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Friday, December 29, 2006

End of the year games (part 2)

In addition to the games I've played with gamers to round out the year, I've continued to have more success with friends & family, too. Those are much lighter games, but that never bothered me in the first place, and of course those are much more approachable (and more fun) for people who don't enjoy learning new rules all the time. I had another chance to break out a few light games during some breaks at work. Those opportunities evaporate with the holidays, but I was happy for them while they lasted. In the past we've played good ol' Hearts, and what a great classic that is. But these coworkers know I play lots of other games, and expressed some curiosity about them. So I took that as in invitation to show them a few others, keeping them short & light. The games I had onhand were Elchfest, For Sale, Coloretto, and Dynasties.

Elchfest is one of the Kosmos/Mayfair 2-player series, a dexterity game where you try to flick disks across the table, into position as stepping stones for your wooden moose/elk piece. Your opponent takes turns doing the same, and the two of you try to reach the other side of the table (river) before the other. As simple as that, there are some subtleties around the fact that the three stepping stone disks you each have are neutral pieces--they don't belong to either player. So while it feels natural to flick just the stones on your side during your turn, before long you & your opponent are tempted--and well advised--to flick the other stones, too. Then it becomes more than a dexterity, finger-flicking face, it also adds some offensive & defensive play. But flicking games aren't for everyone, and this one didn't go over too well. I still enjoy it.

Then we had four players for For Sale, followed up by three for Coloretto, two little card games that really show some imaginative gameplay for someone only used to traditional card games. That was the whole idea with their selection! It's funny to compare how it turned out against my attempts with those same two games and my family. At work, For Sale was interesting but not especially compelling, while they suck their teeth into Coloretto. At home it was close to the opposite, having fun with For Sale but finding Coloretto a bit too dry and requiring more tracking (and direct confrontation). In both cases I'd call the experience an overall success, just to find one hit. I guess the difference comes from the audience, though I wonder if it's really that cliché--that the family enjoys the lighter game, and the engineers want something that can be studied?

The last one at work was Dynasties. You'll hear me mention this one as my faux sleeper of 2006 in the next Boardgame Roundtable podcast, hosted by Doug Garrett. (It's a faux sleeper because it really came out in 2005, I just didn't find it until this year--in a math trade!) This has been my biggest hit at work. It's an area-majority game, and a bidding game. I find those unusual qualities for a 2-player game. My buddy at work requested a game with "sneakiness," and this has fit the bill. In this case, that sneakiness comes from bluffing and double-think, not backstabbing or trick plays. It was such a hit with him that he borrowed it for the Thanksgiving weekend, and now closer to Christmas I got to introduce it to someone else at work. Another success.

On the homefront, it's been more light games with mostly my kids. Over on the Family Boardgaming Podcast they recommended Quicksand for parents & kids, so I snapped up a few from the recent Fantasy Flight sale to play at home and give as gifts to a cousin and the local Toys for Tots drive. Sure enough, it was a hit with my daughter. We've played with family, just the two of us, and--best of all--she wanted to teach her neighborhood friends all by herself. It's a very light game of hidden identity (as in Clans, which didn't impress the kids), a race game played with cards, themed around a jungle expedition. My favorite moment came when I helped one of Molly's friends who wasn't having as much fun as the rest of the girls. She had a hand full of cards that moved the blue pawn/explorer forward, but that wasn't her color. I whispered that she should play them all at once anyway, move the blue pawn as poorly as possible, and then get to refill her entire hand, hoping for better cards. "Ohhhhhh.....," she said, starting to get it. And then, "Good thinking!"

I packed games into other games to save space during our trips to see relatives over the past week. However, all we played was one more game of Quicksand, and once I got to play Harry's Grand Slam Baseball with my son. He liked it, and I hope we'll get to play more later. But nothing else, not even a game of Hearts with grandpa. What we did play was the Wii, Nintendo's new game system that features interactive, wireless controllers that you wave around instead of pressing a million buttons.

Ok, here I go again. I even mention it during that Boardgame Roundtable podcast. Yes, it's a video game. But I'm telling you, we got everyone into it, had lots of fun, and the social experience was right up there (or beyond) what I brought with my in my boxes of board & card games. My brother & his wife laughed through tennis, and she's pretty much opposed to all videogames. At my in-laws' we did even better, getting everyone into it. I couldn't believe how much fun my mother-in-law was having with the bowling game, cheered on by her grandkids. The golf game just about convinced my brother-in-law to go out and get a system for his family. The nieces played constantly. It's not unusual for kids to play videogames, of course, but even the littlest one found it easy and intuitive to play. We all got into it together, and that's what felt so special.

-Mark

Saturday, December 23, 2006

End of the year games (part 1)

Like I said, no chance to do another podcast this year, but I can fill you in on some recent gaming via the blog. Last night I attended my last Santa Clarita game group session of the year, and we were joined by Greg Parker. He's a long way from home up in Redding, but has family down here so we see him once in a while during holidays. Podcast listeners should be familiar with Greg from his co-star status on Garrett's Games & Geekiness podcast. Although I'd like to have him on MY podcast, too, our time is too short to do that AND play games. So games it was.

I think of Greg Parker as one of the "new games guys," meaning someone that is always getting & playing new stuff. I know he has his older favorites, too, but whenever he's down here there are new games he's touting, and asking about what new ones we've tried. Should I tell him the game sessions at my place are often filled with old standbys like Ra and San Marco? No, I know it doesn't really matter. And we play new ones, too--including Space Dealer last week. (Which I thought was great fun, such an enjoyable gimmick/mechanism, and one I want to try more.)

Greg had a new copy of Die Baumeister von Arkadia with him, and that was a new one I wanted try. Especially since I knew no one in our group had picked it up yet. Just like everyone's been saying, it was good. It looks more involved than it really is, and in our 4-player game it also accelerated to the end more than we were expecting. Now knowing what to expect, I can see this moving right along in that 45-60 minute middleweight category I like. Count me among those who were turned off by nothing more than the Torres memories of those pieces, but hre's they're just game scoring equipment (and a game timer, in a clever combination). If it also plays well with 2 or 3, as I've heard, then it's one of the clear winners from Essen.

After that we tried Reef Encounters of the Second Kind. Turns out I was able to get one after all, due to my high-falutin' podcast connections. (I saw them available through Boulder Games later, too.) Hmmm... Now, I'm a big fan of Reef Encounter. You'll hear more about that in a future podcast or two. I don't typically pay top dollar for games, but this was one case where I splurged. That was for the base game. It was a double-splurge for the small expansion. Especially since I know my usual reaction to expansions: interesting new options, but clutters-up the original game and makes it only for die-hards. And that's almost my reaction here. I say "almost," because I want to try again using only some of the new elements. The rules don't suggest you can "pick & choose" the parts of the expansion you want, but I think it could work better for me that way. I like the special tiles most of all. They don't take much additional explanation, barely tweak the rules, and open up new tactical considerations and opportunities. Especially when drafting more tiles at the end of your turn. The predatory starfish tile is only slightly more involved, but pretty interesting and worth the (minor) effort.

It's the special, rule-bending cards I didn't care for. This is a game mechanism I'm not often happy with. Adds more chaos/unpredictability, and getting the balanced for power is so very critical. It's only one play so far, but in our game we all felt the cards were too powerful, changing the final scoring too significantly for a game that otherwise values clever moves and multi-turn strategy.

The remaining new element are the blue shrimps. I like their modest game effect. They're a collective pool of "bonus" shrimp that can protect more coral--only the tile they're on, not the orthogonal neighbors, but that's plenty to help out. Some of them are printed on the new tiles, and those are the easiest to use. The separate, wooden ones are fun, just like the original "shrimples," offer more opportunities for clever play, but as-is they require that same deck of cards to activate. If I can figure out some way to retain the blue shrimp but ditch the cards, that would be ideal. (Maybe discard a tile in front of the screen to place/move one blue shrimp?)

All in all, a good night of strategy games to complement the lighter fare I've been playing lately, which you'll read about in part 2.

-Mark

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

BGTG 66 - Dec. 8, 2006 - Thanksgiving Leftovers (Qwirkle, Winner's Circle, Harry's Grand Slam Baseball, Hyle7, Make Five) & Feedback



Whew! The show is now posted. You know that getting a podcast out during this part of the year is tricky for me (aren't we all busy with the holidays?), and with the backlog of material it has turned out to be a biggie. Good news, I hope. The last time I had a show larger than one audio CD, almost no one downloaded the split file--everyone downloaded the big sucker like usual. So either you've got MP3 players, listen on your computers, or manage your own splits as needed. Yea!

This show is mostly a compilation of older material that hadn't been broadcast yet for one reason or another. There's a session report and some general discussion from last August, and a backlog of audio feedback--half of it from Mark Jackson. (Remember, he's the preacher, I'm the rocket scientist . . . kind of.)

But I couldn't just splice in that feedback without responding to it, and I wanted to fill you in on some recent events, too. Mostly, that means when my folks came down for Thanksgiving. Did we all play games? Yeah, kind of, but not what you'd expect. And then I had the happy surprise of a thank-you gift for this podcast that turned out to be a fun game for the family, one I wanted to mention right away.

So, anyway, there you have it. All 85 minutes of it. Enjoy!

-Mark

P.S. Once again the good folks over at the Gone Gaming blog are calling attention to the best internet resources for our hobby. They call it the Board Game Internet Awards, and this is the second year they've done this. Sure, everyone knows to go to Boardgamegeek and Boardgamenews for news & information. But which are the best blogs, game club sites, even podcasts? Not only that, but they'll single out the best individual game reviews, session reports, and humorous articles. I'm very proud to be nominated again, and really appreciate the spotlight they're shining on quality online material, all of it by enthusiastic hobbyists.

P.P.S. I don't do full-blown shownotes with links to everything anymore, but in this recording I specifically mentioned a link to the Interview with an Optimist that Tom Vasel did with HSGB designer Harry Obst.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

It's that time of year...

Remember how I said I planned on taking a planned hiatus from mid-November until after New Year's? Well, that was a good idea, because this is just a very busy time for me to work in some podcasting. Just the same, I wanted to catch up on some audio feedback, and my plan is still to put together kind of a "mash-up" show. Somewhere I've still got a recording made last August that was never released, and if I just carve that up with that feedback I think I've got something worth putting out there. At least to bridge the gap to January.