Here we go for September. I was in Sydney for the month, so I didn’t get to go to my regular groups but it was really nice to visit other gaming groups and events in a new place. I’ve been to Canberra and Perth for work as well, and those times I was also grateful to find really friendly game groups while I was there. It’s nice to have board games as an intermediary for meeting new people in a new place, and I’ve felt very grateful that the community in various parts of the country and the world has been so friendly. I did manage to be home for a weekend as I had to do a site visit in Melbourne, so I got to join in on Incubator and play some games at home.
8 September 2015 – Beer & Pixels
Condotierri – I had the opportunity to meet up with the guys from The Game Engine Podcast and they invited me along to Beer & Pixels after we recorded together (you can hear them on our podcast here), which is an IGDA Sydney meetup for game designers to share prototypes and playtest. It was mostly video game prototypes, but naturally I jumped in on a playtest for a board game there. Condotierri by Zoe Rowen is a blind-bidding based area control game where you bid influence to try and control various seats on a council. The big hook of the game is that you can create contracts with other players to support you in your bids. There’s a specific format you have to follow to create the contract, but other than that you’re free to negotiate the terms and write it out yourself. It’s a nice and thematic addition, though I found myself in a position to be able to ignore most contract suggestions as the player I was taking over had amassed a large stockpile of influence or gold to be able to strongarm most of the bids. I’m not sure how he ended up in that position as I was not present for the early part of the game, but it may hint at some balance issues with the bonuses you get for controlling specific council seats. We did find that one potential combination of council seats could be potentially too strong, though it didn’t happen in this game. Overall, it’s a game that has a good base to build on so I’m curious to see how the development goes for this, though it may be difficult being in a different state.
15 September 2015 – Northside Gamers at the Chatswood Club
Medieval Academy – A very light Euro take on drafting. You draft cards that move your marker along various different tracks, some of which give you negative points for being behind while others award points for being ahead at different rounds of the game. Some boards award points every round while others only pay out at the midpoint or end of the game, so you have to balance your short and long term gains while you’re drafting. It’s a pretty solid system, and the rulebook provides many different variants to change up the core experience. It sits somewhere between Sushi Go and 7 Wonders in terms of weight, so if you’re looking for something in that category this will appeal. Personally, it’s not really that exciting for me but I can see myself busting this out at a more casual event.
New York 1901 – Great production value (in theory) hampered by warped tiles in my copy. For Blue Orange’s sake, I hope it’s not a widespread issue as the warp on some of my tiles were pretty bad. Love that Vincent Dutrait art though. I made a few key mistakes in explaining the rules, and I believe I also sold the game wrong. I opened up by saying it’s kinda similar to Ticket to Ride, which in theory it is, since you collect cards from a common card pool and use them to stake out spaces on a board where connectivity is essential. However, that doesn’t really describe the feel of the game well, and I’ll work out a better way to get players up to speed in the future. In terms of rules mistakes, most of the issues we had related to the demolish and rebuild action and I (should) have a better handle of it now that I’ve actually played it. One of the confusions we had did stem from the rulebook as we assumed that the quick-start one-sheet rules would be the same as the standard game, but it turns out they are different in significant ways. This was quickly resolved when we noticed a block of text in the one-sheet that explicitly said it was different from the rulebook. Next time, I’m leaving the one-sheet in the box. Rules issues aside, I actually enjoyed the game that was there. You actually have to be quite considerate of what shape tiles you have remaining, and take contracts accordingly. It did seem that the size 3 lots were always going to be a better deal that the size 2 lots, but it could have just been the particular setup of the end game scoring goals. I’m really keen to try this again with the correct rules, though I think the fiddliness with some of the rules may prevent this from being the next big gateway game.
19 September 2015 – Board Games at Home/Wells
Codenames – Vlaada Chvatil is one of the most exciting designers to follow. It’s almost always a surprise what he comes up with next, but they’re almost always good. His oeuvre is so varied, from Through the Ages to Pictomania to Galaxy Truckers to Tash-Kalar: Tangrams Tango to Space Alert, that it’s almost no surprise that his latest hit is a word-based deduction game. It’s a great one too. The concept is so easily explained that I see this as Chvatil’s most accessible game. Two teams, one spymaster each alternating turns trying to get the rest of the team to guess their list of words from a common pool by saying only one word and one number each turn. The number lets the team know how many words in the pool are somehow connected to the word that the spymaster has said. I really like this game and I foresee it being a staple of many game nights to come.
Camel Up with Supercup – Supercup comes with 4 different modules that you can tack onto the basic Camel Up formula. We only played with modules 1 and 2 which were the longer track and the photographer. I like the addition of the extra support die with the longer track as it shakes up the dynamics of the game now that last place camel can move twice without adding a lot of complexity. It makes it more viable to root for the underdog (undercamel?) and potentially trip up a runaway leader. The photographer doesn’t really add much, but I think it’s a nice option to have in larger groups so there are more non-rolling options for people who don’t want to give up too much information. I also think it works better with the longer track as there will be more opportunities for it to actually pay off. All in all, I’m pretty happy with the additions from the first 2 modules of Supercup.
Pingo Pingo – I wish I could have gotten a video of us playing this silly dexterity game (there’s a video here of me practicing with the gun). It comes with a plastic toy gun! It’s basically Super Snap as you just want to be the fastest to claim treasure cards that get flipped into the centre of the table while avoiding the trap cards which cause you to lose life points and reduce your carrying capacity. Once in a while you’ll get a challenge card that will task you with some physical activity to avoid losing more life, to be completed before the soundtrack shouts out “Pingo Pingo!”. Activities that will involve you loading rubber bullets into a toy gun and shooting at a cardboard standee of a penguin riding a polar bear. It’s pretty hectic fun, and we were actually sweating a little after playing. I’m pretty happy with it, as simple and silly as it is, and I’m hoping to get game of this going at PAX Australia which should be super fun.
Magic: The Gathering Cube Draft with Planechase – Old friend Hao Ern was visiting for a holiday and we busted out the Cube. As always, it got pretty silly but I won’t go into too much detail though you can find the Storify with all the photos and some commentary from the game here.
Magic: The Gathering Challenge Deck – Face the Hydra (with Cube Draft) – We also tried pitting our decks against the Hydra Challenge Deck. The Challenge Deck is pretty much the same as the Dungeon Decks or later Raid Decks from the World of Warcraft TCG or the villains from Sentinels of the Multiverse where the deck runs itself according to some simple routines and you work together to try and defeat it before it kills all of you. We fared pretty poorly as our decks were built for multiplayer and really weren’t fast enough to stem the tide of damage. It’s a pretty decent system though, and I think it’ll be a nice variant to play when we’re tired of other formats.
20 September 2015 – Dice, Boards & Cards at Games Laboratory
Flowerfall – Observant readers of the blog or listeners to the podcast may know that I’m a big fan of Carl Chudyk’s games. This is a big departure from his usual M.O., but it’s still a lot of fun. It’s a 15 minute filler game where you drop cards onto a table and try to collect the most green plants in connected flowerbeds. I’m hoping along with Pingo Pingo, I can get a game of this going at PAX but with players standing a floor up from the dropzone as described by Tom Vasel.
Codenames – More Codenames! I think Codenames was the most played game of the month for me, as we played multiple games of it at DB&C while waiting to set up other games.
Catacombs – I’m pretty jealous of Ken’s fancy new edition of Catacombs. The old art is pretty bland and the text readability was pretty bad too. This new version is so shiny and cute and neat and I want to steal Ken’s copy since it doesn’t seem to be widely available in Australia at the moment. I think there have been a few tweaks to the rules as well in this new version, but it’s been quite a while since I’ve played so I couldn’t really tell. It’s still a great system, where you flick discs representing heroes and monsters into each other to represent combat in a dungeon crawl. I love it. Even though I’m pretty terrible with it and my fireball never hit anything and I’m so sorry team.
La Granja – Such a great game. I’ve written about it in last month’s digest and also talked about it on the podcast, but I’m just loving it more and more. However, in this game I discovered I had been getting a couple of scoring rules wrong which actually looks like it would balance out the game better. We hadn’t been giving bonus points for the round in which you complete a craft building and we hadn’t been giving points for the values of the market stalls. I’m liking this game more and more, even with the rules mistakes which I shall rectify in the next play. It’s looking like it will enter my Top 10.
Plunderrrr! – Finally got to playtest Stefan’s game and it’s got really fun bluffing and doublethink aspects. I only managed a round of this, and I think this game definitely gets better with repeated plays and trying to figure out your opponents so I’m hoping to try it again when I don’t have to rush home to then head off to the airport.
22 September 2015 – Inner West Gamers at 3 Weeds
Legendary: A Marvel Deckbuilding Game, with Guardians of the Galaxy Expansion – Back in Sydney, I made the trek out from Chatswood to Rozelle for some more board games. Played this as a 2-player game and I like the additions from the Guardians of the Galaxy Expansion. Shards allow you to stock up power so you don’t have to rely so much on the luck of the draw to defeat higher cost villains, and the Artifacts allowing repeatable effects are a staple of many other deckbuilders now. It’s still a decent co-op deckbuilder, especially if you’re a fan of the Marvel universe, but I’ve been waning on deckbuilders in general lately and this didn’t do enough different to reignite the spark.
Crokinole – More dexterity games! David and I made a terrible team, and I kept hitting the posts with most of my shots. It’s a really fun and highly regarded flicking game, though I still have a soft spot for Carrom as it was what I grew up with.
Auf Teufel komm raus – This is such a great push-your-luck betting game. I’ve played this quite a bit in the past few months and it has always gone well with all the groups I’ve played with. I had a pretty ballsy 200 bet to catch up with the rest of the table right at the end which paid off and the last round was the closest game I’ve ever played of this. I think the winning margin was 10 or 20 points (the lowest denomination is 10), and it could have been anyone’s game if they had bet just slightly more aggressively. Great game.
27 September 2015 – Playtesting at Good Games Town Hall
Giant Snail Will Not Prevail – Met up with Kim Brebach of Monstrous and showed him some prototypes that I had brought along. We played this 2-player which I had never done before, so it was good to see how it works with 2. In hindsight, it should have been obvious to add more workers per player since we ended up being way short but it did provide a very interesting tension that was missing from the 3 player game. I think I’m going to play around with lower worker counts so that it gives that tension that we had without being impossible. Kim also had a great suggestion to provide players with a limited amount of Defender (or similar) techs at the start of the game with more in the tech deck to reduce the impact of randomness and give players more choices to make early in the game. We could have arguably pulled it off even with the low amount of workers, but we got screwed over by a Burrow card coming out and sending the Snail in an unexpected direction. We’re going to try and work on it more this month and hopefully have a 2-4 player build ready for PAX Aus.
Project Squirtle – Also tried out Project Squirtle. The game ended up being pretty close with the positioning of the characters being pretty crucial to the end game. Kim brought up the lack of diagonal movement/targeting as being pretty constricting, especially for the ranged characters and that’s something I had decided on pretty arbitrarily so it shouldn’t be difficult to fix up. However, the main issue I have with the game has to do with the core deckbuilding mechanic so I’m planning to do a complete overhaul anyways once I’ve worked out the 2-4 player game for Giant Snail.
Cthulhu Realms – Pretty much Star Realms with Cthulhu. The rules for 3-4 players games seems to be different from Star Realms, though I have only played them 2-player so I can’t really remember or compare that aspect. I did like some of the new abilities introduced such as the Nexus buildings that protected other buildings and gaining cards that were just trashed. However, I felt a lack of personality in the “factions” represented in the game, which weren’t even explicitly named. I think Star Realms builds out that identity better, and although Cthulhu Realms probably has the same sort of identity with the factions it didn’t come through. I think names or slightly different treatment of the frame elements to tie the factions together would have helped immensely in that area. It goes to show that simple little details can colour your experience. Other than that it’s still the same great Star Realms engine, so if you haven’t tried Star Realms or just prefer the Lovecraftian theme, this one’s worth checking out.
30 September 2015 – Gaming at Home
Power & Prestige – In the 2 weeks since I tried out the incarnation at Incubator, Sye’s made significant improvements to the game. There’s now a nice sense of continuity between rounds and you have more decisions to make about the cards you want to try and collect. I’m quite impressed with how all the changes have come together to elevate the game and fix many of the issues in the previous version, the main benefit being not having to reconstruct the deck for different player counts. Since it was only 2 of us, we tried out a few different variants for the 2-player game and I think we managed to hit on one that works well without changing too many things in the base rules. Hopefully it’ll stand up to more rigorous testing, though I’m pretty confident that Sye will work it out. I’m constantly impressed by his work ethic with his prototypes.
And that’s it for September! I managed to meet some new people and visited some really nice groups in Sydney, played Magic with an old friend, and played a lot of dexterity games and Codenames. How about you? What games have you played in the past month that you really enjoyed?