Humans of the Tabletop: Gamex 2017

One of the best things about playing board games is the time spent hanging out with your fellow human beings, bonding over your shared experience at the tabletop. Inspired by Brandon Stanton’s Humans of New York, I present Humans of the Tabletop, an ongoing series about some of the people I’ve played games with.

This initial series is from Gamex 2017, the second of three conventions hosted by Strategicon every year in Los Angeles. My heartfelt thanks to these first participants, all of whom I’m fortunate to call my friends.


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“I’ve been playing the COIN (COunter INsurgencies) games series from GMT. The last one I played was A Distant Plain, based on the Afghanistan War. They’re long games and they’re fun, plotting out how to build up your troops and how to attack people. I think I’m one of the few Filipino gamers in Phoenix, so it’s always exciting to meet someone that understands your cultural heritage, your big family, your similar background. I play a lot of war games so I’m usually the only woman in the room. I feel like L.A. is a much more diverse crowd. It’s cool to see women gamers and gamers of color all around here.”


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“At my first Strategicon I volunteered during the first day. After I finished, I walked around to see what was being offered in each room. The next thing I know, I’m playing one game after another. It felt like Vegas, where there’s no windows and you can’t tell what time it is. Then I experienced my first game of Werewolf at a convention. Man, I did not know what I was getting into. There were about 30 people and there were 3-4 games going on at one time. Ten in the morning rolled around and I ran into some buddies. I joined them and played more games until about 10 at night. The last game I played I was falling asleep at the table, but I finished it.”


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“Outside of gaming, I train for half marathons. I do the Avengers Infinity Gauntlet Challenge, where you run a 10K on Saturday and a half marathon on Sunday. That’s 19.3 miles in two days and I’ve been doing it because I saw that shiny Infinity Gauntlet medal. Each medal has a different gemstone from the Marvel Universe. So I’m stuck running this half marathon for six years straight and after that I’m done. I’m going to lift weights the rest of my life.”

Every Night Is Game Night: Sagrada

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I’m playing a board game every day this month and blogging about it (I did a similar challenge last year)Feel free to join me during my Every Night Is Game Night: My Daily Play & Blog Challenge. And tweet me with what you’re playing these days!


I had a busy weekend that included a graduation party, Star Wars Reads Day, and quality time with our daughter before she begins her final three weeks of college (!), which meant that my time at Gamex was limited.

Thankfully, for the few hours I was there I was able to buy, sell, and play a few games. It was great seeing two of my regular gaming buddies, Oscar and PK, as well as my friend Meeple Lady. We’d originally planned on playing Agricola (still on my Shelf of Shame), but I was feeling the effects of a long day and asked to play Sagrada instead.

There’s been a lot of hype about Sagrada and after my first play I’d say it’s well-deserved. A simple yet thinky puzzle game of dice allocation, there’s a lot to like here, from the nice-looking components to the elegant play. It’s a game that will satisfy both gamers and non-gamers.

Players are trying to build their stained glass windows through the use of colored dice. Dice are randomly pulled out of a bag and rolled, then each player takes one for their window.

(Before I continue, a word to my fellow colorblind gamers: although I did okay with Sagrada, you should try it out before buying; colors are used throughout the game and there are no unique icons for each color to make things easier. I had trouble differentiating between blue and purple. From what I read, Floodgate Games did try to do something about this, but the budget couldn’t accommodate those with colorblindness. It’s a real shame that the game’s accessibility couldn’t be improved. Perhaps in a later printing? One can only hope.)

Back to the game: there are rules of adjacency for each die, so players can’t just put them wherever they want. Additionally, there are secret goals for each player; for example, mine was the total number of pips on the yellow dice on my window so I was trying to snag those yellow dice every chance I could. There are also public goals that I basically forgot about for the first half of the game. These included pairs of certain dice and same-colored dice diagonally.

Finally, there are special game-breaker community cards that a player can pay for to help them complete their window. After all of the dice are placed, the next round begins. A game consists of 10 rounds and at the end each player counts up their points and subtracts one point for every empty spot.

I really enjoyed this game, in spite of the colorblind issues. I love chucking dice and trying to figure out puzzles, so this was a natural fit. It reminded me of The Cubist, a similar dice-chucking puzzle game, which I liked, but Sagrada felt like it had a bit more meat on its bones.

Every Night Is Game Night: Tuscany Essential Edition

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I’m playing a board game every day this month and blogging about it (I did a similar challenge last year)Feel free to join me during my Every Night Is Game Night: My Daily Play & Blog Challenge. And tweet me with what you’re playing these days!


Thursday I was burned out, so no game or blog about it. Yesterday I got to play Tuscany Essential Edition, the expansion to Viticulture, but was too tired to blog about it last night.

Who said this play a game and blog about it every day for a month would be easy?

Anyways, I played Tuscany with my buddy Daryl and afterwards we agreed that our brains hurt. And we also agreed that that was a good thing.

Earlier this year I was totally hooked by Viticulture: it’s a smooth-playing worker placement game with a fantastic theme. Players try to build their vineyards into wine-making machines. In Tuscany, it’s more of the same thing, but with more options and things to consider, from new structures to an interesting area-control map (although in the two-player game, no victory points are awarded here). I liked the new special workers, which can vary from game to game and offer new abilities.

While I wouldn’t recommend this expansion for new gamers, anyone who liked the original Viticulture or worker placement games in general should enjoy Tuscany. For those new to games or the worker placement genre, I highly recommend Stone Age.

Every Night Is Game Night: Formula D

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I’m playing a board game every day this month and blogging about it (I did a similar challenge last year)Feel free to join me during my Every Night Is Game Night: My Daily Play & Blog Challenge. And tweet me with what you’re playing these days!


Tonight I was part of a six-player game of Formula D, a dice-chucking fest wrapped up in a racing theme. The familiarity of cars racing makes the game’s rules easy to grasp, especially for non-gamers.

Players are trying to race around the track and finish first. Each player gets a car and a board that keeps track of their gear shifting as well as any damage done to their car (the advanced game adds more, from more detailed damage trackers and special abilities), but both times I’ve played Formula D, the basic version was just fine.

One other rules tweak that I prefer: going around the racetrack once. I’ve only played for one lap and it seems like the three-lap rule would definitely feel like Formula D was overstaying its welcome.

Each turn, players roll a die corresponding to their current gear. First gear gets a d4, second gear a d6, etc. The bigger dice allow you to move more spaces, but the challenge is figuring out when to downshift before you hit one of the turns. This is what I like about Formula D: players are required to stop in the turns throughout the board, sometimes more than one time. If you don’t slow down, then your car is taking damage.

My gaming group had a great time playing tonight, thanks to my buddy Oscar, who brought in the game. We each had our lucky and unlucky dice rolls, and there were plenty of groans and shouts of joy. It’s a terrific party game and hopefully one day I’ll try the advanced rules that add layers of strategy.

Every Night Is Game Night: Potion Explosion

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I’m playing a board game every day this month and blogging about it (I did a similar challenge last year)Feel free to join me during my Every Night Is Game Night: My Daily Play & Blog Challenge. And tweet me with what you’re playing these days!


I got an absolute bargain last year when I bought my copy of Potion Explosion. Target was having one of its Buy 2 Get 1 Free board game sales and Potion Explosion was on the list. I quickly text messaged my gaming buddies and the first two to respond were in on the deal. I bought the games online and chatted with a customer representative, who was nice enough to match the current Amazon price. After the discounts, I paid less than the MSRP of one copy for three copies, all shipped for free.

Even at full MSRP, I’ve gotten my money’s worth and then some out of Potion Explosion. I love bringing it to the table: there’s something about all of the colored marbles, the cool-looking dispenser, and the tactile sensation of playing that attracts people to the game. It’s like an analog version of Candy Crush as you try to manipulate the marbles to collide into each other.

Players are apprentices at wizard school trying to learn how to create all of these potions. They begin with two potions on their desk that they must complete by using the ingredients (marbles) from the dispenser. On their turn, a player will pull take one marble and if the marbles that collide are the same color, then they also take those. There can be some fun chain reactions with tons of marbles being pulled out.

Players also have the option of asking for help from the professor. This allows them to select any one marble without causing an explosion and can be used to set up bigger chain reactions on their turn. However, asking for help earns a two-point penalty token.

Once you’ve completed a potion, you’ll have a special one-time use ability that will help you get the marbles you need to complete future potions. After you complete a set of five unique potions (or a set of three similar potions), you get a skill token that’s worth four points at the end of the game. In a two-player game after four skill tokens are collected, the end game is triggered.

Players count up their skill tokens and the points on each of their completed tokens, then subtract any professor penalties. Most points wins.

Potion Explosion was an immediate hit with me and my wife as well as my friends and family. It’s an easy game to learn and it’s an absolute joy to watch those marbles collide in just the right way to help you finish a potion. Even for hardcore gamers, Potion Explosion makes for a fun break between heavier games.

Every Night Is Game Night: Kanagawa

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I’m playing a board game every day this month and blogging about it (I did a similar challenge last year)Feel free to join me during my Every Night Is Game Night: My Daily Play & Blog Challenge. And tweet me with what you’re playing these days!


Busy with work today, then played a few quick games of Red 7 with my gaming buddies. I wrote up a blog post then realized I’d already written about Red 7 earlier this month, so here’s a look at a game I played yesterday.

Kanagawa is a gorgeous little game released last year by Iello. I like a lot of Bruno Cathala’s games (Mission: Red Planet, Abyss, and Five Tribes, to name a few) and this is another one that I quickly grew fond of.

Players are painting landscapes and earn points for collecting sets of different elements. When a player has 11 or more parts to their painting, the game ends and the most points earned via the collected sets wins.

Each round begins with cards being chosen by each player. There’s a neat push-your-luck mechanism here, as a player can take what’s on the board or pass in order to see what comes next. Then, each player “paints” their items. To paint a card, the player must have that color in their studio and they’re allowed one movement per turn (represented by the little paint brush tokens) to land on that color in their studio.

Each card can also be flipped over into a player’s studio to be used as a color or special action so that the player has more options on future turns.

As each card is placed into a player’s painting, bonuses may occur (if you’re familiar with Splendor, then this is analogous to earning the Noble tiles). If a player has a certain amount of icons in their painting, then they can take the first bonus available or wait until they collect more of that icon to earn a bigger bonus. Again, the push-your-luck mechanism is put to good use here.

I’d recommend Kanagawa to anybody, especially those who enjoyed Splendor but wanted a little more meat to that game. It has similar elements, and the worker placement (using your brushes to paint each section) and push-your-luck mechanisms (trying for the bigger bonuses) make this a nice next-step game.

Every Night Is Game Night: La Isla

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I’m playing a board game every day this month and blogging about it (I did a similar challenge last year)Feel free to join me during my Every Night Is Game Night: My Daily Play & Blog Challenge. And tweet me with what you’re playing these days!


I didn’t play a game or blog about it last night. My reason is pictured below:

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My wife and I had a date night in L.A., compliments of Yelp. We’re fortunate to both be Elite users and occasionally attend Yelp Elite Events, which are always filled with food, drink, and good times. Last night’s was no exception, with a small group of us stuffing ourselves silly at the hot new barbecue spot in Chinatown, Belle Belle’s Cue.

After feasting on smoked brisket, pulled pork, turkey, and ribs with all the fixings (mac and cheese, creamed corn, potato salad, beans, coleslaw, pickles, and white bread), we were in a food coma the rest of the night. The games remained on the shelf, but we did watch a few episodes of Master of None before finishing it tonight (my spoiler-free reaction here).

Today we ate our leftovers, then I met up with my friend Daryl for some boba and board games. We played Ethnos, Stone Age, Kanagawa, and La Isla. Although the boba shop’s air conditioning wasn’t performing at its peak, it was still a nice break from the 90-degree heat wave.

Most gamers call La Isla a Stefan-Feld-light game and it’s an appropriate description. It’s a point salad game with interesting card play, set collection, and area control. It seems like every time I get this to the table I need a rules refresher, but that’s okay. Game play always picks up after a few turns and a two-player match is about 30 minutes.

In La Isla, players are explorers trying to capture animals that were thought to be extinct (the dodo, for example). Animal tiles are randomly placed throughout the island and players use cards and resource cubes to bring their explorer tokens onto the board. If a player surrounds an animal tile, then they add the tile to their collection. Points are earned each turn (and the end game scoring) based on the animals you have.

Players take four actions each turn and three of those are based on the cards they play (three are drawn every turn). Each card is broken up into three sections: the top is for the first action, the bottom left is for the second action, and the bottom right is for the third. It’s always interesting to choose which parts of the cards you’ll use for each turn. Quite often, you’re giving something up to gain something else.

The first action is placing a card into the player’s card holder. This gives bonuses on subsequent actions. The second action is collecting a resource. The third action is moving one of your explorers. Finally, the fourth action is moving a scoring tracker up a space. If you have that animal type, then you score points.

There are several other ways to score points throughout the game, primarily through the action cards that you place in your card holder during the first action. What I like about La Isla is that the card holder only holds three cards, so your bonuses are constantly changing. The set collection element comes into play as you gather animal tiles. For each complete set of five, you get 10 points at the end of the game.

I really like La Isla. It’s not the most intuitive game at first, but once you get into it, it’s a simple and quick Feld. Unfortunately, like other Felds, it has cubes and cards and a board whose colors won’t make it easy on colorblind players. Thankfully, I play with some easygoing people who don’t mind helping me out whenever I have color-related questions.

Every Night Is Game Night: Lost Cities

 

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I’m playing a board game every day this month and blogging about it (I did a similar challenge last year)Feel free to join me during my Every Night Is Game Night: My Daily Play & Blog Challenge. And tweet me with what you’re playing these days!


Whenever I play Lost Cities it’s a reminder that I need more Reiner Knizia games in my library. This card game of set collection and hand management plays quickly since each turn consists of two actions: 1. Play a card onto your tableau or the community area, then 2. Take a card from the face-down deck or the community area.

The theme is a nod to going on adventures Indiana-Jones style, but it could’ve been anything. Basically, you’re trying to play cards from five different colors/suits in ascending order, 1-10. There are “deal” cards that you can play first before any of the five suits and these will double the score on that suit.

The game play is smooth and offers tough decisions from the get-go. Players must try to figure out which suits they’re going to play and hope that they have enough of that suit to score points. For each suit you begin, it’s an automatic 20-point deduction. You’ll regain these points as you play those cards from your hand.

Lost Cities is an excellent two-player game that is easy to pick up and play, yet still offers a decent amount of strategy. I’ve been a fan since I first played it and it’ll always have a spot on my shelves.

Every Night Is Game Night: Loony Quest

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I’m playing a board game every day this month and blogging about it (I did a similar challenge last year)Feel free to join me during my Every Night Is Game Night: My Daily Play & Blog Challenge. And tweet me with what you’re playing these days!

I had work to finish tonight, so I just stopped by the Thursday night game group for an hour. I just chatted with my buddy Patrick while watching a game of Glory to Rome when a few of the other regulars showed up.

Since I didn’t have much time, we decided to play Loony Quest. It was the first time for most of us and we all had a blast. Loony Quest is a drawing game, but it’s different than any other drawing game I’ve ever played. Each player receives a transparent sheet and erasable pen. A full-color picture of a “world” is placed in the box (which doubles as a score track) and players must draw on their transparencies to complete quests within a short time limit.

What were we drawing? Simple lines connecting a starting position to an end, while also touching the icons for points and power-ups. It’s easier than it sounds, though, since you’re drawing on the transparency. After the time is up, everybody takes turns putting their transparency on the picture to see how they’ve done.

You lose points if your drawing touches a bomb or other obstacle and you gain points for completing quests on the world (such as circling or touching icons). Power-ups give you tokens with special abilities (such as being immune to one bomb) while penalties will hinder your next turn, like forcing you to draw with your off-hand, close one eye while drawing, etc. At one point I was drawing with multiple penalties on me and it was absolutely hilarious.

Looney Quest was like a cool analog version of a video game and it was an insta-like for me. I can’t wait to add this to my game library and it’ll be perfect for my family game nights.

Every Night Is Game Night: Ethnos

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I’m playing a board game every day this month and blogging about it (I did a similar challenge last year)Feel free to join me during my Every Night Is Game Night: My Daily Play & Blog Challenge. And tweet me with what you’re playing these days!


Happy to report that Ethnos lived up to the hype; thanks to my buddy Daryl our weekly group got to play it tonight. It’s dudes-on-a-map with set collection and area control, neatly wrapped up in a simple turn structure. Think Ticket to Ride meets Blood Rage, as players either take a card from the face-up supply or face-down deck or they play a set of cards that allows them to place one token on the designated area.

The simplicity of each turn is the big draw for this game and there’s a surprising bit of depth as you try to gain control of the different areas. What makes it so interesting is the rule that whenever you lay down a set, you must discard the rest of your cards (there’s a 10-card hand limit). This ensures that nobody hoards cards and plays the big set; you’re constantly on your toes trying to get the cards you need.

I loved the different powers of the bands; in our five-player game we had six types of characters, each with an ability that allowed you to manage your hand (there are 12 total characters, so every game can be different). For example, the wizards allowed you to draw cards immediately after you played them. The elves allowed you to keep a number of cards in your hand after you played them.

And so on. There were bonuses for certain characters and scoring during the game and after each of three ages.

Ethnos is going to be another big hit for Cool Mini Or Not. The only quibbles I have are the size and blandness of the board, along with the tokens/markers; they stack neatly on each other, but given CMON’s popularity with miniatures I’m surprised they didn’t go all out with a big set of figures.

But maybe this is the new CMON: an elegant game that gives up some of the stellar components in exchange for a much more reasonable price point. I’m sold and I’ve added Ethnos to my wish list.