Review: Time Breaker from Andy Looney and Looney Labs

Review: Time Breaker from Andy Looney and Looney Labs

Time Breaker is another wacky game from the mind of the great Andy Looney. In the game, which is perhaps a spiritual sequel to Andy’s earlier Chrononauts, players are part of the Time Repair Agency chasing a Time Breaker through time to bring him to justice. But this is not a cooperative game; players want to be the officer to bring the Breaker in, meaning that you may actually try to stop some of the other players in their pursuit.

Time Breaker
A lot of time stuff in that little Looney box…

What’s a Time Breaker, you may ask (especially with the way Avengers: Endgame recently threw out much of what sci-fi geeks ‘know’ about time travel)? The game defines it as a criminal that is attempting to cause issues in a timeline rift. Thus, the players need to chase this temporal hooligan through a game board made up of a 25-tile grid, each representing a specific spot in history. The tiles each show a previous place in history from which you can come into the space and a secondary time you can jump to from there (denoted by red and green arrows, respectively).

Players start at the center of the grid, in the Time Repair Agency spot and they are each dealt a hand of three cards. Each turn, the active player draws a card and then does one of three things: Plays a card to move their agent or the Time Breaker, uses the green arrow to jump to the next time spot, or they do a Hail Mary option of drawing the top card and doing whatever it suggests. That last option is called a Wormhole and you get what you get.

Most of the cards that allow movement do one of two things: Either let your agent move one space vertically or horizontally, or jump to a specific time tile. The Wormhole is really only for those moments when you have no other useful option.

Time Breaker
The Time Breaker is a cube of time-busting clear plastic.

Time Breaker Cards

Some cards allow players to move the Time Breaker himself. This is helpful if one of your opponents moves onto the space with the Time Breaker to arrest him. They simply need to verbalize that they are arresting him (creativity welcome) and then the Breaker will go with them when next they move. Now, if you get to the space where your opponent has actually apprehended the Breaker, you have the option of also placing them under arrest and the first player to move away from that space will take the Breaker with them. But it’s much easier to simply move the Breaker with a card.

Breaker cards are easy to spot since they are black, and most let you move the Breaker token. Some Breaker cards actually close a time gate instead. This removes the tile from the 5 x 5 grid and flips it over. Now, if you jump to that space either from a card or tile path, you are sent to the center of the board instead. This is a welcome mechanism as it pleasantly speeds up the game as you go since getting the Breaker back to the center space is the winning condition.

These closures create gaps in the board which are traversed as if they were just not there, allowing you to move directly to the adjacent space and with the added fact that the game allows for wraparound movement from one side to the other. This movement flexibility is welcome and it grows as the game board gets smaller. Players are able to immediately walk between spaces based on using the green arrow cards and move cards. This eases up one of the game’s challenges: Movement cards directly to you want to go to scarce and the real challenge of the game is figuring out clever ways to navigate to the Breaker and bring them to justice.

Forward to the Past

Time Breaker was popular with the players at our game table. They enjoyed the fast play and movement around the board and the opportunity to foil each other’s plans just as they were about to make their way back to the Time Repair Agency with the nasty Breaker in, presumably, temporal cuffs. The efficiency of play is a factor, with serious gamers perhaps ending the game much quicker. As a result, Time Breaker has a wide timeline for play, noted on the box as 10 to 40 minutes. This is a similar time commitment to the other Looney Labs games which have can wild swings of luck on the basis of card play and options that you don’t have a great deal of control over. That isn’t a slight on the game, in my opinion, because that speed works well for casual players looking for a Fluxxy experience..

Time Breaker
The tiles have a lot of art!

If we had any concern with the game, it’s the graphic design, which crams a great deal of information onto every single one of the game tiles. In an effort to allow people to use either visual or numeric cues, the individual tiles, which aren’t so large, feature both the image associated with a certain time tile and the actual date. This makes for a kind of messy tile that can be difficult for people discern. I would hope that if Looney Labs does a second edition of the game, they might simplify the tiles. Rather than helping, the visual searches slow the game a bit.

Time Breaker is for 2 to 4 players, ages 8 and up. For its portability and ease of play, I do recommend the game, especially for Looney Labs fans. More serious gamers may find Time Breaker enjoyable as a quick filler and to enjoy the artwork, which is charming.

Charming Art – quite Looney, too

In my view, Time Breaker is an excellent encapsulation of the Looney Labs brand, and fits well into their ludography. I enjoyed the game and expect to play it again as it becomes available in the Strategicon Library at Gamex 2019. The game is available now at your Friendly Local or Online Game Store and on Amazon.com.

Disclosure: The publisher provided a copy of this game for independent review, which is now being donated to the Strategicon Game Library.

Review: This Game Goes to Eleven by Gamewright

Review: This Game Goes to Eleven by Gamewright

With a name like This Game Goes to Eleven, this title from Gamewright is trading on the association with the classic cult film This Is Spinal Tap. For the uninitiated, the reference is to an immortal scene in the film where fictional metalhead rocker Nigel Tufnel explains how his amps are just better because of their dials tracking to 11 instead of just 10. Trust me, it hilarious and this game’s title will inspire a smile for anyone who has seen the film.

Haven’t seen it? Go directly to your TV. Do not pass Go. Do not collect $200.

This casual-weight game comes with 72 amp-backed cards and a guitar pick (or “plectrum,” as the delightfully erudite Mr. Mike Siggins noted on my Instagram recently) does evokes this wacky scene with some artwork as well. Playing with 2-6 players of ages 8 and up, it’s quick one, running just about 15-20 minutes. As a filler to begin or end a game night, Eleven, can succeed in filling in the game between longer games, or to appeal the very casual player.

This is a straightforward game of playing cards to get to a certain point in value in the discard pile. Players are dealt three cards of varying values from zero to 11 (no 10 because how sad would that be?). The zero and 11 cards are something special, but most of the cards simply have a number and a hue that corresponds across the same rank. On your turn, you play one from your hard to the discard pile and draw back up three afterward.

The Power of Eleven

When the values of the cards in the discard pile hit 11 or more, the entire stack is given to a player to add to their points pile in front of them. In this way, the game plays like a variety of other cards card games including Reiner Knizia’s Escalation and Poison (now ‘Friday the 13th‘ from iELLO).

Rocker and librarians and amps, oh my…

Who takes the cards? That’s determined by whether the active player hit the number 11 exactly or if they exceeded it. Hitting 11 exactly is the goal; if so, the active player gets to choose who takes the stack of cards that added up to the total.

If the active player exceeds 11 in the discard stack by their play, they are forced to take those cards. That’s the basic game. Once the cards have been passed to the appropriate player, play continues with the next player. However, there are a few additional rules that had some interest to the game.

Librarian Versus Rocker

First off, there are those zero and 11 cards. The 11 card, which features artwork of what looks like a Motley Crue reject, directly sets the current stack at 11, giving the active player the opportunity to be able to handover the cards to whomever it is they want. Rock on, indeed.

The zero card has a picture of a Librarian and she will shush the value of the current stack down to a zero. She also has the power of being able to be played out of turn to cancel an 11 rocker card. What the designers were thinking when they figured that a librarian can shush a loud hair metal rocker, I don’t know. But that doesn’t give the Librarian a great deal of power in the game. The Librarian can also make for prodigiously large stacks of cards which ended up getting handed over to a player in a single go.

Split Stacks

One more interesting rule is that players may not play a card of the same rank directly on top of a card of the same rank. If you do opt to play a card of the same rank on top of one that matches it, you will split the stacks. For example if the stack currently has a five on top of it and you opt to play five card, rather than adding the five to the total that is currently in the discredit pile you will make a new discard pile.

This option is probably the most interesting part of the game since you can use it to avoid exceeding 11 on your turn. Instead, you start a new second discard pile that is also being played to 11 or more. I am fond of this rule since it reminds me of the under-appreciated Adlungspiele game Lowendynastie, which allows you to create a secondary trick with a split matched ‘marriage’ card. Eleven isn’t as intriguing as that game, but this little flash of an intriguing rule is welcome.

Winning

As you may have surmised at this point the game is going to end when you get through the stack of cards and the player with the fewest cards is going to win. Thus, it helps to simply avoid cards there’s no real difference there and it makes for a simple goal that all players can understand. The value of the cards themselves or any of the special cards like a librarian and the guitarist don’t have any special significance, at the end again it’s just about how many cards you have. While it lacks the ladder-climbing feel of Escalation, the intrigue of the three stacks and shoot-the-moon scoring options of Poison, This Game Games to Eleven fits the bill nicely of a six player game you can play with just about anyone.

Plectrum Variant: A must for us

Pick this variant…

One more note: the plectrum included with the game isn’t just for amusement, it provides a variant that I like. The plectrum is giving to the starting player and, when someone hits exactly eleven on the discard stack, the one with the plectrum gets the pile of cards. Some will say this make for less strategic options, it does dial down (pun intended) the ‘take-that’ feel of the game. This variant doesn’t change anything about the active player getting the cards if they exceed that number and I think it makes for some interesting choices when you need to minimize card intake while possessing the plectrum. For our group, this option is a lot more appealing as we are not terribly aggressive players and liked the idea that the game was instead more evenly distributing the cards and allowing us to make the difference in the skill of play.

If you are a local, this copy of the game will be showing up in the Strategicon Game Library in time for the Gamex 2019 convention in May. Play it there to get your rock and roll on.

This Game Goes to Eleven
The whole shebang.

Final Word

This Game Goes to Eleven was liked by our casual gamers and if that’s your audience, this is a winner. Serious games can enjoy it as a lighter version of fare they normally play and it’s a charming filler that can round out theme nights, too.

3 Rapid Reviews of iOS Board Games: Evolution, Castles of Burgundy and Doppelt Ganz Clever

3 Rapid Reviews of iOS Board Games: Evolution, Castles of Burgundy and Doppelt Ganz Clever

Who has time for full-blown reviews anymore? If you want them, you can find all you want – a sea of them. But if you want something quick, here you go – quick, hot takes on recent games I’ve played. Nah, I didn’t play them seven times. I won’t explain the rules in excruciating detail. I 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. Here we go:

Evolution: The Digital Edition

The Gist

Evolution is a gorgeous app from the get-go.

Evolution was the first ‘serious’ game that came from North Star Games, who were first known for their hit (and wonderful) party game Wits & Wagers. Since Evolution ended up feeling like, wait for it, North Star itself evolving, I was intrigued even though my first play was with a rough playtest copy that I demonstrated at Strategicon. Yet, the game was immediately compelling to just about everyone I met; the concept of multipurpose cards where one can create species and grow them with the ultimate goal of feeding (food = VP) appealing immediately to gamers. Bringing the game to mobile gaming seemed like a no-brainer to me and it’s finally here, allowing for AI and asynchronous play. The game is full of sparkling graphics, lots of flavor text, a solid (if sometimes overbearing) tutorial, and a complete port of the gameplay that made Evolution so popular.

What’s Interesting

Evolution on your phone takes care of some of the administration and card-reading. One knock on the original game is how much information you need to track. Can my carnivore eat any of the available animals? I need to read cards to confirm. The app just highlights which species I can snack on now, which makes life wonderful. Sure, you still need to look sometimes, which is easy enough with a click on the cards (easier on a tablet, and a choice to display all cards on a species would be cool). “Auto-feed” is also nice, quickly letting the species mack down on the available food as they would appropriately chose to do.

My Take

The game moves well with the smart UI.

Evolution is a good game that has a unique feel. I am quite fond of the app version because of the ease of administration and how it is giving me a chance to play the game more frequently so I can become more familiar with the rules. That way, when next I get it to the table, it’s all the easier to play the game quickly. The chance to explore the strategy of a game more is the key thing I seek in a longer iOS game (not the 3-5 minute chunk games like Doppelt Ganz Clever below), and Evolution: The Digital Game delivers that in spades. If you like Evolution, it’s an insta-buy. If you’re new to Evolution, you can find no better way to learn it.

Castles of Burgundy: The Digital Edition

The Gist

This is before the magic robot table yanks your player board into some underground storage chamber.

Castles of Burgundy is the finest game Stefan Feld has designed and it is one of my favorites of all time. Haven’t played it? Stop reading and go play this cardboard wonder. Back now? Okay, let’s continue.

It’s a perfect dice manipulation game. COB effectively makes good use of a wild list of different tiles in a way that isn’t quite as successful in Feld games like Bruges and Macao. I was thrilled for the iOS version to come out. Unfortunately, my first response to the game was that it was overproduced. I have been generally happy with Digidiced, the company behind this release. Yet, it felt like they had stacked this layer cake just a little too tall.

COB received criticism for the component quality when it was originally released, but no one took issue with the art. It’s not sacrilege to replace it with similar looking art, but the original work is recognizable for those of us who have played many, many games of COB. So, it irked me a little bit that the digital edition adds new, less appealing art. Add that to the fact that the game has a 3-D look and a quirky trick where in the game shows the current player’s board on their turn. I find the implementation overwhelming.

What’s Interesting

Once I started to play, I realized Digidiced had sensibly given players a number of choices as to how it is they might select certain pieces to take their turn. For example, you can select the die you want to play in order to start the process of selecting a tile to claim or take. You can also simply select the pieces. The game does a pretty solid job of being able to anticipate what it is that you’re going to do. Not rocket science but it’s still welcome that when I select a shipping tile that has a three on it, the game understands that I’m probably meaning to select a die that has a three on it or one that is pretty close for which I can use a worker to modify. As a software designer, I can appreciate the fact that the company made some good choices as to use ability in these cases. Kudos, Digidicers.

My Take

How does the game play on iOS? Pretty much like COB tabletop does, with a lot of the administration handled for you. That’s welcome, as the game does require a bit of set up each round. My experience so far has primarily been playing against the computer and the AI is a serviceable but the real joy is being able to have some asynchronous play with friends. And while I was initially frustrated with the art, I have grown accustomed to the different look. I still think that there is some lost definition with some of the building tiles in particular but that’s a small complaint against the joy of being able to have more COB in my life.One final note, The game is priced at $8.99 for the iOS version and a dollar more for Android. This is a significant increase from most of the games that come out these days which are starting to trail up into higher costs. While I understand the desire to make some amount of money from the mobile games, as well as the versions that are available on Steam, I do think that for gamers that have already invested in the game in physical format, it does seem like a bit high. Maybe I’m just naïve, and something of a cheapo when it comes to how much money I’m willing to pay for an iOS version of a game that I’ve already bought in physical form, not to mention the Card Game and the Dice Game, both of which are passable versions of the original. For me, $4.99 is an upper limit for these games when you play them on your devices like an iPhone or iPad. But if you love COB, and you should, pick it up when the sales hit…

Doppelt So Clever: The Digital Edition

The Gist

“Twice As Clever” may be true. Some people are flummoxed by this sequel.

Ghost-pepper-hot designer Wolfgang Warsch keeps dropping these excellent games on us. In the case of Doppelt So Clever, he’s following up Kennerspiel Bridesmaid Ganz Schon Clever (which missed out on the award because his other nominee won), a roll-and-write wonder that delights gamers and may intimidate the uninitiated.

The themeless dicey puzzle game allows for clever interaction between rolls in various categories and the forced limitation of lower die rolls. I find it a great app for the 5 minute iOS experience I tend to seek instead of longer games that will take an extended period of time to play. Doppelt ups the ante by introducing even less obvious interactions into the mix. The gray section in particular has baffled some players but the way you set up various rolls to give you extra rolls and placements is key (Blue and Pink, folks!) It’s a heady answer to the simpler roll-and-writes out there flooding the marketplace and I really enjoy it.

What’s Interesting

A fresh board is a delight. What strategy will I go for this time?

What’s truly interesting is the game. If Ganz Schon Clever kept me addicted for a few months as I worked my way up to scoring in the 300’s, Doppelt was knocked over a lot faster. While I think Doppelt’s strategy is more subtle, experience with GSC helped me a lot. Not that it plays the same way, in fact, you need to unlearn some things that GSC teaches you. The interplay of the Yellow section is more intriguing than Blue in GSC. Green can be a points powerhouse. Pink can deliver so much if you get in early. There’s plenty to explore and enjoy for the cost of this app.

The app itself is a port from Brettspielwelt, which are generally not too strong. Like Friday and Doppelt’s sister game, they are buggy and sometimes slow to respond. I won’t bore you with the technological reasons why I believe these apps don’t perform but it’s a thing. That said, I want BSW to make tons of money because I’ve spent MANY hours on their servers delighting in board game goodness.

My Take

These games are lovely puzzles but once you have solved them, they lose some appeal. I’d also suggest that solo play is just as appealing because adding other players doesn’t meaningfully change the game except when they are going to trip you up by refusing you a die you want. I don’t find that appealing anyway so the “Clevers” are perfect for iOS (dare I say, maybe even better than the physical copy). Give them both a buy.

What iOS board games do you love? I’d enjoy hearing about your favorites in the comments section. I think I have most of them out there but I am always looking for my next iOS addiction.

Disclosure: A code to download Evolution: The Digital Edition was provided by the publisher for independent review.

5 Quick Questions About 5×7 Dungeons with Dan Smith

5 Quick Questions About 5×7 Dungeons with Dan Smith

Editor’s Note: As an avowed content geek, I try new formats. People seem to love our 5 Quick Questions interviewette for tabletop designers that is a quick read. We promise no TL;DR. Let’s see how Dan Smith, the L.A.-based artist and game designer of such games as Battle of the Bands, King of Crime and many cool RPG-like experiences, plus the recently Kickstarted solo game 5×7 Dungeons, does, shall we?

BGB: Attention is money, my friend. What is the elevator pitch for 5×7 Dungeons?

Dan Smith: Got no friends? No worries, now you got game!
(Seriously) You have a few minutes to kill, why not have fun? 1 card/1 marker/2 dice and you are good to go… into the 5×7 Dungeon!

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

Dan Smith: I test myself. I give myself a premise and then I cripple myself to see if I can overcome the limitations in play. This one was: I have 1 card. Make a game using 1 card. I worked my way up from a basic playing card to 8×11 size, but that was like the one-page dungeon format and not wanting to reinvent that wheel, I cut the size in half. You do need a couple of d6s and an erasable marker, but 1 card is all you need.

All you need on a single card. Brilliant. – ed.

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

Dan Smith: This game should go into your car. It’s the time waster you can use while you’re waiting at the dentist, in line at the drive thru, waiting for your other friends to show up for the function. Waiting for your significant other to get ready? 5×7 Dungeons has you covered. (Ed. note: This will be a lifesaver for me on this last point.)

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

Dan Smith: It’s an easy game mechanic, once you get the game, you could make your own dungeons… but that’s what a brain is for. I would love to see what others come up with using the mechanics…

BGB: Thanks for telling us a bit about 5×7 Dungeons. 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?

Dan Smith: Playing time 5-10 minutes per card. 1 player. We’re live on Kickstarter until April 29th. (ed. note: and this game is VERY reasonably priced! PDF available or get the real thing if you hate printers like I do.)

JOKE TIME

What is long, brown and sticky?

A stick.

For more 5 Quick Questions, check out this link. I didn’t realize we’ve done quite a few…

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