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.

My Growing Library

Games I Bought This Weekend

Games I Bought This Weekend

On the way to my fantasy football draft I picked up two used board games I won on a recent boardgamegeek.com auction: Takenoko and Imperial Settlers. I was pleasantly surprised when I opened Takenoko: although it was no longer in its shrink wrap, the cards were still in shrink wrap and the tiles were still unpunched. It was a great deal, paying less than half the MSRP ($50) for a brand new game. Imperial Settlers had a slight ding on its corner and two of the meeples were broken, but the meeples were the extras and I’m not worried about the box. Again, I paid less than half the MSRP ($50).

Yesterday I was in Orange County, which was excellent timing since I could pick up two games that I’ve been dying to get into my games library: Roll for the Galaxy and Star Trek Catan.

Roll for the Galaxy is awesome and it was the iSlaytheDragon.com Game of the Year for 2015, but I’m not very good at it. I always seem to be a step behind my opponents and haven’t gotten better than second place. Hence, my desire to own a copy: I need to learn the ins and outs of the game, the dice, the tiles, everything. I was close to pulling the trigger a few times on amazon.com whenever it dipped to $40, but I’m glad I waited. I managed to pay less than half the MSRP ($60) and I can’t wait to start rolling all of those dice.

Finally, Star Trek Catan was one of those on my Must Buy List, but it was never a priority until I found it for exactly half off MSRP ($50) in a boardgamegeek.com virtual flea market. I love the original series characters and their special powers in this version of Catan, which is definitely my favorite.

So for about the price of one brand new copy of Scythe, I was able to add four outstanding games to my growing library. I hope to add Scythe one day, but I’ll wait until someone’s tired of playing their copy so I can land another great deal. My bank account is thankful that I don’t follow the Cult of the New.

Istanbul

Istanbul

Istanbul

I missed my weekly gaming group last night, but thankfully my wife made sure I got my board gaming fix. We played our first game of Istanbul together and she enjoyed it.

Istanbul was the Kennerspiel 2014 winner, an award given to more “gamier” games. It’s easy to see why it won: turns are simple and elegant, with interesting decisions as the game progresses. The components are all top-notch and the rulebook is clearly written.

Players are in the busy bazaar district of Istanbul and are trying to accumulate 5 rubies (6 for two players) to win the game. Of course, these gems are scarce, so players must gather, sell, and trade resources to score one of the precious rubies.

Each turn players will do one thing: move. It’s that simple; you move horizontally or vertically one or two spaces.

Of course, that wouldn’t be much of a game, so players also have the option of performing the action depicted on their space: filling up their wheelbarrow with a particular resource, upgrading their wheelbarrow to carry more resources, selling goods from their wheelbarrow, gaining action cards, gambling for more money (lire), and more.

There’s one requirement, though, for performing the action: you must have an assistant with you. Either you use of the assistants you brought with you on your move or you use an assistant you previously left on the space. Players can find efficient paths on the game board (a 4×4 grid of separate tiles; these can be changed from game to game) and there can be several paths to victory.

I love Istanbul and I’m glad my wife liked it, too. We’ll be adding it to our growing rotation of game night titles.

By the way, it’s National Dog Day! Here’s our buddy Bruno wondering why I’m sticking my phone in his face.

Bruno is not amused.

Bruno is not amused.

Timeline

Timeline: Diversity

Timeline: Diversity

Timeline is a favorite among my gamer and non-gamer friends. It’s a light trivia game that can be played as a filler or as an introduction to the wonderful world of gaming.

The object of Timeline is to be the player with no cards remaining in front of you. Each player will receive four cards and all players must keep their cards in front of them with the date side down.

Each two-sided card contains one event; for example, one side might be “The Discovery of Machu Pichu” and the other side will again be “The Discovery of Machu Pichu” but will contain the year of the event. Before play begins it’s important to make sure all of the cards do not show the date.

The first card from the deck is flipped over so that its date side is shown. This is the beginning of the Timeline. The starting player will choose one of their cards and place it to the left or right of the Timeline card, signifying whether they believe their card occurred before or after the event. They will then flip over their card. If the year on their card has been correctly placed on the Timeline, then the player’s turn is over. However, if they are wrong, then the card is returned to the box and the player draws another card. Now, it’s the next player’s turn.

The Timeline will expand as correct answers are played and this is where things get interesting. It’s easier to place an event before or after one other event, but when there are several cards in the Timeline it can be tough to pinpoint exactly when an event happened.  What year was the toaster invented? Was that before or after the invention of the camera? And did it happen before or after Cinderella was written?

While I’ve never been good at memorizing dates, Timeline allows you to guesstimate when things happen. You can generally figure things out based on historical context, but when you’re off it can be hilarious. Almost every game I’ve played has resulted in at least one “Wow, I had no idea that happened then!” comment.

Obviously, like other trivia games, there can be limited replayability if you play enough and begin memorizing dates. Thankfully, there are several expansions and they’re all reasonably priced (MSRP $14.99; I’ve picked up copies on Amazon for as low as $8). It’s a much more fun and rewarding experience than Trivial Pursuit and other trivia games.

 

 

Wheeling and Dealing

Used Board Games

Used Board Games

One point I forgot to mention in yesterday’s blog about the Cult of the New: buying board games after they are no longer “hot” can save you money. They’ll usually be discounted if you wait a while (of course, you risk the price going even higher thanks to good ol’ supply and demand). Better still, wait long enough and you’ll be able to find them on the secondary market.

I love buying used games. My bank account certainly does and it’s always a treat getting last year’s hot title at this year’s bargain price. Games like the ones pictured above: the total retail price is several hundred dollars (the copy of Escape has five expansions inside of it) and I managed to score all six for $70. I still haven’t gotten Nexus Ops, Steampunk Rally, and Pingo Pingo to the table yet, but I’ve gotten my money’s worth from the others.

The Strategicon conventions in Los Angeles are excellent places for finding deals. Like other gaming conventions, each event has a flea market (and math trade) where gamers can unload wanted stock and buy or trade for new games. I’ve been able to build my collection at a fraction of what I’d pay in brick-and-mortar or online stores. I might not have the latest and greatest on the tabletop, but my collection gets a ton of bang for the bucks I’ve paid.

 

Microbadge 2016 and the Cult of the New

10x10 Challenge 2016 completed!

10×10 Challenge completed!

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

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

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

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

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

 

Scythe

Scythe

Scythe

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

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

And I couldn’t wait to play again.

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

Scythe Player Board

Scythe Player Board

Deception: Murder in Hong Kong

Deception: Murder in Hong Kong

Deception: Murder in Hong Kong

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saint Malo

Saint Malo

Saint Malo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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