Tuesday, December 30, 2014

The Best Games of 2014

Every year I keep track of the "New to Me" games for the year and then make the Top 10 List of the year. So here is that list. I think this might be my favorite blog to write each year. I played 71 new to me games this year, so all these games I'm going to list are good games and it is usually tough to narrow it down to just 10. I actually rate all of these games 8/10, so the difference between number 1 and number 10 is really small. Honorable mentions include: Copy Cat, King of New York, Caverna, Gonzaga, Nothing Personal, Rampage, Snow Tails, Five Tribes, BraveRats, and Voluspa. Thanks to everyone who has played games with me all year!

10. Diamonds
I like trick taking games. Diamonds is exactly that. What is so great about it though is that every hand is a good hand. It is all just how you play it. Each time you win a trick, you get a special action, however you get a special action each time you throw off too. So throw off or win the trick, but be sure to protect your diamonds. This has been really successful game with family and friends (even my mom liked it and she isn't a huge fan of the games I bring). I'd love to do a trick taking game day and pull this out with The Bottle Imp, Tichu, Haggis, Clubs, and Euchre.

9. The Castles of Mad King Ludwig
This is was a tough call for me to put on the list. I only played it once, in the dealer hall at GenCon, where it was loud and tight, but I liked it a lot. Players are building castles for the king. Simple boring theme.  I love the free form building of the castles, the I cut you choose of the master builder, and the room combinations that can occur. It seemed different enough from Suburbia that I think if I'd played this more it would be higher on my list, but with just the one play will remain at number 9.

8. 1775: Rebellion
An American Revolution game for 2 or 4 players. The board is amazingly awesome in this game. There are four groups of armies that have unique dice. The theme oozed out of the game. My one experience with the game actually was a poor one due to another player, but depsite that the game really really shined. This is one I've picked up several times to buy, but just haven't yet, but it is on my wish list for a future purchase.

7. Felix, Cat in the Sack
This one really surprised me. It is an auction game where you start bidding on a small amount of information and as more people drop out more information becomes available. It can be pretty punishing, but it is really fun. It also brought about the only time this year in gaming that I was laughing so hard tears were rolling down my face.

6. Arctic Scavengers
A math trade acquisition I've been very happy with. The year is 2097 and a new ice age has destroyed 99% of the worlds population. You are scavenging the left overs, building your deck in order to add members to your tribe, fight against other tribes, and win the game. This is a unique deckbuilder, that when played with the expansions included in the box, really gives you a different feel than say Dominion or Ascension. The theme is really cool as well. The instert in the box though is possible the worst one ever.

5. The Battle of Five Armies
The prequel to my favorite game of all time, very difficult for it not to make this list. It is tough to know where this will actually end up though, since it is very similar in thought to War of the Ring. However, I'm looking forward to many more plays of this one. The very unique damage mechanism really makes the game shine. All the various player powers, fast moving units, in general I'm very happy with this game and glad it is in my collection. It seems more wide open than War of the Ring, though that also makes it less large scale, just like the Hobbit.

4. One Night Ultimate Werewolf
I've always loved Werewolf (or Mafia as I've always called it), but I've realized there are some problems with player elimination and sitting around while a 20 person game concludes. One Night fixes that! You get enough information to make logical arguments and excuses, you vote to lynch someone, then you find out who one. Really fun and really quick. I'll still play Mafia on long bus rides, but this is a great filler game in the vein of the Resistance.

3. Heroes Wanted
Players are crazy super heroes trying to get a spot on a second rate Justice League or Avengers type team. I really enjoy this game for its tactical card play, the fun combos of heroes and villians and the light hearted theme. As you play, you try to make the best move for that turn, but set yourself up for future turns to take advantage of where the villian will be or maybe give a cheap shot to another hero. The scenarios are great as well. Who doesn't like preventing bootleg DVD production? I do not like the quirks in the game, but simply don't play with them.

2. Sheriff of Nottingham
As soon as I read the description of this game I knew I'd like it. I bought it and I did really like it. Basically it is a bluffing game where you try to convince the sheriff not to look in your bag of goods and thus make the most money. It makes for some really fun situations where you try to read your opponents or bait your opponents. A great game for all kinds of people.

1. A Study in Emerald
This game is expensive. It was nearly $100 with shipping when it was Kickstarted and so I didn't back it. Now people on Amazon are trying to sell it for $260. However, a friend of mine owns it and I was able to play it twice this year and loved it! The board is beautiful, the game play isn't just like any other game ever. The deckbuilding is a large part of the game, but in no ways all of the game. I love how when you attempt to collect a card you have to have the most influence on it at the start of your turn, which means you always have to wait a full turn to collect a card for your deck. Players are on teams (randomly determined and secret) either fighting to destroy monsters (think HP Lovecraft) that have ruled the world for hundreds of years or fighting to keep those monsters in power. The best part of the game is the winning conditions. There is only one winner, however if a player that is on your team finishes in last place, then your whole team loses, and so you cannot win. That adds some great tension to the game. I know this one isn't for everyone, but for me it hit all the right spots.

Dust Award: The worst game of the year for me goes to CV. I really wanted to like this game. I love the life theme, after all I'm in human resources and think CVs or resumes is a good thing, since they essentially are my job. This game was horrible though. Somehow they figured out how to shove 20 minutes of fun into 2 hours. They made a role and move game without dice. This game was just not good at all and to make it worst I had such high hopes for it. Blah!

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Every 100 Games Series - The Legend of Landlock

My 5,700th game played was one with my oldest daughter who is 5 years old. We pulled out The Legend of Landlock, a game that was given to us by a friend whose kids had out grown it. So read on to see how this game stacks up from my point of view and from a kids point of view.

Game Play
This is said to be a 2-4 player game, but it really is just a two player tile laying game where players are creating a grid. On the tiles are roads and rivers. One player is playing as water and one player as land, trying to make long routs, form islands, and generally manipulate their land type on the map. After the whole grid is complete, players score points based upon how long and many their particular terrain type is and a winner is declared. The game we played took about 15 minutes to play.

The components are there. The game was originally made in 1988 and you can tell a bit. The art is unassuming, the tiles while they work aren't exactly the thick quality you'd find in Carcassonne or Forbidden Island. However, there isn't anything wrong with them either. There are not any other components in the game.

Strategy & Tactics
There is actually quite a bit of strategy and tactics in this game. More than I expected. Drawing a single tile a turn though can limit how much you plan, but not any more than other tile laying games. This is a very abstract game of push and shove, setting up what you need to happen and preventing your opponent from doing exactly what they want.

I was pleasantly surprised by this game. I think it is a game that for the most part the best player will win everytime and feels more like a classic game of Othello or Checkers rather than a small kids game as it is packaged. However, kids can enjoy the game, all the tiles match up and so make for easy placement. My daughter enjoyed our play of it, but has yet to ask for it again. So I guess this one was a solid game for me, just not one that has been overwhelming us. There are other kids games that we prefer and also other abstract games that we prefer.

Carcassonne Players - This isn't as fun as Carc. It is a bit shorter and only two player. It is much more simpler though, so perhaps a good gateway for a kid into Carcassonne.

Non-Parents - If you don't have any kids, I don't think I'd get this game. There are many better abstract 2 player games out there to enjoy before this one.

Kids Who Love Theme - This is also a non-recommendation for me. For instance Candyland, as horrible as it is, is much more thematic of a game. The Evening in the Stable another simple roll and move type game is much more thematic. If you kid isn't playing to play a game, but is instead playing to enjoy a story, then Landlock isn't the game for him or her.

*Every 100 Games Series - Back in March of 2006 I began tracking each session of the various board and card games I play. I soon got the idea to write a review on every 100th game I played, one because I like writing reviews, and two because it is interesting to see what game I review next. You can find a list of all of them here: Every 100 Games Series Reviews. All images are from BGG and if you follow their URL you can find them there.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Every 100 Games Series - Felix: The Cat in the Sack

Felix: The Cat in the Sack was my 5,600th game played. I got it in a math trade earlier this year and have played it at least 10 times since then many times with my family. This is what I think about this small card game.

Game Play
Felix is a simple auction game that can be quite punishing. Players place down cats, dogs, and rabbits to bid "mice" on. The trick is that at the beginning of the auction only one of these animals (and their corresponding point value) are face up. As players drop from the auction they get paid money by the bank, with more money being paid the longer you stay in, with the last player then paying the bank their final bid for the whole lot. Some of the animals are worth positive points, others are negative, and others discard the positive and negative point ones. The person who has the most points from auctions they've won plus leftover money wins the game after 8 rounds!

There aren't a whole lot of components to this game. 45 tarot sized cards with different colored backs and 9 unique pieces of art on the front of cute and cuddly cats, dogs, and a pink rabbit. Then for the mice (money) they give you green and black plastic discs which are horrible. I always use my poker chips if not travelling with the game. Then finally a chunky wooden sack to indicate who is the first player each round. There really isn't a whole lot to the game when it comes to components, but the cards are nice and big and the art is really cute and light as it should be.

Strategy & Tactics
This game rewards bluffing and knowing your opponents willingness to bid high. You've got to be extremely careful not to get stuck and bid all your money in an early round, thus forcing you to drop out of the auction. Realizing when to play your big positive and negative cards, especially when you are further down in the auction and so can lead players on, is key to the game.

I really like this game. It is right up there with other filler level games that have some fun mechanics that make them extra special. I've been able to play it with my 8 year old niece and it has been a hit at family gatherings and also has gone over well with gamers. I've laughed until I've cried playing this game on those occasions where someone has just been absolutely screwed by overbidding and getting a slew of negative cards (I've been on the receiving end of that too). Felix will be in my collection for a long time for sure!

Filler Lovers - Get this game. If you are a fan of High Society, No Thanks, For Sale, Money, and other such fillers then you'll love this game.

Auction Haters - Move on. This is an auction game and one that might make you hate auctions even more, since you are bidding most of the time on blind information.

Grinches - If you can't laugh at your plight, then you won't like this one. However, if you enjoy laughing at your plight, realizing it'll be over in 20 minutes, then this one will be for you. Sometimes you just get burned in this game and sometimes you don't. It is light fun, so feel free to laugh it off.

Cat Lovers - Just for the art, you should get this game and stare lovingly at the cuddle critters.

*Every 100 Games Series - Back in March of 2006 I began tracking each session of the various board and card games I play. I soon got the idea to write a review on every 100th game I played, one because I like writing reviews, and two because it is interesting to see what game I review next. You can find a list of all of them here: Every 100 Games Series Reviews. All images are from BGG and if you follow their URL you can find them there.

Monday, December 15, 2014

10 Years of the 13th Tribe!

You ever started something and then kept going at it and before you know what happened a lot of time had passed by without you realizing it? You know like have a kid, read a book, get engrossed in a game of Civilization 2, or just let Netflix auto-play a TV series? I’ve done all those, but in January I’ll also have hosted our board game group, the 13th Tribe, for 10 years! This means I want to tell you about it. (Even though I already have before)

Yeah, we even allowed Monopoly (2005) and still would if enough people wanted to play it.
My senior year of college I moved into an apartment with a fellow named Ed O’Connor. We discovered that we both liked Axis & Allies a lot, so I purchased it on eBay, and we began playing it and a few other games on occasion with our neighbor Derrick Sindt, before long we decided to start meeting on a regular basis and officially form a group which we called the 13th Tribe in reference to the 12 Tribes of Israel since we were all attending the same Christian college. We met twice a month, first at our apartment, then once Krista and I got married at our apartment, then we began meeting at Smokey Row coffee house.Then in January of 2007 Krista and I moved to Indiana and started a second branch in our Carmel apartment. The Iowa branch of the group eventually died out as more and more people graduated and/or moved away from Oskaloosa, but our Indiana group has thrived! We have over 80 people on our monthly invitation list, play for 10 hours every month, and generally have a great time with each other.

Some of the regulars in 2007.
Now for some crazy numbers over the past 10 years to show you I’m a real geek. We’ve always handed out a Gamer of the Year award at the end of each year and we keep track of what games we play and post on boardgamegeek.com to discuss them. In the past 10 years, at least 211 people that have played at least one game at a 13th Tribe game day. Between us we’ve played 375 unique games a total of 1526 times (and that is just since 2007 when I started keeping track). That is a lot of games with a lot of friends!

Derrick, Renee, and Erik who started buying their own games while we were in Iowa.
Hosting the 13th Tribe has been very rewarding. We (Krista and I) have been able to make friends with people from all walks of life that we wouldn’t have ever come into contact with otherwise. Using the group as an excuse, Krista and I have been able to become better friends with folks that we otherwise might have just been passing acquaintances and instead we have dinner with and do other activities with outside gaming. We’ve been able to hang out with my dad and my two youngest sisters more because of the group. My kids have come to enjoy game day and they don’t even play games with us,  but they know it is a fun day when some of their friends come over too! Hopefully, we’ve made a positive impact in the lives of the gamers we interact with, because ultimately this is a life thing and not a game thing.

Many of the folks met online and now are great fiends.
So to wrap this up, I want to thank all the people that have made this a great 10 years. We’ve had
weekend long events, helped with IndyCon, see each other at GenCon, and have been entertained for
many hours. Even though the group is about board games, by that definition it is about people, since the point of board games is to sit face to face with others and enjoy your time together. I hope you all have had a great time and look forward to another 10 years of gaming with such a great group!

We have 2nd generation gamers now!
P.S. If you are reading this and would like to join us, we occasionally have someone move or drop out, so we can always put you on the list or you can check out our website.