Game Day – Secret Santa and a Trip to Tokyo

Well, not REALLY a trip to Tokyo. But first? Let’s chat about Santa!

Every year BoardGameGeek has a massive Secret Santa program in which thousands of gamers from around the world send games to each other and help spread a little bit of the joy of the season. I was lucky enough to get an “active” Santa this year and received taunting emails about how much coal I was going to get and so on.

Thankfully Santa was able to shift me to the nice list…and I must have been VERY nice. My gift this year was The Castles of Mad King Ludwig and Terra Mystic: Fire and Ice. Talk about two of the most desired games of the season! I’ll have to get those to the table as soon as I can!

Sean is in town and swung by for dinner and a little gaming. First, according to the Bag of Destiny (no? maybe? I’m still not sure what to call it) we played Guilds of Cadwallon. And it was…well…just fine. Nothing exciting, just…fine. What I DID like was the conversation we had after trying to discuss the merits of the game. Laura and I both said “meh” and decided it probably didn’t have a place on our shelves. Sean thought maybe we were being a little harsh. He called it light, easy to learn, and kinda fun.

So, with that one out of the way we went back to the Satchel of Games to Come (nope, not that one) and drew out shelf ten. Which meant the next game was going to be King of Tokyo, as Sean has been dying to play this one.

After two games of this one (both of which Sean won…3-for-3 tonight…it’s like hell froze over) I sat back, looked at Sean, and said “ok, so NOW what do you think of Guilds of Cadwallon?”  This time he agreed with us. King of Tokyo is everything that he thought the first game was…except this was quite fun.

I leave you with this: take a look at the games you play. I mean a good hard look. Is it worth your time? Are the decisions meaningful? Do you enjoy interacting with the other players while you play? Can you see yourself playing again right afterwards? If you said yes to most of these, that game has a place in your collection.

But if you said no, it’s time to let go. There are other games to be played, after all.

Game Day – Shelf Shuffling and Tile Pulling

In our game room there are two Expedit shelves from IKEA, one a 5×5 and the other a 2×4. While these look amazing, it can create some interesting challenges when the collection tries to grow…like after BGG.CON. So we sat down, pulled out some games to sell/trade, and reorganized the shelving. As we were reorganizing, we also took the time to flag the games that we haven’t played yet – a number that doesn’t seem to shrink.

While we both love playing games, the “what do we play tonight” game can sometimes get a little tedious. And pulling Terra Mystica off the shelf to be learned at 8:30 on a work night just isn’t wise. So we needed a system to figure out what to play, a way to do it well ahead of time, and time to get those games to the table!

Laura looked at shelves and had a great idea: since the Expedit is basically a bunch of cubes, we should figure out a way to assign a number to each and randomly select them based on that. Two shelves, the tops of them as well…add in a couple of stray shelves, and we figured out that we have 38 locations that have games in them.

Tile bagStep one? Assign numbers to those locations. Easy enough. There’s a “main” shelf, so that was our starting point. Step two? Figure out how to determine the number. Dice won’t work the way we wanted – we’ll wind up with a lot from the center as time goes by. Our next thought was just slips of paper pulled out of a hat. This would be fine, but not really elegant. And the paper will get worn out eventually.

Then we had it – there was a big box of spare parts in the corner, some of which were extra wood tiles from a block wargame. A LOT of them. So we took a marker, wrote the numbers 1 – 38 on them, and popped them in a small drawstring bag. Viola! Problem solved. Now we’ll draw a tile, find that cube, and figure out which games need to be played in it. If there’s nothing there that we need to play, we move to a different one. We will do our best to pull these tiles in the morning so that if a heavier game is pulled we can have the day to read rules or watch videos on the game.

In the first test of the tile bag (we need a clever name for that) we pulled shelf 27, which is where most of our Uwe Rosenberg games live. I had set up Merkator two nights before and ran through the rules, so I was confident that we could squeeze the game in fairly quickly. This game is often overlooked in the body of Uwe’s work, and I think that’s a shame. The mechanics certainly feel different from most of his games, so I can see why some would be turned off. But Laura and I loved it and found that even with two we had some very interesting decisions to make. She absolutely demolished me in this one, and I can’t wait to get a rematch in!

Game Day – Christmas Sales Strike Back!

As a board gamer, I’ve come to love Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales. As an Amazon Prime member, it’s also come to be a very dangerous time of year. When ordering from an online game store, you tend to be a lot more selective about sales. Most of them have a free shipping threshold of $100 or more – which is great when you’re placing a big order. For impulse buys? Well, $15 in shipping tends to sober you up as to the value of the deal quite quickly.

But Amazon just throws the deals at you, and with Prime you’ve got in in two days. For FREE. That, my friends, is how money seeps out of your wallet like a sieve. If Nations goes on sale one more time this holiday season I’m not sure I can resist.

Tsuro of the Seas
“You go first.” “No, YOU go first!”

Well, on Monday Amazon had a couple of deals that Laura and I decided to snatch up. The first was Steam Park, a game that my brother and sister-in-law both highly recommend. The second was a sequel to a game that we already own: Tsuro of the Seas.

Tsuro has long been one of our favorite games to play with a large group. It’s a simple little tile placement game that is easy for gamers and non-gamers alike to grasp and enjoy. Add in the invariable table talk and laughter that go along with being forced to play the one piece that will kill half the players and you’ve got a fun little game.

So when I chatted with the guys at Calliope Games about this new version at BGG.CON, I was intrigued. Where Tsuro is a game that will reward skillful play and caution, Tsuro of the Seas will reward your caution with a sea monster munching on your boat. I think the most interesting thing about this game is that it take a known product, modifies in such a way that it barely resembles its original form, and still keeps you interested.

I’ll touch more on all of this in a review, but Laura and I enjoyed this new take on an old favorite. Well played, Amazon. Well played.

Game Day – Revisiting Notre Dame

When we returned from BGG.CON, Laura and I decided to take a hard look at our collection (I guess as we’re getting married next year it is truly OURS now) and trim some of the fat, if you will. Now with a collection my our size, you can imagine that there are a number that haven’t been played. To help determine what should stay and what should we go we’ve flagged the games that haven’t been played since we’ve been together and started working on those.

Tonight we decided to play a game that had been marked. Normally this will help determine if we want to keep a game or not, but this one was in no danger of leaving (hey, baby steps, right?) – Notre Dame by Stefan Feld.

A yellow message waiting to be claimed
A yellow message waiting to be claimed

It’s been quite a while since I’ve played this one…and it still holds up quite well. Some games that are seven years old have started to show some clunkiness and age, where this one shows that it was on the cutting edge of game mechanics that are now widely used.

Laura enjoyed the game and we can see this being a good opening game on a game night. Not too heavy, but not exactly fluff. We played in about an hour, and it would probably be almost half that if we played it again immediately.

I think I’ll have to review this one soon…

Review: Klunker

When you hear the name Uwe Rosenberg, you might immediately think of such games as Agricola, Le Havre, and Caverna. Well known for his larger games, Rosenberg has also created some smaller gems which frequently get overlooked. Among my favorites of his “smaller” games is Klunker. In this game, each player is a jewelry store owner looking to maximize their profits by buying and selling with the competing jewelry store owners. It plays with 3-5 players and each game takes about 30 minutes to play.

The components of this game are quite simple, consisting of nothing more than cards. I have the Rio Grande edition, and while the cards take some heat for not being that attractive, I think they are a far cry better than the Lookout Games edition. There are 94 jewelry cards, five shop window cards, five purchase order cards and one start player card. The jewelry cards are the cards that are bought and sold in each round. There are seven different types of jewelry, ranging from a tongue stud to a necklace. Each type of card shows an image of the piece of jewelry, and are different colors depending on the different jewels. On the reverse side of each card is the image of a bill, which is the money used in the game. Each player also gets a shop window card, and has a space in front of them that will be used as their “safe”.

The game is played over several rounds, each consisting of three phases. Before starting the first round, a starting player is chosen and is given the starting player card. This person takes the jewel cards, shuffles them up, and deals one face down (which stays face down) to each player. This becomes their starting bank and is placed face down in front of them. After the banks are set, everyone is dealt a hand of six cards, with the remaining deck being set off to the side.

In the first phase, beginning with the start player, each store owner places any number of jewel cards into their store windows for sale. In the first round, every player must put at least one jewel card in their window as no window can be left empty. These can be any number of cards in any variety. The only rule here is that cards cannot be hidden. Any jewels placed in the store windows will be available for purchase by any player. Play continues clockwise until all players have filled their store windows.

Once everyone has jewels in their store windows, the second phase begins. In this phase, players can place jewel cards into their safes. This is how the shop owners will earn money, by collecting sets of four jewel cards. Beginning with the start player, and in turn order, each person may put ONE card into their safe. These cards must be face up and not hidden by any other cards. This will continue around the table, with each player placing one card into their safe, until someone chooses to pass. The first person to pass will then take the #1 purchase order card and place it in front of them. They will be the first person to lead when the next phase begins. The remaining players continue in this fashion, taking an order card as they pass, until everyone has finished. Note that it is not required to put a card into your safe, and in some rounds you will find that passing early and grabbing a better number is preferred over putting cards in the safe.

As cards are put into the safe, players have a chance to convert them to money. As soon as you place the fourth copy of a jewel card into your safe, you must sell them. If this is the only type of jewel in your safe, you flip all four of them over and place them money side up in your bank. For each additional type of jewel present in your vault, you would get one less for selling them – so if you had three types of jewels you would keep two money cards for selling one of the stacks, discarding the rest. The only exception to this rule is the necklace. When four of the necklace cards are cashed in, all of them are kept, no matter how many additional jewels are present. You can never receive less than one “dollar” for selling jewels.

After all players are finished placing jewels in their safes, the third phase begins. The player who has the #1 purchase order card starts. At this point, they may buy the cards in someone else’s window for the price of one “dollar”. This is a fixed price, and the player cannot refuse to sell their cards. If there are three cards in the window, it is a dollar, and if there are thirty cards there, it is a dollar. If they are so inclined (or happen to have no money in their bank) the person may opt to purchase their own window, which costs them nothing.

Once cards are purchased they are placed immediately into the buyer’s safe and any jewels are cashed in according to the rules above. One important thing to note here deals with jewel cards totaling over four. If you have three headbands in your safe in front of you, and buy a window containing two more, you can only add one to the stack in your safe to be cashed in. The other one will go into the safe, but will count as a new type of jewel. The person selling the window puts the dollar into their bank and play proceeds to the next purchase order card.

It is important to note that a player with no cards left in their shop window is not obligated to buy jewels. If they choose to, they may pass and the round will immediately end. In this way some players may not get a chance to purchase cards from other store windows.

The first person choosing not to buy from a window is now the next round’s start player. They gather up the discard pile, as well as the unused jewel cards, and will then shuffle them into a new deal deck. New cards are dealt out to each player starting with the dealer, to bring their hand total back up to six. Play then continues as listed above. After the first round, it may be possible that you still have jewel cards in your window, in which case you do not need to put any additional cards up for sale if you do not wish to. The game ends when there are not enough cards in the deal deck to bring everyone up to six cards. Play ends, everyone counts the money in their bank, and the richest person wins!

Klunker is one of those games that has layers to it which might not be readily apparent at first. When you deal out the starting money at the beginning of the game, you are forbidden to look at what card is on the other side. This may seem like a small thing, but can really play a huge role when you’re trying to figure out if someone is hoarding a necklace in their hand or if it’s out of the game. Hand management is taken to an extreme here as you’re effectively worrying about three hands of cards – your hand, the shop window, and your safe. Try to short your safe so you don’t lose out on the trade in? You won’t get as many new cards next round. Dump junk into your window? No one touches it and you wind up having to eat it.

All in all, this is a nice filler game worth checking out. The artwork isn’t the greatest, but the gameplay is solid and there are still some decisions to be made. You can feel a little bit of some of his other games in this one as well, so that makes it even more interesting. I would recommend this game for groups that are looking for something that will really get the brain working and can lead off a night of heavier gaming.

BGG.CON 2014

Another year, another BGG.CON in the books. And once again, it was an amazing experience. While we were there, my brother and I chatted about the primary difference between this convention and GenCon. We feel that GenCon is truly commerce focused: you’re going there to buy games and other goods. Don’t get me wrong, there’s plenty of games to be played, but not without a ticket and a reservation. At BGG.CON? It’s all about the gaming. As you can see by what we brought back, there’s no shortage of things to buy there…but it’s focused on open gaming. And THAT is what makes it like Christmas for me!

BGG 2014 Haul