Friday, July 26, 2013

New Arrivals This Week 7/23/13 to 7/29/13

by Becky "President of Everyone" Topol

There is so much great new stuff in the store this week! After a torturous wait, we’re thrilled to have
Forbidden Desert on the shelves. A thematic sequel to the massively popular Forbidden Island, Forbidden Desert sets you out on a cooperative quest to find the parts of a legendary flying machine, scattered in the shifting sands of a desert. Forbidden Desert features an ever-changing board, constantly re-shaped by an increasingly brutal sandstorm. You and your team must carefully manage your cards to get to various places in the desert, hoping to locate the machine parts along the way. If you can rebuild the ship, you fly out of the desert as heroes. If not, you become permanent parts of the desert yourselves. The flying machine included in the game is EXTREMELY cool, with various detailed and moving parts. A bit harder than its predecessor, Forbidden Desert is an awesome choice for adventure-seekers of all ages.

We have several games in the store that we like to call the “DC games”. These are board games that focus on politics, legislation, corporate sneakiness, and usually plenty of backstabbing. Added to this pantheon is Corporate America, a satirical game about corporate influence in government. Each player takes the helm of a corporation, and throughout the various game phases they attempt to build up their company, make money, bribe each other, manipulate the consumer population, and eventually run for President. The President gets Executive Privilege, can affect other companies, and of course, blatantly break their campaign promises. All players keep their money secret throughout the game, and whoever has the most money at the end wins. Are you underhanded enough to rule Corporate America?

Suburbia is a tile-laying game in which players try to build their small town up to a major metropolis. The first aim is to make your town self-sufficient by building commercial, industrial, civic, and residential areas, as well as special points of interest that make use of the resources of nearby towns. As your town grows and improves, more people will flock to live there, and the town will produce more money and resources. Cities can grow to contain massive skyscrapers and bustling international airports, attracting yet more citizens and cash. Whoever has the biggest population at the end is the winner, with the greatest city of them all! Suburbia snagged this year's Mensa Select award, so it's a great choice for those looking for a challenging twist on the popular civilization-building framework.

The streets of Victorian London are filled with fog and mystery, and it’s up to you to solve the case! In Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective, you and up to seven of your friends all try to become top sleuth of London, aiming to beat out Sherlock Holmes himself! The game, winner of the 1985 Spiel des Jahres Award, is chock-full of detailed parts and props including a London directory, detailed maps, newsprint, and a casebook. Choose one of the ten included mysteries, and try to solve it faster and more efficiently than Master Holmes and your opponents. More points are awarded when you use fewer clues to come to the right conclusion, so you must think carefully before you act. The world of the game is deeply researched, and accurate with respect to the reality of Victorian London and the works of Arthur Conan Doyle. Some players even choose to take the slow route to solve a crime, which costs points but allows them to follow every lead, explore the city, and meet characters like Lestrade, Moran, and Moriarty. Full of opium dens, murdered lions, and missing paintings, Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective has a deep and engaging world well worth investigating.

And those are just a few of the cool new arrivals we’re excited about this week! We also have an Edward Gorey themed dress-up game in the form of E. D. Ward: A Mercurial Bear, which is both adorable and slightly creepy. The new Android: Netrunner expansion Creation and Control will be arriving today. This deck focuses on Shaper and Haas Bioroid (which Kempe correctly predicted I wouldn't be able to spell right on the first try). And for those of you who need a little more chaos in your lives, Fluxx: the Board Game will also be coming in today! We have a demo I got a chance to peek at, and this thing looks wild. Not only does it introduce a shifting, changing board to the Fluxx framework, but each player must now juggle several pawns, various goals, and crazy movement rules. Be sure to check out our Looney Labs Game Night on August 6. Andy Looney of Looney Labs will be here to demo Fluxx: the Board Game, as well as all your other Looney favorites. Click here for more info!

Do you like the wild world of Fluxx: the Board Game or the manipulation and control of Corporate America? Dig the adventure and danger of Forbidden Desert, the shadowed mystery of Holmes’ London, or the gleaming progress of Suburbia? Let us know in a comment below!

Sunday, July 21, 2013

The Mechanics of Catan

by David Kempe

My name is David Kempe, and I am a staff member at Labyrinth. Between all of us, the staff has played more than 90% of the games in the store. In an attempt to keep a knowledgeable staff, each of the employees here tends to specialize in a specific game area based on their tastes. A coworker recently said that I like my games like she likes her wine: “drier than the Sahara.” A game is “dry” if there is very little theme or if the theme of the game is much less important to the game play than the base mechanics. Lords of Waterdeep, Power Grid, Copycat, and Race for the Galaxy are some of my favorite games, and they are all quite “dry.” These games rely heavily on their mechanics.

People often compare a new game to one they’re more familiar with in order to better understand how it 
works, and a useful game to compare against is The Settlers of Catan. This is because Catan is so widely-known, and also because it contains many gameplay elements which are frequently seen in other games. Whenever I compare a game to Catan, I break down both games to their basic mechanics. At its core, Catan uses area control, negotiation/ trading, and resource management.

A game employs area control if there are different parts or sections of the board that players are trying to gain control over. More specifically, these games have areas that are in contention between the players. There may be areas that can be taken from other players, as in Risk or Discworld: Ankh-Morpork, where locations may change ownership many times during one game. Areas may also belong to a player permanently once they’re claimed, as happens in Power Grid and The Settlers of Catan. These varying forms of area control highlight the main difference between Euro-style games and American games. In Catan, a Euro game, the direction in which players expand is heavily influenced by where the other players choose to play. Once a player chooses an area to settle, no player can move that settlement or take over that area. While players may expand strategically to stifle their opponents’ movement, there is no direct confrontation. In contrast, players directly attack each other in American games, like the classic Risk. Area control as a mechanic made its debut through war games, which remain the most common place to find this style of play.

Resource management simply means a game has a limiting factor, usually money, which players need in order
to progress in the game. In Catan, players use wood, brick, wheat, sheep, and ore to buy cards as well as space on the board. Power Grid and Monopoly have money as their major limiting factor, but Power Grid also allows players to buy from a limited supply of coal and oil. In order for something to be considered a resource, players must work to get access to it. Troops in Risk, for example, are not considered a resource; while they do limit players’ movement and options, players always get more troops at the beginning of their turn regardless of whether they are progressing well or not.

A game has a negotiation mechanic whenever there is interaction in a game where players can color opponents’ decisions by convincing them to act a certain way. In Catan, players must convince each other to trade resources, hoping to gain an advantage. In war games like Diplomacy, players can negotiate to influence or figure out who the other players will attack. Negotiation can even occur in games where it does not factor as a core mechanic: A player could be convinced to buy a building in Puerto Rico or take a space in Lords of Waterdeep, but negotiation is not strictly required in these games. Of these mechanics, negotiation is my favorite. Negotiation is what makes most games interactive and social. In fact, many games that don’t involve some kind of negotiation can be described as “multiplayer solitaire”. I am a huge fan of Race for the Galaxy, but it lacks the player interaction that I look for in most games.

The Settlers of Catan is an amazing game to attract new players to board gaming by introducing many of the core mechanisms common in Euro board games. I hope this rundown of the mechanics in Catan can be helpful to finding your next game.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

New/Back This Week 7/16/13 to 7/22/13

by Becky "Don't Make Me Turn this Bomb Factory Around" Topol

There's so much great stuff back in the store this week! Spatial reasoning puzzlers for two players have returned in force. Six is a hex-based game in which players take turns placing six-sided tiles. Players race to arrange six of their tiles in one of the three “winning shapes," while blocking their opponent from doing so. Similarly, in Paradisio you take turns laying out tiles in an four-by-four grid building an aerial view of a tropical island scene. The game feels like a mix between Six and Carcassonne, in that the edge of a tile must match up perfectly with the edges of any tile it touches. Get rid of all your tiles first, or arrange the grid so your opponent can’t place any more tiles, and you get to claim the island paradise as your own. Paradisio is a game that even young kids can learn, but still poses a challenge for adults (as long as you remember that tiles have to remain in four-by-four-layout, which I forgot on several occasions, leading to a series of totally nonsensical tied games). Both Six and Paradisio are perfect for travel, as all the pieces fit in the supplied canvas bags, and can be played on a limited tabletop space like a plane’s tray table.

Like chess and Hive, The Duke is a two-player game in which the movement rules differ from piece to piece. The Duke changes this up in that every time a wooden tile moves, it flips over, and must follow the movement rules of that side of the tile on its next turn. Troop tiles are randomly drawn from a bag and added to the board as the game goes on. This, as well as the mechanic of terrain tiles, adds a huge element of variety and unpredictability to the game. Various rule sets include different objectives, but in the basic game, whoever can capture the enemy Duke will rule the land!

In our more traditional board games section, The Manhattan Project has returned. Players become great nations in an arms race to build the biggest, best nuclear weapon. A low-luck game, The Manhattan Project leaves it entirely up to you to decide how to most efficiently advance your weapons research. Do you want to focus on your bomb-making infrastructure? Expand your military to protect it? If you think your neighbor is getting a little too much of a lead, you can send a spy to steal from them, and if you think they’re getting a LOT too much of a lead you can even call in an air raid. The Manhattan Project is a worker placement, resource management, and strategy game perfect for those who want to control the fate of the entire world.

This is a big weekend for Magic: the Gathering players: It’s the official release of the 2014 Core Set! Starting on Friday, July 19, Core Set cards will be
available in-store. All weekend, we will be offering a 30% discount on booster boxes, and anyone who buys a box will receive a foil alternate-art Ratchet Bomb card while supplies last. We will also have Fat Packs, Intro Packs, and Deck Builder’s Toolkits. These toolkits are great for beginners, and contain 125 semi-randomized cards, four assorted booster packs from various sets, 100 basic land cards, a Deck Builder’s Guide, a learn-to-play guide, and a storage box with awesome art of planeswalker Chandra Nalaar.

Those are just a few of the exciting returns this week. Others include kids’ games Quick Quick and Taiga, geography puzzler Map It: World, and builder Architecto. The totally unique String Railway is back, and for those who dream of conquering kingdoms, A Game of Thrones: The Board Game is in the store again! And finally, there’s a new hope for your Star Wars: X-Wing Miniatures fleet, because the A-Wing and TIE Interceptors are back in stock! Which of these games are you most excited to see back on the shelves? Let us know in a comment below!

Friday, July 12, 2013

New Arrivals This Week 7/9/13 to 7/15/13

by Becky "Captain Bystander" Topol

Our first new game this week is Targi, a two-player game which was nominated for the Kennerspiel des Jahres this year. Its nomination for the Kennerspiel (Expert or Connoisseur Game of the Year) rather than the standard Spiel des Jahres (which focuses more on family games) indicates that it’s on the more complicated end of the spectrum. Originally published in German last year, this acclaimed trading game has finally been printed in English! Each player is attempting to get the better of the other by collecting more precious goods and coins. Certain areas of the playing field, made entirely of tiles, can be taken into players’ hands and replaced with new ones. This leads to a constantly shifting board, meaning players can take away places their opponent might need. A complex and sparsely beautiful game, Targi is a great worker-placement game for two advanced players.

For you fans of Legendary: A Marvel Deck Building Game, we now have the Dark City expansion! This expansion includes 17 new heroes from groups like the X-Force and Marvel Knights, six new villain groups, new Masterminds, Henchmen, and Schemes. Improved art makes it easier to tell which hero is equipped with which power at a given moment. There is also a new game mechanism for the Bystanders; in the base game, they just wait to be kidnapped or rescued. Now, they’re getting involved in the action...

And if you like RPGs (roleplaying games), something beautiful is on our shelves. The Fate Core System book is in! With detailed instructions on how to build characters, as well as how to construct and run a campaign, Fate Core is a massively flexible system which allows for a multitude of games in limitless settings. Also, the cover features equally kick-butt characters of the male, female, AND gorilla persuasions, which I think is worth noting. 

If you just want a basic introduction to the system, or don’t intend to be the Game Master, I would highly recommend the Fate Accelerated book. This is a fast, simplified guide to character building and gameplay, and for $5 it's a serious steal for anyone even slightly interested in the hobby. It also contains a ton of sample characters and gameplay situation, to give rookie RPG-ers a clearer view of how a game would go. Don’t forget to pick up some Fudge dice too, and bring them along to our Taste of Fate Core event on August 10! It’ll be a great, low-pressure way to give the system a try. 

It's important to note that Love Letter is also back in stock. This is a great, fast little game that focuses mainly on card counting. I know a lot of you have been waiting for it to be back, and it's finally arrived. Now get back to wooing that princess!

And, for all the puzzle lovers out there, we also received some new jigsaw puzzles. We are especially fond of these new Thingie puzzles which would make a wonderful, inspirational gift for your favorite puzzler. Wild, swirling, geometric designs mean these puzzles pack a challenging punch in a small package.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

New/Back This Week 7/2/13 to 7/8/13

by Becky "Purple Disease" Topol

This week we got a bunch of great new puzzles in. Some beautiful art by Mucha, classic posters, and crazy pyramid-shaped jigsaws featuring pre-Colombian and Egyptian art are now on the shelves.

Look at this gorgeous thing! For high-level puzzlers only; mere mortals need not apply.

For board and card games, there's nothing brand new this week, but we're really excited to have some great stuff back again.
Following the triumphant and long-awaited return of Pandemic, the game's On the Brink expansion is back as well. This expansion allows a fifth payer to join in the game, and also adds new challenging possibilities. The Virulent Strain challenge makes one disease even more powerful and unpredictable. The Mutation challenge adds a new disease with a completely individual pattern of behavior, diverging from the other four. Possibly most exciting is the Bio-Terrorist challenge, which transforms the game from a cooperative challenge into a deadly one-vs.-many struggle for the survival of the world. With one player plotting global destruction, the others must fight to save humanity. Note: This new edition of the expansion matches the styling of the new-edition base game, meaning that the cards are not compatible with the older edition without a conversion deck.

Also returning is Sentinels of the Multiverse, a cooperative card game with comic book flair. This fixed-deck game pits heroic players against crazed villains bent on world domination (Mua-ha-ha-haaa!). Players choose from the various 40-card hero decks, each with its own amazing powers and abilities, and then team up against mad scientists, alien warlords, and giant robots. With enemy and environment decks that play themselves, Sentinels of the Multiverse is another great addition to the cooperative gaming pantheon.

Of course, not all games are meant to be played inside. With the weather heating up, it's the perfect time to get out to the park or yard with a classic active game. For outdoor fun, our lawn darts have returned today! Never fear; these darts have safety tips, so they're perfect for all ages and surfaces - they'll work great on grass or a patio. The set includes enough darts and target rings for two players or teams. A great way to get the family playing together at your Fourth of July barbecue, or any summer get-together!

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Story Time!

by Becky Topol, 7/2/13

My name is Becky, but for two years I was also Elja, a Dwarf princess who abandoned her mountain home. She rejected all the Dwarf ways, favored a spiked club over a traditional war hammer, and became a Barbarian. Dungeons and Dragons (D&D) was an important and joyful part of my life, but I also found it a little frustrating. D&D is, at its core, a battle system. The dice-rolling battle part of the game is fun, tense, and exciting, but took up more time than I’d like. What I REALLY wanted to focus on was the story, like my cleric companion’s past in a traveling circus, or the rogue’s bizarre obsession with Owlbears. Games can vary immensely in the quality and quantity of storytelling depending on the Game Master and players, and quests can be designed to focus more on story than combat. However, I have recently discovered games that focus almost completely on storytelling, and I am addicted.

There is huge variety in storytelling games; some use a more traditional board game format. In Mice and Mystics, for example, you lay out tiles to build a castle, and play intrepid mice facing down horrors like cats and roaches. Using your characters’ special skills you attempt to work together to save the realm from an evil sorceress, creating an epic tale as you go. The board game Tales of the Arabian Nights sends you on a mystical quest through the world of Sinbad, Aladdin, and Scheherezade. During your travels, your character may find wealth and magic, be cursed (or get married, which is just as bad for many characters), or get
transformed into an ape. The story unfolds as players choose from a variety of possible reactions to each scenario encountered: Do you pray? Hide? Stand and fight? Once you pick, you flip to the appropriate page, just like a choose-your-own-adventure book, and find out what happens next.

Some storytelling games are incredibly simple. In Tell Tale, you flip a card to reveal a picture, which you must then incorporate as the next part of an ongoing story. Its simple, free-form nature makes it an ideal way to spark creativity in children and adults alike. Similar but more advanced is Once Upon a Time, where each player is dealt cards with different story elements and an ending. The players then play cards to tell a story together, with each trying to incorporate their own elements, like “Knight” or “Village”, and eventually reach their assigned ending. This game is a fun combination of collaboration and competition, since the players all work together to tell a fun story, while also looking for opportunities to interrupt and steer the tale in their preferred direction.

My absolute favorites are storytelling games that follow the more traditional role-playing game (RPG) format -
pens, paper, some dice, and plenty of imagination. The very popular Fiasco starts with a handful of dice being rolled to determine the various relationships, objects, and needs that drive the characters. After building this web of relationships, players take turns to frame and resolve scenes. Different-colored dice determine positive and negative outcomes, and their distribution affects the storyline for each character. The result is often something like a Coen Brothers movie, in that things go crazily, darkly, hilariously wrong. Numerous free playsets are available, so you can play in settings ranging from mundane suburbia to the Wild West to a Mars colony.

Finally, there’s Forsooth! Yes, the title actually includes an exclamation point, and I think it deserves it. Essentially, it’s a role-playing game in which you improvise your own Shakespearean play. You pick a setting, such as “a haunted castle near an enchanted glen in France,” and two themes to drive the tale. Everyone plays at least two characters, one of whom is their Protagonist. All Protagonists have to be either “wed or dead” for the play to end, because that’s the way things work in the Bard’s world. At the end of each scene, the players award points to whichever character they think did the best, either by furthering the plot, developing their character or just being funniest. It is possible to play this game without using Shakespearean language, but as it stands, it’s the perfect game for Shakespeare fans. I can’t think of any other game where I’ve been encouraged to throw bonus points at my friends for making clever puns.

If you're interested in Shakespeare-themed storytelling games, RSVP for Labyrinth’s Taste of Shakespeare, being held on August 24 in cooperation with the Shakespeare Theatre Company! We will be playing RPGs including Forsooth! and the Shakespearean playset of Fiasco.