Monday, June 27, 2011

The loot...

So a day in Columbus, Ohio, at the Origins Game Fair and I only returned with 4 new games, all falling under the category of filler (and one of which my artistic partner bought for the creepy artwork).  Why you ask?  Well, because games are DAMN EXPENSIVE at the trade show!  So I spent some money on items that I wouldn't be able to find anywhere else and I saved my money as the rest would be in stores in a month.  And it was really hard passing up Rails of New England.  :S

Reprint of Slapshot, Skulls & Roses, the challenging Climb!, and the delightful Water Lily
Not to say the trip wasn't totally worth it.  It was.  The convention was quite cool and I will definitely attend again when I have a bit more time.  It just wasn't quite the shopping trip I expected.....

I'll mention more and have some pics later this week.

Spiel des Jahres winners 2011!

Looks like I was right on with my guesses on SdJ this year.  Qwirkle took the win with 7 Wonders garnering the "gamer's" award.  Nice.

Thursday, June 23, 2011


(Via Laptop....)  The tabletop version of Angry Birds appeared at the New York Toy Fair this year.  Angry Birds, if you've been completely under a rock this past year, is quite the addictive little puzzler for Iphones about throwing angry birds at sneering pigs (seriously).  It's a lot of fun and it managed to single-handedly keep me calm and somewhat distracted for my flight home from Cuba this past February. 

With all the board games becoming computer and phone games, it's kinda nice to see the reverse happening.  I'll have to add this to the Plants Vs. Zombies board game which is already on my wishlist....

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Off to Origins!

This Friday the wonderfully agreeable partner and I head to Columbus for the Origins 2011 games convention.  I'll only be there for the day but I'm looking forward to checking out all the games and some of the different events (the giant game of Atlantis sounds particularly interesting...)  I tend not to make the most of my time at events like these, wandering around and maybe shopping a bit, but never really stopping for a real game.  I'm gonna force myself to try and get in at least a couple new games this weekend, including hopefully Rails of New England if I get the chance (RofNE, by the way, is looking to be quite an interesting train game due its action and event cards and should be very different than the ones that have come before.)

Expect some pics next week and probably a LONG list of all the games I couldn't resist buying....  

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

You tell me: Best (so far) of 2011....

We're almost halfway through the year and I sure haven't played that many of the 2011 releases (So far this year I seem to be buying older games that came out before 2010.)  But of the few I own or have played, here are my favourites:


Alien Frontiers - Okay, so this has been out for over a year.  But for awhile it was impossible to grab a copy of this tremendously fun dice-fest.  It can be a little long with beginners, but games are always close and there is always room for clever and nasty manouevres.  And it's got the nicest production values I've seen of any game in the last 5 years!

Airlines Europe - I've mentioned this game many times but the Alan Moon re-do of Union Pacific/Airlines is tighter on turns, simpler to understand, and the shortest in the series by far.  It's subtle and challenging and just fantastic.

My favourite so far:

Mord Im Arosa - This rather silly game of dropping cubes in the top of a tower and listening to where they fall is one of the cleverest, most orginal games to come out in years.  There's tons of interaction and a real risk and reward balance to the game.  But who cares about any of that...  It's just the most fun I've had all year.  A game for anyone and everyone.

What have been your favourite new ones this year?

Monday, June 20, 2011

A review of Bargain Hunter...

Lots of different card games come out every year, many of them rehashes of previous and often better ideas. The classic trick-taking game, for example, sees at least one new remix published every season. Which is great if you like trick-taking games - which I really do - but there are really only so many one should own (although they don't tend to take up much space). Wizard is a hit with every group of people I've introduced it to, as is the much trickier Bottle Imp. And, of course, Tichu, a remake of the classic Big Two/Asshole line of card games, has been a monster hit for us and I might even argue the best modern card game ever invented.

But however much I love my card games, trick-taking or otherwise, the one thing that is almost always missing in a game of multiple hands is a strategic arc. In most card games, including the aforementioned titles, players just play either an agreed upon number of hands or play hands until someone reaches a certain score with each round not really having any bearing on the strategy for the next. One might argue that players play differently depending on the score - take the gambling aspect in a 1000-point game of Tichu as an example - but each hand is still fairly independent from the last.

This is one of the main reasons I became interested in Valley Games' reprint of Uwe Rosenberg's Bargain Hunter (originally Schnappchen Jagd). Bargain Hunter is a trick-taking game in which the players play a fixed number of hands but the decisions they make during each hand have a direct effect on how they play the following hands and on the way that they score at the end. That interested me as well as the fact that Uwe Rosenberg has created many great games including Agricola, Le Havre, and Bohnanza (although I still think Bohnanza is WAY too long for what it is).

The basic idea of Bargain Hunter is pretty standard trick-taking fare with a couple of unusual tweaks.  The deck contains 6 suits, valued 1 through 9, with two copies of each card plus two additional "Irresistible Offer" cards which win the trick every time (exactly like a Wizard card).  Basic trick-taking rules apply:  one person leads to the trick and everyone must follow suit if possible.  However, if you play a card of another suit, you can declare that suit trump or not, thereby possibly winning the trick with the high trump card.  Two of the exact same cards played?  The second player to play the card calls whether it's higher or lower than the first.  Winner takes the trick, gathers up the cards, and leads to the next. 

Okay.  Sounds pretty boring/unoriginal, doesn't it?  Where the game gets interesting is what you do with the cards that you win each trick.  At the beginning of the game, every player picks one card from their hand to call as their "bargain" and places it face up to start their bargain pile.  From then on during that hand, each card of the same value that a player takes by winning a trick goes face up on their bargain pile.  Any other values go face down in a player's junk pile only to be looked at at the end of the hand.  Once a short hand of usually 8 tricks is done, spring cleaning occurs and players can sift through their junk pile and remove all of one value of card from their junk.  Two of these are discarded and the rest (if any) are placed on top of a player's bargain pile, giving them a new bargain to hunt for in the following hand.  After 4 or 6 hands, depending on the number of players, two final rounds of spring cleaning occur and then players add up the number of bargain cards and subtract the number of junk cards they have left.  High score wins.

Now, if my description made any sense, you can start to see the subtlety appearing.  Players want to start accumulating large sets of just a few values of cards in their junk pile so they can turn them in to points at the end of each round.  In fact, it's entirely possible to hold out on ditching a set of the same value until you've acquired a massive amount at the end of the game.  In addition, one is only allowed to look at one's junk pile between rounds so there is a bit of a memory component as you play your cards and win your tricks.  All this leads to a meta-game over the series of hands and some long-term strategy is required.  Do you aim to grab low cards as they are fairly easy to capture by playing high cards or trumps?  Or do you play for high cards as you know they are more likely to win the tricks?

Considering how easy it is to trump due the extra suits and the player's choice and how short the rounds are (8 or less tricks), the play of the hand almost feels secondary to the ongoing gathering of cards.  And maybe that's what makes Bargain Hunter so interesting - that the good old-fashioned trick-taking game becomes just a mechanic in the bigger set-collection meta-game.  Not to say that Bargain Hunter make for very complex strategies - the control over your card play is definitely not optimal and the two Irresistible Offer cards, which are dealt out entirely randomly, seem like kind of a useless afterthought. But what it does do, that most other traditional card games don't, is provide an ongoing story arc over the rounds of the game which causes players to not only plan ahead on what cards to try and take but also to adjust their strategy accordingly throughout in order to deal with the cards they actually end up taking.  And it even manages to do it all in a 20-30 minute play time which is quite the plus.

Will it change cards games forever?  No.  Is it intensely strategic?  Not really, but it can be surprisingly thoughtful.  Is it Tichu?  Well, no, definitely not.  But what it is is an thoroughly enjoyable little filler for people like me who love trick-taking games and want to try something a little different.  We've played it a lot in the last while and it's so short that everyone's usually willing to give it another go.  If you grew up playing Bridge like me or Wizard or Whist, you should consider grabbing this one.  But you might just wanna think about ditching those special cards as they're kinda pointless and more than a little unbalanced.

To trump or not to trump.....   Hmmmmm.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Rediscovering the Incas....

Yesterday, the stars were aligned, I think, and I had a group of 4 people, myself included, who were in the mood to learn and play a heavier, meatier strategy game.  I giddily grabbed an old favourite, Tigris and Euphrates, and then from the corner of my eye I saw my lonesome copy of Alan Ernstein's Inca Empire.  And I remembered really enjoying my first and only game of it last year.  Alright, I said, let's try it again....

Boy, was that the right decision.  I forgot how great, seriously great, this game is.  It is has player interaction by the truckload, route-building, and some brilliantly nasty balancing mechanisms which kept us all within 3 points of each other until the final round.  I have no idea why this was only my second game since last year (maybe because last night's game clocked in at 3+ hours...)   If you haven't played Inca Empire, I encourage you to go out and find a copy.  This Z-Man Games reprint of Tuhuantinsuyu was easily one of the best games released last year and I've spent all morning thinking about how I could play it better and when I can get to play it again.

Click on the pic to see the beautiful board and pieces larger

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Today in pure awesome....

Remember Mousetrap?  Course you do.  I remember being enthralled as the Rube Goldberg-esque machine got built up over the game and then proceeded to run its course, devastating the lives of my poor plastic mice (I also remember never, ever playing a version of the game where all the pieces were actually there).  Having played it recently, I can say the game isn't half as interesting as I remember, but I was a kid then and much less cynical/fussy.

Well, what do you know, via BoardGameGeek News and Youtube, here's a group of people who decided to recreate that magic live.  And it's pretty awesome....kinda makes me feel like a kid again.

And if you actually want to get involved with this group of artists or even just help out, their website is here with links to their Kickstarter campaign.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

First (absolutely awesome) play: Galaxy Trucker...

Another evening of games at UW and a decent crowd of 12 or so people.  Many games were played before the group settled into two games for the evening....

The Appetizers:  Some oldies - Bargain Hunter and Mord Im Arosa - as well as the lovely-looking connections game Tsuro.

Tsuro....   So pretty!
Dominion binder with all the expansions....   Very clever.
And filed by expansion.  Excellent.
The Main Courses:  After some short warmups, one group committed to a LONG night and started a game of Battlestar Galactica with a whole wack of newbs.  I, unfortunately, suffer from an awful case of full-time employment and couldn't commit to such epicness. (BTW, when I left three hours later they hadn't jumped once yet....  Ugh.)

Instead, I finally got to play a game of Galaxy Trucker by stellar Czech designer Vlaada Chatvil, which I had been wanting to try for half a year now.  And as I had hoped, the game turned out to be just fantastic!  Strategic, chaotic, hilarious, intense, just an all-around great experience.  This immediately jumped to the top of my list.  If you haven't heard of GT, the idea is that you and the other players simultaneously put a ship together under major time pressure using whatever tiles you find on the table.  Connections have to match and you need to balance engines, weapons, crew, and shields.  Once everyone has built their ship, removing all poorly connected parts, everyone then proceeds to fly their ship through a series of brutal and totally unfair obstacles.  Pieces and whole chunks of ship tend to fall off at this point, much to the amusement of everyone.  There is a scoring system and strategy but who cares.  The game's a riot from start to finish and one I must play again.

Cosmic credits - the victory points of Galaxy Trucker
Our ship in round 1 - small but well-built.
Our ship in round 2 - a few exposed connections but still pretty decent
Round 3 - uh oh.  This one took a real beating....

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Getting a kick start....

One of the great and yet also annoying things about the growing popularity of board games is the number of entries into the field each year. Whereas in the late 90's there was usually 1 or 2 must-buys a season, now there's at least 20 or 30. And the more people who play games, the more people there are who come up with some great ideas for them (including a few myself which may never see the light of day). And most games don't get noticed by big publishers so the designers often have to go it on their own.

That's where Kickstarter can come in to help. It's a pretty damn cool website where artists, musicians, creative folks, and, yes, board game designers can run funding drives for their projects. And Kickstarter has successfully launched a few great games now, including the wonderfully fun and polished Alien Frontiers, a true testament to the great possibilities of indie game design.

If you read other board game blogs, you may have seen mention of many games on Kickstarter vying for attention.  A game on Kickstarter that I think really deserves a look is Phillip DuBarry's Kingdom of Solomon, what looks to be a pretty interesting worker-placement style game with some network-building and bit of a push-your-luck twist.  Phillip previously got his print-and-play game Revolution! (which I admit I have yet to play) published by Steve Jackson Games which I think is a pretty admirable accomplishment as SJG is not normally known for producing Euro-style strategy games.  Now I openly admit that Phillip is a reader of this blog which is kinda nice but I still wouldn't mention the game if it didn't think it was going to be pretty awesome.  And I could describe it more to you but perhaps I should let the designer talk about it instead:

If this sounds good to you, maybe you should consider stopping by the Kickstarter site to make a pledge. Pledge enough and you'll get a copy sent to you when it's published (plus it'll make ya feel good, too).

Now, back to that little idea for an auction game that's been rolling around in my head foe months now......