Friday, July 13, 2018

Games that burned fast and bright for me

There’s a tiny handful of games for me that saw a brief flurry of heavy play and then basically disappeared.

Truth to tell, there are far too many  games I’ve only played once and am likely to never play again. There’s plenty of games that have gotten played periodically. And a decent number that have seen a lot of play.

However, Ablaze, Knockabout and Modern Art the Card Game all had about a month or so of almost weekly play and then they vanished to the back of the game closet. They burned fast and bright.

And I’d cheerfully play any of them again. I’d definitely call Knockabout and MAtCG solid games, B+. Not immortal classics that are guaranteed to be played a hundred years from now but games I’d be cheerfully wiling to play. Ablaze isn’t as strong but it’s the one game that’s actually come back out so I could explore it’s solitaire options. And I’d still cheerfully play it with other people :D

Frankly, I’ve played worse games more. What stands out about these three games is that they fit a pattern of playing that isn’t my usual pattern of playing.

The next time I go to a gaming event, I should pack Modern Art the Card Game.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Silk screened boards and dice

I recently got out my copy of Knockabout/Warp 6 to show our four-year-old since they are pretty sturdy games. In addition to all the playing pieces being dice, the boards are silk screened on bandannas. Doodle still isn’t up to playing them but he liked the pieces and concepts.

Warp 6 is a race game with a spiral track where there are short cuts that cut down the loops but those short cuts are only open in another pawn is at the start of it. Knockabout is basically marbles as a board game. Both use dice as pawns and the number on the die determines their movement.
And it was a trip down nostalgia lane for me to get these games back out. Not only were they early acquisitions for me, I also have good memories of playing them, particularly Knockabout.

Really, they don’t make games like this any more. And by that, I mean  physically like them. (Except that, as near as I can tell, they do still make them like this since I’m pretty sure Pair-of-Dice is still in business.) If someone told me that Pair-of-Dice operated entirely out of someone’s garage, I’d believe them. One of their games that I don’t own was an altoid tin of two different colors of nuts!

In their case, I find it charming. Their games almost have a found art feel. However, all the components do their job. The games physically work and the ones I’ve played I’ve enjoyed so I think they work mechanically as well.

And just because something is old school and has some homemade-looking elements doesn’t make it automatically charming or endearing for me. The game has to actually work above all else. I remember, with horror, a game I bought called Blazing Camels that literally looked like it was made by raiding a preschool art closet. The game was bad and the cards (literally made out of construction paper) ripped when you tried to play the game. 

No, no matter what, a game has to be physically playable, not to mention fun and interesting. The ultimate measure of a game is how good it is as a game.

It’s been over ten years since I’ve actually played either Knockabout or Warp 6. I suspect Warp 6 is the better game but I have happier memories of Knockabout since it saw a brief period of heavy play as the game to play while waiting for D&D to start.

These are games from a different era. Not only do they have a very different aesthetic than anything I’ve heard about come out in the last several years, they are abstract/near abstracts. I don’t know when but I want to revisit them.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Oh, I didn’t lose these games after all

This blog entry was originally going to be about how I lost my fidget box when we went out of town for a night. But then it turned into it to have just gotten mixed in with the dirty laundry :D

Of course, by then, I had already printed out almost all the sheets of cards :D

Still, it was an interesting experience. If I had lost my fidget box, I’d have lost my current copies of Elevenses for One, Akur-Gal, the nine card beta of I Am Lynx, a slimmed down version of Down, my 2/3 player deck of Autumn and Murderer’s Row.

So, nine pages of cards. Even including the plastic case I carried everything in, the material costs would be under three dollars, most of that laminating sheets. And if I did the cutting and laminating in one sitting, it would probably be two hours of crafting.

In other words, the actual loss was an annoyance at worst and an incentive to do some crafting at best. The real problem was that we had forgotten anything at all. After all, it would be a big deal if we lost something that was actually important and hard to replace, like our phones.

In fact, this had been a kick in the pants to actually do some crafting and that push has fizzled out. And that is a small price to pay for the reassurance that we actually are functioning adults who don’t lose random things on an overnight trip.

Monday, July 9, 2018

Do we need a nine card party game?

In my never-ending browsing through PnP games, I came across Cypher from the 2016 Nine Card PnP contest. I’m pretty indifferent to party games but a nine-card one intrigued me.

Cypher is a game for two teams where the clue giver uses dice and cards to randomly generate two clues. They then come up with a word that fits those two clues and their team has to guess that word with the other team also getting a chance to guess.

Eight out of the nine cards are double-sided clue cards with six clue words on each side. The person in the clue giver seat draws cards and rolls three dice. Discarding one of dice, they place a die on each card, showing what the clue words are. They come up with a word and whisper it to the enemy team’s clue giver. (Actually, the rules say a word close to the right word. Have no idea why. My way makes more sense)

The clue giver’s team gets three guesses. The ninth card is the road card, which is basically an axis of hotter-colder and more letters-fewer letters. After the first two guesses, the clue giver can use the card and a cube to help their team. If they don’t get it after three guesses, the other team gets one guess without access to the road card.

And the enemy clue giver doesn’t get to be part of the guess so I don’t know why you don’t just whisper the actual word to them. In fact, not doing that opens up wiggle room for cheating so it really doesn’t make any sense.

First team to five points wins.

Now, I haven’t played Cryptic, although I have made a copy and I wouldn’t mind trying it. It doesn’t strike me as an amazing party game but it certainly seems like one that should work and be fun. I’ve seen worse.

It does have one crucial issue. Since you have to come up with your own secret word, that means the players have to have some level of creativity. And that can be a game killer with some groups. Apples to Apples was such a big success in part because creativity was optional. (I’m not thrilled with that but I think it is very true)

So, if I ever get to teach this game, I’d give my standard Zendo advice. Don’t tell get too cute or clever, particularly at the start. What seems simple in your head can be crazy complex in practice. 

At the same time, that creative freedom means Cryptic offers a lot of breadth and replay value. Between that and being only being nine cards, three dice and one road marker, Cypher seems like a great game to have in your bag just in case you need a party game. (Okay, Charades and I Spy just require warm bodies so this isn’t the ultimate travel party game)

So I’m kind of surprised I’d never heard of Cypher before and that it apparently never got passed the beta stage. It really seems like a decent party game that can fit in at least some wallets. I’d think that’s something folks would want.

Maybe I need to look at more PnP and/or micro party games.

Friday, July 6, 2018

There’s an Oniverse out there

In the last twelve months, I’ve played more than thirty different solitaire games, almost all of them print-and-plays that I’ve crafted myself. (I prefer to use the verb craft to made, by the way, because I feel made implies I designed them. So I am actually trying to sound less hoighty toighty. And now I want to play that old game by Teuber)

So I decided to pull out Onirim, which I bought years ago when I _wasn't_ interested in solitaire games. At the time, I rather liked it. Liked it more than Friday, which I should also revisit sometime soon. So, having gotten a lot of solitaire experience under my belt, I decided to see how it held up.

Short version: it’s much better than I remembered and I liked it already!

But that’s not what I’m going to talk about now. I do want to go back in and properly revisit Onirim sometime though. It is an evergreen.

No, after I played it a few times, I said to myself didn’t they make a sequel? One that had a flamey box?

Go to my home away from home, Boardgame Geek, and do a search.

It’s a series called the Oniverse and there are now five games in the series. Onirim, Urbion, Sylvion, Castellion, Naution. The last one is a dice game. And there’s a second edition of Onirim with four more expansions.

Okay, in the last five years when I haven’t been keeping up to date on what’s been coming out, has there been some kind of solitaire boom or revolution?

After briefly going over the different games, they all look like they are fairly different and they all include expansions, just like the original version of Onirim. Which is really cool. Instead of recycling the mechanical ideas of Onirim, what binds the game’s together is the surreal theme and art. (Which I like)

While I wouldn’t mind trying any of them, I also know I’m not going to go out of my way to get any of them. (Well, maybe Sylvion. High ratings and looks different than any of my usual solitaire experiences)

On the one hand, my current game budget is super tight so I’m just not buying games right now. On the other hand, I am having tons of fun with the original version of Onirim and the three expansions that came in that box. I don’t need any of the other games right now :D

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Jorvik was what I wanted all along

I recently got to play Jorvik, a revision of Speicherstadt. I didn’t even know it existed and I’d say it does improve on the original.

I got Speicherstadt when it first came out. It may have one of the nastiest auctions I’ve ever seen. You are bidding on cards and the price of a card is the number of meeples/markers on it. And the option to buy goes in order of who placed first. Passing means the price goes down for the next person. Oh and you get more money scrounging for change in a sofa than in a sofa on display at IKEA that was put on the sales floor five minutes ago. Driving up prices and bankrupting people is the main interaction of the game. 

The cards include firemen to protect against fires, ships that give you cubes, contracts and markets to sell those cubes, etc. On top of being broke and lucky to get a card each round, everyone knows what you need and can target you appropriately.

Jorvik (which I learned from the game is the northern part of England that the Norse settled for a while) adds an extra row of cards. Only one person can claim a card. But it goes in a line and, you guessed it, the number of cards in the line determines the price. There have also got to be a lot more cards in Jorvik. Oh and you get an allowance of two coins instead of one each turn. (Yes, that makes a huge difference)

Oh, wait. There was an expansion for Speicherstadt called Kaispeicher. I’m pretty sure Jorvik is basically Speicherstadt plus the expansion in one box. Huh.

Speicherstadt is a good game but it’s not a great game. I enjoyed playing it but, once I was to the point of purging good games from my collection to make storage and replay manageable, it went without much regret.

First of all, I can think of a least five auction games I’d rather play... no six or seven, without trying hard. I’d rather play Ra or Vegas Showdown or Modern Art or other games.

Second, I have no problems at all when it comes to nasty play but Speicherstadt feels like you are punishing yourself at least as much as the other player when you make a nasty play. The limited number of bid meeples and tiny amount of money creates a punishing environment where it often feels like you’re fighting with rusty razors over scraps. Oh, it’s still fun but it’s not as much fun.

Jorvik giving you another way of getting cards and being a little more generous with money made the environment of the game more forgiving while still letting you punch each other in the throat. I’m not going to run out and get Jorvik. I still like other auction games more but I like Jorvik more than Speicherstadt.

But I am annoyed that it is basically Speicherstadt and it’s expansion in one box and Speicherstadt should have been that in the first place. For me, when an expansion flat out fires the base game, it should have been in the original box in the first place.

So Jorvik was what I wanted all along.

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Shephy - the sheep are alone

I recently wrote about how annoyed with myself because I learned  and have only been playing Land 6 on my phone, even though I crafted a copy of the game and could play it with real components if I wanted to. On the other hand, I’ve learned and been playing Shephy on my phone because that’s the only way I’m probably ever going to get to play it. And I’m perfectly cheerful about that.

Shephy is a solitaire card game from Japan where your goal is to get a thousand sheep. It consists of sheep cards which you manipulate in various ways with a small deck of action cards. What makes this tricky, brutal even, is that you have to play all the action cards eventually and some of them are nasty, sheep slaughtering cards. One of the losing conditions is going through the action card deck three times without getting a thousand sheep and the other one is having no sheep.

Sometimes I like to pedantically go through the rules of a game when I’m writing about it but I really don’t feel the need with Shephy. The basic version of the game is free as an app so most folks can easily try it out if they’d like to. 

However, I do want to talk a little about strategy. Really, every solitaire game have elements of a puzzle and some are more puzzle than others. I feel like there are specific steps you have to take in Shephy to win.

There’s one card that will duplicates another card in your and a card that lets you remove a card from the game. Judicious use of those two cards lets you winnow the evil, sheep slaughtering cards and that seems to be key to winning the game.

And, yes, every game has some kind of formula. The question is how rigid is Shephy’s. Is there room for flexibility in my choice? That’s the real question between it being a game I can play over and over like Ominrim and a game that I get ten or so plays and am done.

Still, the cute artwork and the enjoyable process of play means I’d be tempted if I saw a cheap physical copy :D I suspect that, at the end of the day, Shephy is a okay game, not a great one. I have had fun exploring it on my phone but it’s not a game that I’ll be playing a year from now.