Beignets and Board Games — Dice of Crowns

At PAX South 2017, we were able to visit with many established companies and some up-and-coming design studios, too. 

Unfortunately, we were not able to see everything! One of the games that we were eager to check out before the convention, but were unable to do so because of the busy schedule, is the subject of today’s snack time look see. 

Dice of Crowns, a 2016 release by Thing 12 Games, is a little push your luck filler that is easy to teach and has lots of modular rules to fit any type of game stop. The game was designed by Sean Epperson and Brander “Badger” Roullett, and plays from two to six players in about fifteen minutes. 


A. Components. 

Dice of Crowns comes in a well-made Altoids sized tin, stuffed to the brim with bits and pieces. First, players get a total of seven nicely made plastic dice with four different faces on them. Next, players receive sets of two different styles of tokens, green scoring tokens for the base game, and blue tokens for one of the modular rules. Finally, players get a compact rule set and a cute little plastic Crown. 

B. Gameplay. 

Clearly, this game was made for the start or end of your regular game night. The rules are easy to teach — players try to score green tokens by collecting favorable sets of dice before any other player can do so. Collect a certain number of tokens (five seems just right) and you are declared the crown winner. But the game comes with numerous “extra” rules to amp up the strategy and fun. 

As suggested by the designer, we mixed and matched some of the modular rules that add a little bit more depth to the gameplay. One of my favorite additional rules involved the win condition. Instead of an automatic win for collecting five tokens, the player who is in line for the fifth token gets the crown instead and has to hold onto it for the entire around, giving the other players a chance to steal. 

Stealing is not easy, as it takes seven out of seven on the rolls to make it happen. However, to make it a little easier, the designers added a rule where a certain number of dice faces will give you a chance at blue tokens.  Why are the blue tokens important?  Because they allow you to reroll your dice, or even force another player to reroll, which helps players with the steal mechanic and with collecting enough matching faces to win. Just watch out for those pesky knives and scrolls!

There are a ton of additional rules, and players are encouraged to add whatever rules they need to up the complexity or lower the barrier to entry to fit their particular game group.

There is one thing that is innovative about this game that I really liked. One of the cool mechanics is that if you roll a scroll, you are forced to hand that die (or dice as the case may be) to another player or players.  This is an immediate action and must be resolved before moving forward. 

That player or players (depending upon the number of scrolls rolled) then rolls the dice and can keep a good roll or force another player to take a bad roll. If a player gets three knives it can automatically end their turn, meaning that the scroll rolls can actually stack up good and bad dice on players before it is even their turn. (This also has the effect of reducing the amount of Dice that players can use on their turn because the dice might be locked during other player’s turns.) A very cool innovation and one that leads to a lot of strategy as players get closer to five markers. 

C. Final thoughts. 

Dice of Crowns is probably not deep enough to really need an in-depth study of the game. This game is all about chucking dice, setting up big combos with the blue tokens, and trying to steal the crown.

The addition by the designers of the scroll rolls can really amp up the laughter in the game as players try to guess who has the hot hand. Or maybe, players will look for the person whose dice just hate them, to get some dice back quickly! 

If you’re looking for a fun little filler to start the night or end your game night, and you like push your luck dice chucking, you might want to give Dice of Crowns a try.

–B.J. 

Pax South 2017 in the books – Part Two

Warm days and cool nights greeted the Krewe de Gumbo throughout the weekend of PAX South 2017.  Even better than the weather was the excellent gaming that we found, long looks at games released recently, and the great demos of new and upcoming games that will be released in 2017.

For a recap of some of the larger booths that we visited, check out our previous article here.

With my duties as Envoy Herald on the demo team of Kodama and Coup completed on Saturday, I had much more time to wander around the Con with the Krewe to see some of the other sights and sounds for PAX South 2017. Here are some of the highlights:


a. Red Raven Games.

First up, we visited the every friendly Brenna Asplund at Red Raven Games. Just like most of the board game companies in the main exhibit area, Red Raven had a much smaller booth than we saw at GenCon. But, Brenna, who is one third of the voices on the Red Raven podcast, was there with a ready smile and great demos of their latest games.

I saw  a lot of interest from the PAX crowd in Islebound, the beautiful seafaring game from Ryan Laukat that was released last year after a successful Kickstarter.  The artwork — no surprise since we are talking about Red Raven — is gorgeous and whimsical.  We played this game right after GenCon, and it was nice to see that Red Raven still had some expansion packs left.

Plus, Red Raven offered a package deal on the complete Eight Minute Empires series with expansion and extra board. By Sunday, it was loooong gone!

We got a chance to visit with Brenda about Near & Far, and were happy to hear that it is right on schedule for its release to the Kickstarter backers. It sounds like they are very happy with what they have seen from the manufacturer so far.

b. Level 99 Games.

My current favorite podcast, The Dukes of Dice, talk about their friends at Level 99, so we had to make a pass by to visit with Brad, the owner. Level 99 too was in the midst of the cacophony that makes up the Main Exhibit Hall, and frankly, it was not that easy to find some of the booths for a quick trip. (In fact, I used some of my scout skills to help Mina from Mina’s Fresh Cardboard locate a friend at the Level 99 booth the day before.)

When we got there, Josh from Level 99 was demoing Sellswords, the new release from Level 99. This is an interesting little card/tile laying game that has a theme of hiring “sellswords” to complete tasks. In reality, it is a neat little abstract game, with a cool mechanic of flipping the cards as they are placed next to each other and weighed in their strengths.  We have a review copy, and will try to post something soon.

I asked Brad what was the big hit of the con, and he said that demos of Mega Man Pixel Tactics had been going extremely well. He confided that if the game had been ready, he could have sold out of whatever he brought.  I am sure a lot of this is due to the nature of PAX (lots of nostalgic video game fans there) but by what I saw, the game looks fun. I need to try out Pixel Tactics at some point, because I know the Dukes (especially Alex) have talked it up in previous podcasts.

Finally, I got to visit with Brad and Josh about the future of Millennium Blades. This is a game from 2016 that I have not yet tried, even though it appears right up my alley. All of you know that there is an expansion coming up soon, but there are rumblings that if this expansion does well, then more content will be coming. So if you are fan of Millennium Blades, go out and support Set Rotation when it hits the game store shelves.

c. Indie game reports.

One thing I love about PAX South is that they really encourage and foster indie game companies. There were many booths to see at the con even in the main exhibit hall, so many that I could not demo all of their wares. But, we managed to grab a few demos, and even bought a game.

First up, we tried out Oh My Gods!, a new game from Gameworthy Labs designed by Timothy Blank. Tim was handling all the demos, so the demo went very smoothly to say the least.  The card game is a Greek gods themed, streamlined version of Clue (or better, Mystery of the Abbey), with special powers for each of the members of the pantheon.  I am not a big fan of the artwork, and there are just too many games with a same or similar title for my taste. 

However, the game play is a lot of fun, and the special powers of each card adds a lot to the deductive genre. Plus, it would be a lot easier to get a game like this out at the start of a game night then Mystery of the Abbey now, since Mystery seems a bit dated compared to newer deduction games. So, if your game group likes deduction games, this would be a good filler to add. 

Next, we headed to the Wild West for a test run of Shootout! The High Noon card game, a 2015 quick playing card game filler from Cris Amburn and New Experience Workshop.  I liked the artwork and theme of the cards, and I loved the quick play.  Each gunslinger plays cards off of a draw pile, until there is a “duel”. Stay alive, be a quick shot, and have a better five card hand than the other player, and you can stay in the game.  The downside? I think the game needed a little more in the development pod…some of the card types and names do not match up to the theme and took me out of the game a bit. But, this would make a great little filler for the start or finish of a game night.

We then headed off to the Indie Game Showcase, right smack dab in the middle of the Main Exhibit space.  PAX had a contest for potential new games, and six winners were chosen and featured in huge booths that you could not miss.  There were crowds of gamers, young and old alike, clogging up the pathways and entrances to the demo areas of the booths, which is a great sign for the growth in our version of table top.  However, that prevented me a bit from demoing all of the games.

I did manage to try two of them that piqued my interest. Fantastic Factories is a great looking  worker placement game  designed by Joseph Chen. There was a huge crowd of people demoing the game on Sunday, and the booth itself was very professional looking. The demo team had matching hard hats, lots of quick game play and instructions, and the designer himself was involved and answering questions. Look for this one on Kickstarter soon. I like the art and what I could see of the gameplay; plus, I am a sucker for dice placement games. 

Last, but not least, we had an enthusiastic game demo of Wicked Apples. This is a great small box filler card game, with a lot of take that and hidden role (core? Apple?) action. The artwork is serviceable, but the game appears pretty well polished. If this game gets picked up by a bigger company, I could see it becoming a convention favorite. 

I can’t forget to mention that there was a VERY active UnPub scene at PAX South. Because of my teaching and demoing responsibilities, I did not have time to take part and play test some of the games, but I walked by and saw dozens of games being tested. 

SUMMARY:

This was my first year attending, but some of the other Krewe members have been going since the first year PAX South opened. All agreed that this was the biggest showing by table top companies yet. 

I heard Stephen Buonocore of Stronghold Games once remark that the Con calendar could use a big Winter kick off convention to fill the drought between Essen and BGG. Could PAX South be it? Judging by what Matt Morgan and company have done in such a short time, it would not surprise me that we see big things coming out of PAX South in the future. 

Until next time, 

Laissez les bon temps rouler!

–B J
 

Pax 2017 In The Books – Part One

The third installment of San Antonio’s gaming convention showed the potential that PAX has to energize the gaming community. The crowds this past weekend were large, and there was a palpable buzz when the previously leaked announcement was confirmed: PAX is ramping up its support for table top with a new con, PAX UNPLUGGED, set for Philly the week of BGG.CON.

But enough about future cons, what about this year’s installment? PAX South 2017 was still in the same convention hall, the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center, but the newly refurbished center spilled out all over the convention, with plenty of room for table top and an expanded focus on board gaming.  Based on the larger spaces, more numerous venues, dedicated staff to table top and an expanded library, it is clear that PAX’s focus on our hobby is growing each year.

For tabletop gamers, the expo hall and table top area was the place to be each day. 

a. Table top freeplay.

The table top area had a very well laid out and large area dedicated board gamers to play games they brought from home, purchased from the nearby vendors, or checked out of the library.  While not as large in scope as GenCon’s table top area, there seemed to be more available table space on Friday (which could also be the effect of gamers being in school or at work).  Unlike Gen Con, the bathrooms were plentiful and convenient, located right behind the table top area. 

I talked to Matt Morgan, the table top organizer for PAX, and he said there was an even bigger selection of games this year, topping 1000+.  While the library can’t compare yet with BGG or Dice Tower’s massive libraries, there was an ample selection of tried and true favorites as well as a few of the newer games. In all honesty, there may have been more hotness located in the library, but just checked out as I browsed.  The library was stacked on tables and alphabetized, and stayed open until midnight.

On Friday, we tried out Alien Frontiers, a Kickstarter favorite that I had always wanted to try. This was the version with the upgraded colonies and tokens, so it was very pleasing to the eye on the table.  I was warned by Mina from Mina’s Fresh Cardboard that the game was very random, and it certainly didn’t disappoint in that regard. 

We played with three players, and I think that may be the sweet spot for this game. The fourth (dummy) player acts as a barrier to some of the spots, so it made for interesting choices as we placed our ship dice around the board. Yes, the dice rolling can be chaotic, and there certainly is a lot of player interaction, complete with a spot on the board that allows “raiding” other players’ goods / cards if the right dice roll comes out. But, we learned to mitigate the randomness during the game, because the alien artificial power cards and the tiles on the board themselves helped control the chaos.  All in all, a great little 1.5 hour dice chucking fest that looks great on the table.  I’d certainly play it again. 

On Saturday, we tried out Farmageddon, a Grant Rodiek designed game, that I had brought from home. I already owned the original version, but just recently received the new version.  This version is definitely the one to get — better card art, better combos, and the designer got rid of the clunky field cards.  Don’t go into this game unless you have a group that likes a little (a lot!) of take that action and laugh out loud moments. Definitely a keeper for me. 

We also played the inescapable PushFight, a game that is produced or resold (as best as I can tell) by Penny Arcade.  While inexplicably not available at the con, its presence was everywhere.  You could always see tables with the game being played. Some of the Krewe entered a tournament for PushFight, but we also got some free play in, too.  It is an enjoyable and well designed abstract one versus one fight, sort of like a streamlined version of chess. But, it has the satisfying mechanic of pushing pieces around and off the board. There is nothing like pushing a piece off to end the game! I am not a big abstract game player, but I would play this again.

b. Table Top Exhibitor Area.

I spent most of the weekend as a volunteer demonstrator for Indie Boards & Cards / Action Phase Games in the table top area. (There were also some exhibitors in the main exhibit area next door, the one with all of the flashing lights and noisy gizmos.)  That limited my time to visiting the hall until Sunday, but I did get a chance to walk around and see about 80% of the table top side of the Con.  Yes, Pax South 2017 does not have the size and scope of vendors as Gen Con or Essen, but there was plenty to see and demo and buy. From what I can tell, this was the largest table top exhibitor participation at any Pax so far. 

INDY BOARDS & CARDS / ACTION PHASE GAMES:

I spent most of my time here, and got to visit with Tricia, promotions director for IB&C, and Travis, owner of AP. They brought a large selection of games, from the very familiar Coup to the hot games from 2016 like Aeon’s End and Kodama.

Kodama was a big hit at the con, with tons of players demoing and purchasing this beautiful little thirty minute card laying, secret objectives game. Most players told me they were drawn in by the beautiful, zen like artwork of the trees, branches and quirky little Kodama tree spirits. (We even gave away promo cards of what looked like little alien Kodama cards, and a new first player token, which I dubbed the Kodamameeple.)

But, there was a lot of interest in Aeon’s End and Ninja Camp, too. Aeon’s End is a mind bending, butt kicking coop game where players build their deck to defeat a big baddie attacking the home city. The baddie throws minions at the heroes (who are all distinct with unique special powers), and players construct their decks in such a way as to team up to save the city.

The worst part of deckbuilders is “the shuffle,” and designer Kevin Reilly fixes this.  Con visitors shook their hands in amazement when I explained that there is no “shuffle” in Aeon’s End. Instead, players discard their hands and any purchased cards in any order, and when the deck runs out, players just flip the discard deck over and start again. Aeon’s End had two available expansions for it that brought in more heroes and baddies, with the same great card art.

Ninja Camp is a cute little abstract card game, which looked like a gamer’s version of Hey, That’s My Fish! Instead of picking up generic scoring tiles, I especially liked the special bonus actions that the cards you pick up give you during the play.

Also, Travis was eager to talk about Trickster, which is Daniel Solis’ new design. It was not available for demo, but the Kickstarter is up and doing well.

ASMODEE

Asmodee, and its companies (Fantasy Flight, Z Man, Plaid Hat etc) had promotional style booths, with a large demo team on hand. We tried out Star Wars: Destiny Dice as well as Captain Sonar, and got a glimpse at the demos going on for Ashes:Rise of the Phoenixborn and Pandemic Cthulu, too.

We played two pre-made starter decks with Rey/Finn and Kylo/First Order ST on either side. After a quick rules explanation (there were always two or three Asmodee demo team members near by to address any bugaboos), we were off and battling. I liked the smaller deck components and the highly thematic card play. I also liked the dice — they were chunkier and of seemingly better quality than I expected from the promotional pictures. All in all, SW:DD is a game that I would play again.

Captain Sonar is an awkward game to demo at a large, noisy con, but kudos to their team — they were able to get us up to speed and running quickly. The game was turn based rather than the more compelling to me version with both sides maneuvering at the same time. I was the radio operator, and enjoyed listening in and strategizing about where the other team was located.  Too noisy in the con for my tastes, but if they have any organized play at Dice Tower Con or Gen Con, I would definitely like to try it.

GREATER THAN GAMES / DICE HATE ME

I also got to visit with Nolan Nasser and his brother at the Greater Than Games / Dice Hate Me booth.  He was demonstrating one of my favorite games of 2016, New Bedford (for which he did most of the artwork, especially the stunning box art for the base game and expansion.). Nolan was friendly, and said he has a few more projects in the pipeline.  Keep an eye out on Nolan, as he is a very talented young artist and you can tell that he really enjoys games. 

TASTY MINSTREL GAMES

Right nearby was the corner booth for TMG.  I visited with one of the promo guys, who told me the good news that Colosseum is right on schedule for delivery to Kickstarter backers. Long a grail game for me, this is probably my second most anticipated game of 2017 so far.

c. Exhibitor Hall

Located right at the entrance to the hall was the humongous electronics and analog gaming vendor section. This area had everything from well known game companies (Level 99, Red Raven) to smaller indies either in their own booths, sharing space with others, or picked for big displays at the Indie Showcase.

We’ll cover those companies in our next installment.

Until next time, Laissez les bons 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.

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 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!
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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.
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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.
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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.

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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.
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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.

Board Game Gumbo’s Top Games of 2016

Cool white lights are twinkling on the evergreens outside of homes across the gaming landscape. Inside their warm houses, gamers furiously type texts and forum posts and Group Me messages, a solitary debate raging all across the land: What are the best game experiences in 2016?

Here at the Gumbo, we feel your pain.  There were hundreds of new releases, far too many even for Tom Vasel et al to sample. And among those hundreds of new releases, 2016 showed itself to be a very strong year, with dozens of contenders for any right minded soul’s top five.

But the journey and the struggle are one and the same, and so, emboldened by a recent binge of playing some of the best and brightest of this year, the Krewe de Gumbo offer their opinions on the top games of 2016.

Disclaimer:

We haven’t played all of the games. But, we’ve played most of the top 50 games of the year, and we still have plenty of time before the Dice Tower awards in July to sample even more.

Without further ado, we present to you the Top 10 or so games of 2016…so far…

Le Rougarou…sur la bayou??

Number 14: Arkham Horror LCG

Fantasy Flight Games has cornered the market on “living card games”, that not-quite-collectible-but-definitely-repeatedly-buyable genre of trading card games. This time, FFG upped the ante with an immersive storyline and cooperative game play that had the Krewe raving.

B.J. – Fantasy Flight gets points from me just for having a scenario revolve around the “Rougarou.”

Dustin Boatman – Love the Cthulhu Mythos but hate money sink CCG and LCGs. Pass for me.

Bradly Billingsley – This one is not on my list, but it is close. These types of games are something I don’t typically get into, and if I had to choose I think Star Wars: Destiny is the better offering of this type for this year.

Dustin’s favorite Dudes On A Map game for 2016

Number 13: Cry Havoc

There was a lot of prerelease hype for this dudes on a map game from Portal Games. Designed by Grant Rodiek, with a lot of development time from the Portal team, The Dice Tower proclaimed it one of the year’s best way back in the summer time. It was nearly impossible to pick up without a pre-order at GenCon, but it was worth the wait.

Dustin – Amazing game with a lot of hard decisions. The asymmetrical nature can appear to be unbalanced to some, but with repeated plays that goes away. I wish more guys in our group played this one because I think it would be higher.

Straight from GenCon’s hotness rooms to our gaming table

Number 12: Imhotep

Fresh off his success with friendly little titles like Sushi Go, Phil Walker-Harding unleashed this nasty little brain-burner. Called by many an instant classic, Imhotep made it onto almost all of the top 10 charts completed by the Krewe. The game is ostensibly about building pyramid type structures using big, chunky wooden blocks. But, the reality is that it is all about planning a move or two ahead to jump wildly up in the point standings or push your friend toward an action that was not ideal. A wicked little game, with great components that deserves all of the recognition it’s gotten.

B.J. – I love playing our big, thematic games, but Imhotep also fits my gaming style — it’s easy to teach, and I can finish a game in less than an hour with lots of interesting choices.

Bradly – I can see Imhotep becoming a classic in years to come and one of those essential games that people talk about.  Whereas some other games may drop in rating after repeated plays, when the small problems with them get exaggerated, Imhotep is just so solid of a game that I never see it going away.

Dustin – I really enjoyed my plays of this one because I love games with simple rules but tons of strategy. I can play this with my family or my game group and everyone will enjoy it equally. I will say though, Isle of Skye: From Chieftain to King could have been on my list in this spot for the same reasons, but since I have only played that one with my family and not my game group, this one gets the nod.

That’s a lot of baddies

Number 11: Mechs vs. Minions

Mechs v Minions took the social media and board game website world by storm upon its unleashing by Riot Games. The programming game had zero hype before its release, yet sprang to the top of the BGG hotness and burned up the Reddit boards after a coordinated blitz of board game media reviews, previews and videos.

Was the game worth the hype? According to the Krewe, yes, indeed. But was it the combination of the bits and gameplay, or was the Krewe blinded by all of the goodness inside that big box??

B.J. – Unfortunately, I only got to watch this one. I saw the Gumbo group set it up and salivated over all the juicy bits that seemed to just keep coming out of that box. And then, I heard the four guys playing through four scenarios, laughing uproariously the entire time. Since I love programming games like RoboRally and Colt Express, this is one I have got to get to the table.

Dustin – Mechs v. Minions? I didn’t know this was a list of the best components for 2016! With0ut it’s “bling” NO ONE has this on their top ten.

Bradly – Mechs v. Minions? What are we high? Robo Rally Plus does not make my top 10. I prefer competitive games.

A peek at some gorgeous artwork

Number 10: Islebound

That Renaissance man, Ryan Laukat is well known for his whimsical artwork. Does his latest retail release, a game about exploring a randomized board and earning victory points through pseudo-military conquest and trading, with just a small hint of the storytelling components that would become explored more fully in Above & Below and Near & Fear.

Dustin – One of the many I didn’t get to play. I am still looking for that “great” game to be released by Red Raven Games. His art and design is amazing, but thus far all of the games I have played have been good, but not great. Hopefully this one is it.

B.J. – I don’t think this will be the one for you. I liked it a lot, but it hints at the storytelling aspects that Ryan flushed out more with Above and Below and will seemingly take to the next level in Near and Far. I think you will like it, but I don’t think it will be the homerun you are looking for.

Bradly – For me this is the Laukat game for people who aren’t interested in that ‘storytelling thing.’  Essentially it’s just worker placement, but where your workers can only move a certain number of spaces away from their last spot.  I do love Above and Below, especially for that Storybook, but there is a place for this Laukat game as well.

Dustin – BJ may very well be right, only time will tell. I am really looking forward to his second edition of Empires of the Void  because that one seems to be more in my wheel house.

The Feld that is not a Feld is a Feld after all.

Number 9: The Oracle of Delphi

Our friend, game designer Jason Dinger, said he heard this one is the “Feld that’s not a Feld.” Jason’s right — it does not have that point salad feel of Stefan Feld‘s other games, yet still has a billion different choices in racing your captain around the board fulfilling Herculean quests and then back to Zeus for the coronation.  You will be entranced by the beautiful bits and board, but don’t get memorized for too long — even one or two inefficient turns will leave you behind good players very quickly.

B.J. – With a few more plays, I can see this one going much higher for me. I love the colorful board. I love the clever twist on your standard racing format. Plus, here’s the bonus: I kickstarted Tasty Minstrel Games‘s reprint of Colosseum, so to see the gorgeous presentation in this game gets me excited that I will be receiving a fantastic package when that game is fulfilled.

Dustin- I have never played this one and by the pictures I have seen, nothing grabs me making me want to play. Looked like Catan with standees everywhere, lol.

A frenzied close up of the board.
c0nf99iuoaey4zr-jpg-large

Number 8: Adrenaline

Could Czech Games Edition really pull off a first person shooter in board game format? According to the Gumbo krewe, they did. We can expect tight scores and lots of in game actions in this first person shooter recreation on a table top. The game was designed by Filip Neduk, and so far is getting rave reviews from our game group — well, those few that have experienced it so far.

Dustin: In our first play, the scores were a lot closer than I expected. Everyone was only a few points away from each other. Final Frenzy takes some getting used to, but if you just take it as a free action for everyone, it’s cool.

Dave – Adrenaline is a great game, might be in my top five.

Bryan – Adrenaline is a pretty good game. I won, but just barely.

Dustin – I grew up playing FPS games, so this theme interested me as soon as I heard about it around Gen Con time. Quake 3 Arena particularly was my favorite in those days because of the competitive, player vs. player environment. Me, my brothers, and my dad all played and even had our own clan. Luckily, after playing, I realized there is also a really good game here, not just theme. As most who know me would confirm, area control is one of my favorite game mechanics and this one does it in a unique way. This one also falls into the “simple rules but lots of strategy” category. Quite honestly, if I had more plays of this one, it may have threatened Cry Havoc for my number 1.

B.J. – finally played this at Gumbo night on Wednesday, and really enjoyed it. We played four players, and that felt like the right amount. Lots of action going on. Even though the rules are simple, and the game has some chaos, there’s also lots of chance for choices affecting your score, since after all it is a modified Euro. Might’ve made my top ten had I tried it before we posted. 

Don’t trust anyone, except the one who trusts you.

Number 7: New Angeles

There is a sharp divide at the Gumbo when it comes to social deduction / bluffing / traitor type games. On the one hand, there are those of us that cannot wait for the next release of games that raise the blood pressure while players cast furtive glances at each other, trying to divine through every nuance the shifting alliances that make up the most fun part of these games. And then, there’s Dave, whose antipathy toward games with open horsetrading, lying, stealing and backstabbery is legion.  That’s okay — admittedly, these type of games are not for every gamer, but New Angeles may be the best of the recent offerings. 

B.J. – I anticipate this very late to the Krewe release will see lots more plays with the Gumbo in 2017. I loved our play of New Angeles, but it took a couple of turns to get it. Reminded me of a stream lined Fury of Dracula (third edition) where you don’t know who Drac is.

David – I liked it, but seriously, all it is Dead of Winter: A Crossroads Gamewith a different theme. Except in this game whenever you’re the traitor and get caught you have ZERO chance of doing anything. At least in dead of Winter you get exiled, and still have a chance.

Bradly –  I love the fact that this is a coop, competitive, and traitor game all in one.  You would think in all of that mess the actual mechanics of the game would get lost, but they don’t.

Carlos –  Even if you are the traitor, you can still influence the game, you had waaaaaay more money than you needed, throw those dollars around to make people get greedy and vote on suboptimal deals.

Dustin – Never played this one, but I love Fury of Dracula. By the description I don’t really see a comparison, but I may be wrong. Dave’s comments worry me a little, since me and him tend to agree more on games than the rest of the Krewe.

B.J.: Don’t get me wrong, it does not play like Fury at all…just has that feel of trying to build up your corporation (like your character in Fury) while figuring out which one of us is Drac (or in this case, the Federalist).  The game has that same tension.

On their way to SeaWorld: Boston?

Number 6: New Bedford

Dice Hate Me Games has carved an interesting niche, releasing beautifully produced games with an Americana feel. Nathaniel Levan‘s entry came in two parts, the initial little worker placement game, as well as its also released expansion, New Bedford: Rising Tide (2016) (which many consider to be essential to playing the game). Yes, it is standard worker placement fare, but with beautiful artwork, an interesting theme, and a twist on the mechanic with the highly thematic whaling board — where sailors outfit ships to cast off into the Atlantic Ocean to bring back huge whales to the dock, while jockeying for position against other outfitted ships.

Dustin – Just so you know, B.J., New Bedford just missed my top 10. Maybe if I had played it more, it may have been higher. Only thing holding it back for me (besides lack of plays) is that it really doesn’t do anything new or different, which isn’t a bad thing, but I can see it getting forgotten in the huge pack of Euro games that are similar.

Bradly – New Bedford just missed my top 10, and wound up as my #11. It’s a great worker placement game, although not my favorite of all time, but there was just so much goodness this year it couldn’t quite keep up. I do think it has one of the best expansions, but again, the The Grizzled‘s expansion barely beat it out for my best of the year.

B.J. – I’ve taken a lot of ribbing from the Gumbo krewe for evangelizing this game, so I am glad to see that the guys deep down liked it. But, I am a big fan of the artwork by Nolan Nasser, and it definitely helps that the game is easy to teach, plays in about an hour, and has a surprising amount of depth of actions and strategy in such a small package.  Plus, the bonus is that with the variable tile set ups, you can get so much replay ability out of the game. Two whale’s tails up.

And the app! Don’t forget about the app!

Number 5: Mansions of Madness: Second Edition

There is no surprise that Mansions made the Gumbo top ten. We love big, thematic games; we seem to love anything related to Cthulthu. Mash them together, improve the original by 100%, and inject some wow-geezery with the use of an app to help with all of the fiddliness and provide some thematic backdrop to the game.

B.J. –  How is Mansions of Madness so far above Mechs for Bradly, if he “prefers competitive games?”

Bradly – Mansions is only up there because it’s that good. As far as putting you in the world of the game, Mansions does it better than any game on my top 10. Just like New Angeles, the fact that this game ranked so highly in a genre I don’t particularly care for says a lot about just how good it is.

Dustin – Another one I never got to play, but I do like the Cthulhu Mythos, so I am interested. I am a little sketchy on the app though, because I tried the Descent app and it was too clunky for me.

Number 4: Star Wars: Rebellion

With Rogue One hitting theaters this year, it seems like Star Wars mania is even more on the rise. And in 2016, here came Fantasy Flight with another stellar production of a licensed Star Wars game, one that pitted the Imperial side versus the Rebellion over a huge table-hogging map filled with great reproductions of some of the iconic elements of the original movies.

Dustin – Oh, sweet Rebellion, how I wish I could have played you. This is the one game I am positive would have hit my top 5 if I would have gotten to play it. Maybe if our group played games more than once before they move onto whatever other new game they bought yesterday I could have played it, lol. I kid, I kid….Or do I?

Bradly – Maybe if you showed up for a game night or didn’t take month long vacations in Texas we’d actually get to play some of your games, Dustin. I’ve been wanting to play this for a month and haven’t gotten a chance to.

Dustin – Lies! I have asked he who shall not be named (Carlos) to bring Rebellion to Gumbo HQ for over a month! Instead he insists on bringing party games made for your in laws to get introduced into gaming. 😉

That reminds me. Which one do you like better? Spin or The Martian?

Number 3: Terraforming Mars

The buzz has been palpable about Stronghold Games‘s latest euro style import. Terraforming Mars is realistically set in the scientific world of a mission to ready Mars for human habitat. This card drafting, world building game from FryxGames‘s own Jacob Fryxelius provides a lot of opportunities for satisfying card combos, but ratchets up the tension in the final frames as the players get closer to achieving the primary objectives and ending the game. Since its GenCon debut, where it sold out in minutes, the intertron has been on fire with good reviews and playthroughs. The game has its detractors, though not many, which center on the lackluster art direction on the cards and the very flimsy / not very useful player boards. But, the gameplay has been almost universally praised with good reason.

Dustin- Great game, but seriously, the components and design choices are pretty terrible in this one.

B.J. – I have seen the complaints about the artwork, and yes, some of the art choices on the cards are questionable. But I like the look of the board (it is a serious attempt at a board game about the actual science of prepping Mars, after all) and I liked the cubes a lot. But you are right — not sure who gave the final okay to those design choices on the player boards.

Bradly – This is a game of substance over style. If you can handle the poor artwork and low quality components, you will find an amazing game underneath. My #6, but easily could have been my #1 if more attention had been paid to the quality of the game. The mechanics, however, are top notch.

I’ll help you, if you help me get rid of the player who is attacking the Cave. Unless I kill you first.

Number 2: Vast: The Crystal Caverns

Did any other game captured and bedeviled the game community at the same time as did Vast, designed by David Somerville and Patrick Leder with fun artwork from Kyle Ferrin? This was such a quiet release from Leder Games at GenCon — only to have it become blown up in social media when players returned home and started diving into the unique mechanics. We have all played asynchronous power driven games, but to have a game that had not one but five completely different play styles — each with their own rule set — blew the minds of many gamers. Add to the fact that the game, for the most part, was interesting looking and had interesting characters (where else can you play a Cave?), once players were able to understand and evangelize the game, it quickly became a game night staple. All eyes are on the latest revisions and updated characters from the Kickstarter, but in the meantime, Vast is a very interesting choice for number two game of 2016.

B.J. – Maybe one of the more complicated games to understand, at least for me. Its not like you can watch what other players are doing to understand how your character moves — the asychronous aspects of each character are truly unique. However, the investment in learning the game is so worth it. The tension in the endgame is palpable and makes for some great “Aha!” moments when somebody finally pulls off the win.

Dustin – Never got to play but I am interested. The difficulty to teach is a major flaw though. No one feels like explaining 5 different games to 5 different people every time you play.

Bradly – As the one responsible for teaching this game each time we play, let me just say that it doesn’t make it easy. Luckily the new kickstarter for the reprint is addressing the issue with the rulebook, which is sorely needed. Once you get past that, admittedly large, hurdle you will find an amazing game. This is what every game that makes the claim of being asynchronous should aspire to, but most fall short

Dude. ‘Nuff said.

Number 1: Scythe

Remember when Jamey Stegmaier front man of Stonemaier Games first displayed the artwork that inspired this game’s development? Jakub Rozalski’s pastoral scenes of a post-world war agrarian society facing the remaining menaces of huge mechanized war machines was stunning, thought provoking, and tantalizing all at the same time. The kickstarter for this game blew up big time, and then the anticipation began to build for the actual game and its components. Would Scythe live up to the hype? At least for the Board Game Gumbo Krewe, this game truly did and actually exceeded expectations.  While it does not quite live up to its 4X billings, Scythe scratches so many other itches: the threat of combat, area control, euro type resource and engine building, and the fun of exploring the artwork of the world and devious mind of the designer in the excellent encounter cards that add so much flavor to the experience.  Scythe was an easy choice — so far — for the number one game of 2016.

B.J. –  Scythe has been the best experience of any game I have played in 2016 so far. Well designed, awesome production, tight finishes, and I love the reward system.

Dustin – Another good game with great components, but I don’t see the hype. I am apparently alone in my group on this one, but I see it as a top 10 or top 20 game but number 1? Not a chance. Although a better game than MvM by far, I feel it is in the same boat as far as gameplay vs components. Boring components and people would give this a 7.5 rating. Still a good game for sure, but no way a number 1 game for me. This one isn’t even my favorite Stonemaier game, might not even be my number 2.

Bradly – We should probably start by pointing out that we play the fully blinged out version of this game with the ‘realistic’ resources and metal coins, etc. That probably skews our opinions of this game somewhat. But even with that, I don’t see another game that came out this year that competes with Scythe. When you consider everything from components, to theme, mechanics, artwork, etc. it’s just better than any other game in 2016, hands down. Or at least it was for me. And the new expansion makes the game even better, I think. A 7 player game of Scythe is almost a completely different animal than a 5 player game, because it, to a much larger extent, forces players into competition. Really there’s not many bad things I can say about this game, except for maybe that I haven’t gotten the figures painted yet.

Dustin- As a serious Dudes on a Map player I am insulted when I sit down in front of a massive board, with amazing plastic mechs, just to have a “who can harvest and manage resources better” contest with other factions with cool mechs. Don’t give me the “threat of war” thing either, because I don’t want a threat, I want the actual WAR! Like the great Bob Barker said to Happy Gilmore, “I don’t want a piece, I want the whole thing!” This is a great Euro, but not even the best one on this list.

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So there you have it–our Top Ten games, plus a little lagniappe and of course our usual friendly commentary. We’re still playing and rating games, so who knows what this list will look like in six months. Until next time….

Laissez les bon temps rouler!

–B.J.

Orctoberfest Preview

Dwarves, elves, orcs, vampires and the lot are having a party. And not just any party, it’s time for the biggest party of the year: Welcome to Orctoberfest!

Orctoberfest is a game designed by Stefan Linden, with art by Agnes Fouquart. It will be published in 2017 by Meeples Inc. It is a card game about placing cards and hoping for happiness, with a theme of fantasy creatures enjoying an Octoberfest celebration and waiting in line at the various vendor tents.  It has been my pleasure to play this game recently and write this preview.

img_1342The basics of the game: players play one of five colored decks, with each deck having the same line up of fantasy figures ready to live it up at Orctoberfest. The players will have all cards in hand at the start of the game and will all place a card face down in front of them. The players will then flip their cards at the same time. Next, they take turns based on card order placing the shown cards in line and resolving the card effects on the cards played and the cards in line already. Once all players are done, the creatures first in line are served, scored and removed from the game, happiness is removed from the cards still in line and play repeats.

The basic premise sounds very simple but as with all good games there are plenty of twists and turns. The fantasy creatures all have special powers that influence everything from happiness to location in line to blocking other powers. This has the amazing effect of making the strategy and planning of the game complex, intriguing, and chaotic. One never knows when or if the queue will change. Sometimes a whole queue can vanish in a single round, other times the queue exists for the whole game with only a handful of cards successfully being scored.

The game is not without flaws, however.  As with every game that has planning involved, analysis paralysis could be a problem for some players. Also, the stalling factors in the game can cause your high scoring characters to be bogged down easily if someone decides to play kingmaker. Lastly, I felt there was a degree of momentum that exists, meaning it is easy to keep rolling once you get going. Mostly this just needs to be dealt with using certain card powers to break up lines with multiple elves or avoiding lines with multiple ratmen which both have powers that build up very quickly.

Overall I found the game to be very good, especially since it is a light, quick game, with the nine rounds of play only taking around 30-45 mins to complete. Combining the overall speed of play on individual turns and the every changing field of play made the experience enjoyable. The downsides are fairly easy to deal with and while they are something to be aware of, no game is without its flaws and being aware of them helps to deal with them.

(Ed. Note: We previewed the game via print-n-play, so some of the components and artwork are not in final versions yet. We have been in touch with the designer, who says a reworking of the rule book is already underway to help clarify a few issues we had in learning the game. Plus, they are improving the graphic design of the cards to alleviate some of the problems we had in reading and understanding the icons. We look forward to seeing the finished product soon.)

— Bryan Barnes

Beignets & Boardgames: First Look at Simurgh

Back in 1983, three teenage boys in Grand Mamou who were looking for a new video game experience for the Commodore 64 stumbled upon Dragonriders of Pern. Designed by Jim Connelly of Epyx Games, it was different from other space and shoot-em-up games. It had negotiation. It had action. But most of all, it had a theme tied to the book series of the same name by Anne McAffrey.

That series of books, centered around dragon riding heroes on the planet Pern who battle the “Thread”, a deadly micro alien organism attacking the planet, was a huge seller and a big influence on F&SF reading teenagers in the 1980s.

dragonriders_of_pern_thread_fight

The graphics in the electronic game about Pern were rudimentary, the game play was admittedly unusual for the day, but the theme was just cool. It was a chance to be the leader of the “weyr” (dragon hold) and build alliances with other weyrs to save the planet.

So, any time a board game company publishes a board game with dragons as a theme, it inevitably harkens me back to those books and that game.  Obviously, game play and graphic design have come a long way since then, but is there any game out there that can recreate that feeling?

NSKN created a sensation about a year ago with a Kickstarter for a dragon based game called Simurgh as well as its expansion. We finally got a copy of the game and have played it a few times recently. Although we agreed that we have not played the game enough to give a final rating, we have played it enough to know what we like and what we don’t like about Simurgh. Spoiler alert — if you are looking for negotiations among the great houses as you ally yourself against The Evil, better try to find a copy of Dragonriders of Pern and an old C-64 instead.

img_1487OVERVIEW:

Simurgh is a worker placement, action tile laying game from NSKN Legendary Games (NSKN Games) in 2015. The game was designed by Pierluca Zizzi, and is built around the legend of families raising dragons and training dragon riders to beat back the forces of Evil. The game has three levels in length, and the average game takes about an hour to play.

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INNOVATIONS:

Simurgh looks on the surface to be your standard worker placement fare, but there are some definitely unusual twists.  Players, who control one of five different dragon rearing houses, start with a dragon rider meeple and a spearman meeple, called collectively “vassals.”  The players use the vassals (and they can train more with the right resources) to develop resources, buy action tiles (where the majority of resources can be generated), explore the “wilds” and work on long term objectives like training real dragons and scoring big end game points.

The twist is two fold — first, the vassals can either be  placed or taken back into the player’s hand, but you can’t do both on the same turn. The second twist is that the board contains relatively few juicy actions at the start, because most of the research, production, exploring, and technology actions are on tiles that you must buy and play.  Anytime a tile is filled to the brim with vassals, or is emptied, that tile moves to the “chronicle” — which is one of the end game conditions. In a medium length game, we play to 11 tiles. (The other end game is when the objective tiles — either four or five spaces, depending upon player count — fills up.)

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COMPONENTS:

Here is where Simurgh gets really interesting. NSKN put in a lot of work bringing the game to its fans, and the material choices are — well, different to say the least.  First, you have the beautiful laser cut acrylic vassals, which are unlike anything I have ever seen. They stand out from your usually blob of wood and are easily distinguishable. There’s even plenty of wooden tokens representing two of the resources, and then strangely, wooden blocks representing two more of the resources, and then strangely again, cardboard tokens representing the remaining resources. Strange choices, indeed, but at least they are all good quality.

Next, there is the tile and board art. The artists, Enggar AdirasaAgnieszka Kopera, and Odysseas Stamoglou, knocked it out of the park with their depictions of the city, the dragons themselves, and the artwork all over the box. You can tell that a lot of heart and time were spent fleshing out the visual aspects of this beautiful world.

Unfortunately, that same desire to cram more artwork on the board than the Vatican has on its museum walls can go overboard. In this case, the board and artwork on the cards are so chock full of dragon goodness that it can be very overwhelming. Plus, the artwork is in some ways inconsistent. While having great looking dragons is a plus, some of them are very hard to distinguish on their respective dragon cards, which makes it very difficult to choose your dragon. Plus the artwork on the board and cards might be fine as decorations on a twelve year old’s room, but the fonts are way too small and the iconography far less than intuitive.

img_1503GAME:

I have played two five player games so far, and unfortunately, both plays were hampered by the very obtuse rule set given in the game. It would not be an exaggeration to say that we spent 30% of our time in the game looking up the rules and diving into BGG to get the answers to some very specific questions. The rule book is in serious need of revision, editing and glossification.

Yes, but how did the game play? I loved the gameplay, ignoring for a second the confusion about the terms and turns and play. There are so many juicy decisions to be made. Do I start by increasing my team of vassals? Do I choose to go exploring or build tiles, or recruit more dragons? Am I resource hound, or will I do my work on other people’s tiles? All of these create tensions, especially as the timer to the end of the game keeps tick, tick, ticking away.

img_1502I think Bradly from the Krewe de Gumbo said it best:

It actually has a very interesting mechanic for a worker placement. Essentially the players are responsible for putting out the resource generating tiles. Most of the initial tiles are resource spending ones. And then if too many people se those player placed tiles, or if no one is one them, they go away. So a lot of the game is timing — keeping tiles out that others place (by placing vassals on them), and then waiting to put out your own tiles when no one can use them. 

img_1488FINAL THOUGHTS:

Couple of quick comments from the Krewe before I share my final thoughts:

Carlos: Cool theme and artwork, but a complete hot mess to see what’s going on; sitting from the other side of the table from the tiles is ridiculous

Bryan: Board is pretty, but too busy and hard to read

Dave: Funny name, board is way too messy

BJ: I like Simurgh a lot, but the rules are terrible and the icons are just not intuitive. NKSN needs to bring the #CarlosGraphicDesignHammer to the board and tiles

Bradly: Simurgh is good, not great; the board is needlessly busy and the rules stink

With only a couple of plays, it is too early to tell where Simurgh stands in the pantheon of board games played in the last few years. As Dustin always says (who has yet to play the game by the way), a game has to be great to stand out. The good news is that Simurgh has interesting mechanics, beautiful artwork, and has lots of juicy decisions and tension but can still be wrapped up in about an hour. That makes it more likely that it will come back to the table, and I think Simurgh deserves that. I can’t help feeling that there is so much under the hood in this game that can be explored. I am ready to watch these dragons soar again.

Until next time, Laissez les bon temps rouler!

— B.J.