So, much of the content I’ve been creating of late is surrounding board games. Back in the day I used to write a lot more about music & movies, but I feel like those things aren’t hobbies now but just part of life. Board games are a hobby, a passion, and I love to share my thoughts on all aspects of them, even though it’s not my job to do so. I say “creative” output because none of it’s really creative but I don’t know how to describe it? Ha! My nerd sprinklings? Geeky missives? Anyhow, here they are!
I’ve written a few articles here on this blog, where I feel like I can be as divisive as I like and own the responsibility for that – “Why I’m Not Here To Ruin Your Fun” and “Don’t Bring Gender into Board Games“. But I like to have somewhere a little more appropriate for long-form personal stuff like “I Guess Board Games are my Valentine” and personal con write-ups. And let’s not forget the languishing design series, ha!
For the last few years I’ve been a contributor at the Daily Worker Placement blog (as well as running the Twitter and helping a bit with the Facebook account). My writing is a bit all over the place there – some stuff about conventions, a little on apps, and some stuff like the series of survey infographics I published after taking a big survey of gamers. I like the freedom I have there to write about what I really want to, and I really like that we’re having the reach we do.
A little under a year ago, Games on the Rocks started up – I’d been inspired by certain pub meetups (Vegan Drinks, and Drinking About Museums) to try something similar. But instead of in-person, I’d be doing it with my far-away pals Suz, Maggi & Steph via the internet! So each week we have a bit of a chat about what we’ve been playing, and a topic of some sort (game themes, conventions, and the like) – we even had a live play through of an app (Mysterium) on our last episode which was really cool. Every (other-ish) Friday we go live on the Meeples Included Twitch and there’s an archive of broadcasts on YouTube. We even managed to live-Periscope an episode of the show from BGGcon which was one of my highlights of the trip.
My most recent project is a podcast, Greatway Games. This is my “different” style of content regarding board gaming as a hobby, which is so refreshing! Along with pals Erin & Adrienne, we spend about an hour each episode (1 per month) on a topic that is broadly about the hobby rather than reviewing games & the like. For instance, conventions, teaching games or comfort games! We also approach recording a little differently than most, adding a personal touch with a mood check-in at the start of each episode, a Pet Corner where we update you on all our lil cutie pies, and a segment we definitely took straight out of Pop Culture Happy Hour – what’s making us happy! Recording these is one of the highlights of my month. We’ve also been doing mini episodes to come out mid-month for Patreon backers too, if you can’t get enough. Almost all include Jake barking in the background at some point *facepalm* OH! And I run the Twitter for us too 🙂
I feel like more than anything I can do a year-end wrap up of board games (not so many books/movies/etc standing out for me this year). Although there’s a lot of games I’d had a chance to play before this year thanks to advance releases/copies obtained from conventions in Europe, I’m going to go over what’s listed as a 2013 release according to Board Game Geek’s entries. A little about what I thought of games I’ve played, and some about what I missed out on & would love to try! (Of course there’s stuff that was new to me that I tried for the first time this year, but I feel like making it more specific to this year is better!) I’ve no doubt forgotten some things, because I’m rubbish at logging my plays on BGG to even try and keep track now.
Games I played, and what I thought about them!
- Amerigo: We got to try this on xmas day, as Santy Claws was kind enough to bestow it upon Adam. It’s terrific! Although the setup is super fiddly out of the box (lots of cardboard, tokens and pieces) it’s worth it! Perhaps after a more-than-2-player game I will have some better thoughts. But I enjoy the decision-making that the cube tower bestows, much less frustrating than other Feld games like Macao. I found the flow very good, and the little bonuses added a nice layer to how the gameplay changed for each of us throughout. Delightful!
- Bora Bora: This is a beautiful looking game, and I like the island life theme. Like a lot of heavy euros, it’s not steeped in the theme, but it is interwoven at least a little with the different actions you can take. Many things going on, but when you can realise you don’t have to do them all, and work with what you can do, it’s super fun. A tropical balancing act.
- Firefly – the game: You can have a look at what I think here! I still haven’t played this remotely enough. Sigh.
- Dungeon Roll: A fun & light dungeon crawler – rolling dice to smash monsters & loot. The unfortunate nature of this game means it’s basically multiplayer solitaire, as every player takes their own turn and it doesn’t impact on any other player’s turns.
- Bruges: This is my second favourite Feld game (my first is Castles of Burgundy!). It’s up there with what I played most this year – a mid-level Euro with cards, dice, points and all the good stuff. Not too overwhelming that it is frustrating, just challenging enough to keep you interested and striving for those points. Canals, people, stuff! Whoo!
- Rialto: I did not, unfortunately, have a great first game of this (played at the Gathering of Friends after half-learning and being game-weary). In retrospect, I think the combination of bidding and cards and strategy is a great one, and probably makes for a good game if you just dive in to enjoy the management of your cards/rounds, etc.. I must give it another whirl.
- Spyrium: Worker placement and retrieval in an industrial/steampunk themed setting. I think the main draw of the game for me is the decision-making as far as where and when to place/retrieve your workers, that drives the flow of the game and it’s the part where players interact the most. The game overall can be a struggle (for Spyrium, and for money as resources) but it’s finely contained in a few rounds so as to not bloat out. There’s enough variety in what cards come out in the grid each game to try something little different with strategy each time.
- Augustus: Bingo for gamers. And that’s not a bad thing! Very accessible, a little luck driven with the token-drawing aspect, but there are decisions to be made as far as how you’re using your tokens and working your way through the cards. Goes pretty swiftly, too!
- Mascarade: Oh holy WOW I get frustrated by this game. It’s not because it’s a bad game, it’s just that I find it difficult personally. There’s a lot of hidden information about each players roles that can switch people very quickly thanks to card exchanging; trying to keep track of it all in my head just doesn’t work. It means that I just can not do well at the game, and it’s not for me. If you enjoy bluffing and trickery and have a brain for taking in and remembering a lot of information all at once, then it’s for you!
- Relic Runners: The concept is enormously fun – build up some tracks to collect relics, be the first to collect the most/worthiest. My first and only game was frustrating, as I really had no idea of tactics though. Wht something like Ticket to Ride it’s far more structured – this is your route, you can connect the two by (X) number of combos. I didn’t feel like there was any kind of guidance on the tactic of building my paths in this, so ended up sucking big time. I feel like this would be great after a few goes.
- Maximum Throwdown: This is super fun! Throwing cards out to somewhat strategically place them to benefit you, but not your opponents (hopefully covering up their cards/icons to remove their benefits!). It’s goofy and fun, lighthearted dexterity gaming. Right up there with AEG’s Smash Up.
- Firefly – Out to the Black: I tried a prototype of this at the Gathering of Friends in April, and adored it. Great player interaction, rich with the theme, easy to learn/play (although the game itself can be quite brutal on the crew – again, nice and thematic!). The problem is that Toy Vault have been fucking around with it (starting a Kickstarter, pulling it; saying something about licensing issues holding it up). Apparently it’s now been printed (hence the 2013 ‘release date’), so I hope I can get my greedy hands on a real final version in 2014.
- Triassic Terror: I enjoy area control in pretty much all the forms I’ve tried it – El Grande is especially good. I feel like this is maybe a slightly updated version of El Grande, with a way more interesting theme of dinosaurs (no, really) to drive it and a little role selection to boot. Thematic stuff to do with how certain dinos act/attack or how your populations survive and flourish (or not) adds another level to what could’ve been a very basic area control. I would suggest this over Evo, for instance, if you were into the theme and mechanic.
- Prosperity: This is a very simple game in which you’re playing through a number of decades of your civilization (ie. the player mat in front of you). As you go, you must balance out ecological harm/good to make sure you’re not tipping toward any one end of the scale too badly to make sure you don’t miss out on the benefits of the other. There’s a lot of decisions to be made, but only a little player interaction as it’s only the way that people take tiles before you that can affect your turns. If you like Suburbia, I’d give this one a try as a more grander scale/abstract civ/city builder.
- La Boca: Doing 3D tetris puzzles with a partner while you don’t know what theirs is supposed to look like! Shouting! Flailing! PRESSURE! And so much fun.
- The Little Prince: A precious family game. It’s not so easy as to be boring, and just enough player interaction and decision-making to make it a fun time. It’s a turn-based tile laying game, and you’re trying to make sure your end result will net you more positives than negatives for your end score. Tactics of taking tiles you know other people might need is a cornerstone! Beautiful art.
- Asante: I was surprised how much I enjoyed this new 2-player release (a refresh of an older game called Jambo). It’s some basic set collection, with some special powers/benefits cards and artefacts to keep you on your toes. It’s not 100% interaction all the time, but a good enough mix of managing your own resources and progress at the same time as trying to keep your opponent from progressing. I love the art (Michael Menzel, woo!) and the play time is just right (approx 40 mins) for it to see the table for a good sit down with Adam for just the two of us to play.
- Mage Tower: I’ve only played this 2 player with Adam; I find it overwhelmingly punishing. Each game has just been a downward spiral of me not being able to get ahead enough, and having the string of monsters crush me. I like that the deck building aspect is so varied that each game will be different – but I never feel like I have enough cards to actually build up an offensive or even meaningful defense. Part of this might just be my lack of knowledge of the content of the larger deck that the game pulls from, or my shite tactics. I don’t want to discount this one, but there’s only so much frustration I can take thanks to poor deck/card combos coming out for me.
- Carcassone – South Seas: We got a copy of this just before xmas, as Adam did the translating work for the English version (I’m so proud of his hard work!). It’s a great, fresh twist on regular Carcassonne – completing areas gives you resources rather than points, and then you can use those resources each turn to buy end-game scoring tokens of varying values depending on how many/what kind of resources you spend. Terrific stuff!
- Suburbia Inc: This was a very late in 2013 release, one I’d been looking very much forward to. So much that Adam had me open one of my holiday gifts early because that was it, and he was afraid I’d just go buy it if I didn’t know I was getting it 😉 It’s so great! It makes a great game GREATER! Awesome borders, lots of new tiles to reinvigorate gameplay, and round-specific income/reputation reward goals to aim for in addition to end-game points reward goals. So good. Suburbia is now one of my go-to gateway games, but this elevates and refreshes it for those who might have left it behind.
- Lords of Waterdeep – Scoundrels of Skullport: Speaking of invigorating expansions! The addition of the Undermountain & Skullport modules in this expansion really bring up the game of Waterdeep (which I already enjoy) to be something really new and fun, yet keeping with the theme & feel of the game. It’s awesome to balance out your corruption accrual throughout the game and make decisions on if it’s worth the benefits or not. Plus, tiny wooden skulls! Yeaaah!
Games from 2013 I didn’t play, but really want to try!
- Pathfinder Card Game: I’ve heard fantastic things about this as far as hitting a D&D-ish sort of spot for board/card gamers. It’s a pricey purchase for something I’m not sure about though.
- Nothing Personal: Honestly, I don’t know much about this gameplay-wise, but I’m intrigued to try it because it’s come from one half of the Dice Tower podcast (Tom Vasel).
- A Study in Emerald: Chaotic Martin Wallace card game based on a Neil Gaiman Lovecraftian short story! Adam is the NICEST and gifted this to me for the holidays, so it’ll wing its way to us early 2014.
- Forbidden Desert: I played the prototype of this back when Matt Leacock (the designer) visited Toronto with it (and the Pandemic the Dice game prototype!). Forbidden Island is great, but a little too light for regular gameplay – I think this might be a little more challenging, and interesting with the aspects of gameplay including sand movement.
- Francis Drake: It’s a big ol’ Euro, but it’s gotten great buzz. Would like to try, just because. Can’t believe I missed the multiple demos at the Gathering of Friends.
- 8 Minute Empire: So much hype about this! I love that people are trying to get somewhat tricky, strategic games out there with accessible gameplay time. Must try.
- Rampage: While I haven’t heard great things about the quality of gameplay, it still sounds like fun. Smashing up the board as a giant monster by flicking stuff? Yay!
- Russian Railroads: It’s been a while since I’ve tried a new (to me) train game, and I’m contractually obliged as we received a comp version thanks to Adam’s translating work!
- Space Cadets – Dice Duel: I need a person who owns this to come play with me. Space Cadets regular was too much of a time/money investment, but this sounds JUST RIGHT. Plus: DICE!!
- Two Rooms and a Boom: Bluffing/deduction social party game with shenanigans! Lying encouraged! Yes.
- Patchistory: A lot of what gets me interested in trying certain types of Euros/heavier games is an interesting mechanic, standout theme, etc. This is a civ-building game where the layout of your cards creates a patchwork of history you build up. Seems like a natural progression from something like 7 Wonders, so i’m interested to try.
- Going, Going, Gone!: A fast-paced auction game where everyone is shouting and chucking cubes into cups to try and win? The only more fun way to describe this would be adding “while drinking” to it.
- Blueprints: Building structures with dice! This sounds like something truly fun and with a draw in that’s not so gimmicky to not actually work as decent gameplay. Must try this.
- Card Wars: I know it’s going to be rubbish, but I have to try it because: Adventure Time.
There’s a couple that I feel should be on here – like Targi, Coup, Terra Mystica – but aren’t on BGG’s 2013 list. That’s what happens with Euro release dates VS North American ones I guess – or Kickstarter delays! (PS. I played & LOVED those games). There’s also stuff that was released in 2012, perhaps late enough to count as 2013, or not be widely available until 2013 – I think Morels falls into that category – which I only just tried in September!
What have you played that came out this year? Any favourites? Or is there something you think should be on these lists?
The wind is cool and the leaves are all almost turned. It’s weather for hats and scarves and rugging up, toting a cup of tea or coffee around to keep your hands warm. I love wandering around in the autumn weather! It’s so beautiful out there, and still no sign of snow.
Being able to have a later start morning meant I could spend some time with Jake, and go for a good long walk in the ‘hood with him. We’ve had a busy week which means he’s been a bit lonely, poor little bud. I had the evening at home last night with him too, so that was nice – especially for him scoring scraps while I cooked! Little dude LOVES kale. Who knew.
I’m excited to see all the new board game releases coming out of the Spiel game fair in Essen, Germany! It’s like San Diego Comic Con for board games, and as exciting as hearing about new Apple product releases. So far there’s a couple of things that look awesome – a tile version of the great cooperative game, Hanabi, and an expansion to the terrific city building game Suburbia. Keeping my eye out on Board Game Geek daily to see what the buzz is!
Remembering the trip I took to Paris/London with Adam last year after he’d attended Essen. This was taken at the British Museum, almost a year ago to the day. Adam was a sweetheart and surprised me with a ticket to meet him there, and it’s legit the most romantic thing anyone’s ever done for me.
Daiya have been rolling out a lot of new products in the past 6 – 12 months. Cheese blocks, cream cheese, slices.. and now PIZZAS! All gluten-free and vegan. Swoon. I’ve tried the fire-roasted vegetable and the roasted garlic and mushroom, and they’re awesome. Texture of the crust is great – crispy but not tough – and the topping/cheese ratio is just right. My only complaint is they could stand to be a little bigger (especially when having to share with Adam!). But a half a pizza plus sides is a great meal. I’ve only seen them at Noah’s (Bloor/Spadina) so far, but I’m hoping to see them pop up in the wider array of health food stores I visit regularly.
Anyone who even kinda knows me knows that I’m a Browncoat. (Even if they don’t know that’s the word for it.) I’m an enormous fan of Joss Whedon’s ill-fated show Firefly, the follow-up film Serenity, and the subsequent comics that accompanied the show/movie. And in addition to this, most of you probably realise I love board games. So when I’d heard there was a Firefly game coming out, I got pretty excited (this is a mild understatement). I hadn’t realised there was going to be a Gen Con release of it, so my wait to get it in my greedy little hands was a bit longer (although I have friends in town who’d procured a copy that way, and had a bit of a tinker-play with it before my purchase). After a half-learning game, a solo play and then a 2-player session with Adam, here’s my impressions so far.
The Look of the ‘Verse
Gale Force 9 did a bang up job of how this game looks. Little minis of ships rather than tokens to move around was an important choice, if you ask me. Makes you really feel like you’re zooming about out in the black. The cards have wonderful design, with a retro feel, almost. The supply planet cards are especially great, as they remind me a bit of this Blue Sun travel poster series – very kitschy and in keeping with the look of the universe as portrayed around the show/movie. Images from the show are used for character cards and gear, so when you look down at your crew you see who they are all laid out – last game I had Mal, River and Wash and it was kinda great for a big fan like me to have the big damn heroes included in the game, not just background extras and one-episode folks used as imagery. (It’s a bit sad the IP for Serenity couldn’t be included, but licensing is what it is.)
Overall, no complaints with the look of this game. Really nice quality and in keeping with the theme.
The rule book is utter rubbish. There, I said it. I guess they rushed it to be done for Gen Con. It’s a stupid mistake to rush a rule book for a fairly complex game, because it leaves the customer with a lot of unanswered questions, little clarification, which ends up bloating gameplay the first couple of times you crack out the game. The first little bit about setup and whatnot isn’t so bad, but the rest of it is a bit of a mess and not necessarily organized logically, making it frustrating to quickly reference stuff because for many things I’m not sure where to look. For instance, they suggest a story card to use for your first game which I grabbed to sit down and play solo, not even looking at the rest – unfortunately, the rule book mentions nothing specifically about solo play (just that some cards will require a different setup sometimes) so I didn’t think to look specifically for the one solo-play story card.
They’ve since had to release an official FAQ to clarify a lot of issues that came up from fans on Boardgame Geek. They really missed the boat with not including a player aid, too – to have to keep flipping through the rule book while taking turns isn’t the greatest. Maybe in subsequent printings it’ll be revised, but until then I’ll keep looking for more FAQs. It’s frustrating, but it is what it is.
Despite the rules contributing to the time spent understanding how turns play out, etc, the gameplay is pretty straight forward. You have two actions, and you can spend them to either fly, buy, deal, or work. It’s simple to look at, and it’s in keeping with how the crews of Firefly class ships roll in the ‘verse. Get jobs, get paid, stay flying. You can visit contacts (Niska, Patience, Badger, Amnon Duul & the Alliance’s Harken) to get either legal or illegal jobs to work. Working jobs means smuggling, doing some crime, just transporting stuff or outright misbehaving. Visiting supply planets allows you to gather more crew and gear. Flying comes with its own risks – you could bump into the Alliance or the Reavers out there. All of this helps you work toward reaching the goals set out on the story card which you pick at the start of the game – a variety of stuff like being solid with contacts, being the first to earn a certain amount of money, or even just gallivanting around the ‘verse, misbehaving to get through.
If you’ve played the game before, it’ll likely pan out to be around 2 hours to play through a game of 2 – 4 people – but with learning and getting used to the game, it can add 30 – 45 minutes on top of that. It’s an engaging game though, and I feel like it wouldn’t work at a shorter time. You have to put in the effort to improve your chances of reaching the story card’s goal, and you can’t do that in one swift circuit of the ‘verse. Despite the rules, there’s nothing hugely complex about the game just as long as you pay attention to the text on cards etc once you understand the basic mechanics of how turns go, and skill tests work.
EDIT: I realise I didn’t go into detail about solo play. The way they set it up works well, with a timed game. Only thing that bugged me was the uselessness of the navigation decks. Not much threat when you’re the only one moving ships. Otherwise it’s a great adventure!
You’re gonna need a bigger boat. And by that, I mean you’re gonna need a big-ass table to play this game. Our square Ikea table with both leaves extended is about right, if you have two players on each long side of the table and everything else (cards, tokens, money) spread out on the short ends of the board. Holy smokes it’s a space-eater, this game. Make sure you set aside 10 – 15 minutes to get it all properly laid out before you launch into the actual game set up with players.
Theme-wise, this is a joy. I was a little concerned that the point could be missed, but it’s been thoroughly integrated throughout. Dealing with Niska as a contact can be a dangerous thing. If you have one aspect of YoSafBrige on your crew, when someone else hires one of her alternate identities (Saffron, Bridget or Yolanda), then she vanishes from your crew. How awesome is that! River can be really useful for skill checks, but she’s just as likely to wander off back to the ship as be offering mechanical help when you need muscle. (She’s a little crazy, our dear Mei Mei.) Even Jayne’s cunning hat turns up as gear. If you’re a fan, but not a board gamer, I think the richness of theme will draw you in to try this game – even if all you’ve ever tried is Settlers of Catan! If you’re a board gamer who has even a passing interest in space adventuring then this is a no-brainer to try out.
There’s a lot of potential to expand on this game. Although I think the 5th player addition is a bit of a mistake (this is long enough to play with 2 or 3, let alone the max of 4, or 5 with the expansion), I love that they have already made a proper introductory story card to download and that there’s potential for more story cards and extra adventures. I believe there’s an expansion in the works, so I hope that’ll address the rule discrepancies and add some shiny new things.
Overall? With some reservations re: rules and learning curve, I heartily recommend Firefly: the Game! I can’t wait to get it back to the table once I’m more at home with rules/gameplay.