Monday, July 30, 2018

I had this many games in storage?!

When we made our move across the country, from Chicago to Tucson in the middle of a particularly severe winter with an almost newborn baby, things were a little frantic and crazy. I have a vague memory of giving my parents a few games to store.

On our recent trip to different family homes, I decided to take a peek in their storage room. This is what I remember: I gave them Space Hulk (third edition), Mexical and Hansa. What I found were five of those big blue IKEA bags full of games.

First thought: Wow! Games! Second thought: Cheese and rice, I really am such a game hoarder. Third thought: You know, there are some really good games here.

I didn’t have the space and definitely not the time to look through the bags. I was still able to see some of the top boxes and I was surprised and happy to see that I still technically own Die Macher and Primordial Soup. 

I still don’t remember packing all those bags, although I can absolutely see the methodology that went through my mind when I did it. I clearly focused on longer, heavier games and big boxes. Games I knew I wouldn’t have time to play with a small child and games that we wouldn’t have the space for.

Finding this treasure trove was like looking a snapshot of the gamer I used to be, more visceral than an actual photo would be. Not the longer or heavier game part. If I can schedule time at a convention, I will happily play those games. No, it was a vivid reminder of when I just accumulated games voraciously, when I was a true game hoarder.

Without making any kind of detailed inventory, I know there are games that would not survive one of my more recent purges. I saw a shrink-wrapped copy of Wattsalpoag Games’ Jet Set. I don’t think that would survive in my collection at home. (Although now I want to play it)

That said, it was really cool to find this forgotten treasure trove of games. It reminded me of when being a gamer was all about finding endless new experiences. I know now that that isn’t a sustainable way to game but it had its rewards.

At some point, when we have the time and the space, it will be like getting a whole new game closet to explore.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

My first steps towards Tokaido

Tokaido has been tentatively on my radar pretty much since it came out. On the one hand, I’ve heard that it’s physically beautiful, very relaxing to play and excellent for casual players/non-gamers. On the other hand, I’ve also heard that it’s too simple, that the decision tree doesn’t branch enough for you to make real decisions.

Between the simplicity concerns and the fact that I had (and still have) plenty of casual gamer friendly games (Seriously, TransAmerica is the best) meant that I never seriously thought about getting Tokaido. And no one I played with got it either.

While on vacation, I decided to spend the two dollars on the app so I could try and learn the game and explore it a little.

Short version: pretty much everything bad and good I’ve heard about Tokaido is true. The game is thematically very rich but, at least for the base game, the decision tree seems very slender.

The theme of Tokaido, a walking tour of a famous Japanese road, isn’t one that automatically drew me in. (Agricola only got a pass because Bohnanza already taught me games about farming are awesome) However, it works really well. Every element, except maybe stopping to either do chores at a farm or levy taxes at a farm, makes sense for a vacation. And I have found the game relaxing, almost like taking a real vacation in my head.

There are many ways to get points in the game. Collecting souvenirs, painting paintings, donating at temples, buying fine meals, stopping at hot springs. And everyone gets a character with a special power. However, the road is a straight line and you can never go backwards. You can move as many spaces as you like but you can’t visit places where one or two (in higher number of players) are. And whoever is the farthest behind is whoever gets the next turn.

So, it feels like there is actually a limited number of practical choices. It does feel like specializing in one or two things will get you more points than trying to diversify. It also seems like blocking just to block costs both you and the other guy points.

From what I’ve read, the expansion increases the choices (although I’m not a fan of expansions being required to ‘fix’ games) and I’m just working with the base game. But Tokaido feels, under the variety of points and special powers, very simple. In fact, too simple for the groups I was gaming with when it came out.

I’m prepared to be convinced that Tokaido has hidden depths. However, I think its real strength is the rich, engaging theme. Tokaido tells a story. Not an exciting or thrilling story but one that I think most folks wouldn’t mind living out.

I don’t know if I’ll ever buy a physical copy of Tokaido but I am glad I got the app. And if I had the chance to play it face to face, I’d take it.

Prostho Plus - less creepy than many of Piers Anthony works

On a whim, I decided to reread Piers Anthony’s Prostho Plus, the tale of a modern day dentist who gets abducted by aliens to work on teeth on other worlds.

I hadn’t touched the book in more than twenty years. I got to say, Piers Anthony is an author who you love in middle school but get disillusioned with by high school. But I had good memories of Prostho Plus so I was willing to give it another try.

Rereading Prostho Plus, I have to say that I think it’s one of his best books. Not that it’s that good but it is far less skeevy than so many of his later works. A lot of his books make me want to throw them across the room.

Don’t get me wrong. Judy Galland’s relationship with Dillingham is distinctly a male fantasy but it’s still healthier than so many of the relationships in Anthony’s other books.

And the actual book itself is a romp. It’s not one of Anthony’s more complex books, more of a throwback to the classic science fictional formula where the plot is about solving a problem. However, more than forty years after its first publication, the idea of an interstellar dentist is still a novel one and Anthony clearly had fun writing it.

I really didn’t know how Prostho Plus would hold up, reading it as an adult. I was happy that it only had a dash or two of pervy elements. At the end of the day, it’s really just fluff but it was fluff that didn’t disturb me.

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Take It Easy comes back to me

Of all the game apps that became obsolete and stopped working when iOS got an overhaul, Take It Easy was the one I missed the most.

In part, it was because playing it in the tablet or phone was pretty much like playing it in real life except I didn’t get to hear everyone else at the table swearing. But it was also because I really like Take It Easy.

So when I saw that it had either been updated or flat out replaced (The new version is by Ravensburger but I don’t know if they were the ones who put out the last app), I was quite happy.

For whatever reason, I quite like the Bingo With Strategy/Honest To Gosh Really Multi-Player Solitaire school of games. As near as I can tell, Take It Easy is the first of the genre, coming out in 1983. And, in some ways, I think it is still one of the best, by virtue of being one of the most pure and simple. 

Oh, I think games like Koruba and Rise of Augustus and Limes/Cities do really interesting things with the concept. And I am really glad that they exist and that I have played them and hope to play them again.

However, the brutal, straightforward idea in Take It Easy that you are making lines of specific colors and if a line gets broken, it is done, that creates a game that is very easy to understand and teach but is also very tense and unforgiving. The ruthless simplicity really gives Take It Easy some oomph. Out of all the games like it, it’s the one I go back to the most.

And now it’s back on my phone and my tablet. 

One thing I have realized is that playing against AIs can be interesting and educational but I don’t find it very fulfilling. It isn’t actually playing the game for me. But if it is a solitaire game, then playing it on a device is real for me. And Take It Easy is solitaire enough to be real.

At the same time, the app makes it easy to play multi-player when we feel like that. Particularly when space is a premium, like on an airplane or a car or such. So having it back also gives us an easy way to play a game we both like.

Honestly, a lot of games end up getting limited play as app for me. I have stopped really actively looking for them and getting them. But this is one that I’m glad to get back.

Monday, July 23, 2018

Oh, this is actually San Juan

I recently saw, at first, that Puerto Rico had been added to Yucata. I’ve been having a real itch to play it again. Back in my early days, that and Settlers of Catan was a huge chunk of what we played.

Then I saw it was Puerto Rico THE CARD GAME or, as we call it on our house, San Juan. That was kind of a bummer.

Don’t get me wrong. Even though I like Race for the Galaxy and Glory to Rome more, I still quite like San Juan. I have played it a lot and I’m sure I will continue to play it.

And I also know Puerto Rico is on Boardgame Arena so I could play it online if I really needed to. However, Yucata is where my friends play and it was hard enough for us to all end up there. Playing by turn instead of live helps us play over the time zones.

We have a long history with Puerto Rico. It was part of our foundation playing board games. Getting to play it again, making it part of our routine again would have been really awesome.

But we may get in some San Juan.

Friday, July 20, 2018

Trying out on an airplane tray

I often use an airplane tray as my standard unit of measure for game footprints. Although, I guess the basic idea is if a game can be played on a airplane tray at all :D Okay, two airplane trays are also worth considering as a viable play area.

Anyway, on a recent trip, I made sure to bring my fidget box of solitaire games along to test them out on airplane trays and airplane travel in general.

Some games were clearly out. Autumn, a tile laying game, was clearly not going to fit. The only tile laying game I’ve played lately that might have worked is Orchard and I didn’t bring my copy along. 

Other games were flat out cheats. I tried both Down and I Am Lynx but those are games meant to be played with the cards in your hands at all times. The airplane tray didn’t come into it but I still had to do it, just to give the fidget box a proper workout.

The real test was Elevenses for One, although I also tried out Murderer’s Row. I knew my copy of Murderer’s Row, with its half-size cards, would work. If a tray couldn’t hold that, it couldn’t hold a beverage with a complimentary bag of peanuts.

As it happened, my ginger ale did get in the way of Elevenses for One but not enough that I couldn’t play it. It would have been kind of easy to play on a completely empty tray.

None of this was a surprise, of course. But it was nice to make a turn of phrase into reality.

Post Script: Carrie noted that the trays on our second flight were smaller and that’s the one I used for games. So it would have been even easier to game on the first flight.

Monday, July 16, 2018

Good bye fun campaign

It is time I accepted it. The most recent D&D campaign I’ve been in has fizzled out.

Moment of silence.

Okay. What did I get out of it? It was my first experience with Roll20 and it was my first experience with fifth edition, outside of being in a play testing group. I got to virtually hang out with three old frIends who I haven’t had a chance to hang with in years and meet some other cool folks.

I got a Hell of a lot of it.

We had a total of fourteen sessions (I counted) and I only missed one of them. We were third level and fourth was clearly in sight. (Our DM used milestones instead of tracking experience points but we just saved our Viking village from demons and actually got tokens of esteem so that sure looked like a milestone to me)

I’d be lying if I didn’t say that I wish the campaign would keep going. Beyond being a lot of fun and letting me hang out with distant friends, we were just hitting the point where we were really starting to be heroes and deciding where we wanted the story to go.

Still, it was a campaign that was played over three different time zones and where a good chunk of the players were parents (one of the key concepts for the campaign was adult responsibilities had to come first. And, yes, I can’t say that about every game I’ve been in) Running from April to January, I’d say we had a good run.

Good night, Late Lurkers. May we eventually rise again.

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.

Monday, July 2, 2018

My June Print and Play

It’s July and it’s time for me to look at my June PnP crafting. Let’s see, I made Too Many Chefs, Cryptic, Goblin Mountain, a smaller copy of Down that would fit in my fidget box and the free version of Village Pillage.

And that was done in pretty much two sessions in the same week. Frankly, I knew that summer was going to be really busy so the fact that my productivity in this area is at a low is neither a surprise or a disappointment. 

I enjoy PnP and I get a lot back from PnP but, to be honest, it’s the first thing on the chopping block when there’s a time management issue. And just because I didn’t get a lot of crafting in doesn’t mean I didn’t get in a decent amount of playing. (Crafting is great but games are meant to be played)

In actuality, I am glad to have gotten Village Pillage crafted. As a regular-sized card game, it was a big build for me under the circumstances :D 

I am also curious about Cryptic. A nine-card party game, one that could fit in a lot of wallets, seems like a cool idea. I’m surprised that I hadn’t heard about it earlier, although any party game driven by creativity will sink or swim depending on its audience.

Honestly, I won’t be surprised if June is my best month for crafting this summer. And, frankly, that’s beyond fine. Even if I don’t craft anything else this year, it’s been a great year for PnP for me.