Monday, February 13, 2017

A few more that didn't make the cut

I reserve the right to change my mind about games. Occasionally, I'll sit down to play a game that I've always enjoyed in the past, but this time I see the game's fatal flaws. Or maybe the novelty of the new just wears off. We have way too many games anyway, so deciding on a few that we don't want to play any more (for whatever reason) won't do us any harm.

Dungeon Quest (3rd Edition) In my original review, I said "a relatively simple game that gives players plenty of decisions to make, but with enough randomness that the game doesn't ever get boring." However, in our most recent play, I found that very randomness to be egregious and irritating. Additionally, the game's card-based combat system always seemed out of place, and while the Revised 3rd Edition attempts to simplify, it's still awkward.
  • Original rating: 4
  • What we'll play instead: I originally bought this game thinking it was an expansion for RuneBound, so why not just play Runebound?

Legendary Encounters: Firefly We got rid of this game so fast, I never even got around to reviewing it. I love Firefly, and I love the other Legendary games, and this one added some interesting game play involving keeping the crew's ship running, which was very much in keeping with the source material. So why did we decide we don't want to own a copy of this game? It may sound shallow, but we just couldn't get past the abysmally poor artwork. Seriously, the card art in this game is so bad it was taking us out of the game and interfering with our enjoyment of it.
  • What we'll play instead: Gale Force Nine's Firefly game is still the gold standard for licensed games. Plus we have several other flavors of Legendary (Aliens, Predator, Marvel (with a ton of expansions), even Big Trouble in Little China), all of which have artwork that, while not always spectacular, at least isn't distractingly bad.

Raptor I liked this game, but my wife did not, and we really have no use for a 2-player game that only one of us likes.
  • Original rating: 4 (wishful thinking?)
  • What we'll play instead: there's no shortage of good two player games in our collection. Additionally, we just got Cretacea, a set of dinosaur-themed miniatures rules.

Star Wars: Empire vs. Rebellion This game is a simple re-skin of Cold War: CIA vs KGB, with some minor changes to the rules. We like Cold War better, and we have enough other Star Wars games.
  • Original rating: 3
  • What we'll play instead: Well, Cold War, obviously, but if we want to visit a galaxy far, far away we have X-Wing, Star Wars Miniatures, Rebellion (review coming soon), and Fantasy Flight's excellent Star Wars Roleplaying Game.

Volt: Robot Battle Arena This is a fun little game, but honestly, we just found ourselves never taking it off the shelf. We're more likely to want to play Robo Rally.
  • Original rating: 3
  • What we'll play instead: Robo Rally is the obvious choice, but our current go-to move-programming game is the excellent (and not nearly as infuriating) Colt Express.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

What the flock?

In the interest of full disclosure, I should mention that 4theBirds! was designed by a good friend of mine.

4theBirds is an abstract game similar to Pente or Connect Four, in which players attempt to place their pieces on the board in a specific pattern, either four in a row or in a square. There are, of course, numerous catches: not all of the spaces are connected to each other, players can displace some (but not all) of their opponent's pieces, and there are non-player pieces that can be added to the board, affecting player pieces in various ways.

The game's theme is a simple one of various birds jockeying for position in a tree. The tree is represented by the game board, a somewhat dizzying grid of numbered spaces, some connected by "branches" and others not. Each turn, a player rolls two dice to determine his choice of  two different spaces into which he may place one of his birds. Once he's rolled, he can choose to either place a bird on the board, or play one of six cards that do things such as move other birds around, place new non-player birds (Hawks and Crows), or re-roll the dice.

The game establishes a "pecking order" which allows each player to displace the birds of the player to his left, which makes for some interesting choices as players attempt to get their four birds in a row while at the same time pushing other birds out of the way and disrupting the other players' bird placements.

The aforementioned Hawks and Crows add a bit more chaos to the mix: the Hawks play on certain spots in between regular spaces, and cause all the nearby birds to scatter to other spaces, which in turn can cause further displacement. Crows play on regular spaces but are at the top of the pecking order, so they can displace all the player birds and get in the way of further placements. All it takes is a well placed Hawk or Crow and suddenly your careful plan is scattered like, well, like a bunch of birds.

It's a very simple game, but fun, with just the right amount of strategy set off by random chaos. And the colorful graphic design is a joy to look at.

Rating: 3 (out of 5) A little too simple for us to want to play all that often, but great for when we want a lighter, shorter game to play.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Random discoveries

Discoveries: The Journals of Lewis & Clark is one of two games that came to my attention at around the same time, by the same designer, featuring artwork by the same artist. Due to my enjoyment of Manifest Destiny (a terrific comic book series that features the Lewis & Clark expedition encountering all manner of supernatural monsters during their journey), I had decided that I wanted a Lewis & Clark game.

I spent a little time researching Discoveries and Lewis & Clark: the Expedition, and for reasons I can no longer recall, I decided on Discoveries.

It's a charming little dice-placement game, an emerging game style that combines common Euro-style worker placement game mechanics with dice rolling, so that the roll of the dice determines how limited your choices for worker placement are, rather than competing with other players for available spaces on the board.

Over the course of the game, players use their dice in various combinations to purchase Tribe cards, representing various native tribes encountered by the expedition, and Discoveries cards, depicting terrain features as well as plants and animals to be cataloged. The Tribe cards provide additional options for dice spending that make it easier to purchase Discoveries, which are ultimately how each player earns points towards winning the game.

Spent dice are placed on a board at the center of the table, either to the right or the left depending on what they were used for, and this generates one of the more interesting decision points of the game. Each player has 5 dice of their own color, as well as a number of neutral dice that can be picked up in various ways. A player can forego their normal turn in order to replenish their supply of dice, and when they do, the have two choices: they can either pick up all the dice, regardless of color, on either the left or the right side of the board, or they can pick up all the dice of their color, regardless of whether they are on the central board or in use by another player.

Picking up dice from the board can potentially net you more dice to use, giving you more options on your turn. However, using dice of your opponent's colors is risky since they could take them back at any time. This can be a problem as some of the tasks you spend your dice on need to be carried out over multiple turns, and progress on those tasks is lost if an opponent decides to take back a die that you are using.

I find the game very appealing, and reasonably unique among the games in my collection both in terms of game play and theme. However, I'm still curious about the other Lewis & Clark game...

Rating: 3 (out of 5) It's a fairly simple game, but with some interesting decisions to make and some beautiful artwork to look at.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Top 10 games of 2016

It's the end of the year, which means it's time for all the inevitable top ten lists. I thought I'd jump on that bandwagon with a quick look at the games we spent the most time playing in 2016.

10. Tokaido

10 plays, 10 hours (average play time 1 hour per game)

We picked up Tokaido on a whim, without having played it before. Our decision to buy it was based entirely on its spectacular artwork and graphic design, plus at the time we were looking to add more asian-themed games to our collection. It turned out to be a good move, as Tokiado is a terrific game. We find that it is a particularly good game to play with non-gamers, thanks to the relatively simple game play and aforementioned beautiful artwork.

Read the full review.

9. DC Comics Deck Building Game 

6 plays, 10.25 hours (average play time 1.7 hours per game)

I'm a big fan of DC Comics and deck building games, but the first time we played this one (at a convention demo) we were a little underwhelmed. But, we played it again a few years later with a group of friends and enjoyed it a lot more, which illustrates the point that any game is only as good as the people you're playing it with. We find that we pull this game out fairly often when we're looking for a lighter game that still has a bit of depth to it.

Read the full review.

8. Leaving Earth 

5 plays, 16 hours (average play time 3.2 hours per game)

Leaving Earth is a game that involves a lot of math. Players control space agencies that have to buy and test rockets and other space ship components, and then carefully calculate the weight of the components they're launching into space, and the thrust provided by their rockets, to ensure that they can make it to the moon, Mars, or even just into Earth orbit. It sounds complicated and dry, but it is actually very compelling (we've spent entire days playing it).

Read the full review.

7. Lord of the Rings: the Card Game 

13 plays, 19 hours (average play time 1.46 hours per game)

We've always enjoyed customizable card games, and this one is particularly fun for us because it's cooperative, with players playing against an assortment of quest decks that have wildly different requirements for winning. Normally, constructing decks for games like this is a solitary process, since you don't want to let your opponent in on what you're planning, but in this case, building decks together is almost as fun as playing the game.

Read the full review.

6. Mansions of Madness Second Edition

6 plays, 19 hours (average play time 3.16 hours per game)

The first edition of Mansions of Madness was a lot of fun, but required one player to act as the Keeper, a game master controlling the monsters, cultists and strange events to be investigated. The Keeper's job involved keeping track of a lot more information than the other players, and the game's extremely complicated setup process had almost no margin for error, with one mistake often upsetting the whole game.

For the second edition, the Keeper has been replaced by a free tablet app, eliminating all the complicated setup without really sacrificing any of what makes the game fun. It's a compelling mix of video, board, and role-playing game.

Full review to come. For now, check out the official website and the BoardGameGeek page.

5. Conan

15 plays, 22 hours (average play time 1.46 hours per game)

It's a little surprising that this game made the list, since we've only had it for about six weeks. It's a pseudo-roleplaying game like Mansions of Madness, but in this case the game master's job is much simpler, to the point where it's just as much fun  to run the villains as it is to play as Conan and his companions. The game has had a bit of a troubled road to publication, with a year-late Kickstarter delivery and numerous issues with unclear rules, but despite all that, it's an incredibly fun adventure game. I'll be surprised if it's not number one on this list next year.

Full review to come. For now, check out the official website and the BoardGameGeek page.

4. Legendary: A MARVEL Deck Building Game

19 plays, 23 hours (average play time 1.21 hours per game)

Although this position on the list is just for the Marvel version, Legendary is proving to be an incredibly diverse game system, with Aliens, Predator, Firefly, and even Big Trouble in Little China versions that all fit flawlessly into the game's structure. Even looking at the Marvel version on its own, it has an incredible amount of replay value, with all the different combinations of heroes, villains, and dastardly schemes that are possible.

Read the full review.

3. Age of Conan

6 plays, 24 hours (average play time 4 hours per game)

The long play time may be inflating Age of Conan's position on this list, but we do dearly love this game and we've gotten a lot of mileage out of it over the years. It does have to be said, though, that the reason we've been playing it so much this year is due to the excellent Adventures in Hyboria expansion, which gives players more strategic options and greatly expands Conan's role in the game.

Read the full review.

2. Firefly: the Game

9 plays, 31.5 hours (average play time 3.5 hours per game)

Firefly remains the gold standard for games based on licensed properties. I can't think of very many others that so perfectly capture the spirit of the material they're based on. This game's combination of open world and scenario based play makes every game a little different, and I'm sure it will occupy a similar position in our top ten next year.

Read the full review.

1. Star Wars: X-Wing

21 plays, 39 hours (average play time 1.85 hours per game)

I'm tempted to disqualify X-Wing since most of its replay value comes in adding more and more ships to your collection, which adds up to a pretty massive cost. But it's such a well-designed game that I think the cost is at least somewhat justified, and collecting the beautifully sculpted and painted ship models is definitely part of the fun.

Read the full review.

Honorable mention

Jarl: the Vikings Tile-Laying Game

5 plays, 7.5 hours (average play time 1.5 hours per game)

An interesting chess-like abstract strategy game based on The Duke. The Vikings theme is largely tacked on, but at the same time it does call to mind the battle scenes from the television show.

Read the full review.

Tiny Epic Western

6 plays, 7 hours (average play time 1.16 hours per game)

A great western themed worker placement game that gets extra points for using an embedded poker variant and bullet-shaped dice to resolve player conflicts.

Full review to come. For now, check out the official website and the BoardGameGeek page.


7 plays, 5.5 hours (average play time 0.78 hours per game)

Not the sort of game I normally enjoy, but there's a reason this abstract resource management game won so many awards. And this total doesn't even include the amount of time I've spent playing the tablet version...

Read the full review.