Tuesday, June 27, 2017

On the Ridge - A Game Poem

I have to admit that this is a hack of Jason Morningstar's Game Poem The Last Stand. It started out with me trying to adjust it so that it could be played by email and I ultimately ended up with a different game.

On the Ridge - A Game Poem

Two to six players
Four index cards
A pen or marker to write in the index cards
Four six-sided dice per player

You are the sole survivors of your squad. You stand alone together on the ridge with the enemy coming over. You can put up a good fight but you know that you will die in the end. How well will you stand your ground? How well will you live your last moments?

Take a moment to decide the setting of the ridge. It can be anywhere. A real life historical setting, contemporary, fantasy or science fiction. Go around the table. Everyone come up with the name of their character and one sentence to describe what they are like.

Write down "SOMETHING TO LIVE FOR", "SOMETHNG TO DIE FOR", "YOUR GREATEST FEAR", "WHY YOU HATE YOUR COUNTRY", one on each of the index cards. Then roll one die for each player for each card. So, if you have three players, there should be three dice on each card.

Choose someone to begin the battle. They will take a die from a card and describe a short scene about their character in the battle, using both the theme of the card and the dice roll. Then, the next player will do the same. When the last player has taken a die and described a scene, start again with the player to the left of the start player. Continue until everyone has taken four dice and had four scenes.

It is possible, actually extremely likely that a character will die before their fourth scene. The player of a dead character will still take a die and describe a scene. However, it will describe the absence of their character, still reflecting the theme of the card.

Die Roll Table:

1 - Somehow, through some miracle of fate, you have escaped getting hurt.
2 - You try to avoid the battle via a dirty act of cowardice but you are still wounded.
3&4 - You are wounded in battle
5 - You are wounded but you have made a real difference in the battle
6 - Blaze of glory. You die but you have made a real difference for your side in your death

If a player receives their second wound, they will die during that scene.

After everyone has had four scenes, if anyone has survived the battle, which means they have taken three or four ones, that player or players will narrate an epilogue scene.

Otherwise, everyone should just nod to each other. The battle is over. 

Writing my own game poems?

Game Poems are a short form RPG, designed to be done in about fifteen minutes. The first game that used the term was Stoke-Birmingham 0-0, which consisted of pretending to be bored and depressed sports fans for fifteen minutes. (Seriously, I wonder what Andy Warhol would think of think of Norwegian LARPs)

I've been looking into Game Poems to try and find one that could easily be adapted for play-by-post. My usual crew is busy during the summer but I've been jonesing to play with them so I wanted something that could be done in three to five posts apiece. 

And, honestly, I haven't found anything that seems really adaptable. Which makes sense. The form was clearly designed to be played in the moment, which doesn't really work with play-by-post.

So I've decided to actually try writing some myself, with the hope that I'd come up with something playable. 

I can't actually say it's harder than I expected since I pretty much expected it to be tricky. I will say a lot of my ideas, after I got them on paper, were clearly unsayable, although they were interesting thought exercise.

In general, Game Poems seem to have elements of improv exercises, narrative RPG and party games. It's a bit like a photograph as a role playing game. There's just enough room for one idea, one emotion. So you have to make sure they have some punch.

And they are addictive to write. The eternal question is if they're any good.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Games for seasons

The Since I left the world of playing in a weekly Dungeon and Dragons game that plays all year round, I have realized that different seasons favor different flavors of role playing games. I'm not talking about one-shots, although that's probably the case too. I mean shorter campaigns, ones that last one to three months.  

I was already aware that my old Indie group tended to play more serious, even sorrowful, games in the last few months of the year, fall into winter. Games that had a lot of bleed. Keeping in touch with them and occasionally playing with them online, that has continued to be the place.

And I have realized that my oldest DM, who has long stopped trying to run never ending campaigns, now regularly runs short campaigns every spring. Until I started to really think about it, I didn't really realize that.

So, at least in my circles, it seems like spring is the time for adventure and the end of the year is the time for sorrows. And no one ever seems to be up for gaming in January and February, when we're recovering from the holidays and gearing up for the new year.

For years, summer has also been an off season. Vacations and conventions and general summer time activities. However, I am now wondering if there are good systems or themes for summer. The fact that I live in Arizona and we're going through a heat wave and have to spend as much time inside as possible has nothing to do with that, I'm sure.

While I was reading InSpectres, a game that is totally going to get a blog entry of its own, I found myself thinking that it was both a system that I wanted to try and that it would make a good campaign for the summer time.

At the heart of that idea is because it is a very light and light-hearted game with a lot of comedic elements that also has a strong through line for a campaign, running your own Ghostbusters-style franchise. It's not serious or full or bleed but it does have an ongoing storyline to keep coming back to.

I've decided that a summer campaign should be like summer reading. Light and maybe with lots of explosions. Something everyone can laugh and have fun with but doesn't require that much raw, bleeding feelings.
You know, most of the comedy games I've played have been more suited for one-shots. Finding ones aimed at campaigns isn't as easy. (Although I've been in comedic 'regular' games) My theater friends all tell me that tragedy is easy. Comedy is hard. But I think summer calls for comedy.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

How do you keep up with games?

I had given up trying to keep up with the latest games a while back. Time and money and storage space just made it both prohibitive and not that fun. In fact, I've thought that it might be a good rule of thumb to wait until a game has been out for a year before thinking about buying it.

(Shut up, games I back via Kickstarter and therefore buy before they even come out :P)

However, and I'm sure someone will correct me if I'm wrong, it seems like there are a lot more games coming out every year. Keeping up with what's coming out seems a lot more work than when I started playing board games ten years ago. Um, make that fifteen year ago. Let me get my cane.

Kickstarter has been definitely part of that change. The way that Kickstarter has changed the world of gaming in so many ways that it boggles the mind.

However, the game market has changed a lot in general. When I started playing designer board games, Rio Grande was my main source for games from Europe with Mayfair being a close second. Brick and mortar game stores in my limited experience were more focused on war games and role playing games with walls of miniatures and one shelf of board games. Ordering online was my only way to get a lot of the games that were out there.

In short, we now have a market that is a lot more encouraging to both designers and publishers.

When I started, designer board games were a lot more niche. Which, frankly made it easier to keep up with. There is a much broader audience in this country in particular but I bet in general too. I won't be surprised if there ends up being some kind of bubble due to market saturation but I also think the hobby will survive that. The environment really has changed.

I also don't feel bad that I can't keep up with it all. I would rather see an ocean of riches rather than a small pond.

Going back to the Indie Megamix Mixtape

It's been a while since I looked at the Indie Megamix Tape, a three Volume set of micro RPGs that was created to raise money for indie designers who need medical help. My personal experience taught me not to binge but treat every game as a separate experience and spread out reading them.

Even so, I did get burned out after reading the first ten games on the first 'tape' so I took a break. After all, the games aren't going anywhere and they are all short enough that if I want a little RPG reading fix, I can spend a few minutes looking over one.

Nobody Wanna See Us Together is a two-page exercise in narrative role playing. Two players play lovers or friends or partners and everyone else plays folks who want to see them broken up.

I'm not going to go into the mechanics, which are minimal, since the entire thing is only two pages long so I'd basically just reciting the entire game. You play out a series of scenes with 'friends' talking to one of the lovers, the lovers alone together or the lovers against the world.

The rules make it clear that it doesn't have to be lovers. It could be any relationship, even a warrior and their magic sword. And, unlike some tiny rule sets, I believe that of Nobody Wanna See Us Together. The framework will work with any of those combinations.

I'll be honest. While I liked some of the structure of Nobody Wanna See Us Together, I wasn't left with any interest in playing it. On the other hand, I am interested in using the structure for writing. So I definitely got something out of reading it. 

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Pocket Ops is clever but is it clever enough?

IMy latest print-and-play project was making the demo copy of the Grand Gamers Guild's Pocket Ops for the precise goal of actually playing it to see if I wanted to back the Kickstarter for the full print-and-play files. Which is kind of the point of demo PnP but I usually don't finish them in time :P

Stripped down to the basics, Pocket Ops is a Tic Tac Toe variation. Before you make your move, your opponent guesses where you will place your stone and, if they get it right, blocks your move. The demo comes with one special piece, that assassin, that can take the place of an already placed stone. The full game will come with other special pieces.

It was a five minute build. Two decks of nine cards for guessing your opponent's moves, a tiny board and I used tokens from my PnP tool box. 

On the one hand, Pocket Ops is much better than Tic Tac Toe. Super simple modifications that are very easy to explain, Pocket Ops definitely achieves its goal of taking a game everyone knows and giving it a designer spin.

On the other hand, we still weren't that engaged by it. A lot of the time, we had blocks of null moves because we were able to call each other's bluff. And the three by three board ultimately felt cramped and limited, part of what made the bluffing less interesting.

I'm torn, really. I think that Pocket Ops is a super clever idea and a take on Tic Tac Toe that makes the game more interesting without being fiddle. But, at the same time, we weren't that excited by it.

Keep in mind, short and tiny games have become a hobby of mine. I have played a lot of them over the last few years. And Pocket Ops just doesn't make the list of ones I would automatically reach for or be jonesing to play.

So we've decided that Pocket Ops isn't for us. At the same time, it is a clever enough design that I do intend to keep on following the company.

Minimalism in an L-Shape

Very, very early in my explorations of boardgames, I came across the L-Game. It was Edward de Bono's first exercise in minimalist game design. I know that he later revisited minimalist game design with 3 Spot but the L-Game was the one that I first discovered. 

To be fair, those are the only two games I have played by de Bono but they also are the only major games I understand he designed. Well, for certain value of major.

The L-Game consists of five pieces, including the board. It is a 4 x 4 board with two gray neutral pieces in each player has one piece, shaped like an L, in their own color.

The game is super simple. You must first move your piece. You may then move one of the neutral pieces. If you can't make a move, you lose.

Perfect play in the L-Game will result in the game never-ending. Usually, a game being solved means either the first or second player can force a win. Never ending is a bit different.

Now, for me, that's not a plus. The L-Game is an example of a game that can reset itself over and over again, instead of developing. Early when I was getting back into board games, part of rediscovering Othello was realizing how the board filling up acted as a timer and meant the board was always changing.

I am still fond of the L-Game. Part of that is nostalgia. Part of it is that every game I've played of it has had someone win, although the game effectively resetting itself is kind of annoying. 

But a lot of my fondness comes from the unique and unusual feel of the game. It may not be the most minimal game I've ever played but between the small size, small number of components and simplicity of the rules, it marries minimalism with a classic feel. 

The small size, fond memories, the unusual feel and the fact that my
dad likes it has kept the L-Game in my collection. It definitely isn't for everyone, not even for abstract lovers. But it can make you scratch your head.

How Civilized is Antike?

While I went into Antike Duellum with the goal of finding out what the heck a rondel really is, a secondary goal was to take a look at a member of a game family that has been cited as a contender for _the_ Civ Lite game. You know, a game that you the same thrill as playing Avalon Hill's Civilization but in just two hours.

There's a list of things you look for in a Civ Lite game. Stealing from  BGG used Lajos, that includes each player having their own civilization, an epic scale, technological development, warfare, economics and some level of complexity.

And I also know that playing the two-player adaptation of Antike isn't the same as playing the original multi-player game, won't give me the full potential Civ feel.

Honestly, by the listed criteria, Antike and Antike Duellum does very well. It at least partially covers every item on the list. And, to be honest, I have been finding it to be a very good game and one that I intend to keep on playing.

But... there are some elements that I felt it fell short of as far as the Civilization feel is concerned.

The biggest one is that there is no trading, as well as no calamities. That removes a high level of interaction with the other players, as well as a level of uncertainty. For me at least, that definitely takes away from the Civilization feel. In fact, those elements or a big part of why I liked the game Parthenon, which fails to be a Civ Lite game on several levels.

I also felt that it felt short of the epic scope as far as time is concerned. The map is big enough for an epic sense of geography but I didn't get the sense of the vast passage of time.

I know that it probably sounds like heresy but one of the best games I found to give me that civilization feel in two hours is still Settlers of the Stone Age. The map covering the entire globe and new people rising up as well as the gradual desertification of Africa really gives me the sense of epic time and space. Plus, there is lots of trading and the dice definitely add elements of disaster when you roll seven. On the downside, I don't count the bandit equivalents as warfare and I don't think it can accused of being complex.

I also know that I really haven't been looking into the world of new games in the last five years. I wouldn't be surprised if there are some very solid contenders that have come out in that time. That being said, the Antike family is still quite beloved and definitely puts in a good fight as a Civ Lite game.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Random thoughts about Spiel des Jahres

Spiel des Jarhes season always has me looking at the current contenders, the past winners and the overall philosophy of family gaming. As a dad, I am more in the demographic that the judges aim at than ever before.

This year, looking at Chris raise exhaustive overview of the past winners has gotten me thinking even more about the award and the games that have been part of its history. (https://boardgamegeek.com/geeklist/226360/revisiting-spiel-des-jahres-winners-geeklist-all-h) Great work, by the way, Chris! I particularly love your discussions on how games have aged and if they could still win today. 

While there are specific games I could write about (and, indeed have), I'm just jotting down some random thoughts I've been having as I look through these games.

A. I have played twenty-four of the thirty-seven winners, unless I played Barbarossa sometime at Gencon and forgot about it. You know, that's not bad. And most of the missing ones are older games that aren't as easy to get ahold of. My biggest gap, in my opinion, is not ever played Hare & Tortoise. Not because it was the first winner but because I really want to see the carrot economy in action.

B. On the one hand, I am glad Sid Sackson won a Spiel des Jahres. Heck, I am glad he lived to see a post-Catan world and be treated like a star in Germany. On the other hand, Sackson only winning one seems kind of thin and Focus is an odd one for him to win on.

Okay, Acquire might be too heavy for the Spiel but Can't Stop is the poster child for what the Spiel is designed to promote. To be fair, it was nominated twice. And six other of his games have been nominated over the years.And he was designing games decades before the award were even existed. So, hey, getting in one win is acknowledgment.

C. Years ago, I read that the Spiel was the only board game award that affects sales. And I am sure that winning the Spiel des Jarhes will still help a game's bottom line. Possibly even more than it did ten years ago. However, I wonder if other awards now will help sales.

D. I remember folks I know feeling that the Spiel des Jarhes has been falling short because, after Dominion, it stopped being about the kind of games that they were interested in. Which, to be fair, they did. Of course, that's what the Kennerspiel is now for. Personally, I I think that the Spiel is doing its job for families.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

One-shots, a new fangled idea from 1979

Over the last few years, I have spent a lot of time looking at role playing games that are designed to either facilitate one shots or just be one shots. That is, games that are designed to be over and done in one sitting.

But there are times when I just have to sit back and think about how this is a real change in the way that we think about role playing games.

Not that it was totally unheard of a couple decades back. Every game of Toon I was ever in was intended as a one shot. (Further proof of how Toon was so ahead of its time) I was in a couple of Call of Cthulhu games with pegenerated characters where we knew that everyone would be dead or insane by the end of the night.

Still, in my experience, most 'one shots' were D&D sessions where we never ended up playing those characters ever again.

Actually, now that I think about it, tournament modules are one shots and they've been around since, what, 1979? Really, events at conventions, where the same adventure gets run over and over again, that is the definition of one shot.

So, it has happened again. I start out with the thesis the end, as examiner, find that it is actually completely false. One shots have been a part of role-playing game history for pretty much the length of it. The fact that there has been a greater focus over the last decade or so is refinement, not innovation.

And I love it when this happens. I love looking at something and finding that my whole idea turns upside down. It is also fascinating for me, when it comes to role-playing games, to see how many seeds were planted so early.

Still, I would say that one shots have really come along as an idea. They were something that you would do on special occasions back in the day. These days, I can easily see having a monthly Fiasco group, for instance.

Okay, what's all this about the Famous Five?

After I realized that I had never read anything by Enid Blyton, I picked up a copy of Five on a Treasure Island, the first of her Famous Five books, one of her more famous series.

The Famous Five follows the tried and true formula of having a group of mischievous but basically moral kids go on some kind of adventure with no adult supervision but everything works out splendidly in the end. 

Seriously, I first started looking at this genre as an adult with the Rover Boys, which first came out in 1899 and it wasn't original then. I'm not sure how far back the genre goes but I can argue that the Coral Island could be considered an example and it was from 1858. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer came out in 1876. So Five on a Treasure Island wasn't breaking new ground in 1942.

Plotwise, Blyton didn't bring anything new to the table. A group of kids go on holiday and thwart some bad guys in order to get a treasure. I will give props to Blyton for making it very clear that George's family has clear legal ownership of the lost gold.

So, is there anything that seemed special about the Famous Five for me? Actually, yes. In almost all the Stratemeyer Syndicate books I've read, the characters are all virtually interchangeable. With the Famous Five, while the characterization is still flat, they are still distinct. Not exactly groundbreaking but it does give the series an edge over other many kiddy adventure books I have read.

George weren't special mention since she isn't just a tomboy but a girl who actively wants to be a boy. Many modern critics have interpreted her as transgender. I am very sure that's not what Blyton intended but, if she did, good for her.

I am not planning on going out of my way to read the rest of the Famous Five books. They definitely scream product of their time, with all the classism that implies. However, I can see why they stood out in the pack.

Welcome to Noddy's World. The rest of us just live here

Lately, our son's TV show of choice has been Noddy Toyland Detective. Frankly, we try and limit how much TV he watches so a new show breaking in doesn't happen that often.

While I had heard of Noddy before, I never had that much interested in the franchise. It always looked like it was too twee for my tastes, too much like Dot and Tot of Merryland, L. Frank Baum's most sickeningly sweet book. (Seriously, it makes the Wonderful Wizard of Oz look like Warhammer 40K)

And, from what I can tell, the original books really are that twee. However, since I can't seem to find any e-books of them, I haven't read any of them yet. However, in my search for them, I did end up finding out a lot more about their author, Enid Blyton.

Enid Blyton is one of those authors like Edith Nesbit who is a household name in England and probably a lot of other countries, like Canada and Australia, but doesn't seem that well known in the U.S. Then again, maybe I am an uncultured heathen who hangs out with other uncultured heathens. 

On the other hand, A. A. Milne might be in that position if Walt Disney hadn't personally loved Winnie the Pooh. I was surprised but fascinated to learn how much work Walt had put into Winnie the Pooh even though he didn't live to see the theatrical release.

Anyway, I had vaguely been aware of who Enid Blyton was but I hadn't realized she had written the Noddy books. Not to mention more books about kids having adventures then a Hardy Boys convention. Seriously, if she really didn't use ghost writers, she was writing a book in a week. Which means she was a one-woman Stratemeyer Syndicate.

And like the Stratemeyer Syndicate, she can and was and still is accused of writing drivel that lacked literary merit and supported stances that can be sexist and racist and classist. (The Three Golliwags is the extreme example) Still, she sold a lot of books and her works still sell by the bushel so I feel like we should honestly research and critique her work.

The other thing I've discovered is that Noddy Toyland Detective is the ninth TV show about the character. The earliest one goes back to 1955! Other words, I might not know very much about Noddy but there are generations that have been invested in the franchise.

More than that, Noddy Toyland Detective is a pretty extreme reimaging of the character. He's a detective instead of a taxi driver and the entire supporting cast has either been heavily revised or flat out replaced. Which means that it is probably an abomination in the eyes of older fans.

Still, our family has been enjoying it. And I am sure, in the years to come, there will be other franchises that have revisions that we won't be able to stand either.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Play the game you have or spend time looking for another?

There've been a number of threads of Boardgame Geek about managing your game collection. Actually, there are threads about that almost all the time. And it's been an ongoing concern for me, in part because my collection got out of hand and I've spent years both purging and cutting back on buying.

The driving forces behind me getting my collection under control have the space and money more than anything else. Mental health too. However, time has also been a big influence as well.

At the height of my collection's size, it was blatantly clear that I was never going to play all of my own play games, let alone play too many of them more than once.

The real value, monetarily speaking, have a board game is in how often you play it. I like to use a movie ticket as a yardstick for value per minute. There are some games, that I have played a lot, like Ticket to Ride, that have ended up having a fantastic return value. But I ended up taking a loss on all too many games.

A game that brought the time value of a game collection to the forefront of my mind is Quicksand. It's a so-so game but it's one that's worked well with casual gamers so it's hit the table a surprising number of times.

I am sure that there are other games that would also shine with casual gamers and non-gamers and I am sure that some of those games are better than Quicksand. However, I already own Quicksand and have experience with it.

There is a got of catch them all element to buying lots of boardgames. There's also the desire to find the very best games. After all, life is short so why waste it with mediocre games?

However, you can end up spending a lot of time chasing that mythical perfect game. Having something tried and true and reliable so you can just spend time playing games ends up being a very good thing.

While I am currently taking a hiatus  from buying games, I know that I will, of course, and up buying more games. I do have games that I am very happy with but there is always the desire to experience more. But I want playing to be my real focus

Monday, June 12, 2017

Into the darkness with Roll20

I hadn't planned on writing about every time the first campaign I've played on Roll20 went but since folks seemed to enjoy me doing it, I'll keep on writing about it until it gets too monotonous. Since we've only been playing a couple times a month, it won't be that frequent.

This session's major learning curve was that the DM bought the Monster Manual as a Roll20 resource. Now he can pop in fully statted monsters with a mouse click. The downside is that, as near as we can tell, it has to be integrated at the start so he had to start a 'new' campaign so all our character sheets got wiped out :D

For me, the amazing thing that Roll20 did was enforce lighting conditions and vision restrictions. My fighter is the token human in the group with three of the other five member having some kind of dark vision.

So, when the Goliath bard, the only other character with normal vision, moved away from me with his light spell, I was suddenly in the dark. By the time I lit a torch, it was a struggle to find the rest of the party. Since everyone else was either less affected by the dark or had their own light source, I'm pretty sure no one else knew how blind I was.

Frankly, that was awesome. Kind of frustrating at the time but still awesome. Roll20 allowed each of us to only see what our character could see so the other players had no idea how lost I was in the dark. It was more 'realistic' and will make coordination more important in the future.

Oh, for anyone that cares, the campaign is set in a fantasy Norway and we finished cleaning out a cave lair of goblin raiders and their orcs mercenaries for the local lord, although the goblin chief got away. And, since we're using milestones, everyone is now second level.

Friday, June 9, 2017

Coloretto Amazonas, the odd man out

Coloretto Amazonas is the red headed step child of the Coloretto family. Out of the six standalone games in the family, it is ranked last on Boardgame Geek. (Which really doesn't prove anything but still is worth noting.)

A big part of that is clearly because it falls under the same category as Halloween III: Season of the Witch. You know, when Carpender thought that the Halloween movies were going to be an anthology series as opposed to all about a Shatner mask painted white. Coloretto Amazonas is the second game in the series and the only one that doesn't use the cut-and-choose mechanic that defines the family.

Since Coloretto Amazonas can be played at boardgames-online.com, Michael Schacht's site, I decided it was time that I learned it and tried it out.

Coloretto Amazonas is a card game with four different colors for suits. The ranks are different animals. And here is where it gets tricky, each suit has its own set of animals and each suit has a different number of ranks. Personally, this sort of thing makes card counting tough for me.

The object of the game is to collect sets. You have a hand at three and on your turn, you either play a card on your side or your opponent side. To make things trickier, you can only have one of each animal in your collection. You can play the same animal, either on yourself or your opponent, but you have to discard both cards.

When you get a complete set in the suit, is that those cards to one side in the name of points and you can start over. If you are the first person to complete that particular suit, you get a bonus points card. Once someone has two or three completed sets, the game is over.

You score points based on both complete and incomplete sets using a triangular number sequence (you know, 1,3,6,10 etc), which is the only thing it has in common with Coloretto. No negative points though. Whoever has the most points wins.

Out of the four games in the family I have now played, Coloretto Amazonas is my least favorite. The simple binary choice of either adding or taking creates a razor edge choice in the other games, a tension and elegance that Coloretto Amazonas can't touch. Having said that, I still enjoyed the game and I am planning on playing some more games of it online. And I wouldn't turn down the chance to play at face-to-face as well.

The biggest problem Coloretto Amazonas has is that there's no way you can't compare it to the other games and the family. I mean, for crying out loud, it shares the name. And not sharing any of the mechanics or the feel of the other games, it just feels off. On the other hand, I believe it is still in print and I don't think it would be if it didn't have that name.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Cronberg: Not perfect but still somehow compelling

Cronberg is a game that has come close to leaving my collection many times. I think it's a game where luck of the draw can really make too strong a difference. At the same time, there's something appealing for me. I think it's an honestly flawed game but one I keep finding fun.

Cronberg is a tile laying game where you're playing rhombus tiles on a hexagonal grid of triangles. It's themed around city building or holidays at the beach, which kind of means the theme isn't the big thing here.

On your turn, you either place one of your pawns on an intersection in the grid OR draw a rhombus tile that will cover two triangles on the grid. Every tile has a number on each corner, either positive or negative and ranging from a puny one to a whopping eight.

There will be orphan triangles that can't be covered over the course of the game. There are three different kinds of spaces that offer special effects. Parks will double the score of pawns next to them, which includes negative scores. Coat of arms will make negative points happy positive points. Guards will make pawns leave the board without scoring, which I haven't seen happen but that's because guards make everyone paranoid.

Pawns score when all the spaces around them are full (which gets you back that pawn for later play) or at the end of the game if there's an orphan triangle by them. You add up all the numbers on the tips of tiles that touch the pawn and apply any special powers. 

Here's my beef. The luck of the draw can be brutal, game deciding. The high value tiles are so powerful, either for getting points or attacking opponents. Low value tiles are little more than space fillers.  Yeah, I do enjoy chaotic games but every other element is under the players' control. When just about everything else in the game is very deterministic, the swing of the tiles just seems very strong and feels odd.

And yet, I still like Cronberg.

It's a short game, under a half hour. So the random factor doesn't sting as much. It's easy to teach without being boring for more experienced gamers. And, let's face it, the rhombus tiles are neat. They were rare when Cronberg first came and they're still uncommon. And with the special powers of the orphan triangles, the choice of rhombus has a mechanical effect, not just an aesthetic one.

But the real draw for Cronberg is tension. Tile or pawn? The tile might create a scoring opportunity for someone else but placing a pawn can leave you open to be attacked. And for such a light game with such seemingly non-confrontational mechanics, there's a lot of room for spite.

I will admit that a friend gave me his old Kronberger Spiele edition so I have a manufactured copy. However, most of its existence, Cronberg has been a free PnP game. Frankly, Cronberg had to be pretty amazing as a free PnP in 2003.

 Cronberg isn't a perfect game. I'm not even sure it's a great game. But I keep on having fun with it so I keep on owning it.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Quicksand: not great but works even with folks who think Catan is a wine

Quicksand is a bit like the lost child of 13 Dead End Drive and Candyland. You move pulp heroes down a track to a temple with color-coded cards but anyone can move any of them and who owns which is a secret. It's a so-so game but it does a few specific things well enough it's stayed in my collection.

It dates back to the days when Fantasy Flight's silver line wasn't so fancy. The cardboard bits, both tokens and boards, are fairly thin and the cards aren't the best either. The board, instead of a fold, is two pieces that fit together like a jigsaw puzzle. (Although I do wonder if it will hold up better over time that a fold) To be fair, if it was another company other than Fantasy Flight, I don't know if I'd notice.

Quicksand is themed around pulp fiction jungle action, with artwork reflecting characters like Indiana Jones and Tarzan. It doesn't really have a thing to do with the mechanics but it does provide some artwork. Six different, color-coded pulp heroes are set at the beginning of a track that ends at an ancient temple. Special spaces on the board let you discard cards, so you can manage your hand, and put characters into quicksand, which just means it costs an extra card to move them. 

Players get a token that lets them know who their secret character is and a hand of six cards. The cards let you move specific characters, wilds that can apply to anyone and put characters into quicksand.

On your turn, you play cards to either move characters or put them in quicksand. You get to more than one card but you can only move one character on your turn. Then draw back up to six. First person to get their secret character to the temple wins.

Quicksand is a pretty quick game, around fifteen minutes, and it's also a pretty simple game. Which isn't a knock. I have seen games that are simple that have that spark of brilliance. Pico 2 or 6 Nimmt or Love Letter, for instance. Quicksand isn't one of those games. Hidden roles, hand management, moving down a track, it's all been done before and done better.

What Quicksand does is present them in a very simple and accessible way.  I was going to say it is like a bridge between 'mainstream' games and designer games but it's more like a 'mainstream' game with a dash of designer. (I used quotes because mainstream board games in the U.S. have changed a lot over the last ten or so years. I really mean mainstream for 2003, when Quicksand came out. Feel free to disagree with me) 

It might sound like I was bashing it when I compared it to Candyland. But, in actuality, that was actually legitimate praise. It took the basic formula of movement from Candyland and added it to strategic game.

It also introduces folks to hidden rules while not being a social deduction game. Don't get me wrong, social deduction is a great genre and an important one. But having an alternative and one that is is it introduce to people is kind of nice.

A while back, I went to board game meet ups semi-regularly. And that is where Quicksand really shined for me. I could out it on the table and have the game going almost immediately, usually playing two or three in a row. I remember that it was particularly popular with teenagers.

Another thing that kept it in my collection is that it is small enough that I could have it share a box with another silver line game and throw the Quicksand box out.

Honestly, I am sure there are other, better options out there for hidden roles and hand management that are accessible to non-gamers. But I have had fun and success with Quicksand and, for what it's worth, I already own it. 

Am I a hypocrite with card adaptations?

Last year, I tried Castles of Burgundy the Card Game on Yucat√°. I skimmed through the rules, missed some of them and didn't have a very good time. But I knew part of the problem was I messed up the rules so I'm trying again.

And, yes, actually carefully reading the rules makes everything make sense and I feel like I can actually say I'm playing the game.

I have promised myself that I will play it ten times before I come to a final conclusion. However, so far, compared to the board game, I am finding it fairly meh.

Pictures of the physical game being played aren't helping my impression of it. It looks like, despite the small box size, it takes a up a lot to table space in play. And that is a minus for me when it comes to a card adaptation of a boardgame.

At the same time, I am forced to ask myself if I would feel so meh if the card version was the first version I tried or if I didn't own the board game already.

After all, Euphrates and Tigris: Contest of Kings has stayed in my collection and it has just about every flaw I've accused Castles of Burgundy the Card Game of. It's definitely not as good as it's board game parent, Tigris and Euphrates. It takes up a silly amount of table space.

However, I don't actually own the board game. Truth to tell, only one or two people in my old gaming group did. So the card version both gives me a way to occasionally enjoy that Tigris and Euphrates flavor and I have managed to compress it down to a small plastic photo box for storage.

On the one hand, Tigris and Euphrates has never seen a lot of play in any of my groups. On the other hand, Castles of Burgundy has.

What I need to do is keep on playing it over and over again online. Give it a chance to stand on its own mechanically. Then, I need to actually try and get a face to face game in with a physical copy. Only then, will I really know if it's something that I enjoy or something I want to get.