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‘Tis The Season For Gaming

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My daughter by the Christmas tree
My daughter by the Christmas tree

I remember Christmas time from my childhood fondly.  Every year my parents, sisters, and I would cram into our car early in the morning and make the drive from Wisconsin to Ontario to visit the rest of our family.  Once we arrived the adults would have all us kids play in the basement while they attempted to catch up and relax.  I particularly remember emerging from the basement to find them playing some sort of game.  We’d barge in with a stream of inquisitive questions “Can we play? What’s that card do? Who’s Winning?”  Once the volume got loud enough we were sent back to the basement only to interrupt again later.  Now that we have kids of our own we usually resort to nap and bed time to get our gaming in but still face our fair share of curious children.  It’s a bit of a family tradition by now I guess.  So what did we play?Blockers!

First up was Christmas with my wife’s side of the family.  They mostly enjoy party games like Pictionary or Scattegories but have recently gotten into some quick strategy games, mainly Take It Easy! and Blokus.  Now I enjoy those two games but I like a little more variety so I brought along a couple new ones to try out this Christmas.  First up was Blockers! which I pitched as a mix between Scrabble and Blokus, not entirely accurate but close enough.  The rules are nice and simple so we were able to jump right in to playing.  I certainly don’t think the mechanical comparison to Blokus holds up but it does give a similar feeling of having the board close in around you and scrambling for the good spots before they get taken.  By the end of the visit they were asking about where they could order it, sounds like a success!

Take It To The Limit!

The second new game is a bit of a sequel to Take It Easy! so I figured at the very least I wouldn’t have to do much rules explanation.  In comparison to Take It Easy! this offers more of everything: tiles, rules, boards, and time to play.  If you use the full rules it’s a little bit overwhelming so I decide to try just the Nexus board without the Scrapyard or Sunray/Moonbeam rules.  We made it a dozen tiles in before one of the players got overwhelmed and quit.  Luckily the rest of them toughed it out to the end although mostly everyone felt like the game went on for too long.  I convinced a couple of them to try out the Orchid side of the board and we had much better results.  The game went much quicker and felt far less overwhelming much more like a higher strategy version of Take It Easy! rather than just a longer one.

I tried again with my side of the family who is also familiar with Take It Easy! but this time started with the Orchid side first.  Things went well and everyone seemed to enjoy it so we went into the Nexus board with the Scrapyard.  The results were similar to my wife’s family’s reaction.  Mostly everyone felt like it was longer without actually feeling that much more rewarding.  The Scrapyard was a nice touch but probably not enough to make me want to try out the Nexus board again.  I do really enjoy the Orchid board so I’m glad I picked up Take It To The Limit! and look forward to playing it more.

Pirate Dice: Voyage On The Rolling Seas

My brother-in-law surprised me with this game for Christmas and despite not really knowing anything about it I quickly drew the connection to RoboRally which I have played.  This turned out to be a really great gift as I’m not sure I would have discovered this game otherwise.  As far as relatively quick, light, and chaotic filler games go this one is likely going to end up as one of my favorites.  I found that it was easy to teach and can be quickly picked up after only a couple of rounds.  We started with the basic “go grab the treasure” scenario and it seemed like one player was able to break away and grab the treasure before they could be stopped.  The game was still a blast even with a relatively anti-climatic ending so I suggested the advanced “bring back the treasure” game and that made it even better.  Later on I tried the full 4-player game and really enjoyed the chaos as everyone rammed, shot at, sabotaged, and sank each other all the way to the treasure.  The variety of board is a nice touch to keep the game fresh and I’m guessing this gem will see much play in the future.

Race For The Galaxy: Alien Artifacts

I had all but given up on Alien Artifacts arriving before the end of the year.  But then one night shortly before Christmas it showed up on CoolStuffInc.  It was a Christmas miracle!  I ordered it right away, having it shipped to my parent’s house where we would be visiting after Christmas, and desperately hoped that it would arrive in time.  It showed up on Boxing Day in Wisconsin as planned and after a long day of traveling from Indiana I was warmly greeted by my family and the most wonderful package.  After everyone was fed and the kids were down we broke it out.  I tried the non-orb game to start as suggested so that we could get to know the new cards.  Many games ensued over the course of the trip so I don’t recall the details of each one but I was extremely impressed by the variety of strategies offered by such few cards.  All sorts of new opportunities are opened up by the start worlds and cards including an exciting boost to exploring, settling, and specialized consumption strategies.  My beloved Genes consume engine is back in full force and key words get their moment to shine once again.  I love nearly everything about the first arc: goals, prestige, and crazy powerful combos that allow your score to get ridiculously high!  Alien Artifacts without the orb shows the no-nonsense super filler side of Race that I love as well.

Unfortunately I only got one chance to play the orb scenario and we ended up abondening it part way through when my brother-in-law said he just wanted to “play his cards”.  I understand his frustrations but I found it to be extremely intriguing and am looking forward to revisiting it with some of my fellow Race veterans.

7 Wonders

This one has fallen off a bit in my gaming groups but it is still perfect for my family.  There are often 6-7 of us wanting to play a game at the beginning of the evening and it’s just more fun if we can all play together.  I always try to push for using the expansions but the extra draft (and symbol lookup) of Leaders is usually a bit much and Cities is viewed as mean because of the coin breakers.  I convinced everyone to play with Cities if I ensured that the coin breakers don’t make it into the mix and we had some great games.  One game had two players scoring 3 full sets of science cards for 48+ points but just barely lost to my underworld powered Giza.  I was able to play a Trading Post (discount brown goods), Marketplace (discount grey goods), both Clandestine Docks (1 per turn discount buying), Black Market (produce something you’re missing), and Caravansery (wild brown good).  One of these days I’ll convince them to add in Leaders to get the full 7 Wonders experience or perhaps there will be that new expansion to try out by next Christmas!

La Boca

Ever since I heard about this one I thought it would be perfect for my family.  It can play up to 6 (or more with teams), offers a social element to keep everyone engaged, and has fun and frantic puzzle-solving gameplay.  It’s almost as much fun to watch as it is to play!  We tried the easy cards in our first game as we got used to the best ways to solve the puzzles and communicate with our partners.  We were a little cautious at first often spending a couple of seconds to make sure everything was right before stopping the timer.  However, by the second game we switched over to the advanced cards and had some lightning fast rounds.  There was no more pausing to make sure everything checked out before hitting the timer, you didn’t want to lose those precious seconds!  We even had a round where someone literally tossed a piece into the middle of the puzzle to try and hide it as they were hitting the timer.  It landed a little crooked but we gave it to them because of how hilarious it was.  Even my wife who hates spatial games ended her first game by saying that she wanted to play again so that she could get better because it was so much fun (and she’s a bit competitive).  I’m expecting La Boca to stick around for many family gatherings to come.

Ascension

Every year we split up into 2 groups to play side by side games of Ascension, this works out nicely now that there are 3 blocks to chose from.  The ladies picked Rise of Vigil (with Darkness Unleashed) and us guys got Rise of Storms (with Immortal Heroes).  The starting row was dominated by monsters but there were a couple of high cost cards so I focused on runes.  Part way into the game both boards appeared to be fully stocked with monsters much to the delight of the power heavy players.  I ended up doubling down on runes and watched the rubies pile up in my opponents’ possession before the monsters finally cleared out, much too late to make a come back.  The game was still a blast as I watched my brother-in-law take a Unite, Soul Gem, and Trophy Monster heavy mega turn to stake his claim as the victor.  I’m looking forward to next year when we add another block to the mix.

Blueprints

I got this one for a Christmas present from my family hoping that it would be quick enough to fit in between activities with the kids.  My dad seemed intrigued by the cover and suggested that we play it one day while the kids were eating lunch.  I was very impressed at how easy it was to teach and the gameplay was quick but still offered some nice decisions.  The prizes give the players some nice goals to pick from while the ever-changing pool of dice keeps the game tactical and quick.  By the last round we were starting to pay more attention to what the other players were doing and there was some hate drafting which seems like half the fun of the game.  I only got one game in while I was there but I’m thinking this will be a perfect lunch time game for the office.

I hope everyone else had a wonderful, peaceful, and game-filled holiday season.  What did you get to enjoy with your family?

I love optimization and engine games with tableau builders and card driven ones being my favorite. This usually means medium-heavy euros and medium-light card games.

Discussion2 Comments

  1. Nice recap! My family has resisted the 7 Wonders expansions also, but Cities gets a wary pass (mostly because it’s easier to integrate). I’m looking forward to the Babel expansion.

    I’m strongly considering getting Blueprints once it’s in stock. I’m eager to hear your continued impressions of the game.

    • I was very impressed with Blueprints from my one play. Specifically, I had initially thought that the choice of drafting dice and how to build would be overly simple and not leave much room for choice. After playing I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how planning for the prizes and watching what the other players are doing gives some tough choices. It’s still light enough to play quickly but it’s nice that you don’t always have the obvious choice of which dice from the pool to take. Dice can also be a bit of a turn off for me in games but I think they’re used nicely here to randomize the game state and give some push-your-luck elements. The small box size is a nice bonus as well, it’s a real winner in my book so far!

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