Saturday, July 11, 2015

Overview of New Games Played in 2011

Here are some first impressions of new games I've played at least twice in 2011.

7 Wonders - This is a great game for 3-7 players. I have yet to try the 2 player version but it looks interesting. The drafting mechanic is interesting and there is definitely room for some clever play. Different paths require various amounts of effort (often dependent on neighbors0 so there is more control in a 3-5 player game than in a 5-7 player game. It does play in 30-45mins with 7 players which is a great accomplishment as there is little downtime during the game. A great game and I'll play it quite a bit this year. Rating 8.

Kingsburg - I have played this game before but got the expansion this past Christmas and I like the additional components. The added buildings, events, governors, and particularly the tokens for the King's military support all add more replayability to this game. I have noticed that the game needs people to make decisions fairly quickly or it can bog down (especially with 4-5 players). They have done quite a few changes to mitigate "bad luck" and allow low rolls to have some success in the game so I think the dice mechanism works well. My biggest issue is that each game feels the same. There is a ramping up element and the different building paths allow for variation but the flow is very "rinse/repeat" each year with the only difference being the increasing military requirements. The Event cards do help to liven this up some and the governor cards add more variability so I hope to get some more plays with these new additions. Rating 7

Merchants and Marauders - This is a great themed Pirate/Trading game. I really like the combat and flavor in the game. Downtime between turns can be cumbersome if people don't have their turn planned out in advance. With players that know the game well I think this can be played pretty quickly but the sweet spot seems to be 2-3 players as with 4 it just takes too long. It takes a little more "guts" to play the Pirate role successfully but it is more satisfying than the trader role which is fairly straightforward but repetitive. Even though the rumors/missions add more complications they do add a lot of theme and I have enjoyed most of my games. Rating 8

Nightfall - I think that this is a very creative design for a deck building game. It incorporates players attacking each other but, even better, it allows players to play cards during other player turns. The Chain mechanic is certainly the breakthrough that makes this game work and it is very appealing design as players can chain off of other peoples cards. The game has a lot of elements going on and I have not scratched the surface of the possible strategies (even though the fist box has a fairly limited card pool). I also appreciate the fact that the wound cards can be used to improve your hand so that a player who takes a lot of initial damage is not at a huge disadvantage. My one big negative with the game is that ties are very frequent and the tie breaker is very arbitrary. However, the game is fun and I will continue to explore it this year. Rating 7

Dungeonlords - This game is a difficult one to teach others so I've had to play a few games where I was hand-holding the other players. After the learning curve is over this game does have a lot of interesting decisions. I wish that there was more variability in the creatures and rooms you can have in the dungeon as they make the most interesting impacts. The game is nice but seems repetitive over time and I'm not sure how much replay I will get out of it. Rating 7

Macao - I played this game first back at Gulf Games 2010 and liked it then but was hesitant to get it until I tried it with the family. After playing Caylus and Princes of Florence with the kids, I decided that they can handle even complex Euro-games so I got this one. I love games with clever dice mechanisms and Macao fits the bill perfectly. I like the planning element to the game and the contingency planning that inevitably arise when the dice don't come out as you hoped. There is a risk/reward element to picking the various cards that you want to activate and turn order is more important than I initially thought. I like the flow of the game as early and late turns go faster but the middle turns are really interesting with a lot of card combinations possible and multiple paths to score victory points. There is an issue with AP players as there are so many options but I really like this game and can live with some downtime if it comes up. Rating 9

Castle Ravenloft - Having played AD&D a lot when I was younger this game appealed to me based on the theme and the other reviews I had read. I hoped that it would be fun for my son and I to play and get him ready to move into some RPG's later. The components are top notch and the concept of the monster decision-matrix is really well done. However, I have been somewhat disapointed in the game play. It is almost too streamlined and each turn feels like the previous one except that there may be a different monster or event to deal with. I wish that the game had more tactical decisions and maybe had a more tense combat system but it does move along well and can finish in 60-90 mins. I will probably add some house rules to try and add more replay to the game for me but out of the box it is only a fair game. Rating 5

Mousquetaires du Roy - I played this at Gulf Games 2011 and really liked the mechanics. The rule book is a challenge and the board could have been designed with a better layout but it does work. The theme is good but some of the events/encounters are effectively the same. The traps are the most flavorful aspect of the encounters as the rest is just what skill check is required and who do I need to defeat in a duel. The combat system is really clever though and it is quick and fun to play with some tactical decisions as well. Also, having players take their turns in any order and share a common pool of money encourages teamwork and group decisions. The other nice touch is the Treachery cards that force the players to take all their turns in a time limit (sand timer) or else lose any remaining actions. The game is challenging and I like that there are multiple things going on too keep the players distracted from their main objective. One problem I have is that nearly every game the player who has a 4 in a particular skill will always buy up that skill to a 6 and be the expert in that particular category. I would have liked to see some way to vary this more but haven't played around with it enough yet. I think that the combat element and the active player working against the others does keep this from being a cooperative game where one player dictates how everyone should act (also the timer!) so that is a good thing. Rating 7

Luxor - This was a little set matching game from Ravensburger that my wife picked up at a garage sale. The kids have enjoyed it and it has some nice elements to it and plays very quickly. It is like a connect four game with some timing and tactical decisions but very light overall. I will play it with the family but wouldn't bring it to any game groups. Rating 5

Stronghold - I really enjoyed the mechanics in this game and it is well designed with two asymmetric forces. The attacker has a lot more decisions to make on how to coordinate the invasion and ultimately faces the pressure of needing to break through in a quick timeline while the defender has to hold out for as long as possible. I think that the 2 player game favors the defender in general but that 3-4 player games may provide more advantages for the attacker(s) to make it more balanced. I haven't played it enough to fully decide on the balance issues but either way it is a fun game to play. It takes a little longer than some other options (especially if teaching it) but I would gladly play it several more times this year. My one major disappointment in the game is that the battering ram vs gate option is not very viable as defending it is too easy and doesn't cost as much resources as it does to incorporate it into the attack. Rating 7

Conquest of Planet Earth: The Space Alien Game - I end up teaching a lot of the games at our group meetings and one of the hosts loves the Flying Frog games and gets me to teach a lot of his games. This one has a funny theme and has a lot of "take that" elements in the competitive game. The cooperative version seems far too easy (even with the more difficult settings) but I think that the competitive game with the active defenses for earth make for the most interesting. This may have been the original design and the other versions were just scaled back from this so that people weren't overwhelmed at the beginning. I think that this is the way I will always want to play this game going forward. I do think that the die rolling and card drawing (especially Space Stuff) is very variable so there is a lot of luck in the game but if you want to just relax and enjoy the crazy theme then it is a decent game. Rating 6

51st State - I have only played this a few times but it took a lot of effort to get through the rule book and to understand how to play this game. There are a lot of options here but ultimately I'm not sure how to incorporate them into a strategy. I probably need to play this one more to understand all the elements better but I'm not sure I want to invest the time and energy into it. I thought that I could handle it as I love Race for the Galaxy (another game with a lot of Icons) but the counter maintainence work and some of the mechanics of this game just feel wonky for me. Rating 5

Of course all of these ratings may change with more playing so we'll see what else 2011 has to offer.

2015 Update:  Here are my ratings now on these games.  Interesting how most ratings drop over time as I haven't played many of these games in the last 5 years.  7 Wonders and Macao are the major exceptions with M&M being played from time to time.

7 Wonders:  Still fun (with first 2 expansions) but doesn't always live up to the hype - Rating 7

Merchants and Marauders:  Also still fun but can go rather long - Rating 7

Macao - Still one of my favorite Feld games and still a 9 rating

Castle Ravenloft/Luxor - Still a 5 rating.  Haven't wanted to pull them often.

Mousquetaires du Roy - dropping to about a 5.  Just misses some elements and doesn't hold up under repeat plays.

Stronghold - Fond memories of this game.  Would like to try it again but don't have a copy.  Still a 7 rating.

Nightfall, Conquest of Planet Earth, and 51st State - I don't own these and haven't played them much since then and don't miss it -- probably all about a 5 now but would try Nightfall again so maybe a 6 for it.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Games without Victory Points

While teaching a lot of games to my son's friend he mentioned to me that a lot of the games we play have victory points for who wins. This observation prompted me to start thinking about the games in my collection that do not use victory points to determine the winner. I've broken these up into several categories/game types to help sort this out. I decided that games that determine the winner by who has the most money at the end are just victory point games in disguise so they are not included.

Games that eliminate other players
These games are "classic" games like Monopoly and Risk where the object is to be the last player standing. I don't own many of these games and they are not bad for shorter games but generally I steer away from player elimination games. Stratego and Battleship also have this element. I would even include Bang in this category (the last team standing - Outlaws, Sheriff/deputies, or Renegade).

Deduction Games
These are games where players try to determine who commited a crime, etc. Clue, Whodunnit, and Mystery of the Abbey are the only games I own in this category. I still need to make a deck for Deduce or Die as it is the best deduction game I've played.

Race Games
These are games where the first player to cross a finish line or reach a certain space is the winner. Pure racing games like Hare and Tortoise and Snow Tails are in this category. But also games like Parchesi, Trivial Pursuit, Scene It, and Pictionary are also in this category.

Cooperative Games
These are games where the players work together to defeat the game (or in some cases another player). Pandemic, Lord of the Rings, Mousquetaires du Roy, Castle Panic, and Castle Ravenloft all fall in this category.

Unique Game Ending conditions
This is a catch all for the games that I couldn't categorize... I'll just list them.

To Court the King - this dice game ends with a final round where everyone tries to impress the King and the player who does so wins.

Lord of the Rings Confrontation - this asymmetrical game ends when the Ringbearer(Frodo) is defeated or he reaches Mt Doom.

Niagara - this game ends when one (or more) player(s) acquires either a gem of each color, 4 of the same color gems, or 7 total gems.

Blokus - the victor is the person with the fewest piece segments left to play.

Can you think of other categories?

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

First Impressions of New Games

I just acquired some new games this summer and here are my impressions after a couple of plays of each.

Conquest of Nerath: This is the new wargame based on D&D universe. It reminds me of Axis and Allies, Nexus Ops, and Risk.

Production Quality is great on this game. The components are superb. Some models are the same for each nation (there are 4) but they also have many unique figures also. The characteristics of the units are the same for each nation though. The map is easy to see with good names and even icons for setting up the board to start the game. The only weakness in the design is the layout of the reference sheets but that is minor as after two games I have most of the pieces and base treasuries memorized.

Initial Setup is well thought out as the game commences with combat starting on the 1st turn. You must attack to get victory points (no turtling in this one!) and you do not get victory points for liberating your starting regions. This last point really changes the way you play the game and makes things very interesting tactically. Also, since your reinforcements MOVE when they come into play you can defend a forward position or threaten an active assault more easily. This all really keeps the game moving forward. Add in the other victory point mechanism (treasures and dungeons) and the game goes to another level.

The overall movement and combat mechanics are simple with some special unit abilities (Dragons fly and take 2 hits, Fighters and Wizards can conquer dungeons, Siege Engines are better attacking, etc). The event cards are different for each nation and the better cards are with the nations going later in turn order (at least player 2 and 4 have good event cards -- I'm still not sure on player 3 but player 1 certainly has the weakest cards). I haven't seen all the cards as I've only played 2 games but these differences help to balance out the starting positions and provide lots of flavor/strategy to each game. This is also true of Treasures which can really add a twist to your strategy.

The game doesn't overstay its welcome as the game can complete in a few hours and there is constant action. I'm really pleased with the game so far and would definitely play this over most Axis and Allies and Risk variants. Tentative rating: 8

Airlines Europe: This is the Alan Moon game that is a re-themed Union Pacific (which is a re-themed Airlines).

I wanted to have a game with "stocks" and the airlines theme was new to the family (I don't have Acquire). So far I have only played it with 3 players which is okay but I think that the game will be better with 4 and 5 players.

Production quality is also excellent in this game. The map is nice and the references and cards are of high quality. The airplane tokens are also well done and it has an insert for everything in the box.

The game is all about getting majority in the stocks of the Airlines that are the most successful. Turns are fast as you have 4 choices but once you learn the game these choices are very straightforward. The game is not a lot of tension except when two players are fighting for majority and both are looking for a key stock to show up. There are some interesting decisions that players have to make about when to invest in Air Abacus stock and how to manage cash flow.

I think the game is okay with 3 players but I really expect it to be much better with more as the fights for majorities will be more interesting and blocking will be more intense.
Tentative Rating: 7

7 Wonders - Leaders: This is the first expansion for 7 Wonders.

We have already played 15 games of 7 Wonders this year and I expect it to break the 20 game barrier easily before the year is out. This game and Dominion have really been our family game of choice for a 30-60 minute game.

The Leaders expansion adds more options and opens up some new strategies in the game so I think that is a good thing. Also, there are enough leaders that many games can be played without seeing the same ones (at least 4 player games). The game also adds "6" value coins and lets players start with more money. The new Wonder (Rome) provides a Wonder that is all about utilizing Leaders.

With adding new cards there are more "combos" where players can exploit leaders and Wonders more and I think this is a good thing. This adds more strategy to the drafting mechanics as players start "counter drafting" cards to minimize their neighbors (at least when the opportunity presents itself). This was already there to a lesser extent (limit a science player from getting too many science cards or stopping key Guilds from reaching your neighbors). Now there are more things to watch.

Tentative Rating: 8

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

2007-2010 Games Played

This is a brief summary of Games played each of the past 4 years and seeing what trends have happened. I did this in 2007 and now I'm getting it current... Also, I will list some of my recent games that I'm playing in 2011.

Top 5 Games Played (# of Plays)

Fairy Tale (34)
To Court the King (26)
Uno (19)
D&D Labrynth Game (15)
San Juan (12)

Race for the Galaxy (29)
Chess (15)
Bohnanza (11)
San Juan (10)
No Thanks! , Ticket to Ride, Lord of the Rings Confrontation, MtG (8)

Chess (95)
Dominion (60)
Race for the Galaxy (26)
Puerto Rico (16)
Small World and To Court the King (15)

Chess (93)
Dominion (23)
Pandemic (15)
Fairy Tale (12)
Through the Ages, Endeavor, Puerto Rico (9)

2007-2010 Top 10

Chess (214)
Dominion (85)
Race for the Galaxy (64)
Fairy Tale (56)
To Court the King (45)
Puerto Rico, Settlers of Catan (31)
San Juan (27)
Pandemic, Bonanza (25)

A lot of these games are card games that can be played quickly and are enjoyed by the family. I played a lot of chess through facebook so that is why it is so high on the list. When I look at just Board Games (excluding Chess) I have:

2007-2010 Top 10 (Board Games only)
Puerto Rico, Settlers of Catan (31)
Pandemic (25)
D&D Labrynth Game (19)
Monopoly (19)
Pay Day (18)
Small World (17)
Power Grid, Ticket to Ride (16)
Ra (12)

This is a pretty good list of games that I play with my kids or with the family. Most of the games I play with the boardgame group are varied but here are the top ones.

2007-1010 Top 10 Boardgame Group Games
Dominion (18)
Bang!, Pandemic (11)
Power Grid (8)
Race for the Galaxy (7)
Small World, Last Night on Earth (6)
San Juan, Shogun, Caylus (5)

This list adds a few other games to the list like Caylus, Shogun, Bang! and Last Night on Earth. In 2011, you can add 7 Wonders to the list as we have already played it 6 times this year in the Game Group.

Dominion has certainly been a hit with the family and the game group. I have tried several of the other deck building games (though I would like to try Thunderstone) and I haven't been very impressed by any of them except for Nightfall. I like the original design of Nightfall however I don't like the tie-breaker rule and ties are far too common so far. Dominion is good but I don't think that I will be buying any more expansions for it (I have Dominion, Intrigue, Seaside, and Prosperity).

Puerto Rico, Settlers, Pandemic and Ticket to Ride are still consistent great games with replayability. Similarly Race for the Galaxy, San Juan, and Fairy Tale have been replayed over several years with the family.

In 2011, I have played several new games including 7 Wonders (10), Kingsburg (8), Merchants and Marauders (7), Nightfall (6), Dungeonlords (5), Macao (4), Castle Ravenloft (4), and Mousquetaires du Roy (4).

I will add another update with some thoughts on these new games.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

House Rules

Below is an article that I started drafting back in 2008 and finally have come back to finish it. I will try to start posting some more comments and updating some links on the site in the next few months. I'm still playing games but just haven't been updating the blog until now.
Have you ever played a game of monopoly and thought, this is too long and I wish it had more decisions that just buy everything I land on? Have you ever wondered how useful the University might be in Puerto Rico or maybe the Cube Favor Track in Caylus?

I have always enjoyed tinkering with game rules and also with how a game "works". What I mean by this is that games tend to have one or more mechanisms or elements that really drive the game. Changing some of the core elements of a game can really result in a totally different game and this is not what I want when I create House Rules (at least not usually). What I want to do is modify a part of the design to either (1) allow for more strategy, (2) reduce a dominant strategy, and/or (3) just add more of what is fun about the game. I'm sure there are other reasons but I'll just touch on these for now... With these ideas in mind here are some of my house rules for games that I own. After each house rule I will list the reasons (above numbers) for why I created them.

Monopoly (1,2,and 3)
I'll start with a game that everyone is familiar with and probably associates with a long drawn out game. First, many people don't follow the Monopoly rules as written (nothing happens on Free Parking and there are auctions for properties that are landed on and not purchased).

House Rule #1 - Players start with $500 (instead of $2000). I have found that mosts games of standard Monopoly tend to open with players buying every property that they land on in the initial few trips around the board. This house rule addresses my primary concern on money and makes property purchases much more tactical in the early game.

House Rule #2 - Utilities count as RailRoads (cost $200, Rent for 5 RR is $400 and 6RR is $800). Utilities are impractical purchases as they cannot generate cash via Monopolies and are much less useful than a few railroads. This house rule makes Railroads extremely valuable in the early game and increases their sustainability over the long game.

House Rule #3 - When a player lands on a property they can buy it if they wish for the listed price. If they do not buy it then it goes up for auction among the other players. Beginning with the next player to the left each player may bid. First bid must be List Price or higher and each subsequent bid must be higher then the last. When a player passes they are out of the auction. This house rule keeps auctions starting at the property price which helps offset any cashflow problems in the early game by any players who make agressive purchases.

My experience is that this version of Monopoly is much more tactical and enjoyable AND it can often complete in 90 minutes or less. I have had one two-player game end before I made one complete lap around the board! It does tend to make the low cost monopolies more powerful as there is not enough cash to build up an expensive one early but I have found the games to be more enjoyable if I have to play it with the kids.

Puerto Rico (1)
Overall, I would not make changes to this game as it is a great design and I particluarly like to play it with the expansion buildings in the mix to make for a variety of different strategies. The only change that I have made with this game is to alter the cost of the University from 8 to 7. This makes the building more viable and I have never seen it abused in any games at the 7 level.

Amun Re (1)
I have talked about my house rules on this game in my Amun Re review. These changes have made decisions in the game more interesting and have helped to balance out the Power Cards so that I don't feel like any particular Power Card is "too weak". While they all have their uses some will still be more useful with particular players and/or strategies. This feels right for me.

To Court the King (1,2)
I love dice manipulation games, so I thoroughly enjoyed this game when I first purchased it. However, I quickly found out that the "strategies" were very limited and almost always the player who grabbe extra dice (particularly the General) would win 90+% of the time. Also, if a player missed on getting an advisor early and got a Jester then they would not be able to catch up with others. This was exasserbated in a 3 player game where the farmers would often go to the 1st and 2nd players and the 3rd player would have to get 15+ or else be stuck with a Jester. Not fun.

House Rule #1 - The General’s 2 extra dice are different (white) and they MUST be fixed prior to any other dice. This makes the General less effective overall and generally requires at least one control card to make him beneficial which balances him with other choices. I read about this one on the Tao of Gaming website and quickly implemented it with great success.

House Rule #2 - The following cards and card combinations provide players with an additional Fool/Charlatan card when they are taken (combo is met).
· Serving Maid
· Philosopher
· Merchant
· Noblewoman & Magician
· Nobleman & Alchemist

This rule really helps to balance out the control cards with the extra dice cards. It gives the ability to get extra dice (through the Charlatan) and it allows a player who gets a Jester early to have a viable way back into the game. It also makes for a variety of different strategies and a player who takes only extra dice will have to be extremely lucky to win against a player who takes a few control cards (balance seems about right now). These changes did warrant a slightly different change in the numbers of cards placed in the tablaeu for various numbers of players.

Marvel Super Heroes (3), War of the Ring (1,3), World of Warcraft (3)
These games are all longer games with a lot of theme. I will briefly touch on some of my house rules for these games.

Marvel - I added 12 X-Men, 12 Avengers, 5 FF, and 8 Marvel Knights to the original 16 heroes. Some of these can be used with multiple teams (She Hulk was an Avenger and part of the Fantastic Four in the comics). I also added 8 new Masterminds (12 total) so that each team has 3 different possible Masterminds to face. Some are tougher than others but I balanced this by how the teams are chosen in the beginning. These changes don't affect the gameplay but add a lot of flavor and replay value for comic fans. In addition, I made a few house rules so that turn order is by VP (instead of starting with the lowest and going clockwise) and in how story cards are used but generally I just added more variety.

War of the Ring - I have written a few articles just on this one so I won't go into more details again here. However, these changes increased the replay value for me and opened up a lot of different strategies in the game.

World of Warcraft - I only play this game with the first expansion and I found that the base game allowed players to take out the overlord at 4th level without requiring anyone to get to 5th level. Also, the game didn't have enough interaction with other players (aside from a long Player vs Player combat).
House Rule #1 - I created tougher overlords so that all 3 of them require more powerful players to defeat them. This makes character advancement to 5th level more important (at least for 1 or 2 of the players) and opens up more possibilities while only slightly adding length.
House Rule #2 - Expanded town actions. I wanted to add more options for when a player is in town. Especially if they only wanted to get some training (and not healing). I added options to allow them to visit the Tavern, the Magistrate, the Oracle, or to even have more focused training and save some Gold.
House Rule #3 - Secondary Skills. All characters now get a random secondary skill that provides more flavor with some small benefits.
House Rule #4 - Advanced Quests. I added a whole new deck of quests that can be completed by either player. This opens up more options and also produces more interaction without promoting more direct conflicts (which bog the game down).

Caylus (1,2)
The two issues I have with Caylus are that players don't utilize the Cube Favor track and the stone production buildings are over utilized. I am still experimenting with my house rules to address these issues.
House Rule #1 - When a player would get a cube for someone else placing on their building they can only get the cube if they give up 1 victory point (the one they got when the other player placed on their building). This house rule seems to make these production buildings not so over balanced and my hope is that it will also open up more needs for players to acquire cubes from that favor track at certain times. I am hesitant to increase the capabilities on the favor track as I don't want to make it too strong. Small steps with house rules are generally best ;-)

Thursday, March 6, 2008

My Gaming History

The news of Gary Gygax's passing saddened me although I never knew him personally. His game has influenced my life (and many other gamers) in countless ways. I had many good times playing Dungeons and Dragons with friends during my adolescent years and beyond. Reminiscing about AD&D prompted me to think about my formative years in gaming and I decided to go ahead and summarize my experiences here. Ah the nostalgia...

I was always interested in games and sports. I thrived on competition and always wanted to "be the best" at whatever activity I was doing. My grandfather did play me in Checkers, my brother taught me chess, and we played a few card games as a family during vacations. However, I mostly played games with my friends.

The first non-traditional boardgame that I remember playing was TSR's Dungeon! I still have a copy of it in my closet. This was a dungeon-crawl boardgame and my first D&D type experience. I remember looking at some maps my brother was drawing (he was 10 yrs older) and being interested in the game he was playing. I learned later that this was Dungeons & Dragons. I first started playing D&D when I was about 8 yrs old and I played the Keep on the Borderlands B2 module with the old D&D rules. I had no idea what I was doing except learning how to roll dice to fight monsters, but I got started and the experience evolved into something quite different.

I would later learn the rules for Advanced D&D (AD&D) and inherited the original hardback rulebooks from my brother as he didn't stay interested. I learned about playing a role playing game and how it was very different from any boardgame. First of all, there was no board! The game was created and played like a movie/play/story with the players "acting" as the lead characters while the Dungeon Master (DM) would design the plot and play the roles of all the characters in the game including the villains and monsters the players encounter. The DM was the author/director/referee and his goal was to make the game experience fun for the players. It was such a revolutionary concept to think that people could play a game without winners/losers and just enjoy it for the experience of playing. AD&D would be a fixture for Role playing games (RPGs) for decades and it appealed to me on many levels -- Fantasy themes, combat, good vs evil, imagination, creativity, and rolling lots of cool looking dice!

While I was still 10-11 yrs old, I picked up another role playing game called Champions. I was already a comic book reader (mostly Marvel comics Avengers, Marvel Team-Up, etc) and Champions was a RPG that allowed players to create their own superheroes and have comic book style adventures. The greatest design element in Champions was the character creation process. In AD&D you created a character primarily by rolling dice for various attributes like Strength, Dexterity, and Intelligence and these attributes defined how inherently capable he/she was at being a Fighter, Thief, or Wizard. Champions gave you the capability to design your characters abilities and powers and make them the values that you wanted! If you wanted to build a character with Superman or Spiderman's powers then you can. You were only limited by your creativity. The game also had a built-in balancing mechanism where you had to pay for your powers with points and any points over a threshold (usually 100pts) had to be paid for with Disadvantages (Kryptonite, Aunt May, etc). So I could build a 200 pt hero but then he would need 100 pts in disadvantages while a 150 pt hero might not be as a capable but he wouldn't have as many "issues" with only 50pts in disadvantages. I have no idea how many characters I made in Champions but there were a whole lot more created then ever adventured in the game because the process was great fun on it's own. Champions and AD&D also taught me a lot of math calculations including fractions, rounding, formulas and probability (the first bell curve I saw was in one of the AD&D books).

I played many RPGs in Chicago and then when I moved to Atlanta I started playing many games with friends and my cousin who lived in Alabama. These games included: Risk, Grand Imperialism, Knights of Camelot, All the King's Men, The James Bond RPG, Marvel Superheroes RPG, SPI War of the Ring, Gamma World, Saga, Viking Gods, Gladiator, Wizards, Talisman, Dungeonquest, Chainsaw Warrior, Bowl Bound, Paydirt, Block Mania, Blood Bowl, Chaos Marauders, Fellowship of the Ring, Kingmaker, Axis and Allies, and Fortress America. Most of these were themed around Fantasy or Role playing games or created by companies in those markets TSR and Games Workshop along with the famous Milton Bradley big box series like Axis and Allies.

Then a tactical game called Battletech came out and I was hooked on a new boardgame. Battletech allowed players to play a combat simulation game where you control your 20-100 ton Mech's which are giant armored robotic looking vehicles armed with lasers, missiles, machine guns, and other weaponry. The sci-fi game produced by FASA had a great back story and it was fun to "blow up" the opponents by destroying armor in various locations and either causing it to overheat, hitting the ammo and igniting a chain reaction, or even blowing up the "head" where the pilot controls the Mech. Teams of Mechs could form Lances (4 Mechs) or Companies (3 Lances). The structure allowed for Battalions (3 Companies) but those battles were resolved with Mass combat rules. The game incorporated Fighters and Dropships too along with Infantry and Tanks which allowed you to simulate invading a planet or running an imbalanced forces scenario. This game was addictive and I can remember playing Mechwarrior (RPG addition to Battletech) for many all-night gaming sessions.

Battletech and Role Playing games along with Axis and Allies were played in High School and even at College. I can still fondly remember some of the battles and adventures that we had during that time. After college, I got married and started working in corporate America in Nashville. Gaming was pushed aside for awhile except for traditional games Monopoly, Scrabble, etc that I played with my wife.

Back in college a friend of mine introduced me to a card game where you played a spell caster and the cards were the spells you used to duel against your opponent. It looked okay but I was too busy and financially strapped to start on a new game. Well, in Nashville I met a co-worker's husband who introduced this game to me again and I became hooked on Magic the Gathering. My lovely wife unknowingly bought me a Starter pack from the 4th Edition because she saw how much I was interested without realizing how "interested" I really was... This game was another great evolutionary design in gaming. Yes, I know that it is a marketing and huge money pit but the game itself is pure genius. The idea that you can take a group of cards and build your own deck by combining elements from the cards together into a consistent and cohesive design is incredible and very, very, VERY, addictive. I invested more dollars than I care to admit into this game but I absolutely loved it. I played this game for several years in the late 90's and into the next century. Then played it some after moving back to Atlanta before I made the next change in gaming.

I remember reading about a game based on the Lord of the Rings but one where players worked together in a cooperative game (this was around 2000 or 2001). It was designed by some German by the name of Reiner Knizia and being a Lord of the Rings fan I was keenly interested. I bought the game along with both expansions and learned about a site with similar "German" games called Boardgamegeek. I also found out about an Atlanta group that met at a hobby store and run by Ward Batty. One Sunday night, I made my way over to the store and played Paris Paris and Carcassonne Hunters and Gatherers there. It was great to meet other people with similar interests and most importantly I got a contact for a boardgame group that met in Acworth. This would be the group that I joined and even though the founder has since moved to Texas, we have continued to meet and play boardgames. I've been playing with this group for 5+ years now and I have played more games than I knew existed. I am blessed that both of my children have a real interest in games and a wife who has become quite the gamer herself (even if she won't play RPGs or wargames).

Thanks Mr. Gygax for an incredible eye-opening experience that brought me into the wonderful world of gaming.
Rest in Peace.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Lack of Updates

I haven't posted many updates recently for a variety of reasons...
1) My schedule has left me less time for boardgaming (two kids in sports and other activities)
2) Since Christmas, I've been spending more time on PS2 games (Guitar Hero, Final Fantasy, etc)
3) I decided not to post all my game group sessions (although I will add some from time to time).

I'm really enjoying the time with my children. This spring I will be assistant coach for my daughter's soccer team and also for my son's little league baseball team. They grow up quickly and so this takes a lot of time. They also are really enjoying more boardgames than ever and we play as a family on a regular basis. Some new Christmas games that were hits with the kids were...

Zooreka - this is a Cranium game that lets players move around collecting cards to build habitats for their zoos. It is simple (and we added a few house rules to make it more interesting) but the kids really get into the theme and the game is very colorful and tactile.

Ice Cream - this is a light card game but again the theme is what attracts the kids (particularly Heather).

Zooloretto - sure it is a light game for Game of the Year but the kids are both able to play it and it has opportunities for theme to win. Also, tactile with a fun theme. (is there a trend...)

Hare and Tortoise - a classic german boardgame that uses a lot of math skills and really leverages "position" in a race game. My son enjoys it but he has trouble with the decisions (he is only 6) however he likes to roll the die on the Rabbit spaces. Heather, on the other hand, is quite skilled at calculating the amount of carrots to spend to optimize her moves and cross the finish line. A great game for math oriented children.

David and Goliath - a fun card game that I purchased primarily for when we get together with non-gamers that like trick taking games. It is light and has some unique twists that make it fun to play regardless of the cards you are dealt.

Race for the Galaxy - Currently my favorite new game from Christmas. I haven't taught Heather yet (although she is good at San Juan) but this game is really fun. I think it appeals to my Magic the Gathering desires for intricate card combinations and interactions. Race is a game in the vein of San Juan but with more varied cards and strategies. Brian Bankler has many articles on this game on his blog the Tao of Gaming.

Lord of the Rings Confrontation - I've had this game for some time and really enjoy it but my wife doesn't like the artwork and she won't play it with me often. However, Matthew has shown an interest in it and we have played several games now. He seems to be getting some of the strategies and I give him both variant cards but he lacks the strategic thinking to really elevate his game to the next level -- he is only 6!

I have busied myself playing on our new PS2 (yes, we are behind in video game technology) recently and haven't played as many boardgames. This week I played Guitar Hero I and II and finished both games on Medium difficulty. Now I'm trying Hard and it is HARD to complete songs (which is a good thing because it is fun to play even if you can't finish the song).

I'll try to post some more game reviews and strategies over the next few months.