Monday, October 25, 2021

My statement regarding Darkest Dungeon 1


"Darkest Dungeon is a video game for PC & Mac available from Red Hook Studios on Steam." 

[Series of Twitter posts of entire party wipes]

"Darkest Dungeon is a video game about how work sucks," I said on Twitter. A friend chimed in gleefully, "Yes! Exactly!" Right after that, for my first time, my entire 4-person adventuring party all went insane, and then died in short order, some from stress-induced heart attacks. Gothic horror, after all, requires teeth.

Let's start at the beginning. "Darkest Dungeon is a video game for PC & Mac available from Red Hook Studios on Steam." Also, playing Darkest Dungeon led me to start talking at my tiny adventurers. "Mortmain! Don't eat corpses you find on the ground! That's how people get tapeworms! Is that what you want, Mortmain? Tapeworms?" I've played quite a bit of Darkest Dungeon (~350+ hours) on two different difficulty levels and two different platforms (PC and Mac), and thoroughly enjoyed the gravelly-voiced narration, faux-woodcut loading screens, and gleeful delight in imbalanced encounters.  

You, the unnamed descendant, get a letter from a deceased ancestor asking you to reclaim your birthright.  You show up at your ancestor's estate and discover it overrun by horrific monsters (you also begin to suspect your ancestor is an incredible jerk).  To clear the wilds, you pick men and women of various medieval occupations who've arrived via stagecoach, and send them out in teams of 4 to explore the estate, in spite of it being overgrown and also overrun with monsters, some of whom are giant bosses. (The horrific monsters are also incredible jerks.) Once the characters are ready (or not), you send teams through the Darkest Dungeon, to see the grand epilogue.

Every character is made unique by random combinations of positive and negative quirks.  Mortmain was a kleptomaniac early riser who got rabies, then later after getting better from rabies, got Tapeworms again, then got The Worries and became Curious. He was a handful, but that typically is the character arc: if you don't die, you get weird and kind of awesome.

Part of the fun of discovery is rolling your cursor over new detrimental effects. Rabies makes you less accurate but actually increases damage. The Worries, for instance, causes the afflicted person to suffer more stress. There’s a sanitarium at the Hamlet, and it's going to stay busy.

What do adventurers get stressed about? Being in the dark. Being in the VERY dark. Wearing items that are badass in the dark but stress-inducing in the light (or vice-versa). Meeting people/things they're afraid of. Stepping on spikes. Reading forbidden knowledge. Getting shanked by a bandit. Getting vomited on by a hideous Dr. Moreau-style pig-man. Accidentally locking themselves into an iron maiden.  Having a straitjacket-clad madman proclaim their doom. Being tempted with a goblet of acid by a skeletal priest. Getting an arm caught in a giant clam. Watching someone else in the group do almost any of the above.  Experiencing lurid ultra-violence from giant bosses in set-piece fights. Forgetting to pack enough snacks. It's brilliant, and just reciting that litany makes me want to play more.

Sure, characters have hit points, just like my adventuring party of Felpurr Ninjas and Elf Lords did in Wizardry 7: Crusaders of the Dark Savant, back in 1993. But unlike in 1993, reduction to 0 hit points doesn't have a character die instantly (and then be conveniently resurrected by a Faerie Monk to fight other palette-swapped monsters). Instead, the character is reduced to "Death's Door." and from there on, any damage they take forces them to roll against their Death's Door survival chance. Succeed, and they're still alive at Death's Door (with penalties to everything, including dodging). Fail, and they are dead-dead-dead. Perma-dead. 1993 didn't have that as an option. Yes, Darkest Dungeon gleefully autosaves in the background, so there's no reloading to save your darlings. Did I mention that watching your fellow adventurers dying is stressful for the survivors? Because OF COURSE IT IS. You can bring a Jester for that.

Through it all, there's a learning curve that keeps going. As you figure out party compositions and character loadouts and provisions, as you upgrade buildings, as you buy weapons and armor, as you equip trinkets, you get dramatic feedback on your choices. Teams usually want a healer, a couple damage dealers, and some folks with damage-over-time or stunning abilities. Each character can equip 4 of 7 possible skills, so you can easily have a front-line Occultist or a back-line Musketeer (some jerk monsters shuffle party order, for fun, because of course they do). Different parties play surprisingly differently, and some characters are better suited for one or more areas (especially if they have quirks that make them better explorers). Again, the whole thing is varied and one of the highlights of the game.

There is an active modding community and multiple difficulty levels, making replays attractive. Boss fights are challenging set-pieces, but all the regular missions are random, with enough random events to keep things interesting. The stress system is brilliant, and the DLC bits can be added in one at a time or all at once (the vampire-y Crimson Court area is really hard even if you know the game well, and I am saying that generously as an enthusiast).

Darkest Dungeon doesn't mind killing characters, but most of the time, deaths are preventable and just temporary setbacks even if a party wipes completely. Even trinkets lost in combat can be recovered by a special event. Part of the joy in the game is advancing the game state in ways small and large, and getting rewarded in various ways. There are always more fools and heroes on the Stagecoach.

I just finished a playthrough on Radiant (regular) difficulty in about two weeks, and had so much fun I got in most of another run, and of course Darkest Dungeon 2 comes out later tonight. It doesn't get much better than that.

Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Infection: Humanity's Last Gasp - Game Review

(Note: I found this draft of a review from 2017, and it was too hilariously timely not to post.) 





Whoa, easy there, chief. That's no way to talk to epidemiologists. Well, maybe the feuding ones who won't make nice long enough to find the cure for a super-bug about to kill everyone on the planet.

Infection: Humanity's Last Gasp is a solitaire game by John Gibson, published by Victory Point Games as part of their Gold Banner series. I had been anticipating this game for a couple of years or so, thanks to the 7.5 rating on BGG, and was happy to get a copy in 2016. I finally got enough plays under my belt to feel like I could be coherent about it, wrote half a game review, and then promptly went on blogging hiatus.

The premise of the game is simple, and turns are short and procedural, in theory. There's a constantly mutating super-bug (not an insect, but instead a type of bacteria if you're playing easy mode, or a type  of virus in hard mode) that is going to kill all of humanity unless you can find a cure. In easy mode, you get funding every turn while governments are still worried about budgets. In hard mode, you've got some seed funding, but don't get regular income. Finding cures for the individual strains of the infection get you money in varying amounts.

The central mechanic and biggest thing to understand in Infection: Humanity's Last Gasp is that there are two pools of chits to manage. The bad Molecules are represented by round chips with letters, some with singles, some repeating (A-L in bacterial mode, D-O in viral mode), and are placed in concentric hex rings in a simulated petri dish on a two-sided (bacterial/viral) playmat.  You fight the bad Molecules (circle chits) with good Proteins, which are represented by chunky square chips with cute shapes. Each of the bad Molecules has a specific "recipe" for the cure as a specific set of proteins printed on the playmat, a die-cut sturdy cardboard production that assembles for a solid feel to a game coming from such a small box. 

Every turn, an event card is flipped up. There are good and bad effects that can improve or restrict your choices. There is also a "Mutation" section on the card. Sometimes, new Molecules are drawn from a pool, and will either replace others (which are discarded for eventual recycling to a new pool), or just jump out to menace humanity further.

Every turn, you can harvest up to 2 of 4 Proteins shown in 4 Incubator spaces on the playmat (and pay for that privilege). Once you've completed a recipe, you can apply it to kill vulnerable Molecules with 3 or more exposed hex sides. Kill all the Molecules in your petri dish? You win! Let all the Molecules be put into play, or let a death track be completely traversed, and humanity dies and you lose! The best part is, the whole thing works really well. There's a lot of back-and-forth as you eradicate strains, old ones mutate away, and new ones pop up.

There is also a deck of cards, most of which is lab equipment you can buy, some of which are employees you can hire. Managing your limited funds is a balancing act. You need equipment to use the lab's special powers (once per turn, sadly, regardless of your collection), hire employees (some of whom will not work with another of their colleagues, pandemic be damned), and develop the Proteins you need to fight individual strains (there are several machines that revolve around re-drawing or re-using Proteins, with good, thinky, implications on how you might want to handle drawing and discarding. There are several obvious strategy archetypes, but the supplies deck is shufffled and has 5 cards tossed out of game randomly, at the beginning of game setup, regardless of difficulty level.

There's an event deck, and each card has several applications. The super-bug Molecules can be shifted or replaced by new ones from the pile, making your preparations useless. (Read through the rulebook definitions carefully, as the terminology looks similar but has a big impact on gameplay if you're doing it wrong. I did it right, but a couple of the keywords seem similar but do different things.)

All of which is to say, there's quite a bit of replayability here. Beyond the random variation of how each game progresses (revealed Molecules and employees/equipment), you can test different strategies and see what the individual moving parts do.  The harder "Virus" level makes there be fewer identical bad Molecules, so the lucrative killing of duplicates in the Bacteria level can't happen. As mentioned earlier, in Virus mode you don't get the every-turn income you get in the early game in Bacteria mode. Money gets very tight, and you will have to make tougher decisions, knowing that overspending early will hobble you later. 

I should mention, there is randomness. If you only own one copy of an equipment card, you need to roll a 4-6 on 1d6 (included, natch). With two copies, the power just works. Again, you can only try to use one power per turn, so there's a lot riding on how your equipment loadout develops. There's also the doom track, which requires rolling the same d6 not to progress along (the odds get worse as the game progresses and you get farther down the track). Some event cards modify that roll, as well, so there's a narrative being generated. "Well it was a quiet night and then nothing happened and then our lab equipment was out, and then the employees were feuding and then..." The flavor text isn't usually too grim, and is sometimes just plain goofy.

Last year, during the height of the pandemic, I got out Infection: Humanity's Last Gasp, and it held up really well. The core Molecules Do Stuff/Proteins Get Grouped To Treat Molecules engine is very solid. There are only 16 Protein chips. but only 4 are put out each round for purchase, barring special event or equipment bonuses. You can usually just buy 2, and their cost depends on the order drawn. I found the whole "I need these two Proteins, some of which have multiple copies. Do I buy the 4-cost one, or let it pass and hope the next round gives me a better spread?" It's nice to understand the implications and play smarter. Even a little rusty, I was able to still beat Bacteria and Virus levels some of the time.

Overall, this is a very solid solo game with a lot of replayability. If you can tolerate the whims of a single d6, there's a lot of satisfying moments and emergent gameplay.

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Thursday, March 23, 2017

Patreon link: Ame Art Illustrations

My friend Angela has started a Patreon for her art of cute funny animals. I have watched her draw from Twitter suggestions and her fluid style makes it easy to love. When I show my kids her drawings, they go "Awww..."; but her care in crafting and blocking out scenes gives her work charm.

Angela did a prior crowdfunding round while finishing school a ways back, and I donated. Angela went over and above on the reward she provided, and my daughters and I were delighted with the result.

Her Patreon page is at Ame Art Illustrations (Patreon link opens in new window.) Patrons backing at $10/month or higher level can request sketches. Go for it!

You can also follow her on Twitter at - She's a classic animation fan and has a lot of good analysis on more current movies, as well. #ff #art #hashtags

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

When the Going gets Weird, the Weird Turn Pro!

The title of this post was always followed by groans in our college gaming group, because it meant someone was about to play a "The Weird Turn Pro" card and power up some folks in SJG's long-dead Illuminati: New World Order. It's fair to say our INWO and Mythos playing kept me from being a Magic: The Gathering fan for at least a decade (I got into it later during the notoriously-underpowered Mercadian Masques block. Still loved it.) and was a huge influence on how a gaming group "should" operate.

Last week, I decided to go outside my comfort zone, and agreed to transcribe a Twitter person's podcast. She had been participating in the UK-led hashtag #BoardGameHour, which happens on Mondays, and mentioned that she was looking for someone to transcribe her podcast, and had about 30 minutes left of one episode to get done soon. I've done some short transcription work in the past for Amazon's Mechanical Turk, and it can be a lot of fun to work those aural muscles, so I jumped on the opportunity. I'm grateful I did, as I had a blast doing something interesting and stretching my skill set.

Today, Erin posted the episode I transcribed: "The Geeky Gimp Presents #6: A Podcast With Chris." It was a lot of fun to listen to, even having to jump back to get individual words clarified. I've added her site to my blogroll on the right, as well. She and Chris Preiman discuss Daredevil, comic book movies, and Star Trek. Chris is blind, and as you can imagine, has Daredevil Opinions. He and Erin are both well versed in tons of geeky subjects, and I really can't put into words how much I enjoyed listening to their conversation.

If you're interested in having me do transcription work for your podcast, let me know in the comments below.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Life is busy

I'm getting in lots of games, but not getting back to blogging.,. I'm sitting on a game to review, learned a few new titles, and played the living daylights out of others.

If you know anyone who wants a copy of Glory To Rome: Black Box edition who has $150 to spend, please send them my way.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

DC Deckbuilder Batman Vs. Joker/DC Deckbuilder Villains: Forever Evil

Last night Ben came over after I got the girls down. He and I played the DC Deckbuilder Batman vs. Joker Duel, and DC Deckbuilder Villains: Forever Evil.
They were great! The earliest Cryptozoic deckbuilder releases weren't very well balanced, and they keep tightening up the system across all the franchises (DC, Street Fighter, LotR/Hobbit, NHL, Naruto, etc.) The deck is small, and we triggered one end condition (a KO) once, and the other (deck runs out) once.
The Batman/Joker game adopts a mechanic they premiered in the NHL deckbuilder (it's good-ish). On your turn, you can either buy cards or "confront" your opponent. There are 3 stacked character cards for Batman and the Joker, each with a different power. Thus, what you do in the early game shapes what you have in the mid-game, and so on. Lots of cards have "During a confrontation, do X" text, in addition to buying power. This is great for giving players extra motivation to be ambitious.
There's very little deck-thinning, and many useful card combinations. We both enjoyed the first game enough to swap characters and play again (I won as Batman with a KO, then as the Joker on points). The second time was a very quick game, not sure what made the difference.
Forever Evil took longer. We got a shaky start when I defeated the Flash. Much like in the other "regular" DC deckbuilder, and the card that turned up removed the best card in both our decks. Our decks bloated up when bad cards came up, and it felt like we stalled for a couple turns.
Again, the card balance is much better. Clayface is still massively under-costed, again. There are very few ways to deal with opponents' Locations, but many of those are less powerful. The next super-hero card's attacks are just as damaging and unfair as vanilla DC Deckbuilder.
More cards seemed to have choices, making the turns a little slower but more tactically satisfying. Combos abound.
If Ben didn't already own all these and I were in acquisition mode, I'd consider picking up either or both games if I came across a decent deal or trade. We played 3 total games, including unshrinking and unboxing, in under 4 hours, but it felt like time flew by.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Embarrassment of Riches

I'm working on a Best of 2014 wrap-up post, flailing on a post about Netrunner and other games that are hard to teach, as well as two other posts. One is tangentially about Hanabi. The other is about Spirits of the Rice Paddy, and also about mavens.

Gaming a ton, just not writing a ton here on the blog. Gaming scheduled again for this weekend for Todd Cole's birthday party, and then OwlCon the weekend after that.

Saturday, November 01, 2014

Nile Deluxor review: it's good! buy it!

Originally, I submitted this to The Proof, but as they are on hiatus, and Minion Games is running a great sale on Nile Deluxor and some other games, I dug this out of my email, just for you. Seriously, $9.99 for this game is fantastic, grab it while you can.

Review of Nile Deluxor ($27.99 from or your friendly local game store)

Minion Games, a small games company based in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, has risen in my esteem by publishing Nile Deluxor and Manhattan Project. I got several games in their back catalog by Kickstarting Tahiti (true to form on games I kickstart, I printed but didn't assemble the print-and-play file they provided, and still have the published game in the original shrinkwrap on my shelf of "Games To Play Sometime Soon."  Nile Deluxor is the Minion Games product I've played the most, so I decided to walk through why I like it.

The original print run, called simply "Nile" had a major printing error where the game was printed on soft paper instead of sturdy backing, making the game nigh-unplayable.  Fortunately for the world, Minion Games scraped together the cash to reprint it, along with an expansion, in a beautiful, sturdy production run, and called the result "Nile Deluxor." I have played it both with and without the expansion with several audiences, and I am pleased to report that it's become one of my favorite smaller card games for 2-6 players.

My sister Amy has a degree in historic preservation, and was quick to point out that the Art Deco style of the typeface and illustrations on the cards is reminiscent of the 1920s when Egyptology was the rage.  The goods cards, such as castor, wheat, lettuce, and papyrus  (essentially, suits) are easy to distinguish and pretty, even to my untrained eye. Seasons (shuffles of the deck) are tracked with attractive pictures of the various Egyptian deities.

The actual play is straightforward.  The active player flips a card from the deck, representing the flood of the day.  If a player has a field with the good or goods shown on the card, they score a card to their face-down score pile. The flooded good is then unable to be planted, presumably since the field for that type is underwater.  The active player then has the option of discarding two cards from their hand to either draw a replacement card, or flip a new flood card. (This option is often used to dramatic effect in the last run through the deck.)

They can then plant one or more cards to fields in front of them, enabling them to hopefully score on future floods. A clever take-that mechanism is in place where planting more cards of a good than an existing field causes that field to be discarded.  This leads to friendly banter at the table. "I'm gonna shame your lettuce!" "Oh no, ruin his flax instead!" Instead of planting, the player can also play Speculation cards to win, hopefully, more cards by predicting the next flood.  At that point, they draw two cards and are done.  Typically, hands build as the game progresses, providing more options for tactical play.

Much of the tension and decisions of the game come from a single Plague of Locusts card, which, when revealed, eats all of the fields that are tied for having the most cards.  It's tempting to push your luck and ruin opponents' fields, but the threat of having your fields eaten makes for interesting decisions.  There's no absolutely-best answer, and enough of the deck is in players' hands and score piles that card-counters who prefer perfect information will be frustrated by it. One of my most hardcore gamer friends rejected Nile Deluxor for this reason.

One nice feature is the game scales for number of players by adding more crops, but the length of the game is barely affected. As more cards are harvested, the deck gets shorter and shorter, so the last couple of seasons (reshuffles) in a 5 or 6 player game go very quickly, with players cashing in their hands at an attempt for one more precious harvest.  There's slightly more down-time between turns in larger play groups, but the action moves quickly enough it's barely noticeable.

Games typically last around 45 minutes or so.  Once the game ends, players look at the number of crops they harvested, and then look at the crop where they harvested the least, hoping for the most.  The goal is variety, which is even tougher to achieve with more players.  Scoring is fast and simple, which I liked.

The expansion adds the "crop" of stone, which permits players to build monuments with special powers.  Overall, this adds even more options and make games play out with a different development arc, and give the players even more choices for how to play their cards (this may make some turns slightly longer as players consider their options). The powers seemed balanced, and a clever "erosion" mechanism keeps them moving in and out of play without cumbersome bookkeeping.

Overall, I'm a big fan and take Nile Deluxor to game days frequently. I was able to teach it to gamers and non-gamers alike, with little trouble.  The planting rules are a little convoluted, but the rulebook has excellent illustrations to help explain, and non-gamers had a bit of difficulty understanding scoring (for old-school gamers, I just said "it's Tigris And Euphrates scoring," which sufficed). If I were to lose my copy, I would buy a replacement immediately. The great art and smooth play of Nile Deluxor evokes a nostalgia for an earlier generation of games like Touring or Mille Bornes, and I think it deserves a place in almost any collection. 

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 30 minutes, maybe 45 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 satisfying narrative arc.

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 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.