New Year’s Resolutions and 2018 Snaps

New Year’s Resolutions and 2018 Snaps

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

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

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

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

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

Quick Review of the Overall Play List

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

Quarters

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

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

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

Almost Dimes and Quarters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Summing it up

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

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

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

BGB at Gathering of Friends 2018

BGB at Gathering of Friends 2018

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

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

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

Keyflow

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

The Mind

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

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

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

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

Transatlantic

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

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

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

Merlin

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

Gathering of Friends 2018

 

Karuba: The Card Game

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

More to come later in the week…