Preview: Wizards of the Tabletop – A Game Designer Portrait Book – On Kickstarter

Preview: Wizards of the Tabletop – A Game Designer Portrait Book – On Kickstarter

Wizards of the Tabletop is a worthwhile addition to the non-game shelves of any passionate tabletop gamer.

Do people still read paper books much? I like to call them “dead-tree books” as sort of a poke at people who collect books like they are secret talismans that somehow makes them more powerful or more prestigious since they keep all that knowledge in their home. Don’t we all have that knowledge on our phones all the time, every day now?

While my attitude about this subject is somewhat informed by the fact that I was an early e-reader who pulled PDFs off the bibliophile’s version of the Dark Web, it also comes from being raised by a voracious reader who never kept books. As soon as my father read something, and he was an Evelyn Wood-trained speed reader who polished off a book and a half a day, he would get them into a bag to be sent off to his friends or the library for donation.

Amusingly enough, the reason my snarky comments stopped is because I started buying dead-tree books on Amazon at ridiculously cheap prices. I think the turning point was when I purchased a copy of Morrissey’s autobiography for eight cents plus shipping; that’s quite a bit less than the cost of the Kindle edition. Suddenly, these dead-tree bits were showing up on my doorstep and I ended up rediscovering the beautiful, tactile experience of reading a physical book rather than simply paging through it on an iPhone. It’s not the first time I found something that seems like going backwards is actually just a new path to happiness. I doubt it’s the last.

Wizards of the Tabletop: This is a review, right?

Yes, I was getting to that. So, when I saw that Douglas Morse, who has already made one of the best board game movies that we have yet to see (The Next Great American Board Game), has a new coffee table book on Kickstarter that included photos of game industry folks, I was intrigued. Certainly, I thought Wizards of the Tabletop: A Game Designer Portrait Book sounded like something that was worth a little space on my largely uncluttered shelves. I’m glad to say that I was able to obtain a preview copy of the book’s photos and accompanying text. In the book, Mr. Morse has captured some terrific photos of various game designers and industry luminaries at conventions or, in some cases, in an environment suited to the kind of games that they produce.

Wizards of the Tabletop
The great Matt Leacock in a preview photo from Wizards of the Tabletop.

In his travels to put together his original documentary, Mr. Morse had an opportunity to visit many of the conventions that are the gathering places for our hobby, including both public and private conventions. He captured signature shots of great designers like Reiner Knizia, Friedemann Friese, Alan Moon, Steve Jackson, Matt Leacock and so many more. Frankly speaking, it’s just a lot of fun to see these creative, intelligent, and witty folks hamming it up for the camera. But Morse also captured the more reserved among them (that’s the minority, in my experience) in a manner that suits their personality. There’s just so much joy in this shots. And why not – game designers and people in this hobby are incredibly friendly. When you go to tabletop conventions, it is so easy to meet game designers, so simple to try out their new game, and even contribute to its development. Few other hobbies have such a close relationship between creators and enthusiasts.

I should note that Wizards of the Tabletop isn’t all pictures. Morse has interspersed text with the photos that lightly touches on the modern history of gaming, tying it to some key points in the last fifty-ish years that led to the current sustained renaissance in the hobby. To that end, he’s also included photos of a cross section of games that highlight key moments or movements within modern board game design. These complement the designer photos to tell a compelling story about how the hobby has crawled out of the college campuses, geek basements and back rooms of game stores into the charming board game cafes, libraries, and homes of regular folks everywhere.

It’s a wonderful tale that is well-told and one that is dear to my own heart; indeed, it should be for anyone who has a deep love for “These Games of Ours,” as they were often called in the past. I’m glad they aren’t just ours anymore. I love that I can’t contain the size of the board game night I started at work. I’m thrilled that board games are having their day and saving us from endlessly looking at screens. I still delight in seeing a big shelf of quality games at Target or Barnes and Noble. To commemorate how far the hobby has come, I think having this particular talisman in my home makes good sense.

Wizards of the Tabletop is live on Kickstarter and will close in just a few days. You can pony up $20 for the PDF but I can’t imagine not wanting to get the physical copy for another ten bucks. It’s worth a few more trees. Any gamer who enjoys this hobby should delight in the images and story contained in this fine book. While it won’t ship until next June but, in the spirit of the season, it would make a lovely gift to be enjoyed for years to come. After all, a printed out Kickstarter order confirmation email fits nicely into a stocking.


You might also want to read this other Boardgame Babylon article: Movie Review: The Next Great American Board Game


Disclosure: The publisher sent me an early-preview PDF copy of the book for independent review.

Session Review: Guild Masters by Matthew Austin and Mirror Box Games

Session Review: Guild Masters by Matthew Austin and Mirror Box Games

Guild Masters came along at a less than ideal time for me, yet I quite liked it and backed it on Kickstarter. I’ve been struggling with euro games still a bit when they lack an interesting theme or unique elements. While we often marvel at the way a designer melds good ideas from other games into something new, even that has gotten old in my view.

So, it was a bit of a surprise to find out that I enjoyed Guild Masters so much. It’s a euro game with a variation on a theme we’ve seen a bit. Yet, it’s so tightly designed and expertly implemented that I found myself really enjoying it only a few minutes in.

Guild Masters

I like fantasy themes and I’m drawn to games that try to have some fun with it, particularly when a business is involved. I was drawn to Battle Masters, Fantasy Business and other similar games for that reason. Guild Masters has quests like Lord of Waterdeep but the players are investors trying to supply heroes with the tools they need to complete these tasks. As such, players upgrade their guild in various ways, hire workers and invest in the best quests – sometimes alongside other guild masters for shared booty.

The game has a variety of mechanisms and sub-systems while still feeling like a light-medium euro. Players have a limited number of choices each turn, and then an option to upgrade or hire with the money you have. You can 1) Gather resources, some of which are restricted unless you buy a certain upgrade. You can also 2) Craft resources into something to help a hero conduct a quest by delivering them the item they need. Some quests simply require that one resource and you get paid for it, adding the card to your collection of completed quests that will score at the end of the game. In this case, you want to be the first one in for an advantage (you get the card, instead of just the payout). Lastly, players can also hire a variety of unique workers that help you produce, pay or do something more efficiently. On the same turn, you can also buy extensions to your guild that will help you do more, including getting access to more resource options, getting end-game or in-game bonuses or advantages.

Simple enough but the ease of learning Guild Masters should not make you think the game isn’t really intriguing. There is just the right amount of detail in the varied quests, workers and guild upgrades to provide interesting combos for scoring more points based on the quests you complete.

Guild Masters plays quickly and yet it has enough variation to invite repeat play to explore the various elements and how you can find efficient ways to gain more points than your rivals. I recommend it and look forward to my next play of Guild Masters.

Guild Masters is for 2-5 players and is said to take 60-90 minutes. We were under an hour with three and the game isn’t really prone to AP players (yay!). It’s live on Kickstarter and almost at its end. Support now for a fine new euro you will surely enjoy.

Boardgame Babylon Rating for Guild Masters

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

Disclosure: The publisher provided a preview copy to play once.

Photo Credit: Ta-Te Wu

SESSION REVIEW: Paperback App from Tim Fowers

SESSION REVIEW: Paperback App from Tim Fowers

Paperback, the smash-hit game from designer Tim Fowers (of Burgle Brothers and Wok Star fame), has come to mobile devices and I couldn’t be more delighted. Thematically, Paperback has players trying to finish a pulpy paperback novel by constructing words throughout the game, which is pleasantly brought to life with the amusing artwork and quick game play.

Paperback the original board game is typically described as the baby of Scrabble and Dominion, which is apt. Players get to make words from a hand of letter cards drawn each turn in deck-builder style. Each letter has a value and whatever you construct for the turn gives you money to buy new (often better, higher value) letters, some of which have special powers. You can also buy victory point cards if you have enough money. Despite being the key to winning, they clog up your deck with wild cards that have no buying power. There are also special powers on certain letter cards that do cool things like double word scores, draw extra cards and other nice things. There’s a way to get points for longer words, too. It’s a load of fun for wordsmiths and casual players alike.

You want a detailed description of play? This guy wrote it out (although he added an ‘l’ to Tim’s surname, which I expect isn’t uncommon). You can also watch this video. You didn’t think I was going to explain it rule-by-rule did you? Come on. Where are you?

What I Love About The Paperback App

I need to disclose something. I’m a recovering iOS deckbuilding addict. I’ve played SO many games of Ascension and Dominion on my iPhone that even my careful documentation of plays ceased to have Paperbackmeaning. The quick play of these games against a single AI player is almost too compelling. Playing them swallowed all my little bits of time on my device and I finally had to stop so I could read books and get back to completing mini-workflows in those odd moments. But Paperback has me back off the wagon and loving it.

Normal Paperback as a board game has the same challenge that word nerds face when trying to find opponents for Scrabble. Simply put, if you have an excellent vocabulary, you just have a natural advantage. Like being tall in basketball, it isn’t everything but it sure helps.

While modern players have Qwirkle as a good alternative that levels the playing field with color/shape combos instead, those of us who just love words still yearn for the opportunity to build them from a jumble of letters. With the Paperback app, I can indulge this passion with the AI player when no one else is available. Furthermore, the game has helpful setting options to allow players to adjust the length of their games. I’ve often opined that some mobile app games are simply too long because I have other things to do (the opposite of how I feel when I’m at a table with excellent people). I welcome Paperback giving the player control over the length of their experience.

Furthermore, Paperback rides on the Loom Game Engine and it works really well. Animation and game speed are all excellent. Fowers isn’t just a brilliant board game designer – he has a background in technology so I’d expect nothing different from his apps.

What I Didn’t Like

A prompt update eliminated one of my pet peeves – confirmation windows – ugh! Just because that was considered good coding in CS classes, it’s a nightmare by modern UX standards…okay, rant over. However, Paperback still makes me listen to its theme music instead of letting me bring in my own playlist. As a passionate music-lover who carefully curates what goes into my ears, this is a problem. The theme music is pleasant and appropriate but it isn’t going to make me not want Hope Sandoval of Mazzy Star to serenade me while I play my word nerd games. That sultry voice just gets the little gray cells going. Full rules are now available, too – not just a video link. Some of us still read, including those who want a Paperback app! I feel sure Tim is addressing those issues in future releases.

The Final Word on Paperback for iOS

Paperback is a well-implemented version of a game that is ideally suited for the mobile device play. I love it and certainly recommend you give is a download. I’m sure it is available for Android somewhere, wherever those things happen.

GET PAPERBACK ON IOS NOW

Boardgame Babylon Rating for Paperback for iOS

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

Disclosure: An app code was provided for review by the publisher.

Session Review: Imhotep from Phil Walker-Harding & KOSMOS

Session Review: Imhotep from Phil Walker-Harding & KOSMOS

Imhotep is a welcome addition to our gateway games collection, but I almost missed out on it. My first play was fine, but I was underwhelmed. This SDJ nominee was my final game of the day at an event last month. I had wanted to try out this title that was going to challenge Codenames for the Spiel Des Jahres and only spotted it late in the day. I had faith in the possibility that it could take on Vlaada Chvatil’s effortlessly wonderful party game because I’m a fan of Phil Walker-Harding‘s other games like Sushi Go!, Archaeology, Pack of Heroes, and Cacao. The game was loaned to me from another party who waited until I played before mentioning that he felt similarly (good, not great), suggesting that maybe the nomination was an Academy Award-style ‘make up for a previous snub’ to console the open wound of the excellent Cacao missing the cut. I nodded in agreement before taking off that night.

I was wrong. Imhotep deserved the nomination and the adoration of the SDJ jury. This is a very good game that I’ve now played nine times. Despite my first impression, I bought the game to play during our summertime game-cation (where we always sample the SDJ and KDJ nominees ahead of the announcements). I was impressed with the delight the newcomers experienced playing it and I how much enjoyed exploring the nuances of the game.

Imhotep Basics

Gameplay is straightforward and seems familiar, as with many great games. Players are trying to score points and win by placing stones on boats and delivering them to ports that let them score in various ways. This is done six times, with some scoring happening immediately, some happening at the end of the round, and the bulk of points coming at the end. The game has an old-school euro feel and I sense the strong influence of Michael Schacht, the master of minimalist designs that have incredible depth.

To play, you give your two to four players a pile of colored blocks and a sled tile that holds up to five stones at a time, select round cards based on the number of players you have, and then set up the modular port boards you opt to use. The port boards have two sides, with side A featuring ‘beginner’ options with simpler rules. There are also boats with one to four slots, four of which (in some combination of slots) you’ll bring up based on the round card. Each turn, players decide between three options: add up to three blocks from the player’s general supply to their sled, add a block to a boat from the sled, or sail a boat with enough blocks to a port for activation.

Imhotep

Four boats are available each round and they only can be sailed when one fewer than the number they will handle have been placed on them (pointless clarification: yes, the one-block boat needs a block). At that point, any player (whether or not they have a block on the boat) can sail it into a port. This is important because players can send a boat into a port that doesn’t help the players with blocks on it very much. Managing this narrow range of choices still makes for interesting decisions, even if it doesn’t sound that intriguing just reading the gameplay mechanisms.

There are five ports and only four boats, so one is skipped each round of play. Furthermore, fewer blocks can reach those ports if players send them early so there’s definitely some dynamics around whether players opt to play offensively or defensively. The ports resolve as the boats were loaded, with blocks at the front resolving first. In some cases, this gives that player first choice; on other ports, it just means their block goes into place first – sometimes to their frustration.

The ports are the way players score, but they work differently.

  • The Market lets players choose from a set of mostly face-up cards (the B side has facedown cards), which gives them various immediate or future chances to act or score. The blue cards are an effective way to do double actions, the red ones let you place a block into one of the other ports immediately, the purple are award set collecting points, and the green ones are end of game bonuses for the performance of other ports.
  • The Temple scores at the end of each round, with spaces for five blocks. The interesting bit here is that this option delivers points for the blocks viewable from above. Thus, blocks placed early can score over and over – and new blocks ruin this plan.
  • The Pyramid scores points immediately, but the loading order is a factor because different spaces provide different point rewards.
  • The Burial Chamber and the Obelisk ports both score competitively at the end. The former is pattern-based and loading order is a big deal, while the latter is a raw comparison on side A and a timing/commitment game on side B.

While the side A cards are ‘for beginners’, there is no reason for gamers to not begin with the side B variants. They are a trifle more complicated, but they also make the game better. Players sail the four boats six times before a winner is declared. With experienced players, it’s a satisfying thirty minutes.

Imhotep’s Modular Rules

Much has been made of Friedemann Friese’s 504, a game that takes rules variations to the extreme. Imhotep has some possibilities here but it’s done in a simpler way. Dominion popularized the inspiration from older games like Cosmic Encounter for modern euro games. Indeed, you can see a Dominion inspiration in the way Imhotep’s designer expanded his hit game Sushi Go! for Sushi Go Party (see my adoring review of that game here).

Imhotep

With Imhotep, the game’s central mechanism allows for new ports to be plugged in that score block placement in different ways. The flipside variants on the backside reminded me of Antoine Bauza, who famously mentioned on my podcast that one of his publishers, Repos Productions, encourages this strongly – suggesting it’s otherwise a waste of the back of cardboard. I happen to agree; this feature allows for varied play via selection or random options. I can only assume Walker-Harding is cooking up additional ports for expected expansions of the game. Heck, we designed a couple on the spot last time we played.

The Final Word on Imhotep

Imhotep is a well-designed, interesting game that I’m glad is on our shelves. I do think gamers will enjoy it more if they play the B variants or some combination of A and B. Some longtime players may feel like they have enough gateway games but, like Hanging Gardens, Carcassonne, Kingdom Builder and even Schacht’s own Zooloretto, it fills a useful spot in a collection. Imhotep is also good enough to delight experienced gamers who enjoy a super-filler with a 90’s euro feel.

Boardgame Babylon Rating for Imhotep

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

Session Review: Bring Your Own Book from Matthew Moore and Luke Nalker and Gamewright Games

Session Review: Bring Your Own Book from Matthew Moore and Luke Nalker and Gamewright Games

Bring Your Own Book (subtitled “The Game of Borrowed Phrases”) had me at the title. As a voracious reader, I knew it was going to be a game that I’d enjoy. I wasn’t preparedBring Your Own Book for the game to play so well with our entire group, including some I’d describe as ‘non-readers’. It’s 2016 – what can you do? Although bibliophiles will embrace the game quicker, you need not be obsessed with books to enjoy it. Originally released as a self-published game, Gamewright has snapped it up. Thank goodness they did because it’s fun and we laughed a lot while playing.

Bring Your Own Book is amusing for the reason most party games are: you get to inject the personality of the people playing into the experience. On the surface, it’s a pretty straightforward. Like Apples to Apples, Dixit, and Cards Against Humanity, players submit an answer based on criteria set by a game card. That player selects their favorite option and awards the card to the player who selected it. The subjective selection of ‘good’ answers based on whose turn it is drives the mirth in these games. Bring Your Own Book is no exception here.

Yes, You Literally Bring Your Own Book

The innovation here: Instead of a hand of cards with possible answers, players arm themselves with a book. The book’s text is the source for their answers. Once the game card is read, players scour their books to find a phrase or line to match the card. Categories are all over the place, which is amusing. Some examples of the witty card selections: “A line from an unpublished Dr. Seuss book” “A pickup line” or “The title of a romance novel.”

One might read that description and think the game is more interesting for readers who pick their favorite book to use. Not so. The real fun comes out of the truly bizarre answers people try to pass off as a reasonable answer. I did well in our first game with a book on Irish history (I’m a mutt but more Irish/English than anything else). One of our players had a picture book about gnomes, which was a great source for ridiculous responses. Considering the card picker can select the winner based on their own criteria (funniest or the most appropriate for the category), going the funny route can often work and it almost did for the gnome book-wielder.

Bring Your Own Book

If you’re one of those folks who have moved on from deadtree books to the ebook world, you can still enjoy the game. While we had people raiding a few of our bookshelves, there’s no reason why players can’t just bring up a book on their Kindle or iPhone to use. Furthermore, you can get many free books online from your local library or online resources to use in a snap.

(Yes, BGB listeners who know me to be a total tech-head might ask about these bookshelves in my home. I do mostly read e-books but the deadtree variety are so cheap these days that sometimes, I just buy them instead…hey, I got this Morrissey biography for $.08 plus shipping!)

Oh, yeah – the winner is the first one to four or five cards. I think that’s it. Seriously, if you care about who wins, you’re missing the point of party games.

The Final Word on Bring Your Own Book

If you like this style of party game, you’re bound to enjoy Bring Your Own Book. While I love and admire clever party games like Codenames, games where you submit answers that rely on player relationships are the biggest source of laughs. The delightful bonus for Bring Your Own Book is how it allows players to get even more creative in their selections. Yes, it’s lower-effort creativity than the likes of Balderdash (another of my favorites), but it works. The game is now on our Top 10 Party Games list.

Bring Your Own Book plays in 20-30 minutes and with 3-8 players. Of course, you can control these factors by simply handing out more cards or increasing the threshold for winning. The packaging is also delightfully bookish, another fine detail for us book-lovers. I’m jazzed by the packaging Gamewright has been using, although my favorite has been the dice games boxes with the magnets you’ll find housing Qwixx, Dodge Dice and Rolling America. Not anymore – look at the cool addition to Bring Your Own Book just below. You track the books used to play the game as you go. What a terrific idea and one that is unique to Bring Your Own Book.

Bring Your Own Book

Bring Your Own Book is available now from Gamewright and you can follow the author here.

Boardgame Babylon Rating for Bring Your Own Book

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

Disclosure: Copy provided by the publisher for independent review.

Session Review: Sushi Go Party! by Phil Walker-Harding and Gamewright Games

Session Review: Sushi Go Party! by Phil Walker-Harding and Gamewright Games

Don’t you hate it when a new edition of your favorite game comes out and the old one might as well go in the trash bin? Sushi Go Party will not do that to you. Fans will love the expanded version and they can easily recycle their previous copy by handing it to a friend as a great introduction to modern board games. That is, until the friend loves it so much that they upgrade to Sushi Go Party and pass the basic game on, too. The new version is that welcome and good.

Sushi Go For Beginners (skip this section, experts)

If you don’t know the original Sushi Go, where have you been? This inexpensive crowd-pleaser has enjoyably light Sushi Go Partygame play (plays in 20-30 minutes) and charming artwork sure to dazzle young and new-to-modern-game players. The game works incredibly well for that set, while serious gamers often like it as a filler.

Play is simple but interesting: players get a hand of cards, selecting and revealing one at a time, and then passing the hand to the left (a ‘pick and pass’ mechanism, as it is sometimes called). This is done until all cards are gone, which triggers scoring for the round. Points are awarded for sets that are collected and scored in unique ways for different cards (e.g., majority, multipliers, pairs, etc.) The game plays over three rounds, with building scores and a final bonus for dessert cards collected over the course of the game. The original game is enormous fun and so worth the cost of this small tin chock full of fun. But the new edition is even better.

Sushi Go Party Expands The Menu

Yes, it’s still Sushi Go but bringing the party means two key changes: more players and more variety. The new expanded version offers both in spades. Sushi Go Party plays up to eight – a very welcome feature – and combines the original game with the Dominion concept. Designer Phil Walker-Harding (whose SDJ-nominated Imhotep is all the rage right now) gives buyers of the big new tin a host of new cards in sets that you can mix and match for varied play.

In an inspired thematic choice, Walker-Harding has added ‘menus’ of card sets to play. Card types are now categorized as Rolls, Appetizers, Specials, and Desserts. Your custom bento box of card selection options (you can use a pre-made ones or build your own) are clearly shown with cardboard markers that sit in the center of the new score track. Hurray to that addition as well. No more score-keeping elsewhere on paper or scoring apps round to round.

Card and menu selections from each type can adjust the feel of the game for more interaction or to appeal to larger player counts. For example, there’s now a Spoon card that allows players to request a card from other player hands. There are also risky propositions with Eel and Tofu cards, which require players to have specific numbers of cards or earn a penalty. Additional desserts have been added and a distribution tweak that has more of these end-of-the-game cards rolling in each round makes these post-meal bonuses work better.

Sushi Go Party

The Final Word on Sushi Go Party

Like Sushi Go, Sushi Go Party plays quickly and it doesn’t take any longer to play with eight than it does with the original five player limit. In fact, the new edition even has improved rules to play the game well with only two players. My wife and I tried the new two-player version and it worked quite well. While it isn’t a game that I’d expect to transition so well (even the wondrous 7 Wonders is MUCH better as 7 Wonders: Duel than in in the two-player variant of the original), Walker-Harding has come up with a good way to handle things when you want Sushi For Two.

Sushi Go Party is an ideal upgrade to the original and an instant buy for fans of the game. Everyone who plays it with us says they want to buy it. The game is now on our must-include board game list for travel and big game parties. The US edition is out from Gamewright and you can see previews of many of the new cards on the designer’s Twitter feed.

Boardgame Babylon Rating for Sushi Go Party

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

Disclosure: Copy provided by the publisher for independent review.

Session Review: Team Play from Johannes Schmidauer-König and Schmidt Spiele

Session Review: Team Play from Johannes Schmidauer-König and Schmidt Spiele

Team Play had significant buzz coming out of The Gathering of Friends 2016, seeming like it was this year’s Strike. Like Strike, which had been overlooked for a few years, GOF attendees seemed to have racked up multiple plays over the course of the event. While that’s not hard to do with shorter games, players obviously kept playing because they were having fun and I ordered a copy immediately. I was not disappointed.

While this quick-play Schmidt Spiele game from Johannes Schmidauer-König has a rummy feel with the draft-and-collect mechanism at its center, the game that came to mind on our first play it Take It or Leave It.  In both games, players draw variable goal cards and compile the means of fulfill them. While the latter does the job with dice, Team Play has players collect sets of cards and adds partnership to the mix.

Team Play Board Games

How Does Team Play…play?

Setup provides players with a single goal card and a variable number of hand cards, with the start player receiving one and the number increasing around the table. Then, players draw two cards each turn (draft-style from a three face-up cards and the deck) to collect cards that meet the requirements of private or one public goal card. Goal cards range in value from 1 to 6 points with more points awarded for harder sets of the same rank, runs, flushes – sometimes a combo of those elements. I admire the iconography on the cards, which I find easy to explain. Completing goals gives your team points, which is how you win.

The regular hand cards come in two colors (red and blue) and range in rank from 1 to 8, with three of each variation appearing in the deck. Each turn, you draw two, complete any goals you can from the cards in-hand (which are discarded). Then, you can pass one or two cards to your partner. While you are not allowed to discuss card passes, card-playing partners know how to do that with cards – both in actual passes and observation of your partner’s actions.  This is one of the elements that makes Team Play work so well. I’m pretty aggressive in my passing. If I don’t need it for the goal I’m working right now, off it goes to my partner. Who knows when it will be helpful?

The game ends when one team collects eight completed goal cards. While players only keep one goal card at a time, they have the option to discard the first one drawn. This is a key point since it helps players optimize their plans. I also like that you can rush the game by completing easier goals to put pressure on the other team. While this isn’t always possible, I like the strategy because it throws the over-thinkers off their guard. Those people need to move along so I always like when a game includes that option (particularly for fillers that are SUPPOSED TO BE fast).

Final Analysis of Team Play

We’re big fans of Team Play around here and it’s already hit the nickel list. While it has appealed to my family with the quick play time, partnership opportunity, and the simple but planning-friendly rules, we’ve also had enormous success showing it to other people. I see this becoming one of our opening fillers for a day of games or a lovely twenty-minute closer. While the game kind of made me yearn to get my own copy of Take It or Leave It (I played the Strategicon library copy), Team Play‘s compact box means it will probably remain the choice of these two when packing up for game day.

Boardgame Babylon Rating

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

Session Review: Darkest Night, 2nd Edition from Victory Point Games

Session Review: Darkest Night, 2nd Edition from Victory Point Games

As a fan of cooperative games, I’ve been interested to try Victory Point GamesDarkest Night for a while. The sub-genre is one of my favorites and I find it hard to believe it’s almost a decade on since Pandemic made its splash onto the board game scene and inspired the hobby to get on the cooperative game train. Sure, it had predecessors but Matt Leacock’s tightly-designed end-of-the-world wonder introduced a larger audience to the sub-genre and we’ve had a lot of great ones and many not-so-great ones since then.

DN‘s publisher is run by Alan Emrich. Alan is a genuine hero for Southern California gamers, as one of the guys responsible for the Strategicon series of conventions while making many other contributions to the hobby even before he launched VPG. I was glad to hear they were doing a new edition of the game with updated rules, gorgeous new miniatures and stretch goals-a-go-go. Having recently gotten interested in the design work of local designer Jeremy Lennert anyway (his Hunt: The Unknown Quarry was recently brought into digital form thanks also to a Kickstarter campaign), I thought it was finally the chance to give it a go. Jeremy was kind enough to explain the game for me and ‘referee’ a play of the title at a recent game event, which I partially Periscoped while we got the rules explanation if you’re inclined to give it a look.

Darkest Night is a fantasy-themed cooperative game but it’s no Pandemic clone (that’s Defenders of the Realm). Instead, Darkest Night draws more from the feel of adventure-oriented co-ops that give players more of a chance to develop their character (think Runebound or Return of the Heroes). This is welcome because one of the problems with co-ops is the tendency for one player to kind of take over everyone’s roles (“The Director,” they are often politely called). Darkest Night gives players an opportunity to develop themselves out with powers from their own deck of 10 cards (13, if stretch goals happen). I’m also in love with the statistic the characters have. No typical “Strength” and “Dexterity” stuff here. Instead, you have “Grace” (hit points) and “Secrecy” (how hard you are to find). The way Secrecy works is intriguing since this value will govern how easy it is for the Necromancer to find you. Kind of like Fearsome Floors, he’ll move to the closest player he detects when he moves.

The new edition has gorgeous miniatures that you can buy as an add-on plus some expanded rules. While this was my first play of the game and I cannot compare the new rules to the old, it would appear the updates expand the options available and make the game even more flexible. As with many games, it’s the cards that bring the variation to life. The new edition adds even more event cards, which are drawn from most locations. These cards can lead to conflicts, bad mojo stuff happening that will provide you misery and, occasionally, something not terrible. While the different cards are welcome, they do feel very 80’s Games Workshop, as they usually have a die roll to see what happens. I’m of two minds on that one. While the additional variation of cards not always doing the same thing can be enjoyable, there are times when you get results like “nothing happens.” Kind of a yawn but okay if it happens rarely. In our game, it happened more than that.

The Event cards also trigger some interesting elements to add to the board, including Quests. These are opportunities for characters to complete a task to gain an advantage but they also come with timers. The urgency and interest these provide make for a richer game and it’s a welcome mechanism. There are also Artifacts and Mystery cards that provide some other opportunities for interaction with game mechanisms that help players along. We played on a prototype board so it is hard to judge it but there are a lot of things that can show up on the board and it can get a bit crowded, but all of these elements work well for the game.

Then the bad guy gets a turn (notably, after all players get a go – not like Pandemic where it happens after each player). Blights (or the ‘infection cubes’, if you like) that get dropped out onto the board are implemented in an interesting way as they turn regions of the board into startlingly difficult places to be. Instead of just stacking up to show their threat as in Pandemic, Blights provide a specific penalty to the players at the location where they sprout. They’ll hit you for a combat or evading penalty or some other problem. Blights works well – in fact, my only issue with the Blights is the design of the tiles. While you are usually defending against or evading them, those values are quite small. Near the bottom, in a MUCH bigger font is the value you need to roll to defeat them (and the penalty for failure), but this is less often used. Were I their graphic designer, I’d switch those immediately to increase the ease of use because we kept having to squint to complete the action we did the most with these guys.

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Session Review: Darkest Night 2nd Edition from Victory Point Games (continued)

Session Review: Darkest Night 2nd Edition from Victory Point Games (continued)

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While Blight works well, I do wish I could see the effort help us manage the threats. While removing them reduces frustration, I had a hard time tracking how our efforts were helping in the battle against the Necromancer. Once in a while, something we did reduce the ‘Darkness’ (a marker not unlike the Knizia Lord of the Rings tracker, or the Minion Hunter –  the precursor to all of these games – track that all four threats live on), which felt like we were striking a blow. Too often, though, our efforts felt like they were just us swatting flies away from our efforts to get enough artifacts to get enough clues to do…something. While the turns were short, a lot of times, it just felt like we weren’t doing very much and yet turns have a lot going on from an administrative perspective. You start with that event card, which can often turn into multiple event cards. Then you do your action: moving (again, a whole turn to travel makes sense in the name of the mechanisms but not in the name of players feeling a sense of accomplishment), taking a single swipe at a Blight (miss the roll and the turn is over, bub, which could mean another event or just lost Grace), or do something with one of the cards on the space. You can also just rest to restore Grace. Then, you need to deal with any monster Blights (either fight them off – notably, not killing them – or just evade them).

Screen Shot 2016-05-22 at 12.42.40 PMThere are just an awful lot of turns. The length of a turn is a challenging problem. As a eurogamer, I’m no fan of lost turns. While the Web (a Blight that makes a player lose a turn when they leave a space with it) is manageable because you can opt to fight and remove Blights, it is less appealing to go to the Monastery and pray, only to find that you get absolutely nothing for it with bad rolls. I won’t make a religious joke here but I will say that I’d rather see the devotion do you good regardless of the dice. Darkest Night has that war-game sense of resolutional luck rather than situational luck. I’m sure that’s a lot of the appeal for RPG players and the huge community of fans the game enjoys (which has led to many expansions).

Unfortunately, the storytelling is not as strong as the interesting mechanisms. The names are all generic and the board is made up of a handful of locations that have functional names “Monastery” and “Swamp,” that are descriptive but not evocative. While the Necromancer is a threat somehow, it’s not something that comes out in the game much. In Pandemic, you’re saving the world (real places with city names) from the disease and the paths to a loss make it clear what is happening. This is even more powerful and effective in the truly awesome Pandemic Legacy. In Knizia’s Lord of the Rings, Knizia benefits from the legendarily intriguing Middle Earth, which is abstracted out but there is a definite sense of location with the unique characteristics of the areas.

It’s an interesting problem. Is it more appealing to let players imagine their own names with the characters to tell their own story? Sure, I buy that idea. The 29 characters and their unique 13 card decks provide players with a chance to experience the game many different ways, adding to the replay value of the game. Yet, I can’t say the same for those generic name for the locations on the board. There’s nothing particularly inspiring about going to The Forest or The Castle. That’s where the storytelling would be welcome. Even the Necromancer seems to want a name to make him seem more grounded and real. As a double-size cardboard standee, he looks imposing but without a backstory or more visible signs of the impending doom, Darkest Night’s story didn’t hold my attention for the full length of the game, even though the mechanisms are strong.

Darkest Night plays in two to three hours but it was a first game for our crew so it ran longer. I think my recent forays into three-hour games of Star Wars: Rebellion may have given me a false sense of my stamina for over two-hour games. I believe the storytelling strength of Star Wars: Rebellion is why three hours with that game feels like not enough time. Of course, familiarity with almost, ahem, forty years of Star Wars in my life means there is a built-in level of interest there. Still, I think the rich theming is what makes it all the more compelling and keeps players deeply engaged.

Darkest Night 2nd Edition is good fun for RPG cooperative board gamers and is available now on Kickstarter. It’s already funded but a bunch of excellent stretch goals await. I recommend you check it out because if you like this kind of game, you get a whole lot of fun in this new edition. The campaign runs through June 11 and the details can be found here.

Boardgame Babylon Rating

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

Session Review: Fisticuffs by The Nerdologues

Session Review: Fisticuffs by The Nerdologues

Fisticuffs was a successful Kickstarter from a parallel universe to the one where gamer boardgames exist. Like Cards Against Humanity or The Oatmeal’s Exploding Kittens game, these titles are a lot about the humor and creativity of the individuals involved – sometimes at the expense of game play. While apologists will defend the titles as ‘a fun experience’ and ‘crowd-dependent,’ serious gamers just need to know what they’re getting themselves into.

I approached Fisticuffs with that thought in mind, especially since the game ‘sold’ me on the designers being ‘a bunch of people you don’t know but could totally be friends with.’ That’s good marketing and I admire it.

I also love party games and I’m fine with including lighter games that sometimes include a take-that feel as part of a day of gaming. Heck, I played Red Dragon Inn more times last year than any Feld game except Die Burgen Von Burgund (the booze helps).

Fisticuffs is one such game, playing with 4 to 6 players in just 20 or so minutes. The idea of the game is like Brawl, TKO and JAB before it – let players essentially duke it out over a few rounds Board Gameuntil you can declare a winner. While the Brawl and JAB do the realtime thing (which some find overwhelming), Fisticuffs plays like a normal card game but allows people to join in the fray even when it’s not their turn.

The rules are simple. Players choose a character, all of whom have funny names but some of whom have special powers you’ll never use. Players get cards of different colors with various punches and attacks on them. On your turn, you play a card to attack someone. They can block it with the same named card (e.g., an Uppercut blocks an Uppercut). If you don’t block, other players can. If a block happens, a card of the same color can be used to counter-attack. And so on, but now you can target any other players who got involved. Yes, everyone at the table can potentially join in. Yes, it gets a bit confusing – which is part of the fun? When a blow finally goes unblocked, the person hit loses some of their twelve starts hit points. Then, the same thing happens next turn.

Once everyone gets a turn, you can reload cards and you get some defensive cards from a secondary deck. These “Round” cards (not round like BB-8 – you get one each round) have more ’tactical’ options. This all continues until you’re down to two players and then the rules simplify further. Someone wins, it’s over.

Needless to say that despite the mild amusement from the humor (primarily from the character cards), our players didn’t find much to engage them in Fisticuffs. After the first turn, people were more conservative with getting involved in brawls. The artwork is basic but not so much so that we thought it was being intentionally bad for comic effect. The simplicity likely helped keep costs down for the Kickstarter and that makes sense.

I’m glad the Nerdologues got the backing to make their game a reality because I love crowdsourcing to help creative projects. I hope the 600 or so folks who backed it have a great time with Fisticuffs. But it’s just not for me. While Brawl is the be-all, end-all fighting card game, TKO gets you the theme for less money (Brawl costs per deck, TKO is ludicrously cheap) with a limit of two players. If you love the theme, Fisticuffs does get this experience with a multiplayer option and the funny back story (which you can enjoy in the video above) is worth a look.

This copy of Fisticuffs will be donated to the Strategicon Game Library so you can give it a try at Gamex 2016 (and beyond) to see if it’s more to your taste than mine.

Boardgame Babylon Rating

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

Disclosure: Copy provided by the publisher for independent review.