November Writing Challenge Day 25: Game Häus Cafe

I’m blogging every day this month. Some will be game-related, but this challenge is different than my most recent play-a-game-and-blog-about-it challenge. I’m writing a single post every day: no topic guidelines, with some posts being a collection of random thoughts. Click here to read yesterday’s post.

Six years ago Game Häus Cafe in Glendale opened its doors to the public. I was just getting into modern board games back then and even though it was an hour away, I was excited about my first visit.

My niece and nephew were staying with us during their winter break and my wife and I took them to Game Häus before they went home. I was blown away by how many games there were (“only” 700 then, they now have double that amount) and I loved the comfortable vibe of the cafe. We played a bunch of party games with the kids and I remember having a fun time playing a game of Taboo.

It’s funny reading my Yelp review that I wrote back in 2014: “Speaking of hardcore gamers, I’m assuming they take over the place later in the day/night and on the weekends. I saw multiple copies of Settlers of Catan, Ticket to Ride, and other popular games on the shelves.”

Now I know that Settlers and TTR are more commonly known as gateway games but looking back I see how I thought those were more hardcore games since I had no idea what most of the games on the shelves were. I slowly got into games from that day on, occasionally surfing on or watching Wil Wheaton on Tabletop. The board game bug eventually bit me in January 2015, when I ordered a copy of Pandemic as a birthday gift for myself. I haven’t looked back since.

While the games and the menu have changed over the years, the outstanding service and welcoming atmosphere remains the same at Game Häus. I recognize owners Rob and Terry now; they and all of the staff have always been kind and friendly to me over the years and I couldn’t be happier for their success. Thanks to this community hangout spot, I’ve played a lot of awesome games and I’ve made new friends.

Tonight Michelle and I went to the Game Häus sixth anniversary party. I thought how much has changed since our first visit; mainly, how I got involved in the industry. I’ve been fortunate to have great opportunities, from writing for various websites to appearing on the occasional episode of Game the Game on Geek & Sundry. Life really is an incredible journey. If you’d told me during our first visit that my favorite game would be one that can take all day to play or that I would be part of a great podcast team, I wouldn’t have believed you.

Game Häus has been and continues to be an inspiration. It’s easy to point to the staggering number of games and the delicious desserts they offer, but really it’s the people that make this place so special. Sitting for hours and actually engaging with others over the tabletop is something that’s been taken for granted over the years as our electronic devices have become embedded into our lives. Thankfully, Game Häus has been offering a space over these last years that offers an alternative to the daily technology overload.

Cheers, Game Häus! Here’s to many more years of tabletop memories. And shout out to Amanda, Jose, Oscar, Benji, Jackie, Al, John, Lorena, and friends at the celebration tonight. Let’s do it again next year!

The Day in Gaming, September 30, 2019: Baseball Highlights: 2045

I’m posting about a game every day in September! Here’s a link to yesterday’s post.

With my hometown Dodgers gearing up for the postseason after winning the NL West for the seventh straight season, today was the perfect day to play Baseball Highlights: 2045.

The game is one of those 2-4 player games that plays best with only two players. I love the feeling of going head-to-head against my opponent in Baseball Highlights; it’s like we’re both managing our futuristic baseball teams, trying to out-maneuver each other to score runs every game. Tonight I solo-ed the game, which is always a challenge since the AI starts off with a team full of powerful free agents while you slowly cull your deck of starter cards (rookies and veterans). By the way, the pieces you see in the photo above were 3D printed by my buddy Marlon. The actual game uses standard game pawns.

Designer Mike Fitzgerald did an outstanding job of incorporating the deck-building mechanism into the baseball theme. It’s remarkable that he distilled all of the action of a ballgame into a mere six cards that you play against your opponent.

I have a few of the expansions to BH: 2045 and while they add some new wrinkles to the game, the original base game is perfectly fine and you’ll log many hours playing it against your favorite baseball fanatic.

My nephew is one of those fanatics. He absolutely loves baseball and I enjoy seeing his passion for it. We’ve played BH: 2045 a few times when he’d visit and I gave him his very own copy for Christmas a few years ago. Although he’d rather play video games or an actual game of baseball these days, I’m glad that he’ll still play BH: 2045 with his Uncle Ruel. Maybe one day he’ll let me win.

The Day in Gaming, September 29, 2019: Pipeline

I’m posting about a game every day in September! Here’s a link to yesterday’s post.

I’m now up to a half-dozen plays of Pipeline and it’s on my short list of best games of 2019. For a game that can be downright punishing I still find it enjoyable. The first time I played a few months ago with my friend Jose, I immediately asked for a rematch. It’s a game where you always feel like you can do better, no matter if you’ve won or lost.

After today’s game with Nick, I felt the same way. It was a particularly rough game for both of us; neither of us could get much going based on the valuation cards for the game (orders and contracts, all of which were tough to complete). We both wanted to play it again right away, but decided to play the relatively mild The Castles of Burgundy instead.

One of the criticisms I’ve read about the game is how it’s not very exciting during the last few turns since you’re just running your machine and pumping out that Black Gold. It actually reminds me of one of my other favorite (so far) games of 2019, Wingspan. Both give players fewer actions each round, with your final turns feeling semi-scripted.

I actually like this about Pipeline. The puzzle of the first half of the game is brutal and brain burny, as you attempt to figure out a way to get your oil refined and make that money. Once you get your engine humming you can just sit back and collect your dough.

The criticisms of the upgrades are fair; I’m not a fan of how you get to lock not only the stack of upgrades you chose that turn, but also another stack. It just feels punitive for the sake of being punitive.

Still, for a game that plays under in an hour for two players, it’s a remarkably deep and thinky experience that’s one of my favorites of the year.

The Day in Gaming, September 28, 2019: Blood Rage

I’m posting about a game every day in September! Here’s a link to yesterday’s post.

Today was a special day of gaming for me, since I was able to celebrate my friend Dave’s birthday. We’ve known each other nearly our entire lives and and actually longer than that: our mothers were friends before we were even born. I like to think that it was pretty much a given that we’d become friends. It never ceases to amaze me that I could be friends with someone for several decades.

It was a fun day celebrating Dave with family, friends, and board games. We ate a lot, enjoyed a few adult beverages, and had a lot of laughs. We ended the day with his choice of games: Blood Rage.

Or, as most gamers call it, BLOOD RAGGGGGGEEEEE.

It’s one of my all-time favorites. There aren’t many games that offer this epic of a tabletop experience in 90 minutes or less, thanks to an approachable and streamlined set of rules. From the mighty Viking theme to the deceptively smooth card play, Blood Rage always gets an enthusiastic response when it’s on the table.

Our group last night included two new players, both of whom picked it up fairly quickly. It’d been a while since I’ve played so I forgot a few rules (like the ability of monsters to invade for free immediately), but thankfully it didn’t affect game play. In the end, the Birthday Celebrant won easily and I couldn’t be happier … and I was already looking forward to a rematch.

The Day in Gaming, September 27, 2019: Medici: The Card Game

I’m posting about a game every day in September! Here’s a link to yesterday’s post.

It looks like my September has been a celebration of Reiner Knizia’s catalog of games. I wasn’t planning it, but thanks to the fine tastes of my gaming buddies, I’ve played four of his titles this month: Ra, Samurai, Blue Lagoon, and Medici: The Card Game.

While Ra and Blue Lagoon were new to me, I’d played Samurai and Medici: The Card Game before. I’ve already talked about Samurai so let’s take a quick look at Medici: The Card Game.

The original Medici, like a few of Knizia’s games, use bidding as its main mechanism, with set collection used for scoring points. It’s an excellent game and the card game captures some of the flavor of the original, but replaces bidding with push-your-luck.

Like other Knizias, this is a streamlined game with tension on every turn. I love the use of push-your-luck as you try to collect all of the cards necessary to complete your different sets. While this isn’t a “deep” game per se, it sure is a lot of fun trying to see how far you can go to get the card or cards you want. Your draw is limited to three cards and at the very least you have to take the last card you drew.

I’d love to see more designers focus on games like the four Knizias I played this month. Each one has no variable player powers and some luck involved in game play, and you don’t have to go through pages and pages of rules to learn to play.

I’d rank Ra, Samurai, Blue Lagoon, and Medici: The Card Game higher than some of the latest board games that feature all of the extra mechanisms and what-not. Knizia’s games are so well-polished and offer an engaging tabletop experience for all types of gamers. Designers should learn a lesson from a master of game design: less can definitely mean more.

The Day in Gaming, September 25, 2019: Samurai

I’m posting about a game every day in September! Here’s a link to yesterday’s post.

There are two things I’ve always loved about my main gaming group: 1. Everyone’s willing to play almost any kind of game, from the current hotness to obscure or classic titles. 2. There’s an unspoken rule that we try to play a game from each person who shows up.

Tonight was a perfect example. First, Daryl played his Lost Cities with Jin while I ate my super-late lunch. Next, we played Patrick’s Black Angel, which a bunch of us have been hyped to play. Then, we played my Jetpack Joyride, which I’ll be reviewing soon (spoiler alert: it’s a lot of fun), and Oscar’s Cartographers: A Roll Player Tale. Finally, we finished with Jin’s copy of Samurai, which seemed fitting to end game night with another Reiner Knizia game (Lost Cities being another one of his classics).

Samurai was one of the first games I played at this meetup four years ago when I was just getting into the hobby and even then it was an older game. Tonight proved to me that it remains one of my favorite Knizia titles.

At its heart Samurai is an abstract game in whichyou attempt to conquer ancient Japan using three factions; warriors, peasants, and priests are represented on the board by minis of helmets, rice, and Buddhas. It’s an area control game and the board is made up of hexagons that you place one of your faction tiles on; most tiles are numbered 1-4. It’s also a set collection game since you’re trying to own the majority of the three factions to win.

Like many of Knizia’s other games, Samurai has a relatively simple ruleset with a surprising amount of depth to it. You’re just choosing one of your five random tiles to place on board and when you surround a mini, you and any opponents add the strength value of your factions and the highest takes the mini.

The game ends when all of one mini (helmet, rice, or Buddha) is depleted. The player with the most majorities wins the game, with ties being decided by the number of minis you’ve collected.

I love how this area control game works because you can basically go anywhere with your tiles, but you’re also trying to set yourself up when a battle goes down (that is, when a mini is surrounded on all sides). There are two special tiles that really make the game interesting: first, one tile allows you swap minis. This one is hilarious because usually you can steal a mini from right under an opponent’s nose. The second tile allows you to re-use one of your tiles and this one comes in handy, particularly when you want to take another shot with your 4-value tile.

Samurai is an underrated gem of a game. It’s another one of those easy-to-learn, difficult to master games that I always enjoy and appreciate.

The Day in Gaming, September 24, 2019: Brass: Birmingham

I’m posting about a game every day in September! Here’s a link to yesterday’s post.

Tonight I got to play one of my favorite games, Brass: Birmingham. I’ve previously reviewed it on The Five By, so please click here to hear my thoughts on this heavy Eurogame.

I met my buddy Jake at Congregation Ale House in Pasadena for board games and beers. It was my first time at a Congregation (there are a few locations in different parts of L.A.) and I instantly fell in love with the place. Big game-friendly tables, good beer, and tasty pub food are a combination that I cannot resist.

The church-inspired decor is really cool, giving Congregation a sort of goth feel. The music was generally a mix of old and new rock, and the volume wasn’t obnoxiously loud, which is something I appreciate more with each passing year. It was the perfect setting for board games and beers.

It’d been a while since I played Brass: Birmingham and I forgot how much there is to the game. The basics are easy (take an action, discard a card), but the rules of consuming beer/iron/coal always trip up new and experienced players. Thankfully, Jake knows board games and was able to make sense of what I was trying to explain.

After our game I wanted to play Brass: Lancashire, which is closer to the original Brass game rules (Birmingham being its standalone sequel). Lancashire doesn’t have Birmingham’s funky beer rule, where you’re required to consume beer when selling certain items.

Speaking of consuming beers, Congregation Ale House is an outstanding choice for your next beer-centric outing. I had an excellent Russian River Blind Pig; it was a refreshing, citrusy IPA that reminded me why I still enjoy the occasional beer. It also reminded me that I need to visit Congregation Ale again real soon.

The Day in Gaming, September 23, 2019: Star Trek Panic

I’m posting about a game every day in September! Here’s a link to yesterday’s post.

My dad introduced me to the original Star Trek series when I was a kid and I’d catch reruns whenever they were on Channel 13 in L.A., igniting my love of sci-fi that still exists today. I didn’t understand it at the time, but I was watching a series about a better tomorrow; a future full of wonder and hope, with technology being a part of how humanity solved (and caused) its problems.

It’s this glimpse into the future that still appeals to me. You can have your orcs and goblins in those decaying dungeons; gimme light-speed journeys to different worlds and epic space battles any day of the week, plus twice on Sunday.

Thematically, Star Trek Panic hits on all of the right notes for me. It’s a re-theme of Castle Panic (an early favorite of mine when I got into the hobby) and based on the original Star Trek, which is what I grew up with. And while the game is more space battle than anything the TV show ever got into, it’s still nice to see all of the call-backs to that original series.

Since Star Trek Panic is a cooperative game, it’s easy to solo. But it’s not an easy game, unlike the original Castle Panic. I reviewed it for Geek & Sundry so check out that link for more detailed info. I loved how they ratcheted up the difficulty in this version of the game. Here, you’ll have to complete missions in addition to clearing the bag full of baddies. It’s all tied wonderfully into the original series, with missions like The Trouble With Tribbles and Space Seed.

Tonight I solo-ed a game playing Sulu and Kirk. My only complaint about the game is that for this weight (gateway/gateway plus), the game is about 30 minutes too long (a full game usually takes 90 minutes). So I decided to see if I could beat two random missions, which I did in about 45 minutes.

Or maybe I didn’t. It’d been awhile since I’d played and I realized I missed a few rules while I was playing. I was already halfway into the game and didn’t want to start over so I decided to just put an asterisk if I managed to win. I failed my first mission, but recovered to complete the next two, as Sulu’s move-twice-per-turn ability came in handy and worked well with Kirk’s play-a-mission-card-and-draw-two-more ability.

The Enterprise took a lot of damage (as it always does in this game) and I won* tonight, despite (thanks to?) a few rules mistakes. Until my next game I’ll enjoy the win*, live long, and prosper.

The Day in Gaming, September 22, 2019: Jetpack Joyride

I’m posting about a game every day in September! Here’s a link to yesterday’s post.

I’m not much of a video gamer these days so I miss out on all of the hotness, console gaming and otherwise. I do play the occasional video game app even though I prefer board game adaptations. Jetpack Joyride is my type of no-brainer video game app: it has a throwback feel to it, with its side-scrolling ’80s game play and the simple Flappy Bird-ish mechanism where you guide your jetpacker by tapping on the screen.

Seeing Jetpack Joyride translated into board game form immediately had me curious. How do you capture that sensation of floating through the labs while capturing coins for points and gadgets for special abilities while avoiding hazards?

Lucky Duck Games took the basic premise of Jetpack Joyride and turned it into an engaging puzzle with real-time action. Note: I’m saving my full review until I’ve played the multi-player game a few times so here’s a quick look at the solo game, which I had a blast playing today.

You draw four random lab cards, with each featuring several icons: coins for points and zappers, missiles, and lasers that cost you points during the score phase. There are five different polyomino tiles (think Tetris) that you’ll use to guide your little dude through the lab. The tiles are translucent so you’ll see what you’ve covered up. Cover a coin and it’s a point, but cover one of the hazards and you lose three points.

Like the multi-player game, the solo mode is played over three rounds where you try to escape the lab using your tiles by placing them one at a time orthogonally adjacent to the previous one. It sounds easy and it would be if that were the only goal. But there are three random mission cards drawn each round to give you extra points. So, you might get extra points for collecting all the coins in one sector, by not covering up any one of the scientists, etc.

At the end of each round you’re given a choice of gadgets that help you in the later rounds. For example, you can use Coin Magnet to collect coins that you missed, as long as they’re orthogonally adjacent to your tile.

I like that there are over a dozen gadgets to choose from, along with over a dozen missions to guide you and a stack of double-sided lab cards to keep things fresh over several plays.

So far the solo game is a hit with me. Instead of the tension created by the real-time Space Trucker-like tile grab, the solo game gives you a limited amount of tiles to work with. Once you’ve completed a round, the tiles are out of the game, unlike the multi-player rules. I am looking forward to playing in multi-player, though, since the real-time puzzle-solving sounds fun and intense.