Posted in Board Games

Giving Thanks in 2020

I didn’t think our Worm Month would actually last a month, but here I am, returning 35 days later. There’s no new ways to comment on a global pandemic, and the warping effect it has on time, energy, and life. We’ve seen a substantial amount of change here at the Hex. The latest change is nicknaming us “the Hex” in the last sentence. We always knew our regular board game meet-ups kept us close. During this ongoing pandemic, those (virtual) gatherings have kept us sane. I’m thankful in the time we gained with each other this year.

As a result of playing more games, I found myself diving deeper into the hobby. There was an abundant expression of support as the pandemic began and conventions were canceled. Many creators believed it to be their duty to work harder to produce content that would help support the community. I am grateful for their energy and generosity that helped make those first uncertain months feel engaging.

Afte we added the endless Tabletop Simulator shelves to our virtual collection, we learned a LOT more games, sometimes three or more a week. I don’t think this would have been feasible without Watch it Played, Jon Gets Games, GameNight, and the many other content creators who serve the community with their tutorials, insights, and game play. I’m thankful that they make games more inviting by helping to explain rules.

Once you know the rules, there’s still the matter of getting the game to the table, and sharing that table with others. I think most people want to believe that everyone is welcome at table, but the longevity and durability of systemic racism show a more complicated reality. As a black woman in a hobby filled with white men, this is the reason I’ve remained wary of identifying myself. Just like in my day-to-day life, I was concerned my voice or legitimacy as a member of the community would be diminished by my race.

Black Lives Matter was not a new movement, but it reached a new level of awareness and impact this summer in America. More broadly than I can remember, I noticed companies and community leaving no doubt or ambiguity on the matter of equality. Sometimes this was expressed as a single statement, and other times it was declared an ongoing commitment. As for the board gaming hobby, I am so thankful for how the community responded.

I am thankful for Board Game Geek, who made a public statement in support of Black Lives Matter on their website, and fiercely moderated the comments that followed. As a major hub for the community, their diligence is supportive and encouraging.

I am thankful for Shut Up and Sit Down for their history of denouncing racism and sexism in our hobby. Collectively, they have a significant voice in the community, and they have routinely advocated for inclusion and historical education in board gaming. This summer, they donated the revenue from a month of their Twitch streams to support equality charities such as the Stephen Lawrence Charitable Trust.

I am thankful for Richard “Rahdo” Ham, who continues to wear his Black Lives Matter shirts in his videos. His commitment is a loving reminder that systemic racism is not solved with one post or comment – it’s ongoing work that requires consistency.

I am thankful for The Dice Tower for reinforcing through their choice of contributors and through their words that everyone is welcome at the gaming table. Welcoming diverse views helps to grow and sustain our hobby, and the Dice Tower includes and supports a range of voices.

I am thankful for Our Family Plays Games, who have willingly stepped forward to advocate for representation in our hobby. Starla and Miklos “Mik” Fitch have candidly spoke about bringing their own games to conventions, in the event that no one wanted to play with them. By sharing their story, they are helping others understand how they can be better stewards of inclusion in their own gaming circles. I am grateful that Our Family Plays Games encourages all of us to see those we share the gaming table with as family, and to embrace the entire gaming community as extended family.

As for my immediate gaming family, we’re a core group of four: a married couple and a couple of friends. Each one of us has navigated significant life changes this year. Because we started playing virtually (and pandemic life freed up our schedules) we were able to play more than ever, which meant talking more frequently. We went from meeting once a week to meeting as often as three times a week. Sometimes we’re playing games, but most recently we’ve just been talking about work, swapping Instant Pot recipes, discussing news, and sharing reviews of what we’ve watched. I’m thankful that during this pandemic, we’ve grown closer though we’ve been apart.

And finally, I’m thankful for you. Thank you for taking the time visit our blog. I hope that some of these words have resonated with you, or at least inspired you to think about what you’re thankful for in your life. We’re so close to the end of a year that was so unexpected, and many people are feeling completely worn-out. Taking some time to reflect on gratitude has given me a renewed energy, and I hope it does the same for you.

With Gratitude,

Kellye

Kellye of Variant Hex in front of board game shelf, wearing an Our Family Plays Games hoodie designed by Beth Sobel
Posted in Board Games

Worm Month

"We’ve been humans doing human things for a whole nine months of this year and frankly, we want it to stop." — Quintin Smith

The spring pandemic has spanned far beyond it’s expected reach, blazing into summer and settling deep into fall. For us, this has created an uneasy warping of our standard lives, with half of our existence frozen in time while the other half changes completely. It feels like ages ago when we were celebrating Leap Day and playing Clank Legacy together.

The last couple months we’ve found ourselves busy managing late-activating effects of the pandemic. We’ve been helping family members move, most of us have had jobs both disappear and be replaced, and we’ve experienced countless other events that have exhausted our capacities. And this has turned us, to borrow a phrase from Shut Up and Sit Down, into worms.

"We’re going to stop doing human things, because, well, we’ll be worms." — Tom Brewster

We began to wormify earlier this month, and while we have continued some board game activities from our various wormy… burrows(?) we haven’t captured any of this game play – not here on the blog, and not on boardgamegeek, bgstats app, or Instagram. We did briefly re-humanize to enjoy AwShux!? last weekend and pick up a few new games at Target. We watched streams, played games, and generally reveled in the joys of having arms and doing things. We even continued non-worming for a few extra days. But now, the wormification has reached its final stages, and this state will endure until sometime next month.

"Say goodbye to your limbs, your worries, and your responsibilities." — Matt Lees

And in that future month, we are considering some very un-wormy activities: more activity on Instagram with a push to top 1k followers, logging every single one of our plays, trying out a new review system, and maybe even a podcast! But, those decidedly un-wormy events are still at least a couple weeks away. Until then, we encourage you to focus on your health and wellness. Take all the worm time you need to recharge, renew, and refocus to finish out your human year.

Posted in Board Games, Countdown, Gen Con

Countdown to Gen Con Online: 10-1

We’ve made it! Our Countdown is finally complete, and Gen Con Online is underway! The last ten days featured the games that got the most likes. Some of that surely has to do with the names of many games also being actual locations… but Scythe had no such advantage. We enjoyed getting these games back off the shelf to finish out the countdown.

Games Featured:

First, we have a couple honorable mentions for tenth place. Both Ceylon and On Mars also got 90 likes by the time Dice Forge was posted. As of now, On Mars has 93 likes! Given that it was posted on day fourteen, this was a quick surge into contention, but not quite fast enough to be featured again. 

All of these games came from our physical collection, aside from Scythe. We have the stunning Tabletop Simulator DLC for that one, which we cannot recommend enough. The countdown allowed (forced?) us to try more new games per week than ever before. Tabletop Simulator has been a great way to find and play new games, and we’ve seen more and more official mods as online conventions continue.

With the countdown complete, we’ve been wondering: what’s next? We’ve upped our gameplay considerably, and become more involved in the board game community during our countdown. We think we may start a podcast or start streaming board games… but for now, we’re enjoying Gen Con and replaying some of our favorites.

Posted in Board Games, Countdown, Gen Con

Countdown to Gen Con Online: 20-11

It’s not long now! We’re getting our schedules sorted and snacks ordered for Gen Con Online in just a few days. We started this countdown on a whim, and it’s been a focusing force for the last few months. We hope you’ve enjoyed seeing a different game featured for each day, and we look forward to sharing our plays more regularly going forward (but not every day…).

Games Featured:

As we’ve found unique games to post each day, we’ve been forced to expand our gaming horizons and try things that we’ve passed up. Dungeon Academy, Islebound, Paper Tales and War Chest were all games we had heard about, but never really dug into. While we’ll be happy to go back to some of our old favorites, finding new games has been rewarding.

This set of games featured stronger art and themes with titles like On Mars, Oceans, and Crystallo. Much like Parks from the last 10-Day recap, these games are as enjoyable to look at as they are to play. Through the Ages and Concordia on the other hand, fall more in line with typical beige Euro vibes, even though the individual elements are colorful. We’ve had the Through the Ages app for a while, and still feel like it’s the best way to play. To our knowledge, there’s no Concordia app yet. As we’ve seen more and more games going digital, we hope this one turns up soon.

Death Eaters Rising is yet another Harry Potter game, but overall our group liked it more than Hogwarts Battle. We feel like we can’t keep acquiring every game from the Wizarding World… but we’re also pretty sure that we’ll pick up that new House Cup game.

 

Posted in Board Games, Countdown, Gen Con

Countdown to Gen Con Online: 30-21

The days are going by fast! We’re making our final Gen Con gear selections and browsing the events as we continue to countdown to Gen Con Online. Our daily posting engine is running dangerously low on fuel, but we’re doing our best to finish strong! We may still post daily on Instagram once the Countdown is over, but we’ll probably focus again on our game collection and what we’ve recently played instead of posting a unique game everyday.

Games Featured:

We appreciate games presenting new themes, like in Chai and Parks. Games with unique themes can also be great ways to introduce our hobby to people who may be unfamiliar, or apprehensive. Have a friend that loves tea? They probably have no idea there’s a board game about it. The art in Parks is so delightful, it’s easy to convince someone to spend some time playing a game with such wonderful designs.

Imperial Settlers almost sounds like a parody of the standard theme for so many board games, but it’s so well done that we can’t hold anything against this one. We originally played in on Tabletop Simulator, and almost immediately bought a copy from our local game store. We’ll likely do the same with Istanbul Dice and MMAGK, which has the much-less exciting name of Divvy Dice here in the U.S.

Champions of Midgard, Keyflower, Teotihuacan, and Villagers were all games that we loaded just to browse through the cards and pieces. We’ve enjoyed being able to sift through components as we decide what to learn next. Before, we would be limited by the number of games we wanted to buy. Now, we’re limited by how much we can learn and play.

Posted in Board Games

10×10(x5) Challenge, Part Two

When I started this challenge, I was playing the games in any random order. These were the ones that were furthest along when I decided to start writing about my progress. That’s also why Part One has 9 games, and this post has 11. For the last three parts of the challenge, the games will be grouped a bit better in sets of 10 games each.

Here are the next batch of games I’ve completed:

In Part One, I described Metro as “a better Tsuro”.  I stand behind the statement, and also believe that the Tsuro app is better than the Tsuro physical game. While Tsuro is one of my favorite games to introduce to co-workers and new-to-gaming friends, it doesn’t ever get to the table at Variant Hex GameDays. The app includes a “longest path” and “most loops” game variants, which give much-needed variety to the base game.

I don’t have a physical copy of Roll For It!, but it’s another great introductory game. Playing against the AI is a bit dull, since it’s a basic dice-rolling game. This one is better as a pass-and-play, and would be a great choice to play with a friend while waiting for a table at a restaurant. If your waiting on a table and waiting for your friends to show up, Onirim is a well-designed one player card game. While there is a bit of strategy, the gameplay will depend heavily on the shuffles of the deck. There is a LOT of shuffling in this game, so the app is a bit more convenient than the physical game. 

Splendor and Kingdom Builder are two games that seem to get more shade than I think is earned. The additional challenges in Splendor give the app plenty of value for the price. I also think playing these challenges can improve your skill for standard, physical plays of the game. There aren’t extra challenges in Kingdom Builder, but the AI is decent and the already variable board and goal setup gives a good amount of variety. This is also one of the first games I’ve mentioned that you can load up with AI opponents and play way faster than in person. And, because the scripting will show you all available moves when using bonus titles, I think it can help improve your strategy.

“Just one more round” is what I’m often saying after finishing a game of Jaipur or Ganz Schön Clever. Jaipur is a two-player only card game, with different AI levels and game length options. Ganz Schön Clever is a roll and write that can play with many or just one. The design of Jaipur is well done and goes with the theme of the physical game. Ganz Schön Clever… is kind of just a spreadsheet? The advantage of the Jaipur app is having an AI opponent to play any time, while the advantage of Ganz Schön Clever is not having to do the math yourself at the end.

Maybe I should have compared Jaipur to Patchwork? Both and well-rated two-player only games. But, I’ll be comparing Patchwork to Cat Lady instead. Though the games are not very similar, I like the use of themes not often seen in board games. And, they are two games I think I could get my mom to play (but I’d suggest Calico to her first, which combines these themes).  Cat Lady isn’t too difficult, and the app has a room full of achievements for you to attain as you play. Patchwork has a fiendishly difficult “Uwe” mode that I’ve never beaten.

I’ve left my least favorite apps for last. Kings and Assassins and Dream Home were both a bit tedious. I think I feel about Dream Home the way Quinns of SUSD feels about Wingspan: I have experience in the topic, and something about the game themeing just isn’t enjoyable for me. (For the record, I think Quinns could not be more wrong about Wingspan, and I’m sure someone feels the same way about my opinion on Dream Home). Kings and Assassins is a perfectly fine grid movement strategy game, but it just leaves me wanting to play Fire Emblem instead.

  • Best of the lot: Splendor
  • Best quick game: Onirim
  • Most likely to delete: Dream Home

Posted in Board Games, Countdown, Gen Con

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, Gen Con

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, Gen Con

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.