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

 

Day 262: Clearance Sale

Munchkin Zombies Deluxe

Munchkin Zombies Deluxe

I occasionally stop by Barnes & Noble to see what they have in their clearance section and today I dug through a pile of Game of Thrones action figures, Ravensburger jigsaw puzzles, and assorted bookstore knickknacks before I found something to my liking: Munchkin Zombies Deluxe. It’s a zombie-themed version of the popular Munchkin game by Steve Jackson that retails for $29.99. The clearance price was 50-percent off and I had a 15-percent-off coupon, so after tax I ended up paying just under $14. Score!

There’s a terrific thread on boardgamegeek.com with information about the B&N clearance sale. I never knew there was a method to the clearance-sale madness and it was nice to learn about it so I could plan my next day of bargains.

Day 229: 7 Wonders

7 Wonders

7 Wonders

After a few rounds of solo play to get acquainted with the rules, I played 7 Wonders with my niece and nephew. We’d played plenty of rounds of  Sushi Go!, which turned out to be the perfect segue to 7 Wonders since both share a similar card-drafting mechanic (play one card from your hand, then pass the hand to your opponent).

7 Wonders is currently my favorite game. I love the civilization-building theme. Players build their cities and score victory points based on their city’s structures, treasury, military, science and technology, commerce, guilds, and their wonders (for example, Giza’s wonder is the pyramids). The cards represent the structures and players accumulate points based on the cards and other factors.

A player’s city is built up during three ages and each age consists of six turns. With how simple the game is and how quickly it can be played (30-45 minutes), there’s a surprising amount of depth here. Different strategies yield different results; for example, you can focus on strengthening your military or trying to improve your science and technology. Sometimes during an age, you can try to build your wonder while others build their civilian structures.

So far this year, my top three games are Pandemic, 7 Wonders, and Ticket to Ride. Each one takes less than an hour to play and are terrific for players of all levels. For newbies, I’d recommend Ticket to Ride first. But no collection would be complete without Pandemic or 7 Wonders.

Day 222: Card Games

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Our latest game night was with the youngest members of the family. They liked these three card games the best: Sushi Go!, Pit, and Milles Borne. The most popular was Sushi Go! and we played it numerous times. It was the perfect combination of easy-to-learn rules, fast play, and fun player interaction.

I’ve had the Milles Bornes game sitting in storage for years, so it was nice finally playing it. We did one run-through to figure out the basic game play. We’ll figure out scoring and strategy the next time it makes it to the table.

Pit is always a popular choice with any crowd I play it with and especially with the kids since it gives them an excuse to yell while playing.

I’m pretty sure it’s the same reason why adults like it, too.

Day 221: Games Library

Games library growing

Games library growing

The games library in my home is growing slowly but surely. In addition to my latest games-buying binge, I found Carcassonne in storage. It’s a game that I bought years ago during a time when Game Night was called Poker Night and the only game that made it to the table was played with 52 cards, stacks of poker chips, and didn’t stop until long after midnight.

There still aren’t any heavy or hardcore games in my collection. I doubt I’ll ever get back into Dungeons & Dragons (my junior high self can’t believe this), since I prefer the light strategy games that don’t take up hours upon hours to complete.

I also prefer the games that are easy for non-gamers to play. Nowadays, it’s more satisfying for me to introduce people to the wonderful world of board games.

Day 212: GenCant

GenCant 2015 badge

GenCant 2015 badge

I stumbled on #GenCant earlier today — what a cool idea! This virtual get-together that runs during the same time as Gen Con, the tabletop gaming industry’s biggest convention, is for all us who Can’t make it to Gen Con.

What makes this online “convention” so fun is that there are actual prizes given away and you can even print your own badge (I’m using the one above). I can’t tell you how happy my inner geek is, especially since I’m doing game night tomorrow. Perfect timing for GenCant!

Here’s the history of GenCant from the official site:

“#GenCant started in 2014 on Twitter as Jason Paterson (@nakedmeeple,) Suzanne Sheldon (@425suzanne) and others were chatting enviously about all the Gen Con news in the social media sphere. One fateful Twitter exchange created the hashtag – and GenCant was born. Twitter gamers jumped in head first with enthusiasm by participating in the conversation, tweeting #GenCantContest photos, and donating prizes of all sorts. Soon the event had enough buzz that publishers and designers were asking how to get involved too.

  • GenCant is a community created and fueled event.
  • Call it an UnConvention, a Virtual Con, or Digital Gathering – just call it fun!
  • GenCant is intended to be something a bit fun for everyone who can’t attend the world’s biggest board gaming event, Gen Con.
  • GenCant is not intended as criticism or insult to Gen Con.”

I wonder if there’s a San Diego UnComic Con out there?

Day 95: Game Night Continued

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Pandemic and Ticket to Ride

I’m considering changing my 2015 Goals list to include “Play 10 New Games.” I’ve bought and played four new games in two months, so I’m nearly halfway there and I have more than enough on my Amazon Wish List to make this a reality. While my stepdaughter was back for spring break, she really got into Pandemic, which happens to be my favorite game of the new bunch. My wife is slowly getting into it as well and we managed to win on Heroic Level this morning.

Running a close second is Ticket to Ride, which is my favorite for a family experience. Everybody has a great time playing this and, as I’ve read in several articles, it is a great “gateway” game to bring in new players to the hobby. I love that my niece and nephew enjoyed it so much that they immediately wanted to play after their first game.

The other two games I bought were fun as well: Tsuro and Castle Panic. Tsuro is quick and light; easy to learn and a perfect “warm-up” game. It was fun with my youngest niece, who learned quickly and nearly won in her one attempt. As for Castle Panic, I believe my nephew and I were the only ones who took to this one. When we played with his sister he was our designated sound-effects guy, eagerly providing the soundtrack for each goblin, orc, and troll that we slayed.

I’ve loved every second of our game nights. It’s much more satisfying bonding over board games than video games or television shows. Even the good-humored trash talk has been great; I’ve learned that my wife is quite skilled at the art, as she regularly reminds me who owns the longest win streak (7 straight) in our Ticket to Ride matches. Hint: it’s not me.

Day 93: 5 Inexpensive Ways to Rock Date Night

Game Haus Cafe in Glendale

Game Haus Cafe in Glendale

Although my wife and I aren’t jet-setting billionaires, we still have a lot of fun on our date nights. Living in Southern California gives us plenty of options and many of them require little or no cash to enjoy. Don’t let the lack of a Learjet, personal assistant, or a bank vault full of cash stop you and that special someone from having a blast together.

Here are five inexpensive ways to rock date night in Southern California. Obviously, your mileage may vary, but for what it’s worth, my wife approved of all of these dates: enough so that she actually ended up marrying me.

1. Trip Down Nostalgia Lane

Brady Bunch House

Brady Bunch House

As proud Generation X-ers, we were thrilled to find the actual house used for the exterior shots of the Brady Bunch. It’s located in a residential neighborhood in North Hollywood, so respect the owners’ and their neighbors’ privacy and property. We took a few quick snapshots and left. Feel free to sing the show’s theme song before, during, and after your pilgrimage. Everyone else does (okay, maybe not, but we sure did).

Carney's

Carney’s

Continue your Trip Down Nostalgia Lane date with a stop at the nearby Carney’s. What better way to feel like a kid than to chow down on a coupla hot dogs inside a train converted into a diner? This Carney’s is just as good as the original restaurant on Sunset: get in line, order your food, then munch away while sitting at a window seat, pretending you’re on a trip somewhere. Get a dog with sauerkraut, one with chili and mustard, and a soda; it’s the perfect meal while you look at your photos of the Brady Bunch house.

More info: Brady Bunch House, Carney’s

2. Historic Downtown

Las Morelianas, aka Carnitas Heaven

Las Morelianas, aka Carnitas Heaven

This date is awesome because it’s easily accessible by public transportation and you can walk off all of the food you chow down at Grand Central Market. The scene at the market has always been vibrant and energetic. The food choices change over the years, but it’s always delicious. Trendy eateries come and go, but several have been here for many years. Our current favorite: Las Morelianas, which serves some of the best carnitas this side of the border. An employee is usually out front handing out a small sample of the meat in a fresh tortilla. One bite was all it took for us to order a few tacos. Be sure to ask for “mixta,” which is a combination of everything good on the pig that is, the pig snout, liver, and heart — trust me, it’s muy delicioso.

Angels Flight Railway

Angels Flight Railway

Two attractions at opposite ends of the market offer L.A. history. On the east side of the market across the street is the Bradbury Building. The moment you walk inside, you’ll feel like you’ve been transported back to the early 20th century. You can access the first floor only, but it’s worth a visit (especially if you’re a Blade Runner and/or 500 Days of Summer fan). I wish they’d allow guests to use the elevators, but looking up at them and the skylight is still quite a treat.

At the west side of the market across the street is the quirky and cool Angels Flight Railway, which is the “world’s shortest railway.” It’s basically a ride up the hill connecting two streets. This is a must-do for tourists and locals alike; however, it’s currently closed (as of July … 2014) due to some red tape. Check their website to see if they’re open again during your trip there.

More info: Grand Central MarketLas MorelianasThe Bradbury BuildingAngels Flight Railway

3. Park, Ride, Eat

Our bikes parked in L.A.

Our bikes parked in L.A.

While dinner and movie is always a good, if predictable, date, combining some kind of physical activity is even better, since you won’t feel as guilty about wolfing down on all of those calories. While I enjoy walking and running, there’s something about riding a bicycle that is perfect for a date. Maybe it’s the childhood memories that sprout up from a good bike ride or the feeling of movement that’s unique to powering those pedals. Whatever the reason, when my wife and I hop on our beach cruisers, it’s hard for us not to have fun.

We’re fans of the Pacific Electric Inland Empire Trail, which is open to walkers, runners, and bicyclists all year round. The trail runs from Claremont to Rialto, a distance of 27 miles, and is dog-friendly. This date will require you and your significant other to stretch those legs on the pedals, but the best part about is that you can vary it according to your fitness level, with several starting points throughout the trail. Ride for a few minutes or over an hour, depending on where you start.

Faux carnitas bowl

Faux carnitas bowl

For our date, we started at Central Park in Rancho Cucamonga, then rode our bikes a few miles to Viva La Vegan, an awesome all-vegan market and eatery. The food was surprisingly good. As much as I love carnitas (see Las Morelianas above), I know it’s not the healthiest food in the world. Thankfully, Viva La Vegan offers a “fauxnitas” made entirely of jackfruit (!) and is an excellent alternative to the piggy goodness. The cafe sits in the larger Viva La Vegan space and it’s a terrific place to relax before jumping back on your bikes.

More info: Pacific Electric Inland Empire TrailViva La Vegan

4. Shakespeare in the Park

Macbeth in the Park.

Macbeth in the Park.

Free arts and culture is always a good thing, especially with the top-notch Independent Shakespeare Company that puts on free Shakespeare at Griffith Park during the summer months. Pack a picnic basket with food and drink, a blanket or low-back chairs, and some type of insect repellent. The location near the Old Zoo at the park is awesome; you’ll feel like you’re in another world as you get wrapped up in one of Shakespeare’s plays.

Roma sandwich. Simple and perfect.

Roma sandwich. Simple and perfect.

For the perfect (and easy to transport) dinner at the park, my wife and I love the sandwiches at Roma Market in Pasadena. Mr. Mazzeo is the store’s longtime owner and resident sandwich maker; just ask him for a sandwich and watch him as he slices the imported meats and cheese by hand before drizzling imported olive oil on a freshly baked Italian roll. It’s minimalist deliciousness at its best and you’ll definitely have the best sandwich amongst your fellow Shakespeare fans.

More info: Independent Shakespeare Co., Roma Market

5. Games and Grub

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Nearly 1,000 games at Game Haus Cafe

Find out if your date has a geeky side to him/her by hanging out at the amazing Game Haus Cafe in Glendale. Kickstarted two years ago, the cafe is home to nearly 1,000 board games that you and your date can play all night for only a $5 cover charge.

Don’t waste your time playing the stale old Monopoly, though. We’re living in a Golden Age of Gaming, so take a chance with something you’ve never played before. I can think of no better introductory game than Ticket to Ride. It’s often noted for its elegant gameplay: it’s the perfect game for new players and seasoned gamers love it as well. It only takes a few minutes to learn, but offers a lot of replayability. The staff at the cafe is terrific. Feel free to ask questions or for game recommendations.

Food and drink are good at Game Haus and you’ll need sustenance for all of that gaming, but for better and cheaper eats, go down the road to El Sauz Tacos for great carne asada tacos and other hole-in-the-wall goodness.

More info: Game Haus Cafe, El Sauz Tacos

Bonus Date!

6. In the Air Tonight

Various dishes at Salo-Salo.

Various dishes at Salo-Salo.

Here’s one more pack-a-picnic-and-go-the-park event that we love attending: free music at the park. Most cities offer a concert in the park series during the summer and we’ve enjoyed many of them. I especially like the event at Creekside Park in Walnut. Parking can be a pain (which is true for most of these events), but the park itself is roomy and comfortable, with a good sound system, and a few food trucks and local groups worth supporting. The crowds at these events tend to be families, so the vibe is always mellow and relaxing.

The music varies, though, as does the quality of each act. If possible, check the city and the band’s websites for samples of the music being played. Most are cover bands, so you’ll recognize the music, but the bands aren’t always top-notch. We saw a Beatles cover band a few years ago and they were one of the weaker ones, which was a disappointment. Still, free music at the park is a typically good evening out.

As for food, you can never go wrong with the Filipino dishes at Salo-Salo Grill a few miles away in West Covina. I prefer the family style meals at the restaurant, but you can get any of their affordable dishes to go. Definitely get the garlic fried rice; pair it with one of the entrees like beef tapa or lechon (pork) ribs. Whether you decide to bring it to the park or eat beforehand, either way you’ll be stuffed and ready to enjoy some free music. Don’t forget to bring a blanket or comfortable chair.

More info: Creekside Park Summer Concerts, Salo-Salo Grill

Day 87: Castle Panic

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Yesterday I talked about Tsuro, one of two board games that I bought recently. The other was Castle Panic, a cooperative game that’s on the easy side of the learning scale, with a fun theme; I mean, who doesn’t like to slay trolls, goblins, and orcs? You and your partners are defending the castle against wave after wave of monsters. Each monster has 1-3 hit points and you use the cards to take away those points. Other challenges face you, including a Raiders-of-the-Lost-Ark rolling boulder that crushes everything in its path, plagues that thin out your ranks, Orc Lords leading the charge on the castle, and many more.

Over the past few nights, I’ve managed to go 3-1 in solo play. It’s definitely on the easier side of the difficulty scale, which is exactly what I wanted as I was stocking up on games for my niece and nephew’s visit. I hope they enjoy it as much as I do. I’ve already added the Wizard’s Tower expansion to my Amazon wish list.

Here’s the always entertaining Wil Wheaton and his Tabletop episode on Castle Panic:

 

Day 86: Tsuro

Tsuro

My wife’s a natural at Tsuro.

In anticipation of a visit from my niece and nephew, I bought two new games, one of them being the light and easy Tsuro. My family and I had fun breaking in the game the other night. It’s easy to learn and my wife’s a natural, winning the majority of games during our brief session.

Each player receives three tiles and is required to play one. Their dragon token is then moved along one of the paths on the tile. As each tile is played, paths are joined and the token can be taken on long or short journeys around the board. Fly off the board, however, and you’re out. Last dragon on the board is the winner.

Tsuro only takes about 15-20 minutes play, so it’s perfect for non-gamers and newbies or a nice filler between longer-running games. Along with Ticket to Ride, Zombie Dice, and Pandemic, I’m adding Tsuro to my rotation for International Tabletop Day on April 11th.