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  • I Heart Circus Train

    I am infatuated with Circus Train.  I've only played the Basic game a few times, but it is the only game  I can think about. I spend my idle moments plotting ways to get someone to play the multiplayer Advanced game with us - and then the Advanced game with the Event Card variant - and then the Advanced  game with the Event Cards, and the Special Talent chits.

    So far I have only convinced Francie Pants and a few other people to play the Basic game with us. After the first time we played, it was Francie who announced that the game gave her a headache, which is a first for our group. But not a headache in a bad way. A headache in the "this game takes some mental effort to learn and play" way. But it may just have been allergies. She now insists that she must play the Basic game several times before she can entertain the notion of learning the Advanced game. *sigh*

    I haven't felt this way about a game since Merchant of Venus. We played Merchant of Venusto death. We played until the chits were rubbed down to little smudges that only we could recognize. But then I  kind of got bored with it and I wanted something new. Something like Merchant of Venus, but different. I looked but couldn't find anything. I tried all the pick-up and deliver games, and train games that people suggested, but none of them were as much fun.  There wasn't anything else like Merchant of Venus.

    For 10 years I've been looking, and then, just a few weeks ago I stumbled upon Circus Train. I wasn't even shopping for games. I was just going through the piles of crap I go through to find the stuff that gets published in the F:AT news section.  I see this one announcement for the Circus Train Expansion. My first thought was that it was odd for a children's game to have an expansion. Then I noticed it was published by Victory Point Games, which made me really curious. Was there some obscure Battle of Circus? So I went and checked it out.

    Circus Train is neither a children's game nor a war game. It's a pick up and deliver game inspired by Sara Gruen's novel Water for Elephants. The game is subtitled Euro Game #1. One of the guys I was playing with caught site of the rule book mid-game and commented, "This is no Euro game." To which another member of my game club, who had wandered over to observe the game, his curiosity  piqued by our cries of "Freak Show" and to mock me a bit over my pronunciation of "Acrobat" (yes I know I sound like Janine from Ghost Busters), commented, "It's published by a bunch of war gamers. To them, anything that has fewer than 300 chits is a Euro."

    So what kind of game is it? It's kind of like Merchant of Venus - a fast, furious, super competitive Merchant of Venus, played on a tiny board, with players constantly on top of one another vying for performances, performers and luring each other's talent away.

    Circus Train is set in the Eastern United States and Canada during the prohibition era. Players are circus owners trying to scratch out a profit while attempting to establish a World Famous Circus of Great Renown.  Every rule has a thematic  reason d'etre. The circus season is April - October, therefore the game is played over 6 months (rounds) with each month having 4 or 5 weeks (player turns). The month of April is scored differently then the rest of the season, because April was pre-view month. If you can't pay your performers wages, you abandon them in some far flung city, by pushing them off the back of a departing train, with no means of returning home (a real risk for touring performers of the era). You steal talent from other players circuses. If you time it right, you can steal performance right out from under another circus. Circus owners in the 1930's were pretty sleazy bastards, and this game forces you to embrace your inner sleaziness, no matter how much your opponents whine and beg. There's no rules regarding negotiation and trading among players, but the fact that players instinctively went there in moments of desperation, attempting to resort to the human trafficing of clowns, speaks to the kind of game it is.

    After reading the rules, I concluded that Circus Train either had something for every type of gamer, or something to annoy every type of gamer.

    The game is volatile and has some randomness in the form of the chit draw and die roll to hire/steal performers. It's the kind of game that if you play poorly you won't win, but it is possible to play well and lose.

    It's got a lot of fiddley stuff that's easy to forget to do, which screws up the game. You have to track weeks and months. At the end of every week, chits need to be drawn and placed on the map. It has some mathy bookkeeping stuff.  At the end of every month player's scores need to be tallied. After every performance, the performance score needs to be calculated, which entails adding up a long string of small numbers. Performers wages need to be calculated and paid.

    Circus Train CountersIt's a Victory Point Game, which means for $50 (base game, expansion - and you really have to get the expansion - plus shipping)  you get an envelope with a small paper map, a shit load of chits you have to punch out very, very carefully, and a bunch of cards so thin that you will have to immediately purchase sleeves for them (FFG yellow label) just to make the game playable. I also immediately replaced the player "pawn" chits with trains from Railroad Tycoon (the colors are the same and we never use all of them), and replaced the chits used to keep score with some extra pawns I had, so we didn't have to deal with trying to pick up and move those little chits, which would have been a real pain for my friends with fat man fingers. I also threw in some money tokens from another lame game we never play. Tracking money with a chit on the chart they provide would have been a pain and a half.

    Basic MoveThere's a learning curve and you need to be familiar with the flow of the game. You move and take actions with a deck of 6 - 8 cards (depending upon if you are playing two-player, multiplayer, basic or advanced).  You can't reuse a card until you have played all of your cards. These cards make use of very specific language such as "must" vs "may," "and" vs "or." To make good decisions at the beginning of the game, you need to be aware of how the game plays out during the middle and end.   The first time you play, you will screw up. You will make bad choices during the beginning of the game. You will confuse what your action cards allow you to do. You will end up with only the last two or three action cards from your deck in your hand, that are totally useless and you will be able to do nothing for a turn or two until you can reclaim all your cards. You will waste turns to hire more performers than you can pay, and then lose them before you can use them. You will confuse the end of the month scoring with the end of the game scoring. You will cuss, and bitch and moan, and maybe beg and plead a bit.

    But none of these "issues" turned out to be real "issues." Once you get into the swing of it, the upkeep and scoring goes quickly. The math isn't that hard, and it's not number crunching, squeeze out one extra victory point bullshit. Once everyone understands the scoring, everyone can mostly just do it in their head and keep their own scores. Unless you don't trust them or they or prone to mistakes. I always ask someone to check my math to keep me honest. Not because I'm a cheater or anything, I just make mistakes.

    Circus Train ChitsFrancis Pants, who is the biggest bits whore I know, initially turned up her nose when she saw the game components. Another player asked if it was a print and play. But by the end of the game, everyone had to admit that the bits were both functional and visually pleasing. The illustrations are evocative of the theme and the period. The colors have the patina of a vintage circus  poster. The icons are, well iconic, and easily recognizable, while still being whimsical. Even the fonts are well chosen, a combination of simple, clear fonts for the important game play related text on the chits and cards, with the fancy font with that circus flair being reserved for titles. In fact, the careful use of fonts type, size and spacing, makes even the chits with nothing but text and numbers on them easily identifiable.

    Most importantly, at the end of the games, no one was annoyed or frustrated. Instead they wanted to play again, because they "got it" and weren't going to make the same mistakes again. But the next time we played, and the next time, and the next time after that, the chits fell differently, and people made different choices, and the whole game played out in different way, and people still made mistakes, and they still wanted to try again. After our last game one guy whipped out his iphone and ordered the game on the spot. And all this was just from playing the Basic game. As I said, I'm still trying to convince people to move on to the Advanced game.

  • I Love the Arkham Horror Universe

    Arkham Horror is it's own universe, inspired by, but distinct from the Lovecraft Universe.

  • I'd walk a mile for a...

    well, not for a camel. Through the Desert is not real popular in my house. Although my friend, Bad Dan R., has suggested that we use the white camels from TtD as caravans in Mare Nostrum.

    Anyway, I was hanging at Francie's house, I do that a lot, and we were trying to decide what game to play. I hadn't brought much, except my list of owned games. I only live a couple of houses down and it is easier to just bring a list and then run home and get whatever we decide to play. I hand the list to one of the guys. He looks it over, and says that there is nothing there worth going to my house to get. NOTHING WORTH A FIVE MINUTE WALK! Boo Hoo! I own nothing but shite games. Actually, I'm not surprised. I don't own any of the new HOT games, which is all anyone seems to want to play.

    Later, when I got home, I get a call from an old friend, Mr. Snow, who lives about an hour to an hour and a half drive away down south of me. He is bemoaning the fact that he hesitated on a $75 buy-it-now on ebay for Merchant of Venus. He wants to drive up some weekend soon with the GF to play with my copy. I pointed out that it would cost him at least $40 in gas just to get up here, but he's coming anyway. Yay! My game collection has been redeemed, and I get to spend a weekend playing games with my cool friends. If the GF likes MoV, the Snow Man  is going to start looking in earnest for his own copy.     



  • I'm Having a Good Day

    Work is good, the weather is nice, and I get to go to Game Group tonight. Plus, I have a sitter, so the Man gets to come and play too. It's way more fun when we go together, because he makes me laugh, and he drives, so I get to have a beer at the pub down the street afterwards.  

    I was only 4 minutes late for work this morning. That's really good for me. My assignment that I thought was going to be a major pain - I just scratched the surface and discovered that it was something I had already fixed a couple of weeks ago. So I win!  

    It's after lunch and I'm not feeling like a need a nap. This is a very good thing. I often plan on going to Game Group, but then I feel too tired when I get home, and take a nap and don't wake up in time.

    I just have to decide what to bring tonight. I have to figure out something that I want to play that I think other people will like and want to play. I'm in the mood for something light and social and llama free.

  • I'm Not Who I'm Supposed to Be?

    Sometimes when I read on facebook about the things my friends are doing - going to fund raiser dinners, attending Oscar Night parties, throwing cocktail parties, planning progressive dinners - you know, all those conventional social activities that adults engage in - I think , "Why do we never do those things?" And then I remember, "Oh yeah, because those things make me feel bored and miserable."  And then I look forward to game group or the next con where I never have to talk about the stock market, or real estate, or health care reform, or low fat cooking. Plus, if I bring chips and a six pack everyone thinks I'm awesome.

  • I'm on vacation!

    I get a whole week off!

    Today kind of sucked though. It was snowing like a son of a bitch, so the Man had to shovel a lot, so I had no one to play with. My copy of Red November arrived, but we couldn't play because the in laws are here. I had to sit around and talk about opera and real estate and stuff. 

    The Spawn was given a copy of Mummy Rummy as a gift, so we played that after dinner. Weirdness was that no one but the Spawn and I had ever played Rummy before, so when I explained that it was pretty much just like Rummy, no one knew what I was talking about. I thought everyone played Rummy. Growing up, we used to play all the time with my grandmother, my mom, the aunts. It was just what you did to kill time. That or dominos.  You always knew when my grandmother got the ace of spades, because she would put her hand over her heart, moan and say something in Italian that sounded like "ahhhh carta morte."



  • Impressions and Personal Predictions - Essen 2008

    So after culling through all the Essen reports and mini reviews of this year's games (don't pretend that you didn't do it too), I again have a long list of Must Avoid games, and a rather short list of Want to Play. My list of Must Buy games is so short, that if this were an actual Essen Report, the obligatory section about how I fit all my purchases into my suitcase would be 6 words. "I put the games in the suitcase."    

  • iPhone Apps and Boardgames?

    The modern lock stitch sewing machine was invented in the mid-1800s. The expectation was that it would speed up the process of making clothing. Instead, clothing became increasingly more elaborate and the process of making a garment more complex while remaining equally as time consuming as hand sewing the simpler garments of earlier times.

    I see the addition of technology to board games pointing the way down the same path. It invites the addition of greater complexity in games, because the app can handle more stuff faster than a human can. On the surface this sounds great. An app that could take care of all the AH book keeping, or spit out battle resolution results without you having to do any of the math. However, the more complex a game becomes, the less a human player can understand all the factors and formulas, making the player less able to make informed decisions. It becomes less of a game, and more just an experience. Like, do you really know the formulas and algorithms that are under the hood of a video game.

    My feeling is if I can do the math, I can understand the game. If the math is simple enough for me to do, an app is unnecessary and intrusive.

    For me, a good board game is one where I can eyeball the state of the board, or the outcome of a die roll, and know exactly where I stand. From this information, and my knowledge of the game's formulas, algorithms, probabilities, deck distribution, etc., I can make informed choices. If I can do that, I don't need an app to do it for me. If I can't do that, the game becomes opaque. I'm no longer able to play the game. The game plays me.

    Like the iBeer app, I think they might look cool, but they won't quench your thirst.

  • iPhone gaming, redux

    OK, so I finally got an iPhone, and last night while doing laundry at my parents' house (we don't have washer/dryer hookups in our 50 year old house) I messed around with it for about five hours. Of course, the games were the main attraction.

    I'm pretty impressed by the quality of the games overall. Graphically, it's better than DS on a lot of counts. You can tell though that there's a level of depth and range that the DS completely trumps it on though- even after downloading like 9 games I still went back to CASTLEVANIA: PORTRAIT OF RUIN for my pre-bed gaming.

    But then, some of these games were a dollar. I like a dollar game more than I like a $30 game. 

    Here's what I got and what I thought about 'em.

    ZENBOUND is the top game I've played so far. It's brilliant. It's a puzzle game where you paint these wooden figures with a string. You can twist, turn, and manuever the figure or tilt the phone to move the string. It's a completely new way to play a video game, and it's as arty as it is compelling.

    SPIDER: (something or other about)BRYCE MANOR just came out yesterday and it's up there too. You're a spider. Move around, jump, and weave webs to catch bugs. Simple, but again,it feels completely innovative and compelling. Great-looking too.

    SPACE INVADERS: INFINITY GENE is awesome. The first couple of levels are more traditional SI, but eventually you 'evolve' into more gameplay and the game turns into a full-on bullet hell shmup. Controls are great, the look is amazing, and the soundtrack is probably even better than SI:EXTREME. You can play with  levels generated by the music you have on the iPod as well. I tried it with Black Flag and Husker Du. Pretty interesting.

    CIVILIZATION: REVOLUTION just showed up yesterday too. Haven't played any of the other editions of it, but so far I think it's pretty good. A little clunky, but apparently it's pretty much the whole game, which is impressive. And it was five bucks.

    iDRACULA. Like I'm not going to get that. ROBOTRON:2084 meets CASTLEVANIA.

    ZENONIA is an old-school action JRPG. It looks pretty detailed, reviews are comparing it to LINK TO THE PAST. I doubt that, but it should still be a good one.  Haven't really started it, there's a lot of story to go through to get to the gameplay.

    HERO OF SPARTA was a dollar. I figured why not. Seems kinda dumb, but hack-and-slashy dumb can be fun. Sound seems really bad.

    KNIGHTS ONRUSH is a goofy game...torture knights attacking a castle by hanging them on a pole, dumping them into a fire pit, and throwing things at them. Fun and silly. Pretty hard too. Another dollar game.

    STAR DEFENSE is like the bastard child of SUPER MARIO GALAXY and tower defense. The planetoids are straight out of SMG. Played this one for about an hour, it's pretty addictive.

    Didn't get any of those Knizia games or ZOOLORETTO. I hate ZOOLORETTO. I wonder whatever happened to CITADELS, though? 


  • Is She a Shill?

    After I moved F:AT to our new server, I still had 4 months on our contract with our old host. So I set up website for my spawn and her friends. (Sorry dudes, but membership is closed and moderated.) It has most of the same features as F:AT, except it has more pink and less swearing. My primary goal is to teach the wee ones how to properly use this web technology that has become such a big part of modern life. Lesson one was teaching them the difference between an article, a blog, a forum, comments and personal messaging. The most difficult lesson was trying to explain the subtle difference between an article and a blog entry. Hopefully, by the time it matters, there will be at least 5 young ladies who have graduated from Z's Place into the greater cyber world who understand the nuances that distinguish a blog entry from an article.


    Unfortunately, our generation is still struggling with these distinctions. The lines between blog and article are still blurry and often crossed, creating uncomfortable situations for the writers. Why can Bruno Faidutti write about his own games at and not have his integrity questioned or be called a shill? Because it his own damn blog! He can write anything he wants in it. But if he submitted it to F:AT as an article, should we accept it and put it up on the front page? Okay , Bruno doesn't even know we exist, so we wouldn't ever have to make that call, which would be hard, because I find him totally adorable. However, I do know friends who are are "involved" in game development. When asked, I tell them they are free to use the blog or submit a press release. Then I tell them that if their next game doesn't suck, I might maybe interview them. It's easier to tell stuff like this to people who have slept on your sofa and puked on your lawn than to an adorable french dude you have never met.

    It's also probably easier to see the distinction when you have some distance from the subject matter.



  • It's all in the Group

    After reading through the mighty HiveGod's GOTW posts on that other boardgame site, (something all you guys should check out) I was struck by how much his gaming experiences were similar to my own. The memories that he and his fellow game buddies were reminiscing about sounded a lot like some of my own. It dawned on me that he had one heck of a game group,and then I remembered that I too am lucky enough to have just such a group.

    This blog will be a tribute to the Guys (and a Gal) who make gaming fun for me.

  • It's Not Swine Flu Damn It!

    This is my second day home sick and I'm bored. When I started coughing on Monday, the dudes at work  freaked out. I had to call in today to assure them it wasn't swine flu damn it. But they still didn't want me back breathing on them and stuff.  So I'm sitting at home being bored and thinking about what to order for my birthday, and about the Fort.

    I'm seriously considering Middle Earth Quest for my birthday. KingPut says he liked it. MegaFauna Dan says it's rotten with four players, but terrific with two players. There are some reviews out. I tried reading them, but they were all too boring to read.

  • Just Because It Made Me Laugh

  • Ken's Thursday Trash Talk - Oh geez....Skip-Bo

    Here's my plan. Each Thursday, I'm going to generate a random number and compare it against my collection of games and just blab about whatever my opinions or experiences are with that game.

    The kick in the nuts this week? To start it all off? The randomizer chose "Skip-Bo." So this should be fun, right?


  • Ken's Thursday Trash Talk -- The Great Chili Cookoff

    Today's spin of the wheel led me to a cute little game that I've actually played within the past week--Dan Baden's spicy little number, The Great Chili Cookoff.  What was that I used to say?  "Join us, won't you?"

  • Ken's Thursday Trash Talk...London

    Spinning the wheel this week,'s Martin Wallace's London. A game I like, but may be of minimal interest to a lot of our crew. Anyway, here goes.

  • Kingsburg...'sokay.

  • Leave those kids alone

     Gamers like to reminisce about the games they played as children. They remember the happy hours spent with siblings, or neighbor kids, of best buddies. Gamer parents  tell us about the games they play with kids. They like to recommend games that BOTH you and your child will enjoy together. But do gamer parents ever just leave leave kids alone and let them play with other kids? 

    There was some recent study done that showed a lot of kids weren't able to organize pick-up games of kick ball, or hide and seek on their own. Their play had been supervised and organized and facilitated and coordinated by adults for their whole life, so they didn't know how to do do it on their own. I wonder if gamer parents ever just hand a new box in shrink to their kid and say, "Here, go have fun," and just let the kids figure it out for themself, like we did when we were kids.

  • Legendary Swiss Metal Band Wins Major Award



    RAWK, ya?


    Big congratulations go out to Celtic Frost, who I've heard won some major German award of some kind.


    Truly, their long toils over the years have finally... Mmmm? What? It wasn't them?





    What the hell is a "Keltis?"

  • LEGO enters board game market?

    According to this site , a new line of LEGO board games will debut in August.  Game materials,  including dice,  will be constructed using familiar LEGO bricks:

    "Both the board and dice are ‘built’ in the traditional LEGO way with the game concept constructed and enacted as an extension of the Lego build experience. Each game can be redesigned and reconstructed. Games can be adapted, using Lego elements to enhance and evolve the game play. "

     Little detailed information is available right now, but it's rumored that the games will be unveiled at the  60th International Toy Fair Nuremberg in February.