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

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

More Gen Con previews…

Why does it feel like Gen Con 2016 is the Super Bowl of gaming?!? So many exciting events, so many new game releases, I am not sure how we are going to fit everything in.

Last week, I covered the top five anticipated game releases. Here are a few more that are really stirring up the acquisition disorder.


ISLEBOUND (Red Raven Games — booth #2657) — Sure, Ryan Laukat and Red Raven Games are blowing up Kickstarter with their currently in development  sequel to Above and Below called Near and Far.

But they will also have limited quantities of their previous release, Islebound. The artwork is as fun, familiar, and whimsical as the best of Laukat’s work. I haven’t tried the gameplay yet but it is in my list to demo.

THE DRAGON & FLAGON (Stronghold Games — booth #2323)) Next up is a tough choice. As one board game podcaster said last week, This may be the strongest lineup Stronghold Games has ever produced at Gen Con. But which one to choose? I think I am most excited about Dragon and Flagon, a new real time programming game from The Engelsteins. I LOVE the chaotic fun if Robo Rally and Colt Express, so this deserves a pass by and a look see. I am also very interested in Terraforming Mars, so we may be spending a lot of time at Stephen Buonocore’s booth.


DARK DEALINGS (Nevermore Games) — I love filler games. I love card games. That’s why Dark Dealings from Nevermore Games is on my list to check out. Drive Thru Review had a great review and synopsis of the game. It looks quick but thinly, and not something you catch onto on the very first play. That hopefully means there’s some depth to it, too, even if it plays in 30 minutes or so. Gonna check this one out.

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PLUMS (Crash of Games) — Yes, I know. I love filler games and I love card games and you know that, too. But look at the artwork on this game! I heard a good review from the blue pegs with Blue Peg, Pink Peg podcast (and you should check them out if you have not already). They made it sound as Plums is the perfect family game. CoG’s website says it is sold out, but I am hoping they have copies at Gen Con or at least a demo.

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VIA NEBULA (Space Cowboys — booth #1619) — I have never played a Martin Wallace game! There, I said it. The guys at The Secret Cabal (my favorite podcast from York, Pennsylvania) are always raving about Mr. Wallace’s latest creations, yet no one in my game group has any. What to do? Head down to booth 1619, of course. I plan on at the very least demoing the game, and it is definitely on my radar of games to pick up.

DASTARDLY DIRIGIBLES (Fireside Games — booth #743) Our last look see for today is a Fireside release. My kids grew up on lots of plays of Castle Panic, but I have honestly never played any of their other games. I believe the company is based down south so it would be nice to meet up and do an interview. But back to the game — as you can see, we like new and unusual themes here, and this one is very unique. Plus it has some Take That, at least from the previews I have seen.
So that wraps up this week’s list. Tweet me if you have something you would recommend that the Krewe of Board Game Gumbo try out at Gen Con 2016. Until then, Laissez les Bon temps rouler!

B.J.

Spice it up! with Bohnanza

Cajuns love card games. We play Hearts, Spades, and of course our own Cajun games, Bouree’ and Battaille (the former for adults, and the latter your basic War or Battle card game for kids).

So it should come as no suprise that any good Board Game Gumbo is spiced with a heapin’ helpin’ of card games.

Once we mastered the Art Of Battaille, we moved right to the game of Pit. This is the classic game of trading first published by Parker Brothers way back in 1904. Players are dealt a hand of cards with commodity symbols on them, and then try to “corner” the market in that commodity by trading unwanted crops to the other players.

If we have played Pit one time, we have played it hundreds. Traveling from Louisiana to Quebec or to Yellowstone on long summer vacations, we whiled away the hours in the back of the  camper by playing round after round. We even started playing our own house rules — the inevitable “quiet” rule, where you had to hold up fingers to trade the commodity cards with other players — or even a version where you had to knock on the table to indiciate the number of cards intended for trade.

Pit was a great game, but it suffers from limited mechanics and appeal. So what do you do when your game group has had its fill of collecting and trading games like Pit?

Why not spice up your game night with a copy of Bohnanza?

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Designed by famed German designer, Uwe Rosenber, who brought us Agricola and Caverna to name just two of his most famous farming games, this is Pit served up with fun, frivolity, and much spicier trading. It is simple to teach, plays in less than an hour, and at least in the version I bought from Rio Grande Games, plays up to seven (7) players.

The gameplay is simple, even for kids or novice gamers, making it not only a good gateway game, but an excellent next step after introducing other trading games. Players win by collecting valuable sets of “beans”, cards with bean caricatures on them of varying values.  The scoring depends upon the rarity of the beans in the deck.  Players have only two fields in front of them at first, which are needed to “plant” and then later “harvest” the bean cards that you draw.

Of course, the other way to collect the beans you need to complete your sets is to trade  with other players.  And that’s where the wheelin’ and dealin’ fun begins. Each round, the active player will be solicited by the other players hoping to trade for the cards that have come out, or get rid of cards in their hand that do not fit with their bean strategy. It may take some convincing, or even some pretty crafty dealing, but eventually you can get the cards you need to harvest your field.

The game consists of three rounds, and players will reshuffle the deck two times. Just remind new players who stare warily at the extra sized deck, that it will be whittled down by all of the harvested beans, many of which do not go back in the deck but instead are used as scoring tokens.

The components are pretty standard: a large set of cards  with humorous depictions of beans in various poses related to their names:image

The box has a nice plastic insert that holds the cards, but caution — the insert will not prevent the cards from spilling over the insert if you turn it on its side. The cards include enough beans to scale the game from 3 to 7 players.

What makes this game spicier than Pit or other trading games? It takes some strategy to manipulate the two fields players start with to ensure all of the beans are planted (eventually, players can purchase a third bean field, which greatly helps).  It also takes skillful negotiations to get that last bean of the set, or to prevent other players from upgrading their field’s harvest. A little card counting ability never hurts, either.

In sum, Bohnanza is an awesome next step up from Pit, and should be in every gamer’s collection. Spice up your next game night with a great opening game while waiting for your group to arrive! I give it three out of five cayenne peppers!

Until next time, Laissez les bon temps rouler!

B. J.