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News Bits: 1/20/2014

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Did you miss me last week? I was busy helping my wife take care of our new daughter (!), but now I’m back, more or less into the swing of things. If you preferred Wolfie’s news, I’m sorry. But now, the NEWS:

iSlaytheDragon’s RSS feed update [LinkYes, yes, I know this is lame to put this first, but I want to make sure that those of you who follow us by RSS aren’t left in the lurch in our website update. Please update your RSS reader to our new feed link. Thanks! Now, we’re really on to the news, I promise.

Team Covenant interviews Christian Petersen, CEO of Fantasy Flight Games [LinkLet it be known that I don’t only support Euro games in the news here (*ahem*, Wolfie). This is a unique look under the hood of Fantasy Flight Games, especially their Living Card Game line and their philosophy on components and price point.

Gamasutra asks, “What makes a game?” [LinkWhere they land is somewhere near “ambiguous decisions,” or as we in the board gaming world typically call it, “interesting decisions.” I like the new term “ambiguous,” because really, I think that’s part of what makes a game so much fun. There needs to be enough in the game that isn’t solvable in order to be fun. If there’s always an optimum play, once you determine that optimum play, there’s no point in the game anymore. (The author here leans away from the term “game” for such activities; I’m not so sure I would.) Anyway, this is an interesting read.

Hyperbole Games interviews Colby Dauch (Summoner Wars) of Plaid Hat Games [LinkThis is a good interview, and Dauch has an interesting perspective on theme-first design.

GeekInsight reflects on the Brass 20 Challenge [LinkI’ve been following fellow blogger GeekInsight’s progress this year as he worked to play a single meaty game twenty times. And work sounds about right. I was initially a little jealous–as a blogger, I often have to play broad, but I want to play deep–but he has shown that my desire is probably of the “grass is always greener” variety. I will definitely try to play some of my games deeper this year, but a prescribed twenty times might not be the way to go.

Last Week on iSlaytheDragon [News Bits, Introduction to our new site, Gubs review, Rise of Augustus review, Pathfinder Adventure Card Game review, Interview with Anthony Gallela, Game of the Year 2013Last week was full of new stuff at iSlaytheDragon, but perhaps most notable was the unveiling of our site redesign. Do you like it? I hope so. Our RSS feed is fixed, but you’ll need to use this link (which might involve updating what you have in your reader). In the meantime, browse around and let us know if you find any bugs. This week we’ve got more reviews as well as a new column launching on Friday. Keep slaying!

Kickstarters of Note

  • Burgoo: This is another pay-what-you-want campaign for a minigame from Tasty Minstrel. I read the rules for this one, and it looks like it could be a fun mental exercise. $3 minimum.
  • Coconuts: I didn’t think it was so, but it turns out I love dexterity games. Click Clack Lumberjack was my most played game last year, and FlowerFall is a continual favorite. This looks like it’s in the vein of those other silly games. Players launch coconuts with monkey catapults. $30.
  • Fresco: Big Box: Fresco was a game I…thought was just okay. But I know a lot of people like it. Queen Games has the Big Box currently on Kickstarter, and it comes with a ton of expansion modules (maybe ones that will help it suit your taste?). It’s a beast of a box with a beast of a price: $70.
  • Space Junk: This project relaunched, but it looks interesting (although maybe similar to Galaxy Trucker?). 39 CAD.
  • Chaosmos: This game looks pretty cool, and I like the theme. $60. (And check out our interview with the designer here.)
  • Spurs: This is a game set in the Wild West. The production looks nice. $45.
  • Tiny Epic Kingdoms: A 4x game that plays in less than an hour? Sounds good to me. I read through the rules on this one, and it looks pretty solid (if a bit mechanical). Still, the artwork is great, and it’s hitting stretch goals like crazy. And it’s hard to beat the price: $16.
  • City of Iron: Experts and Engines: This is the expansion to Red Raven Games’ successful City of Iron. $20.

What We’ve Been Playing

  • Ginkgopolis: As you can imagine, with a new baby in the house, things have been a little…hectic, and not a lot of sleep has been happening. Still, as was the case before the baby arrived, I don’t need quite as much sleep as my wife does, and since she’s been going to bed early, I’ve been looking for some solo gaming options. I saw Ginkgopolis had a solo variant, and I decided to give it a try. In the Ginkgopolis solo game, your opponent–Hal–always builds, every single turn. This speeds the game along, but it also adds an unpredictable challenge: will Hal build over your stuff or his own? The first game against Hal, I beat him pretty badly, so I used the expert variant the next time, where if Hal is set to urbanize, you draw a new card for him and give him whatever will give him more points. In this second game he did better, but I still bested him by a point. This isn’t the most exciting solo experience ever, but it is diverting, and it has given me a chance to explore the game a little more. I can’t wait to try it with more human players. (FarmerLenny)
  • Robinson Crusoe: Adventures on the Cursed Island: This game has been hyped and hyped. After a recent auction, I decided to invest some of the proceeds into getting this game to find out what the hubbub is about. And hey, resale value is high if I don’t like it, right? Well, after my first solo play, I don’t think I’ll be reselling it. Robinson Crusoe has many things going for it for me: 1) it’s based (albeit loosely) on a literary classic, 2) it’s like a choose your own adventure for grown-ups, 3) the game has a very strong story component, which makes it more than a puzzle for solo play, 4) the game is also mechanically sound, built around tricky dilemmas and shortages. I played the Castaways scenario, and after a lengthy setup and noticing that one of my green dice was missing (grrr…), I got going. I tried to explore early and often, and my wood pile grew fast at the beginning. “Hey, this isn’t so bad!” I thought. But then the weather happened. I got pummeled night after night with the wind and the rain. And the snow. All of which depleted my stores of wood. I eventually “won” by choosing wounds over fulfilling the demands for wood, but I learned by reading the FAQ after my play that this was cheating. So…I didn’t quite make it off of the deserted island (although I forgot about the two scenario-specific items that grant more wood, which could have saved me). This game was pretty incredible, and I’m sure Robinson himself would have been proud that I played alone. I’m excited to play more of this game, with or without opponents–although the lengthy setup may keep me from playing it as often as I’d like. (FarmerLenny)
  • Rise of Augustus: I had a day off to enjoy some gaming and made a mental list of what I wanted to play for the day: Concordia, Ginkgopolis, and Nations were at the top.  We started with this filler before diving into the heavier stuff.  I hadn’t played it before and although I mildly enjoyed it I had an eerie feeling like I wasn’t really getting to make very many choices during the game.  My friend commented that there are probably more choices than I realized but I felt like your main decision was how risky you wanted to play.  I’m going to have to more or less side with FarmerLenny’s assessment on this one (follow the link for his review) although I’d probably rate it lower than him.  I prefer fillers with a little more control (or at least more choices) so I’ll likely steer clear of this one. (Andrew)
  • Concorida: I ran through my list and it took another five minutes of staring at games before I finally got everyone to agree on this one.  I’m a fan of Mac Gerdts’ economic rondel games (Navegador being my favorite) and this one appeared to be a fresh take on that style.  It had a bit of a point salad feel to it where you score points from a variety of sources but instead of having predetermined values for how things scored you got to control the multiplier of each category by the cards you purchased.  As you specialized in something you would also score more points for it.  The begin of the game was fairly overwhelming since unlike a rondel you had a lot of choices that narrowed down as you played your cards.  Part wait through the game I focused in on a strategy of getting all the wine cities and going through produce/trade cycles to fund purchasing more citizens and buying as many wheat cities as possible.  I was a little worried that the decision tree was going to be a little to wide for my taste but I was able to grasp it pretty well by the end and have been really looking forward to my next play.  I think this is my favorite Gerdts release so far. (Andrew)
  • MORE Ginkgopolis: A couple of the guys went out for pizza and I got to stay back and play a quick two-player game while we waited.  I suggested Ginkgopolis because it was on my list and because I’ve enjoyed it as a 2-player game.  I focused on getting expansion powers by drafting a hand exclusively with expand powers.  I had a couple of energy generators so I was able to net +1 energy every time I expanded so I mostly stuck with that and built when I could add some more cards to my engine.  In the second half of the game I started working towards making cohesive districts so I could score most of my random expansions and fought for a large blue district that ended up merging together from a couple different places.  I was doing quite a bit of building over my opponent and by the end I had quite a few more energy on the board than him.  We seemed to end the game before either of us could get too many scoring cards in play so majorities were a big factor and my aggressive building got me the win.  This one continues to impress me. (Andrew)
  • The Palaces of Carrara: It was getting late and people were tired so my final suggestion of Nations was met with resistance.  We settled for a quick game of ebbes followed by this one.  I had heard quite a few praises from people in my group so I was eager to try it out (while being slightly disappointed that I would have to wait for another time to play Nations).  I found the production wheel and unique scoring system to be intriguing yet still incredibly simple.   We played a beginner game and I found the mechanics to be pretty novel but the actual execution seemed a bit straight forward to me since everyone was just focusing on their own building type.  I tried to get small buildings in the two rarest colors (white and yellow) and was able to score two different building types along with those cities to get all five objects of both types.  I also bought an object on my last three scoring opportunities and ended up winning by two points so that seemed to be the deciding factor.  I would really like to try the advanced game because I really enjoyed both the buying and scoring system used in the game but would like a little more tactical depth. (Andrew)

I'll try anything once, but my favorite games are generally middleweight Euros.

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