Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Hitting the Table: KaosBall

I've been stalling on posting this because I don't have photos to include (because my laptop is in the shop). Unfortunately, I got an ETA update on the laptop and it's still a few weeks out.

A few weeks ago, I had the chance to play a (newish) sports game that was a bunch of fun.

I'm a fan of Eric M. Lang's games. They're not always great, but they're nearly always fun.

I'm also a sucker for sports-themed games.  I own a ton of them - mostly football games, but I have a couple of soccer games and at least one baseball game. However, I especially like sports games that aren't designed to specifically emulate a real-world sport.

I own Dreadball and Elfball and Blood Bowl and now KaosBall. And they all scratch very different itches. The first three are almost gridded miniatures games, with detailed rules and a huge variety of available options for players. Kaosball is much more a board game than a minis game, despite the ton of included figures.

Like most sports-themed games, the goal of KaosBall is to score the most points before time runs out. In KaosBall, you score points by having certain players holding the ball and standing on scoring mounds at the start of your turn. There are four minor scoring mounds, which are scattered around the center of the field, which are worth small points (1-4, depending on which quarter of play you are in), and each player has one major scoring mound that is worth five points each.

If one player falls too far behind, they are eliminated.

Like most tabletop implementations of sports games, injuries (up to and including death) are a significant part of the game.

The rules are pretty simple on your turn, you can activate one player or you can play a card.

There are only two positions on each team, and each does things slightly differently.

The Runner is your ideal ball-carrier. They are the only players who can steal the ball from opponents and they are the only players who can score points for you.

The Bruiser is your team's hitter.  They can tackle or attack opponents. They can carry the ball, but they can't score you any points.

Each team has three stats and one special ability.  The stats are "Steal" "Tackle" and "Attack."  And the special abilities are widely varied between the dozen or so teams that are available.

Each team's position players also have different numbers of life points.

The goal is to get the ball to your runner and then protect that runner until the start of your next turn. If you start your turn with a runner holding the ball in a scoring space, you score points. As long as your runner can stay there, you continue to score points.  At the end of the quarter, runners don't even need the ball to be able to score points.

When you activate a player, you can take one of three actions:

  1. Sprint - move up to five spaces. If your sprinter is a Runner, you can attempt to steal the ball from an enemy at the end of your movement.
  2. Tackle - attempt to knock an opponent's figure down. Since you only have five pieces on the board at a time and your players can't stand up again until the end of the quarter, this is potentially huge.
  3. Attack - attempt to harm an opponent's player. Do enough damage to them, and they are killed.

The cards that you can play have a variety of effects. You can throw fire down on the field, set up additional scoring spaces, drop walls on the field, or move more figures (among other things). Most of these cards also allow you to activate a figure in addition to the card's effect.

There are actually three kinds of cards that you will play during the game. There are the cards I mentioned above (which are called tactics cards), there are cheat cards, and there are energy cards.

Energy cards are how you resolve contests. They are numbered from +1 to +5. If I decide to tackle you, we each play a card and add our team's stat to that card. High number wins. The same system works for steals and attacks. If you play a card that matches a card you've already played, its value is zero instead of its printed value.

In general, the game favors the active player. But not overwhelmingly so.

At the end of each quarter, bonus points are scored, figures which were knocked down are able to stand back up, board effects are cleared, the ball is returned to the center space, and play continues. Players can also suffer penalties for playing too many cheat cards (the player with the most actually loses points from their score). And you can get bonuses for having killed your opponent's players.

It's not a difficult game.

There are a few other wrinkles in there for advanced players - Upgrades and Ringers.

Upgrades are "always on" effects for your team. Some of them let you move faster or score points for successful attacks. Some of them are less-useful unless you're in league play. Like starting with more money, for example (don't get me wrong - it's good in one-off plays, too, but it's MUCH more useful in Leagues).

Ringers are star players. They all have different special abilities. You can only field one ringer at a time (unless you have the Upgrade that lets you field more). They count as both Runners and Bruisers, so they can tackle and steal and attack.

A random assortment of Upgrades and Ringers are available at the start of each game, and they are auctioned off at the start of play. So you can't build your strategy around having The Warrior on your team, because The Warrior might not even be there.

And you don't want to spend all of your money on those, either, because you can buy off your cheat cards in play so that you don't get stuck with the penalty for being the biggest cheater at the table.

The game plays two, three, or four players. It's best with two or four, however. I wouldn't recommend it with three. And the base game includes four teams, so you won't be instantly bored with the same matchup over and over and over and over.

It being a Cool Mini or Not game, each team has a set of sculpted figures to go with it. And some of them are quite awesome. But they're also the source of the only real problem I have with the game: Cheesecake. There are no female figures who are not overly sexualized in the game.

For some teams, it makes sense - the demon team, for example. But the Ninjas, for example, don't need to be cheesecake.  The Amazons (who are included in the base game) are the least cheesecake team that includes female players. Honestly, the cheesecake is so bad on some of the teams (like the Felinia Hellcats) that I considered not getting the game.

Sadly, this is not uncommon with CMoN games, either. I know there are people there who are working on it, but they've still got a ways to go.

But if the cheesecake doesn't bug you, then this is very much a game worth looking into.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

A Good Night of Games: Four Thumbnail Reviews

As I write this, we still haven't had the first official Wednesday Game Night at the house, but we had a small impromptu Game Night.

We kicked off with KaosBall, which is an Eric Lang design. Eric is one of those really nice guys that you hate because he's so talented.  The only thing that all of his games seem to have in common is that they are Good, Fun, or Both (and they're usually Both).  I need to write more about KaosBall at some future time, but it is Both. I just wish there wasn't so much cheesecake in the game. I'll be writing more about this game sometime soon.

We followed that with a three-player game of Scythe.  If you haven't played this one, it's another one that I need to spill some digital ink on.  Fantastic game. The only real complaint I have with it is the minimal amount of player interaction - especially with fewer players. It also seems to end pretty abruptly. But neither of those is even close to being a deal-breaker for me.

We followed Scythe with a game of Machi Koro.  I won't play this game unless the expansions are in play, because the base game is ... not great.  Boring and Predictable, for one. And there are a handful of broken strategies that can almost guarantee a win. The expansions fix these problems, and keep the game fresh. If you can track down the Deluxe Edition, it's worth it.

And then we wrapped up with Quadropolis.  It was only my second play, and the first time using the "expert" rules. I like this game, but it's not a ten for me.  Probably a six-and-a-half or a seven. I'll play it, and occasionally I'll seek it out. But I don't think it's going to become a favorite any time soon.  Although I've been wrong about that before. It's another game without a ton of player interaction, and the strategies are not readily apparent. Give me another three or four plays in the near future, and the strategy will almost certainly be clearer - but I expect I'll have trouble getting this to the table regularly.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Requiem for a Game Store

Two weeks ago, we had the Game Night Anniversary Potluck. It was the last Game Night held at Phoenix.

This is a post that has been very hard for me to write. I've started and re-started several times, now. I've given up on editing it, so this is going to be a poorly-edited splat, and it'll probably run long.  You Have Been Warned.

The first experience I had with Phoenix was when I was stepping into a Waldenbooks.  Across the way, there was this bright yellow store - but it contained games.

I went in, bought some D&D stuff, chatted with the staff for a few, and headed out.

I had no idea at the time that Phoenix was going to be my game store of choice for more than a decade.

No idea at all.

Brian was a fantastic store owner. He didn't ignore the business end, but he clearly had a passion for games. And, further, he worked hard to make sure that the store was clean and organized - down to pushing the chairs back in and straightening tables at the end of the night.

Brian worked hard to make sure the store was a safe place - and that no-one was excluded. When it looked like cliques were starting to form at Game Night, he (subtly) broke them up and mixed the folk up again.

The shop was both kid-friendly and kid-safe, and Brian was not shy about asking troublemakers to leave. Usually just for the night, but sometimes for longer.

We weren't customers at Phoenix - we were family.  All of us.

Brian closed the store to move to California to be with his wife. None of us blame him (or her) for this. We all knew it was eventually coming.

I'm pretty sure everyone who was a regular at the store has at least a few Brian Stories.  Here are a few of mine:

Within the first year or so of his being open, I was briefly unemployed. Brian hired me to run the shop for a few weekends here and there so he could go to weddings and the like.

That Christmas, he handed me four sealed envelopes. "Choose two," he told me. And he shredded the other two right in front of me. "You are not allowed to open these until you're going to use them," he said.  I don't know what was in the two destroyed envelopes, but one of them was a 30% discount. The other was a 100% discount.

He hosted my bachelor party. As bachelor parties go, it was ridiculously tame - but he didn't know that going into it (although given how tame I am, he probably suspected as much).

The last game I bought at Phoenix was Quadropolis. The last game I played at Phoenix was Black Fleet.

I met Stephan Brissaud (now with Iello, then with both Days of Wonder and Asmodee) through Brian, and that led to my Demo Team work with Asmodee that lasted for a decade.

So some of the best memories (and best friends) that I have either happened at Phoenix or because of Phoenix.

Thank you, Brian, for a dozen of the best years of my life.

I hope your future endeavors are as successful. You've set a high bar for yourself (and for the other local game stores) to meet.

Thank you.

Wednesday, September 07, 2016

Game Night: A Return To Roots

So Phoenix is gone.

That's ... that's hard for me to deal with.  The place had been a second home for me for more than a decade.

Thank you, Brian, for making it such. Your store was always welcoming and safe.  I hope all of your future endeavors achieve as much success as Phoenix did.

Some folks at the last Game Night Anniversary Potluck were a bit confused, however.

"Eric," I was asked, "How can this be the 14th Anniversary of Game Night when the store hasn't even been open 13 years, yet?"

And the answer is simple:  Game Night started in my apartment, before Phoenix Games existed. Back when Brian was still the regional manager for the Wizards of the Coast stores.

And now that Phoenix is gone, Game Night is moving to my house. Well, other than those folks up North who have found other Game Nights ('Round the Table in Lynnwood and Zulu in Bothell are both about to experience an influx of really great people).

I don't expect it to be huge. I'll honestly be surprised if we have more than just Steph and I for the first few weeks (at least), but I'm going to do exactly what I did 14 years ago:

Wednesday Evenings, my home is open to people I know who want to come play some board games. And people that my friends trust enough to invite.

I have games. I have tables. I have chairs.

I'm home by 7:30 - which, I realize, is a late start time on a weeknight. But Game Night has always been a late thing.

Need an address?  Let me know.  I hope to see you here.