Posted in Board Games

Countdown to Gen Con Online: 40-31

We’re settling in for convention season, from the comfort of our desks! Gen Con 2020 would have been our first convention ever. Now that many are heading online, we are taking advantage by indulging in a steady stream of board game content. We watched much of the Virtual Gaming Convention and The Dice Tower Summer Spectacular, and are looking forward to participating in all sorts of conventions online that we never would have traveled to in person. 

Games Featured:

Because apps are comparatively cheap and endlessly portable, we’ll often find ourselves buying both a physical copy and a digital copy of games we like. Many of the apps we have are already featured earlier in the countdown (Castles of Mad King Ludwig, Terraforming Mars, Istanbul, and Splendor, to name a few). We had a fair amount of stand-alone apps this decade of the countdown: Galaxy Trucker, Exploding Kittens, Dragon Castle, Mysterium, Mystic Vale, Kingdom Builder, and Le Havre. The remaining games were either from Tabletopia or Tabletop Simulator.

Some games certainly perform better as apps than others. While Kingdom Builder is still enjoyable, the controls are less than great and there’s no undo options or confirmations for your moves. Mysterium has a bit of a campaign mode, but it is a bit strange to play a game like that with AI. A game like Mystic Vale is able to benefit from crafting cards much easier on the app, and highlights your available moves. Dragon Castle and Galaxy Trucker are a couple of the ones we like the most. Dragon Castle is well designed and has optional animations that help highlight the top level of the castle, and Galaxy Trucker has a story mode that makes playing solo more interesting.

We’ve been a little obsessed with Garphill Games recently, playing through both the West Kingdom and North Sea Trilogies. Architects and Viscounts were the last two on our list. We felt that Orléans was a bit similar to those trilogies, as there were many interconnected elements that could lead to victory points. Unfortunately, Orléans felt a bit long, especially because there doesn’t seem to be any rubber-banding to keep the game competitive. In our game, the standings at turn 9 were the same as they were at turn 18. An early lead, or an early mistake, seem to set your course for the rest of the game. But, it was only our first playthrough, so perhaps we weren’t commanding all available strategies.

 

Posted in Board Games

10×10(x5) Challenge, Part One

I have a habit of buying board game apps whenever I see them on sale. The financial commitment is so much lower than buying physical boxes, and there’s no resulting organizational challenge to get them on a shelf. However, they’ve started stacking up all the same, in a digitally housed folder of shame.

I set a challenge for myself to help curb spending and make sure I was getting value from my purchases. I decided that before buying another app, I would complete a 500 game challenge: I would choose 50 game apps, and play them 10 times each. 10×10 challenges are somewhat common. I went with 5x this level, both because apps can be solo and much faster. And, I was sort of stunned that I had over 50 apps…

I’ve been tracking my progress using a Google sheet. I originally had a “wins” column as well, but as someone with a low “need to win” motivation, I kept forgetting to log wins. As of this writing, I’ve played 22 different games for a total of 132 plays. Here are the games I’ve played 10 times so far:

I didn’t own a physical copy of any of these games. Maybe that’s why I was swayed to complete 10 plays of these first. 6 Takes!, Exploding Kittens, Metro, Mille Bornes, Tides of Time, and Treasure Hunter were mostly played on my phone. Galaxy Trucker, Onitama, and Raiders were played on my tablet.

I think of Metro as “better Tsuro”. There’s a bit more strategy to consider, and a little less luck. Exploding Kittens was mostly boring for me. I imagine the “take that” mechanic that runs this game would be more engaging in person. Mille Bornes is also a “take that” game, but I found it easier to enjoy. 6 Takes! is a great back pocket game: easy to teach and play just about anywhere.

Galaxy Trucker can involve some (a lot of?) luck, but Onitama is pure strategy. Galaxy Trucker has the most content, in the form of a campaign mode. Tides of Times is beautifully animated, but relies too much on hate-drafting for me to enjoy it.

Treasure Hunter would be interesting to play in person. I’ve played at different AI levels, but I wonder if people would play the same as a computer. Raiders was one that I played the app, then got my friends to play, then bought a physical copy. That sort of undermined the financial intent of the challenge, but it’s also one I think I’ll play the most. The app has a short campaign mode, the AI provides a decent challenge, and is designed to bring depth and life to the game board.

  • Best of the lot: Raiders of the North Sea
  • Best quick game: 6 Takes!
  • Most likely to delete: Exploding Kittens

Posted in Board Games

Countdown to Gen Con Online: 50-41

Time is ticking down! We’ve bought some official merch from Gen Con, and have been hunting down games to fill out the last slots of the countdown. We’re not exactly sure what we’ll do after the countdown is done, or if we will still post a game every day. We typically play less games in the summer, as we find ourselves busy with other commitments. One thing is for sure: when we finally decide to join up again in person, we’re planning a bit of a feast!

Games Featured:

After playing Paladins of the West Kingdom and Raiders of the North Sea, we found ourselves jumping between Shem Phillip’s Trilogies until we made it through all available online options. Shipwrights of the North Sea was the only one we couldn’t find, and we sort of stumbled upon Shelfie Stacker on Tabletopia. We’ve enjoyed his games so much that we purchased the complete North Sea Trilogy from Garphill Games, including the Epilogues RPG. We’ve also backed Shelfie Stacker on Kickstarter. Needless to say, we’ve become loyal fans, and we’re excited to watch Shem tonight on Dice Tower’s Daily Chat!

Playing more online has increased our solo and 2 player plays by quite a bit. While we’ve also played some of these multiplayer, Nations, Welcome To, Fantastic Factories, and On Tour are a handful of the solo games we’ve been enjoying. Jaipur, Onitama, and Patchwork are all two-player games that have excellent stand-alone apps. Playing Patchwork against the hard AI (named after Uwe) is truly challenging!

Small World was a game we used to play quite a bit, but has since fallen out of rotation. Right now, we’re preferring the area control of Yellow and Yangtze. This is one that we’ve only played on the app, but have loved the experience. The animations and artwork are clear while still being immersive. We do think that it’s worth nothing that it’s bit more expensive than the average board game app.

Posted in Board Games

Countdown to Gen Con Online: 60-51

We’re continuing to feature digital versions for board games in our countdown. We’ve been platform agnostic, playing games on Tabletopia, Tabletop Simulator, and from app stores. We’ve dabbled a bit in Board Game Arena, but haven’t featured any games from there. There’s also a newer contender called Tabletop Playground. As much as we like board games, it’s hard to justify buying yet another digital board game platform.

Games Featured:

Sometimes in Tabletop Simulator after playing a game, we load mods just to see how the game and components look. Both Thanos Rising and Star Wars Rebellion were impressive, though we have yet to play either one. We haven’t played Are You A Human? either. The presentation on Tabletopia is excellent, but we are unlikely to play a memory game.

6 Nimmit!, Onirim, Cat Lady and Splendor are all apps that we own, though the Tabletop versions of the latter two were used for the countdown. We’d recommend any and all of these, as they are easy to learn and a great way to get familiar with playing analog games in digital form. If you’re new to playing online, tacking something like Scythe can be a bit intimidating (but certainly worth the challenge).

That leave us with Quartz and Explorers of the North Sea, two games that we hope will become standalone apps in the future. There is already a Raiders of the North Sea app by Dire wolf Digital, and we hope they continue making digital version of the North Sea Trilogy. Explorers is available on both Tabletopia and Tabletop Simulator, but each one is less than perfect. Even though we struggled a bit with the pieces staying where they should, we had a great time playing and think that it could be quite fast in person. We didn’t all love Quartz, but it’s a decent push-your-luck game. We think we’d like the game a bit better with some balancing elements, and may try to create some sort of variant if we play again.

Posted in Board Games

Countdown to Gen Con Online: 71-61

Here’s to the start of a new(ish) countdown! Gen Con 2020 has transformed into Gen Con Online. There have been quite a few conferences that have decided to take a year online. We remain excited for Gen Con, and are interested to see how it goes!

Games Featured:

We’ve been trying to make the best of the current situation by organizing our game days a bit more. At the end of each gaming session, we pick a few games for the next one. Throughout the week, we learn the rules and watch videos, then play and discuss afterwards. Preparing for Paladins of the West Kingdom felt like cramming for a test. The game play itself is not very difficult, but the execution and strategy can be mind-bending. You find yourself with a pile of workers that all need worthwhile assignments, which can lead to significant analysis paralysis.

Settling in for a long game in front of a screen can be a bit more taxing and exhausting than playing at a table. At first we were playing huge games every weekend, but we’ve started to ease back and play more lighthearted and short titles, like Go Nuts for Donuts. We’re also trying lots of new (to us) small box games, like Cartographers and Mint Works. These have also been great one-player games, along with Roll Player, Rolling Realms, and Castle Panic.

We already had quite a few game apps in our shared Google Play library, many of which were collecting digital dust. Now we’re revisiting many of those, and finding that we prefer some apps to the physical game. Potion Explosion is one app that lead us to sell our physical box. Lords of Waterdeep doesn’t quite replace the actual game, but we would definitely recommend the app. We’re not thrilled about the Dream Home app,…but we’ve also never played this one in person. Maybe that experience would be better?

Posted in Board Games, Reviews

Avian Zen with Wingspan Beta

Getting into the Wingspan Beta was as easy as providing an email address. A couple days later I was provided with a Steam code to give the app a try for 3 days. I impatiently loaded the game on a Friday afternoon, and listened to the calming, nature-infused soundtrack while finishing up my workday.

I glided into the weekend by starting a game against the Automa. In a physical copy of the game, the Automa is a set of rules and cards that allow you to mimic the essence of playing with other people, without all the detail. You can get a sense for how well the Automa is doing as it scores dynamically as the game progresses. While I think this better than a score attack solo mode, one could argue that there’s no need to include it in an app that has AI programmed to play against you. That said, I’m glad to see it was included because I genuinely enjoy the Automa version. I also felt like it would be a good way to get a feel for the app.

Wingspan_Beta (5)Instead of merely providing a digitized version of the existing game content, the individual player mats are transformed into distinct, fully illustrated habitats. My scroll wheel flew me from forest, to field, and to coastline with relevant information for each settling into view as I traveled. I thought that I would miss the top-down feel of seeing all my birds at once, but after getting familiar with the controls, I forgot that I was even using them. The gentle, storybook animations have a soothing simplicity, without neglecting detail – like the distant clouds that can be seen over the trees from the wetlands with silhouettes of birds flying by. When viewing opponent habitats, their backgrounds featured different artwork than my own.

TWingspan_Beta (9)his immersion into a vivid storybook landscape is not without significant UI effort. In each place, and with each decision, the UI neatly presented the information I needed. A single click played a bird from my hand into the appropriate habitat, with the correct food pre-selected. Birds in my hand would rise slightly when I was viewing their habitat. When I played against AI opponents, their turns didn’t distract with unnecessary animations, and provided word bubble summaries of their actions. By showing you exactly what you need, at exactly the time you need to see it, the app removes any need to manage the game, and just lets you play it. 

Wingspan_Beta (20)There is one area of the app that does not shy away from showing more than I needed. When I visited my bird collection, I saw large illustration tiles ordered in a grid of all the birds I had played during my games. Clicking on a bird would cause it to chirp out its call, and showed the full information from the card. Just before returning to a new game, I noticed a small filter icon in the corner. This revealed another neatly arranged set of icons representing filter options. Lots of filter options. I could include or exclude, and sort by any metric. I recently learned that Elizabeth Hargrave, the game’s designer, manually ensures that all the percentages shown on the goal cards remain consistent as new expansions are added. These filter tools feel like the what she herself would use to classify and analyze different bird groupings.

Factual information, delightful artwork, and great game play are a rare triad. So often games only have a couple of the three, and the two can easily be separated. In Wingspan, they depend on and enrich one another. We’ve been playing tons of new games as a way to make the most of our now digital play sessions. Churning though all of these titles has made the great ones shine more; Wingspan is one of the greats.

Being a beta game, it wasn’t without some flaws. The UI strives to be clean and minimal, but that requires dynamic interfaces and tool tips hovers that can get a bit messy. A few times, the entire app crashed without warning. The shock of the forest disappearing and dropping me back into my desktop highlighted just how rich and evocative the game environment was. That’s much like how the beta ended a couple days later. It was just… gone. When the next Friday rolled around, I didn’t have that same avian zen to fly me into my weekend, and I can genuinely say that I’ve missed it. I guess I’ll just… go outside and listen to birds?

Posted in Board Games

Countdown to Gen Con 2020: 80-72

We’ve come to an end of this countdown. On May 19th, Gen Con officially cancelled their event for this year. All the badges will roll over to 2021 (unless individuals request otherwise) and they will instead be offering Gen Con Online this year, during the same dates. We’ll now be counting down to that, and we’re going to start posting some digital games… Maybe a lot of digital games; we’re running out of board games and our local cafes are not open.

Games Featured:

Ticket to Ride was perhaps our gateway into the hobby. We happened to see the 10th Anniversary when we were shopping for a copy. It’s huge and beautifully made – we’ve definitely been more partial to special editions as a result.

With a library of over 100 games, it can be hard to keep everything in rotation. Dominion, Castles of Mad King Ludwig, and Ascension are all games that we play multiple times a year. We used to play Dixit quite a bit, but that was years ago. We only recently played Helios and Pioneer Days for the first time. Helios had been on the shelf for nearly two years, still in wrap.  Kingdom of Solomon and Herbalism have yet to be played, but they are both fairly new acquisitions.

Posted in Board Games

Countdown to Gen Con 2020: 90-81

This set of ten features quite a few games that we purchased recently. We bought a few games from IELLO, and were able to support our FLGS in the process. We also bought a discounted bundle from Deep Water Games. We figured they would at least provide some entertainment while we were stuck inside, but so far we’ve liked them all!

Games Featured:

KoTDE is BEAUTIFUL. We’ve been fans of the game for quite some time, as a light-hearted diversion from our more intense games. The new edition adds some features to better balance gameplay, and tons of new art. Dark, matte blacks are splashed with glossy neon, resulting in frame-worthy components. You can take a look at the assets and experience the gameplay on Tabletop Simulator, but it’s no substitution for owning the physical game!

Our bundle from Deep Water included both Hanamikoji and Jixia Academy. We had no idea that this was the same game with different art. Hanamikoji features women on the cards, and Jixia has men. It’s a simple but strategic game, much like Onitama. We think there’s something Euchre-ish about it… if you enjoy that card game, you should definitely give this a try.

We haven’t played Charterstone since finishing the campaign, but we’ve given the digital edition a try and have been impressed. We could never otherwise imagine affording endless copies of a Legacy game, just so we could keep trying new tactics to see how the game is shaped.

Shakespeare, Attack on Titan, High Risk, and Little Town have all only been played once. The first two just don’t happen to work their way into the rotation, and the last two are brand new and will probably be played quite a bit. Tokaido and Gravwell have both been played frequently. We bought the collector’s edition for Tokaido, but elected to keep our standard edition. The same may be true for King of Tokyo… we still opened both, but there’s also a temptation to keep the special editions, well, special.

 

Posted in Board Games

Countdown to Gen Con 2020: 100-91

This week, the State of Indiana released a plan to transition back into full public life after COVID-19. The current dates on the plan targets July 4th for all business and events to return to normal, though Indianapolis may be a bit delayed due to population density. With Gen Con’s start date of July 30, we are cautiously optimistic that the date will not be postponed! We hope everyone continues to remain safe as we transition back into public life, so that we can hit these projected dates.

Games Featured:

Catacombs & Castles is one of our few dexterity games. We’ve really only played it once, and only two of us at that. We enjoyed it, haven’t gotten it back off shelf. Downfall of Pompeii and The Estates are two more that we enjoyed, but have only played once. Discover: Lands Unknown also happens to be in this category, but it’s much newer than the rest. We bought this one out of curiosity; because the game is procedurally generated, no two copies are the same. We’ve since seen a few used ones at Half Price Books, and considered buying another copy to understand some of the variation.

Tsuro, Nefarious, 7 Wonders, and Camel Up are some of our most played games. They are all relatively fast, so we tend to choose these either when we are waiting for everyone to arrive, or at the end of a GameDay when we don’t want to pull out anything huge… like Talisman Kingdom Hearts. The game is beautiful, the implementation using the Kingdom Hearts theme is excellent, but it’s definitely a “start of the day” sort of game.

Mystery of the Temples was one that we first played on Tabletopia. Deep Water Games has been offering Gamer Relief Bundles with deep discounts over the last few weeks. The bundle we bought including Temples was meant to come with a playmat, but an inventory error meant that they were not available at the time of shipping. The company was nice enough to offer us a discount on a future purchase, but we can’t decide if we’d rather get another game or go for upgraded components.

 

Posted in Board Games

Countdown to Gen Con 2020: 110- 101

We’ll soon be leaving three digits behind and we sink below 100 days to go! We’re still keeping a close eye on Gen Con’s COVID page, and will adjust our countdown if they are forced to postpone. We’re wondering how different Gen Con and other conventions will be this year… only time will tell. For now, we continue to #stayhome and play games!

Games Featured:

Banagrams, Coup, One Night Ultimate Werewolf, and Monopoly Gamer are some of our favorite party games. They are quick to teach and can accommodate many players. We’ve had some disagreements while playing traditional Monopoly, but have enjoyed the Gamer edition more than we expected. We searched lots of local stores before breaking down and buying the rest of the power packs from Amazon.

Machi Koro, Carcassonne and The Princes of Florence are some of our oldest games. Though, we did swap our original Machi Koro for the Bright Lights, Big City version. We found that you could sort of “break” the original by just stacking up a lot of the same number, and waiting for the the number to hit. Wingspan and Prophecy are some of our newest, both bought as gifts over the last year. We’ve considered getting the European expansion for Wingspan, but the core game come with so many cards already. We’ve played the core game a few times and still find it to be fresh and engaging.

We’ve enjoyed discovering new games on Tabletopia and Tabletop Simulator. We’ve learned and played a new game or two every week. We first played It’s A Wonderful World on TTS, and liked it so much that we ordered a copy the next day.