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  • Liebe & Intrige

    LiebeLiebe & Intrige is finally in print and is in stock in the US at Funagain Games. I put in my order as soon as I got their email that it had come in. I love online retailers that have that feature. Just click the little button next to your heart's desire, and as soon as they get it, you get that happy email.

    I saw a picture of this box and instantly knew I had to have this game. It sounds silly, but I bought Merchent of Venus and Ultra Marines for the same reason and have no regrets.

    T hen I read the English translation of the rules. Al and I were laughing out loud as I read them. You level up your daughters and try to get them to hook up with guys. Of course, to hook up they have to go places where guys hang out, such as bars. Unfortunately, hanging in places where there are lots of men is risky, as it can damage your daughter's reputation, and then no man will want to marry her. When she hangs out at the Tavern, she has the opportunity to meet lots of guys, but she might also get drunk, which lowers her education stats. She could get picked up by Casanova, which lowers her virture stat. If your daughter hangs at a place where there are other players' daughters she can totally be a mean girl and steal their boyfriends, or they may steal her boyfriend. The bit that had us really going was that you can infect other players' daughters with smallpox, which reduces their beauty stat. I think this game is going to be a hoot.

    I hope it arrives today or tomorrow so we can play it this weekend.


  • Luna Llena is Pissing Me Off

    In case you couldn't tell by the title, this is probably going to get a bit ranty. Starting with Matt's review:

    The rules themselves are pretty atrociously written to be honest, probably as the result of an unfortunate translation job from the original Spanish and there are a number of loose ends that aren’t properly covered...
    Luna Llena is a fun game with some rough edges...
    It'll be interesting to see what the revised rules look like, whether they can scale down on some of the unfortunate flaws in the design.


  • Malloc Talks about the new Titan

    Most of the folks out there (at least in North America) should have received their pre-order copies of Valley Games Edition of Titan. I managed to get my copy sometime last week and somehow get it on the Table Wednesday. This is a quick and dirty on this new version of the game.

  • Mansions of Madness - A First Impression

    I adore it. If you are looking for an 'objective review' that describes Mansions of Madness' mechanics, gameplay, and the depth of its in game decisions, look elsewhere. This is't a review; it's a totally subjective rave.

    What Castle Ravenloft does for D&D, Mansions of Madness does for Call of Cthulhu. When we used to play Call of Cthulhu, it was never a monster bash. It was about the mystery, and the story. As the GM it required a lot of work on my part. In addition to the prep work, I had to really think on my feet. The people I played with were creative and uninhibited. I'd have a nice, simple scenario were the investigators are supposed to go to a house and find clues which will eventually lead them to a secret passage in the basement, and 30 minutes into the game they are jumping out the second story window, stealing a car and driving like maniacs down a dirt road.

    So, of course, three turns into Mansions of Madness, the Man is in a room with an exterior door, and he asks me if he can move out of the house. I told him that he could but it would mean that I'd have to pull out the truck and the road tile from Last Night on Earth and the board from Arkham Horror.

    Mansions of Madness makes investigator players who are inclined towards RPGs think like role players, and makes the Keeper think like a GM. The investigators don't know what their objective is.  They need to explore and poke around to discover exactly what is going on. In doing so the mystery/story is revealed. The story of the game isn't the actions of the investigators. It's not about player 1 moved into the kitchen and found a suitcase, fought a cultist, and then ran down the hall. The story is the mystery that is revealed through the clues and the actions of the minions.

    This is where I could see the game falling apart. Although the scenarios do the prep work for the Keeper, it is really up to this player to weave the modular story elements - flavor text, clues, the appearance of minions and monsters, into a coherent story. These things contain elements of many of Lovecraft's stories. Being familiar with these stories, it was pretty easy for me to read the introduction and clues, check out the items as I placed them and recognize their source. Narrating the story as the game progressed was fairly easy for me. I didn't spawn a random maniac on to the board, but rather a specific character from the story, so deranged and disheveled that he was at first unrecognized by the investigators, burst through the bedroom door. But if you have a Keeper who isn't into playing the role of story teller, who isn't familiar with Lovecraft, who plays Mansions of Madness as if it were Decent, the game probably won't hold together well. You are going to get something like: some random maniac with an axe (because the mini has an axe, so of course you can't overlook that detail) spawns in the room and attacks.

    The investigators also need to play in the spirit of the game. Fortunately Mansions of Madness rewards then for doing so, and punishes them if they don't. The most 'efficient' path to investigator victory is to determine what their objective is as quickly as possible, and the best way is to do that is to follow the clues. The first clue points to the location of the second clue, which points to the location of the third. As soon as the third clue discovered, the objective is revealed. Knowing the objective makes it much easier for the investigators to thwart the Keeper. Finding the clues in order also gives the Keeper the opportunity to tell the story in the most coherent manner.

    Of course, the investigators could just flail out randomly in hopes of finding the last clue, before finding the earlier ones. The game itself, however, discourages this. If the investigator's don't find certain clues by a certain turn, they get dinged by an event card. Additionally, the set up requires that the investigators find certain items to allow them to enter certain other rooms. This nudges them back onto the story track if they wander off.

    After a certain number of turns, if the investigators haven't found the third clue, the objective is simply revealed, and the players then have about three turns to achieve their objective. It is possible to win this way, but not easily.

    Of course, in addition to finding the clues,  there is combat with madmen and monsters, but this is super simplified and not the primary focus of Mansions of Madness. There are no hexes, and no grids. No optimal positioning. Just if a scary thing lumbers into the room that you are in, it just might drive you a little insane. If it is on the same space that you are on, it might attack you. If you have a gun, you might be able to get a shot off at it before it moves in on you, but you might be too rattled by the horror of it all and fumble your gun. So just attacking anything that wanders by, may not be your best course of action. Especially since that deranged dude, dragging the axe, might just be the guy you're looking for.

    Mansions of Madness is essentially a light RPG without the fuss and bother of an RPG. Plays in a couple of hours. Minimal prep time. No weekly commitment required.

  • Many Keyforge Players Are Asking the Questions...

    What does it all mean, really?

  • Maths

    I played the new Settlers Trails to Rails game with a friend last night. It's her game. She likes it, but was getting a little frustrated with it, because every one else was getting lots of resources, but her numbers just wouldn't come up. After talking with her, I realized that she really just doesn't get probability at all. She can add together long strings of numbers in her head, which makes her a wiz at a lot of Euros, and our designated score keeper for any games that require it. But probability is just a black box to her. She also just can't trust on my word that it's more likely that a 6 or 8 will be rolled than a 2 or a 12. She needs to understand how it works to believe it. I think I have to sit down with her with a pair of dice and list of all the possible outcomes. Maybe then she can wrap her head around it.

    I'm the opposite. I hate adding long strings of numbers, and usually make mistakes when I do. But probabilities are just intuitive.

  • MB in NYC

  • Miss Me? Let's Get Back on the Horse, Part I

    Yeah, you in the back, I heard ya say, "Were you gone?"  Har dee har har.

    Suffice it to say that I have been conspicuous in my absence over the past year, writing very sparsely and commenting only slightly more frequently (though I've been here almost guys just don't realize it).  I have very good reasons for that--some personal shit that really I think in terms of site members only Uba knows about --but to be honest, I have been struggling finding a "jumping back on" point for a few months now.

    Lotta pressure, you see.  Deep-rooted sense of pride in the site and a metric shit-ton of expectations on myself.  How could I just stroll back in after so long an absence and write some fluff piece that wouldn't cut the mustard?

    Thankfully, Uba never gave up on me, and gave me several swift kicks in the ass until I realized that yeah, it was time to just jump back in.  And I'm going to do it with a fluff piece...a series of mini-reviews.  Yeah, in blog form.  Once I shake the ring rust off, I'll be back to front pagin'.  Y'all just hang with me.

    So, in no certain order, I'm just going to talk about some games that have found themselves in front of me over the past year, and quick thoughts on them.

    The Great Dalmuti

    I would be remiss not to start with this one.  You know how people talk about getting one of "their" games in front of family, to save them from the drudgery of some bullshit party game or piss poor mass market game?  Dalmuti has caught on with my extended family in a way I could have never anticipated. 

    Yeah, I's only a step or two removed from just a reg'lar ol' card game.  But the thing is, the DEGREE with which they've taken to it is pretty freakin' awesome.  I'm talking full-on trash-talking, hat wearing, merciless taunting of the Greater Peon, even once as the Great Dalmuti I earned a free whiskey shot as a reward.  (Rest assured, gentle readers, when I say "family", there were no kids involved in said whiskey consumption.)

    I think this would slot nicely into any collection.  We play it with the scoring rules in the back, 1pt. per person you go out in front of, and keep score over ten rounds.  My fiancee embarassed us all by scoring *65* points over the past weekend, 5 short of the maximum possible.  And no, she didn't start in the Dalmuti seat.  God, I love that woman.

    Anyway...I know this game has been around awhile, but if you're like me and hadn't gotten around to it, it's worth a shot.  Damned fine game that maybe made or broken by the group, but lots of potential there for good times for a very, very cheap price.  You know how much into this game my family is?  My aunt--my AUNT--bought three regular decks of cards just to make a Dalmuti deck out of, and I walked in the other day to hear two of my (non-gamer) family members discussing strategy.  BLEW MY FUCKING MIND.  So anyway...go get it.

    Summoner Wars

    Played this again, and I am more and more impressed with it the more I play it.  I like the hand manipulation, the need to balance card use for creatures and actual summoning power, the clean maneuvering and combat system, and the different ways the two races (Goblins and Dwarves) played.

    It has really grown on me, to the point where I'm definitely going to get the Elves/Orcs deck, just to quadruple the potential match-ups.

    Haven't figured out how to win with the Goblins, though.  They come out fast and furious, but peter our when a couple of sturdy Dwarf champions show up to whip their sniveling asses.  I finally put the Dwarves ability to blow up walls easier to good use for the first time.  I had failed to see the merit in using up attacks on walls, but between those Dwarven Demoliotion Teams (I know they ain't called that, but that's what they are to me) and the events which dish out 3 points of damage to every opponent wall, I took a crucial summoning spot down on the Goblin front-line and it made a lot of difference.

    Another great game.  Affordable price.  Go get it.

    Middle-Earth Quest

    I talked about this one here and there in the forums, but this was the biggest let-down to me in recent memory.  I love the theme.  I'm one of those few for whom the LOTR theme isn't played out.  And the production on this sucker was GORGEOUS.

    But manonman...I never had felt an AT game that made me think of just moving cogs around in a machine more than that one.  Plus, it failed on both of its thematic levels...the "quests" were laughable, over too quickly, and were no more quests.  And as far as the Middle-Earth theme, aside from locations I didn't feel for one second I was doing anything in that Middle Earth realm.  When a game is about currying "favor" from Saruman and Aragorn, something is fucked up.

    Part of me wonders if I didn't encounter it when I was in a particularly jaded phase of my life in terms of my hobbies, I might have thought better of it, and admittedly all these impressions came after one solitary play.  But I didn't leave thinking, "I need to formulate some strategies and play that again," I left thinking, "I'm glad I didn't spend $80 on that."


    Fucking Laser Chess.  Only abstract I ever need.


    I blogged/mini-reviewed this one way back when, and it is one of those that found a semi-permanent place in our gaming rotation.  Yeah, I know, it's Euro-fied, you're competing for VPs...but you do that by rolling dice, killing your opponent's dudes, blowing up his buildings, stealing his VPs directly (HELLS yeah!), all the while trying to use your dice wisely.

    I love the game because it starts you out with zero money, no cards in hand after the initial free setup, and already bleeding out VPs.  You have six discs to place cards, and for every one of them you don't have SOMETHING on, you lose a VP.  You only start with ten and you begin your first turn bleeding two of them.  That initial tension is just awesome, and few games put you in that dire of straits from the get-go, forcing you to basically claw your way out of your grave and hope your opponent doesn't crawl out first and start smashing your fingers with his feet.

    There is a sequel out, Roma II: Judgment Day...alright, I made that last part up..and apparently there is only one card repeat and the game plays and feels much different with lots of new cards and new abilites.  Plus you can either play each standalone, mix and match the decks, or each of you use one of the sets against each other, drawing from your own deck instead of the communal one.  I need to pick that up, and soon.

    Party Games

    They're unavoidable, and I've played my share of them, but I don't hate them out of hand.  Hell, I can really dig on a good party game if I'm in the mood.  Problem is so many of them are just quickie cash-ins with half-baked ideas.  Some stand out though, if you give them a chance...and some, in turn, are worth their shitty reputations.

    Apples to Apples isn't bad as long as you play it with the properly suggestive (read: immature, laughing at dick and fart jokes.)  For example, there's a card in one of the expansions:  "Cockels and Mussels."  That sucker is TRUMPS, baby.  Balderdash is an old favorite but more than most party games is really, really dependant on the group to make it work.  Ca$h 'n' Gun$ can be surprisingly hit or miss (HAW!), some games everyone is talking smack and getting into shooting each other in the face, other times everyone is just going through the motions, or the money distribution is weird, or whatever.  Still, it's a keeper.

    Speaking of games you don't expect to turn out as "party games", I think we've had the most luck with Mall of Horror.  The rules are simple enough, there's room for trash talk and negotiation, room for a decent amount of screwage, and without fail at least once per game, you're going to get an impassioned "FUCK YOU GUYS!" or something similar.  Plus, it's fun to kick some tough guy out of the room to be zombie chow.  "Yea, we maketh an offering to the zombie horde.  Now getteth out and begone, brainless bitches!"

    Ouch...think I sprained my typing fingers.  Turns out when you get back on the saddle, better do it slowly lest you chaffe your coin purse.  Alright, we'll pick this back up, and soon, with some thoughts on how some old favorites have fared, and after that, all the stuff my greedy paws have been itching to pick up.

  • Monsters vs. Aliens

    I got to see this for free because when we went to see Batman this summer, there was a freaking black dot on the screen.

     So I got up and found a manager and said, "There's a freakin' black dot on the screen."

    And she said, "Yeah. People complained about that during the last showing."

    And I said, "Well, can you do something about it."

    And she said she would.

    So I went back into the theatre, and the freaking black dot was still there, and it stayed there, and it was there for the entire freaking movies.

    So after the movie we found another manager, and said, "Hey, what the hell! We just paid an extra 4 bucks each to see the enhanced IMAX Batman, and there's this freaking black dot on the screen for the entire freaking movie, and it drove me freaking insane."

    So the manage gave us free movie passes so that we would shut the freak up.

    So when other people remember the Batman movie they remember Joker, but I just remember that freaking black dot.

    Anyway, I wanted to see Watchmen, but it runs like three hours or something like that, so I couldn't send the Spawn into the kiddie flick  while we went to Watchman, so we compromised and saw Monsters vs Aliens.

    First of all, the lead chick, Susan the 50 foot woman, had enormous eyes. Not just oversized to look cute. But seriously disturbingly large eyes. Her hips were kind of too big as well. It was like they originally drew her to be cartoon curvey, but then someone said, "Hey, this is a kid's flick!" So they took her down a couple cups, but forgot to make her butt smaller as well. So her eyes and her butt were kind of distracting, but not as distracting as having a freaking black dot on the screen.

    I embarrassed the Spawn by laughing at all the "wrong" times during the movie, just like my Dad used to do when I was a kid.  Monsters vs Aliens is stuffed to the gills with references to great old monster and alien movies. I guess the Man and I were the only people in the theatre that had ever watched any of those great old movies. We were the only one's laughing at the "wrong" times.

    Other than that, the story was pretty standard. There were jet packs, a battle with a giant robot, army dudes and tanks and space ships. Also enough snot humor to keep the kiddies amused. The monsters kind of reminded me of the F:AT staff. I also embarrassed the Spawn by knowing all the words to the "stupid" song that played during the ending credits aka Planet Claire. I made her stay and listen to the whole song as part of her cultural education. On the way home I threatened to make her watch culturally educational  movies such as Mothra vs. Godzilla and Close Encounters of the Third Kind. She threatened nightmares. 

    Overall, Monsters vs. Aliens was way better than Cloverfield


  • More from FFG...

    Just got this in from ol' Mr. Bluehair...

     FFG is doing a Penny Arcade 2-player non-collectible card game. I think that's great news, it's a really current license that a lot of non-boardgamers are into, I think it'll bring a lot of business to FFG and it sort of ties them more closely to a video games-savvy market.


  • My Arkham Holiday

    My Man spoiled me this week. I got the Dark Pharaoh (Revised) and Miskatonicexpansions for Arkham Horror, and the Mansions of Madness Forbidden Alchemy expansion. As a bonus, Fantasy Flight Games finally published the revised rules for Elder Sign. So, it's been an Arkham Holiday this week in my house.

    Both Dark Pharaoh and Miskatonic were better than I expected.

    The original version of Dark Pharaohadded encounter cards to the existing base game Arkham and Other Worlds location decks which, if you happened to draw them might give you an exhibit item. We pretty much played with this expansion shuffled into the decks all the time. In the many times we played, even with DP as the only added expansion, exhibit items rarely showed up. The revised Dark Pharaoh expansion adds an exhibit location token and exhibit encounters to the game. The exhibit token starts in the Miskatonic University streets, and moves like a monster with a moon symbol. If you are on the exhibit token during the Arkham phase, you draw an exhibit encounter and have a fairly good chance of getting a cool exhibit item. I like having lots of cool items, and this increases the chance of cool exhibit items actually showing up in the game. Plus, if monsters and the exhibit location token happen to end up on the same street location, you get to have an exhibit encounter during your Arkham phase, which makes playing the character responsible for keeping the streets clear of monsters more fun and rewarding.

    The Miskatonic Horrorexpansion adds a bunch of cards to the game. The new encounter and mythos cards freshened up the game for us. The new injury and madness cards were pretty funny as well. Miskatonic also includes new "Institution Variants." These are on cards like the guardians and heralds. While other Arkham expansions seem to be focused on making the game harder when playing with more players, these seem to be focused on making the game easier when playing with fewer players. They could also be balanced out by adding heralds. We played with Organized Crime which allows you to pay $3 or one item during set-up to buy a retainer. You can shop on the black market if you end your turn in a street location and get healed by the sawbones at any Arkham location.  This brings a bunch of money and items into the game, and obviously makes the game easier. I think we will be using it a lot for 2-player games, rather than playing 2 characters each. I only skimmed the other Institution Variant. It appears to make it easier to move between boards when playing with an expansion that adds another board. This would make it easer to play with an additional board when you have fewer players. I'm looking forward to testing this theory in the near future. Our big box expansions don't see much action as we mostly play with only 2 or 3 players.

    I spent a fair amount of time sorting and organizing these two expansions to get everything to fit into my Arkham Horror case. I managed to do it, just barely, with only about 2 cubic inches to spare.

    I was happy to receive my corrected cards in the Mansions of Madness Forbidden Alchemy expansion. Since the buzz is that Forbidden Alchemy is too FUBAR to play, and CP has announced that we will all be able to get corrected stuff some time in the future, I even didn't bother trying to play it. I just sorted and organized and squeezed all the bits and cards and tiles into the box with base game. I'm not too cranky about it. I haven't totally played out the base game or the Season of the Witch expansion, so, personally, I have no issue with waiting for the corrected stuff.

    Speaking of waiting, the revised rules for Elder Sign are finally out. I haven't played Elder Sign since about a week after I got it in September. It was just too annoying. We printed out the new rules and played tonight. The game still feels and plays the same, just all the WTF has been eliminated.



  • My ConnCon Report

    Got to ConnCon an hour later than I wanted to on Friday night. The first person I saw when I walked in the lobby was Megafauna Dan. Had a drink with him and shoveled some chicken wings and celery into my face. I was so damn hungry. We should have stopped on the way down to eat, but didn't have time. Was so totally relieved to finally be there and have food and a drink, that I relaxed a bit too much and forgot I had to register and stuff. Didn't get downstairs to do that until almost 7pm. Poor Mark. I think I caused him a bit of worry as I was scheduled to teach Tales of the Arabian Nights at 7pm.

    Tales didn't go off too well. One of the kids was really too young to be playing, but I was told he played Memoir '44 with his dad. Note to self: "My young child plays Memoir '44 (or insert any other complex game in here)" = I let him toss the dice. Anyway, the kid engaged in perfectly age appropriate behavior, so we collectively decided to ditch Tales and play some games that didn't require reading or sitting in a chair for longer than 15 minutes. Did some Pitch Car  and a few others. Walk to the snack bar and drink root beer was particularly popular. 

    While I was running the kid's games, the Man played VOC without me. Boo! Well, at least he taught it to a member of our game club, so maybe I'll get to play it again soon. Once you have enough people in a group who know the rules to a game, it's a lot easier to get it played. 

    Played Betrayal at House on the Hill after the kids went off to bed. Got that lame astral spirit haunt with the really crappy rules. Every time we get that haunt, I tell myself I should make some rule notes in the manual, but then I think, there are 50 haunts, what's the chance we'll get this one again. So I don't, and it's always a pain.

    Saturday was Chaos in the Old World, taught by our own Matt Loter. It was awesome, and pretty much the highlight of the con for the Man and I. 

    Arkham Horror Saturday night. Yay! 

    Ad Astra or whatever it's called played sometime after midnight. Boo! Part way through the rules, Dan asked, "So, you haven't mentioned space battles yet, so I'm guessing there aren't any." Then he excused himself and went to play some massive miniature battle game with like 300 minis, which looked really cool.   

    Sunday we tried a bunch of crap. Then played some Last Night on Earth with Grave Weapons and the Exploration variant. Pretty fun. 

    They pulled the Spawn's number when they were giving out the door prizes. She went up and picked out a little fairy figurine. Ever hear a group of 40 middle aged dudes go "Awww!" at the same time. I'm not sure if they thought it was really cute, or were sighing with relief that she didn't pick one of the "good" prizes. One of the guys, I can't remember who it was, came up as we were leaving and gave her 3 more fairies so she could have a matching set. Yeah, the dudes that run Conn Con are total sweethearts. Thanks to all of them.

  • My Golden Age of Solo Gaming

    Like many, I grew up playing games with my family. Rummy 500 was my family’s bread and butter, but many other games crossed our table over the years. Games were a social activity; a way to bond and spend time together. When I got into the hobbyist side of games almost 10 years ago, I scoffed at the notion of playing games solo. Why would I want to do that? I have plenty of solitary activities I can do. Besides, playing a board game by yourself seemed kind of sad. Sure, I gave the original Thunderstone solo mode a try. Once. It was cool enough, but nothing I ever pursued past that initial curiosity. I borrowed Friday from a friend and was over it after one play. I even toyed with Lord of the Rings: The Card Game when it first came out, but quickly traded it away after a solo play. I was certain solo gaming was not for me. Games were to be played with others. I held onto the social aspect of gaming for a long time. Then Arkham Horror: The Card Game came out.

  • Neuroshima Hexed

    Just played my first games of Neuroshima Hex using the excellent online interface at It's a game I've been wanting to try for a while and though I had fun, I'm glad I didn't bite the bullet and buy or trade a copy. In fact I'm fairly surprised the game enjoys the level of popularity around here that it does.

    There seems to be a really good balance between the random nature of drawing tiles and the unrandom nature of what you do with them: there's both strategy and tactics to enjoy here. That balance seems to me to be the heart of the appeal of the game. But the entirely deterministic nature of the tiles effects on one another means you spend every move trying to work out what's going to have what effect where before you can start placing tiles. It's worse when you have a battle and actually have to apply the effects.  Sorting it all out is rather tiresome and a pain in the arse. 


    I also didn't much care for the largely abstract nature of the game. It's clearly a battle, yes, but where is the maneuver? The narrative?


    I'd play it again if it was suggested or I were at a loose end, but I think there are many better games around. In particular it seems to frequently be compared to Nexus Ops in a favourable manner. Personally I'd rather play Nexus Ops any day of the week. Might that pairing be a good trashdome matchup?

  • New Law Removes Games from GoodWill - BGG Thrifters Riot!

    Will New Law Impact Sale of Games?

    A law goes in effect on Feb 10 that requires all products -including toys and clothing - intended for use by children 12 and under to be tested for lead and phthalates. Items that have not been tested will be considered hazardous, and selling them will result in fines and possibly jail.

  • news notes

    Space Hulk Sold Out
  • Next of Ken, Hot Topic Blog Edition: A Response to Jesse Buddha and "The Criticism of the Critics" on A Few Acres of Snow

    I've been waiting until I had a chunk of time to respond to this, as being someone who proclaimed A Few Acres of Snow my best game of 2011, I feel obligated to respond.  (I also answered the questions that Jesse sent out during his research for this article.)

    First up, my 'review' style has changed greatly over the past year or so.  Originally, I did wait until several months after a game's release and write very heavy, very thorough reviews.  I noticed that if a game was more than a few months old, it seemingly generated much less discussion and interest.  Especially if it were not from one of the "big" publishers--I think Mike Barnes can attest to this as well, because when he goes off the beaten path a bit, it seems as though he also gets fewer hits and less discussion.

    I was gaming so much that I felt like my articles were bottlenecked; how could I only talk about one game per week?  And so, I made it more of a habit to do mutli-game columns with much more "off the cuff" thoughts on games.  I don't really even call them reviews anymore per se, and I think that a lot of readers no longer consider them as such because I am not really referred to in that manner.

    The feedback I got on my shift was overwhelmingly positive.  Gamers seemingly wanted to hear about more games, and faster.  So I've kept that style.  It seems to fit with a lot of boardgame culture too these days, where we play a game five or six times tops and then move on to the next one.  I guess my approach proved more popular because it fit the consumption patterns of a chunk of modern boardgamers.  "Tell me about a new game, and now!"

    I don't qualify these as reviews exactly, but more impressions.  Was a game fun?  Approachable?  How were the rules?  Did the people I play it with like it?  What were their complaints?  Who did I play it with?  Were there games I liked better?  These are the types of things I tended to focus on.  I've tried to drop out the whole "here are the rules" bits, unless it's vital to help someone understand exactly how the game plays.

    So, this explains how I missed the broken strategy in A Few Acres of Snow, but it doesn't explain why I never elaborated on it afterward.  More on that in a bit though as I feel there's another ominous point lurking under the surface that I'd like to address.

    "Free" games.  Yes, we as bloggers and reviewers, particularly on a website as prominent as F:AT, receive free review games.  I think the popular perception is that game companies shower us with unsolicited review copies to the point we're swimming in them.  Also, the second perception is that we feel obligated to give positive reviews to companies who send us stuff.

    While this may seem true, you have your cause and effect confused.

    As Mikey B. mentioned earlier in the thread, even those who are highest on the review chain still have to go out and do the rounds for review copies.  I don't receive much in the way of unsolicited games.  I do the legwork, I send the emails, I make the phone calls, I keep the contacts.  How do I decide what to ask for?  It's really a simple two-step criteria here:

    1.  Does this look like something I will like?

    2.  Is this something our readers might be interested in?

    If a game fails either of those two criteria, particularly the first one, I don't do the legwork.  I don't chase it down, I don't send the emails.  Why would I do that?  Sure, there's the sensationalist thrill of watching things get torn to pieces.  And hey, I don't necessarily like everything I ask for completely--sometimes I am wrong about what I think a game is going to play like.  But again, why would I make overtures to a game company for the sole purpose of getting a free game I can tear to pieces?  That is a completely dick move, right?

    Do I have an obligation to cover crap I don't like?  I don't know.  I'll say this--if you see me talk about a boardgame, you can form your opinion based on my feedback.  If I don't talk about a game yet, it's either the fact that I haven't played it yet, or I had no interest in tracking a copy down because it looked like crap.  It's pretty simple, really.

    But it also means that the overwhelming majority of the time, the stuff I request is going to be stuff that I end up liking.  That's just the cold hard facts.  I seek out what I'm likely to enjoy; odds are, I'm going to actually enjoy it.

    There's also the misconception that everything we cover is provided to us, gratis.  Nothing could be farther from the truth, at least for me.  I receive, at most, an average of a few free games per month.  It's not the avalanche that you're probably thinking about.  Maybe half the games I've talked about in the last year are those I received for free.  The others?  I've paid good hard coin for, or traded for, or bartered for, or whatever.  There are several large companies that I've never received review copies from, including Fantasy Flight and several others.  Like Michael, if you see me talking about an FFG title, it's because I've either bought it, or played it at a friend's house.

    Which, coincidentally?  A Few Acres of Snow is a game that I bought directly from Treefrog.  There is no relationship nor obligation for me to give Treefrog or Martin Wallace a free pass.  They don't send out many review copies, and to be honest, I don't want to cover a lot of Treefrog games.

    Martin Wallace is not a designer that is typically of interest to our readers.  To be honest, he's not a designer that I'm usually smitten with.  His designs are often dry, his focus on the economic.  His themes are often not my cup of tea.

    But when I read the rules to A Few Acres, I was smitten with the idea.

    I like deckbuilders.  They're an extension of both the card games and CCGs that I have always enjoyed, so they're a natural fit for me.  But while so many deckbuilders were content to do the whole, "spend some money, buy some cards, put them in your discard, shuffle, repeat" gameplay, AFAoS looked to be trying something new and different.

    My favorite deckbuilders are those that have a gameplay element external to the deckbuilding process.  Nightfall and Puzzle Strike, my two favorite deckbuilders bar none, both have the "buy stuff, shuffle it in" as a part of their gameplay, but outside of this, the *real* core of the game happens.  In Puzzle Strike, it's crashing gems and playing attacks to disrupt your opponent.  In Nightfall, it's about minions doing battle and players using cards to screw with each others stuff.  

    Dominion as a agame wouldn't exist without its purchase, shuffle, repeat.  That's the whole game.  But from this it allowed for evolution and expansion of the mechanics.  In Puzzle Strikeand Nightfall, assuming you already had "tweaked" decks, you could strip out the deckbuilding portions and still have a game.  A limited, less interesting one?  Quite possibly.  But a game nonetheless.

    A Few Acres of Snow looked to be something that went to another degree.  Now we had the spatial element of a wargame-esque board.  The deckbuilding mechanic, which was thematically stretching it to even say it had anything to do with a game's theme before, was now justified in the difficulties in coordinating a war effort from a great distance.  As leaders in the battle you made your request for supplies, and just hoped they showed up when you needed them.

    So I received my copy that I bought from Treefrog, and we played it.  I was wowed mostly by the ambition and the artistry inherent in the game's design.  While so many companies and designers had been flirting with breaking into the next level of deckbuilding, what we had here *was* the next level of deckbuilding.  The mechanic no longer as the star and sustainer, but just another part of the gameplay, and one that was thematically justified, to boot.

    Did we stumble upon Halifax Hammer?  Of course not.  That's not how we would even think to play.  Is that a failure of me as a reviewer?  Maybe.  But I don't review games in the spirit of breaking them precisely because most of the people I game with don't play games to break them.  And seemingly, many of our readers don't play games with the intention of breaking them.

    To me, and to many others, people are more important than gaming.  Even back in the CCG days, if playing casually, I would not use my most lethal tournament decks to play for fun; how ridiculous is that?  What am I proving?  My goals in casual play were radically different than those of tournament play.  Tournament play was "win at all costs."  Casual play was "have fun."

    Ultimately, if you extrapolate that to A Few Acres of Snow, that means that it fails as a tournament game.  But...does every game need to meet that criteria?  I don't know.  Personally?  I don't think so.

    So, then, we're talking the nebulous "spirit of the rules", here.  You know, the same thing that Wargamers and Ameritrashers have been talking about for years.  Think back--if you had a fun game, but then you stumbled on a "broken" strategy, what did you do?  You houseruled it, that's what you did.  You took out a problem card, ignored a problematic rule, changed starting set-ups, whatever it took to make sure you enjoyed the game.

    Let's take a game I and many others consider to be an Ameritrash classic--Mutant Chronicles: Siege of the Citadel.  Did you know that this game is fundamentally flawed?  It certainly is.  First up, if you're lucky enough to be the one who gets the Grenade Launcher in the first scenario, you're going to have a lot of promotion points from your first mission, way more than the other players.  The second mission with the Ezoghul?  The marines have no chance, and if you're the bad guys for that scenario, you're going to get a lot of promotion points, way more than the other players.  Those two players have a permanent leg up in the campaign, and if it turns out to be the *same* player for BOTH?  Forget about it.  It's over already.

    The houserule?  Move the second mission to be the fifth or so, and remove the Grenade Launcher from the available gear for the very first mission.   Boom, fixed.

    Does that mean we're giving a designer a free pass if we do that for a game now?  I don't know.  Were we giving free passes to designers who issued all sorts of errata for their games in the 70s, 80s, and 90s?  Hell, The General had errata and "fixes" for games published in every issue.  Do we think Dune is broken because three-way alliances can steamroll to victory?  Do we think that people who limit alliances in Dune to 2 are "giving someone a free pass" by "fixing" that game?  Is Duneless of a game because of some of its balance issues?  I don't think so!

    Games aren't mathematical exercises for thematic gamers.  And that's a problem for a designer who wants to occupy that space.  You add rules, you add theme, you add chrome, you add asymmetry, and you can no longer design a game with the dry mathematical precision of a Knizia or Kramer.  

    You can playtest the hell out of that game, sure.  You can have dozens of people on your playtest team, in fact.  But the asymmetry and the diverse theme elements will conspire against you the moment you release that game to a thousand+ gamers.  People are going to find stuff you missed.

    Ask any CCG designer, even those at Wizards of the Coast who have probably the most stringent playtesting team around  (stop laughing, Magic players, 'cos it is undeniably true.)  Cards make it out of design that get broken by gamers and need errata or bans.  

    Design in the non-abstract space can be messy, and imprecise.  The trade off is that we play games that are dry, with little black and white pawns and no thematic window dressing.  That's not a trade-off I'm willing to make, y'know?

    And now, the million dollar question--knowing what I know about the Hammer, would I revoke my "Game of the Year" honors to A Few Acres of Snow?  No, I wouldn't.  Even if the game did ship with a glaring design flaw, I can still respect the ambition and art behind the design.  I can give my respect for the direction that the design was heading.  I think I even mentioned in my rewards wrap-up that I played my #3 and #2 games far more, and would likely play them far more in the future, but had to give the nod to what A Few Acres set out to do.

    So the game has errata and rules changes.  Yeah, that happens and something that as a thematic gamer and card flopper over the years I'm used to dealing with.  But I'll take my ambitious but flawed designs that I'm served up over the me-too but *especially* over games that don't reach out to try and capture theme and excitement.  

    I am just a guy who likes to play games and talk about 'em.  I wear this on my sleeve.  If I'm not going in depth enough, I do apologize, but it's not my style, nor is it something I ever claimed to do.  When I do the "Hall of Fame" entries (one is due pretty soon!), I'm covering games in depth that have stood the test of time.  Other than that?  I'm just playing games and shooting the shit about them.  It's what I do.  It's what I've been doing for quite awhile now.  I write because I love gaming, and I enjoy being a part of this website.

    Bottom line?  A Few Acres has a flaw.  It's still a genius, ambitious design.  With either errata or those playing by "the spirit of the rules", the game works fine.  If it fails for you as a tournament-caliber game, move on, or more importantly, just wait for the next evolution in this design.  Because like it or not, this game is the lynchpin and catalyst for this type of design to move forward; and I am extremely excited to see where we go from here.

  • Play with me

    Games give me new and interesting ways to interact with other people. This is the difference between e-games and board games. While the increased sophistication of e-games seduces and immerses players into their increasingly elaborate worlds, they are all worlds inhabited by one. Even multiplayer games provide only a hint of the human interaction that occurs when people can meet each other's eye over a table and read each others facial expressions, tone of voice and body language. 

    Games strip away the existing social structures and constraints and create new power structures and encourage people to play with each other. Children become overlords. Lovers lie to each other. Strangers become allies. Wallflowers become leaders. Sweet, soft spoken grandmothers become mob bosses who wack their own grandkids.

    Gamers scratch their head and sigh at Monopoly's continued, overwhelming popularity, when so many improvements in game mechanics have been introduced. They are missing the attraction. Hoary old Monopoly allows children to dictate terms to their older siblings, and parents. For decades there were few games that were simple enough for an 8 year old to play, that could led to that moment of decision when you hold the fate of your bullying older sibling in your hands. Do you accept their lame property and a "Get out of Jail Free" card in lieu of the cash rent they owe you, or to you bankrupt them and eliminate them from the game. HA!HA!HA!

    Although new games may often rehash old mechanics, these mechanics are being leveraged with greater frequency to introduce new ways of interacting with friends, family and strangers. 

    Talisman and Arkham Horror may both use the old move and pick a card mechanic, but the interaction between the players is totally different. Android may have mechanical flaws, but it triggers intense, emotional interactions between the players. Battlestar Galactica and Shadow Hunters give us the permission to lie. VOC is a game of trust.  Even Castle Panic changes the normal pecking order of the family. 

    If you think board games have stalled out and reached their limitations, you are exploring the wrong boundary line.   


  • Playing Ravenloft with Wrath of Ashardalon Rules

    I've only played Wrath of Ashardalon once, but it felt a bit more developed than Ravenloft. Wrath of Ashardalon'srules also seemed to adress some of the ambiguities in Ravenloft. So incorporating those rules into Ravenloft makes sense to me. Has anyone else done this?

  • Pumped for the Dump - The De-Hoarding Campaign

    We made up for last weekend's failure to make two dump runs, by hauling FIVE  truck loads to the dump this weekend. It was hot, dirty work and and I still have a few aches and bruises today. We found out the town had changed one of their rules to our benefit - electronics can be dropped off for recycling for free. We were able to put together an entire load of old computers, monitors, printers, TVs, VCRs and DVD players. I know that sounds nuts to have been storing this stuff for years, but as I mentioned in the comments of a prior entry, you used to have to wait for a specific collection day to get rid of electronics, and we always forgot which day it was.

    The old dump guys are real characters. The Dump Master reminded me of a short "On Golden Pond" Henry Fonda, complete with fishing hat and fatherly advise on how to load and sort our junk. There was an almost carnival like atmosphere over at the crushable, combustible junk compactor, with one of the dump guys shouting out encouragements like "throw hard," "aim for the middle", and "good toss", as people attempted to throw their junk about 6 feet to hit the compactor opening. The dump guy over at the wood bin took notice of some of our wood, and asked us how old our house was. He mourned the rotted condition of the old beam we were tossing, and managed to salvage a bundle of wood trim  from our pile to keep for himself, explaining to me how it was originally made.