Monday, 11 December 2006

I'm a United 1K class member (meaning I earn at least 100,000 qualifying miles in a year - two trips to Israel, a trip to Brussels, and a trip to Germany virtually guarantee this) so often get upgraded to 1st class when I do my frequent travel-to-the-east-coast-for-a-two-hour-meeting trips.   I often use this time to catch up on emails (though this is not nearly as critical now that I'm a GTD cult member - now, I use the time to knock off @offline next actions), reading, and weblog posts.

You would think laptop power would be available in first class.  I'm well equiped with a universal power adapter including car and airplane DC power conversion, but alas no joy even in first class.  What I do notice is what used to be a power receptacle now covered with a screwed-on plate.  Come on - many American Airlines planes have power even in coach.  Portland is a long ways from everywhere so unless I carry 1 or 2 spare batteries with me I'm stuck.

posted on Tuesday, 12 December 2006 02:03:37 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)  #    Comments [1]
 Friday, 08 December 2006

Sorry about the extended outage - had some problems with the ISP (server outage).  I'll actually post a few things this weekend too!

posted on Friday, 08 December 2006 14:59:27 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)  #    Comments [0]
 Wednesday, 29 November 2006

Somehow we've managed to leverage our Chuck Norris guerilla marketing skills into a number of local press coverage items around the Portland area.  Seriously, the fact that we launched a boardgame company must be such an oddity that people can't help ut wonder "What were they thinking?".  When I tell people I launched a boardgame company, they generally ask "oh, you must do computer games too, right?"  Right...

posted on Wednesday, 29 November 2006 21:14:51 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)  #    Comments [0]
 Sunday, 19 November 2006

I'm late writing this up, but we had a great time out at the coast last weekend.  The weather improved on Friday allowing us to spend some time playing football on the beach, and we used the storm time to make a serious dent in my unplayed games list.  I added some ceremony to the process by moving games from the right side of the stove to the left as they got played.  I brought out over 20 game candidates and we played 14.

Games to Play

We started things off on Thursday night with a game of Trendsetters, a new card game release from On the Spot Games.  This is a group-think party game where you draw a card which has a poll question for the group.  You are trying to guess what everyone else will guess, and you score points if you are in the majority.  Oddly enough the game says it is for 3-6 players but it only comes with 4 voting wheels.  I also don't know what happens if there is a tie.  Consensus was "meh" in the family, though Matthew seemed to like it more than the rest of us.

Next up was Mille Bornes, the classic card game of driving French highways.  This was a gift for me about 2 years ago and I was hoping for something more.  This is really just a take-that game where you hope to draw the right cards and are likely to spend several turns drawing exactly the wrong cards to help your situatin.

First thing Friday morning Jacob and I opened up the wooden box game Astoria to play the Alchemy game (the one that isn't the Epic game).  Players will immediately be impressed by the (gratuitous) glass bottles and beautiful plastic gems, though I wish the green gems actually looked green instead of clear.  The game play involves placing and moving gems on a game board with six different locations around a circle, trying to achieve certain recipe combinations (goals) drawn byt the player (oddly similar to the lighter cardgame Experiment).  There are some nice twists in the game, such as trying to get majorities in certain kinds of spells to gain advantages.  There are tough choices to be made on your turn - do you try to set yourself up for that spell you need, or do you disrupt the opponents plan?  There are also reactions that happen when 2 gems come together with the same color.

Astoria Alchemy

We haven't tried the Epic game yet, but this initial game was enjoyable enough that I don't regret the 20 euro spend this year at Essen.

Next up was the On the Spot Games new cardgame Zero In, a trivia game on a card deck game with a nice twist.  Each card has a letter (or in the case of XYZ, three letters) on the back, with a choice of 4 different characters.  Each character has 5 hints, with one player successively giving the hints until someone guesses correctly.  Players get only one chance to guess, and you score more points by guessing correctly with fewer clues.  Fun game but I worry about replayability - there aren't that many cards in the box.

Jacob and I wanted to play at least one war game over the weekend in remembrance of Veterans Day, so we played Axis & Allies: Pacific for the first time.  The game took about 4 hours to play and was easy to learn given our experience with other A&A games.

Axis and Allies Pacific

The game is fun but a bit tedious.  Jacob eventually conceded (I was starting to bomb Tokyo on a repeated basis) after a well-fought battle.  This one doesn't stand up well against other light wargames today (C&C Ancients, Memoir '44, etc.) but I suppose there aren't good alternatives that have a theater-wide scale like this.  Sounds like an opportunity to me.

On Saturday morning the rain started in earnest again and it was time for more gaming.  First up was the new Face2Face games release of the Knizia game Genesis.  I had low expectations of this game given first impressions I heard from fellow Essen attendees and other buzz.

Genesis

The game is exceedingly simple to learn - you roll two dice and play corresponding tiles to vacant spaces on the board, and you can't play on the volcano or tarpit tiles.  If you don't like the dice roll, you can always play a single tile of any terrain type (instead of the two you rolled).  The goal in the game is to have majority herds (orthogonally connected tiles of your species) in terrain groups - each player plays a different kind of species (dinosaurs, cavemen, lizards, and tigers).  There are bonuses offered if you score in the largest terrain group on the board as well as the largest group of each of the four different terrain types.

Genesis Closeup

The game played in 40 minutes and I pulled out the victory with 30 points (Matthew had 25, Jacob 23).  In the words of Matthew: "My Kind of Game".  He and I rate it an 8, Jacob a 7.  If you discounted this game based on Essen anti-hype, you owe to yourself to give it a try.

The boys and I then tried the Fantasy Flight game Mutiny!.  Quite nice - you place bids on crew members to influence them and get rewards with the ultimate goal of getting enough sabres to conduct the mutiny.  Jacob took control of the gunner early on and walked away with an easy victory.  We all rate it a 6.

I picked up the children's card game Wie Hund und Katz while in Frankfurt a year ago (on clearance) and finally managed to get it out with the four of us.  This is a cute little card game with a decent amount of chaos but we all had fun playing it. 

Wie Hund und Katz

Another highlight was the Fantasy Flight game Atlanteon, a quickly played 2-player abstract.  Very classic Knizia design where each player starts with the same resources and must strategize on when and where to use each tile.  Jacob won and we both rated it an 8.

The last game played over the weekend was Ys, a game I picked up down at the Funagain warehouse last summer.  While I generally don't like blind biding games, I can tolerate games where each player is sequentially making bids (some secret) in different areas of the board (I also like Aladdin's Dragons).  The game clicked for everyone pretty quickly and it was a well fought game where I came out slightly ahead.  I'm really glad I picked this one up and would like to try it at work sometime soon.

Ys

On another burndown note, I managed to trade away another 7 unplayed games and pick up only 2 that I hadn't played.  The goal is in sight and can be realistically achieved - I think I'm under 20 games to go for the year now.

posted on Sunday, 19 November 2006 23:25:42 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)  #    Comments [2]
 Wednesday, 15 November 2006

Time to brag a little bit about how well Jacob and Matthew performed in football this season.  Both boys led their teams in every single meaningful statistic that they could have given the positions they played.  Jacob is barely over the weight limit (120 lbs with gear) to be able to carry the football, so he only has defensive statistics.

Jacob:

  • Played 9 games
  • 53 tackles (led the team, next closest was 45 - he had over 1/6 of the total tackles for the team)
  • 7 sacks (led the team, next closest was 2 - he had 1/2 of the total sacks for the team)
  • He played nearly the entire season as a defensive end, which is a difficult place to get this many tackles.  The last three games he got some plays as a middle linebacker.

Matthew:

  • Played 8 games, mostly at fullback on offense and inside linebacker on defense.  Had about 10 snaps at quarterback and a few at offensive guard.
  • 69 tackles, 32 assists (led the team, next closest in tackles was 34 - he had close to 1/4 of the total tackles for the team)
  • 10 tackles for loss (led the team, next closest was 8)
  • Rushed for 496 yards (led the team, barely edging his close friend James who had 493 - that's a rounding error given the precision of stats at our level)
  • 8 rushing touchdowns (led the team, next closest was 5)
  • 206 receiving yards (led the team)
  • 14 receptions (led the team)
  • 3 receiving touchdowns (led the team)
posted on Thursday, 16 November 2006 02:01:33 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)  #    Comments [1]
 Thursday, 09 November 2006
We are driving out to the coast to checkout the house and make sure everything is kosher after the heavy rains this week. There's a high wind advisory tonight and we may see gusts up to 60mph. Oh and I brought unplayed games. About 20 of them.
posted on Friday, 10 November 2006 02:07:24 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)  #    Comments [1]
 Tuesday, 07 November 2006

Games I need to play, sell, trade, or dump by the end of the year.  Ranked in descending order by BGG rank.

 

Die Macher
Shogun
Paths of Glory
Roads & Boats
1830 - Railroads and Robber Barons
Das Ende des Triumvarates
Ys
Meuterer
TurfMaster
Diplomacy
History of the World
Starship Catan
Britannia
Corsairs and Hellcats
Astoria
Silverton
Kingdoms
El Caballero
Bigkini
Maelstrom (a Vortex game)
Manifest Destiny
Thief of Bagdad
Genesis
Master Labyrinth
Hellas
Zauberschwert & Drachenei
Hero Clix
Cannes - Stars, Scripts and Screens
Golden Deuce
Atlanteon
Mutiny
Target
Mille Bornes
Spy Alley
Crazy Diamond & Karatino
Wie Hund und Katz
Malefiz
Dying Lights
Wordwild
Socks in the City
Wooden Shoes & Iron Monsters (no rating)
New York Central (no rating)

posted on Tuesday, 07 November 2006 21:23:03 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)  #    Comments [3]
 Sunday, 29 October 2006

Saturday marked the end of Matthew's football season, the end of Jacob's regular season (they have a playoff game next weekend), and a chance for Jacob and I to try out a new Essen release: Through the Ages.  This is another civ building game, but unlike many in the genre there's no map.  This is essentially a card game that most reminded me of the 2005 release Parthenon: Rise of the Aegean.  The map in Parthenon was largely superfluous, and I applaud the Czech Board Games folks for streamlining the game in this manner.

Through the Ages comes with three different play levels: simple, advanced, and full.  The simple game is meant to introduce players to the basic mechanics with no direct conflict allowed between players.  This is what Jacob and I tried on Saturday night, starting at 8pm and finishing before 10pm.

Through the Ages Simple Game

Each player starts with a basic civ - despotism government, a couple of farms, a couple of mines, a lab, and a warrior.  These are represented by cards plus workers (little yellow glass stones).  In general, a card represents the capability of building something (i.e., the technology).  The yellow stones represent population, so when a yellow stone is on a card that signifies that you've built that building and are manning it to bring some good to your civ.

Your government determines the actions you can do on a turn, with the starting civ of Despotism giving each player 4 civil actions and 2 military actions.  Civil actions are used to draft cards, increase population, play cards, and build buildings.  Military actions are used to train new warriors in the simple game.

What I think makes the game special are the civil event cards.  These are brought out on a holding board and are purchased using civil actions.  These cycle through the board and get cheaper as they slide left (think of the drafting mechanism in Atlantic Star), with the three left-most cards leaving the game each turn in the 2-player game.  The cards allow players to customize their civ and choose their own path, including leadership, government, technologies, and production.

Our simple game felt like it was over almost before it started, and the designers should take this as a compliment.  It really is an introductory scenario and it served us well in teaching the basic mechanics of the game, and I was thrilled that we were able to complete this in less than two hours including setup and instruction.  We thought I had won, but in hindsight Jacob probably won as we miscounted some of the bonus points.

Through the Ages Advanced

Jacob and I embarked on an advanced game this morning at 9am.  The advanced game includes all of the rules of the full game minus the ability to declare war (though there is military conflict) but is played without the 3rd age cards.

There's a system of checks and balances at work in the game, not unlike Antiquity.  You have to do some planning and forecasting to make sure that you keep enough resources (food and mined product) around to do the things you want to do, but not keep around too much.  The advanced game introduces the notions of happiness and corruption which forces players to balance their development, keep their population happy (mostly by supplying religion), and not stockpile too much of their goods.  It also forces a level of efficiency in production, as the finite number of resource counters can represent different numbers of raw goods depending on where they live.  A token on a basic iron mine may be worth 1 resource, while the same token on a bronze mine is worth 2 resources.

Through the Ages Board

Jacob pulled ahead early in military strength which turned out to be a big advantage as the advanced game introduces military events, many of which benefit the player with the most strength (or hurt the player that is weakest).  I clawed my way back, mostly through superior resource production, and was able to slingshot past him in the last turn in military strength.  This gave me a 10 point bonus at the end which turned out to be the difference in the game.  The bonus came from a set of 4 random 3rd age event cards that we flipped over at the start of the game which specify bonuses players can earn based on the state of their civs.

We completed the advanced game in just under three hours and had a blast.  There's more interaction in the advanced game but this is still largely a do-your-own-thing sort of game.  The downtime was minimal with 2 players, but I can see it getting excessive with more players.  I do need to give the designers credit in specifying how to minimize downtime in the rules - they encourage the next player to start his turn once the current player completes his actions and starts end-of-turn production.  We followed this guidance and found the time between turns to be no more than 5-10 minutes, sometimes even less.  After 2 plays Jacob and I are rating this one a 9 and look forward to playing the full game.

posted on Sunday, 29 October 2006 21:20:00 (Pacific Standard Time, UTC-08:00)  #    Comments [5]
 Thursday, 26 October 2006

Julie and I started the Game On! class this week at Matthew's school (read more here and here).  We ended up doing two classes to accomodate the 40 kids that signed up.  The Wednesday class is mostly 3rd/4th graders and the Thursday class is 4th/5th graders.  Julie will usually teach Wed and I'll take Thu, though with my travel schedule we will often flip things around.

Julie and I tag-teamed our first class on Wednesday.  We started with an overview of the class, discussed rules and guidelines, mentioned a few of the games we expect to play, then dove right into explanation of our first game: Walk the Dogs.

Julie Teaches Walk the Dogs

This turned out to be a great choice.  Julie had the great idea of having the kids rate the games on a 4-point scale (we are using Chuck's system) and most rated it a 4 with just a few giving it a 3.  Same results on Thursday.

Playing Walk the Dogs

All but one of the groups in the 2 days were able to finish their games.  Turns out the setup time for Walk the Dogs is longer than I remembered, so on the second day I took the time to set up the doggies ahead of time.  That is part of the fun of the game, but I figured it was a reasonable tradeoff to give the kids a better chance of finishing.

Next week we will likely play Pickomino, followed by Take it Easy.  After that we'll revisit all three games and give the kids the chance to pick one of them for play during an open gaming session.

posted on Thursday, 26 October 2006 15:53:01 (Pacific Daylight Time, UTC-07:00)  #    Comments [3]
 Tuesday, 24 October 2006

This year I'd like to give a bit more information about the games I saw and played while at Essen.  I'll do another post where I talk some more about the Sunriver Games booth, but this one will just be focused on the games.  Most of you know it isn't my style to go into depth on any one game, so this post will give broad strokes across a wide range of games.

Fiji

Fiji

This was the first game I saw played at the fair while stopping in on Tuesday to hopefully get started on booth setup.  This is one of the latest 2F games and I never got a chance to play it.  The main reason: I heard it was almost a pure blind bidding game and one friend indicated that she would rather play a simple roll and move game than this one given the chaos involved.  Maybe there's more there than I think, but this is one you should most certainly try before you buy.

Gloria Mundi

Gloria Mundi

Another game I watched folks play (including Valerie Putnam and Lorna Wong - not sure who the other chap was).  This is the collaborative release from James Ernest and Mike Selinker and it is essentially a racing game with players trying to race to one end of the board while the goths race towards Rome.  Players have equivalent decks of cards in their hands that they use to produce certain resources that allow them to advance along the track, with the goth movement causing certain not-so-good things to happen to those resources.  I hope I got that approximately right.  This looks like one I'd like to try.

Shogun

Shogun

All of you Wallenstein fans know about this one - the Japanese themed version of the now classic multi-player Euro-style war game based in Germany during the 30 years war.  Wallenstein has been out of print for a while so many folks who've had a chance to play it online at Mikael's spiel-by-web site have been anxiously awaiting this release.  I picked up a copy in a trade with Queen games and I'm quite excited.  Here are some differences from the original:

  • A double-sided board.  In the words of Barbara Henn (Dirk's wife), one side is nicer and the other isn't so nice.  I'm certain nice meant "less confrontational" in this context.
  • There are some new action cards that allowe players to directly influence the player order, which was a sometimes significant random element in Wallenstein.
  • The cube tower appears to have a better construction than the original, though I'll need to see it.

One interesting piece of information I got from Queen was that they are generally releasing three versions of every game: German with only German language box and instructions, International A aimed at the Americas with English, French, Spanish, and German, and International B aimed at central Europe with French, Italian, Dutch, and German.

Alhambra the Dice Game

Alhambra Dice Game

Given the wide range of games that are now branded in the Alhambra series we tried to convince Queen that "Alhambra the Numeric Domino Tile Laying Game" would be a good idea - not sure they bought it.  The new dice game is one I also picked up in the trade it looks like a nice dice rolling game that blends some of the Yahtzee mechanics with scoring based on the building styles/colors in the original Alhambra game.

Yspahan

Yspahan

I still feel that I don't know much about this game other than it is much lighter and shorter than its predecessors from Ystari (Caylus, Ys).  Jim Ginn quite liked it and I think he bought a copy.

Die Saulen von Venedig

Die Saulen von Venedig

AKA the "other Saulen" game, I never got a chance to sit down and play or watch this new Gold Sieber release.  The board makes it look fairly light but I could be wrong.  Very attractive box and bits though.

The Thief of Bagdad

Der Dieb von Bagdad

The final new Queen release, this is a multi-player game where players play both the thieves trying to steal from Sultans (?) and the guards trying to prevent the thieves from stealing.  Clearly all sorts of room for bribery and corruption and I'm glad I picked up a copy - looks to be fun.

Die Siedler von Catan: Kampf um Rom

Kampf um Rom

This is another Settlers game with a fixed board that appears to introduce a few new mechanics.  Mayfair will have the English version in very early 2007.

TurfMaster

TurfMaster

My single most expensive acquisition over the weekend at 69 euro, this was an easy decision to buy after checking the 'geek and playing a game at their booth.  The component quality is amazing - painted horses, plastic deck boxes, and a very attractive double-sided board.  It also supports 2-8 players.

The game play is very tactical with just enough luck involved to keep things interesting.  Each player starts with a shuffled 32-card deck with numbers up to 12 (I'm not sure of the distribution).  A game is played over three races, with each player drawing 10 cards for each race.  Because the decks are identical, luck of the draw should even out over the three races.  The race is run by alternating moves where players play a card from their hand to move the indicated number of spaces followed by a move where one player rolls 2D6 to determine how all of the horses will move.  The player who rolls gets to decide how the dice are used: he can use both dice or just one of the two.  This responsibility rotates clockwise so a new player gets to choose each time.

The game really shines with the handicapping system whereby horses in the first three positions are limited in their maximum movement.  This means that a hand of all high cards can be a hinderance, because when you play a card that is over your handicap limit you move zero spaces instead of the indicated number.  This can be devastating towards the end of the race so hand management and planning is critical.  Further, if the player rolling the dice chooses a combined die roll that is over the handicap limit, the handicapped horse only gets to move with one of the two dice.

There are also very interesting rules about lane changes and spacing that I won't get into, but the game is easy to learn and I expect it to be a lot of fun.

Imperial

Imperial

I thought this was going to be an automatic purchase for me but I decided to wait and see.  This is the next game from Eggertspiele that uses the same rondel mechanic for action selection, but I've heard that that is where the similarities with Antike end.  Interesting note: Matthias Catrein, our artist for Incan Gold, is also the artist for Imperial.

BattleLore

BattleLore

The game wasn't for sale but there were several demo copies at the Days of Wonder booth that saw heavy use.  It looks as nice as you would expect it to look and I'm sure it will be a great hit.

On the Underground

On the Underground

Another game I would have liked to have tried, but when Erik, Jim, and KC decided to play early in the week it was just too late for me to learn a new game and still be fresh enough for the morning.  Matthias also did the art and graphical design for this game.  The obvious comparisons were to Ticket to Ride, but there's enough different about the game to make it interesting.  Jeez, the map of the London Underground is enough to keep me interested!  I was also very impressed with the compact box for this game - this is a big board with nice bits all packed in a very small box.

Hamelyn

Hamelyn

Didn't pre-order it, couldn't buy it, didn't play it.

Green Town

Green Town

This Bambus Spiel release had a lot of promise when I watched Rick Soued, his son Alex, and Ned Medinger from Funagain play it.  The game involves tile laying, structure building, and traveling along increasingly lengthier routes in the town based on an objective card each player holds.

The problem is this - the game has a bad arc as it gets increasingly more difficult to plan moves as the game goes on, increasing downtime and analysis required for each player.  It just dragged on towards the end and didn't have a satisfactory resolution.  There's something good inside this game but I think it needed some more development.

Fowl Play

Fowl Play

The new Richard Breese design had favorable comments but I didn't manage to learn much about the game.

Die Baumeister von Arkadia

Arkadia

One of my top 2 games in Essen, I already wrote a more detailed description of the game earlier in the week.

Arkadia Closeup

Salamanca

Salamanca

The driest of the bunch I played in Essen, I also wrote about this game earlier in the week.

Die Saulen die Erde (Pillers of the Earth)

Die Saulen der Erde Cover

While I didn't see a full play of this game, I did watch Jim Ginn play for a turn and finished his game while he had to return to the booth to meet up with Ben.  This game does have quite a bit of German text on cards, but they are always open so it is easy to discuss translations and recognition will be easy based on pictures and key words.

Saulen der Erde

The basic mechanics of the game work like this (I just might get some of this wrong so be kind):

  • Players allocate workers to a number of different resource areas (sand, wood, and stone) based on 7 of 9 different cards that are turned up each turn.  A player chooses a card then allocates the proper number of workers to that area and will harvest those resources later in the turn.  Extra workers can be used to earn gold.
  • Each player has three action tokens that get dropped in an opaque bag.  A player pulls out a token at a time - the player owning the first token drawn gets the choice of going first if and only if he is willing to pay 7 gold.  If he decides not to, his token goes on the seven marker on a semi-circle at the bottom portion of the board.  The next player token is drawn and and offer to go is made at 6 gold, and so on, until it gets to zero gold.  At this point, the player order is just in the order drawn.  This is a creative way to randomize selection order while still making players pay for the right.
  • When a player opts to place an action token, he places it in one of several regions on the board that will grant some benefit (a special card, protection from taxes, etc.).  These regions are then walked through in order where players take those actions.
  • It seems like the main way players earn victory points is by getting work cards that transform different resources into VPs.

There are certainly some details and subtleties that I left out, but that's the basic idea.  Yes there are some similarities to Caylus but this is different enough to warrant a try if you like that sort of game.  There should be a Mayfair release of this Kosmos title in early 2007.

posted on Wednesday, 25 October 2006 02:34:54 (Pacific Daylight Time, UTC-07:00)  #    Comments [4]