Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Hitting The Table: Barony

As I mentioned last week, I've been playing some really good games lately that I want to talk about. Again, as I mentioned last week, these are games I'd worked on so I didn't pay for my copies.

Today, I'm going to talk about Barony.

Barony is another of those games that is surprisingly easy to play rules-wise, but which reveals a surprising amount of depth in play.

People have been comparing this game to a cross between Settlers of Catan and Chess. And I don't think I'd argue too hard with some of those comparisons.

In Barony, you are trying to get yourself promoted to the rank of Baron.  You do this by selling resources back to the bank. You don't gather resources from a random roll, however. You gather resources by building.

As soon as someone hits that rank, the game ends at the end of the round.

There are six different actions you can take in your turn:

1) Move Knights
2) Turn Knights into Buildings
3) Turn Settlements into Cities
4) Sell Resources to Promote Yourself
5) Recruit Knights
6) Expand

This isn't the order they're listed in the rulebook, by the way.

There are restrictions on some of these - you can't enter a space that has an opponent's city, for example. You can't build a city in the forest. You don't get change when selling resources to the bank. They're mostly sensible restrictions, but they still exist.

The board is made up of three-hex tiles and it's randomized before every game.

So what makes it so thinky that people are comparing it to Chess or Go?

It's potentially unforgiving. If you make a mistake with your initial placement, your opponents will be able to keep you from growing in a couple of ways.

See this picture?

IMGP0194

Red is screwed, here.  You can't move Knights onto spaces with opposing cities (the blue on i nthe foreground) or strongholds (the yellow and green and blue structures that are also right there). You can't move Knights into the water. And you can't unrecruit knights.  Since each player only has seven knights available to them, the Red player, here, has three knights who aren't going anywhere.

Since knights are the only moving unit in the game, that's huge.  Building cities requires settlements. Building settlements requires knights. So this Red player (me, by the way), has half of his ability to expand tied up in a way that will never expand.  In theory, their pieces can be killed off by Green and or Blue, to return them to supply, but  in practice, Yellow, Green, and Blue are going to laugh at Red for having put themselves in a completely untenable situation.

It's a bit slow-moving at first.  Players are trying to expand, but they're also trying not to leave their settlements undefended. When a settlement is destroyed, the attacking player gets to take resources from their victim. Eventually, however, the game speeds up.

The "build" action, wherein knights turn into settlements and strongholds is unlimited - you can turn all seven knights into settlements or strongholds if they're all in play. When you build, you also take a resource that matches the hex you're building in. Fields are the most valuable; Mountains are the least. And, if you build seven settlements in a turn, it'll be hard for your opponents to take enough of them from you to keep you from promoting yourself the next turn.

When someone hits the end of the rank track, as I mentioned, the game ends at the end of the round.  Players take their current score and add to it a value that's printed on the resource tiles. Again, this value is non-random.

Most points wins.  Most of the time, the winner will be the player who triggered the final round, but if someone has been hoarding resources (and the other players haven't noticed or done anything about it), it's possible that they will grab a win.

It's a solid game. The components are really nice, and are distinctively shaped by type.

I only got to demo this a few times at GenCon, but it hits the table most Wednesdays these days.

A Plug For A Friend

This is going up a few minutes in advance of my usual weekly post's schedule (which may be a bit later today, actually), because I want to encourage you to take a look at a Kickstarter project that a buddy of mine is involved with for which I am a backer, and which ends fairly soon.

The project is Street Kings, and, as I type this, it's about $3k shy of its $18,000 goal, and the 48-hour reminder notices should start going out soon (they'll be out by the time you see this), which will help, but I'd like to invite you to click through and take a look at the game.

Read some reviews. Watch some videos. See if this is a game you're likely to play.

And then, if it looks like it is, throw some money at it.

Wednesday, February 03, 2016

Hitting the Table: Shakespeare

There a couple that have hit the table lately that I have really enjoyed, and that I haven't really talked about much here, so I'm going to start to remedy that right now.

Shortly after GenCon, I received a shipment of games that I'd worked on from Asmodee. That shipment included Shakespeare and Barony, along with several others.

I'd spent most of GenCon demoing Starfighter - and I still think that Starfighter was the best game in the booth - but Barony was another game that my team covered and that I needed to be familiar with.

I only ran a few Barony demos, but I liked the game. It was simple to learn and very playable. So I looked forward to getting it to the table at home.

And ... time passed.  Several of the Wednesday game folks are theater geeks, so Shakespeare hit the table long before Barony did. And Shakespeare was a hit. And rightly so. But, because it hit the table first, I'm going to talk about it first.

IMGP0077

In Shakespeare, you are trying to produce the best play. You start with four characters available to you, but as the game goes on, you will draft more characters (one per turn, in fact), most of whom will give you additional actions.

But it's all about the play.

On your turn, you need to bid how many actions you're taking that turn. Fewest actions bid gets to go first. Each action will do one of a handful of things - you can assemble costumes for your actors, you can dress your set, you can improve your overall ambiance, you can raise money, or you can advance on one of the three "act" tracks.

Most of these will help you advance your overall score.

There are two basic character types: Actors and Craftspeople. Craftspeople can dress your set or make costumes for your characters (depending on types). Actors have spaces for costumes on the bottom of their cards (in the image above, the characters pictured are all actors and none of them have costumes underway).

Set pieces have special effects that trigger once played. Especially good costumes can score points and other benefits, as well, and you want your characters in full costume, because only then can you use that actor during Rehearsal.

Twice during the game (near the end), you will hold rehearsals in which actors who have their full costumes (three pieces) also have a special ability that they can trigger. The vast majority of these allow you to advance one of the three "act" tracks that's on the main board. And then you score the three Acts.

If it sounds like there are a lot of moving pieces in this game, it's because there are.  Each player has one board (pictured above), and five Action discs (in the corners of three of the characters pictured above), four or five marker tokens (on the Ambiance track in the pic above), and a recruitment marker that shows when they've done their recruiting for the turn.

Then there is a main board which tracks the score, the turn order, and players' progress along the various Acts (which are worth money or victory points when scored). It also provides a pool for the set and costume pieces which are available each turn, and most players set the character cards for recruitment near it, too.

But, despite all of the moving pieces, this game flows really well. New players will struggle for a turn or two (and are definitely at a disadvantage against experienced players), but the flow of the game is pretty logical.

It's a tricky game. Like most games, you want to make sure that you're not wasting actions, but you also don't want to bid too few and be left short.  And characters who work one turn need to take the next turn off - so it's possible that you'll have more actions than you can use if you aren't paying enough attention.

I've seen players focus on one scoring area and do well, but I've found that trying to do well in two (or more) areas is more successful.

It's a tight game, too. It only runs for six turns, with rehearsals in turns Four and Six.  After turn Six, you need to pay most of your characters. If you can't, each unpaid character costs you victory points.

The winning scores I've seen in this game have been under twenty, and the span from first to fourth has usually been less than five points. It's possible that the winning scores will increase as we get more familiar with the characters and what options exist.

This game is at an intermediate difficulty. Play is a little bit dry, and there very little direct player interaction.

This game is beautifully illustrated, and the component quality is very high.

All in all, this game has earned a spot in the car. It sees regular play, and will likely continue to do so for some time.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

BGG's Top Fifty, Staying Power, and Old Games

Like a lot of people, I spend time watching the top games on Boardgamegeek, because it's always interesting to watch what games people consider to be The Best of All Time, even if I often disagree with the ratings.

In fact, people often speak of the "Cult of the New" to describe games on the list, because new games will often rocket to the top of the list before gradually settling on down the list. It's exacerbated because people don't often go through and review their ratings and adjust them. And then "older" games hit the table less-frequently, and so even people who are fastidious about updating their ratings don't update older games in comparison to newer games.

This last weekend, I discovered that Tigris & Euphrates was available on my Kindle Fire. This game initially hit at about the same time as Settlers of Catan and Carcassonne. It was part of the first wave of Euro-style games to hit with hobbyists here in North America. I remember playing it a few years before I started tracking games on BGG.

And it's a really good game. But it's a fairly dry abstract and it's a real brain-burner. These are both things that tend to hurt a game's numbers in the ratings game.

BUT it was re-released with a new edition in 2015, which makes it visible again and (often) boosts its ratings ... right?

So I did some searching and I found this thread, which (thankfully) includes T&E in its ratings. It doesn't go through 2015, but it does go through September of 2014.  So I was shocked to discover that its re-release hadn't improved its ratings. Or, honestly, made much of a difference to them at all.

In September of 2014, it was 31 on the list. As of this writing, it's 38. It's the third-oldest game in the Top 50, in fact. Crokinole and El Grande are the only two Top Fifty games that are older that are in the Top 50.

Only four games from 2015 are in the Top Fifty. Seven games from 2014.  The year with the most games? 2012 has eleven games.  I wonder - if I went back four years and did a similar analysis, would 2008 have a similar spike? Or was 2012 just an amazing year for games?

There is one (standalone) expansion on the list, Dominion Intrigue. It's rated higher than its base game.  War of the Ring is on there twice in two different editions. Two other games have their second editions listed, too. Game of Thrones and Descent: Journeys in the Dark. But the first editions for these games is not on the list.

Keep in mind - according to hobby gamers who visit BoardGameGeek (and rate games), these are the fifty best games of all time. And the average game was released midway through 2007. If you remove Crokinole from the listings, the average game was released in early 2010.

I'm not going to say these aren't good games, because they're not. Many of these are absolutely fantastic games. But where are the classics?  I'm not talking "Mass-market hits," here. I'm talking games which have very much stood the test of time. Go is #78 on the list. Chess is #344. Backgammon is #955.  That's insane.

Do I think the Cult of the New is a problem? Yes, but not to the same degree as many other folks seem to feel it is. And not for the same reasons.

I think that this list is an excellent guide for good hobby games, but using this as a list of the Best Games of All Time will leave the reader disappointed.

If I were running a game store, I'd keep track of the top ten or twenty or so, because these are the games which have had diverse appeal over the last few years - and their very presence on the list can lead to further sales for new gamers.

Not everyone will agree with all of these ratings. Me, for example. Of the 21 games I've rated that are on the list, my average rating is just over 7.2. At least one game on the list is one I rated a 4.

To find games that you might like, you're better off checking them by category. Pick a category, scroll down to "linked items" and where it says "sort," chose "rank," and it'll re-organize the list of games based on other peoples' ratings. And even that is no guarantee, because you may like a game that most people dislike (and vice versa).

Something to think on, I guess.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Late Kickstarter Update

I think it's about time for my quarterly Kickstarter Update.  I'm going to talk more about the later projects than about the ones that are only a little late or are on time.

Here's where I stand in terms of the gaming Kickstarters that I've backed that may or may not be late:

Unfulfilled and Late/Delayed
Powerchords - Still late. This is my longest outstanding project, having funded on October 1, 2010. We had three December updates after two November updates after ... a July update.  The author has been giving refunds to backers who asked for them, and he's been a generally pleasant person all around, so I'm willing to wait it out at this point.

Far West - Still late. For many Kickstarter-aware backers, this has become the poster child for late projects. I am the villain who went to his local Attorney General to get his refund. You may have read about me in an update or some comments. I received a partial refund (I'm now a digital-only backer, so I'll eventually get that PDF).  We were told to expect Chapter Nine "by Christmas," which hasn't happened. We were told to expect the finished product by the end of January.  I'm not holding my breath. The author has continued to be confrontational in tone when dealing with backers, and I don't think we'll ever see this.

The +5 Food of Eating Cookbook - I think I've mentioned this before. I've written it off, really. We have the PDF, but the print version is not coming. The author has dropped off the face of the earth. Which is always sad.

Synnibarr - Raven c.s. McCracken continues his show.  I have one PDF. Out of three coming. And three hardcover books which are due.  And he doesn't update on Kickstarter. He updates on Facebook. Sometimes in the Synnibarr community and sometimes in his personal FB page. Original due date: December 2013.  I think we probably have a longer wait coming for this.

Alas, Vegas - A number of people are angry or upset about this one and its delays.  I'm not one of them. James Wallis may release late, but his books are nearly always worth the wait.

Tales From the Floating Vagabond - This was an easy sell for me. TFFV was one of the best comedy games ever released. I'm starting to doubt I'll see a finished print copy, which is a shame. But - again - I'm not angry or upset about this one.  It'll arrive when it's done. Or not.  

Fae Nightmares - I've had the PDF since September of 2014, but the PDF is not currently available on DTRPG. It's still in my library, but I can't point it out to folks. I know that one of the project creators has had some health problems, and that's probably delaying the release of the print edition.

TimeWatch - Will be here when it gets here. It's a GUMSHOE game, and I do love the system (and I've enjoyed it when I've been able to play), it's not an easy sell for some groups for long-term play. I'll mostly be stealing ideas from it for other things. Because that is what I do with most games these days.

Mobile Frame Zero: Alpha Bandit - I received "final notice" to make sure my shipping address was up-to-date, so this will probably be in my hands soon.

13th Age in Glorantha - They keep giving us playtest PDFs that contain a class or a race or other bits and pieces. No idea when the final finished PDF (or print) will be out, though.

Demon Hunters - I've got my PDF. We had an update the other day. The POD version is going to be available to us soon. I may have my code before this post goes live. Original due date: July 2015.

Esteren - Occultism - They've had to find a new printer, which caused delays. But they're continuing to progress and fight through it.

Grimtooth's Ultimate Traps Collection - I got my PDF in June. We've seen images of the production edition as recently as two weeks ago.  I'd say this is on track to be less than a year later than its July 2015 estimated date.

Short Order Heroes: Theme Packs - I still think that Short Order Heroes was one of the best projects I have ever backed. I've gotten a ton of use out of it. This is ... well, it's a matter of waiting for the artist (who is working away). I have no fear that it'll get here, though. And it's only four months late at this point.

Mare Nostrum - Empires - Original estimated date: November 2015. Again: Not concerned. This grew in scope as the project ran, but I have no fear of this failing, either.

Interestingly, there are only three other gaming projects I've backed that aren't late, yet.

Blue Rose, which takes the old d20 setting/supplement and revises to to use Green Ronin's AGE system and which isn't late yet. Mana Surge, which is a game I saw when it was still a prototype and which I'm looking forward to. Shinobigami, which is being done by the same team who did Tenra Bansho Zero and Ryuutama, so I have no fear that it will be equally as amazing.

Received Since Last Update
I'm ... I'm not sure when I last did a Kickstarter update, so here's what I've received since August of last year:

Deluxe Tunnels & Trolls - It was two years late, but it's here. And it's what I'd expected (and what I backed expecting), so I have no complaints on that front.

Two Rooms and a Boom - I don't play many party games, but I'm still glad I backed this one. It's not amazing. It's not groundbreaking or earthshattering or anything, but it's fun. And, with games, that's what matters.

Ryuutama - I haven't read this one thoroughly enough, yet. But I like what I've seen so far. More detail to eventually follow.

Fantaji - I haven't even looked at this, yet. It's ... it's on my "to be read" shelf, and a lot of what I see in it is right in that sweet spot for what I'm looking for in a system, but I'm focused on other things right now.

Feng Shui - This is a time-travel John Woo-style beat 'em up game. It was awesome in its earlier edition, and it's still awesome.\

Riders: A Game About Cheating Doomsday - I really like this one. A lot. It's phenomenal. It's like In Nomine with a ton more flavor.  I should spend a weekend and type up my thoughts on this one, because it's that good.

Epic - the latest card game from the Star Realms team. I haven't even looked at the rulebook, yet. Oops.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Mechanical vs Non-Mechanical, Keeping Myself Focused

I realized the other day that I'm really starting to appreciate role-playing games where non-mechanical statements have (or can have) mechanical effects.

Of course, once they have mechanical effects, they're not really non-mechanical statements, are they?

A few examples of this:

In 13th Age, there are two forms of non-mechanical statement available to you. Every character has One Unique Thing, and your character has Backgrounds. The One Unique Thing is something that is distinctive to your character on a global scale. "I'm the only ... " is a good way to start these. In play, these don't necessarily have a strong mechanical effect, but they are a huge part of worldbuilding for the GM. And then the Backgrounds. These take the place of skills, but instead of cherry-picking from a list of "This is what I can do," you _create_ a list of "This is what I have done." As I've mentioned before, this can also be used for worldbuilding if you have a particularly awesome background. But it also fixes the problem you run into occasionally where skills are too narrow and you don't know what will fit your character concept well. It's much easier to spend three points on "Front-line Medic" than it is to split points between skills that keep you cool under fire and allow you to tape people up.

Fate doesn't have a specific list of character traits, either. You have "aspects," which describe your character and give you a benefit when they apply (and you spend a point).  So, for example, if my character has "Front-line Medic" as an Aspect, and has the "Heal" skill, I can spend a Fate Point to get a bonus on my skill roll or to negate a penalty for taping someone up while under fire.  And - before someone takes me to task - I know there's not a Heal skill in the default skill list. By the way, you can get the Fate Core System rulebook as a "Pay What You Want" PDF on DTRPG. And "$0" is an option. If you "buy" it for $0 and later want to pay, you can go back and buy it again.

And then there is Burning Wheel. It has beliefs and instincts. Beliefs are what drives your character. They can be goals, but some of the best beliefs are simpler than that. I've spoken in the past about using your character to tell your GM (and the other players) what type of game you are interested in playing. That is what the Beliefs are in a nutshell. If your character's belief is "Cats are the devil's eyes through which he sees into this world," then you've told the GM quite a bit about your character. And you've set up quite a bit of potentially very interesting play.  Instincts, however, are much closer to what I'm talking about here.  Instincts are frequently If/Then statements. "If startled, I grab my dagger." But they can also be "Always" statements about your character, "I always sleep with a dagger under my pillow." "Never pay full price for equipment in a big city."  You can even pair them with Beliefs, "Merchants in cities always overcharge," for example. It's part of why I find The Burning Wheel so appealing. To be honest, I like the Beliefs & Instincts better than I like most of the rest of the system (and I do like most of the rest of the system).

Currently, I'm playing in two games and running a third.  I'm playing in a 13th Age game, and in a Dungeons and Dragons (4th Edition) game. I'm running Legends of the Five Rings (4th Edition) game. And - in the process - I'm actually learning a lot about me as a player.  For example, I'm not an ideal player in a lot of ways.  I'm easily distracted and lack focus (which has to be frustrating for my GMs). And I'm learning to counter that. For example, in the 13th Age game, I multiclassed my character to include a class with a lot of fiddly bits that are only usable on other players' turns, which forces me to pay attention.  My D&D character is similarly active on other players' turns.  And I think that my ability to change gears at the drop of a hat is a strength as a GM, because players are the least predictable thing in any gaming situation and I need to be able to react.

Also worth noting: Two of the three products above have current Kickstarters running.

Next week, I'm going to check in on my delayed Kickstarter projects.

Wednesday, January 06, 2016

New Year's Eve

I hope your New Year's Celebration (and, in fact, all of your various holiday celebrations) went well for you.

We went (as is typical) to our usual New Year's Eve gathering.

I played Star Wars Timeline, which I won.  The game, by the way, doesn't have a scheduled North American release due to licensing issues, so third-party sellers are going to be your best bet if you want a copy here in the US.

We followed that with Codenames. The more I play this game, the more I enjoy it. There is a surprising amount of subtlety in this one, and I'm apparently much better as a Team Captain than I am as a guesser.

That was followed by Ca$h 'n Guns (second edition), which I played twice. I never do well at this game, but it's a game I really enjoy. I don't do well because people (for reasons unknown) seem to enjoy pointing guns at me. I just do not understand this.

By this point, my brain was starting to melt, because I'd been up since earlier than usual at work. So we broke out Jungle Speed Safari. It's a very different game from regular Jungle Speed, and we played it a couple of times.  This is the game we were playing when the ball dropped.  Well, in our time zone.

One of the people we were playing with went to log his game on BoardGameGeek. "Wow," he said, "There are a lot of Jungle Speeds on here! Why is that?"  I should write about that, sometime. Because there are a lot of versions of this game, and they're all different.

We wrapped the evening with a seven-player game of Ultimate Warriorz. I do really enjoy this game. It's right on that line of being too simple rules-wise, and there are characters who will (almost) never win unless their player makes a significant mistake. But it's oddly entertaining.

By this point, my wife was coming down with a headache, so we bailed early and were home by three or so.  I captured some photos of a few of the folks I was gaming with, and I shared them here.

I received at least one Christmas gift that will be relevant to those of you reading this: I got a photographic light box. This means I'll have more (and hopefully better) photos to share with you. Which I think I say every year.

Again: I hope your holiday celebrations all went well, and I sincerely hope that 2016 is better for every one of you than 2015 was. Even if 2015 was the best year you have lived to date.