First Impressions: Codenames

pic2582929No one game is for everyone, but for every person, there’s a game out there that they will probably enjoy. (Odds are more than one, but I’m hedging my bets with terse generalizations.) Board games are incredibly diverse, as are the tastes of people who play them.

That’s what made Vlaada Chvatil’s Codenames such a big surprise—there’s a consensus, and a positive one at that. There were a ton of great games released in 2015, but if you ask anyone what the best party game was, or filler game, or word game—or just about any category that can reasonably describe this game—people will say Codenames is one of the best in class. Not only is it the top-rated party game as determined by the users of BoardGameGeek, but it’s the nineteenth best game period.

So, now that I managed to play a game, careful to manage my expectations, I can confidently say—I get it. It’s really good, and just about everyone ought to try it. Continue reading “First Impressions: Codenames”

A Roundabout Path to Wargames: First Impressions of Warmachine

I got into wargaming almost as an accident.

At first, I was just looking for something to paint. I had begun painting miniatures in college, but since I didn’t have a D&D group and my then-burgeoning board games collection didn’t contain any that could use a good painting, I fell out of the hobby. I liked the look of Warmachine, and heard nothing but great things about the game. I might as well pick up a battle box. Worst case scenario, I’d have fun painting them. If I ever got a chance to play, so much the better.

Then I picked up a copy of the rulebook. I have a strange habit of collecting and reading rulebooks for role-playing games just for the hell of it. I have an extensive collection of those books, many of which I have no intention of actually playing. (I’m already in a Dungeon World campaign, about to join a Dungeons & Dragons campaign, and toying with the idea of running a Star Wars campaign—I don’t think I’ll be playing Gary Gygax’s Lejendary [sic] Adventure anytime soon, but I’m glad I have it.) RPGs actually stemmed from wargames, so I figured the reading material would be just as enjoyable.

I figured a smaller-scale game with RPG elements might stick. It didn’t, as Malifaux just didn’t strike anyone’s fancy… but it did get one of my friends to ask about that other game I had talked about. He liked the look of the Protectorate of Menoth and withing a week he had a 15 point army. Another friend of mine had already begun toying with a Mercenary faction, but I guess each of us just needed at least two opponents to make thing interesting. So I rounded off my small band of Cygnar models and played my first game this weekend.

So, after years of accidentally falling into Warmachine, this past weekend, I played my first game—and it was one of the best gaming experiences I’ve had in a long time. Continue reading “A Roundabout Path to Wargames: First Impressions of Warmachine”

First Impressions: Dominant Species

pic784193This is a game I’ve been eager to play for a long, long time.

Dominant Species has gotten a lot of praise over the years, and the theme instantly hooked me. It tickled the part of me that was so fond of “edutainment” as a child. Not that I expected a learning experience—I’m fully aware of the basics of survival of the fittest by now—but combining an unusual theme I was taught in school with a game reminds me of the days when those topics were made more engaging and more palatable with games or video.

My expectations were for a robust and highly thematic game outside GMT’s wheelhouse. After all, they’re a publisher best known for war games, not something like this. I wanted to develop my species into the most competitive ones around, even though the cover of the box kind of made it look like we’d be teaming up like some kind of weird rag-tag band of animals teaming up for an action movie. Like a prehistoric version of the A-Team.

So how did it stack up? Pretty well, as it turns out—though it’s a very different game from what I thought it would be. Continue reading “First Impressions: Dominant Species”

Review: Friday

pic1513328…and a new perspective on solo games.

1 player, 24 Minutes

In my article on Agricola, I mentioned how I never played solo board games before. Nine of the ten games of Agricola I played this year ended up being solo; clearly, I enjoyed playing it all by my lonesome. In the end, though, I accepted the fact that, given the option and without a motivation to do otherwise, I’d rather just play a video game than a solo board game.

But then something strange happened. I was in a simple card game review—look forward to reviews of Red7 and Mystery Rummy: Escape from Alcatraz sometime soon!—and I decided to better understand their rules by playing some mock games against myself. In the middle of one of these phantom games, I realized that I really would like to play a proper game.

And then, naturally, I found a copy of Friedemann Friese’s Friday sitting on the shelf at a local shop.  Continue reading “Review: Friday”

Review: Eldritch Horror

I like to think that I can make a reasonable, educated guess about what games I’d enjoy. Few games surprise me after doing a bit of research. That’s what made this review such a tricky one—Eldritch Horror defied my expectation. Unfortunately, I was expecting to have fun playing it.

Eldritch Horror is a cooperative horror board game, set in the ever-popular Levecraft mythos. Elder gods, cultists, ineffable horrors, all that jazz. It’s the spiritual successor to the much-loved Arkham Horror, and based on multiple reviews and aggregated scores, it sounded as though Eldritch Horror was at least as good if not better than Arkham Horror.

Getting my thoughts together on this involved me facing why my guess was wrong. There are things about this game I was sure I’d enjoy. Was I hypocritical for not liking the game? It certainly received a lot of praise—was I wrong? Was there something I wasn’t getting?

In short, no. My opinions just run against popular consensus on this one—and I’m prepared to back it up with a list of reasons why Eldritch Horror just fell flat. Continue reading “Review: Eldritch Horror”

A New Year’s Resolution… and Challenge

Happy New Year, everyone! In the spirit of the almost-holiday celebrated exclusively the night before it actually happens, it’s time to look forward. To that end, I’ve made a resolution that ought to stick for two reasons. First, it involves a hobby I love; and second, I’m going to publicize my success—or failure.

I came across a challenge posed to board game players—to play at least ten games at least ten times each over the course of a year. It sets a goal to enjoy games more thoroughly, rather tan chasing the newest titles only to have them collect dust on the shelf. (A casual look at most any Steam library would show the same issue among many a PC gamer.) There’s nothing wrong with enjoying collecting something, but I don’t want to lost the trees for the forest, so to speak.

To that end, I drafted a list of my own. Updates on my progress will be a new feature on the website, hopefully providing some more in-depth coverage than a review on a new release typically provides. Continue reading “A New Year’s Resolution… and Challenge”

Review: The Duke

pic16889032 players, 30 minutes

Chess is a funny thing. It’s a centuries-old game that people have dedicated their lives to playing, and yet hobby board gamers hardly ever talk about it one way or the other. At most, it’s appreciated from afar, as a game that people respect but don’t really want to play. It’s easy to see why—there’s little theme to the game, skilled players will almost invariably beat weaker players, and the learning curve between amateur and expert play can be a real grind.

It seems there’s a demand for a game that scratches the same strategy game itch as chess, but tweaks the formula to replace the parts that turn many game players off. One recent attempt to fill this demand is The Duke by Catalyst Games.

The Duke is an abstract strategy game, similar to chess or shogi (a game I dutifully Googled before writing this review). The game is played on a six by six grid, and troops are represented by wooden tiles featuring the piece’s name, symbol, and movement pattern. On their turn, a player can move one of their pieces according to that pattern. If it lands on an enemy tile, that enemy tile is captured and removed from the game. If a player can threaten to capture the opponent’s Duke from the board, and their opponent has no way of stopping it, that player wins the game.

Sounds fairly typical so far—nut there are three things that distinguish The Duke from games like chess or shogi.
First, taking a page out of miniature wargames, the players get to deploy their troops at the start of the game.
Second, the pieces have a reverse face that has a different movement pattern. In chess and shogi, a piece can be promoted if it advances far enough to your opponent; in The Duke, the pieces flip every time you use them.
Third, instead of moving one of your tiles, you can instead use your turn to draw a random tile from your bag and place it on the board adjacent to your Duke.

Let’s take a look at what these elements bring to the game.

Continue reading “Review: The Duke”

Review: Hanabi

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2-5 players, 25 minutes

Hello, dear readers! I’m back from a rather lengthy hiatus, and in the spirit of catching up, I’m going to review the winner of the Spiel des Jahres… from last year.

For those of you who don’t know, the Spiel des Jahres is the German “Game of the Year” award. It’s a big deal—a nomination can generate hundred if not thousands of sales for the nominee, and winning the award can net hundreds of thousands of new sales. I’ve been told that the winning game will even be found in supermarkets across Germany, and to this day I have no idea if those people were joking.

It’s one of the most respected board game awards around, but before you think that means it’s a “greatest hits” list from 1978 to the present, keep in mind that it favors lighter, European-style games. That generally means a focus on game mechanisms, an abstracted theme, and indirect player interaction. Moreover, the award is generally given to lighter, more family-friendly games.

Last year, the award went to Hanabi, a small card game by designer Antoine Bauza. In Hanabi, the players take on the role of technicians trying to pull off a fireworks display. To do so, they must take turns playing cards from their hands, and each of five colored piles must be built, in order, from one through five. You all lose the game if three mistakes are made. Otherwise, the game ends one full round after the draw pile runs out of cards. Then, you tally up the highest valued card in each pile to get a score.

What makes it tricky is that you play with your cards facing away from you. You get to see everyone else’s cards, but not your own. Players can give hints to one another, but only in very restricted ways. I think this is downright brilliant because, more than any other game I’ve played, it makes the players want to cheat. Let me explain.

Continue reading “Review: Hanabi”

Super Exclusive Game Preview

Exciting news, readers—for the first time ever, I’ve got some game previews for you! Recently, I had the chance to play a couple of prototype games—with the designer, no less.

Now, before I get any further, in the interest of full disclosure, I should mention that the game designer is, in fact, a relative of mine. Her name is Victoria, and she is seven years old.

But don’t worry—I take journalistic integrity very seriously, and neither the fact that the designer is related to me nor the fact that she is a seven-year-old girl will curry any favor with me, and I will strive to make the following preview as unbiased as possible.

Continue reading “Super Exclusive Game Preview”

Review: One Night Ultimate Werewolf

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3-10 players, 10 minutes

A lot of things had to come together just right to get One Night Ultimate Werewolf.

First, there’s the party game Werewolf (also commonly known as Mafia) where players are secretly given the role of either Werewolves or Villagers—the Werewolves know who all the Werewolves are and try to kill off Villagers, while the villagers try to kill off the werewolves, but don’t know who anyone else really is.

Then two designers had their won separate takes on the game. Ted Alspach created Ultimate Werewolf, which added in dozens of new roles to mix things up. Akihisa Okui, on the other hand, created One Night Werewolf, which compressed the game into one single round of voting with a couple of extra roles to throw some information into the mix.

You’ve probably guessed that One Night Ultimate Werewolf is a combination of the two—the basic design of Akihisa Okui’s game bolstered by the imaginative variations of Ted Alspach.

It also makes a creative use of both space and time. There are just a few bits and pieces needed to play the game, and the rounds are timed.

In a couple of ways, it’s the chocolate and peanut butter of hidden role games—a description as appropriately delicious as it is oddly specific.

Let’s take the metaphor back around to werewolves as we take a look at this bit-sized game.

Continue reading “Review: One Night Ultimate Werewolf”