Ryan's Best of 2019 Lists

As we’re getting towards the end of the year, I thought I’d go with some of my favorite things from the past year. I probably won’t include my top games, I’ll do that later this month.

TV Shows
It was really an amazing year for TV. I won’t even pretend to have watched everything, so it’s completely possible I missed your favorite show, but here are a few of the best ones I’ve seen this year:

1) Fleabag- I’m not even sure how I’d describe Fleabag. It’s extremely well written and acted, and the less you know about the show, the better off you are. It’s not a mystery or anything, but it’s one of the most clever and genre bending shows out there.

2) Watchmen- Sadly I’ve only seen 3 episodes so far, but they were fantastic. I wasn’t sure what to expect going in, but I’ve loved it so far. So well acted, and it’s gorgeously filmed, and does a great job of having the feel of the source material.

3) Barry- Bill Hader has created an amazing character, and surrounded himself with talented character actors who are able to turn a story about a really dark person into comedy gold. There was a one off episode that involves trying to force someone to leave town, and ends up with Barry being beaten up several times in some truly amazing combat sequences, while also being possibly the funniest episode of anything I saw all year. But when this show goes dark, it goes really dark, and then is more a drama than comedy, and it’s still brilliant.

4) Big Little Lies- Second season may not have been as good as the first, but it was still well acted and a very good drama. Meryl Strrep is amazing, not that anyone should be surprised by that.

5) Good Omens- I love Neil Gaiman, so I had high hopes. It was a lot of fun, and I felt they did a good job bringing the novel to life.

6) The Good Place- Just silly fun, but some extremely smart writing. Their podcast that tells stuff behind the scenes is a fantastic addendum to each episode. The podcast is hosted by Marc Evan Jackson, so having an actual actor on the show really brings some neat insight, and he has various actors and production crew on each episode, so they have their own insights to add.

7) The Americans- We finished the final couple of seasons of this brilliant show. So well acted and consistently well written. It also gets you thinking about how the “good” guys aren’t always so good. I was always really fascinated on how the show makes Russian spies someone you care about and root for. Some neat 80’s nostalgia too.

I guarantee I am forgetting a bunch of good stuff, but this was the stuff that really stuck with me.

Novels

I read a lot. But most of the stuff, while keeping me entertained, doesn’t effect me in any particular way. I’m only going to list the stuff I rated as 5 out of 5 stars (Per Goodreads, I’ve read 67 books so far this year.).

As I look through my Goodreads ratings, I had no 5’s that weren’t Graphic Novels, so I’m going to list a couple books that DID have a lasting effect on me. I may have become more selective in rating things over the years.

1) The Raven Tower by Ann Leckie- Someone on BGG mentioned in the monthly New To Me Novels geeklist that this felt like Spirit Island the novel. I couldn’t think of a better description. It’s a fantasy novel told from the Protagonist but also a God’s view. Really well written and neat novel.

2) The Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe: How to Know What’s Really Real in a World Increasingly Full of Fake by Steven Novella & The Skeptical Rogues- I wish everyone would read this. It gives advice on how to look at news stories skeptically and advice on how to avoid fake news. Sadly, it’s audience most likely knew most of these tricks, but it had some interesting stories I had never heard, even after listening to the podcast for over 10 years.

3) The MVP Machine: How Baseball’s New Nonconformists Are Using Data to Build Better Players by Travis Sawchik & Ben Lindbergh- I love the analytical movement in baseball, and this takes that to a new extreme. It breaks down what a lot of cutting edge folks were doing as the movement started, and what people were trying out to get an edge. Not for everyone, but I loved the book.

There were a handful of other really fun novels I read this year, but these were the ones that stayed with me afterwards.

Marvel Champions

Solo Games
Ok, I decided to add something game related this article. I don’t watch a ton of movies, but I wanted another list to add. And while I listed my top 20 that I submitted to the 1 Player Guild, that list has changed already, with me playing several games in November.

1) Marvel Champions- This game is amazing. I need to play it more, but it’s really quick solo and almost as much fun as with more players. I’ve played a lot more with 2 players, but I need to start playing solo to try different decks out. I am really excited to get the new stuff as it comes out.

2) Wingspan- Really great game with a great Automa. I need to break this out more often also. Interestingly these are both also going to be high on my game of the year list too.

3) Star Realms: Frontiers- Take Star Realms, which is a great game, and add some solo scenarios and new card interactions. Still a great game, but I can play it on my own.

4) Sprawlopolis- A fantastic little puzzle game. You have goals to have other things besides just making the best city, which makes this game really hard. I haven’t even been close to winning, even though my scores are improving. It’s 18 cards total, and fits in your pocket, so it’s portable too.

5) Race for the Galaxy- This requires the Gathering Storm expansion, but I feel dumb that I never tried this before this year. Another really tough Automa, but any excuse to play this game more is great.

6) Unbroken- A very controversial game due to some shady Kickstarter distribution issues, but I got it in a trade. The game itself is very straight forward, and very difficult. I look forward to playing it more. You are the only surviving member of a group of adventurers that got ambushed, and now you are trying to get out of the dungeon with no supplies or weapons.

7) Cartographers: A Roll Player Tale- An really amazing take on roll & flip genre. Drawing a map with different terrain is great fun, and looks cool when you are finished.

8) Palm Island- Still great, still fun, but I finished 10 plays of this for the year, so I’ve been focusing on other games.

9) Deep Space D-6- This dice placement game is a ton of fun. Chuck the dice and hope you can fend off the many bad things that will happen to you. Having multiple ships to use also adds to the replayability.

10) One Deck Dungeon- I finally got my own copy, although I still haven’t returned Eric’s copy yet either, whoops. Fun, quick, and some neat dice manipulation in this one too. I hope to play it more now that I don’t have to worry about wearing someone else’s copy out.

Sprawlopolis

I think I’ll stop there. I hope you enjoyed my lists. Any TV I should be looking into? How about novels (I tend to read mostly Sci-fi & Fantasy.). What solo games are you playing? Let me know in the comments.

My First Wargame: Ambush!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

25 Hour Extra Life Marathon 2019

On November 2nd several of us got together for one of my favorite gaming events, Extra Life. Gamers get together and play games, while hopefully raising money for Children’s Hospitals. I don’t typically manage to get many donations, although this year I went over my goal for the first time and sold several games in our silent auction that helped us earn even more.

So first off, I hadn’t been feeling well Thursday & Friday, so while I intended to stay at least 20 hours, I only made it to about 3 am, which put me in at 18 1/2. I just never got my after midnight second wind.The surprising thing was how many people were still going strong, by that time we usually don’t have very many people, but I bet there was 10-15 people still there when I left.

The other really amazing thing is that we raised over $2000 (We’ll gladly accept more donations here.), $700+ of that being from our silent auction, which was something we kind of just tossed in there as a experiment, and it went really well. Hopefully we can do that with similar success in the future, although I did buy too many games that way. I picked up My Little Scythe to play with Aleksia, and a couple of games I didn’t know very well, but had pretty good BGG ratings, Tournay & Imhotep.

My silent auction haul.

We also kept our tradition of going out for one of the meals to one of the local restaurants. This year we walked to Iron Rail Brewing and had some good beer and food. I think only Drew had never been there, and he enjoyed the food quite a bit. I’ve heard folks don’t always get the best service there, but the food is really good, and our service was great this time.

Ok, so onto my actual gaming for the day:

Cartographers: A Roll Player Tale- Wow, this might be my favorite roll & write. I love the making a map, and it works in player interaction in a clever way. I solo’d it the night before, and it seemed like everyone enjoyed it quite a bit.

My map from Cartographers.

No Thanks!- Still one of the great small filler games. I haven’t played this in years, but it’s always a blast. We played twice, and I actually won one of them.

Hadara- Wow, 3 games and I haven’t played a new game yet. I don’t dislike this one, but I’m not sure I think as highly of it as others either. It’s interesting, and I’m a fan of card drafting, but I am terrible at this game. It plays quickly though, so that’s a plus, it doesn’t outlast its welcome.

Early on in Hadara.

Lords of Vegas- Read Drew’s comments last week to see how I feel. All right, that’s not a perfect representation of my thoughts, but I think we both feel very similarly, it’s ok, but I don’t think I’d play it without my friends. They make it more bearable. Although it’s also a style of game that I am terrible at, plus luck can screw you at just the wrong time, like when I had finally made a good aggressive move, only to lose everything because the very next person drew the only card that would undo it. That didn’t happen often, but when you were doing badly anyway, and pulled off a big move, it sucked. I’ve played it twice now, and had no memory of the first one, even though it was only a couple years ago. That’s not a good sign. I suspect it’s just not my thing.

Marvel Champions- My friends abandoned me to play something else (it was only a 4 player game, and there were 5 of us. Drew forgot to list it, and I can’t remember what it was.), so Joe and I played this. It’s really as good as the hype. We’ve played several games and have had a blast every times. This time we didn’t just play the opening scenario, although we still used Rhino & Bomb Scare. He used She-Hulk with Aggression and I used Captain Marvel with Leadership, both their suggested starter decks in the learn to play guide, and we beat up Rhino pretty badly.

Tsuro: Phoenix Rising- First new game of the day! Drew literally punched this so we could play it, and since Dina was hanging out for a while, I appreciated it. Tsuro is one of her favorite games. This added some interesting twists to the original game, but it also added play time. You have a little more control, but I think having 3-5 players, maybe only 3 or 4 to be honest, would work best.

The Quacks of Quedlinberg- I had seen this played, but hadn’t gotten a chance to try it myself. We used the expansion so we could play 5 of us. This is a really neat game. I enjoy push your luck games, and this is a good use of that mechanic. It’s light and a little silly, and I need to get a copy for my family.

Samarkand: Routes to Riches- I was luke warm on this one, but we did play it pretty wrong, so maybe the additional choices we’d need to make would make me like it better.

Clank! In! Space!- Clank is a fun deck-builder, and Clank in Space is a sci-fi version. Fun, silly, and a bit of push your luck too, I managed to get the highest score, although I barely made it to the module I had to get to to not automatically lose. Nobody made it to the escape pods, and both Drew & Joe died in the non-losing module, making my last couple turns a mad dash to the back of the ship. It was really tense. We all escaped, but I was the best thief.

Undaunted: Normandy- An interesting deck-building war game. Very light for a war game, probably not my thing though. I did think it was a very cool design though.

That’s it. Four new games, and several good ones. I always have fun playing games with my friends & family, and we haven’t been able to do it often enough this year, so this was great. I’ll be looking forward to our Extra Life events next year too.

Did you participate in any Extra Life events? Do you do some other charity based event like this? Heck, are there any games you’ve been playing lately that you are excited about? Please mention it in the comments.

Extra Life Recap!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mixed Bag

Sorry, I’m late on my post. I typically work on a little bit of this during my breaks at work, but we had a workforce reduction and I haven’t had as much time to take my breaks this week. Plus just some general weirdness made me busier than normal. Then kids stuff last night meant I didn’t get home till late.

So I am writing a mixed bag of stuff today. I haven’t played enough new things lately for me to write many mini reviews, I didn’t have enough time to prepare a proper game review, and I didn’t have a particular topic I thought I’d be able to rip out quickly.

So first off I want to put out some thoughts on a recent trend in board game complaints. A TON of people complain about a game being unbalanced or not playtested enough. For instance, the recently released Tapestry. There are a bunch if civilizations and techs to develop throughout the game. Some combos may work better than others, but it might just be inexperience among players. But to accuse a game as being unbalanced, which can be a very negative connotation for a game, especially after one play, is ridiculous. These games have been playtested to death more often than not (Especially by well known publishers.), and maybe, just maybe, you messed something up, or didn’t find the ideal strategy, and maybe your opponent did. That doesn’t mean the game didn’t spend enough time in development. It’s quite possible, you just don’t know what you’re doing. Give a game a few more plays before trashing the development and playtesting. It does happen, things can get missed, but somehow I doubt you’ve broken a game in your first couple attempts.

I thought I’d discuss a couple of games I’ve played recently:

Tapestry– A really fun, light civilization building game. I admit, I don’t get the feeling of creating a civ, but that didn’t mean I didn’t enjoy it. It was deceivingly simple to play, but with a lot of interesting choices to be made as the game goes on. I did win, but I fell WAY behind the other players early on, so I don’t think that had much effect on my opinion. I had a plan, stuck with it, and came out on top, so I felt like I enjoyed that part of it.

Tapestry

Jaipur– A very nice little 2 player game. It’s always interested me, and I’ve owned and enjoyed the app for a couple years, so when I found this on the Barnes & Noble clearance table, I jumped on it. Dina and I have played it a couple times, and it works great as something quick to play at the laundroma

I also bought a couple of games. I bought Drew’s copy of One Deck Dungeon so I can give Eric his copy back. I picked up Mistfall: Heart of the Mists on a deep discount for solo play. And I bought Pharaoh’s Gulo Gulo to play with Aleksia.

Lastly, I belong to the 1 Player Guild on BGG. Every year, they have members rank their top solo games, up to a max of 20. I thought I’d share my list.

1) Wingspan
2) Star Realms: Frontiers
3) Race for the Galaxy
4) Palm Island
5) Crypt
6) Deep Space D-6
7) One Deck Dungeon
8) Fleet
9) Azul
10) Patchwork
11) Friday
12) That’s Pretty Clever (Ganz Schon Clever)
13) Elder Sign
14) Factory Funner
15) Onirim
16) The Game
17) Sagrada
18) Rising 5: Runes of Asteros
19) Tiny Epic Galaxies
20) Mint Works

That’s it. Sorry for the random post, but life got in my way this week, but I got a post up. Let me know if you have any thoughts on any of these, I look forward to hearing from folks.

d20 List: Top 9 RPG-esque Games

It’s my (Drew)’s turn to roll the dice and pick a topic. I am a huuuuge fan of Critical Role. For those of you not familiar, Critical Role is an Internet Series of professional voice actors who stream their Dungeons & Dragons game each week (you can find their YouTube channel here: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCpXBGqwsBkpvcYjsJBQ7LEQ). I don’t ever watch it live, but I watch the on demand playback while I’m playing video games or working on homework.

This season (they are in their second campaign), the PCs have formed a group called the Mighty Nein. I might have been watching the latest episode while I rolled for this week, and when it came up Nine, I knew what the topic was going to be. Since they play D&D, I decided we should come up with our top RPG -esque games. These can be RPG systems, or game books, or board games, but they have to tell a story. Here are my Picks:

  1. Dungeons and Dragons– The grandaddy of them all. I could write a whole book on D&D (in fact, I’m toying around with the idea for one) but it has provided me the most memories of any game on this list. We started playing 3.5e, but switched over to 5e when it came out. I’ve played in one off games and longer campaigns. I’ve avenged fallen friends and changed the fate of kingdoms. I’ve failed to prevent a Godkiller from being summoned and I’ve seen numerous Critical Rolls and Fails. I can’t wait for my daughter to get old enough so that I can run games for her and my wife
  2. Fiasco– This is a great, game masterless RPG that puts you in a crazy scenario straight out of a Cohen Brothers film. This is a great choice for people who want to get together to tell stories and see craziness happen, but may not be able to commit to a campaign.
  3. Tales of the Arabian Nights– This was my intro to this genre (at least on the board game side of things). It’s fun for a night of people who enjoy story telling and the setting, but I definitely play it for the experience and not for the “game” aspect.
  4. Fabled Lands Game Books– These are Choose Your Own Adventure books on Steroids. There are 7 in the series, and you can jump between books depending on where your character goes. You maintain stats, inventory and statuses as you encounter monsters, traps and dungeons.
  5. Four Against Darkness-Another set of dungeon crawl books, the base book was given to me as a gift from a friend. I haven’t had time to play much, but the little bit I did gave a great dungeon crawl experience quickly without much rules overhead.
  6. Star Wars: Edge of the Empire– I have a love/hate relationship with this RPG Series. I love the rules and how it implemented successes and failures (you could use them to narratively describe the actions a player was taken) but I had a really hard time DM’ing in this because of the setting: there is so much material that you want to stay true to (or at least I did) I always felt I was going against the source.
  7. Ambush! – This is D&D, wargame edition. In this game, you roll for a squadron of soldiers (they have stats as well as equipment points) and then take them through a series of mission in WWII Europe. This was my first foray into solitaire wargaming, and many consider it one of the best solo wargames ever created.
  8. Target for Today – In Target for Today, you control a B-17 (or other models of bombers) flying missions in WWII Europe. You generate your squad and guide them through missions, trying to get both your bomber and crew to survive 25 missions. The narrative this game provides is amazing, but be warned: there are not a ton of decisions to be made. You’re really rolling dice against a number of tables.
  9. Detective/Chronicles of Crime – These are the only ones I haven’t played, but in these games you take the role of a detective and try to solve crimes. It’s a deduction game, but you do progress through missions that tell an ongoing story. (I included both because they came out at the same time, and I own both).

Ryan: I’m really surprised that I had a bit of trouble making this list out. I really like RPG’s and board games that bring those elements to the table. Maybe I am too harsh on what I consider RPG-like, but finding 9 games was more difficult than I expected. I decided games with a good narrative and often having you play a character worked best, but not all are 100% like that, as you’ll see.

I did misread Drew’s suggestion for this topic, and I thought that meant we wouldn’t choose RPG’s. I am a huge fan of RPG’s although actually playing them has been an issue. A quick couple I really have had fun with over the years are D & D, Toon, Happy Birthday Robot, Star Wars (Wizard’s first d20 edition.), and Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple.

I am fascinated by systems, so others that I haven’t played but really wish I could find time to are Fiasco, Fate Accelerated (Dresden Files particularly), and Blades in the Dark.

  1. Fog of Love– A great game where you play as one of 2 people who are dating and starting a relationship. The game also encourages a little role playing to get into your character a bit more. There isn’t much of a win condition, so it can end however best fits the story.
  2. Gloomhaven– The story part of this one isn’t necessarily as strong as some (Although we’ve only played a couple of times, maybe it gets going later.), but the combat definitely feels like D&D style fights.
  3. Runebound– This one feels a little less story based too, although you can create a bit of a story as you go along. The player progression and XP make it feel like character building. I’ve only played the first 2 editions, so I can’t speak of the newest version of the game.
  4. TIME Stories– This one is almost all just story. But a really neat story with some puzzle solving involved, so I feel like it qualifies here. I know I loved the strong story telling aspect, although I’ve only gotten to play the base scenario.
  5. Tales of the Arabian Nights– Another story driven game, but you craft some crazy stuff here. The Choose Your Own Adventure aspects make me feel a little less RPGish than some, but it’s hard to argue with the story driving the game.
  6. Stuffed Fables– A really neat family game that has simple combat, but a lot of fun combat with some decisions to help shape your story. Feels like a great intro to RPG’s for kids.
  7. Descent– Pretty similar to Gloomhaven, but a simpler game. Still fun and enough story to qualify, and is something I need to get to the table more often.
  8. Star Wars: Imperial Assault– See Descent, but with the Star Wars universe to carry the story.
  9. Roll Player– It’s the least story involved of the group, but the most RPG-like, although it’s the setup, not the story. You make a character by manipulating dice to score the most points, but you are giving these dice to D&D style attributes.

There you have it, our top 9 RPG-esque games. Have you played any of these? Any systems or games we overlooked? Let us know in the comments below, and may all your rolls be 20!

Review: Rise of Tribes

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

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

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

A photo of the box cover
The Box Cover

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

d20 List: Top Licensed Games

It’s the time of the month that Drew and I make a list. My 5 yr old rolled the big foam 20 sided die she has and came up with lucky number 13. With a Friday the 13th coming in a few weeks, I thought about a horror theme, but I’m not sure I have played that many games like that, so I decided to go with a different theme that Friday the 13 would fall under, licensed games in no particular order.

Disclaimer: We are not lawyers, we don’t know for sure which of these actually require a license or are public domain.

So here are Drew and my top 13 Licensed Games:

Ryan’s List

First off, I didn’t consider other game franchise. I wasn’t sure how it worked with D&D, Shadowrun, or Pathfinder. I did count video games though.

  1. Legendary- I’m going to lump the 3 games I’ve played under this. The Marvel version is one of my favorite games, the Buffy the Vampire Slayer version is excellent, and the Firefly version is fun, but I haven’t played it enough to know if it’s up to the other’s standards, it’s a slightly different game being a Legendary Encounters game.
  2. FFG Cthulu Games- Another group listing. Fantasy Flight Games has made several Mythos based games, and Eldritch Horror, Elder Sign, and Arkham Horror: The Card Game are all excellent games, so I decided to add them all here.
  3. Star Wars: Imperial Assault– Descent has always been one of my favorite games, both versions, and this is a great edition to it. A fun dungeon crawl with a Star War twist.
  4. Harry Potter: Hogwart’s Battle– This is probably my favorite deck builder to teach new players. It starts basic, and you keep adding stuff as you win, basically adding cards from the next book. We haven’t finished yet, we stalled out on Book 4, which I understand is a common place for people, it ramps up the difficulty.
  5. Perry Rhodan: The Cosmic League– Space pick up and deliver. THe art is neat. It’s only 2 players, which might be an issue for some. I believe I’ve had it on both my favorite 2-player Games and Underrated Games.
  6. Age of Empires III: The Age of Discovery– I never played the computer game, but this game was great. I think it’s be re-done at least once after losing the IP. I really wish I hadn’t sold my copy, it was always a fun time.
  7. The Dresden Files Cooperative Card Game– A pretty difficult, but interesting co-op game. I love the novels, so I know the characters well. Each novel is a seperate scenario, and each requires you to play a little differently. As a bonus it typically only lasts about 30 minutes.
  8. Daytona 500– This one uses the same system as Detroit/Cleveland Grand Prix and more recently Downforce. You don’t control a particular car, but you get a handful of cards to move all of them, and you bid on where they finish. I’ve mentioned my affection for racing games, and this one is simple and fun.
  9. Discworld: Ankh-Morpork– I love Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series, and this is the best game from that world. Hidden goals with some area control, and just enough take that to not annoy me. It’s a really solid game.
  10. Railroad Tycoon– You’ll sense a them of regret getting rid of games, although most of them were necessary at the time. I have loved this since I fort played my friend Kevin’s copy many years ago. It’s a HUGE board, but it’s such a great system. It’s still in print as Railways of the World and that series.
  11. Gears of War: The Board Game– Did I once own this? Yep. Did I sell it? Yes again. Admittedly, I doubted we’d play it often. Bryan taught us once, and I really liked it.
  12. Starcraft: The Board Game– Another one I owned and sold. Again, it wasn’t going to get played enough, but it was a cool system, and did a great job of building up like the computer game itself. I only played it a couple of times, but I thoroughly enjoyed it.
  13. The Lion Guard: Protect the Pride Lands– This one is probably more sentimental than it being a great game, but it’s a really solid kids co-op game. Aleksia and I have played it over 10 times since we got it last spring, and she still asks for it. I’m not even sure she’s watched the cartoon very much.

Drew’s List

Now that Ryan has had his say, here’s my top 13 Licensed games (in no particular order).

  1. DiceMasters: I’ve written before how I love Quarrior’s IP Crazy big brother, but when I think of a game that used licensing to enhance gameplay, DiceMasters is at the top of the list. Where else can I combine the powers of Captain America with Green Lantern?
  2. Star Wars: The Queen’s Gambit: This is a Grail game for many, and I’ve only played it once at BGG.Con. This was a fun, 3D dice fest and I’m really glad I played it. I don’t think I’ll ever pay to get a copy, but I’d pay it again if given the chance.
  3. Risk: Star Wars Edition: The first time I played this I referred to it as “The Queen’s Gambit’s little brother”. This isn’t your typical risk, and it gives a fun tension where players have to manage three different “battlefields” that are taken from the movies. All in all, it’s a fun game and it looks good on the table.
  4. Arkham Horror (2e/3e): Arkham was my first foray into “epic” gaming; games that tell a story and take a long time to play. It was in college, so I had ample free time to play. Recently, FFG released a 3rd edition that streamlines the gameplay and makes it more scenario based. This is much better for my schedule, and I’ve really enjoyed the couple of times I’ve played it. Either way, Arkham will always hold a fond space in my heart.
  5. Harry Potter: Hogwarts Battle: My wife and I both love the Harry Potter games, so when we heard there was a deckbuilder coming out in that universe, we were both really excited. We haven’t played it a ton, but when we do it’s an enjoyable time, and it’s a solid game to use to introduce deckbuilders to people who may not be familiar with them.
  6. Bob Ross: Art of Chill Game: When I first heard about this, I thought it was a cash grab. Then I picked it up on Black Friday and played it. It was surprisingly not bad. It’s a little set collecting game where you are competing against Bob to finish paintings. It’s a very zen game, much like Tokkaido, and would be good for a lazy evening where you didn’t want to think too much or get too cutthroat.
  7. Codenames: We have both the Disney and Harry Potter versions of Codenames, and we’ve enjoyed it the few times we’ve played it. The Harry Potter version introduces the rules for cooperative 2p play that Duel has. We have yet to combine Disney and Harry Potter though. Maybe if Disney ever acquires the rights….
  8. The Game of Life: A Jedi’s Path: Yes, it’s Life. But this version allows you to make choices that lead to the light or the dark side. No, it doesn’t have deep strategic game play. But it lets me be a Jedi for a little while.
  9. Harry Potter Labyrinth: This is a themed version of the classic Ravensburger title. This will probably be my daughters first introduction to Harry Potter, and I hope she can use it to get lost in the books like her mother and I did.
  10. Star Wars: Imperial Assault: Descent, but in the Star Wars universe? Sign me up. I admit, I haven’t played a ton of it, but with the app that allows for cooperative play without a Game Master, I’m looking forward to setting some time aside for my wife and I to take on the empire.
  11. Lords of Waterdeep: For a long time, this was my default, go to worker placement game for new gamers. I really enjoy it with the expansions as well. The theme could probably be about anything, but I think the Dungeons & Dragons theme helps to draw people in. This one caused a bit of a debate between Ryan and I, since the company that owns the license is the one that produced the board game. But I argue that even if they own it, it’s still licensed. Help us settle this in the comments 😉
  12. Space Hulk: Death Angel: This solo game is brutal. BRUTAL. I have lost more times than I can count, and can count the wins on one hand. But it’s quick, doesn’t take up a ton of table space, and evokes some of the feeling that you are trapped in cramped hallways with no way out except for through the beasts stalking you. Unfortunately, it’s OOP, so you might have to pay a pretty penny to get a copy.
  13. Arkham Horror: Final Hour: This is the newest game on the list. I had the fortune to play a game of this after a buddy bought it from a local game store after GenCon. This was a really enjoyable, tension filled game that you would expect from the “House of Arkham” line. To me, it felt like a step up from Elder Sign, but a step down from Eldritch/Arkham Horror. It features an initiative system that specifically doesn’t allow table talk where you have to balance the values on the cards in your hand against when you might go in the overall turn order. We lost, but we really enjoyed playing it and all agreed we’d play it again.

So there you have it. Drew and I’s top 13 licensed games. How many of these have you played? Are there ones that we missed? Ones that break the mold of “licensed games are terrible?” Is Drew or Ryan right on Lords of Waterdeep? Let us know in the comments!

d20 List: Top 6 Short Games

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wingspan Review

I wrote a few weeks ago about playing games where the strategy escapes me the first few times and how that usually drives me to try to figure it out. It’s not always heavy games, though.

There’s this new game out that you might have heard of. It’s designed by Elizabeth Hargrave and published by Stonemaier Games. It’s a game about birds. Does the name Wingspan ring any bells?

Of course, that’s a bit tongue in cheek. Wingspan has been a ridiculously hot commodity, so much so that it is already on maybe its 6th print run. Gamers everywhere seem to be clamoring for it. Gamers tend to have a pretty big fear of missing out and want to seek out the new hotness, sometimes even if the game isn’t that great. So does Wingspan live up to the hype?

I had heard about Wingspan and I initially had mixed feelings. A game about birds? That’s…eh. But I knew it was being put out by Stonemaier and so I wanted to give it a shot based on their catalog alone: I haven’t played a Stonemaier game I haven’t thoroughly enjoyed. I was determined not to buy a copy though, which I didn’t think would be an issue due to the initial shortage.

Ryan, though, managed to snag a copy, and so at the next game day I asked him to bring it so we could just rip the bandaid off. Let’s get it over with, I thought. Let’s play this game about birds that I don’t want to like so I won’t need to buy it.

And then, we played it. And I did terrible. And I knew I had to have it.

Let’s talk briefly about gameplay. Wingspan is an engine builder, and due to its scoring mechanic, the number of actions you have each turn (I use turn to define the largest chunks of gameplay) diminish. Like other engine builders, there are a variety of ways to chain cards together to make the most of your actions. There’s a variety of end game scoring opportunities too, from private objectives, to turn based objectives, to simply playing cards with high point values or that can hold lots of eggs.

I can usually sniff out a competitive strategy the first time I play an engine builder; it’s one of my favorite mechanisms. With Wingspan, though, even though the rules were extremely light, the strategy wasn’t apparent to me. I sort of floundered here and there, not being able to commit and didn’t really feel like I played well at all. As I told a board game community I’m a part of, “It enraged me and I loved it and I must have it”

To some people, though, gameplay isn’t everything, and I’ll admit I do like games with higher quality bits than just cardboard, and Wingspan doesn’t disappoint.

The game comes with a lot of stuff. Notably, it includes a plastic card tray to hold all the cards, 5 chunky (but not too big) wooden dice, a cardboard birdhouse dice tower, 3 rulebooks that come on the best paper I’ve ever held in my hands, wooden eggs that might be confused for Easter candy and lots and lots of beautifully illustrated cards.

I can’t stress how impressed I am with the work of Beth Sobel, Natalia Rojas and Ana Maria Martinez Jaramillo . All of the birds look like they came right out of an Audubon field guide. The iconography and layout is clean and easily recognizable, and the player boards are thematic. I am not a birder, but based upon feedback I’m seeing in the Facebook group that was set up for this game, there are tons of them that vouch for the art being ridiculously authentic, as well as the game being enjoyable. The artwork complements the mechanics, and you really do actually get the theme of birds and building an aviary.

Wingspan has vaulted itself to the top of my “games to play with people who aren’t gamers” list. The rules are easy to grasp, and it’s a fun game to play while you are having a conversation. I’ve enjoyed it at various player counts, from 2 to 4, and it even includes the ever great Automa system so you can play it solo (even though I haven’t yet tried).

I think Wingspan could be easily dismissed, like I almost did, because of the theme, but this would be a mistake. Wingspan is one of those games that has something for just about everyone, although I could see how those who tend to the medium-heavy end of the spectrum might lose interest. It’s definitely worth a play, however, even to just look at the art and play a laid back game.