Now on Kickstarter: Cat Rescue

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Ta-Te Wu seems to be designing games all the time. Just a few months after his Kung Pao Chicken was published, he’s back with Cat Rescue, his latest micro game seeking funding on Kickstarter.

Cat Rescue is a cooperative game about saving and adopting cats. The game consists of 26 cat cards, 1 double-sided delivery card, and four shelter tokens. The tokens are used to mark the corners of the shelter, which is a 4×4 playing field.

By maneuvering the cats on their turn, players will get them ready for adoption and ultimately get them out of the shelter to score points. The more points scored, the better your final ranking.

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After four random cats are dealt to the center of the playing field, two cats are dealt to each player. These represent the player’s foster home. The delivery card is placed on a cat and indicates the direction that cats cannot be moved in the shelter.

    1. On their turn, players will draw a card from the deck or choose a cat from their foster home. They place that cat next to a cat in the shelter and push the cat in any direction except the one shown on the delivery card. For example, if the direction card is pointed up, then a player can push cats left, right, or down.
    2. If three or four cats of the same color are connected in a row or column, then the middle cat(s) are flipped face down. This means they are ready to be adopted.
    3. Whenever a cat is pushed outside of the shelter (the 4×4 playing field), they are either adopted (if face down) and taken out of the game or placed in the player’s foster home.
    4. The game ends when any player has three cats in their foster home or the draw deck is empty.

    At the end of the game, score two points for every adopted cat and one point for every ready-to-adopt cat (that is, those cats flipped facedown but still in the shelter). A scoring chart will rank your effort from “Cat Got Your Tongue?” to “You’re the Cat’s Meow!”

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    Cat Rescue is a fun puzzle game highlighted by its super cute art done by artist Kaiami. The game features a simple turn (take a cat from the deck or from your foster home and place it in the shelter) and the trick is figuring out where to place your cat. You’re trying to get similar cats together so you can flip the middle one(s) over for adoption, so playing a wild cat early can help you out as you get later cats next to them. As you build up facedown cats ready for adoption, you’ll start pushing them out of the shelter to score points.

    Like other cooperative games, there can be an Alpha Gamer problem where one person takes over the game and tells others what they should do on their turn. The game works best when players can work together to find solutions, but quarterbacking can happen. It’s probably why I prefer playing Cat Rescue as a quick and quiet 15-minute solo puzzle.

    One final observation: while marking the 4×4 grid with the included shelter tokens (cubes) is fine, this game screams for a playmat. It’d be easier to keep track of the shelter’s borders this way; hopefully, a BGGer with spare time will make a playmat or Kaiami herself will offer a playmat featuring her artwork (fingers crossed).

    Thanks to Ta-Te Wu for providing a copy of Cat Rescue for review. Cat Rescue is currently funding on Kickstarter. The campaign runs until Thursday, April 19th.

    On the Tabletop: Daemon Trilogy: Subrosa

    On the Tabletop is an ongoing series of board game overviews featuring my thoughts on the latest tabletop products. 

    In Daemon Trilogy: Subrosa players are leaders of the five noble houses trying to recruit mercenaries to complete various contracts. The game is card drafting and set collection game at its heart, with a fair amount of player interaction based on the cards being played, and players score points based on their completed contracts.

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    Players begin with a hand of 15 cards and 1-3 contracts.  Each round of play consists of five phases.

    1. Recruitment Phase: each player places two cards facedown in front of them. This is their “crew.”
    2. Action Phase: players may select one crew member to to activate by pushing it forward. Optionally, a player may instead take two contracts, discarding any one contract.
    3. Resolution Phase: players resolve their activated characters in turn order. Even if a character is wounded, their ability will resolve before they’re removed from the game.
    4. Scoring Phase: players may complete any contracts by revealing the required crew members (cards in hand do not count towards contracts). Completed contracts and the cards used to complete them are removed from the game.
    5. Passing Phase: all players pass their hand of cards to the left.

    The game ends immediately when at least one player has zero or one cards in their hand at the end of a round. Players add the total of their completed contracts, then subtract half the value of their incomplete contracts. For example, if a player has one incomplete contract worth 400 points, then they would subtract 200 points. The player with the most points wins.

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    Daemon Trilogy: Subrosa is a top-notch production, from the terrific artwork to the linen-finish cards. It’s a good filler game, with tactical decisions made every round. Since you’re passing your hand each round, you can’t just hoard the cards you need for your contracts. You’ll have to be flexible in your strategy and will need to adapt as you activate your cards and react to your opponents’ activations. Do you try to complete a smaller contract as soon as possible or do you go for the big points while possibly passing cards that your opponents need?

    There’s a backstory to the game as given in the rulebook, but it doesn’t affect gameplay at all. I am curious, though, to see what the next games are in the Daemon Trilogy and see if/how it expands on Subrosa.

    Final note: there’s an app for the game that’s supposed to enhance game play, but it was buggy when I gave it a test run and I didn’t bother to include it when actually playing the game. Hopefully, they’ll update it soon for a smoother experience.

    Thanks to IDW Games for providing this copy of Daemon Trilogy: Subrosa.  

    Now on Kickstarter: Kung Pao Chicken

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    Last year I met Ta-Te Wu at my buddy Rick’s birthday 24-hour gaming fest, played a few light games with him (my first time playing Ka-Boom, which was a blast, haha), and became Facebook friends shortly thereafter. I’ve liked reading his FB posts about creating games and painting; they’re inspiring and much more pleasing than most of what people share on social media.

    Through mutual friend E.R. Burgess I acquired an early copy of Wu’s latest game, Kung Pao Chicken. It’s a micro social deduction game that’s currently on Kickstarter.

    I immediately loved the artwork: it’s spare and minimalist, yet conveys the theme perfectly.

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    Three to five players take on the roles of foxes or chickens and score points based on who’s remaining at the end of each round. For every chicken that shares a location with a fox, the fox players score 1 VP. For every chicken all by itself in a location, the chicken players score 1 VP.

    There’s one clever twist: each player doesn’t know whether they’re a fox or chicken. At the start of each round, players randomly choose a role card and, without looking at it, place it on their forehead so other players can see it. Players then set their roles face down under their barn card and play begins.

    Each player gets a predetermined number of cards and on their turn plays one card face down to any location (either another player’s barn or the community grasslands). They may choose to reveal a card at that location.

    After all cards have been played, all players close their eyes, count to three and reveal who they think they are: fox or chicken. Check where all of the chickens and foxes were played and score each player according to their revealed role. Highest score after three rounds wins.

    Confession: I’m not the biggest social deduction fan. Werewolf, Spyfall, Coup, and even Secret Hitler haven’t thrilled me. Deception: Murder in Hong Kong is the one exception; I think it’s brilliant and I like its theme the best.

    Kung Pao Chicken, though, is my type of social deduction game since it only takes about 15 minutes to play and the way you try to figure out what role you are is a clever twist. I liked watching others play their cards to certain locations and deducing who were my fellow foxes or chickens for that round. It’s a nice, light game that travels well (takes up the same amount of space as a standard Love Letter game).

    UPDATE: Kung Pao Chicken has been fully funded and you have until Thursday, January 18th, to back it on Kickstarter.

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    On the Tabletop: OK Play

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    Welcome to On the Tabletop, a series of board game overviews featuring my thoughts on the latest tabletop products. 

    While the board game craze continues to grow by leaps and bounds, for most of us the local Barnes & Noble or Target is the closest we’ll get to having a FLGS (Friendly Local Game Store). With the recent news that Barnes & Noble will be cutting down on its game section, Target is probably most people’s initial contact with our hobby.

    Over the summer Target announced over 50 games exclusively sold in its stores. Most are gateway or partygames, but they’re still infinitely better than the standard Monopoly, Sorry!, and the rest of the tired classics. Games like Machi Koro: Bright Lights, Big City and Evolution: The Beginning were two of the first Target-exclusive games and I recently scored one of the new wave of Target games: OK Play.

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    OK Play is a cleverly produced Connect-Four-style game that lives up to its claim that it can be learned in seconds. On your turn you place one of your tiles on the table; a tile must be flush against another tile (no corner-to-corner placement, just like in Carcassonne). If you run out of tiles, then take one of your already-placed tiles and move it elsewhere.

    That’s it. Easy, right? The first player to connect five of their tiles in a row wins.

    OK Play is a fast filler and I liked the familiarity of the connect-five goal along with the tile-laying mechanism. The game gets interesting once you’ve used all of your tiles and must move one of your already placed tiles.

    Best of all, it’s packaged in an easy-to-carry case that can be attached to your gaming bag and easily transported during your next trip.

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    One quibble: colorblind players may have trouble with the tiles. I suffer from red/green colorblindness and when I played my orange tiles, at certain angles they blended in with the green tiles.

    A friendly reminder to game companies and designers, it’s such a simple fix: use a unique icon for each color, like Ticket to Ride. That’s all. This one little change will increase your game’s accessibility (and audience) by making it easier for colorblind players to play your game.

    Disclosure: Thanks to Bananagrams (the distributor for Big Potato Games) for this copy of OK Play.  

     

    Kingdom Builder: When Insomnia Pays Off

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    I couldn’t fall asleep Wednesday night so I started reading my Twitter feed when I came across a link to an Amazon deal. It was for Kingdom Builder, an abstract game that I’d first played over a year ago. I remembered liking it then and for less than $9, I couldn’t resist. I bought it then fell asleep about an hour later.

    When I woke up it felt like a dream. Did I really buy a Spiel des Jahres winner for less than the cost of a meal? I re-checked my account and, sure enough, it was already on its way.

    Today it showed up at the front door and after punching out the bits and reviewing the rules, I was ready to play. But first, dinner with my wife at our favorite local Thai restaurant. When we got home I wanted to see if the game was as good as I remembered.

    It was!

    Kingdom Builder is a terrific gateway game, with excellent components and an easy-to-learn ruleset. Players are trying to build the most valuable kingdom by laying settlements throughout the land. The simple turns make for a quick game: draw a card that determines your placement, then do any additional actions you’ve unlocked during the game.

    It’s not a brain burner, but it does force you to plan carefully, especially during your first few moves. Thanks to its handful of different scoring rules and extra interlocking game board pieces, there’s a lot of variability since you won’t be trying to score in the same way and the board will be different each time.

    This was Donald X. Vaccarino’s follow-up to Dominion and while Kingdom Builder didn’t set the gaming world on fire like Dominion, it’s still worthy of being on any gamer’s shelf. Especially when its price is a single digit.

    Riverside Startup Week Highlights Local Entrepreneurs

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    When it was time to name his company’s first product, recent University of California at Riverside graduate and Nex Move Games co-founder Mark Gilpatrick thought back to his travels abroad.

    “In Middle Eastern cultures you’ll see people playing games like backgammon all day,” he said. “We wanted to reference this and we found the name Kumasi, which was a village that I backpacked through when I traveled through Ghana.”

    Gilpatrick and Nex Move Games are part of ExCITE, a collaboration between business leaders, UCR, and the city and county of Riverside. ExCITE was founded to accelerate startup companies in Riverside, with the focus being on development of advanced technologies to create high technology jobs.

    ExCITE is among the participants at this week’s inaugural Riverside Startup Week, a free, five-day event featuring local entrepreneurs, keynote speakers, and demonstrations. In addition to learning from CEOs, inventors, and investors of companies such as ESRI, Airbnb, Uber, and iRobot, attendees will also benefit from mentoring and networking opportunities.

    “During Startup week, my interns and I will take advantage of the different modules that are available,” Gilpatrick said. “We all learn something and bring it back to help develop the company.”

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    According to Steve Massa, Economic Development Coordinator for the City of Riverside and one of the organizers of the event, “This regional event will allow all Inland Southern California entrepreneurs to come together and learn how to pitch to investors, build an MVP (minimal viable product), monetize their apps, and source new team members for their startup,find talent from nontraditional channels.”

    Massa noted that Riverside ranked #13 in Kauffman’s Startup Activity Index in 2017, moving up five spots from the previous year. Entrepreneur Magazine also recognized Riverside as a top city for minority entrepreneurs.

    “The ecosystem we are building fosters mentorship and increases investment opportunities for entrepreneurs who are committed to building and scaling businesses in our region,” he said.

    Riverside Startup Week joins more than 600 other Startup Weeks around the world to foster the growth of the entrepreneurial community.

    “ExCITE and Epic [Entrepreneurial Proof of Concept and Innovation Center at UCR] are awesome and led by some talented people that have a lot of faith in the Riverside community,” Gilpatrick said. “People like Taj [Ahmad Eldridge], and Mark Leibowitz give us invaluable advice. It’s a great community to be a part of. They’ve taken a well-rounded approach to guiding me and developing my company.”

    For more information on Startup Week, visit https://riverside.startupweek.co/

    Challenge Completed

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    Over on boardgamegeek.com they run a 10×10 challenge, in which participants attempt to play 10 different games at least 10 times each during the year. I did it last year and like the Lakers winning championships back in the day, I repeated the feat this year.

    Here’s are quick thoughts on the 10 games on my list. Thanks to my wife, nephew and niece, and regular gaming buddies (two on Twitter: Daryl and Oscar) for helping me finish my list.

    Santorini. One of my favorite abstract games ever. The game is ridiculously easy to learn: on your turn you move to any adjacent square, then you build on any adjacent square; to win, you must move up to the third level of any building. That’s it. It has surprising depth and lots of replayability due to its God Power cards, which add new moves, abilities, and/or win conditions for each player. Simply brilliant. (25 plays)

    Mint Works. Everyone I’ve played Mint Works with has loved it. It’s a stripped-down-to-basics worker placement game that fits inside an Altoids tin. Games take no longer than 15 minutes, but it always manages to satisfy that worker placement itch. (10 plays)

    Karuba. This was an insta-hit with my wife and our extended family of gamers. The tile call-outs reminds me of bingo, while the puzzle-like game play is always a blast, as each player tries to guide their adventurer to their temples while scooping up gems. (10 plays)

    Onitama. Another abstract that gets bonus points for its terrific, road-trip-friendly packaging. While Santorini provides more depth and replayability, Onitama is even easier to learn: play a card and move any of your pieces according to the card’s directions while trying to capture your opponent’s master pawn or moving your master pawn to your opponent’s side. It plays faster than Santorini and I’m happy that both are in the Gaviola Game Library. (18 plays)

    Red7. Any fan of card games should give Red7 a try. It’s a quick filler-type game, but has lots of interesting decisions throughout a game, thanks to its unique card play. Each card can be used in multiple ways so you’re always trying to find just the right card to play on your turn. The win condition is simple: be the last person standing. (17 plays)

    Tiny Epic Quest. I love the Tiny Epic series of games. Scott Almes and Gamelyn Games manage to pack a lot of game into small boxes and Tiny Epic Quest is the best of the lot. I enjoy the puzzle-like nature of the Day Phase as you try to complete Movement Quests, but it’s the dice-chucking, push-your-luck Night Phase to complete Treasure Quests that’s an absolute blast. (28 plays)

    Guess Who? My wife and I took a weekend cruise to Mexico earlier this year and the ship had a lounge that had a few shelves of board games. Unfortunately, it was multiple copies of chess, checkers, Connect Four, and Guess Who?. Thankfully, we were too busy chillaxing and enjoying the trip to care about how shoddy the selection was. We did, however, play 10 straight games of Guess Who?, so at least I was able to get my board game fix. (10 plays)

    Tiny Epic Galaxies. No surprise here: I played another Tiny Epic game 10 times this year. This was my favorite in the series until I got Tiny Epic Quest. Galaxies is a lot of dice chucking, which always makes me happy. The solo game is fun (although TEQ has also supplanted it as my favorite of the series) and the Beyond the Black expansion added some nice touches to it, including new ships and abilities, and set collection and push-your-luck mechanisms. (14 plays)

    Imperial Settlers. I’m not sure what I expected with Imperial Settlers, but I heard a lot of good things about it and won an auction for it last year. I like the civilization building aspect, along with card drafting. As the game progresses it becomes a good brain-burning exercise as you try to squeeze as much as you can out of each of your cards. (16 plays)

    Viticulture Essential Edition. I lucked out last year and found a BGG user who had a brand new copy for half price. Not sure why I waited until this year to play it, but it was love at first play; the theme and mechanisms blend in so well together. It’s a classic of the worker placement genre and easily makes it into my Top Five Games Ever. When I added the Tuscany Essential expansion a few months later, it took the game to a whole new level. (36 plays)

    My Friend Ryan

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    It’s been a month since my friend Ryan passed away. I’ve thought about him every day since then, shared memories with a few of our friends, and reflected on what he meant — and still means — to me.

    Big Ryan was one of the most well-educated and articulate people I’ve ever known, but he wasn’t one of those ivory tower types. He could have serious discussions about race, class, privilege, and more then in the next minute quote passages from Tommy Boy, Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, and The Karate Kid, talk trash about how his beloved Yankees had won an MLB record 27 World Series championships, or let out an infamous Ric Flair “Woooooo!”

    He was an absolute blast to be around and I’m grateful to have so many fond memories of him. From Santa Barbara to San Diego, New York to Las Vegas, wherever we were, we had the best time. You couldn’t hang out with him and NOT have fun. He’d talk to anyone at any time and it’s a testament to what kind of man he was when you see that his friends and loved ones came from all walks of life.

    Below is a short video of him discussing his experiences abroad. This was years ago when he was the Director of Multicultural and International Student Programs at Hofstra University, before he went to Seattle University, where he was the Director of the International Student Center. I always admired his commitment to social justice and respected the work he did in higher education.

    Thinking of my friend on what would’ve been his birthday. I miss and love you, brother. Hoisting a pint of Guinness for you later tonight.

    Long Beach Comic Con

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    Although I won’t be attending this weekend’s Long Beach Comic Con, I highly recommend the event. For me it’s a throwback to the experiences I had at the San Diego Comic Con during my youth, before it transformed into the overwhelming beast of today.

    My brothers and I grew up with comic books. Our parents encouraged reading and when we weren’t spending hours on end at our local library, we were buying comics at our local used bookstore. The store had a friendly exchange policy, which allowed us to trade in our mom’s used books (mainly romance novels by the insanely prolific Barbara Cartland) for store credit.

    That credit was immediately spent on issues of Spider-Man, Daredevil, the Fantastic Four, and many others. We started off as Marvel kids for no other reason than that’s what you did back in the day: you were either a Marvel or DC fan. As the years passed, we added Batman, Superman, and even the occasional independent book, like an up-and-coming Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

    During our Saturday afternoon visits I’d wander around the store, soaking in the smell of yellowing paperbacks and listening to the creaking of the old wooden shelves that held them. But most of the time would be spent up front amongst the racks of new comics and cardboard boxes of back issues.

    My experience at last year’s LBCC was special for me since one of my brothers and his children attended. Hanging out with my niece and nephew and introducing them to this former world that their father and uncles once inhabited (and still do to some extent) was a blast.

    Of course, the cosplay scene of today is mind-blowingly better than what we had in our day. Upon seeing the first few Deadpools and Stormtroopers walking around, my nephew brilliantly observed, “Boy, I’m underdressed!”

    We hung out for a few hours, soaking in all of the comics and pop culture. We made buttons, thanks to the wonderful Long Beach Public Library booth. We operated remote-controlled robots at the Space Expo area hosted by the Columbia Memorial Space Center. We perused some of the cardboard boxes of back issues found throughout the convention center floor.

    And we took pictures with some of our favorite characters.

    The photos in this post were taken by my niece, who I was proud to have by my side as part of the press coverage. I hope she and her brother continue to explore the many facets of geekdom, just like their dad and his brothers did in their day.

    The Long Beach Comic Con is September 2-3. More info here

    All photo credits: Kaya Gaviola

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    San Diego Comic Con 2017: Cosplay Friday

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    I’m constantly impressed by the cosplay at modern comic conventions. From the carbon copies of superheroes, to the wacky hilarity of pop culture fun, to the imaginative mashups of two (or more) genres: people’s ingenuity never ceases to amaze me. This is the second of a three-part series highlighting a few of the cosplayers at SDCC 2017. Part one is here

    Pictured above: The Watchmen, minus Ozymandias and Nite Owl.

    Friday

    After Preview Night on Wednesday and the first official Con day on Thursday, Friday was much busier. Cosplayers were everywhere at the Super Bowl of comic conventions.

    I started going to the Con in the ’80s, so it blows my mind to see how ginormous the event is these days. Not only is it the entire convention center, but the surrounding hotels and Gaslamp Quarter as well. While it’s entirely overwhelming, it’s also cool to see the entire city all geeked out.

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    Who wore it better? (1 of 2)

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    Who wore it better? (2 of 2)

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    Family cosplayers are the best!

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    Even when one of the family members is over it …

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    Next up: Cosplay Saturday