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The May Getaway Gaming Weekend

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The May Getaway Gaming Weekend
There Will Be Games

Just got back from my groups May Gaming Weekend, where seven of us spent three and a half days doing nothing but gaming and eating crap food.  This first post will only cover the gaming.

To lead off on Wednesday evening, the half day in the set, we sat down to play Heat Pedal to the Metal and got in the first race of a three-race set with weather, sponsors, the works.  Very good play.  We played again on Saturday and I think my initial assessment in the podcast episode on this game was spot on -- a great foundational system with room to grow, room for house rules to customize the play to each group.  Really a nice pickup, and one that I imagine the other people in my group will purchase as well (which perplexes me as they are more than welcome to borrow my copy anytime.)

Through the Desert and hit the table too, which I am thoroughly done with.  This is in the turn-of-the-century game era, where you play it three, maybe four times and it becomes uninteresting.  I traded my copy away years ago and I don't think there's a single Knizia game that calls out to me.  I think much of his work is largely disposable, good for a few plays and then you move it on to another owner.  Ingenious still gets a nod from me (coming up in a future podcast episode by the way) but the remainder are largely disposable products.  That's not necessarily bad, as that was sort of the thing back then.  But I don't think I'm immune to the intended lifespan of the titles from this era. 

Knizia has a few "bigger" games that go a little further before running out of gas.

Wings for the Baron, the one-plane rule set.  You need to reset your brain when you play this version of the rules, because the bottom half of the cards become much more important, the top half less.  In the "campaign" rules you can just dump stuff into whatever slot can earn you a dollar here or a dollar there, and the result is that you sort of have a broad front of attack where every card's top can serve a productive purpose.  Not so in the one-plane rule set.  You have one way to earn dollars, and you need to scrap and stab and hack your way to the top of a very thin heap to succeed.  Recorded a podcast episode on this play of the game, our first revisit, though with the different rule set it's almost like a different game.  I think all three of us changed our opinions of it.

Thursday was Level 7 Invasion day.  I had never even heard of the game before sitting down to it, but I thoroughly enjoyed.  This is by far the biggest cooperative I've ever played and it had lots of dice-chucking goodness.  We won with a bit to spare.  I'd play this one again next year but it sucked up more or less the entire afternoon so it's not one you pull out casually.  Damn aliens . . . why do they always pick Earth to conquer?  There's plenty of other planets out there.

Nexus Ops -- still excellent, recorded on this one too.  I rolled a lot of 1s so I didn't do well in spite of owning the monolith for most of the game.  But that's Nexus Ops for you.  You need a break now and again, and you need to be in position to capitalize on it when it appears.  My dice came around but it was too late at that point.  Always a good play, and my buddy Stephen brought his black light to get photos.  Always a good play, although I think there was some disagreement on that in the post-game show recording session.  I'll be interested to hear it once released.

Blood Bowl Team Manager . . . because hell yeah.  Great play.  I tied for the win and we damn near set off the second tie-breaker, which ejects both high-scorers due to obvious collusion and player manipulation, awarding the victory to the third place player.  But we were different by on add-on, so I was relegated to the second-place mini trophy instead of the six-foot tall winners cup.  So be it, had a good time taking players permanently out of games with dangerous play.  Got bonus points for that starting early!

Some games of Coup to fill some time, and it's a Citadels descendant.  It's just fine, one of a dozen games in this slot.

Friday brought Primordial Soup, which is very good especially in light of its age.  Again, a podcast ep on this one already exists and I don't think my opinion has changed.  I got out over my skis on the adaptations and got nuked near the end because of it.  But it's still an interesting little game.  I'll be interested to see how long stays in my good graces.  It too is in that turn-of-the-century timeframe, and I could see it as a Knizia title, though it's not.  I may not be as excited about it after play #10, but that's likely a long way off.

Maria -- Man I junked this up.  I came in unprepared on the rules, and our learning game only spanned two years.  Much of that time was spent fixing my rules misreads and learning how to not destroy entire armies for no reason.  I figured that out near the end, but it will be the second play where this one will get its chance.  The first two times I played I had a seasoned veteran teaching and coaching and the experience was sublime.  I was clearly not in a position to do that this past weekend.  Stay tuned.

Ok, here's where things go crazy.  Buffy the Vampire Slayer The Game. I wanted to make damn sure this got played due to a disagreement I had with one of my podcast buddies about favored ground and tactical maneuver.  This was in the Unmatched episode, where he claimed that the terrain in Unmatched was really interesting and critical to success.  I cited Heroscape, Epic Duels and particularly Buffy as counterexamples of truly interesting terrain effects, and Buffy needed to come out because . . . ho boy, the map is everything in Buffy.  WE PLAYED FIVE GAMES OF IT.  They loved it, couldn't get enough.  And as advertised the positioning of people on the board was critical to success.  Everything in Buffy is about getting into the right position with the right stuff to bring battle to your enemies and all five plays proved that.  Buffy is the quintessential mass-market board game, the best ever created.  There's a million copies out there you can pick up on the cheap and I completely recommend you do that.  The ultimate late-night gaming weekend game.  Three of the players were looking up copies on eBay to buy, because why wouldn't they?  Granted, my copy sits unused 364.75 days a year and they all would rather spend the money and closet space to have their own copy.  Not my business I suppose.

Saturday -- Root.  Root sucks.  Don't try to convince me otherwise.  The game has dropped in my estimate every time I've played it, and Saturday's run playing the crows was no change.  It's a glide path that ends well short of any runway.  I kept doing the same two basic things over and over and according to the owner of the game I did the best he's ever seen with the faction.  But I wasn't making any decision at all, just doing the same two things over and over, ignoring everyone else playing.  I had a shot at the win.  It was absurd.  I know y'all get all dreamy eyed over Cole Wehrle but damn, the guy that created An Infamous Traffic and John Company (stunning works thematically and mechanically) pooped this thing out in a weekend and everyone thinks it's all that.  Cute woodland animals sell it I guess.  I have no understanding of why anyone sees this game as anything other than an experiment in game design that isn't player-focused in any way shape or form.  Just a big pile of rules for the sake of being a big pile of rules.  Enough said on that one.

Another game of Heat, because, damn.

More games of Buffy, because, damn.

And a big-ass game of Firefly, because we had the time and could just play to $15,000 doing anything we wanted.  Loved it.  I think I'm declaring this the best pirate game ever published, because that's really what it is.  Setting the space theme aside this game puts all the fun stuff into play that a pirate game should have, crew, sailing, shooting, Navy interdiction, the works.  The only thing missing is sea battles but pirates usually ran from those anyway.  As far a big sandbox games go I think Firefly does this as well as any other game.

That is all until NEXT year.

There Will Be Games

John "Sagrilarus" Edwards (He/Him)
Associate Writer

John aka Sagrilarus is an old boardgame player. He has no qualifications to write on the subject, and will issue a stern denial of his articles' contents on short notice if pressed.

Articles by Sagrilarus

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ubarose's Avatar
ubarose replied the topic: #339248 08 May 2023 10:04
Wow! Buffy, Primordial Soup, Nexus Ops and Firefly all in the same weekend! You make me feel like I may need to do some arm twisting to get my group to try these. Although, I have kind of given up on ever convincing anyone to play any of these.
southernman's Avatar
southernman replied the topic: #339249 08 May 2023 10:47
As my group went there different ways due to work, health, and preferring RPGS and Warhammer in their free time I appreciated hearing about Buffy, Firefly, Nexus Ops, Buffy being played over the weekend - shiney ... and especially enjoyed hearing Root being described as just an excuse to put a lot of rules in a book, the only time I played it (and I did OK) I couldn't actually see the point (or fun) in playing any of the factions - thank you for identifying the emperor's new clothes
Jackwraith's Avatar
Jackwraith replied the topic: #339250 08 May 2023 10:53
Can't possibly disagree more on Root and Knizia. The word that comes up most often with the latter is "elegance" because the ones that have lasted the longest in my stack have been those that have that aspect to them. I think Through the Desert is one of them, although it would be lower in the stack. But things like Samurai, T&E, Taj, Modern Art? I'd play those again and again, for as long as people wanted to play them. Same with Root. I think Cole's hands are visible all over that design. IMO, it's one of the best wargames ever made. I think you unfortunately picked one of the factions (Corvids) that's on the very edge of the design limitation as far as viability goes, but it's still in the "will never sell/trade" pile for me. I will say that one of its issues is that it does function FAR better with a regular group that knows the game well and only playing occasionally or regularly teaching people would be to its detriment.

Really glad you're still enjoying BBTM. That's another on the "never trade/sell" pile. OTOH, I'm thinking of shipping Nexus Ops out the door again. I keep trying to become attached to it as with my other favorite DoaMs and it's just not there for me. There's the dividing line between simple and simplistic and it falls too much on the latter end of that scale. (I realize I'm committing about 15 different forms of F: AT heresy in those previous sentences but, there it is.)

That full-on game of Firefly sounds awesome. Gotta try to put one of those together, but I never picked up Blue Sun or Kalidasa so I'm a couple steps below maximum velocity.
Sagrilarus's Avatar
Sagrilarus replied the topic: #339256 08 May 2023 12:46
Yeah, a few of Knizia's bigger titles can go a little farther down the road with me. I'm not overwhelmed by his eternal "control the timing of the endgame" thing, nor his "clever" scoring options. I think in some of his titles they work, Ingenious works the scoring well (this week's episode) but as a whole his games have a distinct flavor and it's strong. So if it's not your thing you can pick it out before you take your first bite.

I know I'm a minority opinion on Root. But jeeze, I keep trying to let it impress me and each time I find myself disassembling the game's running gear in my mind as I'm playing, trying to figure out what it is that makes it so clunky. If that's happening and I'm not even trying it's a sign that the game just doesn't work for me. The tinker-toy aspect of it is not sufficient to grab me, and I'm not going to power through 20 plays to get to a place where I can enjoy the greater package, not when there are dozens of games, perhaps hundreds, I take more enjoyment from. I get a lot of downvotes for this, but what am I supposed to do?

Root lovers are like Apple iPhone lovers. There's a deeper relationship to the game in them than you would expect on the surface. Those of us on the outside don't see it for some reason.

As for Uba's call out of dynamite titles, hell yeah. One great weekend of gaming. If you like let's pick a spot near an Amtrak station and meet in the middle for a mini-con someday. Anyone can come, but the games are invite-only.

I'll mention that some jaundiced eyes hit my uber-beat copy of Buffy when I pressed for them to play it. But man, they were hooked. I had a pretty good understanding of the rules, but I play so rarely. At one point after a correction one of them asked "when was the last time you read the rules?" and I answered "about 2008 or so." At that point I was let off the hook.
Cappster_'s Avatar
Cappster_ replied the topic: #339258 08 May 2023 13:36
I can think of only a few Knizia games that I truly enjoy. Ra, Ingenious, Modern Art come to mind. Winner Circle gets a pass because our group has a personal history with it, but it ... Well, I get bored with it about halfway through.

Blood Bowl isn't going anywhere. I somehow missed all the BBTM games this weekend, but I did find it interesting that the group still hasn't opened Sudden Death yet. I get that no one wants to open it without me, but I think it speaks to the depth that the base game has that it's been played so many times and no one has complained about not having the expansion available.

Heat: Pedal to the Metal was fun. I enjoyed it as much as the first play. The set up took a little longer than I was hoping for, but I think the payoff is worth it. It concerns me that there are SO many upgrade cards, but you'll only have three per player in play at a time. It reeks of an obscene amount of content to make for replayability's sake. But I think there is enough game here to not necessarily need it. Perhaps we play a super-mod race with six upgrades? That's the beauty, you can do that.

All and all, excellent weekend of gaming!
southernman's Avatar
southernman replied the topic: #339259 08 May 2023 14:34
I don't play that many euro/german games these days but did like some of Knizia's earlier and/or simpler games - Modern Art, Stephenson's Rocket, Ra, Pickomino, and T&E (sometimes) - and I will give a shout out to one of the best abstracted-themed games (if that's even a term) ever, The Lord of the Rings. That game pulled in the theme and story of the books both in its sequence of boards and events but also just of the gradual corruption of the ringbearers - and when you throw in the Sauron expansion with someone playing the bad boy it is an under-rated wonder.
Jackwraith's Avatar
Jackwraith replied the topic: #339262 08 May 2023 14:58

Sagrilarus wrote: I know I'm a minority opinion on Root. But jeeze, I keep trying to let it impress me and each time I find myself disassembling the game's running gear in my mind as I'm playing, trying to figure out what it is that makes it so clunky. If that's happening and I'm not even trying it's a sign that the game just doesn't work for me. The tinker-toy aspect of it is not sufficient to grab me, and I'm not going to power through 20 plays to get to a place where I can enjoy the greater package, not when there are dozens of games, perhaps hundreds, I take more enjoyment from. I get a lot of downvotes for this, but what am I supposed to do?


Will never tell anyone how to have fun. If it doesn't work for you, it doesn't. Cole (and Patrick) have both frequently said that they're in the business of making someone's favorite game, not everyone's.

Sagrilarus wrote: As for Uba's call out of dynamite titles, hell yeah. One great weekend of gaming. If you like let's pick a spot near an Amtrak station and meet in the middle for a mini-con someday. Anyone can come, but the games are invite-only.


Was talking to a friend recently who took a month to do one of Amtrak's cross-country tours when he got out of law school and before he started his first post-grad job at a major firm. If we could find a dining car with large enough tables, Can you imagine how much of a blast that might be to spend a week rolling around the country while rolling dice? But, yeah, I'd be fine just trying to find some kind of locus spot like you're suggesting and finally meet some of you in the non-electronic world.
Shellhead's Avatar
Shellhead replied the topic: #339268 08 May 2023 17:04
I am totally on board with your likes and dislikes of the games played. I have played Through the Desert Twice, and that was one play too many. I'm not big on sports games, but Blood Bowl Team Manager is a great game that easily surpassed my previous favorite Slapshot. Buffy is a very good game and certainly the best mass-market game that I have seen, and the board is indeed everything. Well, everything except the dice-rolling. Root does suck the hairy root. The asymmetry offers the illusion of depth, but each player role is scripted and the limited player interaction feels muted because effectively nobody is playing the same game. It is my dream to play a big game of Firefly again some day, with a full playtime commitment from the other players and the willingness to do some advance planning for each turn to keep the pace interesting.

Level 7 Invasion sounded familiar, so I looked it up. I actually played once, pre-pandemic, but I couldn't shake the feeling that this game was playtested using a Risk board. It had some ideas, but I didn't feel like those ideas converged into an enjoyable game.
Sagrilarus's Avatar
Sagrilarus replied the topic: #339269 08 May 2023 17:54

but I couldn't shake the feeling that this game was playtested using a Risk board.


Absolutely no doubt in my mind.
dysjunct's Avatar
dysjunct replied the topic: #339270 08 May 2023 19:39
I absolutely love Ra, Llama, and Llama Dice; and would be fine never playing another Knizia game. So apparently 0.2% of his output is an A++ for me.

Sounds like a good weekend though; glad you had fun. I have a similar AirBnB house con coming up in July and am getting pretty hyped.
Sagrilarus's Avatar
Sagrilarus replied the topic: #339272 08 May 2023 20:12

dysjunct wrote: Sounds like a good weekend though; glad you had fun. I have a similar AirBnB house con coming up in July and am getting pretty hyped.

We’ll all need an address and check-in time. I’ll bring Buffy.
dysjunct's Avatar
dysjunct replied the topic: #339273 08 May 2023 21:29
It's about 2.5 hours ESE of Sacramento, so pretty remote. Feel free to FedEx your copy of Buffy there in advance -- I'd hate for it to get damaged in your luggage.
Virabhadra's Avatar
Virabhadra replied the topic: #339274 08 May 2023 21:54
Have Buffy, will travel. We're in Sebastopol.
Jackwraith's Avatar
Jackwraith replied the topic: #339275 08 May 2023 22:40

Shellhead wrote: Root does suck the hairy root. The asymmetry offers the illusion of depth, but each player role is scripted and the limited player interaction feels muted because effectively nobody is playing the same game.


FFS, come on. Like I said, I'm not going to tell people what to like. It's perfectly fine if you don't like Root, but this is horseshit from beginning to end. No one's role is "scripted." Yes, you shouldn't try to play the Woodland Alliance like the Marquise; basically because you can't. But everyone is, in fact, playing the same game (e.g. trying to get to 30 points first) and you have to know how to play your cards and respond to the other factions that are in play to get the most out of what you're doing. It just actually takes some grasp of the strategic angles that each faction provides and then understanding how those angles intersect with those around you. If you've played a game of Root without "player interaction", it's because either no one at the table knew what the fuck they were doing or didn't actually try to figure it out. That's not the game's fault. It does take more than one session to learn how to play, believe it or not.

Sorry to bring the dark clouds to your thread, Sag. I'll just stay out of it.
Shellhead's Avatar
Shellhead replied the topic: #339277 08 May 2023 23:32
I've heard a lot of good things about Root, here and elsewhere, but they didn't show up in the three games that I played. I played a different faction each game, and it was a different experience each time, but I felt like my faction card showed me a recipe that I needed to follow closely if I wanted to play well. We were all playing so differently that it felt like different games on the same board, which is an interesting idea, but our interaction seemed largely a side effect of specifically defined points of contention. My feeling is that if I have played a game multiple times without enjoying it, I need to move on to something else.

Maybe a richer and more enjoyable game of Root emerges once all the players are familiar with it, but is that the game on the table or a game above the table between experienced players second-guessing each other?
dysjunct's Avatar
dysjunct replied the topic: #339278 09 May 2023 00:07
I like Root a fair amount, and think it’s not really that much different than other asymmetric dudes on a map game IMO. You have unique powers, and the better you understand how to use them (and how your opponents use theirs), the better positioned you are to evaluate the board state and recognize strengths, weaknesses, and opportunities.

My main criticisms are that the factions are more opaque than they need to be, and that the game runs long at higher player counts. But it’s still fun for me.
Sagrilarus's Avatar
Sagrilarus replied the topic: #339281 09 May 2023 10:37
Let's discuss Scythe next!

I cannot fathom how many games of Root I would have to play to start understanding all the combinations of factions and how they would interact. Regardless of that number, I'm not going to pursue it.

I think my more experienced friends might have offered to have us all play the same factions for a few games to maybe give me the chance to catch up and understand those in particular, but that opportunity has been lost because I came to it late. Those of us coming in now that there are 20 factions to choose from have a very steep learning curve in every single play because everyone wants to play a new faction. The result is that we noobs struggle to learn our own new faction for most or all of each session, and the play becomes clunky and uninspiring. And you feel like an idiot.

Fuck asymmetry. I'm looking forward to the next new thing so this one can be put to bed.
charlest's Avatar
charlest replied the topic: #339282 09 May 2023 10:45
Root has been out for several years and is Leder's best selling title. It made Cole Wehrle and Kyle Ferrin well known. It's as evergreen as a modern release comes and is going nowhere.

I imagine people will still be playing and excited about it 10 years after the final expansion comes out. It checks so many boxes for many people and is one of the very rare titles that really brings Euro and Ameritrash gamers together.

I totally get that it's not for everyone, but it really is the most universally enjoyed game of its weight that I've ever seen, at least in terms of the various groups I've intermingled with.
Shellhead's Avatar
Shellhead replied the topic: #339283 09 May 2023 10:56
I belong to a local Facebook group where members buy, sell, and trade board games. So far, I have just sold Mansions of Madness 1st edition there, but I will probably eventually unload several other games there. Anyway, the most common games sold in that group are classic eurogames (turn of the century games, as one FATtie recently described them), shovelware kickstarters with a pile of boxes of minis linked to a weak set of rules, and Root. Apparently many local gamers bought Root because of BGG ratings, then discovered that they just didn't like it. I never buy games from this group, because the prices are too optimistic (high) for second-hand games.
Sagrilarus's Avatar
Sagrilarus replied the topic: #339284 09 May 2023 11:07
Monopoly sells much better.

Translation -- You can't use notoreity or sales in an argument about the merits of design. It's something you throw out when your other arguments aren't working.

Root needs a set of new players to start from the beginning together, and they need to explain to each other exactly how their factions work as they play, and the first three or four plays need to kinda have everyone suck together. The same factions each game. That's the price of getting in, and it's not limited to just Root. ASL is the same way, where new people need training wheels to come up to speed.

I'm playing with people with 20 or more plays, so when it's my turn they say "so I can take this here while he can move that over there but you need to block her from gathering 13 of her tokens and you need to give one of your pieces to the river folk to kick off your special power that you'll use next turn to get your minimum rabbit count that you'll need to block me from capturing the two opposite corners in my alternate win condition while still being able to get the additional cards you need to prepare for your pieces coming back from Karl. So, go ahead and take your turn." That's when I just play a card and score its two points.

That's what it sounds like to new players. If you're not in, you're out. Unfortunately I'm out. Didn't get on the train before it left.

Root's architecture antagonizes that problem.
charlest's Avatar
charlest replied the topic: #339285 09 May 2023 11:16

Sagrilarus wrote: Root needs a set of new players to start from the beginning together, and they need to explain to each other exactly how their factions work as they play, and the first three or four plays need to kinda have everyone suck together. The same factions each game. That's the price of getting in, and it's not limited to just Root. ASL is the same way, where new people need training wheels to come up to speed.


This hasn't been my experience, at least not anymore than any other game where someone is stepping into a group that has played 20 or so times.

I wonder if what you're seeing is that the quality and depth of Root has inspired people to play it 20 or more times in a relatively short timespan, when games rarely do that now.
sornars's Avatar
sornars replied the topic: #339286 09 May 2023 11:50

Sagrilarus wrote: I'm playing with people with 20 or more plays, so when it's my turn they say "so I can take this here while he can move that over there but you need to block her from gathering 13 of her tokens and you need to give one of your pieces to the river folk to kick off your special power that you'll use next turn to get your minimum rabbit count that you'll need to block me from capturing the two opposite corners in my alternate win condition while still being able to get the additional cards you need to prepare for your pieces coming back from Karl. So, go ahead and take your turn." That's when I just play a card and score its two points.

That's what it sounds like to new players. If you're not in, you're out. Unfortunately I'm out. Didn't get on the train before it left.

Root's architecture antagonizes that problem.


I don't even like Root that much so don't expect this to be a full throated defence but it sounds like you don't enjoy the fact that players are required to police the board state collectively and can leverage board position and turn order to "force" players to do things they don't want to do, hence the feeling of being scripted.

This is a property shared by plenty of games, cube rails and 18xx games come to mind, but Cole has definitely explored this in his other games including John Company, Oath and Pax Pamir. Everything in your quote sounds like a player interpreting the public board state and making an argument to get you to do something to their benefit. While they were probably being truthful in outlining a way forward, I doubt they were entirely right; there was probably a different way to force the player to your left into the hot seat (which it sounds like you did by just ignoring the board and crafting points). Forcing the other players into the hot seat while you get points is the game. Knowing the factions well enough to do that effectively is definitely a barrier to access and if you don't like it you don't like it but I wouldn't call the game scripted.

I'm still reeling from you claiming Knizia lacks depth. T&E is almost Go like in terms of depth! I do agree some of his games are of varying quality but Modern Art and T&E cement his status on their own.

That sounds like a pretty solid weekend of gaming nonetheless!
Sagrilarus's Avatar
Sagrilarus replied the topic: #339289 09 May 2023 14:17
I think they understood I was overwhelmed and were trying to help me out so I wouldn't have a miserable time. The fact that I was competitive without even understanding game state in a game I'm told is scrupulously balanced leads me to believe I was near optimal path just playing cards and chits. Unless they were ignoring me back.
ubarose's Avatar
ubarose replied the topic: #339290 09 May 2023 15:37
A while back ago I saw a recipe for a wheat free Almond Olive Oil Cake. I decided to attempt it. Most flourless cakes are a bit tricky, but this one was particularly tricky as the results hinge on whipping egg whites to the perfect consistency and folding them in just exactly right. Plus one of the major flavors comes from orange zest, which varies from orange to orange. And then you have to factor in the quality of the olive oil. And you don’t want to get me started on the how variations between different brands of almond flour impact the final product. It took several attempts over several weeks to actually produce an eatable, nicely flavored cake. After successfully producing the cake several more times, I am now considering trying lemon zest rather than orange.

I have friends who enjoy baking, especially this process of mastering a tricky recipe and then finally getting good enough at it that they feel confident enough to start tweaking it. I however, do not. It is messy and tedious and I rather be doing other things. I just want to enjoy an f-ing slice of cake and a cup of coffee with my friends and family.

Root is an Almond Olive Oil Cake.
Ah_Pook's Avatar
Ah_Pook replied the topic: #339301 10 May 2023 17:09
I played root once, as the birds, and didn't have a good time. I have not sought out a second play. I would believe that with the right group of dedicated players there's a lot there to have fun with. That's my root story, I hope you all enjoyed it.