Microbadge 2016 and the Cult of the New

10x10 Challenge 2016 completed!

10×10 Challenge completed!

I completed my first 10×10 Challenge last month and today I received a microbadge for my boardgamegeek.com profile. After checking my stats I learned that I’ve played 16 different games 10 times each this year. Not a bad year so far!

Gamers often talk about the Cult of the New; that is, the desire of gamers to play the newest games. When you’ve been in the hobby for a while, the latest shiny thing will be that much more attractive than your shabby, well-worn copy of Catan or whatever gateway game is taking up space on your shelf.

I enjoy learning new games, but it often takes me two or more plays to grasp a game’s mechanisms, strategy, and nuances before I decide whether or not I like it. I just get a better feel for a game as a whole after multiple plays and I should know by then if I want to add it to my personal library.

I’m fortunate to belong to two gaming groups with various tastes; in one group I’ll find well-established games and some lesser-known or under-played titles while my second group has a new game or two nearly every week. Thankfully, both groups are accommodating; first, if there’s ever a game that can only be played by a certain number of players, we won’t play it if it means someone must sit out. I’ve always appreciated this because nobody is ever left out, which could’ve happened a lot whenever there were five of us at the table and someone wants to play something that only handles four players. Second, everyone must agree to play the proposed game. Again, people are accommodating and most are willing to try games that are unfamiliar to them. If we have enough players, we’ll split into two or more groups so that everyone can play something to their liking.

Games aren’t repeated from week to week too often, but whenever they are, I usually jump at the chance to play them again for the reasons listed above. And it’s helped me earn my first microbadge for the 10×10 Challenge.

 

Dr. Eureka

Dr. Eureka

Dr. Eureka

I usually don’t buy games on a whim or without reading a few reviews, but Dr. Eureka was the exception. There was nothing like it in my game library and at only $20 it seemed like a relatively risk-free purchase.

I was right. The game is a perfect mix of a puzzle and dexterity contest, with a simple ruleset: place the colored balls into the beakers to match the face-up card, but you can’t touch the balls and if they fall out of the beaker you’re out of the running for that card. First player to earn five cards wins the game.

My wife usually kills me in Dr. Eureka, but I’ve been getting better. I love puzzles and dexterity games, but for some reason put it together like Dr. Eureka and my brain goes on vacation.

Still, it’s been a hit with whomever plays it with us. It’s another game that goes over well with hardcore gamers and newbies and it’s one that I’m always up for playing.

Scythe

Scythe

Scythe

I’m keeping this post short and sweet: Scythe lived up to the hype.

… okay, maybe a few more words. I was terrible on my first play as I tried to get my head wrapped around the game. It reminded me of my first experience with Terra Mystica: I knew I was doing some things wrong and by the time I could correct my mistakes, it was too late.

And I couldn’t wait to play again.

(My buddy Patrick actually pulled an all-nighter to paint all of the figures so they’d be ready for our Thursday night gaming group. Just like his Blood Rage figures, these were beautifully done and made the experience even better.)

Scythe Player Board

Scythe Player Board

Deception: Murder in Hong Kong

Deception: Murder in Hong Kong

Deception: Murder in Hong Kong

I’m not the biggest fan of social deduction games. Werewolf, Mafia, SpyFall, etc.: all of these and more fell flat for me. Deception: Murder in Hong Kong was no exception. After my first play, I felt meh about it.

That meh changed into yeah last night. My Thursday night group played it and my second experience with Deception: Murder in Hong Kong was the best I’ve had with any social deduction game. The guys I played it with call it a cross between Mysterium (which I liked) and The Resistance.

The game’s theme is true to its title. There’s been a murder and it’s up to the players to figure out who amongst them is the murderer. There’s also an accomplice and a witness, but everyone’s identity is a secret. It will be up to the forensic scientist to give clues to the team to find the killer, while the murderer and accomplice try to trick the others into picking others’ cards.

Players are given a role card. One person is the murderer (the accomplice and witness are optional roles available with six or more players). The only one that will reveal themselves is the forensic scientist. Players (except the scientist) will have two rows of four face-up cards in front of them. The top row are possible murder weapons and the bottom row are possible clues.

To start the game, everybody will close their eyes except the forensic scientist. They will ask the murderer and accomplice to open their eyes and silently acknowledge each other. Next, the killer will point at a murder weapon and a clue in front of them. The scientist tells them to close their eyes. Next, the scientist will ask the witness to open their eyes and will point out who the murderer and accomplice are. The witness then closes their eyes. The scientist will ask everybody to open their eyes together.

Play begins when the forensic scientist gives out the first clue. There are six clue boards with different topics such as location, weather, relationship between the killer and victim, etc. The scientist will place one token on a board to indicate a clue. For example, they might indicate “dry” on the weather board. After all of the clues have been given out, the forensic scientist can replace two clues.

Players then discuss how that clue can fit into their cards or the other players’ cards. Obviously, it is up to the murderer and accomplice to try to steer the conversation away from the murderer’s cards. The scientist cannot speak or gesture while the team is discussing the clues. However, by listening carefully, they can pick their next clue based on the team’s conversation.

When a player feels they can make a correct guess, they state the murder weapon and clue. If they’re correct, they win and the game is over. If not, they’re out for the rest of the game. Each player gets one guess.

The first time I played D:MIHK I was part of the team trying to figure out the case. For my second play last night I enjoyed it much better as the forensic scientist. While I couldn’t participate in the team’s conversation, it was fun (and more difficult than it sounds) trying to find the right clues for them. It helped the experience that the gamers in my group are enthusiastic players in these types of games. Their enthusiasm rubbed off on me and I’m excited that there’s a social deduction game that I actually like.

Guillotine

Guillotine

Guillotine

In spite of its gruesome premise — nobles lined up to get their heads chopped off — Guillotine manages to be a fun filler game, with stellar Disney-esque artwork. Set during the French Revolution, players are trying to collect the best-scoring heads at the guillotine.

The game is played over three rounds. Each round there is a row of seven nobles lined up ready to meet The Executioner.

During their turn, a player:

  1. May play an action card. These typically manipulate the line so that you’re able to score the highest-ranking nobles.
  2. Must take the noble at the front of the line.
  3. Must draw two more action cards.

When there there are no more nobles in line, the round is over. Seven more nobles are dealt out in a row and the next round begins.

(One interesting note: game designer Paul Peterson once said of the Callous Guards card, “That’s the biggest mistake I ever made as a game designer in my life.” Basically, it stops other action cards from affecting the line and Peterson recommended taking it out of the game. “That card taught me a lesson: Don’t stop players from playing the game.” While I can’t get myself to throw it away, I never include it during play.)

Way back in the late 90s, I worked with a guy named Angus who was a huge RPG fan. Although I never got to play D&D or any of the dozens of games he played, he did introduce me to this nifty little card game and many of our lunch breaks were spent playing Guillotine. Angus was the best to play it with; he’d make hilarious comments in French accents for the characters and we’d laugh ourselves silly.

While I don’t miss that particular job, I do miss gaming with my buddy. We live too far away now to do so, but I think about him and his boisterous laugh whenever I bust out my well-worn copy of Guillotine.

Codenames

Codenames

Codenames

Codenames was a welcome gift and nice addition to our games library last year (by the way, I prefer library over collection  because when I hear collection, I think of a group of objects displayed for the sake of observing and admiring, whereas a library is something that is actively used. I want our games to be played, borrowed, and played some more. I’m not looking to keep everything in pristine condition and I certainly don’t want our games to be off-limits to the youngest members of our extended family. Okay, rant over). It’s one of the most popular party games ever released, one that gets love from both the hardcore gamers and the casual crowd.

Designer Vlaada Chvatil might not be a household name, but for gamers, he’s a legend. Chvatil has designed some of the most popular and respected titles in the hobby, including Through the Ages: A Story of Civilization, Mage Knight, and more. These are deep and complex titles that gamers love, but Chvatil proved with Codenames that he could appeal to the masses as well.

In Codenames, two teams are trying to uncover their secret agents before their opponents do. A 5×5 grid of cards is set up, with each card containing one word. One member of each team (blue and red) is the spymaster and has access to the key that contains the identities of all the agents, innocent bystanders, and the assassin, on the grid. The spymasters will give clues about who their agents are and the teams will guess which ones are theirs.

Easy, right? Not so fast, Mr. Bond.

The spymaster is only allowed to say exactly one word for a clue and exactly one number that tells the team how many words are related to that clue. For example, the blue team’s spymaster could say, “sport, two.” It’s up to their team to figure out what two words on the 5×5 grid are related to “sport.” The words “ball” and “bat” might be the most likely answers, but what about “plate” or “pitch?”  Team members talk amongst themselves while the spymaster remains poker-faced.

When the team guesses, they touch the word on the grid. If it’s correct, the blue spymaster will cover that word with a blue agent card. If it’s incorrect, then they will cover the word with a red agent, an innocent bystander, or worst of all, the assassin. If it’s an opposing team’s agent, then that team now needs one fewer correct guess. If it’s an innocent bystander, no harm done, but it’s the other team’s turn now. If it’s the assassin, though, you lose instantly. Game over. Good night.

It’s easy to get distracted while trying to figure out the perfect clue for your team. There’s also a timer so if you’re taking too long, your opponents can put you on the clock. I prefer playing with the clock, since spymasters can take awhile trying to find that perfect word for their teammates. The game box says the game takes a minimum of 15 minutes, but it could take much longer if the spymasters are too intense. Hence, the clock.

Although I don’t enjoy Codenames as much as others, I usually won’t turn down a match. It’s a treat to play and it’s fun as either the spymaster or as a guesser (field operative).

(By the way, compare the photo below to the one above. Is it just me, or does one of the red team’s agents look like Team U.S.A. goalkeeper Hope Solo?)

Hope-Solo-Style-long-Hair-HD-Wallpapers

Hope Solo, soccer player and/or Codenames character

Splendor

Spendor

Spendor

Earlier this year my wife and I visited Tokyo for the first time. We were there to see our daughter, who was completing her study abroad program. Our 10 days in Tokyo were nothing short of amazing and I’m forever spoiled in terms of sushi and ramen; anything I eat here in the U.S. simply won’t compare to the food we had in Japan.

One pleasant surprise we experienced in Japan was finding a board games cafe. I’d read about Dear Spiele on the boardgamegeek.com Japan forum, but had no idea if we were anywhere near it or if we could find time to visit. After a quick consult with Google Maps, we discovered it was a short train ride away from where we were staying.

It’s not the easiest place to find, but we soon found ourselves walking a few flights of stairs in a nondescript building before opening the door to a wonderful space full of games and gamers. The language may have been different, but the scene was just like any American game store or cafe: groups of players huddled at their tables, some contemplating moves, others pulling off winning maneuvers as their opponents groaned.

Dear Spiele

One of two walls of games at Dear Spiele

Since we hadn’t seen our daughter in such a long time, what better place to replicate our family game night than Dear Spiele? Of course, it seemed like the perfect place to play King of Tokyo; unfortunately, all of the power cards were in Japanese and we didn’t want to force our daughter to try to translate every one as we played. There were hundreds of games to choose from, though, so I picked a few that were not language dependent. Our favorite, by far, was Splendor.

Splendor is a card game with card drafting and set collection, and it also features a neat little engine-building mechanism that is easily learned by new players. The object of the game is to score 15 (or more) victory points. There is a tableau of 16 cards in three rows; these cards are used to score points, but not all of them have points on them. To take a card, a player must have the correct number of tokens matching the gem icons on that card. These tokens are poker chips with a specific gem icon and color printed on them. For example, if somebody wanted a 1-point card that costs four red gem icons, then they must have four of those gems in their hand.

Each turn, players may take three gem tokens of different colors or they may take two of the same color (but only if that stack of tokens has at least four). 

There is a limited number of gem tokens available and each player can only have a maximum of 10 in their hand, so they will have to buy “development” cards. These development cards cost a certain number of gems, but once they are bought, they are a permanent gem in front of that player. So, if you have a blue gem card in front of you and you want to buy a card that costs two blue gems, then you can buy it if you have a blue gem token, which, along with your blue gem card, equals two blue gems.

Cards that are worth more victory points cost more gems, so players must buy many development cards so they can afford these higher-priced cards (note: cards with victory points also have a gem on them that will become part of the player’s resources). Players can also gain additional points from the noble tiles. A noble tile can only be earned by having the appropriate number of gem cards; players cannot use gem tokens to purchase these. So, if a noble tile has a price of 3 black, 3 white, and 3 red gems, then a player will only receive it if they have 3 black, 3 white, and 3 red gem cards in front of them.

I remember reading an article (or was it listening to a podcast?) about how Splendor is a good “next step” for the new gamer, especially after they’ve played Ticket to Ride. There are some similarities like collecting sets of something for points (gems in Splendor, trains in TTR) and there’s the tension of trying to get the right amount of items to score points before your opponents (getting the right combo of gems versus timing your rail-laying just right). The elegant gameplay is here, too, as players can do one of two actions per turn: take tokens or buy cards. 

However, Splendor has more replayability and it plays well with 2-4 players, with games typically finished in half an hour. I’ve played it with hardcore gamers and casual gamers and I have yet to meet somebody who doesn’t like it. It should be a part of any gamer’s library.

Postscript: after returning from Japan, I surprised my wife with a copy of Splendor. It continues to be a favorite with us and our friends.

Dastardly Dirigibles

Dastardly Dirigibles

Dastardly Dirigibles

My gaming buddy Mike did a demo of Dastardly Dirigibles at 4 Color Fantasies in Rancho Cucamonga on Sunday. After I’d attended a picnic nearby, I stopped at the store to chat with Mike and his wife Cami. He gave me the rundown of the game and we all played one turn.

Dastardly Dirigibles is a steampunk-themed game and it was a breeze to learn: it’s a set collection card game, with a few special cards that can influence the action. The box says it’s a 60-minute game, but it seems like it could be faster after everyone’s learned the rules. Mike, his wife, and I played one turn in about 15 minutes and the game lasts for three turns.

Players are trying to build their own dirigible on their play mat to earn victory points. Each dirigible is made up of seven cards representing everything from the nose to the tail. Players start with five cards and before each of their turns they will draw up to their hand limit of five, either from the face-up stock of three cards (the Emporium) or the deck.

There are seven “suits” of cards, as indicated by familiar steampunk icons like a top hat, gear, etc., and one suit of wild cards. There are also special cards that are actions that can help you and/or hinder your opponents. For example, you can swap parts with another player or force others to discard some of their cards.

A player may perform up to 3 actions per turn and they may do the same action multiple times. The actions are:

  1. Play an airship card (one part of their dirigible) or a special card
  2. Discard a card
  3. Swap a card with one from the Emporium
  4. Replace the Emporium (discard the three cards and reveal three new ones from the deck)
  5. Pass

What makes this game fun is the fact that every time a player plays a piece of their airship, any player that has that same piece (such as the nose cone) must play it onto their own play mat. This can mess with your plans of building the perfect blimp of all matching icons, which matters because you score points based on the most common suit in your ship. So, if 4 of my 7 pieces have the top hat icon, then I will score 2 points for each top hat (thus, 8 points in this case). Any wild cards are worth one point each and any other suits do not score. If you triggered the end of the round by completing your dirigible first, you also gain 2 points (and anyone else who completes their ship gets 1 point). After scoring, wipe the play mat clean, shuffle the cards, and repeat the process until three rounds have been played.

Dastardly Dirigibles has terrific artwork and an easy-to-learn rule set. I could play this with both newbies and seasoned gamers alike and I don’t think I’d hear any complaints.

Ticket to Ride: Pennsylvania

Ticket to Ride: Pennsylvania

Ticket to Ride: Pennsylvania

Ticket to Ride is my go-to gateway game for new players. It’s easy to teach, it has excellent components, and it takes less than an hour to play. The word “elegant” is always mentioned whenever somebody writes about TTR and it’s an apt description. Players have a choice of three actions every turn: draw train cards, lay down trains onto the board, or draw destination tickets.

Play moves quickly, but there are interesting decisions to be made. Do you lay down your trains to claim a route before an opponent does? Or do you draw more train cards in hopes of completing a longer, more valuable route? Do you take a chance and try to draw a more valuable (and more difficult) destination?

When my wife and I first played TTR, we were like many new players, content to finish our original destination tickets without much thought of anything else. After repeated plays, we were soon connecting routes in an attempt to win the longest route bonus while also drawing plenty of destination tickets that were already completed or nearly finished.

We hadn’t played the original in a while, but we played Ticket to Ride: Pennsylvania at my buddy Patrick’s birthday party this weekend. I’d had a chance to try it at my gaming group a few months ago and knew that my wife would enjoy it as much as I did. The game play is exactly like the original, but there’s one intriguing addition: stocks.

Most of the routes on TTR:P have stock icons on them. After a player claims a route, they have the option of picking one of the stocks on that route and they receive its card. At the end of the game players receive bonus points based on the amount of stocks they own.

It’s a simple and brilliant addition to the game that opens up game play immensely. Players can still focus on building the longest route or completing destination tickets, but they can also try to gain as many stocks as possible. If a player is blocked from completing a destination, they can build elsewhere in hopes of getting the most shares of a stock, which can make up the difference from the failed destination.

I love how it adds so many options while keeping the game play, ahem, elegant. At the party we played a four-player game in less than an hour (we were all familiar with the original, though, so it was easy to jump right in). It’s a must-have for TTR fans who want to inject life into their well-worn copy.

Saint Malo

Saint Malo

Saint Malo

I picked up my copy of Saint Malo for the bargain price of $11, thanks to the Virtual Flea Market at Gamex 2016 (one of three conventions of the year hosted by Strategicon). I was intrigued by what was in the box: dry-erase markers, dry-erase game boards, and five dice.

Saint Malo is best described as Eurogame-style Yahtzee. You’re building your city of Saint Malo, trying to make it the most prosperous. You have five dice and you can roll up to three times before scoring and you’re only allowed to score one item. For example, after three rolls you have 1 log, 1 cross (church), and 3 heads (people); you’ll most likely score the heads.

The heads (they look like profiles) represent people you add into your city; depending on how many you roll will determine what type of person it is. So, score 1 person and it’s an ordinary citizen. Score 2 persons and it’s a soldier who will help you defend against the inevitable pirate attacks. Score 3 and it’s a merchant who will earn you money on the crates of goods in your city.

How do you add people to your city? Just draw a little circle on your player board and write the letter of the type of person (for example, “M” for a merchant). Where you draw your items matters as well, since they’ll score more or less depending on the adjacent items.

Likewise, you can add crates (goods) to your city, churches, logs (for building houses), and walls to defend against pirates. You roll up to three times, score the items you want, and draw them into your city. I’m not an artist, but it’s fun drawing little walls and churches onto your board. Unfortunately, there’s not enough room to write “Pew! Pew! Pew!” above your soldiers.

Here’s the catch, though: any pirates (the swords icon) that show up on your final roll count toward the running tally of pirates. Once a certain level is reached (for example, four pirates rolled for a two-player game), then you must resolve a pirate attack against your city. If your defense isn’t up to the challenge, then you’ll lose points.

I’ve only solo played the game a few times and I enjoy it. I haven’t gotten it on the table at game night yet, but I think it would go over well. There’s something about drawing on the boards that is unique and pleasing.