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.

Posted in Board Games, Countdown, Gen Con

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?