often make clever games with fantastic pieces. They do make quite a few games, and not all are winners, but even the worst of them have some value to teaching gaming and game mechanics to kids. Did I mention the pieces are usually amazing? The one issue is that some of them can be quite expensive.

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Drachenturm from Haba. The Dragon pulls the string and the tower comes crashing down. You push the Princess token out of the tower, down the scaffold, and to the carriage, racing the dragon pulling.

GameWright here in the US is also a pretty good kids game maker. Haba might have better bits, but GameWright makes smaller, easier to afford games. I’m more likely to pay the $15 for Outfoxed, which is an fun young kids deduction game, than $50 for Drachenturm, which is a Haba game we picked up recently, but only paid half price. Beautiful, and a neat idea, but also a huge box, and a tad expensive. Had it not been 50% off, we probably wouldn’t have picked it up, knowing very little about it.

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Outfoxed from Gamewright Games.

You’ll even notice some of the department stores are starting to carry more games, especially for kids. I’ve seen Magic Labyrinth at Target. Target also has an exclusive on the US map for Ticket to Ride: First Journey. So some of the bigger chains are realizing that there is more than just Candyland or Chutes & Ladders, although they are still there too.

I have been exploring some kids based RPG’s too, although we haven’t tried anything yet. She has a vivid imagination, and i think she’d like them. I have a couple of really good ones I have played, but they require writing. I’ll try to get into a couple and try them this summer maybe.

I think I’m going to cut this off now, I’ve rambled on long enough. I’ll re-address this eventually, maybe once she’s 5. I’ll be posting some kid game reviews, maybe every other review at first, but maybe more often, kids games are often easier to review.

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Aleksia and I playing My First Stone Age, which I plan on reviewing next week.