My (Scary) Village

It’s a special Halloween edition of The Gumbo! But first, a story…. 

A new tradition was born in the village of Mamou, a small village on the northern edge of the Acadian Prairie. The townspeople of the small village, along with their counterparts in the other three villages just across the prairie, aimed to be the village with the most Prestige. Maybe, just maybe, could the village and its lovely folk move up to being called a town under Napoleonic law? 

And so, on All Hallows Eve, the village’s founders set out on a grand adventure to increase the prestige of the village: by traveling out to the Gulf of Mexico, by building a great cathedral, by creating beautiful meeting places for the village folk, and by increasing the production of resources enough to entice visitors to the village to fill up its weekly farmers market. 

But there was a price to pay for their pride. The Grim Reaper came calling each year to claim new friends for himself from among the villagers who were the most noteworthy. Could each Village avoid his clutches?

……….

Last night, at the biweekly Acadiana Arcana meet up group — affectionately known as Gumbo Game Night, the Krewe de Gumbo played as many Halloween themed games as we could get our hands on. 

We played Broom Serviceimg_1295, sending witches all over the board to deliver potions to the towers. Cackles of laughter rang out each time a brave witch trumped a cowardly one. 

We played Fury of Dracula (third edition). img_1298Would Nosferatu finally overcome the brave heroes on this Halloween night? Fortunately, the hunters were well equipped for the vampire’s cunning moves, and vanquished the old evil.

But we were also looking for some out of the box type games, a game or two that would fit with our Halloween game night theme but also be a little different. 

Does your group love action selection or dice pool games? Do you and your friends love watching your actions create an ever larger tableau of village buildings and action spaces? How about one with at least a tenuous connection to Halloween? Spice it up! with My Village

img_1126My Village  is the 2015 release from Stronghold Games designed by Markus Brand and Inka Brand, that is a dice based version of the games in their Village line. Players take on the role of village founders who set out to increase the “prestige” (i.e. victory points) of their village against up to three other village builders. Each village builds out all aspects of their little community, including church buildings, government areas, production, and even traveling a long and winding road out to the sea, all the while gathering prestige points (permanent victory points) and story points (temporary points that must be “banked” or converted into permanent victory points.) 

The game does not have a set number of rounds, but instead ends after a set number of villages have passed into the great beyond.  And that’s where the Halloween theme, at least for me, comes in the strongest.  The dark foreboding figure of the grim reaper watches over your village, and waits for you to complete an entire circle on the time track. You move around the time track each time you take an action that requires time (which is essentially the biggest commodity in the game.)

Each time your village marker crosses the “bridge of death” (as we called it), the Grim Reaper tags along with your marker, reminding you that at the end of that turn, it will be time for your village to say goodbye to one of its town fathers or mothers.


Of course, the first of these villages will also earn your village story points, but until you train a new villager, you will be hampered by not being able to activate those areas that the villager once controlled. 

My Village is a sandbox game. Although we have not explored all of the depths of the game yet, there does not appear to be any one correct way to score the most prestige points. 

Maybe your village will specialize in adventuring out of the village toward the sea, and produce resources that helps you outfit those expeditions. Or, maybe your village will want the grandest monuments to church and state, giving you permanent and temporary bonuses to help you. Or maybe you fancy your village as the nexus point of trading in the valley, creating an effective engine for making resources and trading them to the local merchants. All of these are viable and can be mixed and matched, as I believe it takes being very good and efficient with multiple areas of the board to win. 

It is definitely a next step up from your normal work replacement for action selection type game. The game takes a fair length to set up and explain the different areas, but the game play itself is fairly intuitive. It really is a dice pool and card drafting game, where the first player rolls a handful of white and black dice to start each round. The white dice represent a combination of two dice that can be chosen without time penalty to activate the different cards and areas of the board. The black dice each represent numbers that can be used, but with a penalty of two time spaces for each die.

 

The fact that the dice pool is limited puts a premium on being first in the round. If you fall to last place in the turn order, instead of a nice set of a dozen dice to choose from, you may be limited to only one or two white dice, or even forbid having to choose both black dice for your value for this round, costing you four time.  

Time is a precious commodity in this game. It pays to be efficient.  Every time the Grim Reaper comes calling, you lose one of your five villagers, and without them, you cannot take actions associated with that job.  For instance, once the Abbey villager passes, until you replace him by training another villager at the village schoolhouse, you can’t continue to build onto your church anymore. And every time a village joins the community ceremony, that player must roll the “rat die” (a beautiful grey-and-red dice) whose dice rolls puts you ever closer to the “plague space.”  The plague space is a diabolical special touch from the designers, because half of those non-banked story points just hanging around the story tree in your park go away if ever the rat maple reaches the problem space. 

img_1299How is the production value? Stronghold, in partnership with Eggerspiele, really knocked it out of the park on this one. There is no scrimping here. The gray rat maple looks menacing but cute on the table. The dice are weighty with good movement, and the board itself is colorful but explains the actions very similar. The board is very well laid out and is beautiful to look at. The Grim Reaper little standees are a perfect representation of each player’s nemesis. I love the idea of using the black wooden “meeples” double for a lot of different things on the board: coins, villagers, and even resources.

If there are any downsides to the game, it is the fact that it can take a while to teach the game. The “cheat sheet” I printed out from the Geek itself was four pages long with dense type. The game itself is easy to understand — roll the dice pool, pick one set (or two sets if playing with two players) of dice for your actions, build your village, then check to see if anyone died — but there are a lot of special rules for each type of village building. Even after two or three plays, I was still diving into the cheat sheet to make sure we played the buildings correctly.

For that reason, My Village is not a game I would recommend for brand new gamers wanting to try worker placement/dice pool type games. There is a lot to maintain on the board, even though each turn is blissfully short, and finding the right combos is the key to being very efficient. But if your game group has lots of action selection / worker placement type games under your belt, then My Village will be a breeze for you to pick up. You owe it to your game group to give this one a try, especially on Halloween. It’s a great next step up. I’m a big fan of My Village, and can’t wait to bring it out to the table again. My (Christmas) Village, anyone?

Until next time, Laissez les bon temps rouler!

–B.J.

 

 

Spice it up! with New Bedford

The first brisk north wind that whips south of I-20 down toward the Atchafalaya Basin ushers in the favorite of the true Cajun’s four seasons. After a short winter, short spring, and very long summer, it is finally time for Gumbo season (or as Northerners would call it, “Fall”.)

But for some of us familiar with the history of the Acadian migration, otherwise known as Le Grand Derangement, the first time the temperature dips below 72 in the morning dredges up memories that do not emanate from our brains, but instead, are encased in our bones and DNA and well up from our hearts. We do not ever remember the smell of the Atlantic Ocean or the taste of its sea salt on our cracked lips, but somehow, something primitive emerges. We tug on our coats and turn our eyes northward, and wonder, even unconsciously, whether our beloved Acadie seashore feels the same chill.

Cajuns in Louisiana that descend from the Acadian soil have sea salt in their veins. Likewise, many other “Cajuns” (called that because after 200 years of intermarriage between French, Portuguese, Italian, Spanish, German and Irish settlers with those who were expelled from the Acadian colony in Nova Scotia, you become Cajun yourself especially if your mom and your grandma speak Cajun French!) share that same saline infused blood.

Many of the prairie Cajuns where I come from have no roots in Acadie. Some were French courir-de-bois (“runners of the woods”) who meandered their way down to a French settlement in Louisiana. Many were French soldiers, pushed by British troops further and further down the Mississippi River until reaching the fort near Washington, Louisiana, or in New Orleans and then settling up and down the bayous of present day Acadiana. Some were Spanish or Portuguese or Italian sailors or sailmakers or the sons and daughters of minor nobles in their homelands, bereft of inheritance under Old World law who came to the New World on the great wooden ships of Europe to make their own fortune.

The sea calls to those of us in Acadiana, and we answer by plying the waters in search of the best bounty — the tasty variety like shrimp or redfish or crab, or the black, slick money making kind that is propelled upwards in the hundreds of rigs that dot the Gulf of Mexico.

We are connected to the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico. But deep down inside, somewhere two hundred years in the making, does the natural reaction to the first sign of Fall mean that our bones still yearn for those cold Atlantic waters?

If your game group is anything like mine, your friends love worker placement games, but tire of the same old trading in the Mediterranean theme. Your group wants more theme. Is there a game that gives us a great theme, beautiful components, and satiates our need for salt air?

Let’s Spice it up! With New Bedford.

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Lots of beautiful pieces in a small package. 
New Bedford is the 2016 release from Greater Than Games (Dice Hate Me Games). It was designed by Nathaniel Levan, with art from Nolan Nasser. It plays from 2-4 players, and plays in about an hour and a half.
 Players compete trying to score the most victory points by building out the town of New Bedford, a former center of the whaling industry in the mid-1800s. They also score points by building ships and sending them out to stalk the great whales of the cold waters of the Atlantic Ocean. Money counts for VPs, too, but the heart of the game is in developing your section of the town and collecting whale tokens for your two ships.
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Lots of ships plying the cold waters of the Atlantic Ocean.
The game plays in twelve rounds, and with only two workers, it is an easy transition from other genres of board games into this worker placement. On the lightness scale, I would call it a little lighter (and with just as much theme) as my favorite WP game, Viticulture. Each round, players place their workers on various “buildings” that represent the different actions, like collecting resources (brick, wood, “biscuits”) or building buildings or preparing and launching your ships.

 At the end of each round, two important steps happen out on the whaling board that comes with the game.  First, ships move closer to the dock, and any ship that ‘returns’ must ‘pay the lay’ for the whales on the ships. This represents the history of captains paying their crew for the production. Next, the ships that are out on the ocean get a chance to pull whale tiles from a bag, and store them on their ships. There is a chance at three different types of whales, all with different icons, costs and rewards. There is also a chance at pulling an empty sea token, which cannot be used by the captain — unless you build a special building or two that bends the rules.

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Right whales, bow whales, and the very expensive but point dominating sperm whale.
After twelve rounds, and a few more whaling expeditions, the points are tallied. Players get one point for every building, extra VPs for the special victory point buildings, the points for the whales that made it into their warehouse, and of course, a point for every five coins. The winner is the builder/captain with the most points.

The production on the base game is stunning. It has absolutely gorgeous art on every square inch of the game. Even the backs of the boards and tiles have beautiful artwork or historical information or even quotes from Moby Dick. There was a lot of care built into the art and graphic design — as we have come to expect from Dice Hate Me games. Each town location has design that looks like a historical place, and the designer notes show that Nathaniel did a lot of research on the town and the real locations there, and tried to represent them well in the game.

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Gorgeous artwork.
The bits and pieces are fun. They are all made out of wood (except for the cardboard money, which has unique graphics on both sides) and accurately represent the pieces. The bricks are red and really look like little bricks, and the wood is represented by a little stack of lumber. The ships come in two different sizes for distinguishing them. (The sizes are fine, but the colors frankly stink. The green and the blue are so close to each other even for someone who is not color blind like me that in a room that has less light than the sterile operating room at your local Parish hospital, it is VERY hard to distinguish them especially if they are next to each other on the whaling track.)

I love the game play. With only two workers, turns go by very quick, and twelve rounds seems just too short!  I haven’t played a game yet where each player just wanted “one more turn,” which is usually the sign of a great worker placement game. The base game comes with around twenty tiles, and there are suggestions on BGG for how to use the tiles in different starting formats to make the game repayable. (Plus there is an expansion, New Bedford: Rising Tide (2016), that I will try and review later, that adds tons more tiles, a fifth player expansion, and even event cards that can really spice up the game.)

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Teaching new sailors how to hoist the mizzen mast. 
I also like some of the unique twists on worker placement games. Each player has a chance to add more locations for the workers to visit. If you build a location on your side of town, the location is not strictly limited to your use, but like in some other games, there is a bonus if another player uses your building, who has to pay you a $1. Also, the town and harbor sections allow for unlimited workers — but all give some kind of added bonus if you are the first worker at that spot.

But, each player’s town section add-ons are limited to one worker per space, so there are some juicy decisions on each turn as to where a player will put that first worker. Take the bonus spot that is your second choice only because you need the bonus? Or risk that the location will still be available with your second worker? Build the building and use the resources, or spend the resources on whaling or other buildings and just drop a few coins to the other player to use that building? All great decisions, made even more tense as we get closer to round 12.

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The town of New Bedford is starting to expand with the new found wealth of the whaling companies. 
I love that there is not just one way of winning this game. Do you go with a straight building strategy, or do you focus solely on whaling early and often? Do you mix a little town development with some mid game whaling to steal some of the big whales with a little luck? Or do you focus on resources so that you combo buildings with VPs from them? There are lots of ways to win, and it is fun to watch the other sections of the board and guess which way the other players will go.

As you can see, I love this game. (I love it even more with the expansion). I think it is the perfect game to introduce the worker placement concept to new players, but has plenty of strategy and deep decisions for more experienced players. I am a big fan of games that really develop the theme in the game, and each of the mechanisms that the designer uses seems to fit the game. There is even a historical nod to the decline of the whaling industry — when players remove tokens from the bag, empty sea tokens normally go back in each round, which means that the pool of available whale tokens gets smaller and smaller each round, which represents the effect that overfishing the Atlantic had on reducing the whale population.

If your game group is looking for a quick to learn, quick to play worker placement game with very little down time and great strategy, then I would head down to your friendly local game store and pick up a copy of New Bedford. The leaves are falling, there is a chill in the air, and I can smell the roux cooking on the stove. I think I will add a little sausage and tasso to the pot, and enjoy my gumbo with a great game and a silent prayer of thanks to my nautical ancestors.

Until next time, Laissez les bon temps rouler!

— B.J.

 

Board gaming Louisiana style — a diary of volunteering at a board game room at a regional convention

What a weekend! The second Louisiana Comic Con – Lafayette happened this weekend, and the Board Game Gumbo Krewe was in full force. The convention organizers asked us to man the board game section of the con, which took up a large section of the second floor next to the Main Panel area.

The Krewe responded, bringing eight members to teach new and experienced gamers alike. This was our first time ever staffing a convention, but our members have been to Gen Con, Board Game Geek (the other BGG) con, and many other regional conventions from L.A. to New Orleans.

This is intended not only as a wrap up of the Con and our efforts there, but also as a convention diary to game plan future events, basically a “roses and thorns” of the weekend. We started planning for the event months ago, with planning sessions on our Wednesday night game nights and lots of email, text and Google doc exchanges.

We chose this Con for obvious reasons, because it is in our backyard, but also because we could test some of our ideas on a smaller crowd. We hoped to leverage our previous experience as attendees at larger cons into really upgrading the fan experience.

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Day One before the rush

What did we want to accomplish? What would we offer the con and the convention goers? These are questions any volunteer organization needs to answer to have an impact at a Con.

First, we talked about what our goals were. After a lot of discussion, we thought back to last year’s con. Because board gaming is still a relatively new hobby to most of this area (although there are individually many players with lots of experience, we are vastly outnumbered by those interested in the hobby), we thought we would focus on one of our strengths — teaching quick, simple but engaging games to the casual fan and interested gamer, while sprinkling in the latest hotness from Gen Con and deeper games for those that are inclined.

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Splendor and Colt Express

Next, we researched what our assignments would be. That’s where Mike Russell, the staff member in charge of the board game area, came in. We reached out to him and the AVC, the owners of the con, for suggested assignments, and were happy when they gave us carte blanche to brainstorm new ideas to….well…spice up the con. We quickly agreed that manning at least four or five tables in one corner of the room would give us a visibility and inviting presence for those new gamers that might be a little intimidated by leaping into the hobby.

On Friday night, we showed up early to help set up the area and check in with the main convention staff.

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Getting our credentials

Basically, we organized the room into three areas. Once convention goers entered the area, they saw a big friendly sign that invited them to play games for free, with a chance to win free games. (We gave away Celestia, Five Tribes, Hand Off -LSU, and the New York 1901 architect promos — and all were big hits!) Ahead of them was a large library with free tables brought by Mike Russell and his crew. (Mike is with IGA, and has lots of contacts in the industry, so he brought an amazing collection — everything from entry level mass market games to the latest big releases.)

 

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Betrayal at the House on the Hill

To the right we set up an area for designers to get players for prototypes, and two guys from Lafayette (Joshua Sonnier and Lester Tisdale) working on a great new card game design called Kaiju Crisis brought their prototype and dozens and dozens of people try over the weekend. Their tables were crowded all weekend long. Joshua told me that he and Lester were ecstatic  with the number of players and feedback that they got.  Lafayette has always had a very active CCG scene, so he had good feedback from players familiar with card game combos and attacks. Check out their GoFundMe page here.

 

 

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Just some of the crowd that visited one part of the board games area.

Finally, to the left, the Krewe set up a long line of tables with a wall of games behind them. Each Krewe member manned a table, or walked the floor, and invited players to try out the games already set up or pick out a game from the wall for playing.

 

That part we were not sure about going into the Con. Would we get players interested in trying games that they have never heard of? Would people be too intimidated by the neon yellow shirts the convention gave us?

On Saturday morning, things started slow. The excitement of a Comic Con is in visiting the entire convention at first, checking out the vendor hall (which was huge for a regional con, with lots of variety including a booth from my old high school classmate, Kenneth Kidder, who has attended 18 cons this year promoting the release of his independent RPG game, Tortured Earth), and seeing all the cosplayers. It takes a little while for people to wander upstairs to the panel rooms and the board game room.

Bradly and I set up some demo areas of 51st State from Portal Games and My Village from Stronghold Games. This was right after the doors opened, so we had some quiet time to show the game to a few interested people. Once the attendees made it through the vendor area and up the escalator around 11:00 am, it was a mad house from then until close!

The rest of the weekend for me was spent encouraging folks to join our tables. I also got to demo My Village on Sunday morning, teach a few games of Bottom of the 9th, and even got to play in a few new games and old favorites: New Bedford, Splendor, Celestia (twice!), Imperial Settlers, Colt Express, New York 1901 (twice!), and Abyss.

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We not only played our friend Chenier LaSalle’s New York 1901 twice, with these gorgeous new painted miniatures, but thanks to Blue Orange Games, we even gave away two free sets of figures and a ton of other promos!

I had some of my favorites and some of the newest games I picked up at GenCon on the window shelf right behind my table. After the My Village demos were done each day, we let visitors pick out games from the shelf.At first, people were a little hesitant, but when they came back on Sunday, they were ready to play!

One of the games that was a bit hit on Sunday was Colt Express. I played it with a few gamers, and one of them was so excited, he stayed to play and taught the game to two other groups (with a little help from me on the first, but not much on the second game at all.) That was really a success!

We had numerous visitors come right up to the table and ask about certain games and whether we were able to teach them, and of course, we accommodated them.

I taught Kirk how to play a Bottom of the 9th, from Dice Hate Me Games and Greater Than Games, and he quickly set up the game for new players. That was a big hit! The game is gorgeous, the game play is easy to teach, frantic and really feels like baseball, and is a great game to introduce to new gamers. We had a lot of young players familiar with games who jumped right in, while dad (who wasn’t a gamer) watched. It didn’t take long before Kirk was able to sit the dads down, too, and we may have brought in some new gamers into the fold.  Kirk told me by the end of the day he had basically played two nine inning games of baseball!

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Cry Havoc — Dustin found some experienced war gamers and converted them into board gamers, at least for the weekend!
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One of many, many plays of Jamaica during the day.

Dustin came in on Sunday to relieve Kirk, and brought a whole host of colorful games, running the gamut from the easy to teach Jamaica, to the brightly designed Asking for Trobils, from the design studio Kraken Games right down the road from us in Houston (reprint coming soon!). We met a few former war gamers, who were looking for a good game to get into in the board game hobby side, and so Dustin broke out Cry Havoc from Grant Rodiek and Portal Games, which was a big hit.

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One of many games of King of Tokyo, but if you look closely at other pictures on the site, you will see the colorful bits of Terraforming Mars being played, too!

Dave (the Kaplan Capo) brought a whole mix of games, everything from light and easy party games to some great Euros. He started off the crowd with King of Tokyo, which was a big success. He also broke out Celestia, Camel Up, Love Letter, Splendor, and a host of other games.

He and his wife Melissa had a great time introducing family weight games, and his side of the table was full all weekend long. They also had the pleasure of generating lots of tickets for our raffle, where we gave away Celestia and Hand Off on the first day — so it was not a surprise when players of their games won both games!

Bryan is our resident card game expert, and he brought two of his favorites. He loves the Legendary system, and brought Legendary Encounters: A Firefly Deckbuilding Gameto the table all day on Saturday and Sunday morning. He also knew that comic book fans not familiar with gaming might be enticed if they saw their favorite heroes on the table, so he brought out the DC Comics Deckbuilding Game, and taught numerous new gamers how to play.

Carlos played more than just Camel Up, although every time I took a picture it seemed like he had a new group of players joining in a new game! He was the go to guy as the moderator for Mysterium, lending a spooky flavor to a number of games with new and experienced players alike. Plus, he enjoyed a few innings with the convention guests in Bottom of the 9th. And, he even squeezed in a game or two of Ashes and Lords of Waterdeep! Busy guy.

Last, but not least, Bradly taught a whole slew of games. In fact, he had a table set up just for the large collection he brought to the con. He had complete play throughs of 51st State, Hanabi, DC Deck Building, Artifacts Inc. and even ran a long demo of Castles of Mad King Ludwig on Sunday morning.

We also took part in our first ever panel. I was asked to be a moderator at an “Intro to Board Gaming” panel on Sunday morning, so I invited Bryan and Dave from Board Game Gumbo as well as two organizers of the game nights at our local board game stores.

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(from L to R) Bryan, BJ, Andy, Andy, and Dave

Andrew “Andy” Graves from Sword & Board came and talked up his game night, along with his favorite games to break out for new gamers. Andrew “Andy” Lee from And Books Too talked up his store’s efforts to bring in new gamers as well as his favorite genres for new people to the hobby. Bryan talked about conventions, and also how playing deck builders is an easy entry into the hobby especially for fans of CCGs. Finally, Dave talked about a few of his favorite games and then gave an impassioned talk encouraging the audience to join a game group as it can really amp up your participation in the hobby.

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Dave, the Kaplan Capo, encouraging new gamers to join a game group.

Whew. As I said on Twitter, I have a newfound appreciation for the volunteers around the country who give up their weekends to introduce the hobby to new gamers and to teach experienced gamers the latest games or classic games we may have missed. Kudos also to the designers, developers, publishers and vendors themselves who not only work tirelessly to bring us great games but also give up their free time to market the hobby at these conventions, which now occur just about every weekend of the year.

I also was frankly surprised at the depth and complexity of games we were able to bring out. I was worried that new players might not be interested or feel comfortable handling games with complex mechanics, but as the weekend wore on, we were able to introduce more and more deeper games. Admittedly, any game with eye popping features — like the train set from Colt Express or the airship from Celestia or the camels / pyramid of Camel Up — was an easy draw, but games like 51st State, Abyss, New Bedford, Asking for Trobils, and Terraforming Mars were all hits.

I may add to this little diary from time to time as we plan the Board Game Gumbo’s next con adventure. I hope this blog entry encourages other people already involved in the hobby but who have never volunteered at a con to reach out to their local conventions like we did and offer to help.  Make sure you come visit us at the next convention (some of us will be at BGG.Con this year), or come by Louisiana Comic Con in 2017 to see how we can Spice it up!

Until next time, Laissez Les Bon Temps Rouler!

— B.J.

Beignets and Board Games: First Impressions of the upcoming game, Wordsy

The rhythm and cadence of language fascinates me. Growing up in south Louisiana has given me a front seat to a culture full of musical expressions for every day greetings and happenings. We worship idioms, both in French and English.

We say “How’s your maw-maw” or “comment les affaires” to say hello to neighbors on the street. We wink and say “on va se revoir (we’ll see you again)” when we bid good-bye to strangers we’ve just met. Our Cajun raconteurs are famous for their quick minds and ability to connect scraps of a conversation to an old story or joke.

We love language. 

Maybe that’s why I love word games. I remember long ago Saturday nights watching my mom play Scrabble for hours in the kitchen with her friends, or hearing my dad roar with laughter at a funny definition in Balderdash. We played Hangman at school during recess, and played hours and hours of Boggle with my family. As an adult, I bought a copy of Runes off of eBay, and loved competing with my wife to find words that fit the symbols on our boards.

I just love that moment in a game when someone makes a clever connection between random letters and an unusual word. There is an indescribable feeling when you combo letters into a word so unique to your group that everyone nods, a silent look of “well played” on their faces.

How does this feeling best translate to cardboard? I have been searching for that answer myself for years, and I think I have finally found the perfect expression of that desire. img_1105-1

Gil Hova of Formal Ferret Games, sent me a prototype review copy of Wordsy, a streamlined version of his original word game, Prolix. (Note: I have not played the original game, just this implementation. ) Gil is the designer of Bad Medicine and the blisteringly hot title from Gen Con and Essen 2016, The Networks, which sadly is still on my list of games to play this year.

So, slide into a comfortable chair, grab yourself a steaming cup of Community coffee (Cafe’ Special, of course) and a plate of fried powdery goodness, and let’s chat about this tight, fun, and challenging word game that hits Kickstarter this fall.

Overview:

Wordsy is a word game for one to six players that uses a card system instead of tiles or dice to generate random letters. The game is competitive and is played over seven rounds, lasting about twenty minutes total. In each round, a two by four grid of consonants is formed in the middle of all of the players, with each two letter row given a successive number value from 2 to 5. During each round, players write down a word that uses as many of these letters as possible, and can score bonuses depending on the letter used and the time it takes to write down the word. Whoever scores the most points in seven rounds is declared the winner.

img_1101Bits and pieces:

The version we received is in prototype form, but I did enjoy the graphical choices even in somewhat raw form. Wordsy comes in a small box, that looks like an old leather bound folio. The game consists of a large stack of cards each with a different letter on it, some with colors and numbers to donate their rarity and bonus point potential. It also comes with a sand timer, and plenty enough scoring sheets for you and all of your word-loving friends. Finally, it has four scoring column cards each with a different point value. The prototype version shown in these pictures is what was sent to me, but my understanding is that the cards are not representative of all of the final graphical choices.

img_1033How to play:

Each round, players study the eight letters on the board at the same time. The first player to think up a word and write it down can grab the 30 second timer. That puts all the other players on the clock to come up with a word. When time runs out, the person who grabbed the timer scores his or her word first, and gets bonus points if he or she can beat at least half of the other players. Of course, the slower players also get a bonus if they beat the first player.

Once the seven rounds are done, players score their best five words plus any bonuses. The player with the most points is declared the winner. In short, Wordsy is simple, intuitive, and easy to teach.

img_1103-1Initial impressions:

I have played this game already half a dozen times, both one on one and in a group of three or four other players. I even brought it out with some non-gamers, just to test its accessibility.  The non-gamers picked up the concept of the game during the very first round, and said they were intrigued by the challenge of coming up with words “out of thin air” (as they said). They’ve seen many of my other board games, and were half-expecting a two hour long Euro game with lots of pieces (not something they are interested in at all), and were happy to see the minimalist construction of this game.  Both non-gamers gave Wordsy two thumbs up.

I also introduced it to some of the Krewe, who are of course very familiar with games like Biblios and Boggle. The Gumbo guys thought Wordsy played fast but challenging, and much preferred it to other word type games. The game is light weight, but has some gamer touches (scoring, bonuses, timer, and first player challenges) that gave a deeper level of strategy than your standard word game. 

How did I enjoy my plays? I love how Gil has put some cayenne into what could have been a standard fare race-to-make-the-biggest-word game. I love three of the many hooks he added to Wordsy:

The good hook? Different consonants are worth different points depending upon how rare the letter is in normal English words, and what column they are in.

The better hook? Two columns of letters slide down each round to lower value columns, and the higher values columns are replaced by new letters, so each round the board changes

The best hook? Players can use literally any letter they want in the alphabet to make up the word for each round — that’s right, any letter, not just the ones on the current board. The trick is that a player only scores the letters that are actually on the board.

As an example, if the board has the letters M, N, and T on the board in the 2, 3, and 4 point columns respectively, and a player writes down the word “filament”, the player would score 9 points total, not including any bonus points for being the first player to write down a word and beating the other players, or beating the first player outright.

This turns Wordsy into my favorite kind of genre, in addition to being a word game: It’s really a sandbox word game, where you are not limited to what is in front of you on your turn. Instead, the world is your board! Any letter in the English language is there for you to call it down from the aether onto your scoresheet. That’s real word game freedom.

img_1035Recommendations:

I have played Boggle hundreds of times, and the limited number of letters on the board is what drove me crazy about that game. I could never stand being limited to the grid of letters that randomly popped out of the dice. I always wanted a word game that added a little spice to the standard format.

Wordsy gives me the freedom to dream big. The outlay provided by the cards is only a starting point. It’s an invitation to search my memory banks for words that fit the pattern of the letters on the board. It is definitely a step up in fun and challenge from Boggle and Scrabble and other games that limit your choices, and the addition of the timed bonuses really adds some punch to the experience.

Challenge yourself. Invite a few wordsmiths in your area to sit down for beignets and coffee, and break out a copy of Wordsy after it comes out on Kickstarter this fall. If you like word games, or if you like challenging filler games that have some meat on the bones, you will definitely like Wordsy. It’s quick, it’s easy to teach, it’s challenging, and most of all, it is deliciously fun!

Until next time, Laissez les bon temps rouler!

— B.J.