Transformation is Complete

After years of neglect I had to do something with the software that ran Marquand.net. It was highly customized by me, hard to upgrade, non-responsive (mobile unfriendly), etc.

I spent about 40 hours exporting content, massaging data, running software locally to get everything the way I wanted it (given the time I had), installing new CMS software, and importing content.

I dropped most non-board gaming content and removed years of cruft from the server, but I think everything important should be back working again. I suspect I’ll get some rocky reports concerning this or that (probably regarding the online games 🙂 ) but from the way everything turned out, it looks like it was a success.

I’m not in love with the theme but it serves its purpose, is low maintenance, and appears responsive.  I’m particularly happy with how the games moved over and the dynamic collection/wishlist pages that use the BGG XML API moved over.

Don’t hesitate to drop a comment on this post if you see something amiss and I’ll do my best to make things right. I can finally post some items I’ve been holding back until the upgrade was complete.

Happy Gaming everyone.

Views: 4429

Review: Far Space Foundry

 

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I saw a demo of Far Space Foundry at BGG Con in 2014 and was really taken by the look of it. When it was Kickstarted and we reached the metal credits stretch goal I was excited and anticipated the release.

Players take on the role of a freighter pilot and spend half the game taking turns loading raw materials (ore) into their warehouse and then into their waiting freighters. Players get the chance to take extra actions depending on which bay they dock with at Alpha Station. On your turn you play a card from your hand and you make a choice between loading the warehouse or unloading the warehouse into your freighter. For loading you have to find an open bay to land your shuttle full of ore from the two neighboring planets. Your card determines your starting bay but if there is a shuttle already docked you count clockwise until you find an empty bay. They number you reach before finding a free bay represents the number of items you can load. Likewise, when unloading, you must find a docked shuttle and if your card starts your search at an empty bay, you count clockwise until you find a docked shuttle. The number you reach represents the number of items the shuttle can transport to your freighter. How this counting mechanic aligns with the theme is unknown and frankly, a bit confusing.

Each bay also gives the player the option of taking a special action to convert ore to credits, add alien pilots to the deck, add a freighter for the alien pilot, upgrade/process ore, etc. but that’s basically the game for the first half. Play a card, count, load/unload goods, and get your freighters as full as possible.

Once everyone has played all of their cards, you flip many of the board pieces to represent Beta Station where everyone plays the game again with some slight theme changes. You’re now trying to unload your freighters, convert raw materials to goods, charge goods, upgrade freighters, and then reload your freighters as efficiently as possible. The station’s docking bays have different additional actions but in general, you’re just playing the same mechanic on every turn just like you did during the first half of the game.

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I really wanted to like FSF. It looks fantastic and those metal credits are really cool and add a nice touch but the game is just simply not my cup of tea. I’ve played it a couple of times and we just couldn’t find the fun in the box.

Views: 1788

Great Lakes Games 13 – GLG 2015

Great Lakes Games 13 (2015) is in the bag. Luckily, the convention takes place only a short three hour car trip away and, strangely enough, in a small rural town within 10 miles of where I grew up in northeastern Indiana. I’m very familiar with the area and it feels a little like going home. This is my seventh year attending and seeing so many of the same people from year to year it really does feel like home. There were a handful of regulars that couldn’t make it and they were sorely missed. I hope that this was a one-time issue and that they’ll be able to make it next year.

Over the last few years I’ve lobbied to get four members of my game group invited and this year was a real treat as all four of us could make it. Having someone to discuss the anticipation of playing specific games, comparing notes, etc. on the drive over and then having someone to help decompress and make that transition back to real life on the return trip really makes for an enjoyable experience. Like my group’s yearly “cabin con”, it provides a great opportunity for us to bond as a group, with others, and provides a back-drop for growing individually as a person and a friend. I wouldn’t miss it for the world.

Here are some stats and spread throughout, I’ve included brief comments where I felt there was something interesting to share.

  • 25 unique games
  • 30 games
  • 13 games were new to me

And so it begins. We arrived early on Thursday afternoon before most people got there but there were a couple of tables already housing some of the really early gamers.

Early on its a little hard to get a larger group so my driving partner and I pulled out Patchwork, a very enjoyable two-player puzzle-game with a fun theme. What a nice game packed in that little box. I’ve pimped out the game a bit with real buttons to use as coins to jazz it up a bit.

By the time we finished up Patchwork we were able to pull in a third to play Roll For the Galaxy one of my favorite dice rolling games. There’s an expansion available but I’m torn whether to get it since I like the game as is and more rules and bits don’t necessarily make a game funner.

Another attendee had just bought of copy of The Great Heartland Hauling Company and hadn’t played it yet so he joined us as a fourth and we taught it. That’s another great thing about GLG is that there are usually people available and willing to teach a game to a group. Whenever I see a group reading rules to a game I know I try to make the time to ask if they want someone to get them up to speed.

Next up was a new one to me called Kemet, an “Ameritrash”-stye game featuring lots of plastic bits and battling each other to earn victory points. It’s got some really nice aspects to it that keeps it in my wheelhouse as I’m don’t normally gravitate towards battle-heavy games. There is no dice-rolling for battle resolution instead relying on card-driven strength and bonuses. And, I have to come clean and admit that fighting with a giant protective, special-power eliminating snake at your side is kinda cool.

This game of Ruhrschifffahrt was brutal. We had all the “no captain” tiles come out close together near the transition to the “white/blue” region and that killed the ability for us to make much progress. Normally this game is really enjoyable but this was a painful slog to the end.

To close out the first night we played Broom Service a re-swizzling of Witches Brew from years past. I wasn’t a fan of the original game but the addition of the board and the full compliment of players made it very enjoyable.

On Friday morning I joined the Cribbage tournament and won two out of the three games. My point spread wasn’t enough to win anything but I had a lot of fun. The three games I played represent almost half of the games I’ve ever played in person when compared to the hundreds of games I’ve played on my phone. It felt clunky to have to shuffle all the time…

Next, I sat down to a game of Viticulture/Tuscany. What a great game. I think I’d almost always be up for a game of it. Wine making at its best!

I was a bit hesitant to sit down to Imperial Settlers after my epically long game with last time I played but we ripped through a game for three quickly and it was great. That experience brings the game back into consideration.

You can hardly go wrong with Splendor. Another quick game that most everybody likes to play.

Lots more people arriving now. This is almost as busy as it ever gets besides Saturday night after the prize table drawing.

I jumped into the satellite room with a group of seven to play Between Two Cities. It has a 7-wonders style spin but without cards. Players are drafting two tiles from a group, and then passing tiles to the left, then right, etc. One of the two drafted tiles must be placed in the city you and your left partner are build and the other tile is placed in the city you’re building with your right hand partner. You score for how well the tiles are placed in comparison to numerous rules. You and your partners score the same number of points for your shared city and you want both cities to score as much as possible because your final score is the lowest score from each of your two cities. The game didn’t do it for me as it seems almost every game would come down to the tie-breaker. It’s just designed to be too tight.

Next up was Code Names with eight (4 on a team). Party games aren’t normally my “thing” but it’s not a bad activity for a large group.

I just had to get a shot of a table playing Food Chain Magnate. Wow, what a huge footprint!

We had an attendee get us quickly up to speed on Marco Polo and we knocked that out in short order. There’s not much new to me here. Mostly try to take advantage of your special role/power, get stuff, and then use it to fulfill “contracts”. It was enjoyable enough but definitely not on my buy list.

It started getting late on Friday so we broke out Rhino Hero a dexterity game of building a house of cards using a hand of cards with Uno-styled actions (e.g. skip, x2, etc.) People takes turns, the tower gets bigger, it falls, hilarity ensues. A perfect game to close the night.

Saturday morning was time for Tiny Epic Galaxy a really enjoyable game packed in a little box. I’m not sure I’d go so far to say EPIC but certainly fun 🙂

Wow my brain wasn’t firing on all cylinders when we played Istanbul. I felt like I was five turns behind everyone.

I grabbed For Sale since a guy at the table had never played. It’s been years since I played and there’s a lot of fun packed in those fifteen minutes.

Next up was SpyFall. This one really fell flat with me. Maybe we were trying to game the game too much I can’t imagine trying to guess the location as the spy without knowing all of the possibilities by heart.

I pulled out Artifacts Inc. since it looked like something I’d like when I saw another group play it. While others were finishing up a game I read through the rules and then jumped in to teach. We played with four which was a mistake as the down-time killed it for me. I think there’s a good game there but maybe only for two or maybe three players.

Next up was Cacao, a quick tile laying game that has a Carcassonne-ish feel but it’s certainly a different game. Players lay worker tiles from their own deck of tiles and fill in with “forest” tiles from a common deck when necessary to create this checkerboard pattern. Adjacent actions in the forest tiles are triggered with worker tiles allowing players to get stuff that can eventually turn into victory points. There are some end-game finagling but it borders on an activity/puzzle more than a game. Light fun but not something I feel the need to own.

A member of my gaming group won a copy of Deep Sea Adventure from the prize table. What a fun little game of semi-cooperative diving to obtain treasure from the deep. There is a shared supply of air and players push their luck to dive out of the sub trying to grab the better deeper treasure while also trying to get back to the sub before the air runs out. If you don’t, you have to drop your treasure. Three rounds of quick fun.

Next up was Above and Below. It was getting late and a couple of us just didn’t have it in us to finish it up. The other two wanted to keep playing and graciously kicked us out and kept going. It seemed fun with the story telling aspects but I just didn’t have the mental capacity to gut it out.

Too much 12-year Glenmorangie was probably the reason. Later I realized I missed a great opportunity to play Glen More while sipping Glenmorangie. Ah, next year I have big plans.

It was close to 1am but I taught a quick game of Tiny Epic Galaxy and then hit the sack.

Sunday morning is a time to fit in a few lighter games and say goodbye to everyone. I usually don’t play much but I did crack the shrink on my prize table winner, Discoveries: The Journals of Lewis & Clark and immediately two people who’d played asked if I was looking to play. Hell, yes! What a great game! I’d played its big brother and this is really the better game. It’s much more stream-lined and there are dice to roll! What could go wrong with that!

I finished up the convention with a two-player game: 7-Wonders Duel. It certainly has the feel of 7-Wonders without all the fuss of sifting through cards for the right number of players. In fact you don’t even hold cards in your hand. The additional rules are easy to grasp and I’m on the edge about buying a copy but I’ll probably cave and order one.

I slept 10 hours last night and was in kind of a daze at work today but I’d go again in an instant if I could. Ready for next year; bring it on!

Views: 5411

Review: Agility (Kickstarter Goal Met!)

Agility is a new game from Brent Povis and Two Lanterns Games. Brent and I became friends at Origins back in 2012 when he was showcasing his first game, Morels, in a small booth near the back of the convention hall. He and I have kept in touch via email over the years and I was honored when he reached out to me to take a look at his new game before the Kickstarter launch.

I have to give him a lot of credit on the unique theme and how apropos that it falls on the meatier end of the spectrum for his games too! My wife and I were fortunate enough to visit New Zealand a few years ago and on hikes, it was common to cross farmer’s fields to get to scenic areas. On one particular hike, we heard some high-pitched, sharp, whistles from a distance and we stopped to watch a farmer train his dogs how to herd a small group of sheep in various ways up and around a beautiful green, sun-dappled hillside. I still have fond memories of watching how the dogs worked as an extension of the farmer communicating on levels I cannot comprehend. Being able to play a game that captures the flavor of that strong bond between humans and dogs in an effort to meet some common goal is a real treat.

Some important points to take note of before we get into the review. Brent sent a paste-up copy for me to play and we discussed the use of images in my review. Although some of the artwork is nearing completion and he approved my use of images, I want to make it completely clear that the images in this review in no way represent the final version of the game. Vince Dorse was heavily involved in the awesome artwork of the original version of Morels and since he’s signed up for Agility, I’m sure we can expect some great things!

In Agility, two players face-off in adopting and training three dogs, choosing an agility course that best suits their natural abilities, and then working with them to be the first player to get all three up, over, around, and through the obstacles on those courses.

Players take turns playing a card from their hand. The card depicts two (of five) types of training cubes in varying amounts. The player can choose one of the two types earning the appropriate number and type of training cubes. The large number on the card represents the number of steps a marker will move (for playing the card) on an action track.

The action track acts as a rondel of sorts. As the marker is advanced it cycles around the actions and wherever it stops, the player immediately takes the indicated action, if possible. These actions and their order on the rondel are different each game. Some actions grant the player more cubes, some allow adopted dogs to freely traverse a specific obstacle they’re currently faced with. Other actions earn specialized tokens to be used on subsequent turns (more on that later), and yet others introduce some direct conflict with the other player by allowing one player to introduce more difficult (and even more) obstacles in their opponent’s courses.

After taking the action indicated on the rondel, the player can optionally adopt one of the three dogs they’ll adopt in the game. Players choose one from the set of five face-up dogs and after choosing one, a new dog is drawn from a deck of available dogs. Each dog has a training cost paid with previously acquired training cubes. In addition, each dog has a natural ability (e.g. Clear A-Frames) that can help them traverse a chosen course more easily. After paying the training cost of adopting the dog, the player selects one of the available agility courses and places the dog’s marker at the beginning of the course. When we played, we moved the chosen agility course from the available courses, placed it in front of us, moved the dog card next to it, and placed the dog at the left end of the course, next to the card.

There are a handful of different courses available in the game and it’s my understanding that they’ll be printed on double-sided, thick tile stock. Six courses are randomly chosen for the game so each game will be slightly different. After optionally adopting a dog, the player has the opportunity to pay training cubes to advance a dog on each course. There are specific rules about this traversal that limit and/or allow dogs to move quickly through multiple obstacles depending on their natural abilities etc.

During the game players have the opportunity to earn single-use Exchange tokens that allow players some flexibility in cashing in all training cubes of one type and replacing them with equal numbers of cubes of a different type. In addition, players can earn single-use Flex tokens which allow for the ability to take an action one rondel space above or below the space where the marker landed. Timing the use of these tokens correctly can be key.

Of the six obstacle types (weave poles, hurdles, A-frames, tunnels, open ground, pause box), the pause box is special. After traversing the pause box by paying red training cubes, players get the chance to play a mini-turn. The pause box can be tough to overcome but timing that mini-turn can also be crucial.

I give the game high marks for the tension that it creates. Players are forced to juggle several variables on a turn to do well. Weighing the effects of playing one card over another gives the game that delicious sense of anticipation of what comes next. A single card play earns cubes but also drives which action you’ll be taking on the rondel. Sometimes those two are at odds with each other. Do you spend cubes you have now to adopt a specific dog before your opponent or do you use some of them to advance dogs already on their course? Should you claim an agility course now or can you afford to wait a turn or two? Do you play a card solely for the action it gives you even though you really want the cubes granted from a playing a different card?

Brent has done a great job and earns high marks at taking a unique theme and wrapping it around a tension filled experience in this stream-lined two-player game. Amazingly, like Morels, he’s managed to accomplish what even seasoned designers struggle with: boiling down the game, reducing complexity, and leaving only just enough rules to make it great. I’m really looking forward to the Kickstarter and I wish him all the best.

Views: 681

Dos Rios Is A Time Capsule

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Late in 2005, I bought a copy of Dos Rios and in the summer of 2006, my daughter, twelve at the time, was ready to give it a shot. We set up the game on the hardwood floor in our family room, the sun shining in the side door, the ceiling fan blowing cool air on our heads, and both of us lying on our stomachs taking our lumps as the desperados attacked us along both rivers.

On one move, my daughter sat up and began pondering her next move. I grabbed my camera and took a couple quick shots. Later that week I unloaded the compact flash card (remember those big & clunky cards!) and after a couple of tweaks to the image, I uploaded a black and white image to the Dos Rios game on BGG.

The game was just okay, and I ended up trading it away a few days later. But the image began to get some attention and within a couple of weeks it had gathered quite a few thumbs and some tips.

After a few months I began to think about retaking the image but I knew I wanted to wait a year or two. Since I’d traded away the game, I quickly obtained another copy back in a second trade and put in on the shelf for safe-keeping.

Fast-forward three years (2009) and I pulled the game out and my daughter, fifteen at the time, help me set it up in much the same way and we recreated the shot. Again I uploaded it to the Dos Rios gallery and the image was immediately a big hit gathering almost 1000 “thumbs” and lots of tips.

Three years again passed, and I started receiving emails and comments on previous images that it was almost time for another image upload. So, in 2012, we again set up the game and recreated the shot.

In 2014, my daughter moved out to live with friends and to attend college. She lives here in town so we still get to see her often but finding time in her busy, adult life is much tougher than it used to be. She was recently visiting for her twenty-first birthday celebration and I twisted her arm, just a bit, to recreate the shot in 2015. Who knows if that will be the last one but, as a parent, it’s sure been great seeing her mature over the years.

Views: 525

Don’t Quit Your Day Job

I’ve recently changed jobs and the change, although within the same industry, feels like I’ve changed careers. For the last seventeen years, I’ve been operating my own software consulting company hiring myself out to firms around the metro-Columbus area designing and implementing Java-based applications under long-term contract. However, in May, I took my first full-time gig since 1998 and now I’m working for “the man” as a Senior Enterprise Architect for one of the financial firms in the region. It’s a big change for me and I’m still adjusting.

My last contract was for a company here in Columbus that focuses on highly-specialized software for patent-discovery and patent-protection for the world-wide scientific community. The firm wrote the book on online chemical patent research. I was an employee there for nine years before I started my company and I’ve worked off and on for them over the years as a consultant. My last stint lasted over three and a half years and I’ll be the first to admit that the projects I worked on required some of the most intense, heads-down, computer science-based effort of my entire career. They wrote a lot of code to implement these niche scientific products and it really stretched your brain to wrap your head around some of the concepts.

As I wrapped up my project work before leaving, I managed to get in a few games with some of my colleagues and the table-talk gravitated to topics like “we’re sure going to miss you” but one particular one caught my attention and has really stuck with me. One of my coworkers complimented me on my ability to organize complex topics, numerous data points, and a multitude of options, and my ability to boil it all down, decide on an architectural direction, and fluidly communicate that in non-technical terms to the business and in the same breath, in technical terms to developers.

My last week ended and although I’ve switched into my new role in a completely different domain (science to financial), I haven’t stopped thinking about that comment. How have I been able to hone those skills without overtly trying? I’m not the type to spend my evenings working, catching up on the latest trends and software, testing the sharpness of the bleeding edge and all. I’ve chosen the work to live rather than the live to work lifestyle. However, There had to be something I do on a regular basis to strengthen those skills. You don’t build muscle, albeit mental muscle, from sitting on the couch.

After some thought, I’m convinced my ability stems from years of playing board games. If you take a step back, and read through a run-of-the-mill rule book, say twelve pages of images, text, charts, and flavor text you’ve pretty much describing what a set of requirements for a software project looks like. There are descriptions of scenarios the software must satisfy, interaction diagrams, charts of outcomes, performance requirements, and behavioral characteristics. Screenshots of user interfaces and minute details concerning data and timing of flow, and the order of operations all working towards a successful product goal.

As a software developer you’ve got to be able to consume all of that data, organize it in such a way to discover the hidden patterns, tease out common behaviors in seemingly disparate concepts, design the order of operations, the timing of certain behaviors for success, etc. and you’ve got to be able to quickly consume it and to be comfortable communicating your thoughts, desires, corrections, and challenges to incongruous information and scenarios.

As a gamer and teacher of games, these same skills translate directly into how I approach learning and teaching a new game. You’ve got new rules pouring over you like a waterfall and you need to quickly match patterns and categorize common themes to other games you’ve played. You need to recognize inconsistencies in your beliefs of how the rules are holding together and question them to gain a complete understanding of the goal and the steps and their order to get there in the most efficiently means possible. As a teacher you’ve got to consume lots of information and be able to reorder and regurgitate them in ways that your audience can consume them, making adjustments on the fly to how your students are absorbing the information.

I not sure what to make of this realization other than my hobby is helping me in my career in ways I’ve not readily been aware of in the past. Maybe it’s helping me in other ways I’m unaware of too. I’m sure this is not particularly isolated to the computer science industry but it felt particularly apropos.

Have any of you had epiphanies of how gaming has helped or hurt your career?

Views: 929

Review – Patchwork

As most of you already know, I’m always on the lookout for good two-player games. Patchwork has been on my list for a few months and Lisa was a champ working behind the scenes to pick up a copy for my birthday last month.

Patchwork is a strictly two-player game that feels like it belongs in the Kosmos suite of two—player games. Designed in 2014 by Uwe Rosenberg (Agricola, At the Gates of Loyang, Bohnanza, Caverna, Le Havre, Merkator, Ora et Labora just to name a few), players compete to purchase patches of fabric to make the most valuable patchwork quilt. After only 15-30 minutes, the player who has earned the most buttons (victory points) is the winner.

Play begins with a central board where players track time. Surrounding that board is a ring of randomized Tetris-like pieces that represent the patches available for purchase. Cardboard chits depicting buttons represent both victory points and the currency in the game. I’ve replaced the chits with actual buttons though so don’t get thrown off by that.

Taking a closer look at the time track, each player marks their position with a wooden disk and as the game progresses, players move their marker along the track. The game features a time-based mechanic so as players take turns they spend time (and money) to add patches to their quilt and like other games, the player that is the furthest back on the time track (Glen More) represents the player that takes the next turn. When a marker moves beyond a button, players earn money (score buttons) for their in-progress quilt. A small number of single-tile patches are up for grabs for the first player to pass them on the time track.

When a player takes a turn, they must choose one of two options: jump immediately ahead of the other player on the time track and earn buttons (money/VPs) -or- purchase a patchwork tile from the market. Within the ring of patches is a large wooden pawn representing the start of the market and players can purchase any of the next three patches. Unlike Morels, there’s no way to pay anything to reach farther ahead than those first three patches, so if you want to purchase one of them, you simply pay the cost and move the large pawn to the position of the patch establishing the new start of the market.

The purchased patch depicts a cost (in buttons) and a time cost (an hourglass) so players must evaluate both cost and time and how that relates to their movement on the track relative to the other player. In addition, players need to consider where the market is positioned when their turn ends.

Purchased patches (players pay in buttons) are placed on personal player board in whatever position is desired but once placed, they cannot be moved. Players then move their time marker forward on the time track the number of spaces depicted on the patch and if a single-tile patch is crossed, the player earns the patch (taking it from the time track and placing it immediately on their board) or if a button is passed, the player earns the number of buttons depicted on the patches on their in-progress quilt (in the image above the player would earn 5 buttons from the bank since there are 5 blue buttons sewn into the patchwork quilt so far).

The game ends when both player’s time marker reaches the center of the board. Players count their remaining buttons (the real ones not the ones on their quilt) and subtract two (!) for every empty spot on their quilt. The player with the highest number of remaining buttons wins the game. I’ll warn you, though, that those negative two points for each empty/uncovered spot really add up (or rather, really take away)!

Patchwork is an innovative game but very simple to teach and learn and the theme really resonates with gamers and non-gamers. Lisa and I will certainly be including it in our standard short-list of go-to two-player games. At 30 minutes, you can hardly go wrong. Patchwork provides just enough depth for a light evening of gaming and the small package is a great addition to a small stash of games to take on vacation. Pick up a copy and give it a try!

Views: 1651

Classic Blessings

I grew up in northern Indiana. My parents weren’t gamers by any stretch of the imagination and still won’t even consider playing one. They did, however, buy an occasional Parker Brothers title as a Christmas present for me in the 70’s but it was always difficult to find anyone to play with. I have a sister but because she’s seven years older than I am, I think at the time, I was just playing the role of the younger brother and crimping her style.

There was one game, however, that my parents would play, and like most Midwesterner’s, Euchre was king. I have fond memories of piling in the car and travelling the few hours south to my aunt’s and uncle’s house for the weekend watching the four of them stay up late, drinking, talking, and playing cards at the kitchen table. Even today, a whiff of beer sometimes triggers strong memories of my uncle.

Most everyone in my high school knew how to play Euchre and it was definitely the go-to game people would play during study hall, at swim-meets waiting for your event, and at the overnight movie my school hosted. It was the game kids learned, or maybe more accurately, absorbed from their parents; we taught our kids long ago and we’ve played a lot of rounds on vacations over the years. A deck of cards is something you just never left out of your travel bag and they most certainly wouldn’t have been left behind on backpacking trips. It makes me feel good that even though my son enjoys Pathfinder, Arkham Horror, Magic, etc., he still enjoys playing Euchre with his friends.

Those timeless, classic games have an interesting way of weaving themselves into the fabric of our lives that it’s difficult to remember who or how we learned them. You just don’t see people picking Euchre off the shelf, grabbing a “Teacher Needed” or “Players Wanted” flag and sitting down at a table to read the rules. You just know how to play or you don’t and with so many new games flying off the shelves these days, grabbing an old classic card game and sitting down to learn it from the rules isn’t something most people ever consider doing.

Learning a classic game is a much different experience than learning the most recent Essen release or the latest Kickstarter arrival. When someone sits down to teach you one of these games it’s a much more intimate experience, a sharing of years of knowledge, a passing of information much like ancient cultures convey their history through story and parable. If you watch closely, you can even hear it in the way they speak in semi-hushed tones and see it in the shuffling of the cards, a muscle memory-driven activity, a welcoming and unlocking of years of shared and sometimes private memories and deeply held connections.

At my last Great Lakes Games convention, I had a transformative experiences while learning Cribbage. It was late and many people had already left the gaming room but I still wanted to keep going. We’ve all been there, knowing we’re sacrificing tomorrow for the hope of more today. I asked a friend if he could teach me Cribbage. I knew he’d grown up playing the game and he happily agreed but we needed to find a board and a deck of cards. Within minutes we’d located another friend whose face completely lit up when we mentioned what we were looking for. He immediately ran off to get his personal board which he’d had for years and when he returned he told us all about its history, where he’d gotten the pegs, etc. The physical components of the game immediately set the stage for this social connection between the three of us but more broadly, between all of our pasts, that connection to shared memories of uncles drinking beer, smoke curling up from a parent’s cigarette, a rattling kitchen window fan struggling to cool the house on a hot summer night, hearing your mother laughing at a joke your father told – the both of them younger than you are now, an old friend pretending to be W.C. Fields using a pretzel rod as a substitute for a stogie, the sound of playing cards sliding against each other during an expertly-executed riffle & bridge.

At my last game night, after everyone left, I asked the host if we could play a round of Cribbage. He was my teacher four months ago and after rushing off to find his board, the first thing he did after setting up the board was to tell me its history, how it was his grandmother’s, how he just used finishing nails as pegs, and the story of how he was taught by a Korean War Hero who lived up the street from him when he was a kid. Those are the stories and experiences that define why I love this hobby. Teach your children and friends, pass on those stories and experiences. We’ll all be richer for it.

Views: 523

Review: Imperial Settlers – Solo Play

I’m always on the lookout for good two-player games and Imperial Settlers sits in an elevated position on my list. It plays well with higher numbers but for those inclined to AP or generally slow play, the down-time can really pull the life out of the game making it run two-three times longer than anticipated for a game like this. But when playing with two, you chop out most of the down-time, condensing the fun into a much tighter time-frame. In addition, the direct conflict features of the game become much more “in your face” as players only have one other player to attack. Take that!

I never paid much attention to solo variant (official or unofficial) but as the years go by, I find myself asking about solo variants more. At times, it’s nice to pull out a game and play through a few sessions as a nice alternative to getting sucked into another night of mindless YouTube-ing or bad movies on Netflix.

Imperial Settlers is a card-drafting, resource management game where players take on the role of one of the variable power factions. At the beginning of each round players go through a drafting phase increasing the number of cards in hand.

Then players gather resources (e.g. wood, stone, people, swords, cards, apples and gold) and then, in turn, each player attempts to spend all their resources as efficiently as possible to attack other player’s buildings (cards) and to build their own buildings. Buildings come in two flavors (common and faction) earning players 1 and 2 points respectively if remaining at the end of the game (not razed/attacked by other players).

In addition each common or faction building affords the builder addition goods each round, benefits for taking other actions, or the ability to activate them to generate other items, points, goods, etc.

Finally, each player has free access to a market to swap people for goods. Each faction comes with a special ability (e.g. keep as much gold as you want from round to round) and its own faction deck of building cards. Without special abilities afforded by built buildings, players must discard all unspent goods at the end of each round.

In the solo game, the player plays against a virtual player that attacks at the end of each round by flipping up two cards from an attack deck. The symbols on the deck determine which building the virtual player is attacking each round. The solo player cannot prevent the success of the attack.

Your goal as a solo player is to try to build more faction cards in your settlement tableau than the virtual player (he gets two every round during the card drafting phase and gets to keep those unless the solo player attacks and razes them). That’s not terribly difficult so the solo play is really more about seeing how many points you can earn in the 5 rounds of the game.

The solo game flies by and you can churn through the 5 rounds in 15-20 fun-filled minutes. I’ve played solo roughly a dozen times and still find fun in the experience. Each faction plays a little differently but in my experience, even with the same faction, scores can vary wildly from one game to the next depending on which cards you draft. If you have a copy, give the solo game a try. I don’t think I’d go out of my way to pick up a copy strictly for solo play but if it’s sitting there on the shelf, why not?

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