Thursday, October 19, 2017

Why playing Button Men online was important to me

Gaming online was a big part of how I started playing board games, something that I kind of find more than a little ironic. And BSW was a huge part of that, both exposing me to a lot of different games and a broader community of players. It was also a way for me to play games from home and without worrying about the particular hour.

However, another site that was a big part of my early gaming life was the original Button Men site, which was a very simple way to play just one particular game, Cheapass’s Button Men. And, looking back at those experiences, I think it was a bigger influence on my playing than I thought at the time.

Button Men is a simple two-player game where players are trying to capture each other’s dice. Each ‘character’ is just a collection of different types of dice. The basic ways of capturing are either power attack (using a die with a larger pip) or skill (using one or more dice to exactly equal the captured die’s value)

Part of what makes the game so brilliant is that there are different types of dice. X Dice that you assign a size to at the start of a round, poison dice that are worth negative points, shadow dice that do reverse attacks and the list just goes on and on.

Really, about half the interesting part of the game is in the set up but each round would still have interesting decisions within it. And, in person, the game plays out very fast. It has a great depth of play for time spend playing return rate.

But the site was one of the first places that I regularly went that was turn-based. BSW is real time, which was great for my back when I was a bachelor. It was almost like playing face-to-face. But though it was more flexible than actually going somewhere to game, I still had to schedule a block of time to to play.

During peak seasons at the job I had at the time, almost all my gaming went in hiatus. They had to play without me at game night (I loaned the group a chunk of my library so they didn’t miss me as much :P) and I even stopped playing on BSW since sleep was more important.

I wasn’t the only one who did this, by the way. I used to game with an accountant who would disappear during tax season.

During these times, though, I still played Button Men online. Being both turn-based and having simple turns, I could still work it into my schedule. It became my gaming outlet when things were really crazy.

These days, Yucata, also being turn-based, has taken its place. When my schedule gets crazy, I just switch to lighter games like Just 4 Fun and Roll Through the Ages.

I recently learned that the powers-that-be are working on a new version of that old Button Men site. Apparently it’s in perpetual alpha. While it wouldn’t fill the same role it has for me in the last, I’ll still have to check it out.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

How to fire Carcassonne

A couple of my friends have said that they feel that the Isle of Skye has fired Carcassonne for them and rendered it obsolete. 

And most of the time that I hear folks say things like this, I find myself thinking really? I’m not saying that I’ve never done it. After I played Steam, I was done with the crayon train games.

In this particular example, other than being tile laying games, I just don’t see the resemblance. Carcassonne is an area control game on a shared tableau. Isle has individual tableaus with money management and set collecting. I honestly would compare it more to Alhambra.

Okay, if you don’t play games, then all three games are alike. And if you’re looking for a family weight game, all three will probably do just fine for you.

And make no mistake, I have enjoyed my few plays of Isle. It is a good game and it has interesting and legitimate interactions between the players. Arguably the strongest interactions out of all three players because you cannot escape interacting with other players. Isle of Skye might well have the legs to still be getting played ten years from now.

But I have already gotten more than ten years of regular play out of Carcassonne and its family. I don’t see it getting fired.

HOWEVER, Carcassonne:Hunters and Gatherers kind of fired regular Carcassonne for me a long time ago. That and the Castle are what have stayed in my collection and what I prefer. 

Sooooo... Carcassonne may have been fired/refined by itself.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Riding on Ticket to Ride: Europe

I was remembering how, long ago and far away, I used to play with a group that played Power Grid almost every week. Enough that, even though I think it is a profoundly brilliant game, I got burnt out on it. However, the other game that you could pretty much count on always being played was Ticket to Ride Europe and I never got burnt out on that.

When I first started really playing board games, which was back around 2002, it felt like Catan and Carcassonne and Puerto Rico were the three pillars of board gaming. Almost everyone in the hobby knew and play those games. You could just count on it. And Ticket to Ride ended up becoming like one of those pillars, a position that I think it still holds to this day, better than Carcassonne and Puerto Rico in fact.

I haven’t played a lot of the new boards yet but I feel that if you are only going to buy one Ticket to Ride Product and call it quits after that, Ticket to Ride Europe is that one box.

There’s really two reasons I feel that way. I feel that only distributing the super long routes at the beginning and the stations help flatten the randomness of the game and make it a little more forgiving for new players without dumbing the game down. It’s still tense game that I’ve seen lots of adult language used during.

Mind you, I didn’t stop at one box so I don’t own the Europe board :P In fact, with the 1912 expansion, I like the US map better. Although I still think the Europe board is the best for easing new players in before the knives come out.

For a game described as a family game, Ticket to Ride can be a vicious game :D

And, it has been a long runner for me.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Fumbling my way through making an Eldritch Knight

Okay, I am in my first fifth edition campaign and I have just hit third level. Second level didn’t involve choices but now I have to actually make some decisions, which I haven’t had to do since I rolled up the character months ago.

Now, I played a decent amount of first and second edition, an unholy amount of third edition, and some fourth edition, not counting Iron Kingdoms and Pathfinder. I’ve had a lot of experience with Dungeons and Dragons but I also know the nitty gritty is in the details.

Because I was also using Roll20 for the first time, I intentionally chose to play a fighter to keep things simple. Although it’s not nearly as simple as second edition was :P Picking the protection fighting style pretty much determined my tactics in combat.

Third level, I have to pick a Martial Archetype. And I’ve chosen Eldritch Knight.

Which, to be absolutely clear, is not an optimal choice. If I wanted a more efficient fighter, a different archetype. However, I felt it made sense with my character who is a scholar turned slave turned warrior. 

The schtick of the Eldritch Knight is that they get some wizard spells. At first, that’s two cantrips and three first level spells. Cantrips, by the way, have kind of taken the role of At Will powers from fourth edition, a default attack for spell casters to use over and over.

Mechanically, a big part of my choice being Eldritch Knight was getting the damn light cantrip. With lighting actually being enforced by Roll20, I’ve been stuck in the dark too much. It is actually a critical concern.

And picking out the first level spells wasn’t that hard either. Let’s face it. I’ll do more damage with a sword than with a spell. I’m already tanking a lot so Shield and Protection from Good and Evil are spells that will reinforce my fighting style.

But I still want a damage option, when I need another option in combat. Considering that saving against me won’t be hard, I’m going with Thunderwave. Area of effect, still does damage if they save and it might push them away. Downside is that it lets everyone know you’re there. 

Actually, the tough choice is the second cantrip. True Strike was an option but it takes an action to cast and I would rather attack twice. And it kind of bores me. I was thinking of Mage Hand for all the out-of-combat uses but if the game goes long enough, I’ll get to use a cantrip and attack. (So True Strike might be my third cantrip when i get one)

So now I’m mulling over actual damage cantrips. Something to can use at range and does a different type of damage is what I’m thinking about. Haven’t made up my mind yet.

And I bet I will make some kind of mistake in my design :D

Power Grid back in the day

I used to game at a table where Power Grid was played just about every week. I have yet to ever own my own copy of Power Grid and I also have to say that Power Grid is one the best games I have ever gotten burnt out on.

It’s interesting to look back on those time and that game in particular. In part because I don’t know what it would be like to play Power Grid now or what it sill be like to play it further down on the road.

At the moment, Power Grid is long enough that it would be hard to schedule the time to play it. However, I know that life will change enough that that won’t be the case forever.

It’s been long enough that I am sure that I have both gotten past the burn out and also forgotten how to play the game well. Not that I was ever particularly good but I had my moments. 

I do remember that Power Grid does such a good job balancing auctions and route development and oh so much resource management. I also remember that it felt more like a train game than a lot of train games :D

I know that I find myself thinking about older games a lot. With a lot of them, it’s because I’ve played them more because I’ve had them longer :P But games like Power Grid and Catan and such, they are genuinely great games that have legitimate staying power.

That being said, I think that the quality of games has been steadily getting better and better. I don’t think games were better over ten years ago. I think the gems from yesteryear really are gems, games good enough for generations to play.

Which actually makes me try and remember how cool Power Grid was when I played back then.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Do I want to go back to Kingdom of Loathing?

Okay, after four years hiatus, I’m playing the Kingdom of Loathing again. And I am already reminded why I liked the game and why I stoped playing, all at the same time.

KoL is a massive multi-player role playing game that is browser based. I personally think of it as a World or Warcraft for casual players. It’s noted for using stick-figure art and tons of snarky humor. 

Seriously, the fourth wall has been torn down and set on fire.

And KoL is funny and entertaining. Working on combinations of equipment and one-shot items and special powers keeps the game interesting. And it is turn-based so it lends itself to ego and go play.

But... sometimes the puzzles can be remarkably intricate for a casual player.. And it can easily become a big time sink, even if you can stop and start when you want to and you get a limited number of turns a day.

So it is fun and engaging by it eats up time. And, let’s face it, time is precious.

So if I am going to keep on playing, I think I’m going to be a lot more casual about it.

Circus Flohcati: not a gem but worth hanging onto

I must have bought Circus Flohcati at least ten years ago. Probably more. It was one of the games I like picked up relatively early after I really starting collecting. Fairly cheap and it was a Knizia.

I got the Rio Grande edition, with the cartoony artwork and saturated colors. It also came in a tiny box just big enough to hold the cards, which is why it has stayed in my collection.

Because I never got around to playing it. One of the top many poor victims of too many games, not enough time.

Fast forward to RinCon 2017. I got in a game of it with the edition that uses pictures that look like they were stolen from the Miss Peregrine books and faded colors that looked identical to my color-blind eyes.

And I’m now glad it has survived all those purges.

Circus Flohcati is a card game that’s all about pushing your luck and set collecting. It consists of ten suits that each have a distinct color and circus acts ranked 0-7 and nine action cards.

The core mechanic is simple. Flip over cards in a row. You can stop whenever you want and take a card but if you flip over a card that matches the suit/color of a card already in the row, you discard that card and your turn ends without you getting a card. You also don’t have to flip over any cards. If there are cards in the row, you can just take one.

Action cards let you take cards from opponents or let you flip over cards until you get a duplicate but you still get to take a card. You can also lay down three cards of the same rank as a trio. They are no longer in your hand but they will be worth ten points at the end of the game.

The game ends in two ways. If someone displays all ten suits/colors in their hand, they get ten bonus points and end the game. Otherwise, it ends when you draw the last card in the deck. In addition to any trios, you get the value of the highest ranked card of each suit you have in your hand. Most points wins.

There are a number of straight push your luck games in my collection. I’ve gotten tons of play out of Can’t Stop and I also have really enjoyed Cloud 9 and Incan Gold. As simple as Circus Flohcati is, and it is simple, it’s not as simple as those games.

What makes Circus Flohcati interesting is the hand management. Trying to make trios, working towards a good end game hand, all that adds an extra layer of decisions to the game.. We are still looking at a simple filler/children’s game but it does you a few choices beyond daring to flip another card.

Really, the trios are what make the game for me. They add value to the lower ranked cards and they mean you have another collecting goal beyond grabbing high cards. In a fifteen minute game, that extra  bit of decisions adds some oomph.

Don’t get me wrong. Circus Flohcati isn’t one of Knizia’s greats. It’s not even one of his great short games. But i has fun with it and I think it will prove worth hanging on to.