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 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.


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