Spice It Up! With Colosseum by Tasty Minstrel Games

One of my eighth great grandfathers traveled from Italy to Quebec over two hundred years ago. He was born in the Ligurian city of Genoa in the late 1600s, left as a youth and traveled to the New World. After marrying the daughter of the post master in Quebec City in 1714, he never went back to his Italian homeland as far as we know. Italy has always called to me since I first heard that story.

Two years ago, I had the pleasure of traveling to Firenze and Roma with my family. While I was not able to make it to Genoa, I did get the chance to dip my toes in the same Mediterranean waters that he probably touched, albeit two hundred years later.

Walking around Rome, and seeing the expanse of marble on every corner, gave me a sense of awe about the monuments accomplished by these ancient peoples. One of the highlights was a tour of the Colosseum. Any fan of SEC football knows that LSU’s Tiger Stadium’s outdoor facade bears a striking resemblance to that ancient edifice, so standing inside and outside of that structure was all the more impressive.

I am not naive; I realize that there were many great and terrible events that took place in Rome’s stadium. But, standing amidst the remains, I could not help but wonder what non-deadly spectacles were presented in the arena.

Could a game give me that feeling of standing in the midst of a large arena, marshaling my actors, props and animals to put on a giant display of athletic ability? For years, there was such a game, but it was hard to find and expensive when you did. Anyone that listened to the Dice Tower after 2007 heard Tom and Sam extolling its virtues.

Does your game group like auction bidding, trading and collecting? Is your group tired of playing the same old bidding game? Do they have a flair for the dramatic? Well then, spice up your game nights with Colosseum by Tasty Minstrel Games

Colosseum is a 2007 release designed by Wolfgang Kramer and Markus Lübke. It was recently released by Tasty Minstrel Games with all new artwork and a deluxe edition that includes heavy metal coins and upgraded components.

Colosseum plays from three to five players in about an hour and half, although your first play will probably be closer to two hours. It has been nominated for numerous awards, including a 2008 Golden Geek Best Family Board Game Nominee and an IGA award for best strategy game.

THEME:

Players act as “Roman impresarios” who collect the various elements to put on ever more spectacular shows. Played with the right group, the theme really shines. The visual 3d elements included in the game plus the numerous different show elements (animals, props, actors) all add to the feeling that each player is putting on an ever more complicated show.

COMPONENTS AND RULE BOOK:

I’ve played the game with the Kickstarter edition from TMG, with metal coins that clink satisfactorily on the table, and upgraded components to really make the pieces pop on your table. I have not seen the retail version, so I cannot comment on how it looks.

The game comes with a large game board (yes, I know it is a little smaller than the original, but since I never played the original…) and an excellent rule book.

The artwork through out the game was done by Jacqui Davis with graphic design by Daniel Solis (who you will remember from his design with Kodama: The Tree Spirits and his handiwork in numerous other games.) I have seen pictures of the original artwork, and it was very classy and well done, but I have no problems at all with the new design. The colors pop, the artwork is interesting without being cartoony, and for the most part, it is easy to read the icons and cards.

INNOVATION:

For a ten year old game, Colosseum still feels fresh. It takes some very simple mechanics (rolling and moving, set collecting, bidding and trading) and overlays them with interesting decisions. While there is nothing here that has never been done before, back ten years ago it was likely a unique combination of mechanisms that still hold up today.

GAMEPLAY:

The game is surprisingly easy to teach, although maybe I shouldn’t be surprised since it was originally a Days of Wonder release. That company is known for games that appeal to both gamers and family first timers alike. The set collection and auction bidding mechanics are a little more advanced than say your basic three rule game of Ticket to Ride, but I would not hesitate to bring this out with a game group that is less than experienced.

Like any good auction game, the game comes down to players spotting trends in the scarcity of show elements and outwitting each other through bids and trades and show purchases. It is definitely a good next step up from your general gateway type games, and should be very easy to teach for families who have a little experience in playing games.

The game plays over five game rounds, each broken up into five phases. Essentially, players take turns INVESTING in their show (upgrading their arena or buying a new show), ACQUIRING new assets (participating in the auction for the available show assets), TRADING the various asset tokens, PRODUCING the event (using the show assets at hand with some special rules to help players who don’t have enough assets with negative points attached to taking advantage of the breaks, and finally CLOSING CEREMONIES (bonuses and clean up time).

There are some delicious decisions throughout the game. Players can score more points if they can somehow roll and move nobles (senators, consuls, and the emperor) into their show, but it takes careful planning to do so. Players need to look at the scarcity of the show elements versus the point totals on the various shows and balance how far they are willing to push their luck that those show elements will come out in the bidding process or be available in the trading phase. There’s even a bit of engine building as players invest in upgrades for their arenas.

DOWNSIDES:

The game is not for everyone. If your game group does not like auctions or bidding, then Colosseum will be a hard sell. A really aggressive player who is good at economic games will definitely have an advantage over players enjoying the ride of building out better shows each round. That can rub some people wrong if they go into this game thinking it is yet another solitaire Euro, because it is not. Controlling the auction and the show pieces can be a big part of the game, and conversely, not being able to buy or trade for the pieces you need can be very frustrating.

A minor downside is the card art for the shows. For some reason, the little icons don’t seamlessly match up with the card art, especially for the bonus star performers. It took a couple of rounds, but eventually people were able to distinguish the different types of actors versus the bonus cards, but I think this could have been done better with more appropriate iconography.

FINAL THOUGHTS:

I have not played Colosseum enough yet for a full review. This was a grail game for me, as I love the theme and mechanics and the style of play. I love Euro games that include a little more interaction then your typical point salad game, and I love how there is bluffing and bidding in what otherwise would just be a rote collection game.

I love the Dukes of Dice six point rating scale, and really admire the simplicity of giving each game a grade. I cannot say I have played Colosseum enough to give it a score yet, but even after just a few plays, I am leaning toward a four (a good game worth playing, just not all the time, but belongs in your collection) or a five (a great game, will rarely turn down a play of it). I have played it at four player counts and at five players too, but would really like to see how it plays at three before deciding.

The real questions when I purchase a game like this are whether I have enjoyed playing and do I want to play it again. The answer to both is a resounding yes — I enjoyed both of my first two plays, and I definitely cannot wait to play it again.

Until next time, Laissez les bon temps rouler!

— B.J.

 

Spice it up! With Baseball Highlights: 2045

I love baseball, and I love board games. I have been searching for years for a game that combines both of my favorite pastimes, and I will tell you all about my find today. Before we get to the discussion, this is a great time to do a quick review of Baseball Highlights:2045, because we should note that Eagle-Gryphon Games has made it easy to introduce the game to any audience.  Right now, there is a Kickstarter going on for three new expansions to the base game– but for new payers, there is also a “Spring Training” edition of the game. It is priced right at under $20 per copy, and gives enough cards for two players to learn and play the game. The box will be delivered to your door in September, just in time for the playoffs.  Play ball! 

I can still remember the smell of fresh cut grass and the feel of wet blades stuck to the bottom of my trousers. It was my first season coaching t-ball to my oldest child. I had not been at my hometown ballpark since I myself was just a wee lad. There were more fields now, and the bleachers seemed a little more worn down, but I slowly did a 360 degree turn and saw the entire park filled with happy children chasing each other in brightly colored uniforms.

Baseball. America’s favorite past time.

Now that Daylight Savings Time has ended, the nation’s eyes turn toward shiny ball parks in Arizona and Florida. It is spring training down there, and hundreds of players are stretching, spitting, and stealing bases in hopes of making it to The Show.

Is there a board game that can give players the excitement and tension of a real live major league baseball game? Are your game nights getting a little stale playing the same old wizards and zombie themed games?

Well then, Spice it up with Baseball Highlights: 2045!

Baseball Highlights is a “tactical card game with deck building elements” (as Sean Ramirez from The Dukes of Dice likes to say) by Mike Fitzgerald published by Eagle-Gryphon Games in 2014. I talked a little bit about the game in January in discussing Clank!, another deck building game that used deck building as the mechanic to help players explore a dungeon.

This month, let’s talk about a card game that simulates a futuristic style of baseball played with cyborgs, robots, and regular ole’ humans (called “naturals” in the game, because they do not have any augmented body parts like cyborgs do). Fitzgerald uses the deck building mechanic as a way to enhance the development of each team and to power the six-inning, seven game series of ball games.

Player board with Player Aid — four boards provided in the Deluxe Edition

Theme:

The year is 2045, and America has long since passed on the glory days of its favorite past-time. In an effort to revitalize the sport, the powers-that-be brought in robots (with amazing hitting prowess) and cyborgs (with amazing pitching arms) to bring excitement to the stands. The theme is carried through the beautiful artwork, the full color player boards, and especially through the player cards. Each card in the free agent deck has unique names that evoke well known baseball players (for the naturals), funky robotic names from the future, or cartoon style cyborg names.

I recommend you get the big box deluxe edition, which comes with the base game plus seven small expansions.  Each expansion not only adds tons of replayability to the game, but also has different themes like added cards for each of the types of players or combo cards that can really change the play style. I especially like the Rally cards which give teams a chance to mount a comeback or kill a rally.

Naturals, Cyborgs and Robots from the Free Agent Deck

Innovations:

Baseball Highlights: 2045 brings out a number of innovations. Sure, at first glance, it looks like another take on the deck building mechanic, but unlike the dry theme of Dominion, Baseball Highlights 2045 evokes the theme of baseball well.  It was one of the first card games that I played that used deck building as just a mechanic rather than the entire scheme, as in Dominion.  Instead of being the sole focus of gameplay, deck building here allows players to flesh out their teams with a dizzying array of free agent cards.

The game also is innovative in the way that Fitzgerald developed the cards and the game play.  It really feels like you are pitching and hitting against another team. Each side plays one card at a time, and the cards have varying effects which automatically stack depending upon the type of action.

 

Rookie cards from Boston and L.A.
Veterans from the base decks of New York and San Francisco
The game of baseball can be a bit long for some people, and would not translate well into a normal deck builder. That’s why Mike Fitzgerald came up with the idea of reducing the game to six innings (or six card hands.) It works really well in this format, and allows players to attack each other quickly over a seven game series.  The regular rules of baseball (steals, double plays, etc.) are generally used, although they come mostly in the form of immediate actions that are found on the cards.

Gameplay:

The game is surprisingly easy to teach.  Players start out with a small deck of 15 cards consisting of ‘veterans’ and ‘rookies.’ These are low powered cards of hitters and pitchers that have basic abilities.  Players play head to head over seven games, playing baseball player cards out of their hand and deck, trying to score more runs than the other player in only six innings.

The designer suggests that the two players play a three game mini-series. Each player during the game take turns laying down one of the six cards in their hand, and “threatening” hits like singles, doubles or even home runs. If the other player cannot counter that action, then the hit takes place, and runners are moved around the bases.

At the end of six innings (when the cards run out), the visiting player has a chance to “save the day” if he or she is behind, by playing a card from their pinch hit pile or a random card off the top of the deck. This always creates tension in the game, especially if the score is tied and the home team is about to rally for a walk off win.

At the end of each game, the players totally up each of their cards’ “buy value” and then hop into the free agent market. There, six cards are displayed, which offers the players better players, more abilities, better buy values, and stronger hitting or pitching. The player take turns buying the free agents. Once purchased, the card goes right onto the deck to be used in the very next game, which adds some strategy considerations since the other player has to decide whether to counter the card now, or continue with his or her own deck building strategy.  Of course, purchasing free agents also lets you tighten your deck, since you must discard one of the just used player cards right out of the game for every card you buy. Looks like Fitzgerald was serious about limiting each deck to only fifteen cards! Once the buy phase is completed, the next game starts until the World Series is decided (usually by winning four out of seven games).

FINAL THOUGHTS:

There will be plenty of joy in Cardville after playing this game. I have introduced Baseball Highlights:2045 to gamers, even those who don’t find any joy in the game of baseball, and it has been a big hit. There is something about the quick games, the take that card play, and period artwork that combine to make it a great expression of the beautiful game of baseball.  Throw in the free agent pool, where there are so many decisions as to what to buy to fill out your deck, and you have a real winner with plenty of deep strategy as well as emotional experiences.

Without a doubt, Mike Fitzgerald hit a home run with Baseball Highlights:2045. If your game nights are getting bland, or you are looking for a great two player card game (or even four player card game if you and three friends play side by side with the winners taking on each other), leg out a double to your Friendly Local Game Store and pick up a copy of Baseball Highlights: 2045. Or hit that Kickstarter for a great way to introduce yourself to the game. At only $19, it is a….steal!

Until next time, Laissez les bon temps rouler!!

— B.J.

 

 

 

Spice it up! with Clank!

When Donald X. Vaccarino unleashed Dominion in 2008, the unsuspecting board gaming world tilted a bit on its axis. Finally, someone had invented a way to scratch the itch of building a deck and competing with your friends in a self-contained game system.

Hyperbole? Not really. Even an esteemed card game designer like Mike Fitzgerald has told interviewers that Dominion changed the way he looked at card games. But as the months passed, some gamers complained that Dominion was soulless, just a mechanic gussied up as a game.

Game companies quickly produced numerous clones, but few games to date (Fitzgerald’s Baseball Highlights: 2045 being one shining exception) have realized the potential that the mechanism could bring to the table. Instead of making the deck build the essential element of the game, in what other directions could designers go?

Does your board game group say “ho-hum” anytime you pull out Dominion? Are you looking for a great deck building experience like Baseball Highlights: 2045, but want a fantasy themed adventure instead?

Let’s spice it up — with Clank!

OVERVIEW:

Clank! is a deck building, dungeon diving, adventure game published by Renegade Games in 2016, in conjunction with Dire Wolf Digital. The game was designed  by Paul Dennen, a former online game designer for numerous studio who has turned his attention to the world of tabletop, with art from Rayph BeisnerRaul Ramos, and Nate Storm. It plays two to four players, and is listed at 30 – 60 minutes to play a game, but you will probably find that the average time is closer to 90 minutes especially for your first game.

The game is a twist on your classic dungeon delve where four adventurers are thrust into a world of thievery. The quick, the silent and the cunning will slip into the dark recesses of a cave system guarded by an angry dragon with one goal: Gather as much treasure in artifacts and gold as your backpack (or two) can carry. (A secondary but important goal is to come back in one piece.) The adventurers will try not to “awaken” the dragon by playing too many “noisy” activity cards. The thief who has the most treasure points after everyone has exited the cave or been knocked out is the winner.

Renegade has been making big splashes in the board gaming world recently.  From Fuse to Lanterns to Lotus to Worlds Fair 1893, Renegade has made a lot of noise (clank?) with games near the top of the hotness charts on BGG. Does Renegade have another quirky hit here?

INNOVATION:

Clank! gets my vote as one of the most innovative games of the year. The designer took a tried and true mechanic (deck building), and made it a part of the game rather than the entire game.

Clank! feels different from your average deck builder.  First, this is really at heart a board game. The fact that the players use and build up their deck to move, attack monsters, upgrade their “companions”, and gather resources is definitely unique and an interesting take on the genre. The  deckbuilding mechanic is here to supplement the game, rather than be the focus of the game.

Throw in another innovation, namely the clank mechanic, and you have a very fresh feeling game unlike any other in my collection. (I played Tyrants of the Underdark at Gen Con, and yes it has a similar feel, but Tyrants switches out the exploring mechanic for area control.) The clank threat on some of the cards really makes for some tough decisions as the clank box (and your own health meter) starts to fill up.

Although it has been done in other games, I also really appreciate that the publisher included two separate sides of the board with unique elements.  The added replayability that comes with a wholly different board is a welcome bonus, and I look forward to the new expansion currently in the works, presumably another board based with water elements.

COMPONENTS:

This is a great production.  Opening the box reveals a well done board that is snuggly fit into an insert that accommodates all of the game pieces as well as all of the cards (even when sleeved!)

The card board tokens are sturdy and colorful, and the board itself is well laid out with the cave system and treasure spots.  The artwork is typical cartoony fantasy, but not in a schlocky sort of way. There is almost an element of 80s fantasy in the depictions, and I definitely appreciated the fact that the designer did not just copy some of the cards but instead there is a multitude of different cards that have slightly different abilities.
It is not as lavish as some of the recent productions we have seen, but there is certainly nothing to complain about in this production. I really like the addition of the wooden adventurer meeples and the wooden carved dragon rage token.

The cards are just okay from a production standpoint, but the artwork  on the cards is perfect — a little cartoony / whimsical, with just the right gravitas for what is essentially a game more focused on fun than cut throat strategy.

GAMEPLAY:

Players start out at the top of the dungeon / cave with a goal of going as far as they dare down into the depths to steal treasure, and come back out alive. The goal is accomplished with the help of a starter deck of low level (and in some cases, noise-inducing) cards that come standard for each player.  Players get the opportunity to use “skill points” (one of the currencies in the game) to purchase ever more powerful cards. They can also use “swords”, which are found on some of the attacking cards, to face some of the denizens of the deep and earn rewards like extra gold or extra cards.

Being quiet and not making clank! (noise) is important. One of the interesting twists in the game is that your most powerful moves (and some times unintended mistakes) produce something called “Clank!” Each player is given a pile of colored cubes that must be placed onto the clank section of the board if demanded by the cards.

Apparently, the dragon that guards the enormous horde of treasure is alert and aware that there are adventurers afoot.   Whenever an event triggers a dragon attack, the players must throw all of the clank into a beautiful felt bag (emblazoned with the dragon’s image), and then randomly draw clank cubes out.

The dragon’s bag already contains a bunch of black cubes, which represents the dragon being focused away from the thieves (or maybe missing them in an attack?), but if the player pulls colored cubes instead of black ones, then these will go on the  health track corresponding to that player’s color.  Too many hits, and the player is “knocked out” and unable to continue to collect treasure.

Once all players are accounted for (either exiting or being knocked out), then the points (the accumulation of gold, artifacts, treasure, and victory point cards purchased during the game) are tallied and a winner is chosen.

The game is very easy to teach, especially if the players are already familiar with the deck building mechanic. The board is well laid out with treasure and market spaces, which allow you to purchase equipment that can allow you to carry more artifacts, move through locked doors, or score big points.

Players can get bonus wealth by stealing treasure from various rooms or defeating monsters along the way, but you have to be careful. This is essentially a push your luck game, where players will try to gather as much treasure before the dragon wakes up and knocks out everyone still underneath the castle basement. If you can get out with the required artifact that sent you to the castle in the first place, then you are “eligible” to win the game and get a bonus, assuming you scored enough points to beat everyone. Even if the dragon wakes up and knocks you out before you can get out, as long as you have an artifact in hand and are above the dragon’s cave system, then you will have a chance at the win if you have enough treasure in hand.

FINAL THOUGHTS:

I love deck builders. Baseball Highlights: 2045 is one of my favorite all time games, definitely in my top ten. But sometimes, I just want to harken back to those early days of playing D&D with my friends, exploring giant cave systems, stealing the dragon’s loot, and racing to get out while punching baddies along the way.

After my first couple of plays, I realized that someone had finally improved a game from my youth. What the designer did here was improve that old chestnut, Dungeon! by TSR.  I had so much fun playing this game as a youth in the 80s, but it has not held up very well. Clank! does everything Dungeon! did (fighting monsters, exploring caves, and getting treasure) but does it a lot better. For me, Clank! fires Dungeon! easily (even though I haven’t really played Dungeon! except when I purchased it off Ebay to show my boys when I was introducing them into the board gaming hobby.)

There’s a lot of juicy tension in Clank! that isn’t present in a lot of dungeon games. The addition of the push your luck mechanics with the clank cubes really adds some fun stress to the game, without making it overly competitive. It is definitely appropriate for a family game night, as long as the family is old enough to understand how deck building works.

If I have a complaint, it is that there so far has been very many cards to come out that give you the ability to cull your deck. We’ve seen a few here and there, but a game like this really screams for more deck stripping, because fighting, looting and movement are so critical. As I explore the game with more plays, I am seeing other strategies for affecting the results of card shuffles, so there are ways to mitigate the bad luck of pulling your clank creating cards, but a few more deck cleansing cards would be helpful.

So if your game nights are getting bland, and your game group is looking for that next step up from Dominion (or your family has outgrown Dungeon!) get down to your local game store, and pick up a copy of Clank!

Until next time, Laissez les bon temps rouler!

— B.J.

Spice it up! with Karuba

Has it really been 17 years since  Carcassone stormed the board gaming world? By now, every game group in America has been exposed to the classic tile laying game. Likely, your group plays the original mixed in with any of the dozens of expansions that have come out.
(Side note: Did you know that even after all these years, the original two expansions, Traders & Builders and Inns & Cathedrals, are still the highest rated by BGG?)
If you are looking to introduce your family to the tile laying genre, or if your game group is finding regular Carcassonne a little bland, well then, let’s Spice it up! with Karuba!
 img_1785
OVERVIEW:
Karuba is a tile laying, racing game for two to four players published by HABA USA. It was released in 2015 and designed by Rudiger Dorn,  with artwork by Claus Stephen.  It was nominated for the Spiel de Jahres in 2016, but lost to the convention juggernaut that was Code Names.
The set up of the game is unique, but easy to teach. Players each have identical boards depicting a mysterious jungle bordered by a beach (reminiscent of the opening scenes in Indiana Jones). Each player gets the opportunity to set the adventure for all players by placing one adventurer and one like colored temple.
The object of the game is to use the tiles depicting trails in the jungle to connect all four of your adventurers with all four temples faster than the other players, collecting gold nuggets and crystals for extra points along the way.
Collect more points than the other player — before the players run out of tiles or one player lands all of his adventurers in their respective temples — to be the winning adventurer.img_1787
INNOVATIONS:
Getting your family and friends to play this game is easy if they are familiar with Carcassonne. The designer has taken the very player friendly mechanic of laying tiles to build routes and castles, and twisted it into a racing format. Plus, the board is so much smaller (since you are playing on just your player board instead of the entire Carcassonne lay out), so the connections make sense even to first time gamers.
The racing aspect is not that unique, except for the fact that adventurers have to have a way to get off of the beach, and can’t cross or pass each other up. This makes for some interesting decisions, and may even lead to players creating side routes just to park an adventurer or two while running another to the temple.
I love the fact that the players are in control of setting up the objectives. Other tile laying games like Castles of Mad King Ludwig have replayability because of the changing objective tiles, but those are randomly generated. In this game, each player has a hand in creating at least one (and perhaps more, depending on player count) adventurer/temple set up.
 img_1789
COMPONENTS:
Haba is known for its gorgeous productions for kids games, so it should come as no surprise that the company went all out for this foray into gamer games. The player boards are thick and playable (I am looking at you Terraforming Mars), and the adventurers and temples are nicely designed and colored wooden bits. The location tiles are sturdy, and even have little pictures of jungle fauna and flora on them. The crystals and gold look like little diamonds and nuggets. And the treasure cards are all unique. In short, this is a game with excellent production.
 img_1786
GAMEPLAY:
The gameplay is simple. Players can only take one of two actions: (a) place a tile on their player board (and a crystal or nugget if one is shown on that tile); or (b) discard that tile to move one adventure up to a number of spaces. The amount of movement has just a few easy rules — adventurers can move the same number of spaces as the amount of exits shown on the discarded tiles, and they can’t occupy or cross over the space of another adventurer.
As you can see, these are the kind of basic rules that allow a broad spectrum of players to easily jump in and start playing. But, just like any classic Euro, there is so much depth in that simple starting play.

img_1791

Do you immediately connect one adventurer to a temple as quickly as you can so that you can be the first (and claim the highest treasure?) Or do you try to build a framework of trails that allows multiple adventurers to make their way on shared routes (taking care not to create traffic jams?) Do you build your routes while keeping an eye on the other boards, and then discard a few tiles to ‘snipe’ a treasure right before another player? Or do you focus on getting as many gold nuggets and crystals to supplement the mid level treasures you will probably get?
All of these are valid strategies, and make for very tense decisions especially in the last third of the game.
 img_1749
FINAL THOUGHTS:
Karuba had been on my radar, because there was a lot of buzz about it following the SdJ nomination. Haba’s reputation as the top producer of children’s games had me thinking that this would be “just a kid’s game.” The nomination changed that, and I am glad I sought out a copy.
This is not just a children’s game. This is a game that we can bring out with new gamers, old and young alike, as an introduction to our hobby. But, I have brought this game to the table at two game nights, and had the gamers up and running in a minute and diving into all of the different strategies.
Overall, the excellent production, easy rules to teach, replay ability due to the different adventurer/temple set up, and interesting decisions all add up to a first class experience. Plus, the game plays in less than hour, which really hits a home run in this category. While it may look like Carcassonne Solitaire at first glance, it is most certainly not solitaire. You must keep an eye out for each other player’s adventurers to decide just when you should start throwing away good tiles so that you can steal the five point treasure right before your mom does (did I say that aloud?).
If you need a great two to four player game, with a good racing element and some light hearted tension building in the back end of the game, head on down to your friendly local game store and pick up a copy of Karuba.
Until next time, laissez les bon temps rouler!
–B.J.

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.

 

Spice it up! with Broom Service

Louisiana summers are hot. Ouai, ca fait chaud! But as hot as it has been in 2016 down in the Bayou State, the steamy heat that vented up from the Atchafalaya Swamp is nowhere near as hot as designer Alex Pfister was this year.

Just to recap the last few months:

  1. Mr. Pfister won his second Spiel des Jahres Kinnerspiel (connoisseur game) for Isle of Skye in ’16;
  2. Won the International Gamers Awards general strategy (multi-player) Game of the Year for Mombasa in ’16; and
  3. Garnered the 2016 Deutsher Spielepreis (people’s choice) Game of the Year with Mombasa again.

If you are keeping score at home, that’s three of the top awards in international hobby board gaming in just a few months. And we cannot forget the Spiel des Jahres Kinnerspiel won in ’15. Have you played on of his designs? If not, which one should you try first?

Does your game group love Libertalia, with its juicy decisions over which cards to play to maximize your points, while bluffing the other players as to your strategy?

Well then, spice up your gaming nights with Broom Service by Alexander Pfister!

 

I spy big points in that right hand corner, if you can get there quickly enough.
Broom Service is the 2015 release from Alea / Ravensburger which the Spiele jury awarded its prestigious Kinnerspiel award in 2015. Two to five players take turns moving their witches across a beautiful landscape of towers, delivering magic potions and dispelling angry clouds along the way.  The game plays over seven rounds, and there is a unique twist in its mechanics.

 

Players have not one but two witch meeples to keep track over over the board. All actions in the gamer, including movement of the witches and delivery of the potions, are accomplished by playing a hand of four cards from your ten role cards in your hand. Each player is given the exact same cards, namely a witch for moving quickly around the board, a fairy for dispelling rain clouds, gatherers for farming the potions, and Druids for delivering the potions. To make it even spicier, Mr. Pfister requires that when playing with only 2-4 players, a ‘dummy’ player is added whose sole purpose is to draw at random three cards which will cause players to take a three point penalty if they play that role.

 

$1 plastic box from Dollar Tree not included.
And you thought any of the above was the twist? Non, non, non. The real twist is that each role has two available actions, a “brave” action and a “cowardly” action.  If a player chooses the brave action on his or her turn, and no one else plays that role, the player gets the usually awesome brave reward. That could be anything from extra victory points to extra money. But if anyone else plays the brave action following the first player’s choice, unfortunately that choice is ‘trumped’ and the previous player gets nothing. (It’s all there in black and white in the fine print, Charlie.)

 

 

Hmm, what does the green and black witches know that the red and blue do not?
Ah, but the player could choose the cowardly action, and then that role is safe, albeit with a lesser benefit. After each player plays out all of the four role cards in his hands, the next round begins.

 

If given a vote, I would have voted this game as the 2015’s Top Game That Underwhelms Me From Its Description. Frankly, the box cover art, the reviews I read, and even the game play videos did not strike my fancy. Then I heard the Dukes of Dice extolling its virtues, and I kept reading and hearing the same theme everywhere after that — the beauty of Broom Service comes in the bluffing and backstabbery in the game. When you are the first player — and you get that honor by being the last person to have played a brave card — there is such a deep and delicious decision making panic that could overwhelm many players.  After surveying the other players on the board, the potential cards that have three point penalties on them, the cards in your hand, and the available towers and clouds, making that first move is such a gut driven decision! At least the way we play it is. — because there are lots of stares and questions like “Do you have that gatherer or not!” — and the hooting and holly ring is loud and fun every time someone is ‘trumped’.

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Take that, B.J, and the  brave witch goes down in flames.

So why is this game spicier than Libertalia?

Before we answer that, let’s clear up something first.  Libertalia is a game I still LOVE, and I will play it anytime it is offered. But, there are definitely some elements of Broom Service that give it a slight edge over Libertalia right now.

First, it is much more of a traditional board game than Libertalia. It has a very vibrant board, that is almost a little overwhelming or intimidating at first with the pop of color that is found all over the board. The board has lots of cute little graphics showing the various terrain and the different types of towers.  Within a play or two, I was reading and exploring the board ever more, and I have no complaints about the layout. If I had a minor quibble, it is that at first glance the bordes between the territories seems hard to define in some places. Repeated plays took care of this, so I do not see this as a stumbling block.

 

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One player seems to have a lot more resources than the other. Two guesses as to the winner of this game.
Second, the bluffing and card play aspect of Libertalia really gets amped up here. Even at two players, Broom Service is all about reading the table and the board together to figure out the best next play. Are all of your opponents away from juicy scoring opportunities in the hills? Then maybe that’s the direction you go, and you do it bravely not cowardly.

 

Third, and probably the biggest factor, is that the “take that” element of Libertalia is ramped up big time here — yet provides some forgiveness, something that is lacking in Libertalia.  In Broom Service, the ability to gauge the room or your own level of daring as to whether you want the base action or the bonus actions that come with chancing it on the brave side of the card is very elegantly designed.  Even the most cautious player can run around the board scoring points, albeit at a slower pace. And when the opportunity to be last on the board and play your brave actions come out, it is very satisfying.

 

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Empty coke zero bottle not included.
Are there any downsides? There’s a lot going on for new hobby gamers, with multiple paths to scoring points (clouds, towers, bonus points, etc.). The random round event cards can sometimes add a level of chaos or change the action of the game so much that it does not feel thematic to the experience. The plus side of having two witches and therefore two sets of actions to explore can be intimidating for younger players. But all of these are quibbles, and there is so much more on the positive side of this game.  It is tightly built, and one of the few games that should leave you asking “just one more round” when turn seven ends.

 

So, if your game group likes to play games that combine beautiful bits, a board, and cards too– with a game experience that lasts about an hour — then I have the game for you. Head on down to your friendly local game store and pick up a copy of Broom Service. I give it four out of five cayenne peppers!

Until next time, Laissez les bon temps rouler!

–B.J.

@boardgamegumbo

Spice it up! with Celestia

One of my favorite genres of games is the classic push your luck games. I have played Can’t Stop hundreds of times, and I just love rolling the dice just one more time…even No Thanks! has a push your luck element that I can’t resist.

I have been on the look out for a good push your luck game to add to our game nights, one that would add a little more ‘game’, a little more theme to the mechanic. One of the Krewe de Gumbo members, Dustin, brought this game to our game group on the advice of Tom Vasel, and Tom was spot on with this one. At Gen Con 2016, we saw this game being played all over the convention, and we ended up picking up five more copies to bring back to our respective game groups and families!

Are your game nights getting a little bland? Is your game group ready for the next step in push your luck games?

Then, Spice it up! with Celestia.img_0741

Celestia is a 2015 release from Quick Simple Fun Games designed by Aaron Weissblum. The game play is simple: players take turns as captain of an airship floating from island to island. The object is to score more points (treasure cards in this case) than the other players by advancing the ship. Captains advance the ship by rolling 2, 3 or 4 dice (depending upon the island), and then match cards in their hands to the results of the dice rolls. Each island you advance to gives you a chance at higher point cards, and of course, the designer included special power cards that can be used to bend the rules (like force someone to jump out of the airship or to re-roll favorable dice.) The first captain who collects 50 points in treasure cards is the winner.

img_0660The game involves so many mechanics that I love. The captains take turns bluffing the players into thinking that they have enough cards in their hand to match the dice rolls, while the players push their luck on whether to drop out (and take the safe points) or push onto the next island.

Admittedly, the theme is a little pasted on, but on the other hand, it definitely has much more them than No Thanks! and Can’t Stop, which are all just about the mechanics. At least in Celestia, the airship and the artwork and the island boards all contribute to a vague feeling of adventure and treasure hunting. In the end, the theme is not enough to make or break the game, but it does help it…ahem…rise above the competition.

img_0850 The bits and pieces are perfect for this game. The islands have great artwork, and are sturdy cardboard. There are plenty of islands to make the rounds last just long enough to create juicy tension.

The cards themselves are easy to sort and the game is a breeze to set up. The airship even has a rotating propeller on it! The pawns could have been a little more thematic, but I am quibbling here.

The rules are fairly easy to understand from the small rulebook. If I had one real criticism, it is in the size of the print of the rule book — by that I mean, the pictures that are contained of the cards. Whether in the spirit of the game, one of the key calculations is to figure out how many good cards are in the stack in front of you. Unfortunately, the pictures of the cards in the rule book are too tiny, so tiny that they are useless in terms of calculation. Until I actually take the time to separate the cards and look at all of them, I will never know how large the point values can get in each treasure pile. Maybe that was intentional on the part of the designer?

img_0849I have had a lot of success teaching this game to newcomers to our hobby. It takes perhaps one round for even the most inexperienced game night participant to figure out how to play and pick up on some of the bluffing strategies. By round two, even the youngest gamer is picking up on the importance of kicking people out of the airship at just right the time, or bringing down the whole crew crashing if you are the captain and you pushed your luck one island too far.

But, the game also goes over very well as a good filler in our more experienced game groups.  Gamers that are familiar with each other’s ‘tells’ from other bluffing games will not be able to help themselves with trying to guess how many cards a captain has based on an eyebrow twitch or smirk.  And with a quick and easy set up, we can get a few games in while waiting for the main group to arrive, or play it at the end of the night when we just want to play “one more game.”

img_0851Celestia has been a big hit, and I am not sure why it has not gotten more love and buzz from the community.  For my money, it replaces Can’t Stop and maybe even No Thanks! too.

So, if your game nights are getting a little bland, and you really want to introduce a fun filler with lots of bluffing and push your luck elements, then get down to your friendly local game store and pick up a copy of Celestia.

Until next time, Laissez les bon temps rouler!

B.J. 

 

Spice it up! with Stockpile

One of my go to games for introducing hobby games to new players is that classic bidding game, No Thanks!

Staged picture.

Designed by Thorsten Gimmler, it is super easy to teach, has a simple main mechanism — how much is a player willing to bid to avoid high numbered cards if the object of the game is to score the lowest points — and plays quickly. If you listen to the Dice Tower at all, you will definitely have heard Tom Vasel extol its virtues many, many times.

 

The edition I have is published by Z-Man Games and comes in a small box with good quality cards and nice bingo chips. No Thanks! is a true classic, and should be in everyone’s collection.

But it is a filler game, and after dozens and dozens of games, I am always on the lookout for that next step in bidding/auction games. Is your game group looking for a good auction game? Are your game nights getting bland with lots of filler-type bidding games and your group is ready for the next level?

Then Spice it up! with Stockpile, an insider trading game from Nauvoo Games. Stockpile is a 2015 release designed by Brett Sobol and Seth Van Orden. The game is made for 2-5 players, and plays in about 45 minutes to an hour (the shorter time is for players with experience — your first game will probably last a little over an hour).

I was lucky enough to be taught the game by one of the designers, Seth Van Orden.

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Coincidentally, my thumb is pointing at the designer. Somehow, he taught two games at one time!

Stockpile is essentially a buy low, sell high stock market type of game, with unique twists on bidding and stock information.  Each player can purchase one of six stocks, whose value fluctuates throughout the game. The key is that each player privately knows the movement of one of the stocks,  as well as all players sharing in the knowledge of one other stock.

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Good shot of the more advanced, wilder backside of the game board.

Next, the players randomly are given stocks and movement cards that are put into piles for the players to bid on. That’s the best part of the game — each player is given a colored meeple representing his bidder. They take turns putting down a bid for the pile that they want, but can be outbid by other players. Once all piles have one bid on them, the auction ends, and the stocks are divvied up.

One of many games played at The Secret Cabal meet up Gen Con 2016

The auction takes only a minute or so, but has some very spicy and deliciously tense moments as players try to decide if they should go one more bid for their favorite pile. Of course, stocks can split or go bankrupt or give our dividends. And after the set number of rounds, the player with the most amount of money after selling all of the holdings is the winner!

Let’s talk about the components. Wow, what a presentation! The game comes with a two-sided board, with one side being the beginning or basic board and the back side containing the same set up but with a more wilder way for the stocks to move.

Ah, look at all the lonely meeples…

The meeples are all high-quality painted wood bits, and the stocks and action cards are all on good quality stock. The money is a very nice touch. I fully expected your typical Monopoly-and-or-Payday type of paper money, but instead, I found that we had been given tons of colorful, good-quality, laminated money cards. Nice touch!

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Trust me, the pieces won’t move if you hold your finger on top of them.

How easy is the game to teach? The game play is best taught in steps, walking your new players or your experienced game group through the first turn, pointing out how the bidding and selling and stock movement works at each step. I promise you, once one turn is complete, even your greenest gamers will have the game down.

Does the theming carry through? As we say in Louisiana, this game “a la poche plein” (has its pockets full) of theme! Games like this can sometimes seem random or just plain math-y, but at no time have we felt like that in the numerous games we have played. Instead, it really does carry the theme of inside traders eyeing each other to see who is bidding what, and trying to guess why. Does the purple player know something about the computer stock? He must know something, because he is bidding everywhere else — and now he is dumping all of his shares! Time to sell! No doubt about it, this game is dripping with the theme of the game.

The dice from the Continuing Corruption expansion (will cover in a later blog post.)

Why is this game spicier than other auction bidding games, like No Thanks! and For Sale? Those are great games, some of my all time fillers, but they are lighter games that set up and play in about 15-20 minutes. Both have great decision making, and the bidding mechanics are fun, but there is not a lot of depth to them (and they are not designed to be deep games).

At our bi-weekly game night, one of the Krewe de Gumbo members, Bradly, turned to me during the last game. He remarked that this is a game he doesn’t mind losing (which mind you, in our game group does not happen often).  I am paraphrasing, but in essence, his point was that the experience captured by the auction, the joy in buying low and guessing correctly that your pick is moving up, and the delicious tension in deciding when to sell is all part of a very fun ride. That’s pretty high praise indeed.

At some point, your group is going to be ready for a deeper experience that simulates the fluidity of the stock market.  The conceit that everyone is aware of in Stockpile is that the movement is random — but that’s not the point of the game. The real genius in the design is that the game is not focused on the random movement, but instead the game is all about reading your opponents, weighing the movement cards that are public/private knowledge, and knowing when to gamble and when to play it safe.  Plus, the auction/bidding mechanic described above is a brilliant touch and is the real standard bearer for the game.

Obviously, we are big fans of Stockpile and can see why it was on many “Best Of…” lists last year. Patrick from Blue Peg, Pink Peg said in episode 80 that it was his pick for family game of the year in 2015, and we can see why. If your game group loves auction / bidding mechanics, but your game nights are getting bland — if your group would love a game with lots of juicy decisions, quick game play, just enough depth and great presentation, then pass by your local game store and get yourself a copy.  I give it four out of five cayenne peppers.

Until next time, Laissez les bon temps rouler!

B.J.

 

 

Spice it up! With Near and Far –Kickstarter info

Since I discovered hobby games, I have kept my eye on each new wave of young designers. I have enjoyed watching them push the limits of creativity. They are blurring the lines between mechanics and game styles, they are pushing the envelope on art direction and theming, and in general they are raising the standards by which all others games will be made.

One of those designers is a big favorite of mine, Ryan Laukat, with Red Raven Games.

a9f8c9764b13c7e9694c6fc755866126_originalWell, in all honesty, I’ve only played one game, but it is one that I own in my collection and I plan to keep for a long time:  Above and Below. The sheer elegance of the storytelling-meets-worker-placement game, combined with the whimsical artwork and the intriguing premise has put all of Ryan’s recent and upcoming designs on my radar.

So what is new in Raven Raven’s world? How about a sequel of sorts to Above and Below, appropriately called Near and Far. The Kickstarter for it launched on Monday July 18, 2016 to very good success. It shattered the goal of $25,000 for funding (pretty meager goal in my opinion) in just a few minutes, and then hurdled three or four major stretch goals in the first twelve hours. be3f6c0e8dce77c394566a600a92302e_original

Why is Near and Far spicier than Above and Below? First, let’s remember that I am speculating, because I have not actually put crawfish claws on the actual product. But  three main differences between the two games really sets this new game apart and makes it one in which I want to support:

A. Campaign setting.

Ryan has been quick to state that the new system is not a legacy system like Pandemic Legacy or SeaFall. No cards will be torn up, no game boards will be changed. But based on the pictures on the Kickstarter page and Ryan’s own descriptions, it appears that your character can develop and grow after each game. I am anxious to see how this system works out in practice.

B. Storybook changes.

One of the complaints I heard from some of the reviewers on the various podcasts is also addressed. There has been a complaint that the stories in Above and Below do not mesh well. In other words, what happens in one story does not seem to have any connection with any other story. In fact, sometimes the stories slightly contradict each other. More importantly, there is not usually any payoff in the story. What I mean by that is when someone completes the adventure, the reward is usually a trinket or two or maybe even something valuable but with no real resolution of the story itself.

Near and Far seems to fix that. Ryan’s descriptions on the Kickstarter page suggest that what you decide to do and what results from that decision could affect the ongoing gameplay and future stories. That is super intriguing to me. Again I want to see how it works in execution.

C. More content.

This is another big change. Not only do fans of Above and Below get additional content for their game with certain backer and reward levels, but there also appears to be oodles more adventures for Near and Far built right in. Changes to the way the maps are done include a separate book just for the maps (which acts as a game board). The game also contains “arcade “cards which can do away with the storybooks and give you even more variability.

b8a67318720baf9668d39a506f902ffc_originalCONCLUSION.

This could be just hype. It could be all marketing. But I don’t think so — Ryan has gotten better and better with each offering and this newest release seems to up the ante.

So, if your Above and Beliw game sessions have gotten a little bland, spice it up in May of 2017 by backing the Kickstarter offering from Red Raven Games, Near and Far. I did!

By the way, if you are going to Gen Con, it looks like Red Raven Games will be there at booth 2657. I am hoping to make it and say hello to Ryan and company.

 

Until next time, Laissez les bons temps rouler!

B.J.

(Note: all images taken from public images posted by Red Raven Games.)