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Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Playing and Loving Fauna

Friedemann Friese's game Fauna is finally out with English units and text on the cards and board so I immediately sought out a copy.  It is surprisingly hard to find at the online retailers but I finally ended up coming by a copy through an amazon.com reseller.  It was full price but I was OK with that.

The game is a bit like Wits and Wagers.  It has a board with a map of the world divided into regions.  At the bottom of the board are several scales showing a broad range of size and weight measurements.  During the game you will use cards which feature an animal.  The card box shows the animal name and in how many areas in the world it can be found.  Then the players use cubes to make their guesses on the board.  You can guess where the animal lives, how much it weighs, how long it is, and how long its tail is.  This is done by placing a cube on the map or on a section of one of the scales.  Only one cube can be in any location or spot on a scale.

Once everyone has placed all their cubes or passed the other half of the card is revealed and compared to people's guesses.  You get points for being in or adjacent to the correct areas and being in or adjacent to the correct spots on the scales.  You lose any cubes that were placed on incorrect guesses but you will always have at least 3 to play with and will gradually gain cubes that you have lost back if you guess correctly.

We've played the game 2 times so far and it has been thoroughly enjoyable.  The kids and adults both love it.  It's not a gamers game but you can play the odds and game it up a bit by watching where people are placing and trying to get points by placing next to them.  You score for each correct area on the map so if you are confident and are not blocked out of areas you can recover alot of points and catch up by piling into the right regions of the board.

In our games we were using only about 6 animal cards to complete the game.  This obviously varies by how well you know the particular animals because the game ends when a certain point total is surpassed.

Given that there are 180 cards and they are double sided (easy side/hard side) I think this game has more than enough plays in it to last a lifetime.  You also learn how surprisingly little you know about the animals.  I couldn't believe how wrong I was about how big some animals are or where they live.

To play this game the players all need at least some knowledge of the world and of how to estimate size and weight.  With my younger son we would ask him to compare to something he knows, like the size of his dad or himself.  "Do you think a giraffe is as tall as 2 Dads or 3?", "Do you think a Turtle weighs more or less than you?", "Does this animal live in the Desert or the Jungle?".  Then we would show him the points on the scales or the board that corresponded roughly to his guesses.  It has worked out well since he won one of the two games ;-)

Non-gaming adults should like this game a lot but I wouldn't play it at a metroburb game night unless everyone requested it for some reason.  For kids the sweet spot is probably 8 or 9 years old.

Highly recommended!

Rating: A

Friday, October 07, 2011

What a Great Hobby!

Board gaming has been making me extremely happy lately.  I know all good hobbies should do that but for a while gaming was feeling a bit flat to me.  Lately though, it has come back strong and I'm really loving every minute of it.

I just want to take a few paragraphs to talk about what I've been playing lately and what I've thought about those games.  I'll work in reverse chronological order for the sake of my memory.

Lego Heroica Castle Fortran (4 player with kids)

My son received this game for his birthday.  The game is exactly what you would expect: a roll and move with a fantasy theme done with legos.  But you know what?  That's A-OK!  There are some character abilities and weapons you can use to upgrade your lego-dude and my kids don't need a bit of help to play the game at the same level as an adult could. In my book that's a win.  There will no doubt be expansions to this showing up under the Christmas tree this year.

rating: B

Call of Chulhu LCG

I am very heavily invested in the A Game of Thrones Living Card Game from Fantasy Flight but I recently bought a starter set of Call of Cthulhu on a lark and managed to get it played a couple of times.  It was good enough during those plays that I picked up an additional core set so I could have more than just unique cards and so I could play single-faction decks (the core set has you playing 2-faction decks where every card is unique).  Since then I have played the game another half dozen times and I really like it.  I think it is very light for a dueling game and the story mechanic really works well to add variety to the game.  As with most CCGs some plays are blow-outs and are over in 10 minutes and others have great back-and-forth action and last half an hour.  The game seems reasonably well balanced in general though because even if you lose two stories early on you will often gain them back and end up fighting it out over the third story.  The art work is killer too.  I'm not a big Mythos fan but this is a nice game.  With 7 factions in the core set I think there is quite a bit of play in it and if you can afford 2 core sets I think there is a nice selection of cards in that package to keep you busy for a good while.

rating: B+

Wasabi (3 players with kids and mother in law, 2 players with kid)

I bought Wasabi second hand and although I love the production I have considered selling it several times.  What keeps me from letting it go is that my older son is in love with it.  I think he's mostly just smitten with the production but that translates into him requesting the game often and into me keeping it in my collection.  I think the game is too chaotic with its full slate of players but with 2 and 3 players it's a really nice game and it has the distinction of being a true gateway game that any non-gamer can understand and enjoy.  I think it is a great representative of this great hobby to new gamers.

rating: B+

Troyes (online 2 player)

I've been playing Troyes on www.boardgamearena.com frequently lately.  I'm sticking to 2 player games with a very patient and non-judgemental friend for now since there are still aspects of the game that I don't quite get.  But I am learning and my score is slowly climbing in the past several games.  The game is good and has a nice nastiness to it that most Euros don't have.  The flip side of that is that the game is pretty non-intuitive so it's hard to explain to people which is why my physical copy has never seen the light of day.  Maybe now that I'm used to it I can attempt to teach it to the group.  We'll see...

rating: A-

Rune Age (solo and 2 player)

I bought this deck-builder from Fantasy Flight the day it was released.  In general I'm glad I did.  The game is quite a chameleon.  This is due to the way it is driven by different event decks with very different objectives where some have you trying to co-operate with the other players and others make it in your interest to fight the other players to give yourself the advantage.

There are different races in the game and each race gives you several piles of cards to buy that only you have access to.  There is also a shared set of cards in the middle of the table including money and neutral units as well as foreign cities you can conquer.  The cities are a very cool aspect of the game.  There are 3 currencies: gold, strength, and influence.  Gold is used to buy your racial cards, influence is used to buy the neutral cards and strength is used to fight other players, and event cards as well as to conquer the afore-mentioned neutral cities.

As I said the result is a good deal of variety in the box including a pretty capable solitaire incarnation.  The downsides are that most of the racial cards have pretty obvious combo machinery and some races seem like they pretty useless with some sets of event cards (I'm looking at you Elves!).  I would love to see FFG do some print-on-demand event deck packs for the game.  In fact I could even imagine LCG-style bi-monthly releases for this game where you spend $10 to get either a new race and a new event deck or some additional cards for the existing races and neutral cards.  I'd buy them for sure.  I think expansions can only make this game better.

rating: A-

Elder Sign (solo)

I played this game two times.  Both plays were solo.  One play with a single investigator and one with two.  I found the game really charming.  I thoroughly enjoyed it and can't wait to try it with more players.  I definitely would keep it at 4 or less though.  I love the production of the game and the only negative I have to talk about was that it was tough to remember to move the clock and flip the mythos cards which I guess is my fault but I think maybe some sort of board would have been a better way to run this part of the game.  Some investigators are useless without other investigators to play with so look through the cards and avoid those if you are playing alone.

rating: A

Israeli Independence (solo and with kids as generals)

This was my first Victory Point Games game.  I bought it after listening to the I've Been Diced! podcast and hearing an interview with the founder.  I remembered Moritz from The Dice Tower complimenting the game and it was cheap so I bought it.  It's boring and the decisions are mostly obvious.  I also bought Levee en Masse so I hope that one is more interesting.  I did appreciate the card text for the first two plays of the game and my kids like to play it.  On the plus side I found the production just fine and that would not stop me from buying Victory Point Games in the future.

rating: C+

Pick Picknic (4 player with wife and kids)

Holy Crap I Love this Game!!  I wish it wasn't out of print because my younger son creased one of the cards while he was wiping the floor with me.  All kidding aside this game is a classic on the same level as For Sale! and Stefan Dorra is a genuis.  It's a ton of fun in a tiny box.

rating: A

Pirates Cove (4 player with kids)

I've been holding on to Pirates Cove for a long time because I knew my kids would like it whether it was a good game or not.  That assessment turned out pretty correct.  The kids loved it and I'll be keeping it in my collection.  The production is fantastic and it's an easy game to play but the fighting can be brutal and I had to adjust it so my younger son could handle the game.  It's fun to build your ship and win the treasure and cards though.

rating: B
Battlestar Galactica (4 players and 5 players)

Two games of BSG in two weeks.  One I was a human and the humans lost badly.  The other I was a human for the first half of the game and then got both cylon cards (I was Boomer) at the mid-game.  I screwed up the rules and when I revealed myself I revealed that I had both cylon cards so no-one had any reason to suspect the remaining humans.  It didn't matter though because the jump cards were all high numbers and the humans won with no problem at all.  I'm realizing that this is a mediocre co-op game that is saved only by the traitor element and that enjoyment of the game is based largely on how much the players act up their roles.  That type of game generally isn't for my group.  I have also realized that I don't want to up the complexity of the game at all so I should not have bought the expansions.

rating: B+

Defenders of the Realm (4 players with kids, 4 players with game group)

I've played 3 games of Defenders of the Realm now and despite having lost them all they have cemented the game's position in my collection and my heart.  This game, despite being a pandemic ripoff at heart feels totally different.  In fact it feels like a Talisman that does not drag on forever and suck the life out of you.  I have bought all the character expansions and I cannot wait to get this to the table again and hopefully score my first win.  I think as my kids age I will get quite a bit of play out of this game.

rating: A

Duck Duck Bruce (2+ players with kids)

A push your luck game that I've been playing with my youngest almost since he could talk.  It's great and I would play it any time.  In fact I think it's a great game for non-gaming or classic-card-game-playing adults as well.  Great fast fun.

rating: B+

Dweebies (2+ players with kids)

A nice tactical card game for kids with great art work.  Also plays very fast and doesn't wear out its welcome.  I'd love to see more games like this from Gamewright.

rating: B

So there you have it.  That's most of what I've been playing.  I'd love to hear comments on what you guys are playing and what you've thought of them!

Keep gaming!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

More Throwaway Boxes and Inserts Please!

Dear Game Companies,

I have far too many of your wonderful products.  I realize that you need to have a compelling package to display on store shelves but I am obsessive and cannot throw away the beautiful boxes to your games.

So I need your help...

Fantasy Flight Games has finally solved this problem and I need you all to follow their lead.  The specific Fantasy Flight Games products I am talking about are the expansions for the Battles of Westeros game.

These are fairly large expansions that contain usually a sheet of terrain and/or counters, several minis and their bases, cards, and a rule book.  This all comes in a box that is about the footprint of a standard big box 12 inch square, but with a depth of only about 2 inches.

Most importantly, the box is flimsy cardboard like a card tuck box and extra support is added by a cheap corrugated cardboard insert.

When I buy these expansions I take the contents from the box and put it in the main Battles of Westeros Box (sans insert) and throw the box away.

AND I DON'T FEEL BAD ABOUT IT!

If I wanted to, I could even keep the box because they collapse flat if you throw out the corrugated insert.

Congratulations Fantasy Flight Games!   This is how ALMOST ALL EXPANSIONS SHOULD BE PACKAGED!

I now have an entire stack of Dominion boxes that are all nice Board Game Box quality and a similar slew of Thunderstone and Carcassonne expansion boxes that I feel that I can't part with.  There is no reason most of these expansions could not be packaged in this FFG packaging and added to the original game box.

Another terrible offender in the expansion box packaging realm is Defenders of the Realm.  Not only are the prices for these games borderline atrocious but the boxes are ridiculous.  You could drive a truck over them.  That's fantastic for the base set but all of the expansion collateral so far still fits in that giant initial game box.  The Dragons expansion and each Heros expansion is in a super sturdy box of its own and the Dragon Expansion box could fit the better part of the original game into it.

On the subject of inserts I used to be aggravated at FFG for making useless inserts until I realized that they are essentially intended to be discarded.  So that is now what I do whenever needed.  Mayfair, one of my least favorite publishers uses mostly plain white inserts.  Gone!  No regrets!  Way to go Mayfair!

I also need to applaud a select few other expansions for how they are packaged.

Here is a short list:

1) Power Grid board expansions - Shrink wrapped board and rules.  No box at all.  Plus you can buy a nice PG box to store them all... Fantastic!
2) Age of Industry expansion - Ditto except without the extra storage box.
3) Steam expansion - Board, counters, and rules.  No box.
4) Hansa Tutonica expansion - Board and cards.  No box.
5) Bang expansion - Throw away card tuck box a-la Magic the Gathering starter decks.
6) Mansions of Madness print on demand expansions - Plastic clamshell - easily recycled.

Maybe eventually I'll just bite the bullet and throw away all my Dominion and Thunderstone boxes... but I really don't want to have to make that choice when there are better options that most likely would decrease the cost of the expansion to boot.

Please, game publishers - make the move to FFG BoW-style boxes wherever possible.

And while I'm on the subject, FFG - could you please use this format for your large LCG expansions and your small board game expansions as well please?  That would be fantastic.

Cheers!