Thursday, August 29, 2013

New Arrivals This Week 8/27/13 to 9/2/13

by Becky "Merciless Volcano Deity" Topol
There's so much cool new stuff this week! Lots of the games that were super hot at this year's GenCon are finally hitting the shelves. So far, I've gotten to play The Little Prince: Make Me a Planet, which is a tile-laying and drafting game for the young and young at heart. Based on the beloved novella The Little Prince, this game challenges players to build planets that will become homes for the animals of the book - the fox, sheep, elephant, and snake. I have to say I was pleasantly surprised by the level of strategic nuance and complexity that arose. Each player can collect up to four characters who determine what elements of the planet will be worth points, and this combined with the drafting mechanic allows players to make specific choices to mess with their neighbors. A degree of negotiation also developed since each player gets to decide who chooses the next tile after them each round. This meant that wheedling and debate became central to convincing your predecessor to let you get the best pick, not to mention throwing your opponents under the bus. The Little Prince: Make Me a Planet  is simple enough for kids, but experienced gamers will find layers of strategic options under the sweet, classic art. I think this will be a new family favorite!

Rise of Augustus, also known simply as Augustus, is a high-speed, family-friendly Spiel des Jahres nominee. We've opened a demo for the store, so you are welcome to come and try it if you'd like (maybe at tonight's board game night?). It combines elements of worker placement, time management, push-your-luck, Yes, someone took the basic mechanic of bingo and made it into a real, interesting, strategic game. Players choose three cards to start with, each containing a layout of several symbols such as shields, swords, and daggers, all of varying rarity. Symbol tokens are drawn randomly from a bag, and players must decide which card with a matching symbol they want to place a centurion on. When a card is completed it is scored, and may also trigger special powers like gaining or placing extra centurions, or even destroying another player’s scored card. With cards that vary in difficulty and time needed to complete them, and interlocking effects that can stack and trigger each other, Rise of Augustus is an addictive and easy-to-teach addition to your game night.

Pandemic: In the Lab actually arrived late last week and is the second expansion for Pandemic. A new board allows you to move pawns inside a bio-hazard laboratory, racing to sequence the genetic code of diseases, take samples, and test out the cures that you hope will save humanity. The game includes four new roles, new Virulent Strain events and a Worldwide Panic Mutation scenarios, all of which can provide new challenges when combined with the base game or with the On the Brink expansion. Players also have the opportunity to compete individually or in rival teams, allowing for yet another style of play and a whole new set of strategies. Have you got what it takes to stop the pandemic?

Yedo, which will finally be on sale this Friday (tomorrow) after a long wait, has been described as "a souped up version of Lords of Waterdeep." The strategic and highly interactive game places you at the head of a powerful Japanese clan during the golden age of the Tokugawa Shogunate. When a new Shogun takes the throne, it’s an opportunity for all the great clans to stab each other in the back to gain prestige and the favor of the Shogun. Of course, there’s more than one way to collect valuable assets and catch the Shogun’s eye; outright service on important missions is a good way to raise your status, but so is clever manipulation in private meetings, and buying luxury goods from the European merchants will let you outshine your opponents. All the while, spying, kidnapping, and assassinations will help keep the other clans at bay, so tread carefully and choose wisely.

The newest game by Stefan Feld has arrived and is of a somewhat lighter variety than some of his other designs. It is a time of wealth and culture in the great city of Bruges, and there are many opportunities to grab wealth, status, and power. Playing as merchants, you must choose which card to play on each turn, and which of its abilities to use. Do you need to hire workers or collect money? Maybe building a canal or house would suit your needs best. Be careful though, your wealth is threatened not just by your opponents - events that arise from the game itself will undermine your prosperity at any given moment. Know the right people, make good choices, and fend off impending disaster in order to become the most prestigious merchant in this Kennerspiel des Jahres nominee.

Pathfinder Adventure Card Game: Rise of the Runelords Base Set, the game that we probably heard the most about from GenCon, is the newest transformation of the popular traditional tabletop RPG (role-playing game). One to four players take on the roles of warriors defending against an ancient evil that is resurfacing after a long slumber. Choose your class, and build a powerful deck of allies, equipment, and magic to face down the dangers of the award-winning Rise of the Runelords Adventure Path. After each game, your characters grow stronger, adding new and more amazing powers and magic to their decks, which they will need in order survive the more deadly adventures they will soon face. The Character Add-On Deck, is also available, with more classes, monsters, weapons, and everything you need to add a fifth and sixth player to your adventuring party. Now go forth and save the land of Varisia!

Finally we have the second edition of The Downfall of Pompeii by Klaus-JΓΌrgen Wrede, the designer of Carcassonne. This game will speak to history buffs as well as people who enjoy busting out a good maniacal laugh. It takes place during the time immediately before and after the famed eruption of Mount Vesuvius, and you must try to save as many of your own people as possible. In the first phase of the game, all players draw cards to try to populate the city with their meeples. Once the volcano erupts, lava begins flowing through the city, and you must try to maneuver your meeples out of the city gates to safety. You can also trap other players' meeples with the lava flow and throw them into the volcano. Yes, you can literally chuck people into an awesome plastic volcano in this game. I can't wait! Mua ha ha ha.....

Sunday, August 25, 2013

The First 10 Minutes

by David Kempe

In teaching games to new players, I've learned that it all comes down to the first 10 minutes. Games like Ticket to Ride and Carcassonne have a fantastic first 10 minutes because new players have time to watch what veterans are doing, and start executing a real plan of their own. In comparison, more complex games like 7 Wonders and The Settlers of Catan have a less user-friendly first 10 minutes: for example, unless a veteran specifically gives them advice, new 7 Wonders players will almost never take enough resources for the late game; and incorrect beginning placement in Catan can hinder new players for the majority of the game.

For games with a good first 10 minutes, it's easy to just dive in and show someone how to play from the start. The most common game I’ve shown new players has been Android: Netrunner, which is one of my favorites, but is rough for beginners to get started with. So, for a player's first attempt, I set up a scenario halfway through a hypothetical game and walk them through various means of scoring points. Netrunner is an asymmetrical game, and I have the new player play as the Runner, which is the more offensive and active of the two possible roles. The Runner is a hacker trying to steal information from the other player, who takes the more defensive role as a megacorporation. 

Android: Netrunner has one of the worst first 10 minutes for new players. Both players are playing completely different games, so the new player can’t learn from the veteran. Also, lucky card draws from early on can swing the game wildly in favor of either side, which is why I’ve started teaching with a preset board.
In this first introduction to the game the new player gets to learn the basic gameplay elements, and feels a sense of accomplishment by scoring points quickly. The aims of teaching the game this way are twofold: it introduces the most confusing mechanics to new players (in this case, the mechanic of "running"); and it shows the new player the end purpose of all the mechanics that go into a game.

This is why there are gateway games. Players are more willing to give a game a second chance when they've had the opportunity to get a solid understanding of the mechanics right off the bat. Players that are new to board gaming are less likely to give a bad experience a second shot. In the case of Catan and 7 Wonders, the game is relatively short, so new players can get the feel of the game even if they do poorly the first time around, whereas Ticket to Ride is longer but can hook players right from the start. If taught the right way, even a game with a tough first 10 minutes can catch someone's interest, and get them excited to play again.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

New Arrivals This Week 8/20/13 to 8/26/13

by Becky "Qapla'!" Topol

The straightforwardly-named Trains is based on a deck building mechanic, wherein you try to build up an efficient deck and use it to construct the largest, most powerful rail network possible. While the deck building component seems to be very similar to that of Dominion, Trains also incorporates the use of a two-sided board, with one side representing the Osaka region of Japan and the other side representing Tokyo. These hex-based boards allow you to physically place trains, stations, and the various other attractions and locations that your railways run to, rather than simply representing them with cards. As such, Trains also incorporates aspects of area control into the deck building formula. The ability to play in two different locations promises to further increase the replayability of this highly variable game. If you like rail games, deck building games, or want to see what else the deck building mechanic is capable of, Hisashi Hayashi’s Trains is definitely worth a look.

The Scoundrels of Skullport expansion for the super-popular Lords of Waterdeep is here! This highly-anticipated expansion is actually two expansions in one box. Skullport and Undermountain are both inspired by the criminal haven beneath the bustling city of Waterdeep, but each puts a unique new spin on the game. Skullport adds a new resource called Corruption, while Undermountain brings bigger quests and more ways to get adventures. Players can choose to add one or both of these expansions to their base game. It also includes new Lords, buildings, and everything you need to include a sixth player. Think you can control the criminal underworld of Waterdeep? Pick up Scoundrels of Skullport and find out!

Star Trek: Attack Wing combines the basic movement functions of Star Wars: X-Wing with the click wheel of Heroclix, all in the Star Trek universe. There are already a TON of models in the store, with ships from the Federation, the Romulan Empire, the Klingon Empire, and the Breen, each with its own set of special cards to add to the game. There’s a Corbomite Maneuver option, Tribble Tokens to gum up the works (especially if you have Klingon crew), and yes, the Kobayashi Maru is a mission option. Attack Wing can handle a huge number of players: If you have a ship, you can join in. If you have a grudge to settle, you can even pit Picard against Kirk as captains of opposing ships and settle once and for all who is superior. This game promises a wealth of characters and options that Trekkies will love (want to play as Scotty? Khan?), so grab some ships, build your fleet, and boldly go where no one has gone before!

Thursday, August 15, 2013

New Arrivals This Week 8/13/13 to 8/19/13

by Becky “Ghost Puncher” Topol

Time ‘n’ Space is an improved remake of 2006’s Space Dealer, and made a huge impact at Origins. This spacefaring economy game differs from its relatives in that it doesn’t have the same sprawling nature: Sure, you have planetary economies to juggle, but you only have 30 minutes in which to do so. For each action you want to take, you must flip over a one-minute sand timer, of which you only have two, and complete the task within that time. Production of goods, pickup-and-delivery, economic management, and face-to-face negotiation between players is compressed into this half-hour time frame, with all players acting simultaneously. The game also includes a 12-minute introductory game for new players, and 12- and 30-minute soundtracks are available to download from Stronghold Games. If you’re looking for a game of interplanetary competition, but aren’t interested in an hours-long time commitment, this more frantic interpretation of the genre may be just the thing for you.

This year’s Kennerspiel des Jahres winner is Legends of Andor, a cooperative adventuring board game. Players are heroes defending the realm of Andor from invading hordes, which are kept on the march by the game system itself. Throughout five unique linked scenarios, and a sixth created by the players, the heroes must balance their priorities to complete dangerous quests and ensure a happy ending to their fantastical quest. With a plot driven by a special deck of cards, Legends of Andor puts players at the center of an unfolding epic where they must choose between personal glory and defense of their beloved realm.

Numenera, the new RPG by Monte Cook of Dungeons and Dragons fame, has arrived. This science fantasy game is peopled by the inhabitants of the Ninth World, built on the bones of previous societies that have collapsed, moved on, or transcended reality as they know it. Bits of their technology, known as numenera, are so advanced and foreign that they almost seem to work by magic. Players set out to find these technologies—some of them cobbled-together doodads only good for one use, others as vast as the linkages between the satellites above their world—and use them to improve their own future. The book includes tons of game-building goodies, including a large bestiary, descriptions of a plethora of technological items you might encounter, four preset adventures, and Game Mastery advice from Monte Cook himself.

Daybreak is the newest expansion for the Battlestar Galactica board game. The sewage treatment ship Demetrius seems to be the best hope for humanity’s survival, and the already tenuous truce between human and Cylon is being tested. This new scenario includes two new game boards, 12 new character cards, a Cylon Leader and Mutineer option, as well as new Skill, Crisis, and Mutiny cards. The Search for Home gameplay option opens up a scenario aboard the Demetrius, and allows players to not just keep surviving, but to actually try and find their ancestral home on Earth.
After long absences, we've restocked Ghost Story and Sushi Go! Sushi Go! is a speedy card-drafting game. As you pick-and-pass cards, you must try to make the best combo of the sushi dishes that whiz by. Score points for getting the most rolls and full sashimi combos, use wasabi to triple the value of a roll, and be on the lookout for dessert! Whoever has the most pudding at the end of the game gets a bonus. A delicious, delicious bonus.

And I’ve got some bad news, guys: Wu Feng, Lord of the Nine Hells, has discovered the location of the funerary urn containing his ashes and has sent his horde of demons and ghosts to help him reclaim the urn and come back to life. Don’t you just hate when that happens? Ghost Stories, a cooperative game for one to four players allows you to do something about it. As Taoist monks, you travel around the besieged village—laid out on a modular game board—and perform exorcisms. The various ghosts (including what appears to be a levitating evil mermaid, causing me to get more excited about box art than I have in a while) can defend against your spiritual attacks, and even put randomized curses on you. Different tiles on the board can give you bonuses though, and you’ll definitely need them to defeat the incarnation of Wu Feng, the Damned with a Thousand Faces himself, and win the game!

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Ancient Games

by Becky Topol

Monopoly, Clue, Life - these are "classic" games. The ones that we suspect have just existed since the dawn of time, and that everyone we know has played at some point. But none of these even existed before 1903. Today, there are games that are still alive and well after more than 5500 years of play.

King’s Table, also known as The Viking Game, Tafl, Tablut, and Hnefatafl, is an asymmetrical board game. There is some debate as to whether the various games in the tafl (Old Norse for "table" or "board") family may have included dice, but this group of related games consistently have a few things in common: they all included a 2:1 ratio of pieces, with the smaller side aiming to defend a king until it can escape to either the edges or the corner. In our version, one side has twelve soldiers and a king, beginning in a cross formation at the center of the board, and the other consists of 24 soldiers in groups of six around the board’s perimeter. The defender wins by getting the king to “escape” to any of the corner square, while the attacker wins if they can trap the king between two of their pieces. Tafl games spread along with the Vikings, becoming popular with the Welsh, Saxons, and Irish, and its descendants and variants are thought to have been the most popular board games in those regions until they were supplanted by chess. For you Discworld readers out there, this board game inspired Lord Vetinari’s favorite game, Thud!
A tafl game portrayed on the Ockelbo Runestone

Traced back to about 3500 BCE, Senet is an Egyptian game of passing, chasing, and blocking similar to backgammon. Players must throw sticks with two differently-colored sides to determine how many spaces they can move their pieces, and whoever can get all their pawns off the end of the board first is the winner. While many spaces on the board are safe, some of them act as traps, and players can also block their opponent’s movements as in parcheesi. Due to the game’s element of luck and the Egyptian belief in determinism, it was believed by many that if someone did well at Senet, they were favored by important gods. As such, Senet boards were often placed in graves alongside other useful objects to assist the dead in their journey to the afterlife. The game is even mentioned in the famed Book of the Dead.
Queen Nefertari playing Senet

Ur Game, or The Royal Game of Ur, was created in Mesopotamia in about 2600 BCE. The rules for the game were derived from a cuneiform tablet from Babylonia, and the game is believed to be another predecessor of modern backgammon. Rolling tetrahedral dice, players race to get all their pieces off the board first, trying to send their opponent’s pieces back to start and facing the whims of bonus and penalty spaces. Versions of the game board have been found carved into various stone statues and sculptures, including a sentinel statue from the city gates of Khorsabad. This carving was dated to about 700BCE, meaning that the game was still alive and well after nearly 2,000 years of play. 
The Ur board carved into the gate guardian at Khorsabad

These games are all essentially simple, but allow for a mix of luck and strategy that has kept them thriving since near the time society began. Easy to learn but tricky to master, these predecessors to some of the most popular modern games in the world allow you to take a gaming trip back in time.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

New Arrivals This Week 8/6/13 to 8/12/13

by Becky "Infinite Golf Tees" Topol

Mars Needs Mechanics is the premiere game from local game designer Ben Rosset. This economy-based game takes place at a thrilling time for the British Empire: Her Majesty the Queen demands the construction of a colony on Mars! Players are Aether Mechanics competing for a position on the crew, and must use careful timing and economic manipulation to get the most valuable groupings of resources and devices at the right times, aiming to gain cogs as currency. Whoever has the most cogs at the end of the game has won their place aboard the steampunk space vessel H.M.S. Victoria VII! This is one of several economy-driven steampunk-themed games to come out recently, and I’m honestly really excited to see such a cool aesthetic making a break into boardgaming. Other games in this family include Kings of Air and Steam, and Planet Steam, which is packed full of intricate plastic pieces and just arrived from Fantasy Flight.

The tactical board game Rialto drops you into the network of bridges and canals that make up Venice. A card-driven worker-placement game, Rialto lets you take charge of the city by placing your own councilmen into Venice’s districts, constructing essential bridges and buildings, and by placing gondolas in the canals. All of these actions improve your standing in the city and advance you along the Victory Point track. Whoever has taken the position of Doge gets special bonuses, so be sure not to let them sit comfortably for too long!

Pixel Lincoln is an 8-bit-styled adventure deckbuilding game, where you must assemble an awesome deck of items and weapons to help our hero Pixel Lincoln restore the balance of time and space. Lincoln must defeat such heinous enemies as the Laser Shark, Totally T-Rex, and of course John Wilkes Booth, so be sure to equip him with kickin’ weapons like a swordfish or his Beardarang. Meant to feel like a classic video game, the completely non-electronic Pixel Lincoln allows you to explore ever-changing and highly customizable levels that are discovered as you play, and like all good video games it allows you to play on your own or with friends. Are you ready to beat the high score?

For puzzlers of all kinds, really amazing - and slightly insane - things have arrived in the store. Double Sided Impossipuzzles are the stuff of nightmares for some, and sweet dreams for others. These puzzles feature two images, one on the front of the pieces and one on the back. Both pictures are repeating patterns, and often in the same color palette. From candies to golf to penguins, there’s a pattern to please any puzzle fanatic, and they’re available in standard and mini sizes. If you like jigsaws as well as other types of puzzles, the Sudo-Kube and Word-Kube are definitely worth your attention. Each one is a jigsaw that when solved, forms the image of a sudoku or crossword puzzle as well as all the clues needed to solve it. You can then solve the puzzles with the included dry-erase pen. This is a super cool option for someone who likes different types of puzzles and is looking for a great new challenge.

We’re excited to announce that we just got a huge delivery of Liberty Puzzles! These high-quality laser-cut wooden jigsaws feature stunning art, and “whimsy pieces” that are cut into shapes that match the theme of the puzzle image. Some of the arrivals are the classic images you’ve seen on our shelves before, and some are all-new designs that promise to make for challenging and gorgeous puzzling. We even got some more of the Little Liberty puzzles, which are smaller and perfect for children aged 5 and up.

On top of all that, Betrayal at House on the Hill is back in stock! This creepy horror-movie-in-a-box saw a boost in popularity in our store right before it went out of print, to the frustration of all. If you were among those players who tried it out at game nights here but didn’t get a chance to pick it up, now’s your chance to snag your own copy. We also just got Sherlock, one of our very favorite kids' games, back in the store. This simple deductive reasoning game for the younger set is a consistent hit in our afterschool games classes, but has been unavailable for some time. If your little sleuth has been trying to hunt down a copy, look no further!