Mark Johnson's occasional & opinionated podcast about family strategy boardgames

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Recent gaming (face-to-face, play-by-web, and iPhone)

June was a crazy month at work (as I knew it would be), so I haven't managed to post shows even though I've still got a good one in the can . . . and I managed to record another one. I need to post some "normal" session report & feedback shows in between the featured episodes, though. I'll get to that.

Despite all that, I still got in some great gaming in June, especially with one big weekend in there. I can't record a podcast about it while I'm here on a plane, but I can draft a blog post.

Santa Clarita Boardgamers

Carson City - This was the local group's Game of the Month for May, but I'll still mention it here. I liked it well enough, and everyone else liked it even more, so that's a keeper. It was a very good GotM, as it has q modest learning curve (it takes one game for the scoring to sink in), and offers several variants right out of the box. There are two maps, two sets of role/special power cards, and a couple different ways to handle the random part of conflict. Worker placement is ok, I guess, but not my favorite mechanic. This was a decent twist in it, taking the linear path of Caylus and adding a thematic conflict system to handle when multiple players want the same thing. There's also those special power roles to mix things up. My only real complaint was that I thought it had a little too much going on, mechanics-wise, but what was there worked. The strongest part was the theming. Western themes always appeal to me anyway, and the boomtown development theme really works well, both in feel/story (narrative!) and some mechanics (metaphor).

At the Gates of Loyang - Finally played this third game in the pseudo-series. Although I like Agricola, it's not something that blew me away. Ok once in a while. Le Havre was a step in the wrong direction for me, my one play being enough for that fiddly bookkeeping game. What, then, for Loyang? Well, about like Agricola. Ok now and then. It was pleasant and harmless. The theming was fun. I thought the production was an odd mix of overproduced bits and underproduced "boards."

Snow Tails - I was very happy to play this one, but equally happy that I didn't buy it myself with hopes of playing it with family. As I suspected, it's just too calculating (and unforgiving) for that kind of fun. Still, this is the best Lamont game yet, and the theme does draw me in. As does the wonderful production.

Super Slapshot - This was my first ArtsCow project, and I started off easy. The designer (Kwanchai Moriya) of this fan variant version of the longtime convention classic Slapshot put up a shared library link on ArtsCow that made it easy to get decks of cards. It came out to about $18 or so, and still needs a few components you can scavenge elsewhere. Most important, the game was lots of fun. It has less to do with hockey than HGSB or StreetSoccer have to do with their sports, but that's ok. It's light and fairly random, so I don't want to oversell (or overplay) it, but I'm very happy to have this game.

Small World - All it did was make me wish we were playing Vinci instead.

Game weekend party

One Saturday I had friends over and we managed to play games all day. Besides another fun time with Super Slapshot, we got in the following . . .

Princes of Florence - This was planned in advance, a chance to show Tim a modern classic we hadn't played in years. I guess to be fair this one is kind of fiddly and involved, too. No matter, I still love it. I didn't when it first arrived, but it grew on me. (Kind of like Brass, that way.) Of course Dave Arnott squeaked out the win, but I gave him a run for it.

Golden City - I think of this one along with designer Michael Schacht's Valdora, two smooth as silk euros that use fictional settings to present a completely balanced board & map. I'd give up a little of that elegance for the real-world subjects he used in Web of Power or Hansa, which I prefer. As nothing more than games, though, both of these titles are fantastic.

Easy Play games - The other podcast recording mentioned above is an All About show with Dave Arnott covering this entire game series. To prep for that, I played Big Points again, and a few others for the first time. Burgen Land was the best of that group, though I like Finito best of all. We also played Dragonwurf and Los Banditos.

Notre Dame - Like Princes of Florence, this is another great Alea game that hasn't been played at all lately. I don't even consider this one old, but it can feel that way as we try to get new acquisitions to the table. Good stuff. I suffered for running out of money once (a couple of us did), but never let the rats take over.

With family
I don't play many games with my own family (my fault for lack of effort), but we've managed a few more recently, now that school is out.

Keltis Stones - A little flat with just 2 players, but a fun pastime regardless.

Flowerpower - My wife's longtime go-to, which I'm getting a little tired of but never turn down a play. (No, it's not for sale. I know what this OOP game goes for, even in Germany.)

Animalia - My daughter's go-to, which I still really enjoy. It's actually best with 2.

Thurn & Taxis - So happy this came back to the table, as I think it's just fantastic. My kind of euro exactly (see Web of Power and Hansa comments above!). We've got the northern Germany expansion (the first one), but only played on that map a couple times, and never with the modified rules. I'm curious about the Rome expansion, but heard it wasn't so good.

Telestrations - For Father's Day weekend we went to my folks' house, and so did my brother's family. I asked for this game specifically, thinking it the perfect fit. I was right! We enjoyed two back-to-back games that involved everyone from art-challenged, 77 year old father to my young reader, 7 year old nephew, with every age in between. Good laughs, just what I'd hoped for. (Funniest moment: when some good drawings of The Alamo were misintepreted as Taco Bell!)

PBW Games
A little Thurn & Taxis here, too, another mini tournament for Brass, and the occasional game of Wallenstein or Reef Encounter. But here are two I want to all special attention to:

Maori - I bought this game a while back on the strength of Ender's wonderful pictorial reviews that he posts on BGG. We played it a few times face-to-face, thinking it was pretty good. I just want to get some real shells to replace the wooden cutouts. However, now it's on, and it has rapidly become a great favorite of mine. I quickly finished a couple dozen games online, and it makes me want to play the physical version again.

Gonzaga - Although the title first caught my attention because I've got some relatives that went to college there, I remained interested because of it's subject (European fiefs). Once more, I refer you back to my appreciation for Web of Power! I missed a chance to play a copy around here, and lukewarm reviews didn't inspire me. Now it's available for play on, though, a pbw site j hadn't visited in years. Though the site still has some limitations (why are there long delays in email notification?), I greatly appreciate the opportunity to play the intriguing game. Four games in, I'm still not sure what to make of it. I want to love it, but may only like it. Know what I mean? Still fun, though.

iPhone Games

I'm glad I switched to iPhone from Blackberry--clearly the critical mass for application development lies with Apple's platform. Though the device itself has some limitations (BB was MUCH better for text, and I miss over-the-air podcast subscriptions), it's all about the apps. For family strategy games, there are some really good ones.

Carcassonne - Never mind the gaps between the tiles. The implementation of this one sets the gold standard. I've played solo puzzles, games against a variety of multiple AIs, and online against human opponents. Superb!

Roll Through The Ages - Love the game, I'm just ok with this implementation. The lack of AI is disappointing. I bought it anyway, and don't regret it, but then they lowered the price. Only a couple bucks' difference, so an annoyance more than a problem.

Settlers of Catan - My favorite implementation before Carcassonne. The AI could be tougher, but they're ok as-is. Both this one and Carc use a good trick of panning & zooming the map automatically to convey a bigger playing surface than the iPhone really has. Very polished.

- Awesome. Really helps you learn the game by wiping the floor with you until you pay better attention and fight for your wins.

There are many others, of course, but these are the ones that got the most play.


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