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

 8 Things a Gamer Wants From a Friendly Local Game Store on International Tabletop Day 2018

Since March 30, 2013, board gamers from around the world have celebrated their hobby and tried to bring new gamers into the fold on International Tabletop Day, hosted by Geek & Sundry.

Each year, there seems to be more and more buzz surrounding the day, as more and more game stores get involved and our hobby grows. But International Tabletop Day is still in his toddler stage, and I think after five either iterations, it is time to evaluate how we as gamers can make the experience better for the hobby in general.

What are we gamers looking for at International Tabletop Day (“ITTD”)? What can our friendly local game stores learn from us, the consumers?

Here’s a list of eight things I think game stores should do in 2018 to make ITTD a better day for all:

img_1159Number One. Use Social Media and free media to spread the word.

If you are a gamer, chances are you are on some kind of social media. Facebook. Instagram. Twitter. Slack. Google +. Websites like Reddit and Board Game Geek. If your game store did not advertise for free in 2017 on any or all of those platforms, you are doing yourself and your game store a disservice.

Gamers spend hours during their lunch hour or while waiting for the next elevator to find out the next big event. If a board gamer knows that your store is having an event, and that gamer thinks there is even a chance that someone will play Blood Rage or Anachrony with him or her, then that gamer will make every effort to get to your store. And maybe bring friends!

Get a calendar out; start backdating. About two months before, post a brief message saying “ITTD at — SAVE THE DATE”. Then a month before, start teasing out the events (see below). And the week of the event, make sure you are tweeting, Facebook posting, Instagramming and posting all about your event and what makes it special.

Number Two. Start a game night before ITTD happens.

This is a no-brainer. If your store does not already have a once or twice weekly game night dedicated just to board gamers, then start one before International Table Top Day happens. That seems counter intuitive, right? Most store would probably think to use ITTD as a jump off point to a regular game night. The opposite is true.

Hosting a regular game night in the weeks leading up to the day means you have a ready made audience who can build up some excitement about your upcoming event. Don’t wait until after, when the fire may burn down a bit (or more likely, they will just join a friend’s game group.) Put up some flyers, post it on

Number Three. Leverage your current assets.

Does your game store already have a game night? Then you have evangelists already on board! Three months before, spring for some snacks and drinks and have a 30 minute brainstorming session with your regulars. What games do they want to play? What events do they want to run for you? Do they want special hours, or a food special, or a game to be on sale that they can help teach? Maybe its a newcomer friendly game like Ticket to Ride or New York 1901? Or maybe they want at least a section of your store blocked out for some heavy cardboard? Find out!

Your regulars come to your game store because they like your space, and they need more people to come because that ensures you stay open. Plus, they have more people to PLAY THEIR GAMES. Utilize the volunteer sales staff you already have in place to craft the best experience for all.

Number Four: Use old media to drum up some interest.

Board games are hot topics in newspapers and on TV. Old line media loves anything nostalgic or anything that is out of the ordinary. Let’s face it, 90% of your non-gaming acquaintances think “Monopoly” and “Candyland” when they about board games.

A quick email or tweet to the local news desk might entice some young reporter (who maybe plays games or has an interest in the hobby) to come out and do a pre-ITTD story. The worst that the media can do is say no, right? But the best thing could be your own feature article.

Number Five: Take Pictures of the games!

I cannot believe I have to say this, but unfortunately I do. Get your iPhone / Android device out and snap some pictures! If you are uncomfortable putting people in your pictures for advertising sake, then snap close ups of meeples and dragons and actual boards and cards. Or, have a standard form (you can download free media use forms all over the internet) and have people sign — in exchange, they get a free promo card to their favorite game! Or they get their name in a drawing for a free game or expansion!

Giving out free promos or snacks or chance to win a game is the least you can do to have smiling happy people plastered all over your website, Twitter feed, and Facebook mentions.

If you don’t have time to take the photos yourself, then just ask people to post to Twitter / Facebook / Instagram and tag your store. Make it a game. Give people bingo cards with spots like (a) take a picture of people laughing while playing (b) tag the store and © get someone to like that photo. The list is endless but if someone gets BINGO (or whatever game you use), give them a free drink or a promo or a chance to win a prize. Gamers love prizes almost as much as they like playing games!

Number Six: Not too few, not too many, but just right.

What’s International Tabletop Day without fun events? Well, from a consumer side of things, I would rather see fewer than greater. For most people, the day is really about playing as many games as possible while still having time to hydrate and use the restroom…and socialize with our friends, too.

So don’t overschedule, but don’t under schedule, either. Again, use your local talent and knowledge. Get some volunteers to be willing to demo family friendly / new gamer friendly games. (If your game store is not a part of the Envoy Herald program, what are you waiting for? Join now and get free help to demo games EVERY WEEKEND and EVERY GAME NIGHT.)

Get some of your diehards to run bigger games that day, too, but ask them to leave one or two spots open for newcomers. Make sure that the schedule is posted prominently on your website and Facebook pages and somewhere on your wall. Maybe end up with a big event, like a game show or big group game such as Two Rooms and a Boom.

Number Seven: You got customers.

We know that the reason (most likely) that you opened this game store was not just to provide a friendly atmosphere for gamers and/or families to play board game nights on week nights and all weekend. We get it, there are bills to be paid. So, let us help you!

Have some kind of sale for that day, something that would entice both the new gamers and the experienced hands alike.

You will most likely have a handful or even a few dozen newcomers to the hobby strolling in, just curious to see what the whole “board game craze” is all about it. Have a display of games that are easy for them to get into, but mix it up between old favorites like Carcassone and Ticket to Ride to things we know by heart but they have probably never heard of: King of Tokyo, Codenames, Kingdomino, Sheriff of Nottingham, Imhotep, Karuba, Pandemic, and Camel Up. Give them a reason to buy those games with some kind of special, like Buy One, Get One Half Off. Sure, we know that some of the “friends” will split up the cost of the games, but you may end the day with a lot of two games sold instead of none transactions.

For the experienced gamers, give them a coupon for 20% any game in the store if they teach a game to a newcomer. Or have a pre-order sale — give them a discount if they order from you that day only if they order from you instead of Amazon. Again, it is a sale for product you don’t even have in the store, so you would have missed out on it anyway.

Plus, look around your store. There must be a really big ticket item (maybe the Takenoko special edition?) that has been sitting on your shelf way too long. Pick out five or ten of them, and make a big display out of them with a sales price TODAY ONLY.

Number Eight: Gonna Dress You Up In My Knowledge

Ever walk around World Market’s wine section? There’s always stickers and index cards and posters and arrows pointing out which wines made this Best Wine List or scored This Many Points on Wine Snob’s 2017 List. Now’s your chance to help spread some knowledge today, and it just might get you a sale or two.

Make a display with all of the SdJ winners that you stock in your store, and list them out by year and with the awards they won. Or do the same for BGG and The Dice Tower awards. You can probably find one of your regulars who would be willing to write up a little index card about the game and why it is awesome or why they think it won that year.

For some of your heaviest games, don’t be afraid to post the Heavy Scale from Board Game Geek right on the box or on the shelf. For some gamers, that will actually make the game more attractive!

If you know of a podcast or board game media creator that has talked up a product, mention it right there! If you are stocking Baseball Highlights: 2045, why aren’t you mentioning that it is a favorite of The Dukes of Dice? Or if you have any Bruno Cathala games, you have to note that “this game is from one of Zee Garcia’s favorite designers.” Or if you happen to have a copy of Blood Rage, connect the dots to The Secret Cabal. And if for some reason, you have multiple copies of Strike, then I guess you should put Tony from Rolling Dice & Taking Names right on the shelf there too pointing out the game.

This hobby is all about socializing in person and on the internet, and if you can show that your store is an active follower of board game media, then the new customers will be impressed. Remember, not all of those new faces in your store will be newbies to the hobby — many of them will be people who rabidly digest board game media but have never been to your store before.

BONUS! Post-Game Day Means Posting Pictures!

There’s nothing more frustrating to a gamer than to know that she missed out on a great day of board gaming. Maybe it was the latest hotness from Essen, Gen Con or Kickstarter that hit the table all day and she had been dying to try it (and maybe buy it?) Maybe it was that old classic that she loves to play with a big group. Maybe it was just a large scale party or crowd game that she has never tried.

Make her and her friends desire to pledge that they will not miss ITTD the following year, with some salivating pictures of people playing games and having a great time. That will set the table for next year for sure, and maybe lead them to your game night if you advertise it in conjunction with the postings.

I hope this helps friendly local game stores from around the country see International Tabletop Day from the gamers perspective. This day should be a celebration of everything good about our hobby, but also give you a chance to show everything good about your store. Take advantage of the day, and maybe you will have a Krewe of gamers knocking at your door saying, “Can we play a game?”

So, how was your International Tabletop Day experience?  What did your friendly local game store get right, and what could they use some improvement on for next year? Post a comment below or hit me up @boardgamegumbo on Twitter.

Until next time, Laissez Les Bon Temps Rouler!

— B.J.

Handicapping The Dice Tower Nominations!

Came down with a nasty bug last week, so I was not able to update the blog. I am feeling much better this week. I woke up on Monday to news that The Dice Tower has released its nominations for 2016!

Here are the nominations, along with some of my comments and handicapping.  What is your take on the potential winners in each category?  Spoiler alert — 2016 was a very strong year in board gaming. Do you agree? I would love to hear from you on Twitter at @boardgamegumbo!

Best Game from a New Designer:

Note: The game has to be the designer’s first or second published game to qualify for this award.

• Kingdom Death: Monster – designed by Adam Poots; published by Kingdom Death
• Vast: The Crystal Caverns – designed by David Somerville; published by Leder Games
• Adrenaline – designed by Filip Neduk; published by CGE
• Terraforming Mars – designed by Jacob Fryxelius; published by Stronghold Games
• The Manhattan Project: Energy Empire – designed by Luke Laurie; published by Minion Games

Still mulling over the potential winner of this one, but Kingdom Death: Monster is impressive in scope, and Adrenaline is the first RTS I have seen work in a board game. People are still clamoring for Terraforming Mars (a fifth printing I hear?) and was one of my best Euro experiences in 2016. But, Vast is the most impressive in design and had a lot of buzz coming out of GenCon and during the Kickstarter for 2.0.  I think it is the leader heading into the second turn, but there’s plenty of track left before July.  

Best Artwork

• Arkham Horror: The Card Game – illustrated by Christopher Hosch, Ignacio Bazán Lazcano, Henning Ludvigsen, Mercedes Opheim, Zoe Robinson, and Evan Simonet; published by Fantasy Flight Games
• Inis – illustrated by Dimitri Bielak & Jim Fitzpatrick; published by Matagot
• Islebound – illustrated by Ryan Laukat; published by Red Raven Games
• Kanagawa – illustrated by Jade Mosch; published by Iello
• Scythe – illustrated by Jakub Rozalski; published by Stonemaier Games

Who doesn’t love Ryan Laukat and his whimsical artwork? Plus Kanagawa is itself all about art!  Inis surprised me — I heard complaints about the art, but when you see it in person, it is gorgeous. And Arkhasm as The Rougarou! But let’s face it, Scythe is the front runner here at least in terms of buzz. 

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Best Theming

• Black Orchestra – designed by Philip duBarry; published by Game Salute
• Captain Sonar – designed by Roberto Fraga & Yohan Lemonnier; published by Matagot
• Roll Player – designed by Keith Matejka; published by Thunderworks Games
• SeaFall – designed by Rob Daviau; published by Plaid Hat Games
• Terraforming Mars – designed by Jacob Fryxelius; published by Stronghold Games & FryxGames

I have not played or seen Black Orchestra yet, but hope to play it soon, especially after Carlos (@taquitopls) from the Krewe de Gumbo North called it an incredibly thematic adventure. Roll Player is a dice fest of fun, and has a theme that has never been done so far to my knowledge, but is it really “thematic”? Looks like its Capt Sonar and Terraforming Mars in the lead so far, with SeaFall making its one and only appearance on the list.  

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Best Two-Player Game

• 13 Days: The Cuban Missile Crisis – designed by Asger Harding Granerud & Daniel Skjold Pedersen; published by Jolly Roger Games
• Arkham Horror: The Card Game – designed by Nate French & Matthew Newman; published by Fantasy Flight Games
• Codex: Card Time Strategy – designed by David Sirlin; published by Sirlin Games
• Star Wars: Destiny – designed by Corey Konieczka & Lukas Litzsinger; published by Fantasy Flight Games
• Star Wars: Rebellion – designed by Corey Konieczka; published by Fantasy Flight Games

Unfortunately, I have not played enough — yet — to really form an opinion, but the two Star Wars games are going to be tough to unseat in my opinion. Unless they cancel out each other? 

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Best Reprint

• 51st State: Master Set – designed by Ignacy Trzewiczek; published by Portal Games
• Escape from Aliens in Outer Space – designed by Mario Porpora, Pietro Righi Riva, Luca Francesco Rossi, & Nicolò Tedeschi; published by Osprey Games
• Mansions of Madness, 2nd Edition – designed by Nikki Valens; published by Fantasy Flight Games
• Arkwright – designed by Stefan Risthaus; published by Capstone Games
• Robinson Crusoe – designed by Ignacy Trzewiczek; published by Portal Games

This was is surprisingly the easiest so far. I enjoyed my play of 51st State, but since I started on Imperial Settlers first, I liked that theme and system better. Let’s face it, all of these are great reprints, but Mansions has some serious pedigree, and this is the perfect category for it. Sentimental favorite at least. 


Best Expansion

• 7 Wonders Duel: Pantheon – designed by Antoine Bauza & Bruno Cathala; published by Repos Production
• Scythe: Invaders from Afar – designed by Jamey Stegmaier; published by Stonemaier Games
• Stockpile: Continuing Corruption – designed by Brett Sobol & Seth Van Orden, published by Nauvoo Games
• TIME Stories: Prophecy of Dragons – designed by Manuel Rozoy; published by Space Cowboys
• TIME Stories: Under the Mask – designed by Guillaume Montiage & Manuel Rozoy; published by Space Cowboys

And this one is surprisingly one of the toughest so far. Need to think on this one more, but I love what Continuing Corruption did to boost the game play of Stockpile. Should part of the reasoning behind voting in this category be the necessity of the expansion? 

Best Party Game

• Codenames: Pictures– designed by Vlaada Chvátil; published by Czech Games Edition
• Captain Sonar – designed by Roberto Fraga & Yohan Lemonnier; published by Matagot
• Happy Salmon – designed by Ken Gruhl & Quentin Weir; published by North Star Games
• Junk Art – designed by Jay Cormier & Sen-Foong Lim; published by Pretzel Games
• Secret Hitler – designed by Mike Boxleiter, Tommy Maranges, & Max Temkin; published by Goat Wolf & Cabbage

I need to try Junk Art and Secret Hitler before really handicapping this one, but Happy Salmon is a lot of fun and will be hard to beat. Heck, Alex from the Dukes of Dice played this one ’round the world! 
Best Cooperative Game

• Arkham Horror: The Card Game – designed by Nate French & Matthew Newman; published by Fantasy Flight Games
• Harry Potter: Hogwarts Battle – designed by Forrest-Pruzan Creative, Kami Mandell, & Andrew Wolf; published by USAopoly
• Mansions of Madness, 2nd Edtion – designed by Nikki Valens; published by Fantasy Flight Games
• Mechs vs. Minions – designed by Chris Cantrell, Rick Ernst, Stone Librande, Prashant Saraswat, & Nathan Tiras; published by Riot Games
• Pandemic: Reign of Cthulhu – designed by Matt Leacock & Chuck D. Yager; published by Z-Man Games

Snarky comment of the week — “Have you even played Pandemic: ROC?” Reply: “Do I really need to?”   Snark aside, this might be one of the strongest categories, as each has great merit. My gut feeling here is that Mechs v Minions fans want it to win at least one or two categories, and this one seems to fit here. But man, that Rougarou!

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Best Family Game

• Harry Potter: Hogwarts Battle – designed by Forrest-Pruzan Creative, Kami Mandell, & Andrew Wolf; published by USAopoly
• Ice Cool – designed by Brian Gomez; published by Brain Games
• Junk Art – designed by Jay Cormier & Sen-Foong Lim; published by Pretzel Games
• Karuba – designed by Rüdiger Dorn; published by HABA
• Sushi Go Party! – designed by Phil Walker-Harding; published by Gamewright

I have not heard much scuttlebutt on this one, so I have some investigation to do before calling a leader. Just based on my own plays, and the 2016 buzz, I would think Karuba has the initial advantage (lots of podcasts have this one highly rated), but Junk Art and Ice Cool have been darlings on Twitter.  Hmm, tough to call yet. I’ll try to get some more feedback and update, but let’s call it Karuba by a nose for now. 

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Best Strategy Game

• A Feast for Odin – designed by Uwe Rosenberg; published by Z-Man Games
• Great Western Trail – designed by Alexander Pfister; published by Stronghold Games & eggertspiele
• Scythe – designed by Jamey Stegmaier; published by Stonemaier Games
• Star Wars: Rebellion – designed by Corey Konieczka; published by Fantasy Flight Games
• Terraforming Mars – designed by Jacob Fryxelius; published by Stronghold Games & FryxGames

And the debate rages on–does the Tower mean “Best Euro” by this category? Or just best strategy in a game? I think a list this long should have a category for the Euro players, and this is the one that fits the best. But that knocks out Rebellion, and it may have some of the best strategy of any of these games. Out of all of these, the one game that makes me replay in my head my moves with anticipation for the next game is definitely Scythe. But in the end, it is hard to think that Great Western Trail and Terraforming Mars are not amazingly designed strategic romps, so I’ll handicap them one and two, respectively…for now. 


Best Board Game Production

• Conan – designed by Frédéric Henry, Antoine Bauza, Pascal Bernard, Bruno Cathala, Croc, Ludovic Maublanc, & Laurent Pouchain; published by Monolith
• The Others – designed by Eric M. Lang; published by Cool Mini or Not
• Mechs vs. Minions – designed by Chris Cantrell, Rick Ernst, Stone Librande, Prashant Saraswat, & Nathan Tiras; published by Riot Games
• Scythe – designed by Jamey Stegmaier; published by Stonemaier Games
• Star Wars: Rebellion – designed by Corey Konieczka; published by Fantasy Flight Games

Wow, this is another big Bataille here. Every single game can lay claim to being the best Board Game Production. I think Scythe may suffer from some post-BGG awards backlash, where it won every category except Best Podcast (deservedly so, in my opinion.) I’ll go with my gut here and say that the backlash let’s Mechs v. Minions sneak in. But, Scythe and Rebellion are just a nostril behind on the last turn. 

img_1460Most Innovative Game

• Captain Sonar – designed by Roberto Fraga & Yohan Lemonnier; published by Matagot
• Clank!: A Deck-Building Adventure – designed by Paul Dennen; published by Renegade Game Studios
• Millennium Blades – designed by D. Brad Talton, Jr.; published by Level 99 Games
• Mystic Vale – designed by John D. Clair; published by Alderac Entertainment Group (AEG)
• Vast: The Crystal Caverns – designed by David Somerville; published by Leder Games

This category shows the strength of 2016. These are some dang fine choices. This might be the toughest to handicap of all, but I am going to go with my gut and figure Vast is due for a win here, although Clank! has been a monster on Twitter and Millennium Blades has some REALLY hard core fans. 

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Best Game from a Small Publisher

(Note: The published must have published five or fewer games at the beginning of 2015)

• Arkwright – designed by Stefan Risthaus; published by Capstone Games
• Cottage Garden– designed by Uwe Rosenberg; published by Edition Spielwiese
• Not Alone – designed by Ghislain Masson; published by Geek Attitude Games
• Roll Player – designed by Keith Matejka; published by Thunderworks Games
• Vast: The Crystal Caverns – designed by David Somerville; published by Leder Games

Of all five of these, Not Alone is the one I want to play right now. Cottage Garden has so many fans in social media, but the furor kind of fell out as the game became hard to find. Hmm, let’s call it even between Vast and Cottage Garden, but the horses are only reaching the first turn. Plenty of time to investigate this category. 

Game of the Year

• Adrenaline – designed by Filip Neduk; published by Czech Games Edition
• Captain Sonar – designed by Roberto Fraga & Yohan Lemonnier; published by Matagot
• Cry Havoc– designed by Grant Rodiek, Michał Oracz, & Michał Walczak; published by Portal Games
• A Feast for Odin – designed by Uwe Rosenberg; published by Z-Man Games
• Great Western Trail – designed by Alexander Pfister; published by Stronghold Games & eggertspiele
• Inis – designed by Christian Martinez; published by Matagot
• Mechs vs. Minions – designed by Chris Cantrell, Rick Ernst, Stone Librande, Prashant Saraswat, & Nathan Tiras; published by Riot Games
• Scythe – designed by Jamey Stegmaier; published by Stonemaier Games
• Star Wars: Rebellion – designed by Corey Konieczka; published by Fantasy Flight Games
• Terraforming Mars – designed by Jacob Fryxelius; published by Stronghold Games & FryxGames

How can the professionals handicap such a large field? This feels like The Kentucky Derby of categories. I will bet you could list another ten games this year and make well-supported arguments for any of those games, too. 2016 was a monster year, but the monster of all has been Scythe. While I think Terraforming Mars may get a late break now that Stronghold announced it will be in stock again soon (with a HUGE printing), and Star Wars Rebellion / Mechs / Great Western Trail have lots of devoted fans, I think it is Scythe’s race to lose at this point. But, that final stretch is looming! 

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So there you have it, the very earliest of handicapping thoughts on the big race for games of the year in each category.  The awards will be announced at The Dice Tower Con in July, so there’s plenty of time to scour the ‘nets, feel the drumbeats, and stick a finger in the wind (that should be plenty enough metaphors?)

Who would you vote for in each category? Is Scythe the front runner for Game of the Year, or do you have your own personal favorite? I would love to hear from you on Twitter — hit me up at @boardgamegumbo!

Until next time, Laissez les bon temps rouler!

— B.J.

Pax South 2017 Preview

PAX South, a descendant of the original Penny Arcade Expo (or PAX, for short) is in its third year. By all accounts, both San Antonio’s convention center people and the PAX group are very happy with the attendance so far. PAX is known as a giant celebration of gamer culture, and PAX South continues that theme, although this version does have an emphasis on table top gaming.

The Alamo City is set to become the center of the southwestern board gaming universe once again, at least for three days in February.  Are you heading to Pax South 2017 in San Antonio? Want to know what Pax South has to offer from a table top perspective at this year’s convention?

You’re in luck.

Some of the Krewe of Board Game Gumbo will be in attendance, so we wanted to know what publishers will be there, too, and what they will bring to the demo table. For a complete listing of all things tabletop and board gaming at Pax South 2017, we found this excellent blog entry from Matt Morgan, the Tabletop Deputy Manager for Pax South.

But you want more than just a listing of game companies, right?  Here’s what we found out so far about the potential bits and boards that we may see at Pax South.

Note that the exhibitors will be in two places this year — either in the Tabletop area or in the Main Exhibit Hall (which closes at 6P each day). Also note that I will try to update the blog as I get more info.

The Can’t Misses:

1. Indie Boards & Cards (Tabletop area).


Indie Boards & Cards will be making its first appearance at Pax South after traveling all the way from Indiana, the home of GEN CON. IB&C will definitely have Kodama and Coup available for demoing (I know, because I will be demoing those two games on Friday and Saturday until 4:00 PM).

Kodama is a card laying, collection type card game designed by Daniel Solis with some interesting hidden objectives. It has beautiful art, and plays quickly through three seasons.

Coup should not need any introduction. Millions of players have battled wits in this amazing micro game hidden role experience.  Can you be the last person standing after outwitting your friends? Can you bluff your way to victory?

Indie Boards & Cards will also have other games available in the booth. Expect to see fan favorites, Flashpoint Fire Rescue (a cooperative game about fighting fires) and The Resistance (a hidden role / traitor type game), but also look for Aeon’s End and Ninja Camp.

We got a chance to bring Aeon’s End to the table recently; it is a great new cooperative style game by Kevin Riley that incorporates deck building elements, but has asymmetric powers for the different players and is really tough. It has great artwork and good card combination play — definitely one to ogle at the booth.

There is a chance that Delve, the latest project Indie Boards & Cards has on Kickstarter, will be demoed at the convention, too, which should excite game players just based on pedigree. The game is designed by Pete Shirey and Richard Launius. Launius, of course, is the legendary designer of Arkham Horror, Defenders of the Realm, Elder Sign, Run Fight or Die! and many, many more.

Delve is a tile laying game with a twist. Players play adventurers exploring the dungeons of Skull Cavern.  Each turn, players place dungeon tiles and explore in search of loot. Each room will have different encounters depending upon the number of “delvers” in the room. I would love to get a demo of this game myself.

2. Red Raven Games (Booth 10011).


Ryan Laukat’s team has been on a roll. From the recent releases of Islebound and Above and Below to the giant Kickstarter that was Near and Far, Red Raven Games has created a lot of noise in 2016. Can they follow it up in 2017? Come by booth 10011, as rumor has it that the team will be demoing the latest production copies of Near and Far.

Is there a chance that Haven, the expected 2017 release from Alf Seegert, will also be there in demo form, too? That would definitely call for a pass by…just in case.

3. Tim Fowers Games (Tabletop area).

Rumor has it that Tim Fowers, the designer of such well regarded titles as Burgle Bros., Paperback, and Wok Star, will be present at a booth in the tabletop area demoing a new game. Could it be Fugitive? Come by the booth and find out — and if we find out sooner than that, we will update the blog. Heck, just the chance to visit with Tim about Wok Star, one of my grail games, would be a thrill.

4. Gut Shot Games (Tabletop area).

Gut Shot Games, a design studio based in Washington State, appears set to demo its 2017 release H.E.A.D. Hunters, a card driven miniatures game designed by designed by Ben Cichoski and Danny Mandel. The game has been hitting the convention circuit, most recently at OrcaCon, and is getting some good buzz.  More info on the game can be found here.

Update: Sean from Thing 12 Games let us know that they will be demoing their new game, Dice of Crowns, in the Gut Shot Games booth. The game was successfully funded last year on Kickstarter and is billed as a “fast paced blend of luck and strategy”, so if that sounds like your kind of game, make sure you make a pass and get a demo. 

 5. Level 99 Games (booth 10425).

Those game-making gurus from New Mexico, will be there this year. I expect that they will be demoing the latest Mega Man Pixel Tactics games based on their blog, but Millenium Blades still has some buzz going for it.  Will the Set Rotation expansion be on display?  Let’s find out.

If not, you can still check out Witch Hunt, their version of the big group Mafia / Werewolf style social deduction games, which promises that the sniped characters can still play and influence the outcome.

6. NorthStar Games

UPDATE: Bruce Voge  with NorthStar Games confirmed that Evolution: The Beginning and, of course, Happy Salmon, are scheduled to be demoed at Pax.  By all accounts, the Target edition of The Beginning is selling well, and of course, Happy Salmon is inescapable at any game night.  He also confirmed that Evolution: Climate, the 2016 release that BGG describes as a “standalone game that introduces Climate into the Evolution game system” will also be there for demo, as well as digital implementations of Evolution.

7. Greater Than Games / Dice Hate Me Games

UPDATE: We have confirmed with Craig from Greater Than Games / Dice Hate Me that the publisher will be at the con with some new games to check out.  We have confirmed that they will be demoing Fate of the Elder Gods, the new Cthulu based adventure card/dice game for 1-4 players designed by Richard Launius, Darrell Louder, and Chris Kirman. It successfully funded back in July of last year on Kickstarter, so I am anxious to see how it turned out.

img_1403Dice Hate Me is the publisher of one of my top Euro games from 2016, New Bedford, and it will be at the con for demo and purchase. New Bedford is a smaller box worker placement game with some unique innovations, interesting theme, amazing artwork, and great production.  New Bedford is very thematic and easy to teach and plays in roughly an hour.  This is a great way to introduce the “Euro” concept to your friends, but has plenty of meat on it for any serious gamer. (Note, the coins in the picture are from SeaFall not New Bedford, but everything else comes standard!)

Plus, we expect some of the games from the “Meta” games line to be there, as well.  I will definitely pass by the booth, because Mike Fitzgerald said on a recent podcast interview with the Dukes of Dice that there was a rumored new expansion for BoT9 that could include stadiums, and let you know what I find out.

The Big Guns:

And of course, there will be some big hitters at the convention.

Steve Jackson Games will be there in the tabletop area. According to their blog, the team will be demoing the new Bill & Ted’s Excellent Board Game. There will be lots of Munchkin demos, including the latest releases, as well as sneak peaks of Ghosts Love Candy, an expected 2017 release. You can also try out the licensed Batman The Animated Series Dice Game, another entry in the hit Zombie Dice series, but this time in a partnership with Crypotzoic Games.

And Fantasy Flight Games  is expected to be there in one of the larger booths on the tabletop area floor.  Fantasy Flight is usually pretty tightlipped about what it will bring to a game con, but it would be a safe bet to think that there will be some games themed with Star Wars or Arkham Horror in the mix.  I fully expect to see some demos of the new Star Wars Destiny Dice as well as Arkham Horror LCG at the con.

img_1627-2In fact, according to Matt’s blog, many of the other design studios and companies in the Asmodee line up will be there. Expect to see demos from Z-Man Games and Plaid Hat Games, too, although no word yet on what they will be offering.

Companies to visit, with no other info posted yet:

There’s a whole host of other board game publishers that you will want to check out, but we have not yet found out exactly what they will offer at the con:

  • Tasty Minstrel Games is always a favorite stop for convention goers. I kickstarted their update of Colosseum, and I hope to get some news on its progress. (Lance has been giving us some excellent updates as it progresses along). If they have a copy of The Oracle at Delphi by Stefan Feld, make sure you walk with a purpose directly to the booth. The “Feld that’s not a Feld but is definitely a Feld” (according to Jason Dinger) is a must-play.

Other areas of interest:

Last but not least, at this year’s con, gamers can expect a few surprises. True Dungeon will be there, and for those not in the know, it is the massive hit program at GenCon where gamers roll through a series of rooms and engage in the inhabitants either through puzzle or through D&D style combat.  From what we have read, True Dungeon will be demoing bite sized versions of the big experience, and that is probably a must see for anyone interested in live action D&D.

There will also be some interesting vendors who supply great components for the board game fan. Check out The Broken Token for all of your board gaming storage needs, and the hand-crafted dice trays and accessories from Wyrmwood Gaming is definitely worth a look.

Plus, the board game section has put together a ton of great board game panels. One of the highlights for any gamer should be a visit by Mike Selinker, the head guy at Lone Shark Games, who created Paizo’s Pathfinder: Adventure Card Games. Check him out on Saturday at 7:00PM at the Bobcat Theater.  Between the stories of Gary Gygax, will there be any chance he discusses an update on the Apocrypha Adventure Card Game?

That wraps up our look at the upcoming Pax South 2017 convention. If you have news to share, or questions about the demos, contact me at @boardgamegumbo.

Until next time, Laissez Les Bon Temps Rouler!

–B.J.

Spice it up! with Hand Off: The Card Football Board Game (LSU edition)

The Mad Hatter will no longer roam the Death Valley sidelines, looking for a tasty blade of grass to chew on during a tense late season game against the Crimson Tide.  News out of Baton Rouge on Sunday, September 25 is that head coach Coach Les Miles and his offensive coordinator were relieved of their duties by the athletic director, after a shocking loss to unranked Auburn.

LSU fans are divided over the firing, although the division was probably not 50/50. How best to quell the uncertainty as to who will lead the great LSU program for the time being and for next season, too?

If your team has started out this season in disappointing fashion, or is already mathematically eliminated from the college football playoffs after only four games, then spice up your game nights with a great college themed game, Hand-Off: The Card Football Board Game (LSU Edition)!


CSE Games sent me a review copy right after the Krewe got back from GenCon. True to form, the Krewe brought back a stadium full of new hotness from the convention, and we have been wading through those games. But, tugging in the back of my mind as each college football weekend unfolded was that brand new copy of a poker-flavored game just waiting for me to play. So, when LSU announced the news about Coach Miles, it was a perfect time to break open the box and try a few games.

LSU Hand Off is a card game that apparently streamlines the original game called Card Football. The game is geared for two players and plays quickly, in only about 45 minutes. The game is played over four “quarters”, with all of the different aspects of a good football game: time outs, special teams, big offensive plays, penalties and great goal line defensive stops.  All of these can and will happen during the course of a game.

The set up is easy. The board is a flat representation of LSU’s Tiger Stadium, affectionately known by Louisianians as “Death Valley.” Although the crowd noise and bourbon fueled frenzy does not come in the box, the field has almost all of the appropriate views of the stadium and field — with one exception, namely that Tiger Stadium marks the yardage in 5 yard increments not 10 yard increments — and there are spaces for four downs for each player. Shuffle the standard poker deck, and deal each player five cards. That’s it.

The game play is equally easy and fairly intuitive. Each player tries to build the best modified poker hand (high card < pair < two pair < three of a kind) during the downs, and are allowed to add cards to a play if they can help build one of those hands.  The highest hand at the time of that down gets to enact the play on the card, which could be anything from a big offensive play or a defensive stop, or even a penalty.  

The game comes with a football marker and a referee marker, which shows you were the ball is and how far you need to go for the first down. I do have to complain here, as both my son and I had trouble moving the markers down the field as each yard is pretty tightly placed next to each other. Making the board a little bit bigger (I would love to see it on the Ticket To Ride 10th Anniversary sized board!) would definitely have made that part easier.

Frankly, I was surprised at how much fun the game was, and how much it felt like watching a football game. There was momentum when you saw that you had a chance to combo some good cards into a long drive. There was drama as teams got into the red zone or a penalty potentially wiped out a big play. Field position — just like in real football — was crucially important, and you have to manage your time outs to give yourself a chance to get those good cards you need in the red zone. Kudos to the designers who must be big football fans, because this really plays like a football game simulator.

I like the addition of the trump cards, too. A number of LSU’s greatest teams are represented by a small card that each player chooses. These can be played as a trump card if the player ends up with that very card in his hand. The implementation of the trump cards was a little bit of a let down, as they were just small square cards with some facts about the team. Artwork, photographs, flavor text — any of those would have spiced up those trump cards and I think the designer missed on that part.

But the whiffs are few, as the game plays very smoothly. I have never played the original implementation, but it feels like this is a 2.0 of that game. If I had to quibble, the rule book does need a little bit of development, as I think it could have been organized better. An index would have helped, too. But those are minor quibbles, because we were able to stop play as needed to check the rules and almost always got to the rule we needed fairly quickly.

In summary, on the pro side, I love the speedy play, easy to pick up poker mechanics, and the drama that comes as a tense drive begins building up and crosses the midfield. The game is a breeze to teach, and should definitely excite any college fan. I imagine it is a great game for tailgating — and I will test it out at the Ole Miss game coming up next month to make sure.  

On the con side, the stadium is too small and missed out on some accuracy, the rule book needs a graphic designer and a developer, and the all time trump cards need some spice. These are not things that would dissuade me from buying the game, but they do need to be fixed in the future. 

Both my son and I really enjoyed playing the game, and look forward to many more plays this season. It is definitely staying in my collection, and although I cannot recommend it for everybody, I can definitely recommend it to any gamers out there who like college football and want a quick and easy game to play. Note that the game also comes in a Florida Gator version, too.

Until next time, laissez Le Bon temps rouler!

–B.J.

@boardgamegumbo

 

 

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

Essen Preview 2016

Down here in Louisiana, there is a small German settlement called Roberts Cove less than thirty minutes off of the interstate.  German farmers settled here over a hundred years ago, and brought their food, culture and, of course, their last names.  By now, many of them have intermingled so much with the residents here in Acadiana that they speak French and consider themselves Cajuns, too. But, they still keep the German traditions alive each year in October at the annual Octoberfest.

So, the Krewe asks itself — why should we fly twelve hours away to the town of Essen, when we can get traditional German sausages and listen to German music right here in Louisiana?

Any board gamer knows that answer: there’s no Essen Spiel in Roberts Cove!  Is Essen the biggest, most important game convention? Or is it Gen Con?  Since the Krewe has never attended Essen, we do not have an opinion…………yet.

But with Essen Spiel in Germany taking place in less than two months, this is a great time to start looking at the games that we are most anticipating.

I am sure you have heard Tom Vasel proclaim that somewhere between 500-1000 games get introduced to the gaming world at Essen. I have yet to confirm this, but after looking at the huge list put together by Board Game Geek’s W. Eric Martin, I can believe it. (By the way, one of the BGG users  re-ordered in terms of popularity, and that list is already 20 pages long!)  That’s a lot of games.

What is Essen? The Internationale Spieltage SPIEL — or Essen for short, based on the city in Germany where it is held each year — is a trade fair put on by hundreds of board game publishers from around the world. On that basis alone, it is different from Gen Con (which seems more like a fan based con that industry participates in), but regular board gaming fans are also allowed to go to Essen for the show. For the last four years, around 150,000 board game aficionados browse, demo, play games and shop for four days in October.

(For an excellent recap of the differences between Gen Con and Essen and the other big cons, check out Paul Grogan’s excellent interview with Tom Vasel here.)

So, without further ado, Bradly and B.J., two of the Krewe de Gumbo members, share with you five of their most anticipated games, in no particular order.

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Ave Roma is a former Kickstarter project from A-Games out of Hungary that is just now hitting the European shores. It bills itself as a “worker drafting” Euro, and is for 2-5 players. From Krewe member, B.J.: The artwork depicted in the KS project is stunning, and the game play is intriguing.   Every player starts the game with the same workers, but after that it is every meeple for himself. It also hints at a different type of trading mechanism, one where over production is rewarded (as opposed to many Euros that favor a tight, controlled economy where the most efficient player usually wins.) It definitely looks to be a little bit too heavy for my usual game group, but I’ll bet the Krewe is ready for the challenge.

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Noxford is a territory building card game from Capsicum Games, designed by Henri Kermarrec for 2-4 players. From Krewe member, Bradly: The closest game I can relate to Noxford is dominoes. Players take turns laying cards. Cards can be related to their faction, neutral, or barracks. Faction cards are how you claim neutral cards. At the end of the game, the faction with the most cards surrounding a neutral card claims it as their own. Neutral cards are how you gain points, and Barracks are essentially attack cards that can cancel out opponent’s special abilities. The rules appear to be very simple: each card placed much about another card already placed, and the winner is the player with the most victory points at the end of the game. This game looks really good. 

pic3018362

Kanagawa is a new game published by IELLOdesigned by the dynamic duo that brought you Abyss, Bruno Cathala and Charles Chevallier. According to the Game Boy Geek, the game combines a cool press your luck mechanism with card drafting. From B.J.: I really love Abyss, and I see some elements that make it look like Kanagawa is a spiritual successor of that great game. I love the thought of more press your luck drafting. But, I am also drawn in by the original theme of playing painters decorating bamboo sheets with beautiful paintings. Definitely not Trading in the Mediterranean! Plus, the previews we have seen show some really incredible art from newcomer (at least to me) artist, Jade Mosch

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Age of Thieves is brought to you by Galakta, a publisher from Poland, and designed by Sławomir Stępień. It is an interesting card/miniature game for 2-4 players that plays between 1-2 hours. From Bradly: A group of master thieves have descended upon the capital in an attempt to rob the Emperor blind. But to do so, they not only need to break into his vault, but also escape the city with their ill gotten loot. Complicate this with the fact that they are not working together, and you have the basis for Age of Thieves.

 

delphi_cover_1200Oracles at Delphi is the impressive new Stefan Feld release from H@ll Games and Pegasus Spiele that is designed for 2-4 players. It carries a posted playing time of 70-100 minutes, and unlike many of Feld’s previous releases, the previewed artwork is gorgeous. From B.J.: The bright colors on the box cover, and the leaked images we have seen of prototypes look nothing like most of Feld’s other releases. It is a meaty game, but I like the posted time, and I like the description of the game play that I have seen so far. The idea of ship travel across the board, following in the footsteps of that great Greek hero, Odysseus, revs up the acquisition disorder for this one. Definitely one to check out. 

Until next time, Laissez les bon temps rouler!

B.J.

Follow me @boardgamegumbo

 

 

Top Ten Stories at Gen Con 2016, Part Deux

Gen Con: the con where a million different publishers vie for attention with a trillion different gamers.

Hyperbole? Of course.

But it is true that many different stories bubble up to the surface during the Best Four Days of Not Sleeping, 2016 edition. (If you missed number 10-6, click here).

Here is a look at the next five of our top ten favorites in part two of the two part series:


5. Stronghold inks deal for strong, historical design

Showman extraordinaire Stephen Buonocore pulled out all the stops at the Dice Tower Live show. Donning a monk’s robes right in front of Tom Vasel, with appropriate music (and an wardrobe malfunction!), Stephen announced that Stronghold Games had signed a partnership with German publisher Spielworxx to bring to the USA Sola Fide: The Reformation.

This is the latest historical game designed by superstar team Christian Leonhard and Jason Matthews. These are the designers who brought you 1960: The Making of the President, and Campaign Manager, two very well regarded games. Jason is also the co-designer of Twilight Struggle, which was the number one game on BGG for a long time.

What a coup for Buonocore, who loves making a splash but also really, really loves bringing great games to the public. According to the press release, the game is scheduled for public debut at Essen 2016.


4. Biggest Dice Tower Live show….ever?

The Krewe de Gumbo arrived on different days of the show, after driving over 1000 miles from Louisiana to attend. The Krewe had the pleasure of re-assembling all together at the Dice Tower Live Show on Friday.  The time period was a bit inconvenient, as the Fantasy Flight In-Flight Report (a very popular event for some of the Krewe) was scheduled by Gen Con at the exact same time.

Yet, even with one of the yearly most anticipated events going on, Tom Vasel and friends sold nearly 1200 tickets to their two hour live show. And when the time came to open the doors, the lines were stretched all through the convention hall.

The Krewe barely reached their seats along the left wall in the back just as the show started. This was a very professionally put together show from start to finish. It was in Gen Con’s largest ballroom, with plenty of comfortable seating. The room had professional sound with large screens for better viewing.

We saw Patrick from Blue Peg, Pink Peg frantically handing out raffle tickets along with Marty from Rolling Dice, Taking Names podcasts, so we knew there was a huge crowd.

You can catch the show on YouTube if you missed it the first time. Suffice it to say that the banter was friendly and good natured, the songs were mostly right on point, and the news was surprising and fresh. Speaking of news, there were announcements of new games from Eric Lang, a new company from Rob Daviau, and a new game coming out from Stronghold (see above.)

We predict that the Live show will not grow any bigger, but that it will grow in importance each year. Having designers with the stature of Lang, Daviau, Englestein and Matthews all attending the show will bring the crowds in (and press) each year.

3. Sell outs, sell outs, sell outs.

Not all of the stories are completely one-sided happy stories. For the board game designers who wanted buzz about their games, the numerous sell outs that occurred just on the first day generated tons of free publicity for their releases.  The sell outs ranged from the expected (SeaFall) to the not surprising (Cry Havoc, Harry Potter) to the surprising (The Networks) and many others.The bad news? For those gamers who wanted these games and did not shell out for VIG passes (“very important gamer” passes, which are expensive but give insiders an early bird hour to shop), they left empty-handed and disappointed.

But the good news? As Tom Vasel says over and over, all of the sold out games will get to your local game stores and/or online merchandisers eventually. And, the buzz that was generated around these games will hopefully generate more in sales down the road.

The side benefit? Those with a fixed board game budget at Gen Con but were disappointed in not getting the first game on their To Buy list, had  room now to pick up other games. We saw lots of people pivot to good titles release in the last year or so, or check out the little known or little hyped games being released at the Con. Maybe you were one of those that picked up a Murano or a Celestia or an Imhotep or an Imperial Settlers instead of the Hotness?

2. Legacy games are here to stay.

Pandemic Legacy was a critical runaway hit, zooming to the top of the BGG charts. SeaFall sold out in minutes on the opening day of the Con.

If this news didn’t cement the Legacy concept as the newest flavor, then surely the news that Ted Alspach’s hit franchise being extended to the Legacy format will.

One Night Ultimate Werewolf Legacy? Color me intrigued, at least.

But seriously, where does it stop? I believe there is much more room to grow in the Legacy concept. There are plenty of games out there that could be made better with a campaign style, destroy-some-cards customization.

But when a game company announces Uno Legacy, I’m out.

1. Cry Havoc, everybody’s most-wanted.

Not to take anything away from SeaFall, which had considerable hype going in and did predictably brisk numbers on day one, the real fire that burned through the Con was the Grant Rodiek-designed, Portal-sold four player slugfest.

The buzz was inescapable. Everywhere we went, people were talking about the game. The lucky few were even playing it.

Reviewers were crowing that they had found the next Kemet or Blood Rage.

Will this game have the staying power of a Dominion or Ticket to Ride or even Blood Rage? Who knows, but at least for four days, Cry Havoc was king of the hill.


So there you have it, the top ten stories that stirred the Gumbo pot at Gen Con 2016. Leave us a comment here or @boardgamegumbo on Twitter if you agree or disagree.

Until next time, Laissez les bons temps Rouler!

B.J.

MAIS, PUT DAT GAME IN DAT BAG FOR ME — GEN CON WRAP UP 2016

There was a Cajun invasion at Gen Con, and somehow the convention (which turns 50 next year) survived! Traveling by pirogue, by air boat, and even by modern day conveniences like planes, cars and hypertubes, nine members of the Krewe de Gumbo stormed into Gen Con 2016 for their first ever experience (well for some of us — Bradly and Bryan were experts) and it was everything as advertised. It was huge, it was overwhelming, it had amazing games (and more than a few duds), but above all, it was the Super Bowl of gaming.

You have probably heard that there are a lot of game companies showing off new games at Gen Con, or that there are a lot of games being played, or that there’s just a lot of people there.   Well, Gen Con is everything you heard, and much, much more.

Lots and lots of games — Stockpile at the Secret Cabal meet up

 

Here is a recap of the games we saw, and the games we played on Friday.

On Friday morning (which for early birds, was the second day of the official Con), we poked around the dealer hall while waiting for the Dice Tower Live show. We had just enough time to see that many of the hottest games around were already sold out: SeaFall, Cry Havoc, and The Networks to name a few. Yeah, that was a downer. But, it was a good sign for the industry. Many game companies like Stronghold Games went to the added expense of flying in games from China for the con, creating a big expense. When the owners were rewarded with sell outs of games like The Dragon & Flagon (a game that was definitely on my radar — but never had time to demo, unfortunately), you gotta think guys like Mr. Buonocore were happy to be rewarded for going the extra step.

To quickly cheer us up, Phillip and I challenged a box of rocks to a trivia game. That’s right a box of rocks. And we won, just barely. (At the point we played, the humans were only about 4 games ahead of the rocks). Simply put, Box of Rocks challenges the players to answer trivia questions that only have the answer 0, 1, or 2. Then the rocks are random ally shaken in a box, to reveal either a 0,1, or 2 guess. Who can get three answers right before the other player? Well, for us it was the humans, but there were a lot of dumb humans around (or lucky rocks).

Phillip is smarter than a box of rocks by far

But I did manage to meet Chris from Calliope Games, who did a great video with Eric Summerer of The Dice Tower fame back at Origins where they had a “Gravitas Voice” showdown. (Check it out at the Dice Tower videos for sure.). He was kind enough to do his Gravitas Voice for us while we checked out the expansion to Tsuro of the Seas. (That’s a “sequel” game that really improved on the simple game play of the original, adding more strategy and deeper game play.) I liked what I saw out of the expansion (can you say Tidal Waves and cannons?) Definitely on my radar…

But Phillip is not smarter than a dragon

I also finally got to demo a game of Spike. It gets mixed reviews on the Internet, and admittedly I am not a big fan of the graphic design on the board or the cards or the  layout, but man I love the pick up and deliver aspects of this game. I want to get a full play of it, but I could see myself rating this one very highly at least for game play.  And an added bonus — we had a great teacher. Good job R&R Games for recruiting good volunteers.

R&R has great teachers for their games.

The Dice Tower Live show was fabulous, and was plenty long enough, capping at about two hours. There were some game announcements that were the scoop at the con.  I think the one that put the envie into the room was Eric Lang’s announcement that he was releasing a “spiritual successor” to Diplomacy, which he called Rising Sun. I got a chance to see the art work later in the con, and wow — I was impressed by the talent. I love Japanese themed games, so I am intrigued but this one is definitely on a wait and see list.

Check my Twitter feed @boardgamegumbo for more info on the news announced at event, but by now most of the board game media have surely covered the meat of it. However, a surprise announcement from Rob Daviau had the hall twittering (and even the normally most-unimpressed Krewe members talked about it all weekend) — he and a friend have started a new game company called Restoration Games. Their aim? Final older games that are beloved by gamers, freshen them up with better game mechanics and release them into the wild. Think Dark Tower with better components and a cool storyline, or PayDay with mean take that mechanics and upgraded components.

The Krewe will be watching for their first release. I was impressed by the marketing strategy — they invited all gamers to come by the booth and let the team know what game they wanted updated, which of course created tremendous traffic and buzz in the halls.

Next up, back to the dealer hall where I saw Islebound from Red Raven games being demoed. I could kick myself for not….well kick starting that game. I got to visit with Brenna and Craig, key components of the development of the newest release, Near and Far (which I have already backed.) Nothing earth shattering to report..yet…but the Kickstarter is smashing all of its early stretch level goals.

Embarrassing Brenna and Craig with pictures.

My viewing was cut short, because I had to get over to the playing area to catch Tyrants of the Underdark. This 2016 release from Gale Force 9 carries the WOTC name and theming and blessing, so you are thinking “four cayenne peppers”, right? Well, I have to separate my ratings here. From the first turn on, this game is a lot of fun. Love the card mechanics, love the mutilple ways you can win, and love the interaction between the players. But VOODOO — the board and card art and graphic design just puts a damper on your enthusiasm. I can’t sugar coat it, I hate the layouts and color schemes. Maybe it is something we will get used to, but I don’t think so. This game (already) needs a second edition with better graphics and card art.

Doc working on his next move in Tyrants of the Underdark

I think Doc is saying, “Is that really the best card art they could get?”

From the swamps to Slidell, everybody is in the Krewe de Gumbo. And yes, I did come out last and showed it off.

Gale Force 9 had some excellent teachers. This guy knew the game backwards and forwards.

But we were lucky enough to have two or three great teachers from Gale Force Nine to help us, including one very nice young lady who should be a honorary member of the Krewe de Gumbo — she grew up on the North Shore of Lake Ponchartrain before working for GF9. What a welcome break, to reminisce about Louisiana right in the middle of the con.

We ended the night with some rousing games of Celestia (shout out to Krewe member Dustin for being way ahead of the curve on that game!),  Elysium (Krewe member Phillip’s first win–and he owns the game), and Usual Suspects back at our hotel near the Paizo play area. I did not play the latter, but it looked like people were enjoying it.  As for the other two, Celestia should be in EVERY gamer’s house. It is easy to set up and has great eye appeal. The game play is VERY ENGAGING, and with the right crowd, the money being won takes a back seat to the joy of bluffing and pushing your luck.I think our group brought back at least four copies!

 

Celestia

 

What’s a game night without Elysium? Phillip’s first ever win. And it is his game!
Unusual Suspects

Love those bits and artwork. Hear that Gale Force 9?

So to wrap up day one (reminder: for me, that was Friday):

Spicy new games to me — Tsuro of the Seas (just need to trade out the original) with expansion, and Celestia.

On the radar — Spike and Tyrants of the Underdark

Great gag gift that actually has some fun (but limited) gamer  appeal — Box of Rocks

Until next time, Laissez les Bon temps Rouler!

B.J.