Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Star Realms (almost a placeholder post)

Star Realms is a small-box deckbuilding card game for 2 players you can get for under $20. Games take 20 minutes, maybe 30 if you really stare at your cards. It's a two-currency central row deckbuilder, if that means anything. It's LAB (Like Ascension But) as opposed to LDB (Like Dominion But).  I bought the physical game and my daughter Alex really likes playing it with me. My gaming buddy Ben and I play it a lot. I've also played multi-deck 5 player games that were ridiculous in scope and execution. I've been playing Star Realms on my phone lately, so much so that I decided to talk about it.

I've been playing so much Star Realms on my phone, in fact, that I could barely force myself to write this not-a-review.  The asynchronous play across multiple games means I have access to a lot of little tiny set-piece puzzles of how to spend my Space Money and Space Attack to blow my Space Opponent up In Space.  Every new hand being revealed is interesting (in that boring-interesting way deckbuilders are interesting: you know what's coming up in the long run because you put it there, but are you going to get your Blob Fighter/Blob Carrier combo out in the same turn), but more importantly, every time you pass the turn, you ask: "Is my opponent about to blast me out of the sky and kill me?" It's got dramatic tension, and because you and your opponent's deck composition gets crazier and crazier, it's got a narrative arc that is satisfying, for the most part.

If you download the game for free, you can play against multiple levels of AI all you want. If you give the nice people $5, you can play as many asynchronous games of Star Realms with nerds on the internet as you want, and it's platform-agnostic so Mac and Android folks can play each other without caring who has what. There's a ladder (I'm terrible at Star Realms) and challenges (I'm terrible at Star Realms). It tracks your win-loss ratio (46%) and your total games played (525).

There's even 4 mini-expansions for Star Realms coming out later this year, and I'll buy those, too, even though I disagree with the price point, the way they're packaged, the entire format of the expansions, some of what I read so far, etc. It'll still give me a lot of new gaming for about another $20.

Star Realms has been fun, but the most interesting thing about it is watching how my gamer and game designer friends experience it. Some were decidedly underimpressed, some jumped in whole-heartedly, and some started doing what I'm doing now, making grasping-claw motions with their hands as they agonized to put into words how weird the tension is between all the elements, and how it's not really clear whether the choices you make tactically or strategically are actually that interesting most of the time.

My point is, AEG's Valley of the Kings is a much better gamer's game (hat tip to Dave Lartigue's post for articulating why), but I've played tons more Star Realms in the last week than Valley of the Kings, because I can play one in line at the grocery store, and one I can't.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm gonna go play some Star Realms.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

In-depth gaming for the year: I catch up on what's happening

...well, not a lot of steady blogging, that's for damn sure. I have gotten in quite a bit of gaming so far, though. More than half of my gaming this year has been with my friend Ben, since he lives right down the road and is on a similar schedule to me right now. I've also attended several different board game Meetups (capitalizing to show they're Meetup.com groups) and some private gaming events. I'm excited to have shifted my schedule recently to allow attending more often at the Tuesday night Cafe Express-Central Houston Meetup.

I sold a few games, put others aside in a sale/trade pile, and made a couple-or-four acquisitions (most notably Race For the Galaxy: Alien Artifacts and a ton of Thunderstone Advance sets).

As those of you who follow me on Twitter know, I have played at least two games (and often more) of the following games this year, presented in no particular order:
Yardmaster, Puerto Rico, Rolling Freight, Thunderstone Advance (several sets), Race For The Galaxy (usually with Alien Artifacts), Through The Ages, DC Deckbuilder (both 1 and 2), Street Fighter Deckbuilder, Blue Moon City, Survive!, Netrunner LCG, Star Wars LCG, Lords of Waterdeep, King of Tokyo (with expansions), Roll Through The Ages, Dominion, Manhattan Project, Ascension, Ra, Forbidden Island, Smash Up, Outpost, and Phoenicia.

Yardmaster (my review on BGG) got many plays before I did the review of it. It hasn't hit the table in the last few weeks, and I'm still carrying it around in my car to try again on new players.  A pleasant little filler. Can't wait to try Yardmaster Express.

Puerto Rico: Yesssss. Got in a couple of 3s and a 4.  I used to be better at it, but still enjoy it quite a bit. It's been long enough since PR's release that there are lots of new gamers that haven't played yet, in spite of the once-integral position it held in the hobby.  

Rolling Freight: God, I am terrible at this game, want to be good at it, and doubt I'll ever be more than mediocre. A shame since Alex really likes it.

Thunderstone Advance (pretty much all the sets): I have a lot of Thunderstone. Not all there is, but the first two sets of the original Thunderstone, and everything but the new Starter Set in Thunderstone Advance.  It's one of my favorite deckbuilders, just oozing with theme and meaningful decisions. I have really mixed feelings about Numenera because I love the setting but feel like they failed to playtest a couple of cards well - no surprise given the sheer number of cards included in the box!  Worlds Collide is more standard and definitely a solid set as well. The thing that kills me is I could probably play dozens more games of Thunderstone Advance and not really scratch the surface of card combinations, and yet, I still plan to buy the next set that comes out, as soon as it is available. If you were going to buy one set, I'd say grab Caverns of Bane or Worlds Collide. Second set, definitely Numenera, then backfill at random till you had them all. The Starter Set is so direly generic and underwhelming that there's no reason to start with it, and no reason to buy it ever, unless you're a total completist. Avatars are nigh-worthless in most setups. Familiars are interesting, but unbalanced.

Race For The Galaxy (Alien Artifacts): I'm a huge fan of Alien Artifacts. It sorta-kinda includes three new options for play (one with the new cards, one with the new cards and new map, and one with just the new map), but after only a few tries of using the new Orb map, I found it making games much longer, more swingy, and less fun. The new cards are great, though, especially the new start worlds. I definitely think that this expansion path is better than the first set, and am interested to see what the next set(s) are going to accomplish.  Definitely buying at some point, though looking for a deal as I do so.

Through The Ages: Oh man, the meatiest game in the list.  This civ-builder is chock-full of interesting decisions. It can feel a little spreadsheet-y at times, but there are so many interesting disruptions to the calculations that it's rarely business as usual.  Ben and I have gotten in a few games and I can now conclude the following: Homer and Moses are really good leaders in antiquity, while Hammurabi is not as good as he originally looks. Cartography is incredibly good, and also cheap. The Pyramids and Code of Laws are good, but more expensive to get. Early culture production is usually better than early science production. Getting one colony early usually means you're going to get enough bonuses to get more colonies in a snowball effect. Likewise, losing early aggressions is going to get you beat on in future turns.  There's also a free online implementation.

DC Deckbuilder 1 and 2: Yep, that's a deckbuilder. Plays pretty quickly, not super balanced, later turns get ridiculously overpowered. As a former total comic book nerd, I enjoyed this more than I should have.  The second set is better than the first, and slightly more balanced, but I can't really articulate that vague notion?

Street Fighter Deckbuilder: Biggest surprise of the year. Tons of interesting tactical and strategic decisions abound. Ascension fans should check it out. A great 2-player game, not so sure about multi-player, though.

Blue Moon City:  I love hand management games, and this game is no exception. Gorgeous art recycled from the card game,  an icon salad that's second nature by the end of the first game, and great plastic dragons give Blue Moon City a unique appealing aesthetic.

Survive!: Played this with the girls, and they love having sharks, whales, and sea serpents moving around eating boats and swimmers willy-nilly. Great, over-the-top-production on components make this a delightful tactile experience.

Netrunner LCG: It's so good, and so deep, and so impossible to teach to a non-gamer. The asymmetric gameplay means play sessions aren't "same-y." This is a game that makes me feel smart, and I like to play even when I lose. Plenty of room as Hacker or Corp to build interesting decks and adopt multiple strategies.

Star Wars LCG: Mixed feelings here. In one of my introductory games of this, I equipped Darth Vader with his lightsabre, and went to town on my opponent. In another, as the hapless Light Side, I got overwhelmed by General Veers and a bunch of generic Stormtroopers. Deck-building has been simplified in a clever way: instead of cards, you have groups of cards, so you're only really choosing 10 stacks instead of 60 individual cards. Overall, it feels like the game is being aimed squarely at people who care about tournaments and nothing else, and I'm just not sure the overall timing mechanics allow enough room for games to develop organically (at least in a way that's pleasing to me). I was given a decent-sized play set so I'll try it some more, then probably trade it off.

Lords of Waterdeep, with and without Scoundrels of Skullport: I've been playing this some as a 2-player game, and loving it.  The Scoundrels set isn't necessarily a must-buy (shiiiiit this hobby starts getting expensive), but now that I have it, I don't know that I'll play without it.  Lords is pretty easy to teach, and it's not like there's a huge number of truly, amazingly-clever decisions in it, just spotting opportunities. Nevertheless, it's fun.

King of Tokyo (with and without expansions): I'm not very good at King of Tokyo, but it's definitely a clever enough tactical game.  I don't like most of the expansions, other than the character-specific Evolutions.  While I picked up the base set cheaply, I'm not going to get anything else for at least a dozen more plays.

 Roll Through The Ages: I love how this game brilliantly evokes building a unique civilization in such a short time. Always up to play this.

Dominion: Dominion is like chess, in that there's a significant skill problem. These days, I mostly play with either people who play a lot more or a lot less than me, and that experience gap determines the outcome of the game. It's also a giant money pit. I enjoy the original set okay, have a lot of fun with Intrigue and Seaside, and am basically at sea for the last sprawling 2/3 of the Dominion print run excessiveness.

Manhattan Project: Winning a game of Manhattan Project is incredibly satisfying. Yes, you move workers around and push cubes. There's also a significant random factor in which buildings come out. Feel like playing a big-money strategy? Too bad, nothing but bomber production and mines are coming out. The back-and-forth as workers cover and uncover spots is elegant. Highly recommended.

Ascension: Yep, it's a deckbuilder. Ugly art abounds - so ugly that even I noticed it was ugly! I've only played with the first couple of sets, and I have to wonder who is buying so goddamn much Ascension. I've played this mostly with Alex in the last year, and she's done well on it as a gifted 9/10 year-old, sometimes beating me. I hear that the Ipad version is excellent, though.

Ra: A perennial favorite, even if I'm not very good at it.  Lot of meaty decisions, never the same game twice.

Goa: Winning Goa is amazing, losing Goa is your own fault. Incredible system of auctions, actions, and spice production makes every move critical and meaningful. It's a real brain-burner, and a delight from start to finish.  Second edition makes dramatic changes to how the auction works, preserves most other features. I've won under both rulesets but I think I prefer the first edition's bidding system with the, well, everything else of the second edition.

Forbidden Island: A delightful game for children and adults. Plenty of tension and a reasonable amount of strategy in such a small tin, with great production values.  I like this so much more than Forbidden Desert, it hurts.

Smash Up: Yeah, I'll kick your ass at Smash Up, but only so we can go on and play a better, more interesting game. There's really not a whole lot going on here. You play cards to, ahem, win.  If you draw badly, have bad match-ups, or play poorly, you lose. Expansions make for interesting scenarios. Nothing like your Dinosaurs/Bear Cavalry team beating down some Leprechaun Wizards. The Wizards faction has a lot more decisions than the average one, so it makes for huge differences in comparative downtime. Played fast, this is an okay filler. Played slow, it's a snoozer.

Outpost: I'm so bad at Outpost, and I like it so much. There's just something about having a handful of 13 production cards and figure out what to bid on new technologies. The Stronghold Games edition is both more beautiful, more functional, and more expansive than the original Tim/Jim edition, so buy that instead.

Phoenicia: Outpost's meek little brother. I have literally no idea how to make good decisions in Phoenicia, even less than I do in Outpost.  Doesn't take all that much time, always ramping up towards painful decisions in final turns. Auctions feel as though designed for deliberate choke-points of the game's progress. I go hot and cold on how I feel about it. Good news is that copies flooded the market, so if you want one, it's gonna be easy to find.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Another external game review

I wrote a short review of Punk Sucht Lady/Punk Seeks Lady that was published in the second issue of Earth Is Huge And We Are All On It.  It's a neat little online zine, so go check it out!

Monday, June 16, 2014

Blurb: new art commissions

My friend Adam is a talented artist with a wide range of styles. He recently opened commissions here so go grab one.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

I wrote a short review of Yardmaster over at BGG.

Lots of personal changes going on in the last few months, sorry for not posting more.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Rape Culture in Rebuild 2: Why I'm Done With Kongregate

Writing this and posting this were tough decisions to make. Trigger warnings: prostitution, rape, rape culture, human trafficking. It's not my usual posting style, and I reserve the right to make further edits.

I am currently on medical leave from work. I remembered Rebuild 2, a game I had played on Kongregate a couple years ago, and re-played it yesterday.  You control a small band of survivors after a zombie apocalypse, in an isometric top-down view of a town.  As the game progresses, you fortify your stronghold, investigate different story-paths, and are prompted to make some choices about how your new civilization progresses. Some of the prompts were disturbing, and I discussed it with close friends and relatives, and decided to write about it.

Here's a screenshot in one of the problematic sequences.

Gross, I mean, just gross. Here's the decision tree, first declining the offer:

 Then, accepting it:
Here's another of the "Yes" answers:
Again, I traded in-game food to make my band of survivors, men and women, happier with virtual prostitution.  This is sickness, embedded in entertainment, without the ability to escape it.

Women are being presented as objects for men's enjoyment. This is rape culture. Who decides to write this? Sarah Northway is listed as the game's creator in the credits. There's clearly more to the story, and another sequence makes me wonder about what's going on behind the creation of Rebuild 2.

One of the other mission choices you can take involves rescuing a defector from the evil "Last Judgement Gang:"
 Rescuing her has in-game consequences:
The saga continues:

With such evidence, when you're eventually prompted with an opportunity to stick the boot in, it's not hard to make the choice to destroy the gang:
This triggers one of the game's winning endings (you can keep playing afterward, looking for more of them in an effort to boost your score):

Unfortunately, Rebuild 2 isn't content with even this level of horrific choices:
Seriously? This is gaming? This is what we, as a society, consider to be acceptable entertainment? For the sake of this essay, I chose yes on this final play-through:

As far as I can tell, there's no aftereffects for engaging in virtual human trafficking, beyond losing the female character. If you select the option not to sell her off, you're told that she "doesn't cry but looks very relieved." YEAH, YOU THINK? I don't have a screenshot because that's the first path I took through the game, and I don't want to have to play more to get the screenshots. I'm disgusted with the game, the site, and myself, and part of writing this is to come to some sort of understanding.

As a whole, this entire episode reminds me of a performance piece/game-as-art/experience I've read about where players are told to maximize efficiency in packing train cars, then informed they've Nazis all along, helping the Holocaust. It's a sucker punch, designed to con. I got no warning that I was going to be offered this devil's bargain. We're playing games, then we're into the deep end of the human experience. To use one internet phrasing, "This is a Bad Game, and you should Feel Bad." I do, Northway, and I hope you do, too.

I'm done here. Done with Rebuild 2 and done with Kongregate. My playing the games gives Kongregate money in ad impressions, and ultimately, this is propagating the notion that these are choices we can have, and live with ourselves. I'm researching Houston's many organizations that fight human trafficking to make a donation and asking you to do likewise. 

Friday, August 02, 2013

Dawn of a New Day

Whew, health problems of various types have kept my posting down.  I do have an upcoming game review being published in The Proof at some point in the future, so be sure to support them by grabbing a copy or even a subscription.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

FreeStarter designer giveaway contest and interviews

Four game designers I follow on Twitter have banded together and are giving away two sets of four games  (one more casual set, one more serious set), as a promotion for their design interviews and as a neat way to drive traffic. Contest entries due by Friday, so get crackin'.

I don't usually link to contests, but I wanted to point out these folks because I read their insights and struggles in game design on Twitter and think they're definitely people to watch in game design. As a group, they've done a lot of the goals I'd like to do, with an emphasis on taking lots of different ways to succeed in getting games published.

Of the four's games, I've played Grant Rodiek's Farmageddon, which passed the Mom test and proved to be a decent take-that game with more depth than expected, at a very reasonable price.

Group Interview with AJ Porfirio (VanRyder Games)-great teaser on Tessen, which sounds like it's right up my alley.
Group Interview with Cheevee Dodd - Cheevee's posted a lot of good game design angst about Tuesday Night Tanks in his twitter feed, and I'm interested to try it.
Group Interview with Matt Worden ooh, good intro shot of Space Mission. On my radar as a pnp game gone pro, something that is tough to do without standing out as a gem.

(Watch this space for the last interview link with Grant Rodiek.)

For the contest entry, they do ask you to follow all the designers on twitter (@VanRyderGames, @cheeveedodd, @MattWordenGames, @herrohgrant), but honestly, if you care about indie card and board gaming, you'll enjoy it as much as I do.

Friday, February 22, 2013

A quick note to my search query folks

I love looking at the Google searches that people are using to get to my blog!

"does half price books have board games"
Qualified yes.  If the games are still in shrink, typically they'll be shelved in the game books section, between  Dungeons & Dragons and chess books.  Since the staff don't want to inventory open games, any game out of shrink will be marked at a couple of dollars and put in the Clearance section.  I've gotten two copies of Travel Blokus this way.
"Expedit board games"
I love our Expedit shelves for board game storage, and it's nearly perfect.  Two minor points: if you push the shelves all the way to the wall, you won't lose Travel Blokus pieces down behind the shelving, but if you do that, some games will stick out farther than others.  My thrifted copies of Mouse Trap stick out about 4" from the Expedit shelf itself.
"board games like High Frontier"
It depends on which axis you want to progress along.  If you like "pick up and deliver," then Lunar Rails or Merchant of Venus might be next logical steps.  If you like complex simulations, the other Sierra Madre games like American Megafauna or Origins: How We Became Human are hugely-complex affairs.  You should also check out Dominant Species (mix of mechanisms, similar competition for sites), and Here I Stand (all-day game, depth of study in the subject area).
"mike doyle game art"
Yes, Mike Doyle's game art is fantastic.

In other news, I need to do a wrap-up post on OwlCon.  Spoiler: it was fun!

Friday, February 15, 2013

The Houston Gamers have lost a friend

One of our friends, Doug Curry, passed away Thursday morning.

He is survived by his wife and adult children.  Doug was a gamer, but more importantly, he was a great human being who was an all-around good guy.  My memories of Doug are all happy ones.

Please, tell your friends and family you love them, because you never know how much time any one of us has.

As I head off to Owlcon today, there's a lump in my throat because I never told Doug how much his presence at the game table was appreciated.  Seeing the folks I see rarely will be bittersweet with the knowledge of Doug's passing, and I'm going to do my best to thank those people for the joy they bring to the world.

Everyone who's participated in my gaming experiences, I appreciate you!  Take good care of yourselves.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Houston game stores

I was reviewing my blog's hits and saw people searching for Houston board game stores... For those of you on the west side of Houston or the east side of Katy, I continue to recommend 8th Dimension Comics & Games highly. Their location at Highway 6 and West Road is easy to find, the store has a great, kid-friendly ambiance, and the service is excellent.

Their board game stocks are a good mix of the last few years' Eurogames and LCGs, with plenty of excellent card games as well.  They use Alliance and have been great about ordering what I don't see on the shelves.

Thursday, December 06, 2012

Oreobytes: Sketches for $10

One of my artist friends is offering $10 sketches - I've enjoyed a lot of her art and now you can get some of her work, basically to order!