Harbour

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I’m an unabashed fan of Scott Almes’ games, especially his Tiny Epic Series (I own and enjoy Kingdoms, Galaxies, and Western; I Kickstarted the Galaxies expansion and Tiny Epic Quest). I appreciate how he uses some of my favorite game mechanisms in games that play in less than an hour, like worker placement in Western, dice allocation in Galaxies, or 4X in Kingdoms. It’s also cool how he includes solo rules for most of his games.

I bought Harbour from my buddy Oscar last year and it sat on my Shelf of Shame until recently, when I solo-ed it using the 20-move solo variant rules on BGG. It was an easy way to learn and play the game.

A few of the reviews of Harbour have called it Le Havre Lite or Tiny Epic Le Havre since it has similar worker placement and resource management mechanisms, but in a smaller package. Players race to buy four buildings from a common pool first. Each building has a cost payable by one or more goods from the current player. On their turn, a player will send their worker meeple to a building and perform the action(s) listed on it; often, it’s to trade for more goods, which can then be used to buy a building. Players have a home base that they can return to for more actions, as well as travel to an opponent’s buildings to perform their actions (although this costs one good).

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What makes Harbour so much fun is the economic mechanism in the game. Whenever a player buys a building, they must “ship” enough goods to pay for it. So, if the player has 5 fish and 3 lumber and the current market has fish at $5 and lumber at $3, then the player can ship those goods for $8 and buy any building up to $8. Then, after the purchase has been completed, the market shifts, with the fish and lumber being worth less, while livestock and stone go up in value.

It’s a neat part of the game, trying to time your purchase just right so that you get the most money for your goods. More often than not, an opponent will buy something and change the value of your goods. Thankfully, there are buildings with powers that allow you to adjust the market to something more to your liking.

I enjoy Harbour, even if it usually ends more quickly than I prefer. It’s a great warm-up game, a filler with a bit more meat on the bones.

I’ve now played 8 of the 49 games on my Shelf of Shame!

Shelf of Shame 2017

  1. Agricola
  2. Amerigo
  3. Cheaty Mages!
  4. Chrononauts
  5. Cypher
  6. Dice City: By Royal Decree
  7. Dice City: Crossroads
  8. Doomtown: Reloaded
  9. Dungeon Fighter
  10. Eminent Domain: Microcosm
  11. Epic Card Game
  12. Formula D
  13. Get Bit! Sharkspansion
  14. Guildhall
  15. Guildhall: Job Faire
  16. Hanafuda
  17. Harbour
  18. Imperial Settlers
  19. Lost Legacy: Flying Garden
  20. Machi Koro: Harbor
  21. Marvel Dice Masters: Age of Ultron
  22. Mottainai
  23. Munchkin Legends: Guest Artist Edition
  24. Munchkin Zombies Deluxe
  25. NBA Interactive Card Game
  26. Ophidian 2350
  27. Pack of Heroes
  28. Pandemic: On The Brink
  29. Pathfinder Adventure Card Game: Rise of the Runelords Base Set + Expansions
  30. Pingo Pingo
  31. Portobello Market
  32. Quiddler Mini Round
  33. Rampage
  34. Sail to India
  35. Sans Allies
  36. Santorini: Golden Fleece
  37. Seventh Hero (Doomtown edition)
  38. Space Base Mutiny
  39. Steam Torpedo: First Contact
  40. Suburbia
  41. Sun Tzu
  42. Tiny Epic Kingdoms
  43. Travel Blog
  44. Valley of the Kings: Last Rites
  45. Viceroy
  46. Vikings on Board
  47. Viticulture Essential Edition
  48. Wok Star
  49. Yahtzee: The Walking Dead Collector’s Edition

Travel Blog

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After bringing Travel Blog to my weekly gaming group for the umpteenth time, I was finally able to get it on the tabletop. It seemed like every time I brought it, there was always something else that I wanted to play.

I’d never heard of this geography game until I saw it listed at $5 during the last Strategicon flea market. I did a quick search on BGG and learned that Vlaada Chatvil was the designer. Yes, the same Vlaada behind Mage Knight, Through the Ages, Codenames, and so many other popular games.

For five bucks I’m willing to take a chance on nearly any game, especially one whose designer has such a fantastic track record, so I placed my bid and before I knew it, I was the proud of owner of another Chatvil.

In Travel Blog, 2-6 players are trying to earn the most money by blogging about their travels. Don’t worry, there’s no actual writing involved, but it does help if you know your geography.

The game can be played on either the U.S. or Europe map and players get 100 Euros (paper money alert!), two tokens, and a player aid. During each of the seven rounds there will be state (or in the case of Europe, country) cards placed face up in the middle. Next, one (in later rounds, two) card is flipped up and players quickly place their token (in later rounds, both tokens) on a state.

What determines the state that a player chooses? In the first two rounds, the middle state is the beginning of each player’s journey and their chosen state is their destination. Each player will be scored separately by placing markers on the two states. To score, the player counts the number of state lines they cross during their trip from one state to another. Each line crossed costs 10 Euros and is immediately taken from that player’s money.

One twist that I liked: if you pick a state that borders the state of origin, then you lose 30 Euros. So, you want to be close to that state, but not too close. Another option is to place your token on the 40 space, which means you pay 40 Euros and don’t do any traveling. This is useful if you know that none of the states are close to the state of origin.

Finally, since state selection is done in real time, there’s a penalty if you’re too slow. If another player’s token is already on your desired state, you can still place yours there, but it will cost you an additional 10 Euros.

For rounds 3-4, players receive additional money (it’s easy to burn through your cash in Travel Blog) and place both of their tokens on two different states, with the state of origin being a middle point between their choices.

For rounds 5-6, players again received extra dough, and place both of their tokens on different states. This time, however, there are two states of origin so players must find the shortest route among all four states.

Finally, the seventh round is where players make money. All of the cards are reshuffled and players go through the same process as rounds 5-6, but instead of paying for each state line they cross, they earn money for each one. In other words, instead of wanting to be close to the state of origin, players want to be as far away as possible so they can go cross as many state lines as possible.

Travel Blog is a decent game that I liked, but didn’t love. It’s a good 20-30 minute filler that I’m sure will remain in my games library, thanks to its unique combination of geography, real-time selection, and route optimization.

I’ve now played 7 of the 49 games on my Shelf of Shame!

Shelf of Shame 2017

  1. Agricola
  2. Amerigo
  3. Cheaty Mages!
  4. Chrononauts
  5. Cypher
  6. Dice City: By Royal Decree
  7. Dice City: Crossroads
  8. Doomtown: Reloaded
  9. Dungeon Fighter
  10. Eminent Domain: Microcosm
  11. Epic Card Game
  12. Formula D
  13. Get Bit! Sharkspansion
  14. Guildhall
  15. Guildhall: Job Faire
  16. Hanafuda
  17. Harbour
  18. Imperial Settlers
  19. Lost Legacy: Flying Garden
  20. Machi Koro: Harbor
  21. Marvel Dice Masters: Age of Ultron
  22. Mottainai
  23. Munchkin Legends: Guest Artist Edition
  24. Munchkin Zombies Deluxe
  25. NBA Interactive Card Game
  26. Ophidian 2350
  27. Pack of Heroes
  28. Pandemic: On The Brink
  29. Pathfinder Adventure Card Game: Rise of the Runelords Base Set + Expansions
  30. Pingo Pingo
  31. Portobello Market
  32. Quiddler Mini Round
  33. Rampage
  34. Sail to India
  35. Sans Allies
  36. Santorini: Golden Fleece
  37. Seventh Hero (Doomtown edition)
  38. Space Base Mutiny
  39. Steam Torpedo: First Contact
  40. Suburbia
  41. Sun Tzu
  42. Tiny Epic Kingdoms
  43. Travel Blog
  44. Valley of the Kings: Last Rites
  45. Viceroy
  46. Vikings on Board
  47. Viticulture Essential Edition
  48. Wok Star
  49. Yahtzee: The Walking Dead Collector’s Edition

Sun Tzu

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What a wonderful surprise Sun Tzu was!

Sun Tzu is a two-player war game of area control, hand management, and bluffing. It’s psychological warfare in ancient China, with thematic The Art of War text on the cards.

I scored my copy last year in a math trade and I liked the theme and premise, but it collected dust before I finally got it off my Shelf of Shame, thanks to another meetup with my buddy Daryl.

In Sun Tzu each player attempts to control regions in ancient China by using cards numbered 1-6. These cards are part of players’ hands throughout the game, but they also receive special one-time use cards after each turn: the numbers 7-10 and modifier cards like +1, +2, and +3.

For each round cards are played face down for each region, then they’re revealed one at a time to resolve battles. For example, in the Qin region Player A plays a “3” and Player B plays a “5,” then Player B places the difference (2 armies) on the region and they now have control of Qin.

Each round is made up of playing cards and resolving battles. There are nine possible rounds to a game, with scoring after rounds 3, 6, and 9; however, if a player ever reaches the maximum 9 points after rounds 3 or 6, then the game immediately ends. This is the basic gist of Sun Tzu.

But there’s so much more.

The special one-time-use cards are fantastic elements added to gameplay. For example, if I was trying to gain control of a region that contained a lot of my opponent’s armies, then I could play my “10” and hope that my opponent played a low card. This would allow me to take some of their armies from the board and replace them with mine. However, if my opponent had played their “+1” card, then my “10” was all for naught. Their “+1” card basically negates my 10, since it’s used as a +1 to anything I played. Thus, my 10 is trumped by their 11 and they get to add 1 army to the region.

Another cool one-time-use card is the Plague card, which, when played, cancels the battle in the selected region. It also calls for half of the armies in the region to be taken off the board. Since armies are limited (each player begins with 18 in their reserve, with a few more available via certain card effects or actions), this is a good way to gather your forces for future turns.

There are also one-time-per-game Warlord cards that can be used at any time. During our last game Daryl busted out a Warlord card to tip the final region to his favor, which led to his single-point victory.

Finally, there are event cards that can trigger other changes to the game if their conditions are met at any time.

I’m ecstatic that I was able to get this off my Shelf of Shame; Sun Tzu is a tense battle of wits between two tabletop generals. It’s become one of my favorite two-player games and one that I highly recommend (for a more in-depth review, check out the iSlaytheDragon.com review).

I’ve now played 6 of the 49 games on my Shelf of Shame!

Shelf of Shame 2017

  1. Agricola
  2. Amerigo
  3. Cheaty Mages!
  4. Chrononauts
  5. Cypher
  6. Dice City: By Royal Decree
  7. Dice City: Crossroads
  8. Doomtown: Reloaded
  9. Dungeon Fighter
  10. Eminent Domain: Microcosm
  11. Epic Card Game
  12. Formula D
  13. Get Bit! Sharkspansion
  14. Guildhall
  15. Guildhall: Job Faire
  16. Hanafuda
  17. Harbour
  18. Imperial Settlers
  19. Lost Legacy: Flying Garden
  20. Machi Koro: Harbor
  21. Marvel Dice Masters: Age of Ultron
  22. Mottainai
  23. Munchkin Legends: Guest Artist Edition
  24. Munchkin Zombies Deluxe
  25. NBA Interactive Card Game
  26. Ophidian 2350
  27. Pack of Heroes
  28. Pandemic: On The Brink
  29. Pathfinder Adventure Card Game: Rise of the Runelords Base Set + Expansions
  30. Pingo Pingo
  31. Portobello Market
  32. Quiddler Mini Round
  33. Rampage
  34. Sail to India
  35. Sans Allies
  36. Santorini: Golden Fleece
  37. Seventh Hero (Doomtown edition)
  38. Space Base Mutiny
  39. Steam Torpedo: First Contact
  40. Suburbia
  41. Sun Tzu
  42. Tiny Epic Kingdoms
  43. Travel Blog
  44. Valley of the Kings: Last Rites
  45. Viceroy
  46. Vikings on Board
  47. Viticulture Essential Edition
  48. Wok Star
  49. Yahtzee: The Walking Dead Collector’s Edition

 

Tiny Epic Kingdoms

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I recently crossed off another game on my Shelf of Shame: Tiny Epic Kingdoms, a 4X game from Gamelyn Games. I’m a huge fan of Tiny Epic Galaxies, so when I came across Kingdoms on sale last year, I couldn’t resist. I was excited to see if it was as good as Galaxies and it joined my stack of unplayed games. I brought it to my weekly game night a few times, but there was always something else to play so I started to look for solo variants in order to get it played.

Thankfully, my buddy Daryl said he’d be down to try it with me. Like Galaxies, Kingdoms packs a lot of game into a small box. I usually agree with Tom Vasel’s game reviews, but this time I felt like he focused too much on the “Tiny” and not enough on the “Epic” of this game. He isn’t enamored with the “tiny” part of this game series; he’d prefer these games in normal-sized boxes with normal-sized components.

Tom’s reasoning, though, is exactly why I love the Tiny Epic series: the game play far exceeds its price point. Most of us can’t afford every game we want and Gamelyn’s Tiny Epic series is an outstanding way to add solid games to our collections at reasonable and affordable prices (to be fair, at the end of his review Tom does point out the excellent value of TEK).

Tiny Epic Kingdoms is a solid 4X (eXplore, eXpand, eXploit, eXterminate) game that plays within a half hour. The 4X mechanism is typically found in longer, meatier games so it was nice to have it in such a compact format. During our first play it took some extra time to grok the rules, but it was pretty smooth sailing after a few turns.

Each player controls a faction with its own unique characteristics and abilities. They also start on their own territory card.

The active player chooses one of several actions:

  • Patrol: Move from one region to another on your territory card.
  • Quest: Move from one territory card to another territory card.
  • Build: Spend resources to increase the size of your tower.
  • Research: Spend resources to increase your magic knowledge.
  • Expand: Add one of your meeples to your territory.
  • Trade: Trade one of your resources for another.

After a player has chosen an action they place the shield token on the corresponding spot on the action mat. This signifies that the action cannot be taken again during this round.

The active player executes the action and the other players may follow and do the same action OR they may collect resources from their meeples on the various regions. Note: the active player MUST do the action. They cannot collect resources on their turn.

Meeples produce resources based on the regions they are located on:

  • Plains: Food
  • Forests: Mana
  • Mountains: Ore
  • Ruins: Player’s choice

After the active player has completed their action, the next player chooses from the remaining actions. Play continues until all actions have been taken, then the action mat is reset and all actions are available again.

As the game progresses, players will build their tower, increase their magic knowledge, and control regions. Each of these factors will earn Victory Points. The game ends when a player places his final meeple on a region or builds the final section of his tower. The player with the most Victory Points wins.

The most interactive part of the game comes during war, when a player moves into a region controlled by another player. Each region can only be controlled by one player, so at this point each player takes a 12-sided die and secretly allocates the number of resources they are willing to commit to war. The dice are revealed simultaneously and the highest number wins the region. Both players, win or lose, pay the amount of resources shown on their dice.

Another option during war is the flag symbol on the dice. If both players set their dice to this flag, then they form an alliance, which means they will both earn resources from this region. Peace is beneficial to both players, but that peace may not last as they try to gain control of the region for the final tally of Victory Points.

I liked the two-player game; there’s a third territory added to the game called the Lost Kingdom (basically a random territory card) that both players can fight over, but it seems that Tiny Epic Kingdoms will be better with three or four players as more opportunities for wars and alliances are possible. While there isn’t an official solo game, the Heroes’ Call expansion adds one and the base game is good enough that I’ll probably buy it at some point.

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UPDATE: After I wrote this, I played a three-player game with Daryl and our other gaming buddy Graham. We also included the Search for the Crown of Valor variant, which added random tokens to regions in our home territories: treasure icon for resources, bandit icon for losing resources, and the crown icon for an additional two VPs at the end of the game. The three-player game moved quickly and there were two battles before the game was over, so I preferred it to the two-player version.

I’ve now played 5 of the 49 games on my Shelf of Shame!

Shelf of Shame 2017

  1. Agricola
  2. Amerigo
  3. Cheaty Mages!
  4. Chrononauts
  5. Cypher
  6. Dice City: By Royal Decree
  7. Dice City: Crossroads
  8. Doomtown: Reloaded
  9. Dungeon Fighter
  10. Eminent Domain: Microcosm
  11. Epic Card Game
  12. Formula D
  13. Get Bit! Sharkspansion
  14. Guildhall
  15. Guildhall: Job Faire
  16. Hanafuda
  17. Harbour
  18. Imperial Settlers
  19. Lost Legacy: Flying Garden
  20. Machi Koro: Harbor
  21. Marvel Dice Masters: Age of Ultron
  22. Mottainai
  23. Munchkin Legends: Guest Artist Edition
  24. Munchkin Zombies Deluxe
  25. NBA Interactive Card Game
  26. Ophidian 2350
  27. Pack of Heroes
  28. Pandemic: On The Brink
  29. Pathfinder Adventure Card Game: Rise of the Runelords Base Set + Expansions
  30. Pingo Pingo
  31. Portobello Market
  32. Quiddler Mini Round
  33. Rampage
  34. Sail to India
  35. Sans Allies
  36. Santorini: Golden Fleece
  37. Seventh Hero (Doomtown edition)
  38. Space Base Mutiny
  39. Steam Torpedo: First Contact
  40. Suburbia
  41. Sun Tzu
  42. Tiny Epic Kingdoms
  43. Travel Blog
  44. Valley of the Kings: Last Rites
  45. Viceroy
  46. Vikings on Board
  47. Viticulture Essential Edition
  48. Wok Star
  49. Yahtzee: The Walking Dead Collector’s Edition

Shelf of Shame 2017

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Pictured above is part of my Shelf of Shame: games I own that I haven’t played. It’s grown since last year, thanks to the great deals I’ve scored at each of the Strategicons‘ flea markets. At the start of this year I had 49 games (I’ve included expansions) on my Shelf of Shame, which are listed below.

I’ve crossed out the ones that I’ve played this year. And to be honest, there is one that I have no intention of playing: the Yahtzee: Walking Dead Collector’s Edition that I bought on clearance at Barnes & Noble. I just wanted the cool zombie-head dice cup to store my copy of Zombie Dice.

My goal is to play all of these games by the end of the year and to write about my experiences. Wish me luck!

Shelf of Shame 2017

  1. Agricola
  2. Amerigo
  3. Cheaty Mages!
  4. Chrononauts
  5. Cypher
  6. Dice City: By Royal Decree
  7. Dice City: Crossroads
  8. Doomtown: Reloaded
  9. Dungeon Fighter
  10. Eminent Domain: Microcosm
  11. Epic Card Game
  12. Formula D
  13. Get Bit! Sharkspansion
  14. Guildhall
  15. Guildhall: Job Faire
  16. Hanafuda
  17. Harbour
  18. Imperial Settlers
  19. Lost Legacy: Flying Garden
  20. Machi Koro: Harbor
  21. Marvel Dice Masters: Age of Ultron
  22. Mottainai
  23. Munchkin Legends: Guest Artist Edition
  24. Munchkin Zombies Deluxe
  25. NBA Interactive Card Game
  26. Ophidian 2350
  27. Pack of Heroes
  28. Pandemic: On The Brink
  29. Pathfinder Adventure Card Game: Rise of the Runelords Base Set + Expansions
  30. Pingo Pingo
  31. Portobello Market
  32. Quiddler Mini Round
  33. Rampage
  34. Sail to India
  35. Sans Allies
  36. Santorini: Golden Fleece
  37. Seventh Hero (Doomtown edition)
  38. Space Base Mutiny
  39. Steam Torpedo: First Contact
  40. Suburbia
  41. Sun Tzu
  42. Tiny Epic Kingdoms
  43. Travel Blog
  44. Valley of the Kings: Last Rites
  45. Viceroy
  46. Vikings on Board
  47. Viticulture Essential Edition
  48. Wok Star
  49. Yahtzee: The Walking Dead Collector’s Edition

Board Games Played: March 2017 Update

Viticulture Essential Edition. Solo campaign complete!

Viticulture Essential Edition. Solo campaign complete!

So far my 2017 has been an excellent year for board gaming. According to my Board Game Geek stats, I’ve played 65 different games for a total of 191 plays. Not bad!

I’ve solo played more this year, thanks to a binge of Viticulture Essential Edition (36 total plays). After picking up a half-priced copy of VEE last December (thanks, BGG flea market!), the game sat on my shelf for a month before I learned how to play. WOW. It’s the perfect blend of theme and mechanisms; it really feels like you have a little vineyard that you can build into a well-oiled wine-making machine.

It always takes me a game or two to really “get” any game I play and solo-ing VEE with the Automa cards helped me tremendously. When I eventually played with friends, I felt comfortable playing and teaching the game. I even played the solo campaign, scoring a 14 in the 8-game challenge.

My love of VEE led me to buy the Tuscany Essential Edition expansion. I haven’t played it yet, but I’m sure I’ll binge on that as well. And after playing Scythe, Euphoria: Build A Better Dystopia, Between Two Cities, and VEE, I consider myself a full-on Stonemaier Games fanboy.

Here are a few of the games I’ve enjoyed this year:

Santorini.The best two-player game I own. I’m writing another blog post about this wonderful game by Dr. Alan Gordon.

Imperial Settlers. Thanks to my gaming buddy Daryl for teaching me this one. It was a lot more think-y than I expected, but I like it a lot and it’s a fun solo game. Best of all, it no longer sits on my Shelf of Shame (unplayed games in my library).

Ca$h ‘n Guns. One of my favorites for an impromptu game night. My wife and I recently visited our daughter at college and played this with her and her roommates. It was a welcome study break for them and a fun way for us to spend time with everybody. Nothing says fun like pointing fake guns at your friends and family.

Baseball Highlights: 2045. Now that baseball season is about to start, I’m getting back into this fantastic deck builder. It never ceases to amaze me how Mike Fitzgerald managed to capture the feel of a baseball game with only six cards. Only six! It’s also a tremendous solo game.

Nexus Ops. In the context of most gamers’ Cult of the New obsession Nexus Ops is an ancient game, having been released in 2005. But it still holds up today and it’s interesting to see its influence on modern area control games like Blood Rage or Cry Havoc. Resolving combat can be frustrating or exhilarating, depending on your dice rolls, but it’s an excellent introductory war game. Best of all, it was a big hit at the weekly board games club I host at a local high school.

Solo Board Gaming

Viticulture Essential Edition

Viticulture Essential Edition

I get my love for solo games from my mom. She loves playing solitaire (almost exclusively Klondike) and doing jigsaw puzzles. As far as I can tell, she was never into the competitive aspect of card or game playing (unlike my dad, whose love of cards and poker was passed down to me and my brothers).

Within my circle of gaming buddies, I’m one of the few that enjoys playing board games by myself.  Whenever I mention my love of solo gaming, I usually get one of two responses:

  1. “Oh, I prefer interacting with others during a game.”
  2. “If I’m going to play a game by myself, then it’ll be a video game.”

Sometimes I want to be snarky in my reply: “Well, I like playing games with others, too. It’s why I’m at game night. Duh.”

As for opting to play a video game: yes, it’s easier and faster to play games on my smartphone or laptop, but I find it more enjoyable to be at the tabletop with an actual board with real physical bits and pieces.

Much like doing a jigsaw puzzle, playing a board game by myself is a form of meditation and relaxation. I like quietly taking turns and trying to find a way to win or post the highest score possible. I like being away from my phone and computer while I’m at the tabletop. I like the feel of those dice, cards, and tokens as I pass the time before my next “real” game with others. And I like not feeling rushed to do anything during a solo game. Everything is done at my pace: win, lose, or draw.

 

Happy New Year!

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Nayarit, Mexico

I don’t have an official New Year’s Resolutions list for 2017, but one of my goals is to blog more often. After blogging every day in 2015, I only posted a handful of blogs in 2016. I did blog about board games every day in August, but that was the last time I wrote anything here (I do post twice each week about board game news for iSlaytheDragon.com).

I had a few posts in the queue that I never completed so I’m condensing them into this one post. The TL;DR version: Besides my trip to the Philippines a few years ago, 2016 was the best travel year of my life.

My wife and I began the year in Nayarit, Mexico, where we stayed at one of those all-inclusive beach resorts. It was the first time we’d done an all-you-can-eat-and-drink trip and we loved it. We spent a few days at our resort just soaking up the sun and enjoying the non-stop flow of pina coladas. I’ve never been a fan of pina coladas, but this trip changed my mind.

Of course, I’d enjoy almost any drink with this daily view:

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Wake up, eat, stroll down to the beach, sip pina coladas while reading a book, then take a dip in the ocean: not a bad schedule for a few days while back at home it was raining.

We ended our stay with a couples massage next to the beach:

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We nearly melted into those massage tables. Neither of us wanted to leave after doing some major chillaxing.

A few months later we went to visit our daughter in Tokyo. She was finishing up her study abroad program so we flew out to spend almost two weeks with her, which was beyond awesome. My wife and I had never been to Japan and having our daughter show us around was the best.

Now, I appreciated our all-inclusive vacation to Mexico, but typically when I travel I prefer to soak up the local culture. Our time in Tokyo was exactly that: we were staying at our daughter’s rental which was a bike ride away from her school. We did not see any fellow tourists or travelers anywhere, except at the school or when we ventured into the busier parts of Tokyo. It was fun to see the local residents go about their day. Sure, it wasn’t as relaxing as sipping pina coladas on the beach, but it was much more real.

We had an amazing time, especially since we were fortunate to book our trip during cherry blossom season:

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My picture on a cloudy day doesn’t do justice to the beauty of the cherry blossoms.

Another thing that photos can’t capture is the deliciousness of the food we ate in Tokyo. From the local ramen shops to the restaurants we tried in the heart of Tokyo, there is NOTHING that compares in the U.S. Yes, I’m a full-on Japanese food snob now. Sushi and ramen have been forever ruined for me.

This lunch special was at a quiet little spot near the famous Tsujiti Fish Market:

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The sushi master served us these meals and we gobbled them down, keeping our voices low as we raved about each piece.

This was the most interesting thing about Tokyo: for such a densely populated city, it wasn’t nearly as loud and overwhelming as I thought it would be, especially inside all of the packed restaurants we visited. It was noisy at the train stations, but it wasn’t anything worse than the U.S. But in the restaurants it was so nice being able to enjoy our meals in library-like quiet. When we got back home that was the first thing we noticed: the volume level.

However, we found one place that was not as quiet or reserved as the rest of Tokyo: Dear Spiele, a cool board game cafe located upstairs in a nondescript building. Thankfully, our daughter is a pro with Google Maps because I would’ve gotten lost a few times trying to find it.

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The photo above is of one of the walls filled with games. We played Timeline, Camel Up, and Splendor (I wanted to play King of Tokyo, of course, but the cards were all in Japanese). There were two groups of young people while we were there; one of the groups was in deep thought playing a strategy board game while the other group was playing a party game, based on their laughter. It was almost shocking to hear such loud outbursts after we’d experienced nothing but quiet throughout our trip. I had a big smile on my face, though: it was the sound of gamers having fun.

People really are alike, no matter where you go.

 

Mission Accomplished

Takenoko

Takenoko

Well, Dear Reader, here we are: the final post of my Blog Every Day in August Challenge.

Just like when I finished my Blog Every Day in 2015 Challenge, I may not have written the greatest blog posts known to mankind, but I set out to write every day in August and I did it. It was a lot of fun because it was a topic that is near and dear to my heart: board games.

I find it fitting that the final post of August is on Wednesday, which is one of my regular gaming nights. I’ve been in this group for nearly a year and have played all kinds of amazing games. I’ve added many of these to my own library and have been able to share these with my family and non-gamer friends.

And in that sharing spirit, I’d like to give away some games!

To enter this giveaway, just share this post on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram and tag me in your post so I know it’s been shared. I’ll choose one winner at random this Friday.

The winner will be surprised by a game or two of my choosing. This contest is open to residents in the continental United States only (sorry, but shipping is expensive!).

Thanks again to all of you who’ve connected with me during this last month. I appreciate you taking the time to read my blog.

Now go play some games!

Diamonds

Diamonds. Image from strongholdgames.com

Diamonds. Image from strongholdgames.com

I can’t believe my Blog Every Day in August Challenge is nearly over. This month has gone by FAST.

I’ve had a lot of fun writing about board games for the last 29 days. Of course, it’s not as fun as actually playing games themselves, but it’s given me a chance to connect with other gamers on Twitter. Thanks to all of you who have tweeted at me and re-tweeted me.

Today I’m writing about a game I’ve never played and don’t own, but that will change this Saturday.

This weekend is the third Strategicon event of the year, Gateway. Strategicon hosts three gaming conventions in Los Angeles each year on a three-day weekend (Orccon on President’s Day, Gamex on Memorial Day, and Gateway on Labor Day). One day I’d love to do an entire weekend, but for now I can only manage a day or two at each, which is fine by me.

As the saying goes, some gaming is better than no gaming at all (Is this an actual saying? If not, it should be).

Yesterday I shared my love of finding a good deal and every Strategicon has a flea market and math trade that are chock full of board game bargains. This Saturday I’m picking up a few games at Gateway via the flea market and one of them is Diamonds.

I’d never heard of Diamonds before, but I’m familiar with classic trick-taking games Hearts and Spades. While trick-taking games might not be my favorites, I’ve always wanted to add one to my collection (I liked Nyet!) and at a bargain price I couldn’t resist.

In Diamonds, each player is dealt 10 cards (or more, depending on player count). The cards are in the familiar four suits (diamonds, spades, hearts, and clubs) and instead of 13, there are 15 of each suit. Each player also receives a screen to represent their vault and three diamonds crystals (actual pieces, not cards) placed in front of their vault, aka their showroom. As the game progresses, they will be able to move diamond crystals behind the screen/into their vault.

To begin play, the first player plays a card face up to the middle. This is the current trick. The next player, if possible, must play a card of the same suit. All of the players do this and the player with the highest number in the current trick’s suit wins the trick. They take the cards played and place them in front of them.

What happens if a player cannot follow suit? This is what sets Diamonds apart from other trick-taking games and it’s what sold me on it. A player that cannot follow suit can play any card in their hand and take a special suit action. The suit actions are:

  1. Diamonds: Take a diamond crystal from the general supply and place it in your vault. Once a diamond crystal is in your vault, it cannot be taken away.
  2. Spades: Take a diamond crystal from your showroom and place it in your vault.
  3. Hearts: Take a diamond crystal from the general supply and place it in your showroom.
  4. Clubs: Take a diamond crystal from any other player’s showroom and place it in your showroom.

Also, after a player has won a trick, they get to take a suit action. For example, if I led with the 15 of hearts (the highest rank of any suit), I would then take a diamond crystal from the general supply and place it in my showroom.

Play continues in these tricks, with the winner getting a suit action, as well as anyone breaking suit receiving a suit action. When players are out of cards, the round is over. The player who has won the most cards in each suit receives the corresponding suit action. If a player has taken no tricks, then they get to do the diamond suit action twice.

The cards are shuffled together, dealt out, and the next round begins. Different player counts play a different number of rounds before the game ends. Players count up their diamond crystals and score points: 2x points for each diamond crystal in their vault (behind their screen), and 1x points for each diamond crystal in their showroom.

I love how the diamond crystals and the vault screen are integrated into play, with the theme being perfect for the game. Normally I wouldn’t be this fired up about a new take on a classic card game, but Diamonds takes well-known mechanisms and injects life into them with a few nifty actions. I can’t wait to play it.