2015 Challenge: Android: Netrunner, Game Two

Harmony MedtechI want to talk for a moment about the idea of continual improvement.You might be familiar with the term kaizen, a Japanese implementation that’s a bit more specific in the details. Essentially, it involves making small changes which, in aggregate and over time, lead to improved performance.

It’s one of the main reasons Netrunner is so engrossing as a game. You don’t just play it at the table; you also play it between games, tweaking your deck and planning your next approach.

My friend Evan played a game of Netrunner with me as we were passing time before grabbing a meal with another friend of ours. He tweaked his deck before testing out his latest creation. It didn’t quite work, but it made me realize something: I haven’t done that in far too long.

I just got too comfortable. I found a plan that works, but got so comfortable with it I almost forgot what it’s like to take a crazy idea and whittle it down to a sleek, elegant, dastardly plot. I want to fix that.


Continue reading “2015 Challenge: Android: Netrunner, Game Two”

2015 Challenge: Android: Netrunner, Game One

ffg_gabriel-santiago-core2015 was off to a great start. When midnight passed I was drinking beer and relaxing in a hot tub with a good friend of mine. Of course it was a nightmare getting out of a hot tub on a cold night in the middle of winter. It was a shock to the system, which was perfect leading into my first game of the year—Android: Netrunner.

As I expected, taking the effort to bring out Netrunner reminded me of what I loved so much about the game. What surprised me was the thing that I enjoyed most about playing the game again—the chance to be a complete bastard.

Netrunner does a fantastic job at making the players feel like they’re cheating, even when they obey the rules. Alex wasn’t supposed to be able to rez Archer without paying its cost, but with Oversight AI, he did. I wasn’t supposed to be able to flick a switch and shut it off, but with Emergency Shutdown, I did—and that Oversight AI was still attached to it, meaning it would fold in on itself once I was able to break through it just once.

We were calling each other’s plays dirty, and it was a compliment. It was fun when either of us did something particularly nasty. Even if it’s done to you, you don’t think it’s unfair. You think it’s impressive. Continue reading “2015 Challenge: Android: Netrunner, Game One”

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


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


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”