Tag Archive | tabletop games

Attempted Design – Update #2

Satin Bowerbird

Satin Bowerbird and nest [BBC]

After sharing my last update, I got great feedback and responses from friends. In particular, my friend Ace gave me thoughtful questions to ask myself as a designer creating a new game. So, figuring this will be the next great step in me thinking more about the game before starting to put it to paper/cardboard, here we go! And a note more to myself than anything else – this isn’t how the game will be forever. This is brainstorming and throwing stuff down to see what sticks. It’s always going to be changeable, malleable.

  • What would be the basic turn structure?

My basic idea would be for players to spend (x) time (on the track) foraging for food (sort of the currency of the game) until each player passes. Then, spending food values, players can bid on a selection of treasure (nest) tiles – once a player wins a bid to pick a tile, they pay and the auction round goes to the other players (or once one player is left they pay minimum bid of one food for the tile left).

  • What, if any, ways could a player interact or affect another player?

Bidding highest to get the first take of a tile, mostly. And making it to a public bonus goal first.

  • Why are the objectives secret if you’re fighting over the same mate?

Each player would have a unique mate hidden in their hand – possibly more, if it would work out like tickets in Ticket to Ride where you could possibly take more mates and score some of their points later in the game? But yeah, there’d be a chance to have different mates each time you play, anyhow.

  • How can you use the secret objectives to create tension?

This is a tough one. Tension in the auction, and the race to succeed at the public goals? (i.e. who makes X shape first, who hits 7×7 filled nest spots first, for example?)

  • What information is hidden?

The goals you’re aiming at for your mates to successfully lure them.

  • How does that hidden information inform game play?

Definitely directs what tiles you’re bidding for, and also the patterns/size of the nest you’re decorating.

  • Can you move tiles/remove tiles after being played?

Perhaps if I allowed during-game scoring of mates? But that doesn’t seem quite as thematic (that also leads to the thought of does having multiple mates to score mean it isn’t as thematic? But the male birds have many females come by to inspect their nests before one chooses, so…) So I’m guessing most likely no, once they’re played they stay.

  • Are/is the tile pool/s singular or player specific?

The tile pool (nest treasures) would be shared – drawn from a bag (perhaps each auction round would have player number +2 tiles as a range to bid on?).

  • Where, if any, would you incorporate randomness?

The bag draw for the nest treasure tiles for sure, and I suppose the allocation of the hidden mates (even if they’re drafted to start the game, and especially if more come out during the game). I know a game like Patchwork has everything visible to start the game, but I think that might be a bit much for this? Maybe to mitigate the randomness of the bag draw, the tiles would be visible during the food collection phase.

  • Where would you say the interesting decisions are?

This is the tough part as I don’t have the game quite fully realized. I want the public and hidden goals to be challenging, but not so random they’re not obtainable. I want players to take their goals and use those as their guide on how to bid, when to let other players win certain phases and the like in order to most efficiently gather together what you need.

  • What type of experience would you like this game to invoke?

A feeling of making the best puzzle, collecting sets to maximize points and having fun making something pretty!


Following on from this, I need to make a firm decision on the structure of the game, most importantly:

  • Will players draft mate cards?
  • Will there be opportunities to partially score mate cards throughout the game? (Or in drawing new ones, perhaps take 3, keep 1 for instance)
  • How the timing track/food collection will affect the phases/progress/length of the game, and if that makes a difference for player turn order
  • How many treasure tiles, what their shapes and types will be, as well as point values if that’s necessary (for public goals perhaps?)
  • Draft up some shared goals for shapes, sizes, and set collections for treasure types

I’m sure more will come up, but I believe this little brainstorm and following up on those particular points will help direct me further into this game and the process.

You are not better than anyone: the board game edition.

Video gaming’s had a lot of shit-flinging over the last year or so with G*merG*te stepping up to not only tell people they don’t belong in the industry/hobby, but also a whole lot of other just generally terrible, life-threatening things. Luckily, we haven’t reached such levels of awful in the tabletop gaming hobby – most likely because the numbers are smaller, and it’s not as mainstream a hobby.

Not to be down on the folks I share a hobby with at all – there’s fantastic, wonderful people there! But some attitudes and commentary of late – some specific, some just popping up vaguely here and there – have me thinking about how exclusivity, feelings of seniority and also sexism can play a part in pushing people away. I’m lucky to know some awesome folks who speak out about stuff like this and I am lucky to call them friends, and share the hobby with them.

As in life, remember in your hobby: you are not better than anyone. You are on the same level as people, and you should treat them accordingly. So, here’s some thoughts..

No matter how long you’ve been in the hobby, you have no more right to it than someone that started into it this past weekend.

Just because someone doesn’t like the same kinds of games as you doesn’t make them inferior to the hobby.

It’s hard to believe this needs to be said, but women are gamers too. With a variety of interests as far as theme and game-play go, and you should never assume any differently.

Related, don’t speak in terms of “I got beaten by a girl!” whether that’s a 7 year old girl, or a 50 year old woman. Just.. don’t.

Oh right, and also don’t go asking for recommendations for your significant in other in terms of “they’re my wife lol” – speak about that person in terms of their interest in gaming, their non-gaming hobbies, and the games they may have tried/liked already and you will not only get a better round of recommendations but you’re also not distilling your partner down to their relationship to you only.

When you wonder why there’s not enough women in the hobby, or taking the leap to design games – don’t put the onus on them to do it. Make the industry and hobby welcoming, encourage without belittling, and it’ll be good for all.

If you’re an industry-type, don’t let it go to your head. I feel like this hobby lends itself to a wonderful co-mingling of both, especially when it comes to playtesting and support. Don’t push people away because they’re “not at your level”.

Size doesn’t matter. So what if you’ve got 500 board games, and someone else only has 5? You shouldn’t believe that makes you a higher level gamer. Life circumstances are often behind the ability – or lack thereof – to build a collection, and nobody should be judged for that.

Opinions – and a variety of them – should be encouraged and welcomed in the hobby! Don’t shut someone down just because they have their own opinions that may differ from yours. Discuss it like adults, please! Or step away if you’ve nothing constructive to say.

Don’t diss out gateway games like Settlers of Catan, or Splendor (for example) for the sake of it just to sound superior! Just because you don’t play it or you might hate it doesn’t devalue the game as something that can introduce a person to tabletop gaming. And if you don’t like gateway games like that, find something else you think might work. Even something like For Sale, or Ghost Blitz, for example, can be an irresistible introduction to games.

Kickstarter: if people don’t want to, or can’t, back Kickstarter projects, so be it.

Never assume you are better than anyone. Be excited, be enthusiastic, and enjoy gaming. That excitement and enthusiasm will be welcoming and encouraging, and can only make the hobby better.

2015 Gaming “Resolutions”

Over at BGG, I frequent the “Women & Gaming” forum, where ladies in the hobby get together to chat about games, and life, and stuff (and also non-lady friends, parters, allies are encouraged to take part too!). Someone was curious what everyone’s 2015 gaming ‘resolutions’ (more goals/plans) for gaming in the year would be. So here’s mine – slightly edited to add another one I put on there after I’d posted. Do you, as a board gamer, have any goals for the year?

1. Scale back buying new games; I can’t say no new games coming in because Adam gets some free copies of stuff through his translation work, but our choices to buy can definitely go down. Plus Adam will always buy Netrunner stuff.

2. Go back to our system (stolen 100% from Steve & Leslie Wolfhard) of putting a few coins in a jar every time we play a game and when there’s enough there, put it toward something new; that way we’re forcing ourselves to play what’s in our collection, and also rewarding ourselves for it! It helps with slowing down buying too.

3. Cull the collection! For a while Adam’s been hesitant to do this, but I think he realizes it’s time now; we have a big job with it, but it’ll be worth it to trim the fat. (As you can see from the hectic shelves below, it needs trimming and tidying!)

4. Log more plays! Right now I just log new-to-me games the first time I play so I remember at year-end, but I think more stats on what I play would be fun.

5. More W&G participation and more online games at BAJ/BGA/Yucata with W&G forum folks!

6. More blogging about games.

+7. Complete a 10×10 gaming challenge with Adam. (I’m going to write more about this later over at the Daily Worker Placement, but here’s what we’ve chosen.)

[Aforementioned shelves – click through for larger messy versions.]



2014 board game wrap-up – games from pre-2014 I tried

In case you missed it, I wrote about my favourite 2014 releases here, and I wrote a bit more of an article on my top 5 2014 releases over at the Daily Worker Placement! And now..

My 2014 gaming wrap-up part 2, honourable mentions: Stuff that didn’t necessarily come out in 2014, but I tried out for the first time! (Many from last year’s wishlist.) It’s not all about the new to the market, but also new to me! Some of this is fairly recent, but there’s a few oldies in here.

* Concept: A party game of guessing – but instead of a charades-type scenario, you have a board of icons/symbols/shapes/colours etc to use to explain the ‘concept’ of what you’re trying to get the other players to guess. (Chosen from a card with some easy/medium/hard things listed.) I can’t get enough of this game! I don’t understand why it didn’t win the SdJ, it’s such a solid game. One of my favourite group/party games now!

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Adam picked up Concept! #boardgames

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* Star Realms: Honestly, I play this more through the app than actually sitting down to the card game. Great deck building with aspects of Ascension (buying from a single pool of replenishing cards) but also the fun of attacking your opponent, as it’s the last spaceship standing wins. (Nice to have something that’s not just points for a change!)


* Arkadia: This is a really lovely game, with beautiful components. That makes it quite a pleasure to play. I enjoyed the unique aspects of the gameplay, building up the structures and using cards/builders for progressing – but I didn’t feel drawn to it enough to really want to play it again some time, unfortunately.

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Arkadia has the coolest components!! #boardgames

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* Kreta: Quite an interesting mix of hand management & area control – timing things right so you’ve got helpful resources and are in the regions that will score, and trying to make that scoring happen when it’ll benefit you most. I think I would like to try this one again as I really liked the gameplay, but was terribly void of strategic understanding.

* Goa: This is definitely one of those times I learnt a game when I was too tired to really understand it, and by the end I realized that was a bad idea, but want to try it again. I love the way the tiles are laid out, and accessed through auctioning, and you need to strategically gain things through those auctions to power up your own player board/tech tree thing. All the things about it are cool, and I want to make sure my impressions aren’t coloured by a bad first-time play for this one.

* Boss Monster: There’s some rad stuff about this game – the throwback pixel art, the concept that you’re a dungeon boss trying to lure unsuspecting adventurers into your dungeon so you can whack ’em, how easy it is to learn/teach.. But unfortunately this just didn’t click for me – it’s something that seems like it should, but it just sits there on the shelf overlooked now.


* Legends of Andor: I love Michael Menzel’s art! So it’s nice to see a game he made AND did art for! There’s not a lot of cooperative fantasy-themed games, and this one’s got a nice balance of genders for characters to play, so I was excited to try this out finally after it’d been on our shelf for too long in shrink. I do like the gameplay – the way you get around the map, the way combat etc plays out, all of that was good. But we played through a bunch of scenarios and I just haven’t been interested in getting it back out again. I guess I was expecting something more engaging, and was disappointed it wasn’t D&D in a board game.

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Setting up to head into Andor. #boardgames

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* Cuatro: Yahtzee meets four-in-a-row on a flat board – but you can also stack on top of other player’s pieces to get your four-in-a-row! We played this at the Board Room and it’s an excellent quick filler, with buckets of dice rolling. Just the ticket if you’re in the mood.

* Mai-Star: I believe I’ve mentioned at some point that I really enjoy games that have cards with multiple uses, and Mai-Star really does that well! Become the most famed Geisha by attracting the best and most demanding guests – playing down character cards and attracting them with the values of other cards – performance, service and intelligence. Those guests will then give you benefits as the round goes on. I really liked this – I can’t see if it’s got a place in our collection because it doesn’t really fill any gaps as far as small quick card games, but I’d play it again at an event for sure!

* Auf Teufel Komm Raus: What an enormously fun betting/push your luck game! All the ‘coal’ in the middle are printed on the other side – either numeric values, or a devil symbol. At the start of each round, everyone reveals the value of coal they think they’ll be able to turn over without busting (ie. revealing a devil). Even if you hit your amount you can keep going! Or you can pass out to make sure you get a return. SO GOOD. I wish this was an English release, but we had fun playing with our friends in Halifax who own it.


* Tokaido: I seriously fell in love with this game this year, I wish I’d tried it earlier! One of the great pleasures of this game is in the relaxing play and that it’s a different enough little journey every time that it’s still nice to come back to over and over, similar to something like Carcassonne. The premise is that you’re a traveler on the East Sea road in Japan, moving along the action spots and stopping for meals at particular junctures. Actions range from painting landscapes, to visiting hot springs, encountering other travellers, visiting temples and collecting souvenirs. You can choose to poke along slowly, or jump ahead to take the action you really want – remembering that it’s always the person in the last spot who’ll take the current turn. It’s truly wonderful – depending on the ‘traveler’ you have each game (they all have special abilities/benefits) and how many people you play with, it’s always a new, yet familiar experience. I will always be up for a game of Tokaido!


* MarraCash – All these little coloured wooden customers line up around the outside of the board waiting to come in and shop – you need to try and bid to purchase the right coloured stores in order to attract them as they enter the neighbourhood. The premise seems simple, but it was actually a terrifically hard game to make the most of (or at least I found it that way!). Interesting, but not enough to play again.


* Campanile – This was a pretty interesting little card game! You are aiming to build up towers of different types, but the amount you build (1, 2 or 3 cards) determines the amount you can bid on what towers you think will win, and affects the new building type cards you’ll take. It really gives you some tough decisions to make on what is otherwise a very simple little game.

* Luchador! Mexican Wrestling Dice – Rolling dice! Flipping out! PINNING!! I played a tag-team 4 player game of this and it was ridiculously fun. You roll dice to see if you hit your opponent, and there’s a variety of special moves you can pull off if you roll with luck. Light and a fun filler, especially when you just want to let loose and roll dice.


* New Haven: Players share a resource board, which they build up during the game by placing tiles strategically to collect an optimum amount of resources on each of their turns (bordering your tile with similar resources bumps up the amount). The number of resources are indicated on a track, and spent immediately to place numbered tiles on your own player mat in order to try and fill up rows and columns for completion points. A nice light game with a balance of strategy, luck & player interaction. Lovely!

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New Haven from @@rnrgames is great! #gof2014 #boardgames

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* Concordia: I really enjoyed the interesting mix of hand-building and working that together with the map & gaining resources/currency. There was a fine balance there that I tried to get, yet failed. I think had I been paying more attention to the end game card bonus scoring then I might have fared better. I’m not sure I’ll get this to the table again to see how it plays multiple times – there’s many more heavier games I want to try first.


* Ab in die Tonne – Look, if someone had sat me down and said I’d have a great time playing a game about stacking garbage in a can I’d have thought they were having me on. But it’s seriously great! Each player has a hand of three cards (from a deck ranging from 1 – 10), and each round reveals one simultaneously with the other players. Then from lowest to highest, each player picks one type of trash (milk cartons, apple cores, cans, bottles) and places a number of pieces equal to the number revealed into the garbage can. If you make everything collapse, you take a penalty token. If you happen to place the last piece of trash in/on the can without it collapsing, you get a bonus! SO MUCH FUN. German kid’s dexterity games are so, so good.


* Robinson Crusoe – I really like this, but don’t own it – so it’s hard to get back to the table, especially when gaming with new releases to try and different people with different tastes. I think this is a really finely balanced, challenging game. If you like how tough Pandemic could be, this might be something you’d like to try – everyone struggling along together to eke it out to make it through to the end of the scenario. I’ve only tried the one scenario so I’m not sure I can 100% thumbs up the game, but I like the gameplay and the art/theme really ties it all together!


* Pathfinder Card Game – An adventure/rpg-ish card game based on the actual RPG Pathfinder system. I’m not sure how it compares to the RPG itself, but it’s a pretty neat structure for an adventure card game. I especially like the fact you can level up your character and develop your deck if you want to play a sort of ‘campaign’! I’ve got to try and get this to the table again, perhaps just for me and Adam to play through our own mini-campaign, because it’s not likely we’ll play past the first scenario with anyone else. I want to make sure that it can really give the feeling of playing through an adventure too, because I haven’t felt that so much with the little experience I’ve had (but that was a confusing new game where I didn’t really get to immerse myself).

* A Study in Emerald – I am ashamed to admit that I got this as a belated giftmas present last year from Adam and it’s sat on our shelf in shrink since then (we’d played it through on a friends copy and been interested by it). Part of the problem, I think, is the complexity of it, and how long ago we played – it means that we’re going in as newbies again and really need to familiarize ourselves. This is a goal for 2015 (sooner rather than later, I hope) because I really do enjoy the game and theme!

* Forbidden Desert – It’s hard to believe that I tried this out as a prototype a few years ago now! I love the final published copy (it didn’t vary too much from the prototype if I recall correctly) – a nice fresh take on this style of light co-op game, while still keeping it fun and challenging. I love the new gameplay with the sand, and the ominous feeling of trying to keep up with that! So great. Highly recommend this.

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We made it!!! Forbid this, desert. #boardgames

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* Amun Re – Quite a blast from the past (well, 2003) – I’d never tried this before, and played it a few times this  year. A balancing act of trying to bid on juicy territories, and also make sure to get points from where you’re at on the board and how your pyramids are coming along.. and how you do in making sacrifices to Amun Re! This one’s a keeper.

Amun Re

* Blood Bowl Team Manager –  Here is a little known fact: I love the Bloodbowl board game. I used to play it endlessly when me and my BFF lived with our friend Jamie, who owned a very rare copy (and I never did get my own because it was so filthy expensive to Ebay one and have it shipped to Australia). So when I heard about this, I got pretty excited! While it’s not moving minis around a board, passing an actual wee ball, it’s the closest a card game could get. It’s a great port of the original game, with all of the theme and ideas baked in – it’s terrific! Criminal we haven’t played this one more, but I sometimes just don’t feel in the mood for it. I must change that in 2015.


* Trains: I don’t have any problems with deck building (unlike some who are fatigued on that game type), so I’m always willing to give a new one a try. I really liked the role the board played in this game – it felt like it really gave some purpose to how you build your deck and gave a little more structure to the game. I wasn’t quite sure of the strategy, so I think going back for multiple plays would be far more rewarding – but I haven’t had a chance to play it again.


* 8 Minute Empire – I want to rave about this game because I really do like its simplicity, and that it’s a nice little puzzly light strategy game to play. But I don’t LOVE love it. It’s good, but for some reason just not good enough that it hasn’t hit our table more than a couple of times. Maybe I should rectify this in the new year to see if my feelings change about it. Not ready to get rid of it just yet. We’ll see!

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8 Minute Empire for the first time. #boardgames

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* Space Cadets Dice Duel – I have never played the full game of Space Cadets, because it seemed like such an investment of time. Dice Duel has the same flavour, and adds in a frantic Galaxy Trucker/Space Alert feeling with the hasty rolling of dice to beat your opponents to the punch. We played with 6, and I can’t help feeling it might have been better with 8. I was the captain on my side, and felt a little disassociated from actually doing anything, rather than just enabling my team mates to get stuff done. But it was a fun/funny experience!

* Two Rooms and a Boom: I played a round of this social deduction game and was kinda flummoxed by it. I was a basic member of the red team, so there was really not a lot for me to do. Plus, the president and bomber both started in the other room – so there wasn’t much we could do! I think had I tried it again I’d have found some fun & depth to it after trying different roles, etc. Alas, I will have to wait for another chance to play it again and see what it can do.

* Going Going Gone: It’s criminal it took me so long to try this game. Madly tossing cubes in cups to bid in auctions is the best! Set collection is good, secondary fun. A great, easy to understand game with a lot of excellent action going on. I must try this again to see if it’s worth getting.

* Blueprints – So simple in design, but with enough going on to make it interesting and fun to play. You get a ‘blueprint’ for a structure to build with dice. Each round you take a die from a publicly available pool and play it to your structure behind your screen. Each type of die has different scoring benefits that will come into effect once everyone has 6 dice on their blueprint. Really solid, but unfortunately not great with 2 players.


So, I gamed a WHOLE BUNCH this year, obviously. I’m hoping to really do the same in 2015 – getting to the Gathering of Friends and hopefully BGGcon, making sure to put an emphasis on playing what is in our collection, and also writing more about games as a contributor to my friend’s site the Daily Worker Placement should help! Thanks for reading, folks. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this year in gaming.

Firefly: Out to the Black – review & giveaway!

At last year’s Gathering of Friends game convention, as I was going from game to game & chatting with folks, I kept hearing about “this Firefly game”. I am at my very core a huge fan of Firefly & its resultant spin-offs, so I’m likely to want to get anything related to the intellectual property in front of me to check it out. I finally got a chance to sit down with a few other people to try the prototype of Firefly: Out to the BlackYou can read my initial thoughts here.

Fast forward to earlier this year, and the game finally hit the shelves (due to a delay, I believe, in an unsuccessful attempt to Kickstart the game due to licensing, or some such thing). I am lucky enough to have a sweetie who keeps an eye on game releases fairly regularly, and he picked me up a copy from one of our local game stores so we could give the final, published game a shot. There hasn’t been much noticeably changed since the prototype we played – nothing major enough that it stands out to me, at any rate – probably just tidying up of gameplay/copy.

Firefly: Out to the Black game box, front - featuring Mal prominently and other members of the crew in smaller images

Firefly: Out to the Black game box

My review/overview

Firefly: Out to the Black is a cooperative card game for 3 – 5 players (recommended with 4 or 5). Play time is approximately 45 minutes. The premise of the game is that you’re a member of Serenity‘s crew, and you have to work your way through a number of jobs with your fellow players, successfully avoiding the Alliance and not losing too many credits or honour. From the very top down, this game is truly thematic – a cooperative struggle to do the job, get paid, make it through together. The art in the game is all promo shots & scene captures from the TV series, so it’s very familiar for fans but shouldn’t be offputting for people who are unfamiliar with the show.

The crew cards from Firefly: Out to the Black - one for each crew member from Firefly

Crew cards

Each crew member has certain levels of skills (fightin’, flyin’ and thinkin’), which makes them better or worse at contributing when the crew is doing a job – this has been thought out fairly well (and each character has fairly low numbers as the crew must combine forces & play cards to reach each job’s goals. So, y’know – Kaylee’s strong with flying and thinking, whereas Jayne is pretty much all fighting, and Mal’s got a bit of everything. Thematically, it works really nicely; it also lets you pick a crew with a diverse spread of skills to ensure you cover all your bases.

A pile of example job cards from Firefly: Out to the Black

A selection of job cards

When a job is drawn from the deck, the start player (leader) will look at what the job requires skill-wise & pick the appropriate folks for the job. (To the job’s specs – the jobs can be solo or up to the full crew playing, and the leader that round must go.) There’s not a lot of flavour text with the jobs, but it’d be hard to get it on there with the rest of the necessary information: the skill level required, and the rewards/penalties for bombing/mostly succeeding/completely succeeding each job. I quite like this, as it’s not a black and white “succeed or don’t” outcome – it wasn’t really ever like that for the crew in the show, and honestly it was very rarely that they’d come through a job perfectly.

A selection of Serenity cards from Firefly: Out to the Black

Serenity cards

So, if you’re not going to be getting through the jobs by the skin of the crew’s teeth alone, how do you do it? Serenity cards – almost all of these are relevant to jobs, and will add to skill checks and have other benefits. Each player starts with a handful at the start of the game – but there’s no regular draw phase throughout the game so you really have to be sparing with them  There will be some other cards or character abilities that will let you draw extra cards during the game, but it’s tough to rely on that. Another way the game compensates for its cooperative nature with some tough choices and rarity of resources – plus, you can’t openly discuss what you’ll be contributing each round, so you need to be really savvy about how to talk about job tactics and playing these cards! A struggle, but not one that makes the game unenjoyable.

A selection of gorramit cards from Firefly: Out to the Black

Gorramit cards

A selection of Alliance cards from Firefly: Out to the Black.

Alliance cards

But – of course – there’s more to a job than just that. After the crew reveals their played Serenity cards for the job, a ‘Gorramit’ card is flipped over – these have all sorts of consequences. Making cards played not count, upping the skill required for the job, redrawing results, changing characters mid-stream and whatnot. Throwing a spanner in the works. This can often be pretty brutal, depending on how versatile your crew is, what cards you have available, and if you’re just scraping into the job enough that a change in required skills will mean failure. This will be a thorn that sticks in a lot of player’s sides due to the randomness of it – but I think it’s in the spirit of the game, and so far it’s not wrecked the gameplay experience for me. Luck is luck, in a card game, or our in the black.

Alliance cards can come up as a penalty once the job is done, and either have a long-term or finite effect. These aren’t quite so tough as the Gorramit cards to run with – they usually have something to do with amending rewards/penalties for jobs, loss/card discarding conditions, losing credits/honour, shuffling a job back into the deck, and all the sorts of things the pesky Alliance would get in your way with, generally. While these are technically avoidable, they do pop up often, and can take a little tactical discussion to work with it so they don’t inhibit success entirely – depending on their effects.

Skill track and game tokens from the game Firefly: Out to the Black

Skill track and game tokens

There’s not much else to the game other than the card playing, so there’s very few extras in the game – but I like the aesthetic of the tokens used to track skills in jobs, and the credit/honour tokens are nice, also. Other than the photos / captures from the show, there’s very little original art, and the design is fairly minimal – kinda spacey/sci-fi, but not overly. I think it all works fairly nicely together. I like that quotes or episode titles are used to give job cards and Gorramit cards at least a little flavour and reference for fans like me. My only gripe is the tone of the rulebook – much of the prose is written in a very slangy kind of way – I know there’s a bit of that in the show/movie, but I think it only serves to stand out here. A little of it is nice, I don’t want it to be devoid of personality, but all the dropping g’s and whatnot can really get tough to read over. Otherwise the rules are laid out well, and cover everything with some FAQs for cards in the back, too. There’s even a quick reference page (pity it’s not on the back cover of the rules).

I still find the same fun and excitement in the cooperative nature of this, combined with the theme of a show I am very fond of to make a great package. I think this would be easy to learn for anyone who’s gamed before but might require a run-through for newbies to make sure they’re getting everything right (mostly with the specifics of order of phases, that would be the most important part to have down). If you’re into the show, it’d be worth it (and a much quicker play time than the other Firefly game that’s on the market – a full board game with lots going on). I think with the variety of characters, plus the amount of job cards in the deck (plus expansions already – which I have and look forward to trying!), this would have a decent replay value, as well.

Will folks who don’t know/like the show enjoy the game? Well, if you would be interested in playing a cooperative card game where a ragtag bunch of space folks are banding together to try and complete missions without failing and having “the man” catch up to them, then I think so, yeah!

So, about the giveaway?

At this year’s Gathering of Friends convention, I caught up with Ed Bryan, the designer of the game. He gave me a copy of the game as a thank you for being one of the people who had sat down with him last year to play test the game in its mostly final stage. I’d been so excited to own the game when it came out that I have my own copy, plus the copy that Ed gifted me. It’s still in shrink, and brand new – and I’d like to make sure that it goes out into the world to someone who might appreciate it! I’ll keep this fairly simple, but please read the below carefully.

I have one (1) copy of Firefly: Out to the Black to give away, and I’ll post it out anywhere in the world. To enter to win, please comment (only once!) on this blog post telling me your favourite episode of Firefly, and who you would pick as your character to play in the game. At 11am EST (i.e. Toronto time) on July 23rd I’ll stop taking comments. I’ll assign each commenter a number, plug the numbers into a random generator to pick a winner and contact that winner to organize logistics of getting the game to you.

Obviously I’m going about this casually, as it’s really just out of my own interest that I’m doing this giveaway. Any posting of the game will be at a surface rate, unless you’d like to chip in to have it get to you faster! Please don’t try to spam me with multiple entries, as it’s really not in the spirit of what I”m doing here.

Thanks for reading, and taking part in the giveaway if you’re so inclined!




Spiel des Jahres has rolled around again – my thoughts on the nominees.

The time has rolled around again for the German award for Game of the Year, or “Spiel des Jahres” – a highly regarded award in the industry. I wrote a little about last year’s nominees here, and more of an introduction to the concept / influence of the award, as well. This year I’ve played almost all of the nominees, just missing one in the Kennerspiel category (more advanced). I tried all of them at the Gathering of Friends game convention, so I’ll link to my recaps of them for more of my thoughts.

Main award – Spiel des Jahres

Camel Up When I tried this at the Gathering of Friends back in April, I had fun with it (you can read more of a review here). This is most definitely a family friendly game – the concepts aren’t hard to grasp, and there’s enough randomness with dice and card playing to ensure nobody can sweep to victory with strategy. Unlike something like Libertalia, for instance, I felt like the randomness was still able to be mitigated and you could look at possible outcomes to make educated guesses to make choices. I still feel like this is a little light and the replay value is low enough, that it might not inch past the other nominees.

Splendor: The only game I tried multiple times at GOF (read my review) – I got this to the table again on the weekend and was happy to discover it was still enjoyable after the first handful of plays. This really hits all the sweet spots as far as a perfest SdJ winner (except the theme is fairly thin), and I’d say this will be the front runner to win: it’s simple, variable enough that you can replay it without getting sick of it (similar to 7 wonders, although not asymmetrical), and quick to learn and play. Even I can teach it! But i haven’t won it yet.. and there’s where I think it has a nice appeal for hobby gamers and not just families – you come back for the challenge. The only downfall is the low player interaction.. where the next nominee strides ahead.

Concept: It’s so great to see Concept nominated! (And again, more of my thoughts in this recap).What I love most about this game is how it has injected life and excitement into a party guessing game. I can’t really name another party game with charades/guessing aspects I’d choose to play other than Time’s Up. Well, except now Concept’s come along – the genius fun of trying to explain things/phrases/ideas by combining images will draw me in time and again.  It’s family friendly, and with a reasonably broad appeal outside that market.. but not without its troubles for accessibility due to its wholly visual nature (however that is good for language neutrality..). I look forward to getting a copy of this game – I’m not sure that it’ll win the category, but I hope the exposure it gets at least from the nomination will have an affect.

Advanced award – Kennerspiel des Jahres

Istanbul: This surprised me – after my play at GOF, I wouldn’t have picked it for either category of SdJ, maybe somewhere in between. It’s definitely on the lighter side of strategy. I really enjoyed the unique movement of pieces and how it affected strategy. There was definitely some challenge in working to get resources and onward to gain rewards, so for that it falls into the Kennerspiel camp for sure. I have yet to play this again, so I hesitate to judge, but I don’t know if this will be the top pick (although it would be nice to see it win, for what it’s worth).

ConcordiaNow this is Kennerspiel material. This was the last game that hit the table for me at GOF, and I was fairly over-gamed and exhausted by that point. But I still saw the draw in Concordia. A delicate balance of deck building and hand management, plus ensuring you have the resources and placement around the board to amass a decent amount of points – plus thinking about the bonuses your deck will give you at game’s end – my brain swims! But it was terrific, and a fresh take on strategy for me. I would be surprised if this wasn’t the category’s winner.

Rococo: The only of the nominees in these two categories I haven’t played! Which is daft, considering we now own the game (Adam won it at GOF taking part in the Rococo tournament). It seems very weighty and lengthy, and a little fiddly – not something I would expect from a game with a theme such as it has – working towards putting on a world-class ball during the reign of Louis XV.

I can’t wait to see who wins! It’s awesome having tried almost all of the nominees this time around.

2013 Board Game wrap-up: reviews/highlights and wishlisting!

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.

Firefly the game


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!

Waterdeep: Skullport

Mage Tower

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?



Firefly: The Game – my initial impressions

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.


Detail of cards/money

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.

Some of the board/cards/pieces laid out.


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!

Other stuff

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.