My Year With Books: 2018, Part 1

My Year With Books: 2018, Part 1

2018 was the hardest year of my life. Work became more challenging, I lost my father early in the year and my mother had an increasingly difficult time with her cognitive abilities. There was more loss, including ongoing grief from losing an aunt and uncle with whom I was quite close the previous year. Add to that the fact that my sister, who is a source of a lot of support and joy in my life, was living in England for the year again and this was just a really tough year on top of all the usual stresses of having a wife and kids to support. My son left home for college, my daughter made another school adjustment for her final year in high school and both proved to be daunting for our family.

So my solace from reading was needed more than ever. Despite these issues keeping me so busy, it was clear that I sought peace in fiction and learning from the increased number of books I read throughout 2018. I enjoy summarizing my reading year because those intimate moments with the stories and just knowledge that I gain from my consumption of prose are deeply meaningful. Sure, a lot of the content is for work, or lighter fare to amuse me. Who cares? I don’t think what one chooses to read should be put under real scrutiny, but if I read something I can recommend and help someone else find a book that helps them or just delights them, more’s the better.

In 2016, I grouped the books as I saw fit, with no rhyme or reason. In 2017, I wrote about my books with some sense of chronology and that was too tedious – I don’t think I even finished. Now, I think I’ll summarize instead to group the books together.

Fantasy Makes a Comeback

During 2018, I was dragged back to role-playing games after nearly 30 years. In a separate post, I’ve written about this journey back to RPGs but suffice it to say that it led me back to reading more fantasy fiction in 2018 than I had in ages. The other key factor was the publication of a new book in the Black Company series after about two decades. While the story published (which I wrote a small bit about) took place between the first and second books, I opted to do the whole series to see if I liked the later books more now that I’m (much) older. That led to re-reading other books as well, and this will flow into 2019 because I’m still running that D&D game for my son, wife and oldest friends

The Black Company Series from Glen Cook

The Black Company Series – This series inspired me to run my own D&D campaigns back in the early 80’s. I had played but this is the series that made me want to chuck the modules out and create my own world. The Black Company is gritty, feels real and I know that George R.R. Martin says it was heavily influential on him when writing Game of Thrones. I can definitely see how he took a lot of elements of the book as inspiration: particularly, the focus on telling the stories of the bad guys.

I re-read the 10 original books in the series in 2018, from the first trilogy, which dazzled me as a young person and still held up pretty well now, through to the Books of the South, which got worse as they went, and the four-book cycle of Glittering Stone, which I found less and less appealing until the final book. The last portion, as Cook switched up narrators, felt like he was losing his way. Long sequences of boring going’s-on, and super-lazy cliched language that takes you WAY out of the narrative with its anachronistic feel (an occasional problem in earlier books) just took hold. The new one brings back his principal narrator, Croaker, also the best character in the series. While I gave it some praise in an earlier post, it was still not among his best. I’d recommend the first three to anyone, but you may lose interest after the fifth or sixth books.

Original Trilogy: The Black Company, Shadows Linger and The White Rose (Port of Shadows technically happens between The Black Company and Shadows Linger)

Books of the South: Shadow Games, Dreams of Steel, The Silver Spike (this is an odd book that kind of happens out of sequence)

Glittering Stone: Bleak Seasons, She Is The Darkness, Water Sleeps, Soldiers Live!

Majipoor Series from Robert Silverberg

Robert Silverberg is an author that I discovered because of Harlan Ellison writing about him. They were friends and, if you believe the Ellison anecdotes, they were pretty rough with one another – in a cool way. Silverberg’s fiction is absolutely glorious, but I’d stuck with the science fiction up to this point. Tower of Glass, Thorns, and The World Inside were among some of my favorite sci-fi books that I read in college/high school. This year, I thought I’d check out his Majipoor series, including Lord Valentine’s Castle – a book I had acquired years ago, but never gotten around to reading. What a mistake! Like Silverberg’s other works, the Majipoor series are both modern in feel and classic in nature. Silverberg isn’t a ‘hard sci-fi’ writer at all. He was a talented composer of prose who knew how to pack an emotional punch in his work. I loved the first and third books in the trilogy, while the second, an episodic side-story, was good but just not as compelling. Majipoor is a rich world with interesting politics and creatures, but it’s not like your normal fantasy world with elves and the like. Silverberg crafts something uniquely his own. I highly recommend Silverberg, an author whose entire collected works are either on my read or to-read list.

Lord Valentine’s Castle, Majipoor Chronicles, Valentine Pontifex

Drizztland

Some years ago, I bought the Dark Elf trilogy for my niece, who was fascinated with them at the time. While most of the time, branded content can be pretty bad, the reviews on this series from R.A. Salvatore were solid. My wife had taken to playing a Drow Elf character (although she knew nothing more about them than what she learned viewing the enjoyable (if depressing) documentary The Dungeon Masters. So, I thought I’d read this series and get some background I could share with her.

Like so many other readers, I really enjoyed the main character, Drizzt, a noble person in a world that wanted him to be evil. Maybe it’s because in our modern day, we seem to over-love the antihero, the rogue, the broken character that I kind of found this throwback good guy (who was raised to be a bad guy) so appealing. I followed him through the first three books, enjoying his story and the exploration of the Drow elf culture. Salvatore is an author to whom I am returning in 2019, particularly to see where else Drizzt goes.

Homeland, Exile, Sojourn

Second Chances on Fantasy Classics

Most of my consumption of fantasy novels happened in middle and high school. There were times when I tried series that just didn’t work out for me and so I thought I’d give some of those another go. The ones that didn’t work out:

  •  Swords and Deviltry – Fritz Leiber was a huge influence on D&D, but I found this book of Fahfrd and the Gray Mouser to be unappealing and dated.
  • Dragonflight – Anne McCaffrey’s Pern novel didn’t really excite me as a teenager and it’s still not working now. The writing is pretty old-school hard-sf, and it hasn’t aged well.
  • The Swordbearer – Glen Cook’s one-shot book of this name was a bit of a slog, like his Dread Empire series that I also never got into.
  • A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms – This collection of George R.R. Martin stories were fine, but I mostly just wanted another of the main books. I didn’t find the stories of Dunk and Egg terribly compelling in the same way that the Harry Potter side-project books are also sub-Silmarillion.

On the other hand, revisiting some other older works were a joy:

  • Elric of Melnibone and Sailor on the Sea of Fate – Michael Moorcock’s series still resonated with me and I promptly encouraged my son to read them, who enjoyed them immensely.
  • The Princess Bride – William Goldman’s book was one I thought I might read one day, since I loved the film. I did so and it was fun, but I’ll still take the film over this perfectly enjoyable novel any day.
  • The Dresden Files – Late in 2017, I read the first book in the Dresden Files, which had been recommended to me a lot. I also watched two episodes of the television show and found out there was a board game based on the series. That was enough for me to give it a try. In 2018, I plowed through the next four books, with the 4th in the series being a definite highlight. Harry Dresden is a throwback, too, with a goofy chivalry that sometimes gets to be a little much, but I still find Jim Butcher’s novel to be like a can of soda – probably too sugary, but fun every once in a while.

That’s enough for now. Next up, biographies and history in 2018.

5 Quick Questions About High Rise with Gil Hova

5 Quick Questions About High Rise with Gil Hova

Editor’s Note: As an avowed content geek, I try new formats. People seem to love our interviewette for tabletop designers that is a quick read. We promise no TL;DR. Let’s see how Gil Hova, clever designer of games like The Networks, Wordsy, and Bad Medicine, plus the Kickstarted and shiny new High Rise, does, shall we?

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

Gil Hova: I have two. The first is that High Rise is a strategy game of construction and corruption for 1-4 players, where you build tall skyscrapers around a one-way time track trying to supercharge your actions on a board that will change for each game.

Photo Credit: Michael Keller

The second is that it has elevators.

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

Gil Hova: I built the game around an auction mechanism that I’ve never been able to work into a game. Spoiler: this is not an auction game, as I wasn’t able to work it into this one either!

Once I removed the auction mechanism, the game sung. I think it’s the best game I’ve made so far.

(ed.note: Faulkner said “Kill your darlings!” as advice for fiction writers. Also good for game designers.)

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

Gil Hova: This is a one-way time track game that gives strong incentives to make big jumps. Lots of similar games incentivize small jumps, which makes them a bit easier to play, for better or worse. Like, I’m a big fan of Tokaido (ed. note: same here), and I think part of its appeal is that its decisions aren’t terribly difficult; most of the time, you want to make the small jump. But in this game, the big jump is very tempting, and the game is full of really hard and meaningful decisions.

High Rise on the table!

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

Gil Hova: There’s a difference between time tracks, one-way tracks, and rondels. A time track game has the action happen off the time track. You’ll choose some action, it’ll tell you how much time it costs, and you’ll mark it on the time track. The defining feature of the time track is that player order is determined by the player furthest behind on the track. Thebes, Patchwork, and Tinners’ Trail are games with time tracks, with Thebes and Neuland being the first time track games (that I can tell).

A one-way track puts the actions on the track. So you’ll move your pawn directly to the space on the track that shows the action. You can’t go backwards, or to an occupied space. Like a time track, the player furthest behind will go next. Glen More, Tokaido, and yes, High Rise are all one-way track games. I believe Knizia’s Tutankhamen was the first one-way track game. 

A rondel is a circular structure on a game board that your pawn will traverse. Each space will trigger a different action, like a one-way track. But your movement on the track is restricted; you’ll often have to pay resources to go further than 3 spaces or so. Player order is not determined by position, so it plays totally different than a one-way or time track. Imperial and Navegador are both rondel games. I’m not sure what the first rondel game was. It might be Antike, but only if you don’t consider roll-and-move games to be rondels!

I don’t want to tell you about this stuff because I find it gets pedantic and boring after a while! (ed. note: Gil is a great guy, but here, he’s just wrong…) Lines that define games are most useful when using them to figure out how to cross them and blend genres. Like, you could argue that Mancala is a rondel game, but I have no idea what that would accomplish.

BGB: Thanks for telling us a bit about High Rise. 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?

Gil Hova: High Rise is for 1-4 players, playing in 100-150 minutes, depending on if you’re playing the intro, standard, or full game. Link here: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/gilhova/high-rise-0?ref=61r5jc

JOKE COMMENCES
A grandmother takes her baby grandson to the beach. She’s lounging on a towel with her kid cooing and gurgling next to her. Suddenly, a huge wave appears and drenches the beach. When the grandmother regains her wits, she realizes she’s okay, but her grandson is gone.

She looks up, shakes her fist at the sky, and shouts: “You call yourself a merciful God? This child had his whole life ahead of him, and you take him away from us? How could you be so cruel? How could you be so vicious?”

Another wave suddenly appears and drenches the beach. When the grandmother opens her eyes, her grandson is right back on the towel, grinning and giggling.

She looks up, shakes her fist at the sky, and shouts: “He had a hat!”

5 Quick Questions About Roland Wright with Chris Handy

5 Quick Questions About Roland Wright with Chris Handy

Editor’s Note: As an avowed content geek, I try new formats. People seem to love our interviewette for tabletop designers that is a quick read. We promise no TL;DR. Let’s see how Chris Handy, inventive designer of many games like Cinque Terre, Longshot and the gum-pack sized Pack O Games series, plus the Kickstarted and perhaps slightly meta game Roland Wright, does, shall we?

BGB: Attention is money, my friend. What is the elevator pitch for Roland Wright: The Dice Game?

Chris Handy: You play as an obsessed game designer named “Roland Wright” in a 20-30 minute, simultaneous-play “Roll & Write & Erase” game about designing an award-winning “Roll & Write” game.

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

Chris Handy: Color for one thing. I really enjoy working with lots of colors in a game (Cinque Terre, Long Shot, HUE, RUM. BOX…) But also, I wanted to create a line of games within a theme of an “old time” game designer, while really pushing the boundaries for what’s possible in a Roll & Write format game. 

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

Chris Handy: We’re offering a creative gaming experience within 20 minutes in the R&W format. We’ve worked to make it a very tight competitive experience, while keeping it at a shorter length. Roland Wright is a game about game design integration, making mistakes, editing… and cramming as much into the box, while knowing what to exclude. This is the core aspect of the game.

Love the artwork on this game – ed.

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

Chris Handy: I’m not sure there’s anything that I don’t want to tell you, but there’s an interesting fact about the early stages of this brand. I had a few games developed for a line of Roll & Writes, and I happen to see a tweet from Daniel Solis (Graphic designer and game designer). He posted a picture of a box top of a Roll & Write game, with a faux brand called “Roland Wright”. I approached him about buying the brand concept, and within a few weeks, we made a deal. This really helped shape this game, and the games that will come next in the line…and I’m thankful for Daniel’s brilliant idea.

BGB: Thanks for telling us a bit about Roland Wright: The Dice Game. 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?

Chris Handy: Roland Wright is for 2-5 players, ages 13 and up. The game plays in 20-30 minutes. Go to www.RolandWright.com for more details.

JOKE TIME

A rope walks into a bar… the bartender says, “Hey, we don’t serve rope ‘round here…”  
The rope leaves and goes around the corner. He ties a loop near his head and whips out his hair on the tip.
He walks back in and sits at the bar.  The bartender says, “Hey, aren’t you that rope that came in here before?”
The rope says, “No!  I’m afraid not.”

Ed. Note: The editor has played an early-release copy of Roland Wright and enjoyed it a lot. Expect a preview review next week or so.

3 Rapid Reviews: Architects of the West Kingdom, Azul: Stained Glass and New Frontiers

Who has time for full-blown reviews anymore? If you want them, you can find them – a sea of them. But if you want something quick, here you go – quick takes on recent games I’ve played. Nah, I didn’t play them seven times, I won’t explain the rules in excruciating detail, won’t give you the path to victory based on countless plays. I’ll give you the gist, something I find interesting, and what I think. So – here we go:

3 Rapid Reviews

Architects of the West Kingdom

The Gist: The fine Raiders of the North Sea from Renegade Games (in the US) introduced us to the connected game systems of designer Shem Phillips, who has constructed a lot of different middle-weight games using his mix of worker placement, card deck variation, and tight resource management. While the others in his first trilogy may not be the strong winners that Raiders of the North Sea has proved to be, they have their charms and made me excited for Architect of the West Kingdom, the lead title in a new series. Architects hearkens back to Raiders in a pleasant way, in both its commitment to an interesting implementation of worker placement and snappy playtime that makes you feel like you had a pleasantly middle-weight experience even with relatively light play.
What’s Interesting: There’s much to like in Architects, but the compelling piece for me was the management of a large number of workers, some of whom are permanently removed from the game when you do build actions, and some of which you can claim back, both through ‘capturing’ them yourself, or when other people do it to break up your group on a space. Before I played, a friend of mine said, “Oh, you won’t like the ‘take-that’ element of the game.” Should couldn’t have been more wrong; this is an intriguing way to let a player stop a dominant component, but it probably isn’t worth it to just ‘mess with people’ (which is NOT fun, in my view). Architects is a really good design.
My Take: Architects of the West Kingdom is good enough that I’m in the market to trade for it, but not go splurge on it new. I think it’s a very good game and I’m keen to play it more, but it doesn’t add something so new and vital to my game collection that I need it RIGHT NOW. I think it’s good to modulate those urges.

3 Rapid Reviews: Azul - Stained Glass of Sintra

Azul: Stained Glass of Sintra

The Gist: The original Azul from Next move and Plan B Games, is one of my favorite light games of the last decade. This gem from Michael Kiesling deserved took home the SDJ honors and I’ve gotten a lot of play out of this simple-to-explain and challenging-to-master title. While I expected an Azul Dice Game (surely coming), a card game, and more, Azul: Stained Glass of Sintra showed up first instead (well, if you don’t count those Jokers and alternate tiles – yes, I have them all). ASGS gives you new scoring methods, with the distribution that is the centerpiece of Azul staying the same.
What’s Interesting: ASGS gives you a lot more choices in how you allocate the tiles you collect. With options to move your glazier around and put smaller and larger sets of tiles into your glass windows, ASGS feels like a more gamer-friendly version of the original. There’s certainly more to consider than the original game and it feels like a pleasant variant for people who love Azul but have overplayed the original game.
My Take: I quite like ASGS but I’m not sure it is a truly necessary purchase for the average individual who likes Azul and gets what they want out of that game. As a completist and lover of variants of games I adore, ASGS will stay in my collection. But for minimalists or Marie Kondo fans questioning the amount of joy brought to them by each game taking up precious shelf and life space, sticking with the original, more attractive Azul will work (the ‘glass’ tiles are less appealing, in my view). The game also doesn’t have anything to do with Sagrada, the nice stained-glass window game that is a trifle more gamer-y than Azul, nor will it replace that game.

3 Rapid Reviews: New Frontiers

New Frontiers: The Race for the Galaxy Board Game

The Gist: The wonderful Tom Lehmann finally brings the Race for the Galaxy story full circle in New Frontiers, new from the revitalized Rio Grande Games. If you know the history of RFTG and Puerto Rico, you’ll know that RFTG began life as the Puerto Rico Card Game. But then the designer of Puerto Rico did his own (San Juan) and we got RFTG. Now, New Frontiers brings its more compelling theme (IMNSHO) to the board game world. Yes, the similarities are there, but Tom has found touches to bring to the experience in both the logistics of tracking your progress and a new sense of freedom to the RFTG mechanisms. It’s like he Caverna’d his game.
What’s Interesting: Really, just enjoying the implementation one of the great game systems in modern board games. Tom is a precision designer of the highest order and it’s easy to see how he tuned this wonder to work so well, providing a different experience from RFTG, but one that also doesn’t just stand-in as sci-fi Puerto Rico. I find New Frontiers looser, which means it won’t get ‘solved’ in the way Puerto Rico was. Also – have you SEEN the components? (Keanu Voice): Whoa.

BIG cubes


My Take: You can always tell I love and was ready to buy the game after one play. That said, if you don’t love Race for the Galaxy, then what is wrong with you? I mean, sorry, if you don’t like RFTG, then New Frontiers may not be your glass of blue milk. Yet, if RFTG frustrated you because of the luck of the draw or the tempo, New Frontiers may be more palatable for you so give it a try.

5 Quick Questions About Judge Dredd: The Cursed Earth from Peer Sylvester and Osprey Games

5 Quick Questions About Judge Dredd: The Cursed Earth from Peer Sylvester and Osprey Games

Editor’s Note: As a kind of content geek, I try new formats. People seem to love our interviewette for tabletop designers that is a quick read. We promise no TL;DR. Let’s see how Peer Sylvester, excellent designer of many games (old favorite of your editor: King of Siam), including the new Judge Dredd: The Cursed Earth, does, shall we?

Game Designer Peer Sylvester

BGB: Attention is money, my friend. What is the elevator pitch for Judge Dredd: The Cursed Earth?

Peer Sylvester:After getting killed in the Amazon with Lost Expedition you can now get killed (separately, cooperatively, or alone) in the post-apocalyptic world of Judge Dredd.

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

Peer Sylvester: Lost Expedition got inspired by the great book “The Lost City of Z” about Percy Fawcett’s last expedition in 1925 (ed. note: also a film on Amazon Prime). Exploration is difficult to implement well in a game (if you want to it to be surprising and yet not too luck-dependent) and I wanted to see how I would come up with a solution. I also wanted to implement the theme (of the story well). Judge Dredd: The Cursed Earth was the opportunity to translate my original game into an interesting IP (ed. note: intellectual property). I couldn’t pass that up.

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

Peer Sylvester: There are not many game Judge Dredd games. If you like Dredd, you don’t have much choice. But if you don’t (know Dredd): It’s a quick, easy cooperative game, that can also be played solo or with two players, head-to-head, so there is a lot of variety. Plus the artwork is just great.

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

Artwork Copyright 2000 A.D.

Peer Sylvester: I actually didn’t design this one. I designed the original game and most of the mechanics are translated. This was developed in-house by Osprey Games. I only advised on the design (mechanics, cards, etc.) as a consultant.

BGB: Thanks for telling us a bit about Judge Dredd: The Cursed Earth. 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?

Peer Sylvester (ed. note, added game info): The game plays with one to four players, in 30-50 minutes and is for ages 14 and up. The game is now available on Amazon and at game stores, online and brick-and-mortar.

Joke Time: I am German; I don’t do jokes.

Editor’s End Note: Judge Dredd is one of my favorite properties and I don’t think any game has yet captured the IP effectively (although I do still have a nostalgic love of Block Mania, the old Games Workshop title). As a fan of Peer’s original game, and this movement of Storytelling Games in general, I’m excited to see his mechanisms applied to Judge Dredd’s unique world. The Cursed Earth sequence is perfect for this concept.

To learn more about Dredd, watch the more recent film, Dredd. I cannot recommend the Sylvester Stallone film, although they did try to capture the humor of Judge Dredd (poorly). You can also read the comics, which are excellently illustrated and written. The Cursed Earth isn’t necessarily the starting place (this is), but it is a compelling storyline.

PRESS RELEASE: Next Move Games announces 5211, the first in a new series of small box games!

PRESS RELEASE: Next Move Games announces 5211, the first in a new series of small box games!

Next Move Games is ecstatic to announce 5211, the first game in a new series of small box games to add its award winning catalog!  5211 is a fast playing, type-matching card game with unique scoring methods that reward clever plays! Designed by Tsuyoshi Hashiguchi and illustrated by Chris Quilliams5211 is an addictive game that begs to be played over and over!  
5211 is expected to debut at Origins 2019, but fans who attend Cannes 2019 will be able to see it first hand. Designed for 2-8 players aged 8 and older, 5211 will be your new favorite card game. While players could get lost forever in the simple elegance of the game’s design, an average game of5211 should only take about 20 to 30 minutes to play.
5211 will serve as the flagship to a new series of small box games by Next Move Games. Be on the lookout over the summer as it is expected to release at Origins 2019 and be available in retailers shortly after. MORE ABOUT 5211

New Year’s Resolutions and 2018 Snaps

New Year’s Resolutions and 2018 Snaps

Boardgaming has been in my blood forever and I’ve been in the hobby seriously since the early 80’s, but grew up on card games with the family even as a toddler. This deep into the hobby, exploring it further is part and parcel with staying engaged. All this time in, I’ve lost none of my love for the hobby but 2018 brought about some great things and lousy things, too.

In looking back, I usually like to review my resolutions and plays. I usually set two to three per year but take it easy. They are to direct things, not to be painfully rigid.

1) Play 100 New Games – I’ve done this for more than 10 years and it’s always fun. In the last two years, I’ve hit the number early on (game conventions help) and cruised well above the value while focusing on my other resolution. This will take place again in 2019.

2) Play 300 Different Games – Well, I failed at this one. I will end up topping out at around 240. But I will try again next year because I love a variety of games to play. With my 100 new ones, that means I can go 200 deep into owned games as well. This helps with managing the collection because some of those games get a final tryout and then off to the flea market or trade pile. So, I will attempt this again in 2019.

3) NEW RESOLUTION: Play all 100 of my top games. Late in December, someone started this funny thing of ‘If I could only keep 7 games.’ I don’t know what kind of crazy world that is, but I don’t want any part of it! Someone online asked me how many could I limit myself to…and I said 100. So, I tweeted out my 100 game list. I will play all of them this year to make sure they deserve their spot on the list.

Quick Review of the Overall Play List

Full disclosure: I record electronic plays, regardless of whether my opponents are carbon or silicon based. This is because the experience of the play still exists in my mind so trying to invalidate those plays like they don’t exist is not useful to me. If you told someone you’d never played Race for the Galaxy because you had never played it FTF, but you’d played Keldon’s brilliant app 1,000 times, that’s not an accurate depiction of your experience at all.

Quarters

Ganz Schon Clever – 32 plays (most iOS) – I hit the 300 mark on this meaty roll-and-write, then stopped playing. GSC has an addictive quality and I’ll admit many plays were after I said, “Oh, just one more play.” I narrowly missed acquiring the game over the holiday in a gift exchange so I’m not sure it will ever make the jump off iOS onto my shelf. What a year Wolfgang Warsch had with this game, The Mind, Illusions and The Quacks of Quedlinburg. Glad someone liked 2018!

Spite & Malice – 32 plays (all iOS) – A go-to train game while I am listening to books on tape. I can play this simple game with minimal attention and I haven’t truly tired of it yet. Spite is a perfect two-screen companion, I say.

Cribbage – 27 plays (most iOS) – Cribbage was the game I most played with my Dad and this year, I played it with my son (first time) and on iOS a lot because I lost my Dad in late January. I am writing up a separate note about Cribbage, my dad and me to come out in January.

Almost Dimes and Quarters

Glass Road – 22 plays (most iOS) – I love this Uwe Rosenberg game. In a fast-playing game that lasts 35-45 with experienced players, there is a lot of game. I have the out-of-production app on my old iPad but no longer on my phone so I expect my Glass Road plays will drop. I guess I will drop this number in 2019. That just means it will need to hit the table more often (it’s on my Top 100 Games List).

The Game – 21 plays (all iOS) – Another mindless game that I play on the train with an audiobook. That makes a 25 minute train ride feel like 5 minutes. Probably fewer plays in 2019 because Spite & Malice and Love Letter are more popular with me now.

Unpublished Prototype – 21 plays recorded (probably a lot more) – This tapered off in the latter half of the year due to sheer busy times. I expect it to pop back up in the New Year with some help from my buddy Ta-Te Wu.

Ascension – 18 plays – Another book companion that I can play on the train. The UGLY new update probably killed this one for me, which I’d say was an addiction before. While I deeply dislike what they did to the game’s UI, I’m kind of grateful so I could open up and play more different games.

Dungeons and Dragons – 17 plays – The headline for my 2018 gaming is my return to RPGs after nearly 30 years (last played seriously in 1989). This infringed on the board games a bit, but it made my son and friends very happy – and, thus, me. More on this in a separate post. Now is a great time to get back in, by the way, as Amazon has the $50 main books on sale for $20. It’s like the 80’s again!

The Mind – 15 plays – All in person and probably would have been higher if we’d not misplaced my copy. Will be high in 2019 as well. This game intrigues all of the people to whom I introduce it and I feel like it’ll get more attention in the future. I still agree that Azul deserved that SDJ win, but The Mind is a keeper.

Codenames – 14 plays – This might be higher because I tend to record for a session, but Codenames remains a wonderful pre-gateway party games. And with my homebrew holiday editions hitting (and one especially for my company), we’ll always play some number of Codenames games. My wife also got Codenames Harry Potter for Christmas and that will surely come out soon.

One Deck Dungeon – 14 plays (all iOS) – This is an attractive iOS game, much more enjoyable than playing the game in person, which I found fiddly. But I expect to buy the DLC for this one in 2019 and keep playing it as a pleasant second-screener. This is definitely the case (also with Friday, another high-play game for me) where I think the app experience beats the physical game hands-down – if purely on administration.

Azul – 9 plays – I’m surprised this isn’t higher. Azul is a wonderful old-school euro with gorgeous pieces that I’d always enjoy playing. No surprise it came from a master like Michael Kiesling, who also had one amazing year with the glorious Heaven and Ale. We also have the new version, Azul: Stained Glass of Sintra, which is a pleasant variant but won’t replace the original.

Four Against Darkness – 7 plays – Another sign of the return to playing more RPG-style games. I was intrigued by this solo-style game that you play and also draw out as a kind of art project.

Terraforming Mars – 7 plays – Well, it’s just a great game. Yes, the graphics are wonky. Yes, it’s swingy on luck and the variants are too numerous. But is there any more compelling theme? Not for this lover of science fiction and space travel. I even read Red Mars, the book that inspired the game, this year, with plans to hit the other two in the series in 2019 (it’s really hard-SF for those who might consider it).

Simon’s Cat – 7 plays – This simple game caught my attention after buying it on clearance. I didn’t know the charming cat-based web series, but it had a cat and it was cheap. As a pleasant, light trick-taking game, Simon’s Cat is a winner. It helps that Liam, one of the charming sons of my good friend, took a liking to it and he’s made sure Simon’s Cat is on the list for each game day. That’s always a welcome request.

Summing it up

I’ll be honest – I wish I’d played more heavy games this year. I wish I’d played more games head-to-head with my son, who is now away at college during the week. I wish I’d had more time to spend on game design. But 2018 was the hardest year of my life, in terms of loss, profession, and immediate family needs. I’ve forgiven myself for those things I didn’t get done this year and achieving board game goals is the easiest of the lot. As I used to say on the podcast, it’s only a game. That’s one thing I really love about this part of my life.

Yes, board gamers compete and play hard. But considered how much of the rest of my life has stakes that are ridiculously high, this hobby (and my reading) is the place where I can just have fun and spend time with people I like. It’s the way I refuel for the hard stuff. It’s the best method of relaxation and while some might feel the stress of gameplay, this is all good stress for me. Thank goodness for boardgames, I say – and for a New Year in which to work, love, achieve and – definitely – play.

Happy New Year! May your 2019 be grand! – EB

5 Quick Questions About Builders! with Tyler Omichinski

5 Quick Questions About Builders! with Tyler Omichinski

Editor’s Note: As a kind of content geek, I try new formats. People seem to love our interviewette for tabletop designers that is a quick read. We promise no TL;DR. Let’s see how Tyler Omichinski, one of the designers of hot new game Builders! does, shall we?

BGB: Attention is money, my friend! What is the elevator pitch for Builders!?

Tyler: Builders! The Building-Building Deck Building game is a fun and fast paced game about competing to be the best construction company by any means necessary. Build a deck of employees, use them to construct zany floors in skyscrapers, and knock down the stuff your opponents have built.

Ed. Note: BGB fully endorses the amusing subtitle of this game.

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

Tyler: There were three main things that came together for this game.

One of the designers, Nat, is from the trades and loves deck builders. He pointed out that most construction games focus on the end result rather than the people involved in the process, so we worked to make that a reality.

This led into, once we were focusing on the people behind major projects like these, to ensure that it was inclusive. The industry is getting better for this sort of thing, but there are unfortunately still places that we can and need to get better, and the response we’ve been getting for this has been amazing.

Thirdly, most of our experience in game design is in RPGs or cooperative games, so we wanted to cut our teeth on something relatively light and accessible to get started on our own project.

The intersection of these three factors led to Builders!

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

Tyler: Probably the most likely spot to fill is an introductory deck-builder. It’s a good time (45 mins to an hour on average), has a lot of light-hearted humor, and has a good deal of depth to the mechanics without having a ton of them piling on the players, meaning that it isn’t intimidating. It’s a great in-between game, or the kind of thing that on a game-night you can run through a few times in a row.

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

Tyler: I mean, that there’s a 12 year old that we met at a con that can school every one of the designers and is probably the best player in the world is a bit embarrassing. That kid is amazing at card games!

Seriously though, there is a couple of small stories hidden within the cards that set up a series of small stories between the different characters. No one has caught on to it yet, and it was a thing that the art team crafted and we fell in love with.

BGB: Thanks for telling us a bit about Builders! 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?

Tyler: Yeah! 2-4 players, MSPR is 19 USD, for ages 13+. It’s a good thing to bring more people into gaming, and there’s plenty of interaction between players. One of the best parts is that, invariably, almost every table starts taking pictures of the buildings they’ve constructed and giggling about the implications of, I dunno, a dragon hanging out underneath a goat on the roof. You can check it out here.

BGB JOKE TIME

As for a joke, we’re just saying that if you arrange all the occult floors in the game you summon our team into your living room. Be careful!

No, we can do better, what about… what’s the difference between Gloom and Monopoly? One is a game about destroying families, and the other is Gloom.


5 Quick Questions About Dice Summoners with Eoin Costelloe

5 Quick Questions About Dice Summoners with Eoin Costelloe

Editor’s Note: Continuing in our popular interviewette series for tabletop designers, we travel via blog post to Dublin to hear about Dice Summoners from the designer Eoin Costelloe. The game is now live on Kickstarter and nearly funded. But I promised no TL;DR so let’s get to it. We can get all we need to help you feel good about supporting Dice Summoners on Kickstarter with these 5 Quick Questions.

Attention is money, my friend. What is the elevator pitch for Dice Summoners?

Ever wondered what it would be like to pit a Triceratops against an angel warrior, or to fire a magic arrow at a charging zombie? Dice Summoners is a two player game that allows you to do just that. Roll dice, match them with cards, build your army and attack your opponent. It is a game that is quick to set up and quick to play, with high replayability and a mythological theme.

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

I’ve loved trading card games like Yu-Gi-Oh since I was kid. So when we thought of an idea to curb the randomness of a deck and replace it with dice, we couldn’t resist. We’ve played a lot of heavy strategy and heavy luck based games that we loved. We wanted to create a game that was a nice balance of both with some cool modern mechanics like a common pool of cards.

Dice Summoners

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

This game is fast and quick to play. We think there aren’t enough good two player games out there. This game is great for two people waiting for that friend who is always late for a game night. It has 44 interchangeable decks that make for hundreds of different versions you can play. It’s a painstakingly balanced game, meaning there are many different strategies that players can win with.

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

We nearly killed each other trying to make a 4 player version of this game because we just couldn’t get the balance right. We aren’t ruling out a 4 player down the line because we have some good ideas for it but we have some couples counseling to get through before we can start working on that version again.

Thanks for telling us a bit about Dice Summoners. 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?

Dice Summoners is a two player duel using cards and dice that plays in about 30 minutes for ages 14 and above. It’s aimed at players who want a light competitive card game with high replayability. The game has an engaging strategy using dice based action selection and an extensive variety of cards. Immerse yourself in it’s mythological theme as players deplete their enemy’s health to win the battle.


Our Kickstarter is now live so check us out and consider backing us.https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/870869293/dice-summoners
And if board game development doesn’t work out, I think I’ll become an optician. People will say it’s a bad idea but they’ll see. They’ll all see.

Just love these 5 Quick Questions things? There are more here.

Book Impression: Port of Shadows by Glen Cook

Book Impression: Port of Shadows by Glen Cook

Port of Shadows by Glen Cook

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

(mostly spoiler-free)
Port of Shadows is the newest in the Black Company series, my favorite fantasy series when I was a young lad. As much as I respected and enjoyed Tolkien, revered Eddings, was dazzled by Zelazny, was charmed by the Dragonlance books, and enthused about Moorcock, Cook was the guy who wrote the book that inspired my own creation of a D&D world. Looking at Orphel, the fantasy world I created for RPGs back in high school, is heavily influenced by the gritty Black Company novels. While none of them live up the original book, many in the series get close and Cook’s characters are real people like you see in Game of Thrones, not perfect fantasy-book archetypes. I found this far more interesting than regular ‘quest-fantasy’.

I excitedly read through Port of Shadows new Black Company book since it’s the first one in ages. Cook is the same guy he was before, lots of excellent plotting (if they are sometimes more complex than they need to be), names that are sometimes awesome and sometimes ludicrous (and he goes full Russian Novel here with people going by three names), and the often lazy writing (the anachronistic phrases members of the Black Company slide into and the tendency to leave all the voices sounding the same. This was always a bit of a problem but it’s maybe worse here than ever before. A good editor could make Cook’s books all the more wonderful but he’s never found his own Maxwell Perkins.

I’d also caution readers who are sensitive about his treatment of women (others have commented on it and his racially-insensitive language in the past), but he’s fully writing about a society with a different attitude that is in line with historical views. My 2018 sensibility made me cringe at times, but I cringed at A Column of Fire earlier this year, too, which is a historical novel. I don’t think Follett or Cook advocate these views, they just write about them. Anyway, a word to the concerned.

While it’s nice to have series star narrator Croaker back after Murgen’s fussiness (who narrated a bunch of Black Company books more recently), the narrative takes some odd turns and there is more focus on an intriguing history than there needs to be (it’s good, but less of it would have been better). There’s also a truly bizarre epilogue that kind of gives Cook the option to kind of dismiss things he brought up that sounded kind of problematic for the lore. Insurance for inconsistencies that hardcore fans might find? Perhaps so.

All in all, a fun read and I hope the next book is also earlier in the timeline like this one. The grittiness of the series (which I re-read this year in anticipation of Port of Shadows) reminds me of the strong influence he was on GRRM’s Game of Thrones. Even a lot of his language goes directly into phrases used in GOT, although Martin does a finer job of turning that language into a real vernacular where Cook just spits out tough-guy talk. This is also one of the longer Black Company books and I’m inclined to think that Cook is best when he is briefer.

If you love the Black Company (as I do, warts-and-all), you will enjoy Port of Shadows for sure – which is why this decidedly three-star review has a fourth one up there. Pure nostalgia, folks – uncut and effective.

Buy it here! Amazon has a great price for it.

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