Wednesday, April 27, 2011

7 Wonders

At last! The phenomenon known as 7 Wonders has arrived in my home. And it highlighted to me the dangers of being taught a game poorly.

You see, I'm not the first member of my usual group to have a copy of this one. I'm also not the first one to bring it to game night. And I had to fight to get it to the table, because the person who taught it previously had one rule wrong.

I guess that's why Asmodee keeps bringing me back to GenCon ...

7 Wonders is a drafting game. If you've done Magic drafts, this won't seem that foreign to you. You start with a hand of seven cards, and you'll choose one and pass the rest of your hand. The difference is that you're not building a deck - you're building a city. And you immediately use the card you've drafted. You can build it, you can cash it in for money, or you can use it as a build marker to represent construction of your city's Wonder.

Cards have a fair amount of info on them, too. In the upper left is the build cost. The top center shows you the effects of the building. Some of them provide resources, some of them provide victory points. Some provide military strength. There are some other effects, too, such as discounts for purchasing materials from your neighbors or advancing science (which is points at the end of the game).

After you've drafted (and played) six of the seven cards, the 7th card is discarded. Players then compare military to their neighbors and place victory point markers on their boards based on their military standings. But don't get too reliant on the military. At most, you will earn eighteen points from military strength.

You repeat this for three Ages. After the third age, players calculate their scores. There's the points from the military, there are points for having money, there are points granted directly by buildings, and there are points that some buildings give you based on what else you (or your neighbors) have built.

Highest score wins.  It's that simple.

The most common criticism I have seen on the 'Geek is "It's lighter than I had expected!" As I've discussed previously, I think there's a place for light games - and this one actually as more depth than you think it does. Especially at the 4-5 player level.

It bears mentioning that in some ways this game plays completely differently with four players than it does with six or seven. The rules are the same, but you'll see what's left of your starting hand multiple times, so you may see cards you want returned to you later in the round.

Unlike most games, you don't need a degree of table awareness. You really only need to keep track of what the players to your left and right are up to, because they're the only ones you will interact with. The only awareness beyond that is a matter of keeping track of which cards have been built so you have an idea of what may be available to you.

All in all, I can see why this game rocketed up the charts on BGG (at the time I'm writing this, it's in the top 20). It's one of the better games in my collection - it won't beat Dungeon Twister on my list of favorites any time soon, but it's definitely up there.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The Origins Awards

The Academy announced the 2011 Origins Awards Nominees last week.

It's ... odd for me.  Their list demonstrates their nomination process remarkably well. The process goes like this:

A small number of "hobby game professionals and knowledgeable enthusiasts" assembles a short list of games for each category. Then each category is voted on by retailers at the GAMA Trade Show. The top five from each category become the final nominees. Those final nominees are voted on by attendees at Origins.

In other words, excellent games may be on the short list but if they don't sell well, they probably won't become a nominee.

This is why Gamma World is on the list, but Smallville isn't.

There are more indie RPG's on the list this year - but that just means that more indie games are selling. Which is good.

So here are my thoughts, category by category - and keep in mind that my record at choosing winners isn't great:

Best Roleplaying Game:
Smallville needs to be on this list. It is (no question) the single best RPG product I have seen since Legend of the Five Rings first blew my socks off more than a decade ago.

That said, the list is ... pretty good. The Dresden Files RPG is very good, and deserves to be on this list. I've heard good things about Dragon Age. Fiasco is really neat. Gamma World is ... it's okay. DC Adventures is yet another d20-rooted Mutants & Masterminds product.

My projected winner: Dresden Files.

Best Roleplaying Supplement:
I think every game in this category deserves to be here. This is a category with five very strong contenders, and I don't know that I could have picked any better (having said that, however, I'm going to get a comment with a better choice). A Song of Ice and Fire Campaign Guide is solid. The Advanced Player's Guide for Pathfinder is pretty good (for my money, it's the weakest link in the category). The Sixth World Almanac was a surprisingly-good Shadowrun book (I love the game, but its recent releases have been a bit ... uneven in quality). If you have Dresden Files, then you probably already have Our World.  I don't even think of it as a supplement.  And Sunward for Eclipse Phase continues the Hard SF with Horror Elements reign of the game (and it is amazing).

My money is on Our World - but Sunward is a very close second to my mind.

Best Board Game:
This is a category with some definite hit-or-miss. Castle Ravenloft is good. Defenders of the Realm is (by all accounts) a solid game - I haven't played it, though. Fresco is fun. Lords of Vegas just left me cold. Nuns on the Run. Really?

Where is Innovation? Or Earth Reborn?

My money is on Castle Ravenloft.

Best Traditional Card Game:
Some good games, but some glaring omissions, too. Ascension is good. Hex Hex XL is a lot of fun. Back to the Future: The Card Game is ... eh. I don't know the other entries.

But where is Gosu?  Where is 7 Wonders? Either of these is better than Back to the Future.

I'd like to see Hex Hex XL win, but Ascension will probably take it.

Best Family, Party, or Children's Game:
The only one of these I'm familiar with is Wits & Wagers Family Edition. And I like it. The entire Wits & Wagers series has been really good.

Best Gaming Accessory:
This has always been a strange category. This year, the nominees include a primer for miniatures painting, tile sets for RPG's, terrain pieces for miniatures gaming, terrain for Battletech, and a combination dice bag/stuffed animal. I have no idea what was overlooked for this category - did anyone create a gamer-focused line of pencils this year? Are my d20 Shoelaces lacking an award?

My money is on the Cthulhu Dice Bag, only because it has name recognition.

Best Miniatures Rules:
Two games I've never heard of, two new editions, and a technical readout for Battletech. I just don't care about this category this year. Sorry. If I were at Origins, I wouldn't vote in this category due to not knowing the nominees well enough.

That said, the smart money is on Hordes.

Best Historical Board Game:
Warlords of Europe, Catan Histories - Settlers of America, Conflict of Heroes, and Panzer General: Allied Assault. Unfortunately, the voters will be the "general public" of Origins - Catan has name recognition outside of wargaming, and will probably take it. But Conflict of Heroes is the better game. By far.

Best Game-Related Publication:
No Quarter Magazine - Privateer Press' house organ. All Warmachine and Hordes all the time. Hamlet's Hit Points was a really amazing little book for me. Family Games - the 100 Best is supposed to be a very intersting read - I have yet to read it, however. Shadowrun: Spells and Chrome is (near as I can tell) only available as an e-book - on Kindle or as a PDF. I can't say definitively that this is the first time a digital-only publication has been nominated for an Origins award, but I think it is. And I don't know World at War: Revelation.

So where is Kobold Quarterly? It's better-written than No Quarter, and supports multiple games (Pathfinder, D&D 4e, and - with Issue #17 - Dragon Age).

Either way, I suspect that Family Games - the 100 Best will win. I'd prefer it if Hamlet's Hit Points won. I will only be disappointed if No Quarter wins.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

GenCon Is Coming!

Every year, I worry that this will be The Year in which Asmodee can't afford (or doesn't want) my services at GenCon. And then, every year, I get an e-mail with housing information from Christophe so that we can book our hotel at the vendor rate.

Our hotel has been booked.  GenCon is real all of a sudden. And I love that feeling.

When I was in High School, I made a pact with some of my friends. We were going to save our money and the Road Trip to GenCon in the mid-nineties. However none of us were able to save enough, because we were teenagers. Even had I saved every nickel I made for several years running, I wouldn't have been able to go.

In March of 2005, I was invited to attend GAMA to help Asmodee out.  A few hours later, I received a phone call. "I'm sorry, Eric," he said, "It's not GAMA we need help with. It's Origins and GenCon. Are you still interested?  We can pay you."

It sounded like he was worried that I might not want to go to conventions I've dreamed about attending since I was a child.

So I went to both Origins and GenCon in 2005.  I went to Origins again in 2006, and that was my last Origins. I have not missed GenCon since. This will be my seventh GenCon, which is completely surreal for me.

I don't know what games I'll be demoing, but I have a few hunches.  The Claustrophobia expansion is scheduled for GenCon. Dixit Odyssey (a standalone Dixit expansion) is due at about that time. 7 Wonders: Leaders (and expansion for 7 Wonders) is due at about the same time. So those are givens. But every year, there is at least one game which is new to me.

And I can't wait to see what it is.

Wednesday, April 06, 2011


Last year at GenCon, I had a chance to see a final-draft English pre-production box of Gosu, the first game to be released in North America by Moonster Games. The box was eye-catching and interesting. The rulebook was not dry and boring, but was filled with humor and snark. And the cards themselves were both well-illustrated and clear. All in all, I expected it to be an entertaining rulebook to a mediocre game. I was wrong. Gosu is an excellent game.

When Asmodee sent me a copy in October, I read through the rulebook in more detail. It reminded me a bit of the old On the Edge CCG (you can tell I'm a cranky old gamer, because I use CCG instead of TCG), with its construction of power structures (for me, by the way, this is a good thing - other than the art, I thought OTE was the best CCG around).

But Gosu is very much its own thing. For starters, it's non-collectible. There are 100 cards in the set, no more, no less. And it's not a deck-building game. At all. Which is good, because I'm tired of deck-building games. Dominion rocks. It really does. It's a great game. But I've played it about to death, and the expansion-ism is starting to get to me.

There's an expansion coming for Gosu. It's true. But I sincerely doubt it'll kill the game like all of the Dominion expansions have killed Dominion for me.  I believe this because Gosu is a shared-deck game. If each player assembled or brought their own deck, this might be cause for concern. Even when the expansion hits play, you will still only use 100 cards per game (according to early reports).

The cards in Gosu are divided two ways - there are five tribes, and each tribe has three ranks (Bakuto, Hero, and Ozeki), so each card represents a Goblin of a specific tribe and rank.  Each tribe consists of 20 Goblin cards - there are five unique goblins at each rank, and the rank one goblins are duplicated once each.

On your turn, you may do one of three things:
  1. Add a Goblin to your Army
  2. Spend one or two Activation Tokens to draw cards
  3. Spend an Activation Token to ... um ... activate a goblin's activated ability.
This game does not have a draw phase. If I were assembling a rules summary or something, I'd put that first sentence in bold text: This game does not have a draw phase. It's that important. You only get to draw cards through either spending the activation tokens or through card effects. My first few games, I kept running out of cards and having to pass. Once I figured that out (and it should not have taken me two games to learn, either), I made it a point to teach that point to everyone that I taught to play the game. Because effectively managing your hand is the primary key to this game.

Adding Goblins to your Army is done in one of two ways - you can either play the goblin directly to your army from your hand or you can mutate a goblin that is already in play. If you already have that goblin's tribe in your army, then playing it is free. Otherwise, you need to discard two cards as a recruitment cost. Mutations all cost discards. Some of them are more expensive than others. And there are placement restrictions - you need to build your army from the bottom, and can't bring in a level three goblin if you don't have a level one and a level two of that tribe in play already.  You also can't have more than fifteen goblins in play, in a 3x5 configuration. So if you have five of the level one goblins, then the only way to change your lineup at level one is to mutate someone.

Each goblin has a special ability. Some of them trigger automatically when entering play; some goblins trigger when they mutate; some of them trigger when they're destroyed; some goblins have continuing effects; some goblins trigger after a Great Battle; and some require an activation token to trigger. Goblins can cause you to draw cards, discard cards, flip opponent's goblins face down, destroy goblins outright, or win the game.

If you can't (or don't want to) play, you can pass. If you pass, be prepared to sit for a while as you don't get another turn until all the other players have passed. But you can't leave the table - other players can still mess with your army and hand. And they will.

Once all players have passed, you calculate the strength of your army. The player with the strongest army wins the Great Battle and earns a victory point.  After each battle, you turn your face-down cards back face-up and recover your activation tokens.

And then play continues - you keep the same army from battle to battle. You need to keep this in mind, even early in the game. Otherwise, you may build an army with a solid set of initial abilities that wind up just taking up space on the board in later rounds. Yes, you can mutate your army into other goblins, but that costs you cards from your hand - and you probably don't have that many cards to spare.

And there is a catch-up mechanism, too. Some cards are more powerful if someone other than you is in the lead. It generally means that a player who is behind draws more cards or the player in the lead discards more cards. I was skeptical of this when I saw it in the rulebook, but, having played it, it works beautifully to keep the first player on the board from steamrolling the other players. I'll admit that I've had trouble coming from behind when playing two-player, but it works beautifully with three or four players.

The first player to three victory points wins the game - but there are other ways to win, too, depending on which of the Ozeki are in play.

For me, this game really shines with three or four players. This, by the way, makes me different from nearly everyone else on Boardgamegeek. With four, the game suggests making it a partnership game rather than a free-for-all. But I do so love the free-for-all.

And have I mentioned the art? Take a look at the game's gallery on Boardgamegeek. None of those images really do the game justice, either. The art is really good. It's entertaining and doesn't get in the way of the game. Each of the clans has their own look-and-feel and it's not hard to tell from across the table which faction(s) you have in play.

It all combines to form the most entertaining standalone card game I've played in several years.