PREVIEW: Sparkle*Kitty Nights from Breaking Games is now live on Kickstarter

PREVIEW: Sparkle*Kitty Nights from Breaking Games is now live on Kickstarter

Sparkle*Kitty Nights is a funny party-style game that plays in 25-30 minutes and contains NSFW content.

A few months back, I played Sparkle*Kitty with my family for the first time and we had some great laughs from the simple fact that the game makes you say silly things. I recall thinking at the time that the main mechanism of the game being the recitation of words meant an ‘adult’ version with naughty stuff was going to come out.

Well, it’s here. Sparkle*Kitty Nights has pretty much the same game play that you see in the original, kid-friendly version of the game. Players need to clear their hand of cards to win by saying funny things. The cool princesses have been replaced by knights, but they are still female and now have suggestive names to amp up the amusement. To play cards from your hand, you cast spells (that’s when you say the words) by dropping a card on one that matches the color or icon of the cards on the central tableau. once you get through your hand, you’re able to draw from the tower from which you are escaping and then refilling to five cards. Some cards let you skip the hand-emptying and directly replenish your hand from the tower in your race to get out. SKN adds a cooperative element for more players and a few new concepts, but the rules are pretty much the same as the original game.

Sparkle*Kitty Nights

And, yes, here the words in the deck just beg to come together in ways that suggest all kinds of innuendo. We played the game at the Gathering of Friends earlier this month and had people coming up to see what we were doing because we kept ‘casting spells’ that made people wonder and want to know what was going on because we were laughing so heartily.

Sparkle*Kitty was lauded by many for the girl power of self-rescuing princesses. Sparkle*Kitty Nights doesn’t have that kind of agenda – it’s just pure fun times saying silly stuff with your friends. If you hear the basic rules and think, “there isn’t much here,” you’re missing the point. SKN is one of those games where it isn’t about the mechanisms (although the hand management is handled intelligently). It’s about the reaction you get from the people in the game. This was designed to an experience: The fun of laughing with friends as you say funky-weird stuff in an order dictated by the game. What could be better for a night in with friends who like a little suggestive humor?

As a word nerd, Sparkle*Kitty immediately appealed to me and the Nights version will probably get a little more play as an end of the night bit of amusement that doesn’t get as outlandish as Cards Against Humanity, but is more consistently amusing than Codenames: Deep Undercover.

Want to hear more about Sparkle*Kitty Nights? This video review online will give you the deets in motion:

Sparkle*Kitty Nights is live on Kickstarter and is suggestive enough to be for ages 18 and up. But adults with a sense of humor that doesn’t mind the naughty should get a kick out of it.

PRESS RELEASE: Gorilla Games launches Kickstarter of “Love and Hate” metagame

4/26/18, Los Angeles: Jeff Siadek of Gorilla Games launches kickstarter of “Love and Hate” metagame

“Love and Hate” is a new kind of game that you play on top of another game.

It is only 18 cards and a single page of rules and takes almost no time to play but it adds a social depth to any game you play along with it.

In “Love and Hate”, you get a secret love and a secret hate card. At the end of the other game you are playing, you count up the points and declare a winner. The winner of “Love and Hate” is determined by adding your secret love’s score to your own and subtracting the score of your secret hate. The rulesheet has rules for loving or hating the same person or yourself to cover any contingency the randomness of the cards brings.

Here are a few examples of how “Love and Hate” can add a new social dimension to other games. I chose the top 10 games on Boardgamegeek.com to see how they would work with “Love and Hate”. Please note that my use of these games is not intended to imply an actual connection with or endorsement by the publishers or designers of those games.

Gloomhaven and Pandemic are cooperative so they shouldn’t work directly with Love and Hate. However, you could count up Earned XP and Gold as a sort of “score” for Gloomhaven and see how the inter-party struggles heated up during your session.

Twilight Struggle, 7 Wonders Duel and Star Wars: Rebellion are all essentially 2 player games so there isn’t room for the nuanced infighting that “Love and Hate” brings to the table.

Through the Ages, Terraforming Mars, Scythe, Terra Mystica, and Great Western Trail all count victory points so they should play well with Love and Hate.  That is about half the games currently on the top 10 of boardgamegeek.  I am not as familiar with Great Western Trail or Through the Ages so I’ll focus on the other three but remember that anywhere there are VPs you can count them!

Terraforming Mars has a limited range of direct attack cards but “Love and Hate” could really shine in the building of greenery. You can build your cities near those of your secret love and the greenery tiles between them count for both of you. You can also make choices about bonuses to pursue based on your secret cards.

Terra Mystica is a classic area control game. Being able to trust your neighbor means you can spend more effort on building and less on defense. Of course, that neighbor might actually hate you and be lulling you into a sense of complacency.

Scythe lets you score for combat so why not choose to beat on your secret hate? There is no shortage of opportunity to score while you drive down your opponent. You can still score for battling those you don’t officially hate or even your secret love if a tactical opportunity arises.

The point of all this is that games are about more than just points. They are about the stories that we create as we bring these games to life. As the gods of these simple worlds, we animate them and breathe life into them. “Love and Hate” gives us another set of tools to express ourselves. It creates a web of relationships that adds another social dimension to the games we are already loving.

I happened to have a few card slots left on a print run of another game so I implemented this little gem. It is strangely apropos that “Love and Hate” was an add-on to another print run. Let’s hope you can love and hate it along with your favorite games.

The one week Kickstarter for Love and Hate will end on Thursday May 3rd. This is a unique game and it isn’t packaged to sell through distribution so please pick up your copy from the limited print run while you can.

BGB at Gathering of Friends 2018

BGB at Gathering of Friends 2018

The Gathering of Friends remains a highlight of my gaming year. The trip to Niagara Falls (the US side) is worth it in order to get an early look at many games that the world will see later in the year at Spiel. As it happens, many games I really wanted to see last year were off the radar due to my intense last six months of life and work getting in the way of games. What can you do?

GOF for me this year was affected by a commitment to playtest a Legacy game that meant I would be playing a long series of the same game. I cannot comment on the game but I will say that it was certainly excellent and one people will be thrilled to see when it finally sees the light of day. I also happily had a chance to playtest both of my front-burner games: Theme Park and Cosplay Showdown (recently renamed).

What follows is a brief list of played games that I had a chance to try out (part 1):

Keyflow

Richard Breese’s excellent card game version of his hit game, Keyflower, is a prototype I sought out after recommendations from many other people at the Gathering. The various mechanisms that made Keyflower so popular are there, including the ability to use a building built by others, different worker types, and the farmland expansion theme. Many elements of the original are simply boiled down into cards instead of a map, Breese has made a lighter take on the game’s place-and-upgrade concept. While the theme doesn’t engage me particularly, I like the mechanisms and look forward to playing it more when it arrives later in the year. Richard said it is scheduled for a Spiel 2018 release. As you can see below, I was not alone in my appreciate for his latest game.

The Mind

If there was a game of the convention, it was The Mind. This ridiculously simple concept takes The Game and amps up the experience by providing players with a more open play style. You need to ‘read the mind’ of the other players to play your cards that go from 1-100 in ascending order during the game. Beginning with one card and scaling up from there depending on the number of players, you need to simply drop the cards in the right order into the pile in the middle of the table. There are no turns; you just decide if you’re the one with the next highest card to play.

The only thing is: Your only clues to determine whether you should play are the non-verbal cues of your fellow players. No words or real signs are to be passed, but you find ways. While I played the game with many people, I seemed to do best with Richard Breese and Rik Van Horn, although we lost on Level 6. Playing with my buddy Jeff was pretty solid as well, but you never know whose brainwaves might work best.

If you get into a bind, there are shuriken stars that can be used to force everyone to discard their lowest card. To ‘throw one,’ all players must raise their hands in unison, agreeing that they do not have confidence in their next play. This both gets you out of the bind and gives you a sense of the lay of the land with the remaining player hands.

If you fail to collectively play the cards in consecutive order, you lose a glowing ghost bunny card – which is somehow ‘a life.’ Yes, some of those sentences had odd moments, didn’t they? The theme of The Mind appears to involve incorporeal rabbit ninjas. I don’t understand it either but the game is a winner and it was in constant play at the Gathering. It’s due out from Pandasaurus Games soon and it will be a hot item. Pre-order now!

Transatlantic

A new-to-me game that I wanted to play since this came out at Spiel in 2017, I Gathering of Friends 2018expected to like it because Concordia from designer Mac Gerdts is one of my favorite recent games. This one takes much of the feel of his previous game and changes the theme to be ships in the transition from the age of sail to the age of steam. There’s still this vaguely deck-building thing going on, but it’s suppressed even further by less frequent opportunities to add to your options. Instead, you buy ships based on their age, speed, cargo capacity, and tonnage.

These elements help you place the ships into service on certain ocean boards, which can only contain three ships at a time. When ships sail (some of the deck cards lets you do this), you get cash. When they are inevitably pushed out of the sea by newer, better ships, you score the ships based on your investment in that type of ship, with bonuses based on previously retired ships in that category. The various cards give you powers to optimize, break and manipulate rules as you acquire ships, sometimes providing a little money to opponents when you call for all ships in an ocean to sale, and plan for their eventual trip to the scrap heap after a few coal-driven voyages.

This may seem like a lot but it is maybe even lighter than Concordia in some ways. The concepts of the Prefect, Diplomat and the like are present in this buy, ship and invest game but I enjoyed how Gerdts reimplemented many of them into similar ideas to keep the feel of Concordia without just duplicating it. I liked Transatlantic quite a bit and expect to acquire it in the days ahead.

Merlin

This collaboration from the reliable Stefan Feld and the similarly so
Michael Rieneck is a solid middleweight euro with an enjoyably integrated theme Gathering of Friends 2018that shines in the components and some mechanisms. Players use a kind of rondel to acquire items and enact actions, using dice that command how far you can move. In addition to your ‘knight’ dice that only let your pawn move clockwise around the Round Table Rondel (which kind of reminds me of Burgen Land), you also get a Merlin die each turn that lets you move clockwise or counter so. But he’s a neutral pawn so timing your move is an issue if others are out to take their turn first. This works well and you play it over the course of six rounds, with attacks from brigands and such happening every other turn (like so many Feld ‘punishment’ mechanisms). Publisher Queen’s production quality helps, too, with flag, staff and shield tokens looking good. While there are many things going, this is Feld in approachable mode like Notre Dame. While not everyone likes Stefan Feld’s ‘point salads’ (as we call now derisively reference what we used to lovingly call ‘multiple paths to victory’), the ones that successfully blend the flavors win me over big time (Castles of Burgundy does, Luna does not). I’d called Merlin a solid entry into his ludography. I don’t need to buy it right away but I’d probably trade to get it and explore the system more.

Gathering of Friends 2018

 

Karuba: The Card Game

The SDJ nominee has staying power for our group and Gathering of Friends 2018the clever, quick card game version may join it on my shelves if I can find it for a decent price. While Karuba plays in 30 minutes and feels like a real game, the card game can be knocked out in 15 minutes and it STILL feels pretty solid. You’re still trying to get your adventurers to their color-coded treasures with tiles that include paths through the jungle. Players ‘bid’ two tiles a turn, with the lowest total losing a tile each round. Then, you play the tiles to connect the explorers with their color-coded temple without running over each other but hopefully both using good paths that will help you pass gold and crystals along the way. It’s fast and will appeal to casual gamers just as the original did.

More to come later in the week…

PRESS RELEASE: Mobster Metropolis

PRESS RELEASE: Mobster Metropolis

Mobster Metropolis is a 2-4 player strategy board game, where players invest in turfs and recruits or conduct drive-by attacks in order to expand their syndicates and compete to become the most powerful gangster boss.

27 March 2018, Stockholm, Sweden. After four years of development and playtesting, Mobster Metropolis is live on Kickstarter. It is an intense game where elements of strategy and scheming are combined with both action-filled combat and resource management.

‘Carello, the godfather of the Metropolis has just died. Now gangsters gather and scheme to create their own legacies. Who will be intelligent and ruthless enough to become the leader of the most powerful gangster syndicate in Mobster Metropolis?’

During the game, players will expand their syndicates by investing in illegal businesses, recruit thugs and underlings, or send out drive-bys to attack other players and try to take their income. Short events will also let players draft cards, bid for resources and face the tenacious police.

The game presents a completely new combination of elements and mechanics. For example, the unique drive-by selectors let all players simultaneously decide where to target their drive-bys, before everyone reveals their decisions simultaneously. To add to the excitement, most defense is placed face-down on the board and not revealed until later that round, resulting in great mind games involving all players, regardless of playstyle and strategy.

The Youtube profiles at Tantrum House have made a video with a quick summary of the game and its rules.Mobster MetropolisDraft cunningly and visit the black market to arm your mobsters. Drive-by combats are decided by comparing the total attack or defense power players have on the board, combined with the bonus on the one card each player is allowed to play.

Mobster Metropolis

Mobster Metropolis features more than 700 components. It is a punchboard heavy game (without dice), including a huge number of tiles, tokens and cards for a total weight of over 7 pounds (3.5 kilos). Every component comes with graphics by artist Karl Nord. Although this is his first board game project, his creative work has won several international awards.

For more information on Mobster Metropolis:

STORMAKTEN Production is based in Stockholm, Sweden. The company was founded by four friends with a love for board games, who decided to take their friendship to a new dimension. After years of playing games together, they decided it was time contribute to the scene and create a game of their own. Read about STORMAKTEN Production at www.stormakten.se or follow the development of Mobster Metropolis at Instagram orFacebook or Twitter.

PRESS RELEASE: Monumental: The Board Game launched by Funforge and designer Matthew Dunstan

PRESS RELEASE: Monumental: The Board Game launched by Funforge and designer Matthew Dunstan

Funforge has launched a new Kickstarter for MONUMENTAL: The Board Game, an epic game of civilization, conquest and expansion by Matthew Dunstan. Per the Monumental FB page, here is a brief description of the game:

“In Monumental: The Board Game, each player leads a unique civilization. How will you shape your destiny, and how will history remember you? Dare you succeed as a warmonger, as a pioneer of cultural and scientific progress, or an architect of a great city and remarkable Wonders? Only the player with the most impressive civilization at the end of the game will win!

The aim of the game is to develop your civilization, by constructing new buildings and wonders in your City, achieving new scientific knowledge and cultural development, and using your military power to conquer new provinces.”

  • TRIC TRAC: “Designed specifically for Kickstarter, so that players have a great deal of fun playing it”.
  • CANARD PC“Nothing to say, civilization board game lovers feel at home”.
  • SYFANTASY“EXplore, eXpand, eXploit and eXterminate. Such an atmosphere reminds us of the best civilization games. As far as gameplay is concerned, there is a strong deckbuilding aspect with multiple strategic combos. And, best of all, Funforge decided to add minis to these mechanics, giving an extra dimension to the game.”
  • GEEK MAGAZINE“A deck-building and conquest civilization game that is innovative, dynamic and fun, playable in less than 2 hours – we recommend it!”

Stay up to date about Monumental: The Board Game with Funforge social channels:

  • Monumental FB page: @MONUMENTALboardgame
  • Funforge FB page: @Funforge
  • Twitter: @funforge
  • Instagram: @funforge

No word on review copies but many gameplay videos are online showing off the game being played. The miniatures alone are worth a look. Hoping to play it at the Gathering of Friends in a few weeks’ time but the campaign will be over by the time I reach Niagara Falls…

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.

kokoro

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)