Monday, October 31, 2005

Tuesday Night is Game Night!

Once again I'd like to invite anyone within driving distance of Redmond, WA to join us for Tuesday Game Night! We meet at 5pm in the Microsoft RedWest Caffeteria. Please join us!

First Impression: Citadels: The Dark City Expansion

Citadels: The Dark City Expansion is the new expansion for the excellent card game: Citadels. I say "new" but it actually came out last year for the German market. It's only this month that it's finally made it to these shores.

Inside the box you'll find several things, most of which are of very limited value.

First, you'll find replacement character cards for all 8 original characters plus the 10 "expansion" characters which were included in the original English edition but weren't in the original German edition. These cards are only useful if you have the original German edition or if you've played your original English copy of Citadels so many times that the cards have worn out. Unfortunately they didn't think to give the cards a white border this time; they're exactly the same as the original cards which means that their black borders will show wear just as quickly as the original ones did. Strike one!

You'll also find 8 reference cards. One side contains a brief turn summary (draw cards or take money) and the other side contains a brief scoring summary. Again: useless. What these reference cards SHOULD have contained was a list of all the roles in the game and their numbers: the single most important piece of information for people just learning the game. What you do on your turn is so simple that a reference card is hardly needed and the end game scoring doesn't require a card either: you only need that information once at the end of the game so it's not really a bother to go look it up. Strike two!

And then there's the wooden king token that replaces the cardboard stand-up crown that came with the original game. Nice, but hardly necessary. Let's call that a foul ball.

Finally we come to the good part: 14 purple district cards which actually add some interesting spice to the game. For instance, one of the cards gives the owner a gold whenever the crown changes hands: making it much more interesting for someone to take the "king" role. This time I think the expansion finally scores a hit. Not a home run perhaps but at least they get on base with this. The new cards are pretty cool and they are different enough from what was already in the game to justify being called an expansion.

Luckily, the entire package isn't terribly expensive ($9 MSRP; $5.95 at HFoG). Is it worth it? Well if you really like Citadels (and I do) and you're looking for some new purple districts to spice the game up then yeah, I have to say it is. Just barely. But it's a shame that the other things they tossed in the box with these cards don't add value as well. They could have just given us the new cards in a smaller package, saved on production costs and charged us less and I'd have been a whole lot happier.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Games Played at Last Night's Game Night

Last night was game night and this week I was able to attend with my son Kray. We had a really good turnout which was good to see. We were well over a dozen. It was good to see everybody there.

My first game of the evening was Mogul, by Michael Schacht. This was the first time that I'd ever played this simple bidding card game. I can't say that I was overwhelmed but it was pretty fun. A little long for what it was perhaps. The rules are pretty simple. A player turns over one card and players either put a chip into the pot or pass, taking all the chips in the pot and dropping out of the bidding. The last man in gets to either add the card (which represents a share in a railroad stock) to his play area or sell shares whose color matches the color on the border of the card, gaining victory points in return. Whoever dropped out last gets to take the other action. Play continues with the next player turning over another card and ends when all the cards are gone. That's really all there is to it. Pretty simple. I'd play it again but I don't think I'd request it.

Next we played Your Bluffing, a game that I much prefer. This is a pretty good bidding and bluffing game where players try to acquire sets of farm animals. The animals come in sets of four and each set is worth a different amount. At the end of the game you add up the values of each set you've collected and multiply by the number of sets. As you might imagine, the number of sets is generally more important than the values. Tejas pretty easily destroyed the rest of us. But I got my revenge, I played the game again over lunch today and this time I came away the victor! I'm pretty convinced that the single most important strategy in this game is to get as many different animals as you can during the auctions so that you'll have plenty of animals to trade when the cattle trading starts. Speaking of cattle trades, that's the only part of this game that I'm not sure I like. When two players have a card with the same animal, one of them can start a cattle trade. In fact, sooner or later they'll have to trade. A cattle trade is when each player puts forward one or two cards in an animal set. The player initiating the trade puts forward a set of money cards, face down, and the other player typically does likewise. Whoever offers the most money walks away with the animals. The thing that bothers me about this is there's often not enough information to help you decide when to bluff or when to bet it all. One or two bad trades can totally swing the game and for the most part the trades are completely blind. But there is definitely some psychology at play here and all in all this is a very good game.

While all of that was going on, the others played some Heroscape. This has got to be one of the silliest themed games ever, what with ninjas, robots, orcs, spies, vikings, and zombies all mixing it up together. But the miniatures are INCREDIBLE and the modular terrain is brilliant. It's a wonderful light miniatures battle game that is so flexible and so ripe for tinkering and house rules that it's just a joy to play. As long as you don't take it so seriously, there's a heck of a lot of fun to be had here.

Next we played a quick round of Liars Dice. This is a simple standard filler game. Its two biggest flaws are that it's very luck driven and it has player elimination. Still, it's such a short game that neither of these flaws really matter much and it's a very enjoyable way to pass the time.

Finally, Tejas and I closed out the night with a few scenarios from Memoir '44. Tejas asked me to bring this in so he could try it out and I was only too happy to accommodate him. Memoir '44 is a wonderful game. It's got lovely pieces (naturally, it's from Days of Wonder) and it's got loads of theme. Setup time is a little long but playing time is just right and it's a heck of a lot of fun. We played the first scenario just to get the hang of it. I forget the title but it's the one that only has infantry where the allies are trying to secure a couple of bridges. Then we played the Omaha Beach scenario which uses just about everything in the game. I won but I don't know if I'd be so lucky next time. And Tejas had an incredibly lucky run of rolls on Omaha Beach where he wiped out my tanks before they could really do any damage. Still, karma caught up and the allies did finally secure a beachhead.

I know there were a few other games played. One of Christopher's prototypes got trotted out. Kray said it was great and it got him wanting to design a game. More power to him! And everybody's favorite card game: Die Steven Segal was played. A lovely trick taking game. (Its real name is die Sieben Siegel or the Seven Seals.)

Come join us next Tuesday!

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Gamewire Closing?

Gamewire Closing?

By SteveBl

Rick Thornquist has done the boardgaming community a huge service with his Gamewire news service. It's been the best source for game related news for the last few years (and I've always been extremely jealous that a certain other site was hosting it).

Apparently Rick has decided that it was simply too much work. I can't say that I blame him but I can say that Gamewire will be sorely missed.

GAMES Magazine's Top 100

GAMES Magazine has come out with their annual Games 100 buyer's guide and as usual there are some curious decisions in there.

First off, Australia was chosen as their game of the year. I find that EXTREMELY odd. Australia is a decent game but it was definitely just one face in the crowd from what I've heard. It's received only moderate reviews on the geek. It wasn't even in the running for any of the other major awards of the year. Strange choice. I would have thought Around the World in 80 Days or even this year's Spiel des Jahres winner Niagara would have been more natural choices.

I really wonder about GAMES Magazine's selection process. Clearly they're on a different page from the rest of us. They consistently choose very good titles for their Games 100 and this year is no different but they also consistently make odd choices as to which games get the top spots and sometimes even which categories games get put into.

Take for instance Fearsome Floors. This is a great game. It's a wonderful, whimsical family strategy game that I'm happy to own and I play often. But this year, GAMES has placed it in the party games category. Fearsome Floors is many things but it's definitely not a party game. I guess to their way of thinking any game that supports more than 5 players can be a party game? Very odd.

Anyway, there are definitely some really good games in this list and GAMES is one of my favorite magazines. Go pick up a copy if you haven't already. Just take all their category winners with a grain of salt and make sure you give the other games on the list a good look as well.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Review: Trias

Ralph Lehmkuhl's game Trias has been around for a while now but I've only recently gotten around to playing it. That's a shame because after one or two playings, I could immediately tell that this was a game I wished I had played before.

Inside the box you'll find a nice, well written rule booklet with clear examples and nice diagrams. You'll also find a scoring track, a deck of cards, several wooden dinosaur "meeples" and 39 cardboard hexagonal tiles.

The hexagons show different terrain types: mountains, steppes, and grasslands. There is also a "south pole" hex which bears a volcano (because everybody knows there's a volcano at the South Pole) and two water tiles. At the start of the game, the south pole tile is placed in the center and the other tiles are randomly arranged in a large hexagonal landmass around it. Together, the hexagons represent Pangaea, the uber-continent that existed at one time in Earth's long distant past. As the game progresses, the continent will fragment and drift apart. Your goal is to have your dinosaur herds dominate as much of the fragmenting land as possible.

This is a very clever game. After an initial placement round where each player places four dinosaur herds on the continent, players take turns controlling the continental drift and dinosaur migration. On your turn you play a card which lists a terrain type. You then must take one hex that matches that type of terrain and reposition it such that it ends up farther from the pole than where it started. As a side effect of doing that, you may dump some dinosaur herds into the ocean. You may create new continents (which are then scored). You might even "drift" that land underneath some dinos that are already "swimming", thereby rescuing them from a watery doom.

After your initial "mandatory drift", you get to spend four action points however you please. You can move your dinos, give birth to more dinos, or rescue three "swimmer" dinos for one action point. For three action points you can "drift" another hex of your choice.

Each time a new continent is formed it's scored. At that point, whoever has the most dinos on the new continent gets two points. Whoever has the second most gets one. But the big scoring comes at the end of the game. At the end of the game, the person with the most dinos on a continent gets one point for each hex in the continent; the person in second gets half as much. Each continent is scored and whoever comes out on top is crowned the victor.

In case you can't tell, I like this game. The theme is whimsical, the pieces are attractive and fun to play with, and there's a good mix of strategy and tactics. There's also a nice amount of "take that" as you dump your opponent's dinos into the sea and then attempt to shut them out of a continent that you've laid claim to as your own. This is a very fun game indeed. And at around 45-60 minutes, the length is just right. I give it two enthusiastic thumbs up.

Review: Poison

Poison is a card game by Reiner Knizia. Published by Playroom Entertainment, this game is a clever and simple filler that works well with kids as well as adults.

If you're looking for lots of pretty components in this 8 by 11 inch box you may be in for a bit of a disappointment. In what has to be one of the more blatant examples of superfluous production, the box contains one very nice full-color rule book, one deck of 50 standard-sized playing cards, and three cauldron shaped playing mats whose only purpose is to provide a place to play three piles of cards. The cauldrons are completely unnecessary and this game could have very easily been packaged in a standard-sized card box. Clearly someone was looking for some shelf space when they designed this box. But the cards are very pretty and very sturdy and the instructions are nicely illustrated and very clear. Also, the game is pretty good so I guess I'll forgive them for including so much air along with it.

The game itself is very simple. The deck contains fifty cards divided into three suits: red, purple and blue. Each card has a rank of 1, 2, 4, 6 or 7. Also, included in the deck are eight green poison cards which bear a rank of 4. The deck is shuffled and all the cards are dealt to all the players. On your turn you choose a card from your hand and play it on one of three piles. Red, blue and purple cards must be played on a pile with cards of the same color. Green poison cards can be played on any pile. If your card brings the sum of all the card values in that pile above thirteen, then you leave your card behind and take all the other cards in that pile. If your card brings the total sum to thirteen or less then it stays in the pile. It's that simple.

The object of the game is to take the least amount of points, which generally means taking the fewest cards. At the end of the game, each regular card is worth one point; each poison card is worth two. However, if you have taken more cards in a given suit than any other player (a plurality) then none of the cards in that suit score points for you. So it's better to take no cards, but it's also OK to take a whole lot of cards of a single color.

As a filler game, poison works very well. It's simple to teach, there is just enough strategy to keep the game interesting, and a game plays so quickly (easily under fifteen minutes) that you'll likely want to play several games and keep a running score. The game also scales very well from three to six players, making it a great opener. I've played it several times now and I'm quite happy to play it several more. This is a fine game that I'm quite happy to recommend.

Review: Lucky Loop

Lucky Loop is a dice throwing game for ages 8 and up by Queen games. This is a rather luck-heavy game themed around aerobatic displays. It's probably best suited for youngsters or people with a high luck tolerance.

Queen games has a reputation for well produced games and this is no exception. The components are top notch and the artwork is very nice. Inside you'll find a nice board that is mostly used as a scoring device. You'll also find two nicely produced decks of cards, several cardboard chips, a dice shaker and seven dice.

The game is pretty simple. Players create stunt flying routines by playing sets of cards. The cards indicate what elements are in the routine, what the difficulty level of each element is and what the point reward is for executing the element.

To execute a stunt flying routine you throw the six black dice. If you can meet or beat the difficulty level of one of the stunts with some of the dice then you pull those dice out, put them on the card representing the stunt you've completed and then put the rest of the dice back in the cup to try for another stunt in the routine. Do that for all three stunts and you've successfully executed the routine and you'll be rewarded with points. You also get bonus points for using fewer dice and for exactly matching the difficulty of one or more of the stunts in the routine.

As you might guess from that brief description, this is a very luck heavy game. The luck can be mitigated somewhat in two ways: first, you get to play cards from your hand to determine how difficult the routines will be. Harder routines are, naturally, worth more points. You also can earn chips which you can later trade in to either re-roll failed dice rolls, or to add the red die to the mix, giving you one extra die to choose from. The cards and the chips do add some measure of strategy to the game, but it's really rather minimal. At the end of the day this is a dice game and the dice very much determine the outcome.

This game is probably going to appeal most to younger kids (perhaps 8-10). I would imagine that older kids and adults are likely to be put off by the heavy dependence on luck. I admit that I wasn't really overly impressed. It's fun enough but there are plenty of games that I like better in this price range. This game would have been pretty good as a light filler except that it runs a little too long to fit the filler role.

So to sum up: the theme is good, the components are first rate, kids will probably like it (mine did), but it's very luck heavy and it's perhaps a little too long for what it is. It's not a bad game and I'd be willing to play it again, but I don't think I'll offer it as a suggestion very often.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Fire destroys 'Gromit' warehouse

Have you heard the news? A big part of Wallace and Gromit's history just went up in smoke. Very sad. I wouldn't have commented on this if I hadn't read this quote:

Wallace and Gromit's creator, Nick Park, said the earthquake in South Asia helped put the loss into perspective.

"Even though it is a precious and nostalgic collection and valuable to the company, in light of other tragedies, today isn't a big deal," he said.

I'm impressed. Talk about a class act.

I can't wait to see the new film. I hear it's fantastic.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Would you like some Poison to go with that sandwich?

Yesterday over lunch we played Reiner Knizia's Poison. This is a new release from Playroom Entertainment, a company that primarily does kids games. I think that this is intended to be a fast simple card game that kids can play and adults can enjoy as well and I think that it largely succeeds at that. It's certainly not a deep game but for light fluffy filler it's not bad.

One thing struck me right away though. This game could easily win a contest for most extemporaneous bits. The box is a standard medium sized game box (roughly 8 x 11) but when you open it up you'll find one standard sized deck of cards, a rule booklet (that's very pretty and sized to fix the box as opposed to the game), and three large cardboard mats shaped like cauldrons. The cauldrons are used as places to play the cards but they are completely unnecessary. This game could just as easily have been packaged in a standard sized card box and it would have been just as good. Oh well. I guess they wanted to get more visibility on the store shelf.

So how does the game play? Well I'll do a full writeup later when I have time but the short answer is that it plays pretty well for what it is: a very simple light card game. It's not bad as a filler and considering that a hand takes less than fifteen minutes to play (despite the 30 minutes advertised on the box) this is one of those games that you can easily play several times in a sitting. In fact, we played it four times over our lunch hour. I'm looking forward to playing it again but it's certainly no substitute for Tichu.

New version of Plunder coming! Now with Miniatures!

Remember all those blog entries about Plunder from the other week? Well the GameWire reports that Laughing Pan is releasing a new version of the game soon with better components, including miniatures. If you've already got a copy, don't worry, you'll be able to get the miniatures separately if you want them.

  • Source Blog
  • Pictures of the new Ra from Eagle Games

    Check out the pics of the new Eagle Games edition of Ra. It's looking very nice!
  • Source Blog
  • Tuesday, October 04, 2005

    Game Night Writeup

    Well I must say that I’m not sure if I should be ashamed of myself or proud of Kray but I suppose I'd better take the high road and choose the latter. Kray did his old man proud tonight by playing a pretty darn good game of Age of Steam.

    Kray and I arrived about an hour late to game night tonight. I probably should have worked even longer but I found myself needing to kick off a build at work so I wasn't going to be getting much done anyway until that finished. Besides, I'm going to be working late Wednesday AND Thursday (at least) so I don't feel all that guilty.

    When we arrived most of the Seattle crowd was playing Money so Kray, Mike K., Oren, Tejas and I started up a game of Trias. I've had Trias opened but unpunched on my store room shelf for a while now and I'm only finally getting around to playing it. I was the most experienced at the game, having played it earlier today at lunch for the first time. Glad I did too because it meant that the rules were fresh in my mind. This is a pretty darn fun area control game with some interesting twists. At the start of the game everybody is playing on the same large area (the uber-continent Pangaea). As the game progresses, the continent fragments and drifts apart, pitching dinosaur herds into the water. Yeah, it's a little silly but the mechanics work really well and it's a lot of fun. I was well on the way to victory when everybody ganged up on me and booted me off of a key continent. That left the door open for Tejas to snatch the win.

    Next, Christopher, Birch, Mike M., Kray and I played Age of Steam. This game just gets better for me every time I play it. Surprisingly enough, everybody heeded my cautions about the brutal economy and nobody went bankrupt! I felt I played pretty well but I just couldn't catch any breaks as far as the goods cubes were concerned. I never was able to get in a position to ship a lot of goods over long routes. But Kray played a pretty darn good game and managed to rocket ahead on the last couple of turns. When the dust settled, Kray eeked out the win. Final scores were: Birch 24, Steve & Mike M. 52, Christopher 63, and Kray 68!

    Age of Steam is a pretty long game and while we were playing that, I believe the others played Medici and something else. I'm afraid that I can't remember what.

    Ticket to Ride Europe Wins 2005 IGA

    The winners of this year's International Gamers Awards have been announced.

    Ticket to Ride: Europe has won the multi-player category.

    War of the Ring has won the two-player category.

    Both of these are excellent games and well deserving of their respective awards.

    Congratulations to Alan Moon, Days of Wonder, Francesco Nepitello, Marco Maggi, Roberto Meglio and Fantasy Flight Games.

    It's interesting to note that TtR:E's victory in the multi-player category was an extremely narrow one. It just barely edged out several games including Shadows Over Camelot, Louis XIV, Reef Encounter, Antiquity, and Carcassonne The City. They had to result to several levels of tie breakers to resolve the voting. All of the rather confusing details can be found at