2017: My Year With Books, Part 2

As promised, here is 2017: My Year With Books, Part 2. This is continuing my list of books I read in 2017 and some light commentary to see if you might be interested in checking them out. I read a lot of fiction, marketing, data, and design books – with the smattering of books on music and musicians, theme parks, and various obscure concepts. To get the full story on this series of articles, please see my previous post 2017: My Year With Books, Part 1.

Light Boxes by Shane Jones – Fiction – New Read2017: My Year with Books, Part 2

Another find from scoping out books for my father at the library, Light Boxes was my airplane book flying over to Germany this summer. It’s an otherworldly fairy tale that is short but powerful. I’d highly recommend this fanciful, luminous book to anyone who likes the odd, the macabre and the fantastic. The bird masks on the cover definitely caught my eye and got me to buy it (the $0.33 price didn’t hurt either).

The World’s Shortest Stories, edited by Steve Moss – Fiction – New Read2017: My Year with Books, Part 2
The other book I read on the plane to Germany, this collection of 55-word stories reminds me of my own time composing super-short stories like these. I had a good time with them and enjoyed the way this economy of words pushes stories ahead with twists and interesting diction. Brevity is indeed the soul of wit, and for someone given to overwriting (isn’t this article series proof of that?), the limit is welcome creative pressure. If they do another volume, I’m interested in contributing.

The Rise and Fall of the D.O.D.O by Neal Stephenson and Nicole Galland – Fiction – New Read2017: My Year with Books, Part 2
Read this while touring through London last year, missing a signing with the authors by one day. Reading like a collaboration between Stephenson and Terry Pratchett, this wild tale is on the light end for the former and leans into the sillier work of the latter. It’s a good experience, but those expecting a deep, thoughtful book like Stephenson often writes should lower their expectations and enjoy this funny tale that pits technology and magic against one another.

Lent to me by my colleague and friend Kai, I polished this one off quickly because a lot of the instruction is pretty Marketing 101. Understand customers, give them what they want, explain it simply – that kind of thing. In fairness, there is real magic in effective marketing, and this book makes that clear. Yet, when you do more than this, that’s when you make the magic. Good for those who are just getting into the business and at least it’s not called something with “dummies” or “idiots”. Knocked off this slim one on the train from Frankfurt to Goslar.

I keep hunting for another Bossypants by Tina Fey and I still haven’t found one. The closest was the very enjoyable Yes, Please from Amy Poehler. But this one, from another Friend of Fey, falls completely flat. Far more focused on telling real stories in detail than finding ways to bring some poignancy to the proceedings while keeping things moving, this quick but unsatisfying read was fairly boring for most of the length of the pages. Some SNL stories were interesting but the rest was only finished because it was relatively short and I only had so many books with me on the plane back from Europe.

Another book that could have been a Power Point, Pozen’s techniques are nothing special and the stuff that you see in Medium articles that people write just to get more people to follow them. Didn’t learn anything I didn’t already learn from smarter folks.

Of course I love the idea of Johnson’s book – that we must play to learn how to innovate, solve problems, and enrich our lives. I believe this fully as both a game designer and a person who knows leisure gives you the ideas you work out when you are actually working. No one comes up with great ideas while sitting at a desk in a stuffy office.
Johnson has a lot of nice examples to illustrate his point, including many I’d heard before, but the book still reads pleasantly throughout with some examples that drive things well.

Having loved the film version that Alexander Payne did, I’ve read the novel and also the sequel, Vertical. While book 3 is a lot more of the same without an attempt to figure out another direction to reference in the title, it was a lot of fun to follow Miles down to Chile to explore the wine world in the budding region.
While a certain amount of the story is surely autobiographical, Pickett does add more thoughtful observations than I often saw in Vertical, which seemed to want to add some outrageousness to match key moments in the film. I’d say that Sideways 3 is an even more enjoyable read than Vertical, but I also think it’s time for Pickett to move on.

As it happens, this was my first book read in 2017. The woman who inspired and wrote a lot of Elaine on Seinfeld is definitely also no Tina Fey. But her observations are funny in a Boomer kind of way. She definitely was better off writing with a group (she was part of the staff on the recent Academy Awards, I noted) but her biographical book is still enjoyable and her revelations are genuine and interesting at times.

Career of Evil (Cormoran Strike, #3) by Robert Galbraith (J.K. Rowling) – Fiction – New Read2017: My Year with Books, Part 2
I quite like the Cormoran Strike novels, even as they want to push the limit on what I’d like to read about modern deviant behavior. For those who don’t know, this is a series of crime novels from Robert Galbraith, the pseudonym for J.K. Rowling. I guess it is Rowling finally getting a chance to explore things that would have been a problem if you’re writing young adult fiction so she really pushes it with fairly dark parts of humanity. While it lacks the interesting literary world of The Silkworm, Career of Evil trades a bit on an obsession with the band Blue Oyster Cult, who I happen to casually admire. Strike and Robin are enjoyable characters and I’m glad we’ll have seven or so books of their exploits, told in Rowling’s quirky and punchy prose.
I do feel a sense of sadness, however, because with the passing of my father early in 2018, I no longer have an excuse for buying the new book for him and then reading it so we could chat about it. Our reading tastes were pretty different so these rare overlapping titles were welcome. As the series continues, I feel sure I’ll still have a pleasant conversation with my dad somewhere in my head.

7 Against Chaos by Harlan Ellison – Fiction – New Read2017: My Year with Books, Part 2
I found out about this graphic novel Harlan did earlier this century from one of his introductory essays in Ellison Wonderland. Despite being just a few years old, it has an old school sci-fi feel in both tone and artwork. A mild diversion and a fair story that has that Ellison feel but isn’t one for the ages. Worth a look if you’re a fan of his, as I am. Most amusing about this was my mother picking up the book and her saying, “You are reading comic books?”

Hey Nostradamus! by Douglas Coupland – Fiction – New Read2017: My Year with Books, Part 2
Easily the least of the great Douglas Coupland’s books, Hey Nostradamus reads like a homework assignment. Better write something about gun massacres! It lacks the wit and useful commentary of his books, replacing it with second-rate Raymond Carver. Still has flashes of wit, but hardly justifying the read. How the mighty man who wrote Generation X has fallen.

Kicking & Dreaming: A Story of Heart, Soul, and Rock and Roll by Anna and Nancy Wilson – Non-fiction – New Read
Yes, Heart from the 70’s are great. And Heart from the 80’s are a guilty pleasure. I was a teenager then and deeply in love with the gorgeous, powerhouse singer Ann Wilson. I’d say her infamous weight gain might even have informed my own passion for the

2017: My Year with Books Part 2

Rubenesque. She always looked lovely to me and besides, true love does not see these things as a problem! But I digress.
Heart’s charming book is a quick read told from many points of view. That includes the Wilson sisters and some friends, band members and even the occasional former boyfriend. They tell it pretty warts-and-all (that’s how these books should be told – see the not-warty Set the Boy Free later on this list), which makes for a page-turner that I loved reading in the pool last summer. It also made me return to their music and discover anew some tracks they loved most. What a delight for my head and my ears.

To be continued…

2017: My Year With Books, Part 1

2017: My Year With Books, Part 1

The BGB 2017 Year in Books

Last year, I read an article that suggested CEOs need to read 60 books a year to keep up with what is happening in the world. Presumably, that means a cross-section of books that would make them effective leaders, track what is going on in the world that would have an impact on their business, and maybe some notable new books about non-fiction subjects on what is to come.

My interest wasn’t in just doing what the CEOs do. I wanted to read what I wanted, which would be a mix of books about being more effective at my job (sure, that one’s similar and what I do for a living), data and social sciences (this is what we work on at my company, and it’s something I’m passionate about), and a smattering of fiction to keep myself level. This makes me laugh, thinking of the quote in Sideways (yes, I saw the film first) when the soon-to-be-father-in-law of Jack says, “I can’t read fiction, it’s all made up.” So funny to think you can’t learn from fiction.

Anyway, I was more inspired by the number, the sheer volume of knowledge flowing into the heads of these exceptional CEOs than their subjects of choice. But I also didn’t want to set myself up for failure. New Year’s resolutions are kind of a joke. We break them all the time because we set goals too far beyond our ability or in categories we just don’t care about. Then, we buckle. So, I went low. I thought one book every two weeks would be a good place to start. So, I set the goal in Goodreads for 26 books.

To my delight, I surpassed that quickly and hit 64 books for the year with a combination of reading physical books, Kindle books, and audiobooks when I would commute. In this way, I can read two to three books at all times depending on the circumstances. Next year, I plan to double my goal to 52 books, one per week, to see if I can match this excellent reading year.

I would note that I consider all of these options ‘reading’ a book. I have some friends who think otherwise, suggesting that listening to an audio book is somehow less pure than reading the words on a page. That’s hogwash, of course. Douglas Adams famously noted that people who are concerned about this are ‘mistaking the plate for the meal.’ If the information flows into your head, you read it. The whole point of reading is to get that information into your head so it will be knowledge you have available to filter against everything else that comes out of your mouth (or your pen), not so you can consume it in a certain format that will allow you to line shelves in your home with your accomplishments. Reading 60 books a year isn’t about showing off, it’s about learning enough to feel you spent that part of your life well this year.

Why do I read so much despite a busy life with work, family, and time-consuming hobbies like tabletop board game design? I have been asked this a few times this year – ‘how do you find the time?’ Well, as a Franklin Covey class taught me over twenty years ago, you don’t ever ‘find’ time. You make time. You schedule, you keep conscious of where you waste time (e.g., the television and now, the internet), and you just simply turn over some of that time to books. Not all of it, because the reality of the situation is that most modern people want to spend some amount of time consuming content. That’s what the books are anyway: consumption. But it’s not empty consumption like watching sitcoms or crime shows. It’s the vitamin-enriched meal, versus the junk food, and moderation is key.

With that, let me jump into my list for 2017. I find my year in books to be, in many ways, as compelling as a lot of physical experiences. The flowering of one’s brain should really be enjoyable on the level of exercise from being out of the woods, or effective days at the gym.

While this last year was a grim one in many ways both personal and political, my reading year was truly wonderful.

BGB 2017 Year in Books

The Restaurant at the End of the Universe by Douglas Adams – Fiction – New Read

Geek confession, I suppose. As someone who called a BBS in the 80’s called The Dark Domain where you needed to know the books in Adams’ famous series to understand what people are saying, I had read the first novel when I was 14 years old. But I never got to the other novels in the series because that first one gave me a sufficiently solid grounding to understand why someone was called Hitchhiker, someone else Trillian (his girlfriend), someone else was Arthur Dent, etc. I’d say thatanyone from the geek persuasion needs to, and will, in fact, enjoy the series. So, when my son Alaric read the first one and asked if the others were any good, I had to say I wasn’t sure. That would not stand. My friend Kai has been encouraging me to read more books for pure fun (although he’s been pushing Douglas Adams’ fantasy counterpart, Terry Pratchett), so I thought I’d give the second novel in the series a try. It’s not Hitchhiker, with the wall-to-wall uproarious entries from the books that gives the series its name, but it is funny and a quick read to delight geeks, nerds, and thoughtful people in general. I will continue the series in 2018.

Blink by Malcolm Gladwell – Non-Fiction – New ReadBGB 2017 Year in Books

After seeing Mr. Gladwell on a talk show last year, I’d meant to read his books. I first tackled Blink after finding it at a used bookstore for a great price. This exceptional book had a major impact on me. Blink explores the human tendency to make judgements quickly, for better or worse. Interesting examples of both abound and it made me consider how thoughtful I can be about judging people in the world, and how often a gut reaction can help when considering the response to a situation. That ‘gut’ just needs a history of context to be useful. A wonderful read that I found rewarding.

The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell – Non-Fiction – New ReadBGB 2017 Year in Books

Perhaps a week or two after finishing Blink, I took up The Tipping Point, which was an earlier book that made Mr. Gladwell quite famous, it seems. While it similarly takes on the subject (journalist that he is) of explaining a concept through stories, I found The Tipping Point to be a lot less intriguing. Sure, it’s mildly interesting to think about why some things hit big and others do not (that is the titular ‘Tipping Point’), the revelations from the book were only somewhat useful to me as a marketer. Worth a quick read, but it doesn’t have the impact of Blink.

Red Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson – Fiction – New ReadBGB 2017 Year in Books

One of the more popular and well-respected games of the last few years is a monster called Terraforming Mars. I don’t call it a monster due to its size, but due to the enormous number of cards in the game. My first play was just okay, due to an early card mix that tended towards attacking cards that seemed to just slow the game. The second one was better, and by game three, I understood why so many of my hardcore gamer friends were playing it: it was rich in game-play like Race for the Galaxy, another exceptional game that had so much to explore. Word on the street was that the designer of Terraforming Mars had been inspired by Kim Stanley Robinson’s trilogy that began with the novel Red Mars. I had not read the series but I recalled it from my days working at a bookstore in the 80’s. It was hard sci-fi, the type I typically only read if it is from a Golden Age author like Clarke, Heinlein or Asimov. Yet, I was excited to check it out due to its inspiration for the game. I got what I expected: hard science fiction heavy on plot and details of scientists doing scientific things, low on character development. The novel is rich in details easy to turn tiny plot points into cards within the game, so it was ideal for this purpose. It’s a hefty book and playing a little ‘spot the card’ was a side activity while I read through the novel. I might read the sequels (Blue Mars and Green Mars) as I explore the board game with my son (who loves it), but they aren’t on the top of my list.

When Breathe Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi – Non-Fiction – New ReadBGB 2017 Year in Books

Picked off a list on Product Hunt about the most gifted books, Kalanithi’s book does not fit any of my normal reading areas, except maybe the unspoken one about being a better human being. The difficult narrative follows the life of a budding surgeon who gets a diagnosis of cancer that will end his life. The acceptance of that situation and the choices one has to make once one knows that time is short are essentially the subject of the book. While I would not opt for anything Kalanithi did (including having a child so he could feel the experience of fatherhood, while robbing said child of having a father for most of her life – or pursuing a career as a surgeon and putting people at potential risk), his story of letting go, learning to accept that there are others in your life who might have the right perspective to help you, and, finally, focusing on family, were insightful and useful to me. At times, the book was very hard to read because I lost two important people in my life this year, including my Uncle Bill (someone who was like my second dad and an inspiration for much of my personality) and my father early in 2018. The book was also illuminating and made me value the life I have and think ahead about planning for the world without me. I plan to make a chatbot. 😉

Nightwings by Robert Silverberg – Fiction – New ReadBGB 2017 Year in Books

Silverberg has always struck me as one of the underrated writers of speculative fiction. Within the sci-fi world, he’s been recognized but he doesn’t get enough mainstream respect because he writes things that can be a trifle odd. His work is consistently interesting, he knows how to create great characters, and he has a head for new ideas that can match the Golden Age greats and a weirdness that can match those 60’s sci-fi greats like Philip K. Dick and Samuel R. Delany. I had read Nightwings was one of his best (probably in a Harlan Ellison essay) and I’m glad to report that it certainly is right up there with Tower of Glass, my favorite of his works. A heartfelt piece of science fiction taking place on an alien world, Nightwings still conveys a lot about the human condition and is possessed of Silverberg’s lovely prose. I will be hitting more of his books in 2018 for sure. It’s a crime that I haven’t read them all.

The Four: The Hidden DNA of Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google by Scott Galloway – Non-Fiction – New ReadBGB 2017 Year in Books

My love of Prof. Galloway’s L2 videos is hard to overstate. While they have gotten sillier (not ideal), the main appeal is his no-BS take on brands, society and the world in general. His book takes a lot of his observations on the power and damage to the world done and potentially to be done by these massive companies and puts it into book form. While I think most would probably be just as well served by watching his recent Ted Talk on the subject, I enjoyed the detail and examples he provided as I am a student of these four companies and share similar concerns about their power and influence. A fun read, and a quick one, too. And he just did a board game themed episode so, here’s an embed.

The Hard Thing About Hard Things by Ben Horowitz – Non-Fiction – New ReadBGB 2017 Year in Books

The founder/VC/Product leader Horowitz quickly became a member of my CEO crush list (including Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, Marc Benioff) with his no-nonsense guide to getting tech companies right. While Mr. Horowitz had his ups and downs over time, he’s learned a ton and generously shown it off here, down to the details of hiring, managing and operations for tech startups. This book is like a textbook for the biz and I immediately purchased a physical copy after reading it on Kindle so I could make use of it. Highly recommended for those who work in technology or startups in general.

Artemis by Andy Weir – Fiction – New Read

The Martian is a very pleasant book, a good film and on the basis of BGB 2017 Year in Booksthose facts, I definitely was going to give Artemis a try. I heard the audio book, which is narrated by Rosario Dawson – a woman with one of those voices that sounds more pleasant than a Chopin composition. The book itself is a heist story set on the moon and feels like Weir wrote it with the expectation that it would hit the big screen soon enough. Based on the success of the last story getting into movie form, this is a fair assumption, but it also makes it read a bit like a screenplay. Not a bad thing – Artemis reads quickly, which makes its initially-unlikable heroine easier to like as the story moves fast. It’s not as awesome as The Martian but Weir’s version of the moon’s society is interesting (although I’ll take Heinlein’s version in The Moon is a Harsh Mistress over this one for sheer oddness-while-plausible). Worth a look if you really like the author.

Storm Front by Jim Butcher – Fiction – New ReadBGB 2017 Year in Books

My friend and colleague Kai pushed me to read this one and I’m glad he did. Butcher’s Dresden series will likely get read entirely because the easy style of this wizard-detective in modern times goes down like sweet tea. Butcher’s take on magic-users in the now is clever and while the mysteries themselves will probably not interest me from the POV of trying to solve them ahead of time, I did enjoy the ride. Not quite bringing me back to the fun of Glen Cook’s old Garrett Files, but there’s a little something there. Also, there’s a new game based on these books but it’s another deckbuilder. Sigh. I think we’ve had enough.

Couch by Benjamin Parzybok – Fiction – New ReadBGB 2017 Year in Books

Every week, I go to the Glendora Library and pick up used books for my father to read (until his passing in early 2018). He lacks mobility here in his mid-80’s but his mind still wanders constantly among the stories and books I bring him. And the man reads fast. He used to do two books a day when he was a younger man, reading on his bus ride to work, at lunch and breaks, and on the ride home. Insane. I can’t do that, and I’m not sure I want to try. But this means regular trips to find him new material now. The upside of these regular hunts is that I find books for myself sometimes, too. Couch was one of those finds. It’s an odd book that I knew wouldn’t work for my dad, but would work for me. Three geeky slacker friends are forced to move a couch from their apartment and that process unearths an adventure that takes them to the sea and into another country as they realize there is more to this piece of furniture than they ever imagined. Strange, delightful and well-written, I recommend Couch to anyone who likes oddly diverting fiction that just tells a good story.

To be continued…

Film Review: Game Night is Game for Gamers

Film Review: Game Night is Game for Gamers

Board games and movies have had a rocky relationship. I recall loving the film Clue from the beginning, even though it got terrible reviews when it was originally released with three separate endings. You had to check the newspaper listings (yes, we had those), to see which version was at your local theater (I saw A and B, C wasn’t playing locally). Other board game movies that are out there are few and far between from the truly terrible Battleship movie (I can’t bring myself to link to it) to mostly children’s fare. But Game Night sounded intriguing to me as the (overlong) trailer had a few good laughs in it.

Game Night doesn’t really move into the realm we tabletop gamers would hope; meeples and a Settlers of Catan city piece get a cameo in the opening but what’s played thereafter in the game sessions is purely mass market stuff. Let’s pause for a moment to say that these people should not be bringing old copies of Life to parties. They’d definitely be doing Settlers, Cards Against Humanity, and maybe Dixit. My gosh, these things are at Target and Barnes and Noble now.

Game Night

But whatever. Game Night delivers on the promise of its trailer by providing 90 minutes of brainless fun. Two overly competitive people meet and marry (Jason Bateman and Rachel McAdams – funny and charming people), establishing a regular game night with their friends. One finally goes awry when Bateman’s older brother sets up a more involved murder mystery game, which bleeds into real life. Jesse Plemons is funny as the guy you are happy to let drop out of the Game Night. Really, all of the cast is good, the jokes (too many of which are shown in the trailer) are solid, and things proceed along quickly. Even some amusing issues with unwanted guests, problematic details getting revealed and the like get highlighted, which adds to the theme of the film. I do wish there was more game humor, but I guess I’ll just have to write that movie. 😉 Bateman remains funny as ever (he’s still immortal to me because of “It’s Your Move”, a classic short-lived sitcom) and McAdams is charming and lovely, if a bit young for Bateman.

No one is going to talk about how Game Night was robbed when those Academy Award noms fail to come through, but I enjoyed the film enough to recommend it for gamers seeking a silly night at the movies. It’s R-rated for language mostly, but it’s not too bad and probably could have been softened to a PG-13 with some unnecessary F-bombs excised.

Boardgame Babylon says: Rental is fine unless you have MoviePass, which is completely awesome.

Photos: Property of New Line Cinema

PREVIEW: Edge of Darkness from John D. Clair and Alderac

PREVIEW: Edge of Darkness from John D. Clair and Alderac

When playing Edge of Darkness, I immediately thought about the fact that I don’t play Dominion anymore.

While the brilliance of the deck-building concept was thrilling when it came out, many of the games that followed it improved upon the original Donald X. Vaccarino design. The most compelling, in my view, are those that use it as a mechanism within a more significant game like Reiner Knizia’s Quest for El Dorado or, more magnificently, Concordia.

Edge of Darkness has done that for Card Crafting, the clever mechanism introduced by designer John D. Clair and Alderac Entertainment Group. Thankfully, it didn’t take a decade for them to follow the title that introduced this concept, the still-excellent Mystic Vale. But if that first game introduced us to Card Crafting in a simpler format of deck-building to VP glory, Edge of Darkness explores fascinating new applications of the mechanism in a satisfying game that has significant depths to explore.

Edge of Darkness, in fact, brings many much-loved mechanisms into its story of perhaps morally ambiguous Guild Masters seeking glory by defending their city. There’s worker placement, drafting, hand-management, semi-collaborative deck-building, and even a fricking awesome cube tower reminiscent of Wallenstein. It’s a complex and interesting game with a ton of variation, likely to provide long hours of enjoyable play. I’m excited for it to launch to Kickstarter this week after playing it at Strategicon‘s Orccon 2018 this weekend.

Guild Masters Get Ready: Overview

In Edge of Darkness, each player is a Guild Master trying to be the greatest leader in town through control of a central deck of cards, training their staff, and defending the city against incursions by evil folks. For some reason, this city was built right near a means of big baddies coming in. Did they learn nothing from Tolkien? Thriving cities in earshot of Black Towers are a bad thing. In real estate, it’s ‘location, location, location’. Yet, these folks built their city in a spot wherein some game designer could come by and tell the tale of their plight in a game called Edge of Darkness. What a bunch of chuckleheads.

But I digress. These Guild Masters want to defend the city but mostly they want to win. While there are various ways to do that, sometimes the bad guys come through, they hit everyone and sometimes they hit just one guild. So, you need to be ready.

As played, your Guild Masters draft cards from the board, upgrade one of them, and then play them out to take actions. Some of these actions require you to send an agent to the location to provide an advantage or take an action that might be immediate or setting things up for a future activity or event.

Edging Into The Game

The drafting is straightforward. Select the first card in line or play Influence markers (one of the game’s currencies) to skip it and take the next one. Interestingly, when those Influence markers are claimed by a player in the future, they aren’t just reusable. They flip over and transform into Good Will, a third currency which is really just a 1/4 victory point. I rather like this concept because it doesn’t have the utility of money normally used in this kind of mechanism, but it also isn’t entirely stripped of value. In many cases, players will skip cards that are highly desirable to their competitors so this prevents Influence from overly-sweetening the selection for the card. It’s a very nice touch.

Edge of Darkness

The opportunity to upgrade is another point where Edge of Darkness shines. While my one game (thus, this is a preview and not a ‘review’) was played with a standard set of ten upgrades, Clair has five times that number ready in case Edge of Darkness takes off like it should and it hits all the stretch goals. In the game, these upgrades are done without cost but only one is generally taken and it has to go on one of the cards in your hand into an open slot.

Primer: Card Crafting

If you aren’t familiar with Card Crafting, quickly: You acquire cards that you slide into sleeves so their attributes are added to a card already in the deck. It’s a development of Keith Baker’s Gloom mechanism where transparent overlays affect cards, but it’s elegantly done with a three-slot concept Clair created. Cards begin with one or no slots open and develop over time as you upgrade them. You can also find this mechanism in the second game Card Crafting game, Custom Heroes, which is a bit like Tichu with cards you can upgrade.

Edge of Darkness amps this up further because the upgrades are double-sided. More on that later.

Drafted cards have ownership as well. While each player has a certain number they own, there are also generic cards they can acquire in the game. When playing them, your own and generic cards are free to use. If you draft another player’s card, you’ll need to pay one gold each to use the (up-to-three) actions on the cards.

Edge of Darkness

This concept makes for another intriguing part of the design. Ownership gets you more income (which normally requires actions), which offers versatility and 1/4 victory points at the end of the game if you don’t spend it all or convert them more efficiently with one of the actions.

After upgrades, you play your cards and potentially use the actions on them. These often require agents to be played to the location associated with the action type, worker-placement style. Some are simple enough to just let you take money or Influence, make your guild agents usable (some begin the game untrained), or to take arms against the bad guys. Others are more subtle, helping you acquire ownership of generic cards in the central deck or trading gold for VP, or even increasing your hand size. Managing the preparations for war isn’t all there is but it’s a key component so let’s talk about the bad people coming out of the mighty Threat Tower.

The Threats Keep Coming

Next to your board when you play Edge of Darkness is the great Threat Tower. Evoking Tolkien’s Barad-dûr, the Dark Tower of the 80’s board game and also the Cube Tower used in Wallenstein, Amerigo, and other games, this edifice holds three bad cards at once and has an opening up top where players drop cubes of various player colors. Players acquire new cubes to drop in each round based on the cards in their three-card hand. When eight cubes drop into the area for one of the three cards, that baddie attacks the player who has the most cubes in there. Notably, there are also a fair number black cubes in the bag from which players draw them. If black has the majority (ties count), then all players are attacked.

The bad guys, interestingly, are cards from the deck. The back of the transparent upgrade and action cards are attacking hoards of evil. This clever idea helps increase difficulty as you build up powerful up the cards in the shared deck.

If you take the attack, you lose points on a personal track on your guild board. Attacks can be mitigated by some spaces where you have agents and defending successfully awards points. Some actions let you kill these guys as the cubes built up, as well. Hunting the threats can let you use the normally worthless Citizen actions (one that is common on the starting cards) to go kill a threat that might have too many of your cubes in it. Efficiently done, you can prep and hit them in the same turn but the subtleties of how this and some similar concepts work is another one of the strengths of the game’s design.

Played over eight turns, Edge of Darkness clocks in about two hours but it didn’t feel that long. While the game plays 2 to 4 players, I would expect a head-to-head game to last less time and be less compelling than playing with three or four. The components with which we played were not final except for the art. The work, done by Alayna Lemmer-Danner, is uniformly excellent and powerfully ties to the theme.

Final Thoughts

Edge of Darkness is a winning use of Card Crafting and an elegantly wrought game. Without a doubt, it’s the most satisfying of the Card Crafting games so far, maybe because of its sheer grandeur but also because it allows this innovative concept to work well with others. I see Edge of Darkness as the fulfillment of the promise of Card Crafting and expect it to be extremely popular with gamers seeking a satisfying experience with some coopetition built-in (one of my favorite things).

Edge of Darkness

While new players might be slightly overwhelmed by the number of cards, those that are used to Dominion and other deck-builders should take easily to the various mechanisms available. In our game, the most lost player had it down by turn three and was raring to play again after we played it. I narrowly lost EoD but I know what I’d do differently next time I play and I’m looking forward to it. That is a very good sign indeed.

Official Boardgame Babylon rating pending for more plays but will likely be on the top end. Edge of Darkness launches on Kickstarter February 20th.

Boardgame Babylon Rating for Edge of Darkness

BIN (Buy It Now) PIN (P)lay It Now TIF (Try It First) NMT (Not My Thing)

Disclosure: Designer John D. Clair personally taught our game and images are of a play-test copy of the game.

Review: Kokoro by Eilif Svensson and Kristian Amundsen Østby via Indie Board and Card Games

Review: Kokoro by Eilif Svensson and Kristian Amundsen Østby via Indie Board and Card Games

Take It Easy is the game I always associate with the ‘draw and everyone place’ game mechanism. What each player can make of the options as they come out is an interesting way to resolve things. Whether it is done for pattern-matching like Take It Easy, Mosaix and Wurfel Bingo or path-building like in SDJ nominee Karuba and Kokoro designers’ own Doodle City, there is a lot of mileage in it. The new Kokoro from IBG takes on the path-making concept in Karuba, turning that concept into a different and possibly more satisfying game.

Kokoro plays 1-8 players, with each one claiming a dry-erase grid map with gardens and sanctuaries on it. Five of the six sanctuaries on the board will score based on the number of objects (caterpillars and flowers, for reasons unknown to this writer) the paths connects to them. Each turn, a tile is drawn by the Caller (ahem, the oldest player) and all players draw the path on it right on their board. These paths are simple lines or pairs making various curves that connect two sides of a tile. Once a tile is covered, you cannot overwrite it so players need to be cautious about building their connections effectively for this scoring round and future ones. This is key and a good warning to everyone early on; while it is easy to just write in any old shape on a tile, it’s important to take a longer view about how it might isolate caterpillars and flowers you want to score later.

The current sanctuary is your focus, but the other option for players is to not draw from that tile and take a peek at the next sanctuary. This way, if a particular tile is no help at all, players can use this option to plan ahead. Ideally, when drawing, players try to not just plan for the current sanctuary but look ahead to connect to others. This is a good idea for general efficiency but also because the game requires increasing success. Each sanctuary score must be higher than the last one or the player suffers a -5 point penalty. Tiles are drawn until four gold tiles come out, which represent about 1/3 of the tiles in the stack. As a result, some sanctuaries will get outsized opportunities to score versus others. This element makes the planning a little more serious than this cute game would imply. I find it to be a great feature and it’s a lot of the appeal of the game, in my view.


The basic game is that, but the box comes with two more expansions and I recommend playing with those unless you have extremely casual players. They aren’t too difficult to incorporate, really just adding some basic variations to how to score the game. These options open up the game even more, giving players more choices when a tile comes up than just isn’t right for the current sanctuary. Kokoro is a bit unforgiving, however. If you screw up early, it can be difficult to recover from initial bad choices. I do think the game should have some kind of mulligan option to let you remove a single tile that could help you get back on track. We had one cranky player during one of our sessions who played improperly early and fussed through the whole game. It’s only a quarter of an hour, of course, so a fouled-up play isn’t a real tragedy. On to the next game, I say.

That said, Kokoro wins big points for scaling wonderfully from 1 to 8 players and offering an enjoyable time in 15 minutes of play. The components are nice, the artwork is utterly charming, and the box is compact enough to pop into the bag whenever you go gaming. Kokoro is a winner in my view and I think it belongs in the collection of gamers who want a filler for the big crowd to play at the beginning before breaking into other games.

Boardgame Babylon Rating for Kokoro

BIN (Buy It Now) PIN (P)lay It Now TIF (Try It First) NMT (Not My Thing)

PRESS RELEASE: Working Together Is Your Key to Victory in Team Play – in Stores Now!

Editor’s Note: We previously reviewed Team Play here on Boardgame Babylon when it was only available via Schmidt Spielebecause we’re big fans of this clever game. I’m thrilled that WizKids picked it up for US distribution because this is a really fun, approachable game you can play with just about anyone. Check out our full review here.

Hillside, NJ – January 31, 2018 – WizKids is excited to announce the card game, Team Play, is now available in North American game stores! Licensed from Schmidt Spiele, you and your partner work together to complete your mission cards and earn points before the other team(s). These missions are various combinations of numbers and/or colors, such as 2 pairs of uneven numbers, or having 3 low numbers, or 5 consecutive red numbers, etc.

Unable to directly say what your goals are, you and your teammate must be able to read each other’s needs, helping to accomplish missions by passing crucial cards. The other team(s) are also trying to accomplish missions, so you must work smart and fast in order to score the most points. You are hard pressed to do this on your own, so team work is the key to winning!

Don’t have an even number of players? That’s okay, the rule book goes over an odd player count version of the game. Players have a larger hand count, but cannot pass cards between anyone. You are a team of one in a 3 and 5 player games, but the goal remains the same. Complete missions and earn more victory points then the other players.

Think you and a friend have what it takes to work together and fulfill the various missions? Or are you looking for an easy “pick up and play” party game?

Be sure to pick up Team Play from your FLGS today for $19.99! Or order on Amazon.

Review: Kaiju Crush by Tim Armstrong and Justin De Witt via Fireside Games

Review: Kaiju Crush by Tim Armstrong and Justin De Witt via Fireside Games

Kaiju Crush is all about monster battles in an urban area. The richness of the monster smashing cities theme is probably not in dispute. While I cannot count myself as a fan of films about the subject, I played plenty of Rampage (the video game) and see the appeal of these massive, fantastic creatures wreaking havoc on cities and the like. There is even a film coming out that looks loosely based on the video game. Certainly Pacific Rim (for all its flaws) reminded us of the appeal of giant monsters breaking up cities (if Cloverfield didn’t already do that for you).

A few years back, Rampage (later retitled “Terror in Meeple City”) from the always-interesting Antoine Bauza, would become one of the best matches of theme and mechanisms for this kind of game. A dexterity-based game that still had many euro stylings to keep it strongly constructed, Rampage is a treat. It’s just about ideal for the theme, but Kaiju Crush has helped me see another style that could work with this theme. This game comes to us from the successful husband-wife team that runs Fireside Games, makers of the hit Castle Panic series, the excellent Hotshots (which we love) and the amusing Bears!, working with designer Tim Armstrong.

Kaiju Crush tells us the story of a group of large, unruly monsters controlled by the players that decimate a city. Players are trying to cause more destruction than the others to win the honor of being the best monster (winning the game). Turns are focused on a creative action system that allows players to use one of two moves each turn, either the one they are dealt (currently hold) or a community option that sits between players. If players use their own, players switch it with the communityKaiju Crush option but if they use the community choice, it stays there. I quite like the way this mechanism works and although it sounds familiar, I cannot place it. This restricts movement in an interesting way, allowing for choices between adjacent moves, leaps over a spot or two, or a Chess Knight-style move.

Beyond that, Kaiju Crush is about using those moves to claim buildings on the board, which have various values between 1 and 4, as well as a set icon that can add up to bonuses later. This move for your monster lets you take a space over (claiming the tile) and repositions you for next turn. In this way, the game has the feel of a more nuanced Hey, That’s My Fish, with players claiming buildings both for points and for how it positions them to claim additional spaces with the options available next turn. As the game progresses, fewer and fewer options are available as the map of buildings is turned to rubble and claimed spaces. This positioning is important because players still only have those two options for your monster has each turn. The end game is maximizing how you can claim as many spaces as possible before the city is decimated. Players collect points for buildings, sets claimed, and any other bonuses. The winning monster is the one with the most points, naturally.

That’s not all there is, though – the monsters get to fight if they land on the same space or an adjacent one. This kicks in the battle process, which is like a paper-rock-scissors game you play to 3 out of 5. Each player gets a handful of five cards per battle. Using the five-option system, each monster in the battle plays a card and resolves it by comparison. This is where the monsters’ special powers kick in, as each one either wins ties of some type or gets to optimize cards a bit. This match of cards is fun, with 3 of 5 being the perfect amount to give people a chance for each battle to have its own life. That doesn’t mean I wasn’t routinely killed by my wife 3 in a row because she can zone in on my brainwaves. But you’ll have a great time with it, I’m sure. Winning the battle gives you a bonus chip (worth 1-3 points) and if you’re on the same spot, the winner will take it.

The game has a couple of additional elements that add to the experience. All players get a special one-time use power. They are hit-or-miss, but can help in a key moment. Additional, there are four other ways to score points based on the spaces on the map you collect, the building types you claim, and some options that even crop up in the game. These extra concepts add replay value and some variability to the game.

In the end, Kaiju Crush is a fun game for families, but I wouldn’t recommend playing with only two. The game is less interesting with just a head-to-head game, offering fewer options all around. I think the game shines best at four players, with a full complement of gamers. Components are solid, as is the norm with Fireside, although younger players might enjoy replacing the cardboard monsters with miniatures to up the toy factor. Gamers will admire the intriguing aspects, but might wear out the game play quickly with the options available. I still recommend giving it a play to see the interesting moving mechanism and to have a good time with the quick battles you get into with your kaiju. The game is certainly ripe for expansions featuring new monsters, moves and special powers, too.

Boardgame Babylon Rating for Kaiju Crush

BIN (Buy It Now) PIN (P)lay It Now TIF (Try It First) NMT (Not My Thing)

Disclosure: Publisher Fireside Games provided a copy for independent review.

Review – Azul by Michael Kiesling via Plan B Games

Review – Azul by Michael Kiesling via Plan B Games

Azul, I will admit, is a game that I judged by its cover. Good thing it’s a wonderful game. The design drew me in immediately. I’ll admit to being a sucker for gorgeous package design and when the components are also premium wonders, you’re already halfway to my approval, folks. Now, I don’t mean Boris Vallejo-esque sword-wielding ladies. I mean design like what you see in Oink Games, all of which have conscious elements that add directly to the mood of the game experience. Quality work isn’t the only way this is achieved; way back in the pre-euro days, we had Cheapass Games here in the US and their powerfully simple black and white envelopes appealed to me for both keeping costs lower and letting head Cheapsser James Ernest save time in coming up with overly expensive colored boxes, he put it into the game design and those hilarious rules.

So, with that longer-than-planned caveat, let’s talk about the game. Azul is a game at once familiar and exciting in its unique feel. The game is a design by Michael Kiesling, a two-time SDJ winner and frequent collaborator with the mighty Wolfgang Kramer, but this one is all his own. Based on Azul, I definitely look forward to his next solo game design.

In Azul, players get a board on which they will place the gorgeous, chunky tiles that are a hallmark of the game’s production. They will place them according to a set of clean, elegant rules that are straight out of 90’s Schacht and Knizia. When you select tiles from the one of the selection discs, you take all of one color, pushing the remaining tiles on that disc to the center market. Once this has happened during a round, another option becomes available; now, players can also take all of one color from the center of the table. While the discs are dealt only four pieces from the (lovely) bag, once the excess tiles start piling up in the middle, players are likely to get more of them.

When you claim tiles, you need to place them on your board. This is done by selecting a row for completion, with the first row scoring with just a single tile and each row below it taking one more until you reach five at the bottom of the board. Thus, each turn, players will want a different number of tiles for each row. While the prep area of a row has a certain color tile in it, no other colors can go into that row.

This means players sometimes obtain excess tiles that need to be stored at the bottom of the board. These each inflict a penalty that rises with each additional tile. Also, the first player to fish tiles out of the center of instead of just off one of the distribution discs gets to select first in the next round, with the unhappy addition of a -1 tile that gets to drop into the first slot in the little holding pen for overflow tiles (which some gamers are apparently throwing away? It should have been a proper tile anyway). I find this mechanism quite appealing – that tradeoff of the loss of a point for the first shot and the first pick next turn. That says this game has been tuned.

Sound intriguing? Maybe not. The theme of Azul isn’t really there; it’s just a game of placing tiles into the right sequences to score points and marveling at how pretty they are. But that’s not it – this is a wonderfully elegant design that we so rarely see today. Azul goes down like Azulfreshly-made lemonade – it feels like it’s made of the real thing and not just rehashed mechanisms from other designers’ work. Kiesling has taken a solid selection mechanism and added interesting scoring. It’s such a clean, empirical design and Plan B’s excellent production complements it beautifully.

With the advent of Kickstarter and the crazy influx of underdeveloped and messy games into the marketplace, it is kind of glorious to see a lovely design like Azul come out, especially since we see fewer titles from the twin masters of this feel: Reiner Knizia and Michael Schacht. Kiesling is no slouch here, although most of his ludography was constructed with Kramer, a bigger name. But let’s not Garfunkel him entirely – Vikings was also a winner. With Azul, Kiesling could be on track for a solo SDJ. I’d call it a contender for one of the coveted slots later this year.

Even so, with the fast-food nature of game designs these days, I think players should give it a go first. While serious eurogamers will appreciate Azul’s charms, those who are seeking a thematic experience may balk at the simple beauty and sparse rules. That’s my only caution in reducing the rating to a Play It Now. I love it, but modern gamers may need to develop a palette for it.

Oh, heck – never mind. Azul is awesome! Buy it Now!

Boardgame Babylon Rating for Azul

BIN (Buy It Now) PIN (P)lay It Now TIF (Try It First) NMT (Not My Thing)

Review: Kung Pao Chicken by Ta-Te Wu and Sunrise Tornado Games

Review: Kung Pao Chicken by Ta-Te Wu and Sunrise Tornado Games

The point at which the micro game meets the party game is a wonder. While both types of game package a lot of fun in often simple ideas, they do so in somewhat different ways. This makes it delightful to see them fuse into a compelling filler. Ta-Te Wu’s new Kung Pao Chicken inhabits that rare space where these two game types build on each other’s strengths, taking the clever elegance of the microgame’s card locationing with funny party elements like Werewolf and Bunny Bunny Moose Moose.

Kung Pao Chicken is an ideal opener to get people laughing before the longer, heavier games begin. Players are chickens or foxes based on an initial deal, but that information is only visible to the other players (kind of like Powwow). Players then spend the game playing cards to maximize the number of chickens saved or eaten, based on which team they believe they are on. The cards are chickens, foxes and dogs – which form a kind of chain. Chickens get eaten by foxes, foxes are chased away by dogs, and dogs are awfully handy to protect chickens. However, each dog only chases away one fox – whereas foxes can each as many chickens as they find in the barn where they find themselves. So, some dog vs. fox management is needed.

How do you determine which team you are on so you play well? With a combination of viewing the other player’s roles and how they play cards, players need to discern which team they are on. On a player’s turn, they play one of their cards onto a player’s barn or in the one in the middle of the the table that starts with a certain number of foxes based the player count.

When the round ends from card play, player roles are revealed and each barn is resolved. Before the reveal, however, players close heir eyes and pantomime wings if they think they are a chicken and claws for a guess that they are a fox. A point is awarded to each player that correctly surmised their role.

If any foxes are there, they eat any present chickens…but they are chased away by dog cards. Fox players score a point for each chicken eaten and the chicken players get one for each chicken saved. Simple scoring and resolution is part of the appeal of the game. Players tabulate points and the winner is the one with the most points after three rounds. So, cooperative play, but competitive outcome. Yes – this is the sweet spot for a long of gamers and my love of ‘coopetition’ is definitely satisfied by KPC.

Yes, I really like Kung Pao Chicken. Let’s be clear though: Designer Ta-Te Wu is my co-designer sometimes, frequent developer, playtester, and one of my good friends. However, I do not like all of his games. The ones I like, I get involved with. I liked Red Cliffs (obviously), as I did Tien Zi Che before it. Di Renjie – yes. And I quite enjoy Kung Pao Chicken. I liked it enough to give him some ideas for it that became a stretch goal expansion. So, is this review legitimate? That’s for you to decide but all I can offer in reassurance is that I’m making this a formal statement, not just a boilerplate disclosure, and that Kung Pao Chicken is in our game bag for all days out to play. So, Super-Disclosure: I played this with a playtest copy, after playtesting it and even offering suggestions, some of which MAY have gotten in. That said, I really love this game and think it’s among the strongest Ta-Te has done.

Kung Pao Chicken is now LIVE on Kickstarter at a great price and I encourage you to get a copy and cluck up the opener for your game nights!

Boardgame Babylon Rating for Kung Pao Chicken

BIN (Buy It Now) PIN (P)lay It Now TIF (Try It First) NMT (Not My Thing)

Disclosure: Read above for Disclosure City.

5 Quick Questions about Bärenpark with Phil Walker-Harding

5 Quick Questions about Bärenpark with Phil Walker-Harding

Editor’s Note: As a kind of content geek, I try new formats. So, here’s a new interviewette for tabletop designers. We promise no TL;DR. Let’s see how Phil Walker-Harding, the designer of hot new game Bärenpark (among others like Sushi Go, Imhotep, Cacao and more), shall we?

BGB: Attention is money, my friend. What is the elevator pitch for Bärenpark?

Phil Walker-Harding: Bärenpark is a family strategy game about building a wildlife park from polyomino tiles. Fit the pieces together like a puzzle! Plan ahead as your park expands!.. Um, it has pandas!Bärenpark

BGB: Making games is hard work, so you best have a great reason for making this thing. What inspired this game?

Phil Walker-Harding: I have always really loved board games that use polyomino tiles. Some favourites (Ed.Note: Phil’s an Aussie, so we’ll allow for that ‘u’) are Blokus, Mosaix, Arkadia, FITS and The Princes of Florence. So I always wanted to design a game with these pieces. After playing Patchwork I was inspired to move ahead with a design that put them front and centre. As I developed it, I realized that the funnest thing about these games for me is when you get a piece to perfectly fit in around other pieces. So I tried to make these little “eureka!” moments happen as often as possible in the design.

BGB: There are too many games out there. What hole in my game collection does this fill?

Phil Walker-Harding: If you like spatial tile placement games, Bärenpark plays very quickly while allowing some nice planning decisions. The game has had some success as a welcoming gateway style game that will also give gamers something to chew on.

BGB: This is Boardgame Babylon, so out with your dirty secrets. What DON’T you want to tell me about this game?

Phil Walker-Harding: The game originally had an amusement park theme. So, instead of 4 different types of bears, the pieces represented 4 different types of rides – rollercoasters, waterslides etc. The publisher, Lookout, felt that a more original theme was needed because a few theme park games had come out in Europe in recent years. I love the art and cuteness factor that the bear theme brought to the game, but I have to say that I think rollercoasters would have been cool!

BGB: Thanks for telling us a bit about Bärenpark. Let’s wrap up with the key specifics (play time, number of players, and the link to the game) and also, since I think you can tell a lot about a person by understanding their sense of humor, what’s a good joke to close this interviewette?

Phil Walker-Harding: Bärenpark is 2-4 players, ages 8+, 30-45 minutes.

I’ve always like the Groucho Marx quote: “I’m not crazy about reality, but it’s still the only place to get a decent meal.”

NOTE: Here at BGB, we LOVE a lot of Phil’s games, including Sushi Go Party.