Solo Board Gamer, Me?

One of the things that I like about analog gaming is that you get together and interact with real people, face to face. While the video game medium has come a long way in adding a social aspect to the gaming, it simply does not compare to the richness of a real-life experience with friends, sitting around the table and gaming together, albeit competitively.

Now, there are solo board games or, more commonly, multiplayer board games that have a solo play mode. Viticulture, Scythe, and Terraforming Mars are popular games in the hobby that can be played solo. In the past, I considered sitting at a table, playing a board game by oneself the equivalent of gaming masturbation. It just seemed sad to me and I didn’t see the point, particularly when many of my favorite games absolutely thrive on the interaction of the players.

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RISK: Star Wars Edition – Is it great?

RISK: Star Wars Edition (Hasbro, $29.99) came out in late 2015 and board gamers all over the world rolled their eyes. Another RISK game with a theme pasted on to capitalize on the Star wars franchise. Ho-hum.

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With such low expectations, the first surprise was that the game is nothing like Risk at all. More than that, it didn’t suck!

These two things created a knee-jerk reaction among some shocked board game reviewers who immediately began proclaiming the game as excellent and the second coming of The Queen’s Gambit, a rare, out of print game that is coveted by collectors. Reviews poured in, rating the game 8\10 or higher and making some Best of 2015 lists. It seems the game was a hit or at least was popular.

Risk: Star Wars Edition is a 2 player game (or 4 players in 2 teams) played on a board in the shape of Darth Vader’s tie fighter and divided into 3 separate games that link together and are played simultaneously with a Star Wars VI: Return of the Jedi theme. One player plays the Rebels, attempting to destroy the Death Star and the other plays as the Empire, attempting to thwart the Rebel’s plans.

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One of the three games simulates the fight between Luke and Darth Vader, with an opportunity for Luke to redeem his father after defeating him. This provides extra card draws to the winner.

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Another game simulates the shield assault on Endor to take down the shield surrounding the Death Star so rebel forces can attack it. This is key for the Rebel side to win and the Empire player must put Stormtroopers in their path to slow down their progress on the path to the shield generator.

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The game on the central part of the board is the main part of the game, the Attack on the Death Star, which has multiple rebel forces and the Millennium Falcon attempting to survive the onslaught of tie fighters, the Death Star and Executor attacks, until the shields are down and the Death Star can be attacked and destroyed by rolling 6 on 1d6.  This the most Risk-like part of the game, with  dice rolls determining outcomes.

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All of that sounds extraordinary and epic and I love Return of Jedi so much!!! Still, it’s been a few months since the game came out and *I think* I can now say the following without pissing anyone off too much:

1. It is true, the game is nothing like classic RISK, nor does it suck. That doesn’t mean the game is great but merely that it is not a rehash of the same old game of Risk with new pieces.

3. After one play of the game, players can see that the battle between Luke and Darth Vader is irrelevant to the game’s victory conditions since they will expend 3-5+ plays to win this part, in which case, they get 3-5 additional plays after doing so. It’s a wash and can be ignored, though some players might chose to play it. It doesn’t affect the outcome.

4. The other two parts of the game – “The Shield Assault” and “The Attack on the Death Star” are left entirely to dice rolls to determine the outcome and the game is heavily weighted in favor of the rebels winning, regardless.   There is some strategy in how you balance your moves across the Endor board and the central, Death Star board, as both are critical.  Generally, the Rebel player can focus most efforts on Endor until the shield generator is down, as it only takes one successful hit (roll a 6 on 1d6) to destroy the Death Star and win, once the shield is down.  The Empire player has to block up the route to the shield generator with stormtroopers, but this only slows down the inevitable. On the central board, the Empire wants to destroy as many of the rebel ships as possible and leaving even one Rebel ship is enough to destroy the Death Star and get a Rebel victory.

5. None of this is terrible but it hardly makes a great game. I think people were so shocked it wasn’t plain old Risk with Star Wars pieces, they mistook that relief for something more.

I know there are avid Star Wars fans out there that love the franchise and rightly so.  Sans the theme, Risk: Star Wars Edition is mediocre and there isn’t a lot to think about. It certainly can be enjoyed in the same vein that people enjoy a game of Monty Python Fluxx – because of the theme, but it’s not a lot more than that. I don’t begrudge anyone that pleasure and Risk: Star Wars Edition scratches an itch that other games may not be able to reach, but don’t mistake that for greatness. As of this writing, it holds a rank of 1279 on BGG, and I think that is a fine place for it.

Me, I’ll keep it in my collection for a while. I also have a copy of Monty Python Fluxx. I’ll keep that too. Neither are challenging strategically but can be fun to play once in a while when we’re in the mood for a light game about blowing up the Death Star or facing the Knights Who Say Ni.

(photos courtesy of Hasbro, 2015)

Diamonds Card Game–A Review

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Game Name: Diamonds
Publisher: Stronghold Games
Designer: Mike Fitzgerald
Year Published: 2014
Players: 2 – 6
Ages: 8+
Playing Time: About 10 minutes per player (i.e., 30 min. for a 3 player game)
Retail Price: $24.99 ($14.99 on Amazon)
Category and Mechanic:  trick-taking, hand management, card game, family game

Contents

• 60 Playing Cards, numbered 1-15 in four suits – diamond, heart, club and spade
• 6 Vault cards
• 6 Player Aid cards
• 110 small clear diamond Crystals (1 pt)
• 25 large red diamond Crystals (5 pt)
• Rules (8 pages)

Description: Diamonds is a trick-taking card game in which players collect diamonds – not cards bearing that suit, mind you, but rather actual “Diamond Crystals” (acrylic crystals) included in the game. What makes the game of Diamonds different from other trick-taking card games is that when you cannot follow suit you get a “Suit Action” based on what suit you do play. Suit Actions are also taken by the winner of each trick, as well as at the end of a full Round of play. Suit Actions will enable players to take Diamond Crystals from the Supply, moving them to their Showroom (where they may score 1 point) or to their Vault (where they will score 2 points). The Vault is a secure area, but the Showroom is vulnerable to theft by the other players. Whoever has the most points in Diamond Crystals at the end of the game wins!

My take on Diamonds: There are plenty of good trick-taking games out there already – Spades, Hearts, Rummy and Bridge, to name a few. The thing about those games is they take four players and no more. This game will play up to six and is designed by the renowned Mike Fitzgerald. I probably would have passed this one without a second thought if his name were not attached.

Diamonds has introduced some twists to the genre that make the old trick-taking game play fresh. You see, winning tricks is not the only way to get points, nor is it the best strategy to win all the tricks, even if you can. As in all trick-taking games, if you can follow suit with the card that was played, you must do so. But if you are null in the led suit, you can play any card, and when you do, you get to take an action, such as add a diamond to your showroom for a point if your card was a heart, or to your vault if your card was a diamond, or my favorite, steal a diamond from another player if you played a club. Take that!

It can take a few games of Diamonds before you grasp the elegance of the game, things aren’t apparent during the first couple of hands, when the game seems deceptively simple . The game requires that you think to play well but it isn’t “thinky” or prone to inducing AP, and the ability to perform Suit Actions throughout each round keeps everyone engaged.

Players all have a Vault standup placed so the diamonds put behind it can’t be seen by the other players. Everyone gets three diamonds placed in front of the Vault and this area is called the Showroom. The rest of the diamonds, both large and small, are set aside and this is known as the Supply. Finally, a randomly selected player begins as the dealer, dealing each of the players ten cards. Each player gets a “player aid” card that explains the Suit Actions and this helps new players, though it won’t be needed on games after the first.

Each round will consist of ten tricks and at the beginning of each round, once the dealer has dealt everyone their hands, the dealer decides how many cards will be passed to the player on the left, 0-3 cards. Each player passes the same number of cards to the left .  Then the player to the left of the dealer plays the first card and this determines the led suit. As with most trick taking games, each player will play a card until everyone has taken a turn and whoever has the highest card in the led suit wins the trick. Where Diamonds changes things up are in the Suit Actions as the winner of the trick gets to perform the action associated with the lead suit.

The Suit Actions are:

Diamonds – Take a small diamond from the Supply and add it to your Vault

Hearts – Take a small diamond and add it to your Showroom

Spades – Move a small diamond from your Showroom and add it to your Vault

Clubs – Take a small diamond from the Showroom of another player and add it to your Showroom

Where things get really interesting is if you can’t play a card of the led suit, you can place a card of any other suit AND take the Suit Action associated with it. If you have a card of the led suit you have to play it, even if it won’t help you to win the trick. The winner of that trick collects the cards and lay them face down in front of them until the end of the round. Once ten tricks are played and the round has finished, all the players count up the number of cards of each suit which they’ve won and whoever has the most of each suit gets to perform that Suit Action. Any player who doesn’t get to perform a Suit Action in this way gets to take two Diamond Suit Actions or, in other words, take two small diamonds from the Supply and add them to their Vault.

Remember, the goal of the game is getting diamonds and even better, getting them in your vault where the score two points each and can’t be stolen by a player taking a club Suit Action. Once you’ve completed an agreed-upon number of rounds (we usually play one round per player, so everyone gets to deal once), players add up the value of their diamonds (one point for each in the showroom and two points for each in the vault). The small diamonds are single diamonds and the large diamonds are equal to five diamonds. The highest score wins.

The luck of the deal is definitely a factor but the Suit Actions and the goal of banking as many diamonds as you can means the game’s winner isn’t necessarily the person who won the most tricks. When playing with less than six players, some of the deck will be not be used each round, making it impossible to count cards.  The vault adds an interesting element as well, as diamonds are moved around the table frequently, it is difficult to assess who has exactly the most or least diamonds behind their vault.

Most of the components are very nice. The cards are thick and have a linen finish, and the plastic diamonds are, well, sparkly and pretty and I want them. I want them all, MY PRECIOUS! While the vault shields are serviceable, they are the game’s weak point. They are small, light and easily knocked over during game play. This happened multiple times in our plays, and while it’s not a big deal, it does give the players a peek at your goods. It also gives everyone opportunity to mock and berate the clumsy player who exposed his bank by sneezing, so that’s always fun, eh?

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Will you like Diamonds?

  • If you like trick-taking, classic card games and particularly if you have a need for a game that plays well with 5-6 players, Diamonds is an obvious buy for you.
  • If you are looking for a gateway game to bring classic card game players into the hobby, Diamonds would also be a good choice and one that both gamers and non-gamers can enjoy.
  • If you are looking for a 20-60 minute filler game that relies on subtle strategy, making the most of the cards dealt, in a classic and easy-to-grasp yet difficult to master game, Diamonds may be for you.

There are also variant rules for 2-players, 4 or 6 player partners or “Perfect Diamonds” which limits the cards in a 2-5 player game, rather than reshuffling the entire deck each round, you only shuffle the cards that were originally dealt.  This allows players to know exactly what cards are in play during later rounds.

What do I think of Diamonds? I adore the game. I played several hands before I think I understood what the best plays were. Yes, having more diamonds in your hand is a plus but making the most of the opportunities to go off-led suit and score actions is where the strategy excels.

Or maybe it’s really all about winning the tricks.

I’m not sure how to win, yet.  But I like it.  I like it a lot.

– ML

The Mountain–A Board Game Experience for Writers

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The 2015 Global Game Jam – an annual event where game designers are presented with theme, and challenged to create a game around that theme in 48 hours.  The game can be a video game or a table top game, and there are awards for different categories. 

This year, the theme was, “What Do We Do Now?”   28,837 people registered to participate in GGJ, for 518 different jam sites in 78 countries.  An impressive 5438 games were produced.

The Mountain won Best Board Game, Jury’s Prize and took 2nd Place – People’s Choice Award, with credit going to: David Chircop – Design, Story, Graphic Design. Yannick Massa – Design,  Johnathan Harrington – Story, Design. Matthew Agius Muscat – Story. Fran Bte – Story. Daniela (iella) Attard – Art, Illustration.

BGG game description: “The Mountain is a board game experience for one player. It explores a pensive man’s descent from a mountain from the moment he reaches the peak. You navigate the mountain while exploring the man’s thoughts as he contemplates about the unknown abyss that lies exactly after his life’s biggest accomplishment.

There are five exit points on the board, one for every element that will affect your journey – frost, sun, wind, sky and horizon. As you try and find the path down, you learn more about yourself through the story cards, divided into five different story lines that affect you as a protagonist.

However, the path down is not immediately obvious. Your movement subdues and stimulates the elements. If three or four elements are acting, you start suffering from ennui; a feeling that perhaps getting to the bottom of the mountain is not that important after all. If all five elements are raging, you will succumb to nature and die.

Traverse through the safest path and take care of yourself. This could be either the most important journey of your life, or your last.”

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The Mountain certainly adheres to the Global Game Jam theme of, “What do we do now?”  Playing as a character who has just peaked in more than one way, he is now dealing with self-doubt and the lack of a goal in his life.  As he treks down the mountain, he is fighting his own depression as well as the elements, and his life is in danger.  This is a theme many writers could sink their literary teeth into, and I have been fascinated with this premise for years.

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The game has an interesting mechanic for movement, using 5 controller cards to determine which spaces can be moved onto in a given turn.  This presents an interesting puzzle, as you must plan ahead to insure you can move on following turns.  If you can not or chose not to move, you must still draw an Ennui card (pronounced än-ˈwē), representing a lack of spirit, enthusiasm or interest.  If you draw too many Ennui cards, the character gives up trying to descend the mountain and dies.  In game terms, that means you lose.

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If you can reach one of the 5 exit points around the map, and you have acquired at least 1 each of the 5 different element cards, you can end the game, leaving the mountain.  At this point, if you have more of the element card that matching the space you exit, you can draw the first ending card from that deck.  Otherwise you draw the second, less favorable ending card.

It’s an interesting exercise, and I played three times, which is far from exhaustive.  It did give me a feel for the game, and put my mind to a depressed story theme, but sometimes that is useful.

Note that this game is not available for sale, but the designers have been kind enough to provide a free print and play version, downloadable here: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B4B7PH3fGut_dkgyZE82dm1zUU0/view

Be aware that the file has a 4-page game board and 9 pages of cards.  The files are in full color, no B&W option currently available.

There is also a Printerstudio version of the game that can be ordered.  More details in this BGG post: https://boardgamegeek.com/thread/1319190/printerstudio-decks

 

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Board Game Review: Undead by Steve Jackson Games

Note: This is a revisit of a game I played in the 1980s and it is no longer in print, though copies are still for sale on eBay. In The Day, it sold for about $6, came in a plastic 4.5”x7.5” pocket box with a paper map and cardboard counters that had to be cut out with scissors. Dice required but not included.

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Undead by Steve Jackson Games is based on the classic novel, Dracula by Bram Stoker. Skipping the first part of the story, the game picks up where Dracula has reached London with fifty earth-filled coffins. He has killed Lucy and seeking more prey, but Van Helsing and his party are out to stop him once and for all.

In Undead, one player plays as Dracula, moving around and conducting sinister business at night. The other players play cooperatively as Van Helsing and his party, hunting him down. Lastly, there must be a game master (GM) who is the neutral party and referee. (Note the game rules state the game can be played as a 2-player game without the GM. My experience with this mode is not very good and I do not recommend it.)

The game is played on a map of 1890’s London, separated into regions for movement. Counters representing Dracula’s coffins or dummy counters are placed around the map, at least one in each area. These counters are upside down, so the Helsing players do not know which are dummies and which are coffins. The Dracula Player and the GM do, of course.

The players take alternating turns, with the non-moving player(s) physically leaving the room so they are unaware of what transpires in the opponent’s turn. Dracula makes his moves and actions such as distributing coffins to other areas, searching for a servant (Renfield), attempting to bite a victim, and so on with the GM. When his turn ends, he leaves the room. The Vampire Hunters enter the room, make their move and actions, such as searching for coffins, investigating victims, and generally trying to find Dracula before he raises enough female vampires to make an attack on them. The game proceeds like this until the Hunters and Dracula wind up at the same location on the map. Then, all players enter the room and combat is played out with dice on a smaller map, representing a single room. They can fight to the death or one or more members may flee the room, escaping (unless it’s Dracula and it’s day-time combat, in which case he can’t escape).

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The game is over when one of the victory conditions is met, but usually, this means Dracula and the Hunters wound up in the same place and fight until one of the parties is eliminated.

There are advanced and sometimes risky options for the players as well. For Dracula – doing a day-move, hunting the Hunters, raising female vampires or shape-changing into a wolf, bat or mist. The Vampire Hunters can likewise do a night-move, perform a transfusion on a victim (to prevent them from turning into a vampire), and hold a vigil or death watch over a victim.

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The secret moves and hunting for the bad-guy mechanic, using a map with turned-over counters was the first game of its type that I played in the 1980s. Using a GM for a board game is unique as well, and I recall play morphing into some role-playing, particularly with the players faced each other.

Dracula is a powerful and iconic antagonist, deploying his coffins around the city, thus making more places for him to hide during the day, and raising an undead army of female vampires. Hey, who doesn’t want their own army of female vampires? But board-gaming is a social activity, and as Dracula, you are never in the same room with the other players until there is combat. This can take hours before it happens.

The Vampire Hunters (assuming there is more than one person) at least have each other to interact with during this time. And the GM, well he is the all-knowing, all-seeing, friend to all, enemy to no one, but he doesn’t get to play. He just oversees the play.

A key reason I enjoy board games is the conflict\collaboration with other people that occurs in playing a tabletop game and this can take a while for Dracula and the Hunters to wind up in a situation where they interact.

Addressing the actual gameplay, there is enough variety to make it fun. Yes, Dracula will probably shuffle coffins around and bite someone during his turn, but he could try to do a day move, or hunt the hunters. Hunters might try a vigil or night move, and it’s when these big risks are taken that the game gains tension.

Still, there are typical actions that have no real strategy, such as randomly hunting for coffins. You get lucky and find coffins (or Dracula!), or you don’t. Regardless, it is luck-based. This can result in a game that lasts 30 minutes, or likewise, 4 hours. It just depends.

I loved everything about this game back in the ’80s. Now, seeing the game with fresh eyes, I rate it a little differently. The score below is on a scale of 1 to 5 with 5 being best.

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Ingenuity – 4 The game mechanic is unique though dated, and play is unlike other games. It almost has a party game feel to it but with more depth.

Strategy – 3 There is a lot of luck involved in this game but there are also a lot of choices to make, and that helps offset the chance a bit.

Social – 3 There’s some isolation of players while playing, but even the jibes at each other as Dracula and Hunters pass in the doorway between turns can be fun.

Theme – 5 Dracula. This is classic, gothic horror and it does it very, very well.

Fun – 3 I still think Undead is fun and while it can go on too long with turn after turn of not much happening, it has some incredibly tense moments that other games never achieve.

Components – 1 Come on. A paper map with thin, cardboard counters I have cut out myself? No dice? What do you expect for  $6 in the ’80s!! The plastic box was literally the best component, but considering that I’ve paid much, much more for a game with nicer components, and enjoyed a lot less, I have to give props to Undead. It’s fun based on the game not on the pretty plastic pieces. Still, speaking solely about the components, I have print and play games that look better.  Just sayin’.

Overall – 3.5 (rounded to the half) With the right group of players, this game can be loads of fun and even memorable. It’s much better than playing a game of Risk, and probably will take less time. Probably.

Microgames are making a comeback, thanks to Kickstarter. Unfortunately, SJGames has made no announcements that indicate it will rerelease Undead, even as a Print and Play. That’s too bad because the components make it an excellent candidate for the PnP model and I if it were re-released with better components, I’d snatch it up in a heartbeat.

Regardless, the game held up for me. Through my nostalgic eyes, I miss the days of the cheap, SJG Pocket games. Hell, I recently paid $100 for the Designer Release of Ogre which was another, $6 pocket-box game from the ’80s. Is this what it is coming to?

I’d be OK with that.

Game Review: Frag – A Board Game Based on a FPS Deathmatch. Wait… What?

 

A game of Deathmatch in Quake, Halo or any number of other First-Person-Shooter video games is where players play against each other; the winner has the most kills. It’s gloriously wanton and carefree – shooting everything that moves within your field of vision. Twitch-gaming at its best.

Now take that concept and unplug. It’s no longer a computer or console game – it’s on a table, with cardboard and plastic pieces, and dice. Lots of dice.

Wait. What?

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Welcome to Frag – Gold Edition, by Steve Jackson Games. “Frag is a computer game without the computer,” according to the introduction in the light, 4 page rule booklet. Clearly, we are not talking about deep strategy, here. It’s a gutsy, go for the glory type of game and if you die, well – wait to respawn and have at it again.

As for the strategy vs. luck involved in winning, I present this evidence: The game comes with 18(!) 6-sided dice. And consider this amazing fact – 18 dice will not always be enough! Couple that with 118 randomly drawn game cards, and well. It is guts over strategy. That will put the “serious” gamers off, and this is less like Chess and more like Risk. Or Uno – except you kill the other players.

For a game of this type to work, it has to play fast and Frag does as long as no one takes things too seriously. The brief rules are clear and well-written, but leave MUCH unsaid about specific situations, and require a degree of game-savvy and ability among the players to decide on “house rules” for circumstances that are not covered in the instructions. I chose to look at that as just another intriguing aspect of the game. If you (or your gaming group, or even one person in your gaming group) *MUST* have officially documented and complete rules, give Frag – Gold Edition a miss. For those who can lighten up and address ambiguous situations as they arise without it bringing the game to a complete standstill, read on.

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Each player has 3 stats: Health, Speed and Accuracy. You get 7 points to divide this among the attributes, as long as each stat gets at least 1 point and not more than 4.

There are also 3 different cards in the game: Weapons, Gadgets and Specials. Each player starts with 1 of each, and has opportunity throughout the game to draw more. These cards add a lot of flavor to the game and are often humorous.

The Special cards are fun and emulate online gaming experiences. The “No Carrier” card means a player is immediately dropped from the game and has to respawn. The “Lag” card causes a player to miss their turn. “Extra Ram” card allows the player to have 1 extra card in their hand, and so on. This is in keeping with the theme and holds up very well.

A player’s game turn consists of 3 phases:

  1. Check for Respawn
  2. Roll for Movement
  3. Movement, which consists of multiple possible actions:
    1. Move\jump
    2. Pick-Ups (attempt to grab an item on an adjacent square)
    3. Attack

These phases are straight-forward and resolved with dice roles, sometimes modified by the effects of a played card. After a player finishes his turn, it goes to the next player who does the same. The game is over once a player has scored 3 frags.

Basic math skills are needed – addition, subtraction, multiplication and division are frequently used, but the equations are not difficult. I’d say they were a good learning tool for kids to learn math, but the subject matter might be too violent to consider it a family game.

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The game components are great. The board is double-sided and made of thick chipboard, as are the die-cut counters for pick-ups and bullets. The cards are good stock and have rounded corners and the art is interesting and well-themed. The player boards where stats are maintained are dry-erase and reusable. 1 dry-erase pen is included (additional dry-erase pens recommended) The rules are brief and to the point. And it includes 18 d6 dice, which will be enough for most rolls, but you may have to do 2 separate rolls on occasions where more dice are required. The game needs a lot of dice.

I bought the game on Amazon for less than $15, shipped; a bargain, and I don’t know how long that will continue. For those looking for a fast-paced low-strategy game that finishes in an hour or less, Frag fits that bill very well.  This one won’t gather dust on my shelves.

Card Game Review: LOVE LETTER

The title and premise of the game, LOVE LETTER, will put most guys off but this one is worth a play, for the mechanic of the game alone, if not the theme.

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The premise of the game, Love Letter is exactly this: All of the eligible young men (and many of the not-so-young) seek to woo Annette, the princess of Tempest. Unfortunately, she has locked herself in the palace, and you must rely on others to take your romantic letters to her. Will yours reach her first?

Love Letter is a game of risk, deduction, and luck for 2–4 players. Your goal is to get your love letter into Princess Annette’s hands while deflecting the letters from competing suitors. From a deck with only sixteen cards, each player starts with only one card in hand; one card is removed from play. On a turn, you draw one card, and play one card, trying to expose others and knock them from the game. Powerful cards lead to early gains, but make you a target. Rely on weaker cards for too long, however, and your letter may be tossed in the fire!

The entire game consists of a small, 24 page rule book, 4 reference cards, 16 game cards, 13 “Tokens of Affection,” and a Red Velvet Bag with “Love Letter” embroidered on it to keep everything in.

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If you’ve hung in there, reading this review even after “Tokens of Affection,” and “Red Velvet Bag” – you’re either gay or really secure in the fact that you are not gay. It’s the indecisive men who get weird about this sort of thing. So yay you – you know what gender you are attracted to. Or you are a girl and are always smarter than guys, anyway.

That said – this game is one of the most original, unique and subtly challenging games on the market, and it costs less than $10. It can be learned in 5 minutes and the more familiar the players are with the game, the more interesting it gets. All that, and it’s a 4-player game that takes only 20 minutes. Maybe I should have opened with that part?

Anyway, the game is remarkably challenging and fun. Designed by Seiji Kanai and published by AEG, it currently has three licensed English versions available, and then some others.

American Original: I don’t know what to really call this version, but American Original works. It is the common version of the game and the one I own, with Victorian style artwork. All components are quality and fit in the red velvet drawstring bag nicely.Love Letter-2

Kanai Factory Edition: The artwork works very well with the theme. It is a boxed version, so no red velvet bag for you, and it has extra cards so you can play for the hand of the Prince, or two different Princesses. Now, this does not change the game at all, but does allow you to flavor it to your group’s preferences.

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Some of the cards are named differently from the American Original version, but play the same and have the same effects as their counterparts in the previous version. The big difference is the Minister, who replaces the Countess.

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While the Countess card is commonly a handicap card, the Minister card can put you out of the round if your total hand of 2 cards is over 12 points (and the Minister counts as 7). In a game of only 16 cards, this can change gameplay dramatically.

Love Letter: Legend of the Five Rings Edition: This is an upcoming version, (announced but unavailable as of this writing).  It sounds very cool but I don’t know much about it yet.

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Rogue Editions: An artifact of a good game mechanic is that someone will theme the game differently to suite their own needs or ego. Love Letter has had unlicensed “Print and Play” versions of the game done to the themes of Dr. Who, Star Wars, X-Files, Alice in Wonderland and more. If you choose one or more of these downloadable versions, consider buying a retail version of the game, so the designer and publisher are compensated for their game being ripped-off.

I admit, after playing this game over and over, I broke down and bought little plastic hearts to use as Tokens of Affection, instead of the red cubes.

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All said, even now, a year later, Love Letter remains on my go-to filler game list. Either retail version has quality components and is well worth the modest price tag. It is one of those rare games that transcends theme. It is also a great gateway game for wives or girlfriends.

If you enjoy any kind of gaming at all that involves other people, Love Letter is a win.

Game Review: NUCLEAR WAR Card Game – A Blast from the Past

Let me be absolutely transparent: This is a review that is heavily weighted by nostalgia.

Nuclear War.  I was regularly playing this game with my gaming group in the early 1980’s, before a game about blowing up millions of people to win might be considered “politically incorrect” (finger quotes mandatory). It was a go-to game to play before or after a more lengthy game with heavier strategy and I recall we played a lot of it with both of the expansion packs. We loved Nuke War.

NukeWar-Cover

Cut to today.  Surprised it is still in print, I purchased a brand new copy of Nuclear War. The box is almost identical to the copy I had in the 80’s and the cards and spinner have not changed much, either.

You read that correctly – the game has a spinner. The only other game I have played that had a spinner is Twister when I was thirteen and reaching to put left hand on green while rubbing body parts with Caroline in the process when I was still figuring out what the body parts were for, so… huzzah for spinners.

In Nuke War, each player plays as a nameless country, embroiled in global propaganda, where population is stolen from other player’s countries to join your own. This can only go on so long before someone launches a missile and then propaganda means nothing and the cold war is over – all countries start blowing each other up. The game’s goal is to be the last player with remaining population cards, and there are other random events that shake things up, such as the Super Germ, where 25 million people die from an epidemic.

Nuke War touted it was, “One of the few games where it is possible to have no winners (often everybody loses!).” This is true, and there were quite a few games where we annihilated each other, with no player having any remaining population. In a way, this abstract game felt real. Back in the 1980’s, we worried a lot about someone pushing The Button and starting a global nuclear war.

Nuke-War1

Jump to now and I play the game again, 30 years later. I’m playing with a 14-year-old son. I watch him and judge his reaction to the cards, spinner, and game play. To me, this is old school gaming and I am almost giddy. We blew each other up with nuclear weapons. Lo and behold, neither of us won. We destroyed each other.

My son said, “Seems like the way to win a nuclear war is not to play.”

He’d never seen the movie, Wargames, (a parental failing of mine that I will soon rectify) so he arrived at that conclusion on his own. But I thought I had to get it across to him that this is ONLY A GAME. We played again.

This time, I won, but not but much – just 6 million population, after my son’s nation had final retaliation.

We played two more games.

He won one of them and wasn’t very talkative during these games.  We’d been playing for a couple of hours.

“What do you think about the game?” I asked.  It was a fair question after he played four games in a row.

“Next game, let’s only do propaganda until the end; until everyone has defected from one country or another. That way, no nukes and nobody gets blown up.”

He doesn’t want to play a game where millions of people are wantonly killed. Despite myself, I am raising a boy that is better than me. I could not hope for more.  Unfortunately, the game is very dull unless you do blow each other up but we gave a “cold war only” version of the game a chance.

While I won’t make him play Nuke War again, I make it a point to play games with my son and cultivate the simple enjoyment of sitting at a table and interacting with people over a game.  We just don’t do these sort of things enough.

While the theme is not politically correct, I still love the Nuke War card game

· Game: Nuclear War

· Publisher: Flying Buffalo Games

· Designer: Doug Malewicki

· Year Originally Published: 1965

· Players: 2-6

· Ages: “players of all ages” but realistically, 8+

· Playing Time: 30-45 Minutes

· Retail Price: $29.95

· Serious Game Rating: 4 of 10

· Family Game Rating: 7 of 10

· Component Quality: Excellent except for the population cards, which suck and have to be cut out with scissors.  (I later bought improved population cards from Flying Buffalo at a convention for $10)

· In the Box: 100 playing cards, 40 population cards, 1 Bomb Effect Spinner, Rules and 4 playing mats

· Expansions Available: Nuclear Escalation, Nuclear Proliferation and Weapons of Mass Destruction

Are Microgames a Fad?

Microgame (mī’krogãm) – The term generally refers to table top games which are packaged in a format that is “pocket sized” (approximately 4×7 inches). Game pieces are typically cards, cardboard counters or tiles and\or dice.

OGRE

In the 1980’s, some of my favorite games were from Steve Jackson Games and came in a plastic pocket box, selling for less than $8. There were other microgame publishers like the now defunct Task Force Games, and I would love to get my hands on a decent copy of Intruder (obviously based on the movie, Alien) by TFG. The cheap pocket game format fell out of vogue in the 1990’s and popular games were repackaged with nicer components and higher price tags. Most just died.

Coin Age

Microgames have seen a rebirth in the last couple of years, largely through the user-backed game projects on Kickstarter.com. Most of these games sell for $5 or less and have small but well produced components. Tasty Minstrel Games (TMG) has had particular success in this arena, with Coin Age, Burgoo and This Town Ain’t Big Enough for the 2-4 of Us.

Tiny-Epic-Kingdoms

Province

Other producers are rushing into this fray, Tiny Epic Kingdoms by Gamelyn Games and Providence by Laboratory are euro-microgames experiencing huge support, as an example. All of these have exceeded their funding goals by large, even phenomenal margins, indicating a lot of support from the gaming community and desire for small games that setup and play is less than 30 minutes.

Why?

Well, I’ve backed every microgame to hit Kickstarter in the last six months, and I’ll tell you why I do it, though it may not be why anyone else is doing it.

Here are my reasons for supporting Microgames:

  1. Low cost investment, and as I said earlier, some of the best games I have ever played were cheap games.
  2. It’s fun to back a motivated entrepreneur. Again, my investment is low, but I contribute and get updates about progress and sometimes opportunity to offer opinions on what the finished product will look like. Where else can you spend $5 and get that sort of influence?
  3. I LOVE board games. I always have. Period.
  4. Microgames remind me of the games I played in the 80’s. Some were profoundly complicated but they fit the entire game in a zip lock baggie, and that’s pretty damned impressive.
  5. The new microgames are usually fast-play games, taking less than 30 minutes. This is very appealing to me as I find it difficult to buy out time from my life for things like board games. Also, my son has ADD, so games that don’t take too long to play are good for us and fit into the limited attention span he has.
  6. Summary: Microgames are capitalizing on the small format, but they still pack a lot of strategy and fun into the gameplay (just like the microgames I used to play as a kid). Couple that with a low investment and quick play time, and this appeals to my demographic in a big way.

Some people say the microgame explosion is a trend that will run its course soon, and it may. I also like playing more expensive games that have nice components, deeper strategy and longer play-time, but I’m happy to have some good choices for a shorter but still enjoyable game. I do not think I am unique in my appreciation of that, and I don’t think it is a fad.

The microgame market that has always been there and is only being rediscovered. It didn’t look profitable at first, but the numbers are showing that is not the case at all. I will continue to be interested in low cost, fast-play games from up and coming producers. I’ll continue to support them in safe and limited ways like Kickstarter affords, and I think table top gaming’s future is brighter due to the diversity of games available from TMG, Gamelyn, Laboratory and others.