This week is my first attempt at taking the News Bits is a slightly different direction by focusing on the board game community and leaving the game specific news for the Dragon’s Peak. We’re proud to be part of such a positive and supportive community, here are some of the great articles we’ve been reading. Make sure to take the time to encourage the writers that tirelessly provide such excellent articles to keep us thinking and entertained when we’re not actually playing games!
Articles From The Community
When you sit down to play a board game what are you hoping to get out of it? Grant from Hyperbole talks about what makes a game rewarding. He’s not just talking about giving out victory points left and right (and I looooove victory points). Rather, what experiences deliver a constant source of dopamine to your brain? I imagine him sitting in front of his board game collection while he writes his articles because they are always chalked full of great examples.
I’m relatively new to twitter but one of the coolest things that I’ve seen so far (besides dice in mouths and GenCant) is #BoardGameHour, a weekly hour long discussion (or virtual hangout) about board games. It can be a little hard to follow for the uninitiated but luckily there’s an excellent recap of this week’s session on Re-playability over at Ministry of Board Games.
Last week Alex at Games Precipice talked about how the relationship between Theme and Mechanics was more of a gradient than binary. This week Matt follows up on the topic by discussing how games can fall on different areas of the spectrum based on how well the theme is integrated into the game. I absolutely agree that a game wishing to introduces a richer theme needs to work harder to reinforce it with proper design choices. He sums it up nicely by pointing out that “You’ll know you’ve succeeded if your players start talking about what happened in the game rather than the game itself”.
Luke from Across the Board Games appeals that “as an industry it is important for the products we make to reflect the diversity of the people buying and playing them”. Within a community that seems to both obsess over and loathe thematic trends it’s great to see designers take chances with more diverse themes, characters, and settings. The high praise that Freedom: The Underground Railroad received should be proof enough that we will welcome and encourage refreshing experiences.
If you’ve ever been interested in or aspired to design a board game you’ll likely come to the realization that it’s a daunting task. Toby from the Australian Tabletop Gaming Network got the chance to sit down with Allen Chang (Rise To Power) and Jason Kotzur-Yang (Hedron) for an in depth look at going from concept to a published game. The resulting video is quite long (slightly over an hour) but extremely informative and an excellent source for budding designs.
There are many trademarks of a great game but it seems that no matter how good a design is there’s someone out there that has had a miserable time playing it. The NSKN Games Blog shows that even great games are broken when sub-optimal play shows up. Should game designs be robust enough to weather a chaotic or tired player? Should we expect games to play smoothly on our first attempt or are punishing learning curves acceptable if an experienced player is given a deeply rewarding experience as a result?
I’ll admit that a term like “Special Powers” is a little tough to define but it seems like most people are familiar with the concept. MVP Games looks at how special powers can be used effectively in games and what makes them so fun. I particularly like the point that special powers are hard to balance and require extensive playtesting even for one small change or addition.
Ignacy Trzewiczek (Imperial Settlers) has an incredibly entertaining blog that is well worth checking out if you haven’t read it before. His most recent entry tells a story about how each year he gets stressed out leading up to Essen. But this year he got that stress out of the way with the release of Imperial Settlers at Gen Con. It’s interesting to hear about convention season from a designer’s perspective (and be entertained in the process).
Renier Knizia isn’t exactly well known for being a master of theme but Michael over at No High Scores points out how he conveys his theme subtly through his mechanics. I absolutely agree that the theme and mechanics pair well in his games in an elegant way for those wishing to appreciate his design without being beat over the head with theme. I’m generally a mechanics-first theme-light appreciator so this article conveys well why Knizia’s games are so well regarded.
Last Week on iSlayTheDragon
I was very excited to share the very first article in the new Dragon’s Peak series last week and look forward to following it up with another entry on Friday. We have plenty more articles planned for this week including an exciting Kickstarter preview.
What We’ve Been Playing
I’m currently in the middle of a board game drought but I’ve got some plans for this week so hopefully I’ll have something to share soon. In the meantime enjoy Meghan’s excellent recap of her wonderful weekend of gaming!
Morels – Started out the weekend with a nice, light walk through the woods with this one. Not heavy on the strategy, but enough to make it a fun time. The artwork alone makes me glad that I was able to find this one, tucked away on a bottom shelf at our FLGS. I managed to cook almost all of my mushrooms and edged out a victory over my hubby.
Eldritch Horror – We don’t get this one to the table as much as I would like to. So I was glad when we had a few hours this weekend to bring it out. We always have such a blast playing it. We started out with two characters that both quickly went mad with terror, and things were not looking great for a win. Luckily, our new characters had a stronger resolve and we were able to beat the dreaded Cthuhlu. This was the first time we have been able to beat him, so it was a huge victory for us!
Smash Up – Another one that we rarely get to the table. We decided instead of picking our decks, that we would roll a die and see what we get. I ended up with Aliens and Ninjas. Both are very heavy on the “get rid of other minions” action cards. Play went quickly on this one, and it looked like hubby was going to get the victory, but with a few well placed minions on a few high point bases allowed me to sneak by for the win. I find this one plays fine with two, but really needs more players to shine. I love the artwork though, so just being able to play it is a treat.
Takenoko – This game just makes me a happy. One that gets played over and over again at our house. It is fun, a bit challenging, and serene at the same time. We play with a house variant of mixing all of the cards together, so that you don’t have a choice on what cards you get and have to complete. It makes it a bit more difficult than the regular game. At the beginning there were no panda cards, so our board was overrun with bamboo! Even if you are losing this game you tend to feel good about it. Hubby took the win on this one….only by 4 points though!
Pandemic – We decided to play another Co-Op game and chose this one because it was another we hadn’t played in awhile. We have the “Into the Brink” expansion, so played with the virulent strain cards. Hubby got to play the researcher which I am sure helped in our victory. It was close though. We had run out of black disease cubes and if any of the black city cards had popped up we would have lost. It was luck of the draw that we were able to cure the last disease and win the game. Most of the world was still covered with cubes, but at least we had the means to make them better again! Afterwards we counted how many cards we had left in the deck and discovered we only had 4 turns left on that end and one more virulent strain card among them. When we were packing up the game I remembered a rule that we hadn’t been using, (once the disease was cured, when you got to a city, as an action you could remove all the cubes instead of one) which had actually made the game harder!
Hive – Nearing the end of the day I just wanted to play something quick. So we played a couple of games of Hive. I am still finding different strategies for this game after many, many plays. I love how deceptively simple it is. We each pulled off a victory and decided to leave it as a tie.
Robinson Crusoe – I love this game. It has everything and is just a joy to play. Despite our low win ratio! Even though everything horrible happens, you always go away feeling that you have done something, and that your choices have meaning to them. We played the Cannibal Island scenario twice and suffered a defeat both times. Although this game can be frustrating, you end up talking about your strategy and what you would do differently next time. It leaves you wanting to put yourself through that torture again and again. I can’t wait until we can get this one back to the table.
That Knizia article was great. I’ve always thought he captured the “feel” of a theme if not necessarily its atmosphere. Lost Cities is a good example: cardplay is very mathematical, but it captures the tense feeling of starting something without knowing whether you’ll be able to complete it. You don’t really feel like you’re on an expedition, but you’re in for a tense ride regardless.
Also, I know I don’t write for the site anymore, but I played Lords of Vegas this weekend, and it was so, so awesome.
I also really liked that article because we need more Kinizia appreciation in our newness obsessed hobby (says the guy who just started a new weekly article about upcoming games). I appreciate thinking outside the box about how mechanics convey a feeling that matches up with the theme but that only works if you enjoy subtlety. You’re not going to convince people who want their theme front and center supported by the mechanics with that line of reasoning. A great article nonetheless and it’s always interesting to see how people approaches games differently and enjoy different things as a result.
If you ever want a spot on the “what we’ve been playing” section feel free to send me an email and we’ll add you in as a guest contributor. You may not be writing for us anymore but you’re still a dragon slayer at heart. However, regarding Lord of Vegas I had a much different experience and very much disliked that game. I’ve only played once but I’m not really interested in trying it again. What did you enjoy about it? It seemed interesting mechanically and thematically but man, I just did not have fun. Actually, I did have some fun but my frustration level far exceeded my fun-having level.
I may submit plays in the future.
Everything you say about it tells me YOU should have loved it too. Lords of Vegas gamifies gambling…without actually losing your shirt. The entire game is based around bets and manipulating probability to your advantage. My wife and I played a 2p game, and we really enjoyed it (although we agreed that the game probably isn’t for everyone–it seems like what you get out of it is group dependent). I think if you don’t take it too seriously, it’s great fun, and there’s still a good deal of strategy in the box.