Flavor Text

The last few weeks have been a blur in gaming, mostly centered around opening up, bagging, and playing the Kickstarter edition of Near and Far by Red Raven Games. I plan to talk more about the game in another blog post, once I have a few more plays in, but spoiler alert — I really love this game.img_2986

Story telling games have always fascinated me, perhaps from my love of choose your own adventure books and RPGs as a young man. Above and Below, Red Raven’s earlier attempt at a world building story telling game, was a big hit with me and my two sons, and in all honesty, winning was in second place to exploring the underground in that game.

I had yet to bring my wife into the fantastical world of Red Raven Games and Ryan Laukat’s whimsical art, so I thought Islebound would be a good place to start. Islebound is a 2016 release where players sail ships around a modular board conquering and/or negotiating treaties with towns and ports, all in an effort to score journey points along the way.  I was excited to introduce her to a mechanic that I really like in Red Raven’s last three games.

The thing that I like about this “trilogy” of games (Above and Below, Islebound, and Near and Far) is that each one has story elements built in, albeit in different ways.  If the games had been published in order from Islebound to Near and Far, you might even say that there was a bit of an advancement in the way Laukat implements the story mechanic. In Islebound, the story elements are mainly found in the “troubadour” cards (as my wife calls them) and “event” cards. These cards, found on the side board, allow you to increase your renown and influence by meeting certain objectives, and on each one is a little story about why you need to take that action or about the reward you will get.

Laukat took that concept to a higher level in Above and Below, where you are presented choices in the story mode of the game.  You have to make decisions in choose-your-own-adventure fashion, and choose between two or three actions. The consequences of your choice can make a difference in terms of your rewards (although there is some valid criticism about the connection between the stories and rewards, and the rather abrupt way most stories end.)

The ultimate is the way Near and Far integrates the stories into the game at every level. The story elements are clearly interconnected to each map and even throughout the campaign.

So, I thought I would read the flavor text each time when we finally brought Islebound to the table, as a good introduction to the world. But each time I read the cards, she waved her hands dismissively and said to move on to the action.

That frankly shocked me a bit. My wife loves stories, movies and music, so the concept of make believe does not bother her. So why didn’t she enjoy the text? I was not expecting her to reject this part of the game.

When I asked her about it after the game ended (victoriously in her case, again), she said that the stories did not really seem connected to what we were doing at the time. To her, it was just a bunch of “fluff.”

That got me thinking about flavor text in games. Why do I enjoy well written flavor text?  I grew up playing D&D, and moved to Magic in 1993-94. Magic cards are notorious for having great flavor text. Even in today’s modern board games, I am always on the look out for extra flavor. We’ve been playing a lot of Clank! lately, and if you look at those cards, you will see a lot of humorous text to go with the illustrations on the cards.

To me, you miss out a lot if you don’t at least glance at the text, and see how the theme interacts with the gameplay. But, maybe she is correct? Does Islebound really need the flavor text? Would it be just as good of a game with less emphasis on the story elements (small that they may be)?  Does a game need to integrate meaningful decisions if the designer wants players to take the flavor text seriously?

I’d love to hear your thoughts. Send me a reply in the comments below or a tweet @boardgamegumbo.

Until the next time we met up in Arzium, Laissez les bon temps rouler!

–B.J.

Board Games and Beignets: Quick Look at Grifters

After two days of navigating the paths and queues of Pandora, my brain needed a new challenge. A recent Thursday was Day Two of a short trip to The Walt Disney World Resort in Florida.  I skipped Gumbo Game Night to travel to Orlando for my son’s first lacrosse tourney of the summer, but after two days of misty weather, hot rain and larger than normal crowds — likely due to the recent opening of the Avatar-themed land at Disney’s Animal Kingdom — I was ready for some mental stimulation.

I traveled again back to Cool Stuff Inc’s location right near the Resort. It’s about a twenty minute drive over (but watch out for toll roads on the quickest route). Luckily for me, Thursday is board game night at the store. After perusing some of the daily specials, I wandered over to the open table gaming area.

I was in luck! On the left side of the room, just past a finely stocked game share library, I spotted a table of smiling gamers surrounding a game I knew from my research for The Next Purchase. A four person table playing Quebec, a game I have long been wanting to try, was just wrapping up. As the game began to reach its conclusion, I introduced myself and talked to the group about their play experience.

What I heard was all positive, but there was even more fortuitous events in store. The owner of Quebec, a friendly fellow named “Dave”, had also brought a copy of The Grifters, a card game I own but have not yet played. The cherry on the sundae? Turns out that Dave is Dave Fulton, the co-designer of the game! What better way to learn how to play then to have the designer teach you?

Dave has a lot of experience in teaching games and running a game group, based on our conversation. He recently moved to the Orlando area from Chicago, where he kept a play group going to bring games to the community and as a ready source for playtesting his designs. Now, he is trying to bring a regular game night to the Orange Blossom Trail Cool Stuff Inc store on Thursdays, so if you get a chance, swing on by and say hello.

While this is not a full review, these are my initial thoughts after playing a four person game that night, and doing some post-game research on the mechanics and theme. Does your game group like take that games, but want something with a little more heft than the usual fare? If so, spice up your game night with Grifters!

THE GAMEPLAY

Grifters, a 2015 release published in America by Indie Boards & Cards and Jacksmack Games, is a take-that, deck builder with a twist designed by Dave Fulton and Jacob Tlapek. . The game has an interesting backstory. Dave told me it was originally on Kickstarter, but Travis from IB&C liked the game so much that he decided to publish it (again with Kickstarter backers’ help if I recall correctly), albeit with the Coup Dystopian universe as the background.

Players are competing “powerful crime bosses” who use six specialists working for them to recruit more members for their organization and pull off criminal scenarios. Our group had a lot of fun with the thematic cards, challenging and goading each other about the different crimes our teams of specialists were “committing”.

Cards are played as sets and individual cards on one of three “nights” on the player’s board. Cards slide down each night after each turn until pushed out onto the reserve area. Once they reach that area, they return to the player’s hand. Voila! No shuffling just like another IB&C release from 2016, Aeon’s End, although the format for the replenishing of cards is radically different from that game.

The capers themselves scale in difficulty as the players complete them, requiring bigger and tougher combos. The players are tasked with putting together sets and cards, challenging each player to develop their deck, but successfully pulling the puppet strings will provide the crime boss with special bonuses. Many of the rewards have strictly take that elements, designed to steal cards or coins from other players.

As expected, the crime boss with the most money at the end of the game wins. The end game conditions are triggered when there are no more coins, specialist cards, and/or crime jobs available.

WHY SHOULD YOU PLAY?

Readers of this blog know that I like games with different or interesting themes (New Bedford, The Networks, etc.) There are plenty of games out there with themes that feature the Cthulu mythos or zombies or nobles in the Mediterranean, even though I enjoy those games, too.  Crime bosses convincing their underlings to perform their dirty work for them to become the most powerful boss is a new and interesting theme.

The first thing that caught my eye during our game play was how the game mechanics here fit the theme. In essence, we were the hand that pulls the string in the syndicate, and in this case, Grifters feels thematic. The different crimes all lead to different benefits (or consequences for the other players). The different types of specialists also had points of action that fit with you would expect.

The second thing that I enjoyed was how tight the experience was. Dave the designer said one point would likely separate first and second place, and he was right. The scoring is really close throughout the game, with lots of trades in coins, so you never really feel out of the game.

This is a small box game, so there are not a lot of bits to get excited about. But, the card art is outstanding, and the rest of the components are serviceable for the tasks. The box is small and easily portable, and as Dave said to us, the game play can be taught in five minutes or less. Sure, the strategies that will be needed to be successful will take more than five minutes reflection, but that just means that

THE DOWNSIDE.

One play is not enough for me to see all of the foibles in the game.  One of the other Krewe members has some experience with Grifters, but Carlos calls it fun but forgettable. It is a solid game and a good value for the price.  However, some will question whether the mechanics and game play separate it from similar games. Is the cool artwork and crime theme enough to get it back to the table after an initial play or two?

FINAL THOUGHTS:

I love player interaction, especially in a game like this where it does not feel like you are picking on anybody in particular (although whoever was the leader in coins usually took the brunt of the negative actions.) The short instruction time and quick play scream “filler”, but in my eyes, Grifters is more of a filler plus. It’s a good game to start or end the night, but be forewarned, there is a lot of take that in this game, so you better have the right game group assembled.

Until next time, Laissez les bon temps rouler!

— B.J.

@boardgamegumbo

Heavy Con 2017 Report from Jason Dinger

Board Game Gumbo is pleased to present another convention report from our friend, Jason Dinger, a board game designer from Morgan City, Louisiana. He is the designer of the upcoming Spielworxx release for Essen 2018, Captains of the Gulf. He previously blogged about his trip to UnPub 2017 here.  He’s back with his thoughts following his first visit to HeavyCon.  Look for more of Jason’s thoughts on gaming and designing in the future.

Sitting on the plane as we fly back home to Louisiana, I can’t help but smile. This past weekend has been amazing. Memorable does not even begin to describe it.

Last Thursday, Donna & I traveled to Denver, Colorado to attend the 3rd annual Heavy Con. Heavy Cardboard is one of the industry’s premiere heavy gaming podcasts and Heavy Con is their annual 4-day convention celebrating and showcasing the beloved cardboard brain burners, both old and new, that we cherish so much.

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Dokmus (2016) designed by Mikko Punakallio and published by Lautapelit. (photo: Jason Dinger).

Heavy Cardboard, started in 2014 by Tony Fryer and Edward Uhler, is a weekly show that now features Edward, Amanda Uhler (Edward’s unquestionably-better half), and occasionally, a supporting cast of gamers from the Denver game community. With over 70 podcast episodes and dozens of YouTube teaching / play through videos, Heavy Cardboard has risen to become an invaluable source of entertainment and education in the world of board gaming.

Like most cons, there was plenty of gaming to be had, of course, and not just of the heavier variety. While there were several plays of Lignum, Tramways, various 18XXs, Kanban, and the like, games such as Dokmus, The Climbers, Strat-O-Matic Baseball, Isle of Trains, and Bullfrogs also saw lots of table time.

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The Climbers, being reprinted by Capstone Games in time for Essen 2017. (photo by Jason Dinger).

All the games that I played were wonderful, but the real highlight of the con was the people. I was finally able to meet, game, and just visit with so many amazing people that I’d previously only known online. Too many names to list here, but I am sincerely thankful for everyone who took the time to share a table with me, as we laughed, cursed, and had a fantastic time with something as simple as dice and cardboard.

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Call to Post, designed by Jim Keenan. (photo by Jason Dinger.)

As far as games go, the standouts for me at Heavy Con were unquestionably Call to Post (by Jim Keenan of Punching Cardboard Podcast) and Pipeline (by Ryan CourtneyRyan Courtney). Both games were fun, engaging, and had an emphasis on proper planning, action optimization, and economic engines that were loaded with theme. My only regret about playing them both was that I only got to play each of them once due to so many other people lining up to play them over the weekend. I’m looking forward to playing both of them again in the future and exploring the mechanics and nuances of these two unique, thematic games that are a breath of fresh air in a world where many new games feel like “more of the same”.

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Jim Kennan (Punching Cardboard Podcast), left, and Edward Uhler (Heavy Cardboard Podcast), right — playing Captains of the Gulf. (photo — and game — by Jason Dinger.)

The community within a community that Amanda and Edward (along with Tony) have built is truly something special. Heavier games don’t historically have the large audience that lighter, more accessible games enjoy. The Heavy Cardboard family (and that’s the only way to truly describe what they’ve created) has made incredible and measurable strides to change that. Almost 100 people came together from all around the globe to experience Heavy Con 2017.

For all the different games and people I got to play them with, I most enjoyed my time with Jim from Punching Cardboard. In addition to getting in plays of each other’s prototypes, we logged hours of gaming together including me losing embarrassingly to him in games like Lignum, The Gallerist, and Strat-O-Matic Baseball.

Even in defeat, it was an honor and a pleasure to sit down and enjoy a game (and plenty of NSFW good-natured trash talking) with a man who I respect and admire as much as I do Jim. He and I closed down the gaming hall Saturday night at 3am; continuing to sit and talk for another hour and a half about everything from gaming to game design, podcasting, family, work, and even a fair share of politics to boot.

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Pipeline by Ryan Courtney. (photo by Jason Dinger.)

On Friday, we got to witness the presentation of the 2016 Golden Elephant Award for 1822: The Railways of Great Britain. Edward presented the award to Scott Pederson of All Aboard Games, on behalf of designer Simon Cutforth. Alban Viard’s Tramways was the game that got my vote, as for as fantastic as I understand 1822 is, I had not yet played it. Though my pick didn’t get the top honors, it did win the 2016 Fan’s Choice Golden Elephant Award, narrowly beating out The Colonists by only 2 votes.

Between Friday and Saturday, I was able to meet and visit with several designers and publishers including Jeroen Doumen (Splotter-Spellen), Alex Soued (Eagle-Gryphon Games), Alex Berry (High Treason, published by Victory Point Games), Brian Wilcutt / Larry Cruz / Lyndon Martin (The Cost), Matthew Ward (WAM! reviews and The Dukes of Dice podcast), Travis Hill (Train Game & Low Player Count podcast), Carmen Petruzzelli (Game Surplus), and of course, Jim Keenan (Call To Post and Punching Cardboard podcast).

I don’t know what the future holds as far as the feasibility of attending other cons in years to come, but I can say without question that Heavy Con is the single convention that I will attend year in and year out.

Thank you to Amanda, Edward, and their wonderful group of local game group support staff. Thank you to everyone who took the time to play a game with me this weekend. Y’all rock and you put a smile on my face and joy in my heart, both of which won’t be leaving anytime soon.

Until next year…

— Jason Dinger @jasondingr