Tuesday, January 29, 2013

The Microscope Experiment

The weekday group I’ve been gaming with (the semi-infamous “Super Rat”) is switching campaigns at the moment from a Mouse Guard game to a more general fantasy campaign using Burning Wheel. We are very pleased with the stripped down rules set in Mouse Guard and are very interested in trying out the full Burning Wheel rules.

But that’s not what I’m talking about today.

At the end of last week’s session, I suggested we try an experiment and give Microscope a spin to give the GM a bit more time to prep.  I read them the blurb on the back of the rules (same text in the link) and they were willing to give it a try.  Last night (Monday) we gave it a spin.

The start was a bit slow as I explained the rules and we went through setup. I followed the advice in the back of the rules for running a teaching game with me as the teacher (the only one who had a copy of the rules).  The teaching advice was good as it had several read aloud bits to emphasize points, notably that just because I'm teaching the game does not give me any extra authority.  By the time we had to stop for the night, everyone was into the game and really wanting to keep playing.  If it had not been a work night, we could have easily gone for several more hours.  My wife even took photos of the card lay out at the end so we had reference pictures when we play again.  (Even though the layout of the cards is done so that picking them up properly makes it easy to lay them back out later.)  If we have the same mix of players next week (we were down one player) we will play Microscope again, expanding more upon our history.

Learning to role play the scenes as opposed to narrating them was tricky to remember to do.  We didn’t do it very well the first time, but we got better about it as we went.  The other habit that is hard to break is offering advice once the game is started.  There is a natural tendency to want to help and supply suggestions, but that is really against what the game is trying to promote, which is giving equal creative time to each player.  This is one of my favorite aspects of the game.  I tend to have a strong gaming persona as a long time GM, so having a mechanism to rein me in a bit is good.

We played with five players, which is the upper recommended limit on players and I can see why. Having five actors in the scenes was sometimes a bit tricky when it came to getting everyone equal time in the spotlight.  I think we need to get a bit better at crafting the starting point of the scenes, but it was an experiment and we were learning the system.

I strongly recommend giving this game a try. It is worth the $10 for the PDF. Make sure to have a good 3-4 hours set aside for play with maybe an extra 30 minutes for rules explanation. Otherwise the game will end just as people are really getting into it, which can be frustrating. This game would clearly work well at a convention in a standard 4 hour slot, new players or not.   I'll do a sort of session note later this week to outline what we did, but that's for a separate post.   Later!

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

2013 Board Game Review - Part 3

OK, this will wrap up Saturday and Sunday of Lone Star Game Fest (and the new games I played there) and my board game review for this year.

Power Grid: Italy
This will be quick as I've covered Power Grid before (short re-cap there: buy it).  I had a chance to finally play on the Italy map.  This is an older map (published in 2005) and is part of the France/Italy set.  It is somewhat claustrophobic, but not as bad as the Japan map (which, by the way, is the train game definition of claustrophobia rails - very little clear land and expensive mountains to build over).

Summary: I like this map, better than the France map on the other side of the board.  It promotes thinking about what cities you want to connect without invoking the analysis paralysis that can happen in more confined maps.  The lack of convolution or special rules makes it a good follow up to the maps that come with the game.

The Castles of Burgundy
This might or might not be out of print at this point, so buy it if you see it and like territory building games.  Each player has a "map" of their territory, which is a hexagon-shaped map of hexagons (see here).  In the basic game, everyone has the same map.  In the expert, the maps are all different.  There is a central board where pieces (improvements to your domain) become available each round.  What you can select is handled by rolling two dice.  What ever individual numbers come up correspond to a small selection of pieces.  There is also a small silver piece economy based on how many mines you have built, plus some of the pieces provide silver immediately when placed in your domain.

Each round consists of five turns.  On your turn you roll the dice, use one number to pick a piece from the main board, use the other number to determine where you place the piece on your domain, and see if you scored points.  Fields score points for live stock, the number scored based on the number of animals on the tile, which ranges from 2-5 (IIRC), plus the number of the same animal type you already have.  So if you have four cows already and you add a piece with 3 cows on it, you score 7 points for that piece.  Mines give you silver between rounds, ships let you move up the turn order, buildings for city spaces provide a variety of benefits and your domain map has them all spelled out in some of the best iconography I've ever seen in a board game.

You also score extra points for completing an entire region on your map, based on the number of hexes in the region (1-5 on the basic maps).  There is also a bonus for completing all regions of the same type - so all your fields regions (you have 2) or town regions, etc.

The game takes a small bit to explain, but really, once you've had the icons on the boards explained once you never really need to reference the rules again. They did some superb icon work on this game.

Summary: I will buy a copy of this game shortly I liked it so much.  I suggest you do as well if you like territory building games.


And that's it for this year.  I played more than two games on Saturday and Sunday, but they were repeats of the games I reviewed this year (except Game of Thrones) or last year.  I got in a second game of Zombicide (Doug is unlucky for me), a game of King of Tokyo (a favorite from last year), taught Ticket to Ride to someone who "had had a bad experience", and then another game of Infinite City (a really attractive game I must track down).


Thursday, January 10, 2013

2013 Board Game Review - Part 2

(Apologies for the delay - life became hectic and then I got ill.  Meh.)

Resuming my board game reviews from Lone Star Game Fest with the games I played Friday, December 28th.

Directly from Kickstarter and now available online in a few places, Zombicide is the Kickstarter I wished I'd backed.  I don't own a copy and so I cannot get enough of this game.  You are survivors in a zombie apocalypse, just like in the movies.  The game is cooperative and mission based, so you have a different goal depending upon what the mission is.  The game comes with 10 missions (in no particular order of hardness) and the Guillotine Games posts supplemental missions on their website for download.  The base characters you play are straight out of classic zombie movies.  If you were in on the Kickstarter, you get bonus characters based on other pop culture icons who fit right in.

Generally, your goal is to get from the starting point to the board exit without dying.  Usually you have to find some things (like food) before you can leave.  As you kill zombies, you get experience and level up, gaining up to three new abilities.  The zombies have 3-5 spawning points, at least one of which is directly in your way, more likely all of them at one point or another.  There is a deck of cards that show what spawns at each spawn point.  The cards have four levels of danger and the danger is set by the player with the MOST experience.  So if you have one person mowing down all the zombies, every time they top over into a new experience the board gets more dangerous for everyone.

Updated rules are available on the company website.  I recommend them as they clarify a few minor points that were unclear in the original rules, but the game is entirely playable out of the box and tons of fun.  Oh, the updated rules also lists the difficulty level of the missions, which do not go from easiest to hardest but vary along a rough story arc.  Mission 0 is the trainer, but Mission 1 is the hardest mission in the box and takes the longest to play.  I will defeat it one day, oh yes I will.

Summary:  Buy this and play it if you get the chance - I will soon.  It is not cheap, but comes with a ton of minis and a the art work on the boards is beautiful and detailed.

Ticket to Ride: India
I believe I reviewed Ticket to Ride before (play it as soon as you can), but the India expansion is the newest board expansion for the game.  It includes a reprint of the Switzerland map on the flipside, but I didn't have a chance to play that side.  The game play is the same as all the Ticket to Ride games (fun), but the twist with India is that you score bonus points if you are able to build duplicate routes to your tickets.  The bonus is significant, so it's worth keeping an eye out for, but I won the game on straight route completions and the longest route bonus, so it's not critical.

This is NOT a game board for beginners or those subject to analysis paralysis.  The over-thinking trying to score the dual route bonuses will kill the game.

Summary: Buy this if you like Ticket to Ride (and you do, right?).

Infinite City
I sat down to play this because I had nothing better to do.  Best spent hour of my life at the con.  Maybe second best, but it would be a close tie with The Castles of Burgundy.  We'll see.

Infinite City is a tile laying game where you build the board as you play, one of my favorite styles of game.  Turn order is simple: add a tile from your hand to the board, put one of your markers on the tile, do what the tile says, and draw back up to five tiles.  Sounds simple, doesn't it?  The tiles let you do things ranging from add additional tiles, draw above your hand limit, swap markers with someone else on the board (stealing their tile), and a lot more.  The game ends when someone puts their last marker on the board and the other players get a final play.

Points are scored three ways.  First is number of linked tile groups, minimum of three to for a group, no diagonals.  So isolated tiles of 1 or 2 do not score at all, but 3+ score equal to how many you have linked and you can score multiple groups.  Next is control of silver cards.  Some cards have silver rings on them - control the most at the end of the game and you get points equal to how many you control.  Finally, some cards have point values - you score all the point values on the cards you control.  Most points wins.

First time players will focus on board placement and maybe silver cards, but experienced players will focus on cards worth point in themselves and try to grab as many of those as possible.  You can easily double your score with those, so watch your opponents tile values, not just where they are on the board.

Summary: Good gateway game to introduce people to the hobby and fun to play for more advanced players.  Plus, the sci-fi city artwork is elegant and cool.  I want my cities of the future to look just like this.

That's it for now.  Part 3 will wrap up both Saturday and Sunday as I played several games I've played/reviewed before and not as many new games.  I should have that ready to post by Tuesday, January 15.


Thursday, January 3, 2013

2013 Board Game Review - Part 1

Lone Star Game Fest ran from December 27th through December 30th at the same hotel as last year.  I had a great time, but four days of convention is starting to wear me out like it has not before.  The self-imposed sleep deprivation is wearing on me enough that I'm starting to feel and sound like an old man.  I'll have to do something about that next year.  Drink more liquids with caffeine in them should be a good start.

The A/C issues were resolved (mostly) by the convention purchasing steel utility shelves for attendees to stack their games on.  This worked really well and allowed better viewing of what games were available than the tables, plus more room was achieved with fewer shelving units due to the availability of four shelves over a table's single surface.  As to temperature control - I wore shorts and flip flops for most of the con and was comfortable most of the time.  The public areas of the hotel were much more comfortable than last year, so a positive all around.

The following reviews do not include the prototypes I played nor games I played last year (mostly).  I'll make note where I vary from this and why.

Game of Thrones (Boardgame)
I'm not a fan of the gimmick the author uses in the books, but I was willing to give this game a try anyways.  We played Game of Thrones with 5 players who had never played before (including myself) and 1 player who had played a few times before, but never taught before.  As it turned out, this was not a good mix, or at least it wasn't for me.  The game is an area control game where you are attempting to capture 7 castles before the end of the 10th turn.  There are more than 7 castles on the board, but with 6 players, we hovered between 2-4 for most of the game.  From the people who read the entire series of books, it seemed to emulate the conflicts in the books fairly well, even if the results were different.

Combat is a matter of moving troops into an attack and then playing a card from your hand.  Each house has its own hand of 7 cards with values of 0, 1, 1, 2, 2, 3, and 4, but different powers for each house.  This provided some bluffing opportunity as cards played went into a discard pool and out of use until all 7 cards were used.  If you powered through a combat with your 4, it was unavailable for at least 6 more battles.  I liked this mechanism, but some of the powers were slowed down the game.

Sea power in this game seems to be broken.  Chains of ships provide unlimited movement and the ships can support land battles while simultaneously moving troops around.  We played the 2nd Edition, which has some corrections from 1st Edition to fix this, but I really think ships should be able to either ship or support, not both at the same time.  This would fix the issues with sea power I saw.

Initiative, tie-breaking order, and ability to play more than two of any command counter type is something voted on using power tokens - a limited resource irregularly garnered during the game.  This part is an issue, particularly initiative, as they changed only 2-3 times in our game, mostly at the start.  This left me down turn from the only experienced player, who I was constantly in conflict with.  His familiarity with the rules and the position he was playing (we learned late in the game it was the only position he had ever played) made the game frustrating to me.  This would have been manageable, but he also suffered from analysis paralysis and "take-back" fever, where he was constantly taking back moves he had agonized over, delaying the game a great deal.  This frustrated several of the players at the table who were just trying to learn the game.  I eventually reached my frustration threshold and walked away from the game late in the 9th turn, something I've never done before. 

Teaching a game and wanting to win a game are two different goals and are regularly in conflict with each other.  They guy "teaching" the game was more concerned with winning the game that he agonized over moves and added at least an hour to the game length.  In the end, he won the game, but it is very unlikely that the other 5 players will play the game ever again, defeating the reason for teaching the game.  I played for 6 hours before walking away and it lasted another hour after that for the final turn.  You may see how much I was willing to put up with to try and finish the game.

I might give this game another chance, just to get a better feel for it, but I don't plan on spending any money on it.

 This is a deck building game using the Marvel superheroes IP.  It is a cooperative game, but only because the players are all working against the board and not each other.  The game I played had little in the way of planning and we were acting mostly independently of each other.  We were also resource starved at the beginning, which seemed to be bad luck in how the villain cards came out, but is crimped the ability of the less experienced players to effectively resource management.

Legendary starts with a master villain the players select, a villain deck whose setup is modified by the master villain, an initial set of power cards the players can purchase, and identical starting hands for the players.  At the start of each player's turn, a new villain card is turned over, pushing the line of villain cards along a 5 space path.  Each space represents a location (like the sewers or rooftops) and some powers are keyed to the locations (Storm's lightning bolt is more powerful on the rooftops).  If a villain gets pushed off the end of the track it "escapes" and bad things happen.  What exactly happens is stated on the villain card.  Players then use the cards in their hands to fight villains and/or buy better powers.  At the end they discard their hand and draw 5 new cards for next turn.  Some of the villain cards can force a loss of cards before your turn comes around again, so you need to be ready for that.  Instead of attacking a villain, if the player has enough attack strength in cards, they can go after the master villain.  The exact strength necessary is based on the master villain selected and the difficulty selected for that game.  The master villain has to be attacked a number of times (4 I think, but that may have been just the master villains we were facing) to win the game.  The master villain card sets out the way the players lose.

This is another game I need to play again to get a better feel for.  I have a better feel for how things work now, but the curve was...different from what I was expecting.  I've played Dominion and was expecting something more like that, but this isn't that game.  Your pool of cards will rarely get past 15 cards really and I expect that the optimal strategy keeps it below 10.  The goal is to beat up villains and eventually the master villain, not build a deck.  The pressure from the villain cards sliding off the track means you need to fight them often with whatever you have handy.  There may be too much randomocity in this game for me to really like it, but I really need to play it some more to work that out.

I might buy this game.

That's it for Day 1 of the convention.  I only got three games in because of Game of Thrones.  (The missing game was a prototype.)

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

The Speedwell War - Draft 2 - Complete!

This announcement is a couple weeks late due to an incredibly busy schedule that just now slowed down.  Draft 2 was complete December 19, 2012, with a final word count of 73,190 words.

My next step is to print out copies for a few folks to read and comment on.  After that, I need to give serious thought as to how I'm going to get this published.  I want it published in book form, but I'll probably also go with an electronic form for Kindle, as I have one.  I don't have strong feelings about the Nook or iBooks at the moment, so we'll see on those.

First step is to get it read by folks who are not part of my brain trust.  I'd like to send these out as hardcopy prints, which will take a bit of time and discretion.  I don't have a good printer at home, so I'll have to use other means.  I have some options, but need to look into them before settling on one.  Plus, one of them depends upon what my next paycheck looks like and when it shows.  The DayJob switched ownership and that transition is happening now, so there is a small bit of uncertainty on the timing of things.  More on that in later posts.

I'm starting my yearly Board Game Review based on games I played at the Lone Star Game Fest. That will appear in a couple days, probably in multiple parts to avoid the giant wall of text it would otherwise be.

That's it for now.  Later!