Wednesday, September 28, 2011

My Wishlist: Top 5 New Games

Should I refrain from thinking of new games that I want until I've actually played all the new games I currently own? Probably. Will I listen to reason and do so? Certainly not!

Some of the titles on this list have yet to be released and the others have been only recently published. Despite this, however, they all look amazing and I need to have them soon!

Top 5 New Games on my Wishlist

  • Nexus Ops is a game I've had on my radar for quite some time. It has the reputation as a Risk-type game with a shorter playing time and more forced aggressive feel, which sounds like a perfect fit for my tastes. I've played the game once with Dave, who owns a copy, and though I wasn't blown away by it I'm convinced with a couple more plays, perhaps multi player, it will be a keeper. I would especially like this for Thanksgiving time when I get to play with my brothers, as it is light, aggressive, and tactical.
  • Panic Station is the latest semi co-operative game with hidden traitor/hidden team mechanics. Somewhat in the same vein as Battlestar Galactica, The Resistance, and Shadows Over Camelot, Panic Station should be an excellent fit for our game group. The basic premise is that players are boarding an abandoned space station and trying to destroy "the hive," basically the control center of an alien parasite that can take over human bodies and inhabit them. During the early part of the game one of the players secretly becomes "the host" of this parasite and begins to work against the human team by attempting to convert them, one by one, to be infected as well. The human players never quite know who to trust and the paranoia factor, apparently, is quite high.
  • A Few Acres of Snow is a game that combines a somewhat similar deck building mechanic to Dominion with an area control/map style board game that is somewhat akin to a war game. The mechanics here seem really cutting edge and interesting. Though I love Dominion, the game is certainly very streamlined to showcase the base mechanic in the game. A Few Acres of Snow really gets creative and fleshes out some of the ideas in Dominion to make a whole new type of game. The downside here is that it only accommodates 2 players and I don't have that many opportunities to play those types of games. Generally I only play 2 player games with the Mrs., so if she really takes to the game it will be a hit, if not it will end up like Memoir '44, largely unplayed and sitting on the game shelf...
  • Star Trek: Fleet Captains is a brand new Star Trek themed game with exploration, direct conflict, and a ton of variability. The early reviews of the game emphasize that the actual game play is amazing with a ton of theme and interesting mechanics. The major downside, apparently, is that there have been some problems with broken components and the cards/tiles included on the game are on pretty thin card stock which has disappointed some early buyers. I am really intrigued by this one though it has an unfortunate player count as well--exactly 2 or 4 players can be in on any one game, which is a small downside though the option for the 4 player game makes it far more likely to hit the table than A Few Acres of Snow.
  • Summoner Wars: Master Set is the latest edition of a game that has been getting very good press ever since its release. This is basically a tactical miniatures game that uses cards instead of minis. What makes it great is that it has pretty simple rules and comes with 6 different army factions, one of which each player chooses to control during the game. This lends a fair amount of replayability, especially because many other armies are already available to add to the game and future ones will continue to be added as well. This is also a 2 or 4 player game, however I envision playing this one with Abby so it could still see significant play at my house if she enjoys it. The game is suggested for 8 or 9 years and up, so I feel like it could be a good fit.
With so many of these games that I'm considering being tactical or combat related I really need to start getting some of the somewhat similar titles I own to the table to make sure I have the appropriate audience to make them successful. Neuroshima Hex, in particular should be a good indication if I can make Star Trek, Nexus Ops, or Summoner Wars work with my game group. This list could, of course, have been a lot longer than it ended up being, perhaps some of the next 5 games I'm interested in buying would have been better suited to my group. Panic Station is the one here that I'll stand behind as an almost certain success given our group's past interest in the genre.

I'll delve a little deeper next time and share some of the other games topping my wishlist.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Cavemeeples & Taoist Monks, Oh My!

There are two strategy games in particular that I have been both 1) craving and 2) playing frequently. And yes, I'd like to be playing them right now! In fact, I'd be up for playing either one three times in a row right now. Seriously.

Stone Age and Ghost Stories are both 2008 releases, which, as it turns out, was an excellent year for board games. The Mrs. is reasonably interested in playing both of these games, which is also a huge plus for me!

  • Stone Age is a worker placement game for 2-4 players. In this type of game each player starts with a collection of pieces (the 'workers' in 'worker placement') that they take turns using to claim spaces on a common board. Those board spaces then give the player that claimed them a particular bonus or the ability to use a special action of some kind. Other games in this genre include Age of Empires III and Agricola(another game I particularly enjoy). Stone Age is a great fit for many people since it is pretty straightforward to explain and easy for a new player to pick up, but it really has a great deal of strategic depth that I still have only begun to explore after my 13 plays. Until recently, this was one of those games that I have greatly enjoyed despite my very limited success at it (Through the Ages: A Story of Civilization being the most extreme case of this!), though I have shown considerable improvement over my last four or five plays. Stone Age is a game I've been thinking a lot about lately, considering ways of tweaking my strategy and thinking of how to handle certain situations in the game. As an aside, the playing pieces for Stone Age are often called 'cavemeeples,' a clear reference to the first game to have little wooden pieces meant to resemble people (mini people = meeples), Carcassonne, another game of which I'm quite fond, and incidentally also on the List.
  • Ghost Stories is a co-operative game in which players take on the roles of Taoist monks attempting to protect a small village from waves of evil ghosts, demons, spirits, etc., and ultimately defeat their leader, Wu-Feng, who has risen from hell to torment the innocent villagers. Each monk in the game has one of two special abilities at their disposal to lend the team in this goal, and it is critical to the players' success to find creative ways to combine those abilities to win the game. Ghost Stories is highly thematic with excellent, though somewhat cartoon-like art, very challenging (though the difficulty can be increased in subsequent games as the players' skills improve), and extremely satisfying when the team can pool resources and get just enough luck to defeat the incarnation(s) of Wu-Feng. The game is great in almost every way, though I feel like the greatest of its features is how varied the play is each session. There are 10 different incarnations of Wu-Feng, and the players don't know which one (or which four in the higher difficulties) will appear until late in the game. Every time Ghost Stories is played the ghosts will appear in a different order, the village tiles will be randomly arranged, and each monk may have an alternate player power. All these plus the ability to make the game almost impossibly difficult if you are so sadistic to choose to do so, makes Ghost Stories a gem of a game.
Care to play?

Strangely enough, as I review all the raving I've just put down about these excellent board games, I realize that neither one is in my top five favorite games of all time. Perhaps I should be writing a top five games list...

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Game Night 9/16/11

Attendees: the Mrs., Ana, Tim, and myself

Game: Stone Age

Tim's first play of the game, Ana's second. I was the pretty clear victor by mid-game, though the Mrs. wasn't feeling well and thus played to speed up game's end when she could. I focused early on agriculture, love shack, and end game population multipliers on the civ cards (5x10 bonus just on those).

Tim mentioned several times during explanation that the game seemed really complicated, but relaxed considerably after the first round when it became clear that the basic system was really pretty simple. As I mentioned recently with Memoir '44, even fairly basic designer games seem overwhelming at first simply because so much information needs to be imparted during rules explanation. Usually (this is the case for both of these games) all the mechanics fit nicely together and the game as a whole jells over the first few rounds of play.

Both Tim and Ana seemed to like Stone Age, and the Mrs. and I, who have played it quite a bit, still enjoy it considerably (well, I do anyway, I never know quite what she thinks of games, as she generally grows weary of them more quickly than myself!). Amongst strategy games that I own, Stone Age has been the most commonly played by our group, and I must admit I've been considering the possibility of having a Stone Age tournament staged over the course of a few days. There are certainly more than eight people who could participate which would lead to two qualifying games of four players with the top two finishers from each game advancing to a final match. I'd like to think I came up with this idea simply because so many people have been playing Stone Age, but I'm sure it will be suggested that it is due to my recent improvement at the game--I've actually been winning a fair amount after losing the vast majority of my early plays...

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Spies & Wolves

Sure, there are lots of games I need to get to the table because I haven't played them in a while and some that are newly acquired and have yet to see play for the first time. There are, however, a handful of games that I've been craving lately, titles that I'm constantly looking to set up and play.

The first two I'll mention are somewhat light party style games but they both feature a conflict between an uninformed majority and a more organized and knowledgeable minority secretly working against the common good.

  • The Resistance I love this game! The Resistance is a social deduction game in which the players are secretly either a member of the Resistance trying to carry out successful attack missions against an oppressive government, or they are secret government operatives, "the spies," attempting to sabotage said missions. Basically it is a game of lying, bluffing, deduction, reasoning, yelling, screaming, fighting, and the list goes on and on... In my mind the only downside to this game is people tend to take the in game conflict a little too personally and tempers can get a little out of control. Despite this, The Resistance is pretty much my first choice when the question is asked "What should we play?"
  • Werewolf Another social deduction game, less tense and confrontational than The Resistance, but excellent in different ways. In Werewolf, many of the players are villagers, but a few of them are secretly werewolves who will pick off the innocents one at a time during the night. It is up to the villagers to discuss amongst themselves and attempt to deduce who is a werewolf, then lynch one person every day. With a little luck and good reasoning hopefully the chosen one is a wolf and not a simple villager! Werewolf is a great game largely because of the huge amount of different secret roles available to be played--some on the side of the wolves, some on the side of the villagers. Some roles (like the Seer) allow the player to get a peek of another villager's identity, some (like the Bodyguard) allow the player to protect another villager of their choice, some (like the Lycan) simply appear to be something different than they actually are, just to muddy the water a little more. Also a strength of werewolf--the game can reasonably accommodate more than 20 players at a time.
Next time I'll delve into a couple more games I'd like to get to the table much more often--the strategy games Stone Age and Ghost Stories.

Monday, September 12, 2011

First Play of Memoir '44 in 2+ Years

I got in a quick game of Memoir '44 the other day with my brother-in-law Mike. Though the game seems fairly simple in my mind, as I progressed with the rules explanation and all the little details about movement, die roll modifiers, terrain, victory conditions, etc., Memoir began to seem overly confusing and overwhelming even to me, the teacher! I feel like there is only so many minutes of explaining that can be done before a game naturally starts sounding overly difficult.

This time I kept the explanation as short as I reasonably could, although I did have to supplement that description a couple of times during the game to bring up rules I had missed (and actually forgotten about completely myself as I hadn't played this one in so long!). Setup of the game board did take a little bit of time as well, as Memoir '44 is a scenario based war game. Each time the game is played one scenario of a series is chosen, and each has completely different terrain and troop placement at the onset of play. One thing I should mention in reference to the rules explanation is that the opening scenario of Memoir '44 (Pegasus Bridge) does do an excellent job of simplifying things as only infantry units are used, thus allowing a game teacher to fully skip the details of artillery and armor units. After a couple more plays a scenario with these more complicated aspects can be added, and at that point their abilities will be in the context of the already understood game system and will be quite easy to digest.

Back to our game... The board was arranged and the basic explanation out of the way, so we jumped into action. The game has two basic driving forces: command cards, which indicate which units each player can control during their turn, and dice, which determine the outcome of combat between units. Both randomized cards and random rolls of the dice do lead to some frustration in the game as there can be very large swings of fate due to luck. This certainly was at least a slight issue for Mike as he had a couple of fruitless turns where he could not roll a hit on the dice. Since I had warned him that this was a possibility he seemed to take it in stride.

There was a fair amount of drama in our first play, with no obvious leader through much of the game. Finally, with us each one medal away from clinching victory, I played a card that allowed me to target any one of his units on the board (luckily for me there was one with only one figure remaining) and I disposed of it for the win. The Memoir rules recommend playing two games in succession, playing one scenario, then reversing sides and replaying the same scenario from the opposite perspective. Many of the scenarios are naturally imbalanced due to being based largely on actual WWII battles, so playing both sides of the conflict is needed to determine who did a better job in the scenario. As we were out of time, our replay of Pegasus Bridge will have to wait for another session, though I do feel that he enjoyed the game enough to play it at least a few more times, so that is good news!

Oh, and as a side note, that's two more games off the list, Say Anything & Memoir '44...

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Game Night 9/9/11

This week's game night was our largest yet, with 14 attendees total. Half of us played a quick game of Say Anything while waiting for the other half to show. Everyone seemed to enjoy it, though the game is very light. I sell Say Anything as a more creative & interesting version of Apples to Apples, which I feel is a fair comparison.

Once the majority of players had arrived we jumped into Werewolf, since the game plays so well with large groups we felt that we should be sure to get a game or two in. In retrospect, I really wish we had been able to play some actual strategy games, but since the Werewolf games went very long, we didn't have the time for anything else. Next time we'll either have to start with strategy games or just make sure our sessions of Werewolf are much more concise! Giving this situation some further thought, I feel that there were two primary factors contributing to our overly lengthy and occasionally frustrating Werewolf games.

  1. Though Werewolf is increasingly interesting with higher player counts generally, once you get up to 10-12 people in the same room playing the same game the general vibe becomes increasingly chaotic and it is quite difficult to keep players on topic. Looking at the Ultimate Werewolf instruction manual, it is suggested that the moderator choose a length of time for the first day of of play (perhaps 10 minutes), and if that time is exhausted without the villagers agreeing to lynch someone night immediately falls with no one dying. The warnings of time running out should be enough to get players to make some decisions, and even if the standstill continues and night falls, the game is still progressed by the wolves (quickly!) killing a villager. This day length could easily be extended to every day if necessary, and I think it is an excellent idea.
  2. The other big delays with our Werewolf plays last night were due to uncertainty as to which scenarios to use with the number of people playing the game. At one point we had a scenario picked out and explained and then we realized that our player count was wrong and we needed to start over. The rulebook has several suggested scenarios, but very few for our typical group sizes. Before our next game night I'll need to put together several scenarios for each group size through a reasonable number (perhaps 14 or 15). This way we can just count players, pick one of the preselected sets of roles and play.
Though my impressions of Werewolf have been gradually getting more positive over the last few months, and the sessions last night were pretty interesting and enjoyable, the game is certainly not firing on all cylinders yet. The above fixes will hopefully get the game to the point where we can concentrate more on the actual strategy and interactions of the game itself and not be distracted by confusion and chaos. I'm already ready for another go, although I really want to play Ghost Stories, Le Havre, Stone Age, and Battlestar Galactica too! Too many great games, too little time...

Friday, September 9, 2011

The List: September 2011

I've been playing lots of games lately and have been thinking about blogging, but somehow that just hasn't translated to actual posts!

Back during my last flurry of blogging (oh, almost a year and a half ago now!) I posted The List of games in my collection that I had yet to play that year. I stopped paying attention to that after a while (wait, that doesn't sound like me, does it?), but I'm certain I never did get them all played. I feel that an updated version of The List is an excellent place to take stock of my collection as well as what games our group has been playing and which ones need to hit the table soon.

Games Never Played

Lord of the Rings: The Card Game
Battlestar Galactica
Merlin's Company (Expansion for Shadows Over Camelot)

Games Not Yet Played This Year

Memoir '44
Wits & Wagers
El Grande
Puerto Rico
Say Anything
Scotland Yard
Carcassonne: The Castle

It will take some work to get all these games played, not because there are a lot of them, but rather that a good half of them haven't been played for the very good reason that they are an awkward combination of number of players and lack of popularity. Some examples:

  • Memoir '44 (2 player only, the Mrs. hates it, maybe too complicated for Abby still, though she's probably my best bet with this one),
  • El Grande (best with 5, some of my core group don't like the game),
  • Blokus (not that popular with anyone I know, including myself, though I may be able to get one of the kids to play with me),
  • Puerto Rico (somewhat heavy, yet quite a ways down the list of heavy games I want to play--for instance, Chaos in the Old World, Agricola, Le Havre, all competing for the same time).
I'm sure I can fit Say Anything and Wits & Wagers into some large group setting soon, the Carcassonne games I'll probably be able to get Abby & Link to play, and Alhambra and Scotland Yard could both be good family games so making those a priority for the four of us to try together should get them out of the way.

I definitely envision getting all the never been played games to the table over the next few months:

  • Merlin's Company will get played the next time people are up for Shadows,
  • Shogun is best with 5 and I think I'll be able to rope the in-laws into playing it (perhaps this could be said for El Grande as well),
  • Bang! could be another hidden role hit, I just need to read up on the rules,
  • the only thing delaying Battlestar Galactica is getting the right group together with 4 hours to spend learning it, and
  • The Lord of the Rings I see as a game for Abby and I so I'm sure as soon as I learn it she'll be up for playing.
I have no doubt I could get all these games played this year, the only question is whether it is worth it to pursue this goal when it may lead to fewer plays of games I do love already. If I can get half of them played quickly I'll probably decide it's worth a little push to get them all in, but only time will tell.

Next up on Splitting Eights: What games do I actually really want to play right now? Also, When in the world am I going to get my next The Resistance fix?