The Ramble Repository

The home of the Cardboard Diogenes Club, in which I consume as little as possible and write as much as possible. Opinions and strong takes abound!

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Games of the Moment 47

Demetri
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So, uh. This is gonna be a light one.

I really haven't played much for board games lately. In the interest of avoiding redundancy I'll avoid anything that I talked about in the previous entry, meaning I won't be talking about Bites or Pocket Paragons (previewed here: https://pixeldie.com/2020/09/16/pocket-paragons-preview/) in depth again. For now it's enough to say that Bites is still pretty good and Pocket Paragons has actually gotten better. Playing it on TTS with fighting game folks has led to some of my favorite board game moments I've had this year, no joke.

Anyway. On to the games, few as they are!

THE GAMES




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This isn't actually the first time I've played Core Connection. Cindy picked it up a little while ago and we played it right away. I found it interesting, but was so conflicted on it that I couldn't figure out what to actually say. Now that we've revisited it I thiiiiink I get it.

Core Connection is another one of Japanime's deckbuilders, and arguably might be their weirdest. Dynamite Nurse was kind of a mess but wasn't that strange in terms of actual mechanics, where CC will have you learning a completely different kind of game. You play actions, buy cards, and build a tableau of mech parts that'll bump up your stats so you can take on monsters from the monster deck. Said monsters are the source of VPs and the game's a race, albeit a race with an interesting catchup mechanism that I don't quite think I've seen before; clearing 20 points puts everyone else on notice, giving them all one turn to meet or exceed your total before it gets back around to you for the win. However, should anyone hit 30 the game just ends and they take the W.

I spent a bit more time on rules than I normally like because, as I said, CC is wonky. In play it's satisfying and surprisingly thematically grounded for a deckbuilder. Essentially we're looking at anime-infused Pacific Rim. When you hit certain thresholds you get to reveal your pilot's identity for bonuses, eventually hop into a specialized mech that feels like your own, have interpersonal drama (player interaction!), and take on monsters that you'd never have stood a chance against at the start. But as cool as that is we still need to focus on the monsters, and I have capital-P-Problems with the way monsters are handled in this.

The monster deck is just that, a deck. You have loads of ways to peek at cards before actually committing to a fight, some of which can even be installed on your mech to help out every turn, but there are monsters that jump you upon scrying them so even that's risky. The deck isn't tiered or anything and you need to kill some monsters in order to unlock your better pilot and mech, so early game tends to involve taking a lot of risky shots in the dark. Eventually you'll get there, but then a well timed kill on a big target can completely win a game. albeit not necessarily immediately. In our most recent game I killed a particularly big critter that my mech was luckily tuned against and coasted comfortably into a win by at least a couple turns worth of work. Cindy couldn't catch up after because despite having a huge powerhouse of a mech and being able to search 3 cards at a time she could only find weaklings. The VP opportunities just didn't exist.

So I dunno. The actual play of this is a fun, almost ameritrashy riff on deckbuilders that evokes its setting beautifully. Every session has an arc that tells a story and that's a feat in and of itself. But the win condition being so dodgy makes a lot of it feel borderline busted to an extent that it casts a shadow over the whole experience. I really want to enjoy Core Connection, and to a certain degree I do, but it's not ascending to the deckbuilder pantheon.



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I've played GM&O about a dozen times now with a wide spread of players, and this most recent session confirmed beyond a shadow of a doubt that 3p is its best player count. It's faster, sharper, and tighter all around. When you get to 4p the decision of whose share to dilute often feels kind of arbitrary, and that goes double for 5p, as well as the lack of control you'd expect. The game's certainly not bad at those counts, I'd probably play it, but it wouldn't be my first choice.

I'll elaborate, though there's not a ton else to say. 3p GM&O essentially turns it into a perfect info abstract game, as money is so easy to track that you can tell exactly what anyone's capable of at a glance and take your turns accordingly. Barring huge misplays scores stay tight, keeping the game tense and exciting all the way through. Cutting off areas is expensive, but since players start with so much more money you can make game-altering moves early that ripple through the entire play. I dig it.

As far as cube rails as a genre go I think GM&O is way up there. Irish Gauge and Northern Pacific are still my favorites (and fit in one box, woohoo) but I still like this more than almost any other I've played. Auctions are like candy to me, especially when each one is this impactful and fight-y, and the ultra-restrictive board makes it feel more like an area control game than most. Very fun all around.



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When Trawlerman sent the minigame library our way I knew we wouldn't get to play many of them under current world conditions. What I didn't expect was to find one of the best new-to-us games of the year. Pixel Tactics was a fun revisit, don't get me wrong, but Noir was a mind-bendingly good time. We've been playing the Automata version as the style gels with Cindy more, and lemme tell you, the game only gets better the more you play it.

One of the interesting things about the Noir system is that each version of the game has different rules, in particular for Killer VS Inspector. The original deck's rules were the simplest but apparently had some balance issues long term, favoring the killer by a decent %. The black box version that you can't get anymore made some other changes from what I read. But Automata's version adds some extra stuff up to and including full on new actions, in particular to how the killer's disguises work, that really elevates it from good to great.

The versatility of the system impresses me every time. We mostly play 2p Killer VS Inspector, but we've done 3p and 4p Spy Tag and had a completely different yet equally fun time. Where KvI is tense and feels like some of our favorite hidden movement games optimized for 2p, Spy Tag is a raucous brawl in a dark room. Sometimes you perfectly deduce someone's identity and everyone's impressed, other times you just swing at someone based on barely a hunch only to be just as victorious. It's the fun kind of chaotic - player driven - and it's fantastic. Shame any Google results for this will end up pulling Nier Automata results now because I really want more folks to find it.

THE LAST BIT


That's it. I told you there was barely anything!

That said I should be seeing some excitement soonish. Aside from review copies that may or may not appear (it's kind of always a crapshoot and I don't like to chase folks down), apparently I won a contest for a copy of Too Many Bones? That's kind of a huge box. I almost never win contests for physical things and who knows when it'll show up, but neat! That's a bit outside of my norm both in form and design so I'll be interested to put some time in.

Brief entries deserve brief outros! Less writing, more games. Thanks to all of you for reading, see you all next bi-week.
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Sat Sep 26, 2020 3:58 pm
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The Cardboard Diogenes Club - Halloween Prep

Demetri
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Had a particularly fortuitous set of events happen. I won't get into all of them, but accountability must be had. I nearly broke a rule and would have done so willingly had it come to that.

A local had a copy of a game that's quite out of print with no current plans (AFAIK) to fix this. I had a game he wanted. A trade was made. Had Cindy not agreed that this was a reasonable course of action for a possible (however unlikely) Halloween get together down the road I would have declined until October and moved on, but her involvement somewhat absolves.

In short: with Cindy's blessing I traded a copy of Tigris & Euphrates for Shadow Hunters.

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Is this sacrilege? To some, perhaps. T&E is a classic and SH is a largely forgotten social deduction game with roll and move! But we're all heretics now and again, and so I reject the gospel of Knizia in favor of bumbling into spooky monsters armed with chainsaws in the woods.

Weird writing aside, I just really like Shadow Hunters and we don't play T&E. SH isn't a top tier social deduction game, not really, but it's also not just a social deduction game. It's a bizarre conflict-loaded cocktail, one where you gain a significant amount of your information through cardplay and bonking people over the head. It's a game of moments, moments that are memorable, like having the Werewolf reveal himself dramatically for a counterattack only for him to completely whiff and be rent asunder by everyone at the table. Simultaneously an EVENT game and a casual one. It's good is what I'm saying.
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Mon Sep 14, 2020 3:03 pm
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Games of the Moment 46

Demetri
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Welcome to the Inadvertent Small Games Special! This happens every once in a while. When you're partial to card games and Japanese stuff it's pretty likely to occur. I was going to call it the Seiji Kanai Power Hour, but two of these aren't his and I don't want to diminish 'em in the process. No time to waste!

GAMES AWAIT




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Let's start with some vintage Kanai, a trick taker with powers and variable Barbu-style win conditions. Neat!

Initial plays of Chronicle can feel a bit overwhelming. Every card does something on play, occasionally not even something useful depending on your timing, and that combined with the ever-changing conditional point system is a lot to take in. It's easy enough to get a hang of though since card powers are the same across suits/ranks, so after a hand or two you'll be fine.

I like Chronicle. It exists in a similar kind of space as The Dwarf King and Indulgence but it offers more interaction and complexity than those, and it also plays a bit quicker on average. The interaction is pretty direct headbonking though, so take that into consideration. I of course am fine with that despite being by far the worst at it among my circle of friends, but I also paint a target on my back and I know that.



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Real niche pick here. One you might not've heard of. You know this guy, Kanai, he makes games with just a handful of cards! Crazy concept I know, but it works!

When LL originally came out stateside we played it ceaselessly, introducing it to everyone who came by. It's not too surprising that I eventually got a bit burnt out on it and gave my copy away. But a year or two ago I had a few more games of it and immediately fell back in love with the thing, and that's where I stand today.

If I recall correctly the original Japanese rules supported single rounds as well as the series where you track wins, then it came over and the former vanished from the ruleset. A lot of localized games run into this problem - a publisher thinks the game needs to feel longer, so they come up with some number of hands/replays/whatever to bump the playtime up because they think that'll be more satisfying. Normally I disagree, but in the case of LL you really do benefit from back to back plays and tracking wins is as good a way to force the issue as any. It's kind of like Northern Pacific in that regard - watching meta shifts is fun, even if it wasn't 100% what the designer intended.

Anyway, Love Letter. Wonderful thing. Modern classic, I'd say.



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I've made my position on coops clear on here but I'll do it again - meh. I love coop video games immensely, but for whatever reason most coop board games don't make my brain squirt the good chemicals. A lot that is due to them being optimization puzzles against a randomizer of some kind. That's just not as interesting to fight as a person or an adaptive AI. Eight Epics isn't changing my mind on this, but it does take a slightly different approach that I at least found interesting.

Rather than endlessly bombard you with bullshit and force you to react, EE gives you a small deck of dice challenges to beat using an assortment of heroes with different mitigation powers. The game does away with any illusion of its setting fairly quickly since characters can generally be swapped around with ease and everything is just "move dice somehow", but that's fine. As a mix of puzzle and luck mitigation it's fairly interesting, with a lot of "when do I stop pushing my luck" choices to be made and just a bit of speculative info sprinkled throughout regarding future challenges. It also manages to do this with microgame proportions, which is quite impressive compared to its contemporaries.

I could see this being a reasonable solo to come back to. What I will not do is bring this out to a table of more than 2p. Play with multiplayer rules solo if you're feeling it, but for the love of god don't drag 7 other people around to watch each other roll dice for however long it'd take. That sounds miserable unless you turned it into some kind of roleplay thing. Which...the manual recommends? And I mean, I'd do it with the right group I guess, but come on.



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Kanai does an abstract. I was originally going to say it was Kanai does Shogi, but captures in this don't work the same way and I feel like that's the most important part of Shogi so out the window with that. RR is its own thing.

RR leaves me in a similar kind of headspace as Eight Epics, albeit in a genre I enjoy more. I see good design work here and I appreciate boiling it down to its essence. However, the existence of RRR has me thinking that we're playing a worse (or possibly solved by smarter people?) edition. Our games of RR involved a lot of following the leader, and while we were both able to make some pretty punchy plays periodically I can't say that was due to us being deviously clever as much as the other player leaving themselves open. One of the reasons I got tired of Onitama was just how trackable it was and how much of it came down to "the other player goofed, now you win". I could see RR being the same way. I hope I'm wrong though, haven't played it enough to say. Going forward we'd probably move to RRR just because it adds the extra variability of the neutral pieces.

One other notable thing about RR is just how darn pretty it is. I say this about everything Noboru Sugiura has drawn, but the sharp, thick lines and colors on stark white really stand out in particular. It's really gorgeous work that elevates the game somewhat on its own.



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You ever read some rules and go "wait a minute, this a train game"? I did before playing Bites 4 times with the Winsome Friends. And yeah, this is a secret train game. I'm not the sharpest knife in the spoon but I can call 'em sometimes.

Bites has all the hallmarks of a particularly weird Winsome title. Shared incentives, variable scoring, pieces piloted by everyone, you get the idea. The fact that it has and pieces and fancy foods to collect doesn't change that, though I do find the ant treatment charming. As I said during our session, they are nature's train.

In play the game feels like a crossbreed of a few other games I could name, but I don't want to diminish the uniqueness it offers. It's got a Knizian vibe to it as you're doing the same action every turn - move an ant, pick up a food - and yet the impact of your choices resonates through the entire game. The variability in setup with the rules cards is a particularly nice addition, allowing for all kinds of Sushi Go Party-esque combinations to keep it fresh or tailor it to your group. I particularly like the negative point sticks that form checkpoints and the mini-food podium modifier that lets your score explode for collecting a lot of something if you get there quickly.

We played this from 3-5p and I definitely enjoyed 3p the most. At 5p you're just kind of along for the ride, albeit a fun one, but this game has some meat to it and I like getting to really steer things before the path gets gobbled up. It's an enjoyable time for sure, albeit not a mindblowing one, and a Winsome-esque experience with an aesthetic this approachable is a great thing to see.



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Time to do the newest of the new here, because Pocket Paragons isn't even out yet. The folks at Solis Game Studio sent the media set to give it a shot and write a piece on it. That, combined with the Tabletop Simulator mod, has given us the opportunity to play it a lot with a broad range of characters. In fact, thanks to the excellent TTS mod I've gotten to play with several of my fighting game-playing friends as well despite plague, which has been great.

People who've been reading my stuff for a while may know that I have a history with "Fighting Games the Card Game". I make a point of playing as many of them as possible. My GOTY for 2019 was Unmatched and I have opinions on all of Level 99's output (BattleCON's the best one), Yomi(extremely satisfying), Combo Fighter(worse Yomi), and plenty of others. I love fighting games, both digital and analog, so I was excited to try another. And folks? This one's the real deal.

PP uses the difficult to verbalize but easy to play framework of playing cards, then discarding them, and eventually playing a card to pick up your discarded cards. It's hand management with no randomness, perfect information provided to both players. Like many games in this subgenre PP uses a rock/paper/scissors framework for its hits. Unlike many of those though, that's not ALL it does. You aren't just playing RPS forever while chipping at life totals, hoping to eventually turn the tide or draw into your scissors. I was already pleased to see this combination; the true-to-genre lack of randomness combined with the RPS combat that allows for big reads is exactly the kind of thing I look for.

But there's more. Much more. Because fighters in PP consists of 8 character-specific cards: a card depicting the fighter, RPS, a Block, a Rest to pick up your cards, a Weapon, and an Ultimate you can unlock by gaining energy from counters and rests. What's the weapon for, you ask? Well it's typically a pretty low impact attack that works independently of the RPS, meaning it can't counter or be countered. There's just one small additional note: if you land a weapon attack when your opponent rests, you execute them on the spot.

This system RULES. Most of my favorite fighting games incentivize and reward risky reads on your opponent, and PP is an endless cycle of potential reads. Win an RPS? Get energy and possibly unlock your ultimate. Rest early and risk obliteration? Do the same. Sniff out an upcoming rest? INSTANT KILL. Nothing feels better than coming back from a magic pixel of health by one-shotting a cocky opponent. Rounds in PP are anywhere from under a minute to a few minutes, and that speed is yet another piece that makes the game feel more true to the genre it's emulating.

There are so many other cool things: what the characters can actually do, the team mode that lets players inherit moves from their previous fighters, and a bunch more, but that's more than enough for an early impressions blog entry. I'll be doing a full preview on Pixel Die soonish and link it in a future entry here. Just know that this system has impressed the hell out of me and it's worth trying yourself.

The Last Bit


It was nice to get more plays in than usual. Folks are increasingly receptive to playing stuff online, and there's so many venues with improved functionality now that it's increasingly appealing to people who want to get games in.

Not much else to say at the moment! Thanks so much for reading. See you all in another 14!
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Sat Sep 12, 2020 5:35 pm
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The Cardboard Diogenes Club - September's Game and a Gift

Demetri
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Remember when I wasn't sure what constituted one game? You probably don't because that was back in January, approximately 50 years ago. Here's the link if you want some context: https://boardgamegeek.com/blogpost/99574/cardboard-diogenes-...

Anyway - I did it. That's September. Yes it took that long. I am indecisive and it's not like the store sold out in the interim.

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I've already packed this thing mostly full of good games for optimized shelf storage and aesthetics. Yes good.

In other news, I have received a wonderful care package from internet board game playboy Rand Lemley! It contained two games, one I've been recommended and looking forward to trying for a couple years, the other being a spin on the prisoner's dilemma by way of a Japanese publisher with fantastic aesthetic sense.

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Peak Oil seems like it should be my kind of thing. Mean worker placement and constant jostling for position? Yes'm. Plus it's gorgeous. Good job Heiko and team. It may be a bit before I can get this played, but I look forward to it.

Dilemma is straight up goofy and kind of adorable. It's a straight up PD game, but it's also got a real time dexterity phase to establish who's going to match up with the active player on any given turn? Sounds hilarious. Getting the right group for it is difficult in the current climate, but some day. Kudos to Rand for picking super cool things to ship out - I'd never even heard of this before despite it being 20 years old!

Phew. No more accountability posting for a few unless review copies show up. Inventorying like this is good for me I think; it makes acquiring things for any reason work and therefore less desirable. Win-win.

Thanks for reading!
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Sat Sep 5, 2020 8:07 pm
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The Cardboard Diogenes Club - Replacements and Removals

Demetri
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Been a bit since the last dedicated entry, eh?

This is an accountability post that you may have feelings towards. I've allowed myself some leeway, leeway that I maybe didn't need, but that serves a purpose.

I've acquired some game bits to replace lost/worn out/given away bits. For example, my liar's dice cups are basically gone. They're essentially donated to the office and folks in it. I am OK with this! But it also means that I want more cups to chuck dice with. Yellow Mountain Imports is doing a Labor Day sale and had some WONDERFULLY gaudy cups, so I bought 'em for $9-ish.

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Is that a game? Yeah, it is. But I dunno, this felt excusable somehow? I can't explain it. The real Diogenes is turning in his grave considering that I acquired the very implement he threw away. We have perfectly functional hands, after all! Feel free to call me a hack fraud, especially after part 2:

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I gave away my copy of Don't Mess With Cthulhu some time ago because Timebomb is amazing and should be played by all. This Japanese deck is jam packed with visual splendor, like a softer version of the art from Gitaroo Man. I had an in on a limited supply of copies to replace mine with and pulled the trigger. Was it necessary? No, but again, replacing things gone seems somehow more OK. I may retroactively count it as my thing this month, I'm hemming and hawing as I do. We'll see.

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The last thing I want to address is where I'm at with some of my prior selections. A fair number probably aren't sticking around long-term and may go to a remotely-handled local sale (plague proof, you see). Ride the Rails, Little Town, and Ettin are on the block. Escape the Dark Castle and Pan Am might be. We haven't figured that out yet. Cindy is a force in this after all, and I, er, haven't gotten her opinion on 'em leaving. Pan Am not being at its best at 2p kind of limits it, and while Escape the Dark Castle absolutely succeeds at what it tries to do and is gorgeous, we've kind of already chewed it up and spit it out. Kind of. I don't know. That's the emergent theme of this entry I think? Losing some grip and what games are/are for. I'm sort of OK with that in a way.

I'm not even going to read this back. Just gonna publish the word vomit. Thanks for reading!
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Fri Sep 4, 2020 1:52 pm
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Among Us is the new social deduction benchmark

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This was originally going to be another "Board Games That Aren't" special (see https://boardgamegeek.com/blogpost/102390/board-games-arent-... for the previous) where I talk about games that use the digital realm to do cool board gamey things. But as I started writing it I realized I only wanted to talk about Among Us. So I'm going to. This board game blog is a video game blog today, albeit one about a genre that's very much a board game standby: social deduction.

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A general rundown: the game has its crewmembers running around a ship trying to complete a list of menial tasks. Riveting start, I know. The twist is that there's an impostor in your midst who's playing an entirely different game, either trying to sabotage the ship or kill enough people that the ship can't be saved. The interface couldn't be simpler as the tasks consist of simple minigames, but you have to balance getting those done with being ever-vigilant and reporting anything weird you see because - crucially - you can only talk when everyone's in a meeting.

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The silence of AU is golden. Running around the ship trying to advance your agenda is incredibly tense. If you're running around alone you risk an ambush at any moment, but in groups you're less efficient and may miss important events across the ship. As the impostor you're trying to pick targets while creating a reasonable alibi. Do you use the vents to get around faster knowing that if you're seen climbing out of one you're done for? When do you strike and sabotage? Can you fake out crewmates by pretending to help out despite not being able to do so? All of this is communicated with nary a word, but the experience is made whole as it's punctuated with bursts of conversation when bodies are reported or an emergency meeting is called, turning on everyone's chat. The game provides text chat but we use voice chat that's left on mute until meetings are called, and the explosion of energy every time mics are enabled is electric.

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These discussion periods are also where the voting comes in. Whenever a meeting occurs everyone has the opportunity to vote a crewmate to be shoved out the airlock. Voting to skip is also an option, and any vote that ends in a skip or tie results in no one getting ejected, so there really needs to be a quorum in order to axe someone. The game immediately reveals the eject-ee's identity to the players but it does so after re-muting everyone, so you're forced to react to failed votes in silence. It's an incredibly effective way to force players to come to terms with their decision - you just sped up the imposter's wincon you fools! - while tossing everyone directly back into the action. Again AU demonstrates its mastery of the genre; you mostly communicate with your deeds, not words, yet it manages to say everything it needs to. And perhaps most incredibly it does all of this in 10 minutes tops. In terms of play time the only game that can keep up is Time Bomb/Don't Mess With Cthulhu, which I consider to be a basically perfect social deduction game. In terms of content, though? AU has just about every social deduction game beaten and it's not close.

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Look, I love social deduction games. Absolutely love 'em. I enjoy The Resistance, One Night Ultimate Werewolf, Bang and its dice game, and so many others. Among Us is better than all of those. It offers a complete social deduction experience without a moderator in less time, no setup, no downtime, via an interface so intuitive that it barely even needs to be taught. It also offers multiple ships to play on and modifiable rules for almost every possible parameter allowing you to house rule it to hell and back should you choose to. If you like social deduction games at all you have to give it a go. It will be a benchmark I use to judge future releases in the genre going forward.
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Sat Aug 29, 2020 5:02 pm
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Games of the Moment 45

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Reviewed: https://pixeldie.com/2020/08/05/ride-the-rails-review/

If you read my previous entry you more or less got the gist. It's not a great game, especially considering it followed Irish Gauge.



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ALL MY HOMIES KNOW IS PAIN

We were taught Sticheln by the same friend who introduced us to the excellent Krass Kariert. It grabbed my less board game obsessed friends almost immediately as memories of brutal games of Hearts immediately rushed back and their fight or flight reactions kicked in. We've played it since, and lemme tell you, it only got better.

There is only so much that can be said about Stick 'Em that other folks haven't done better already, so I'll keep this entry short. Suffice it to say that while you may not have a ton of control over your own destiny, you have enough over everyone else's to be engaged on every play. That's a curious trait for a trick taker and one that I value. The rules are almost too simple for their own good, with folks often looking for exceptions that don't exist. I consider that a huge positive. It's approachable, certainly, it just happens to be covered head to toe in bristles and I wouldn't want it any other way.



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I was recommended this as a potential hidden gem and told to try its implementation on Board Game Arena, so I did. I've since played over 50 games of this on BGA. I think it's safe to say I like it, but with a proviso that I'll get to.

Had Butterfly came out several years ago it very well could have blown up and become a huge success story. The rules are a page long but the room for tactical play is fantastic, particularly at 2p in which it becomes a nearly-luckless abstract battle. It does the set collection thing much better than most games of its ilk with tiles comboing with others in interesting ways, sometimes negatively! Since everyone shares control of Hudson the hedgehog you have to be very careful where you choose to stop and collect. Playing to take the highest scoring tile each turn is the obvious starting point, but there's far more depth to the strategy here than just that at lower player counts. 4p and 5p are more chaotic and not where the game's at its strongest, I think.

I'm not remotely uncertain as to whether or not Butterfly is a good game. It is. Where I'm torn is whether or not this is actually a good board game. I very specifically mentioned that I've been playing this digitally. Thanks to BGA doing all the bookkeeping and setup digital games of this take about 3 minutes. That's a phenomenal time:game ratio, with tons of choices and constant awareness of exactly where your opponents are getting their points from (and therefore how to counter them). I have trouble imagining that this works quite as well in person as tracking other folks' piles of tiles isn't quite as manageable as just having the game give you that info. It would be an entirely different experience played entirely by the seat of your pants. I'm sure I would enjoy it because Butterfly is really good, don't get me wrong, but would it compete with the version I've been playing? Would it feel anything like the game I've enjoyed so much already? I don't know! It is a mystery.

I do strongly recommend trying this game out. It's one of those "family +" games that's a completely different beast depending on how you approach it. It can be an easy breezy casual game or a cutthroat gauntlet of traps and forced moves. I prefer the latter because of course I do, and playing it digitally is more conducive to that experience. Hudson's got no time for cowards. You must move the hedgehog.



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I've gotten to play more cube rail games lately thanks to meeting folks that I'm going to call my Winsome Friends. They're mostly introducing me to stuff as they've been playing these longer than I have and actually own the original clamshells instead of just waiting for reprints. I'm not going to note every game I play on the blog as not every play is particularly notable. For example, I played The Soo Line again and won without setting down a single cube, while drinking for the duration. Was it fun? Of course. Do I have much to say on it? Nah.

But I do have opinions about one Iberian Gauge. This was one of my Tom Russell blind spots so I was glad to give it a couple plays. Mechanically it's an odd duck. Rounds are either stock or build (where have I heard that before?). No auctions, just setting par values and purchasing shares. Building has each player in share # order place a cube for the corresponding rail. I had it described to me as "QWOP with Trains" and that was accurate in more ways than one; the first being that it was awkward and unweildly, and the second being that moreso than any other cube rail I've played I am BAD at this.

We're talking horribly, irredeemably bad folks. I've come in dead last every play so far. Granted that's based on a whole two plays but I am far from internalizing how this works. Next time I'm going to set pars extra low or just follow people to effectively create training wheels for myself, because I'm clearly not to be trusted with running a Spanish rail company.

A quick digression: I seem to be in the minority in that losing a game tends to motivate me to play it more. A lot of folks talk about winner bias but I feel the exact opposite. If I've won I understood what was going on well enough that if the game didn't otherwise grab me I'm less compelled to go again. On a loss I often want to figure out what good play looks like, though whether the game actually warrants it or not is another matter. Obviously a game being "good" for me is an entirely independent thing, just an observation.



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Winsome Friends also let me try one that's being reprinted by RGG soon. It's not great!

There's not gonna be a twist here. After a rules read I thought SR was going to be a better Ride the Rails. Drafting stock, dropping cubes, no money to manage, chasing scoring conditions? Very similar! And with a shorter playtime of 30ish minutes it seemed like a direct improvement. I was only right about the last bit, further proving that it's impossible to tell how good a game is without actually tabling it.

The problem with SR is how quickly it functionally eliminates players. The most impactful choices are incredibly frontloaded, meaning if people don't work with you early and often you'll very likely get left behind forever. Success in this game corresponds 1:1 with how often you can get other people to do your work for you. That sounds great, and in theory it is, but other cube rail games do this far better. In the end it felt like we were playing a rules-ier Northern Pacific where you have to adjust tracks after almost every turn. Why would you do willingly do that? Also I missed out on a game of Gulf Mobile & Ohio as a direct result of choosing to play this and I feel cheated.



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Here's a curious thing: I'm basically the anti-Gil Hova when it comes to my game tastes. He's a self-professed eurogamer who prefers light interaction no harsher than blocking, where by contrast I want to knife people and get knifed in return. So it's a testament to his chops as a designer that I've very much enjoyed every single one of his games. Bad Medicine is a better party game than most, Wordsy is an excellent word game that actually rewards vocab (which unfortunately is why we no longer have it, as Cindy by her own admission can not spell), and The Networks is a top tier drafting game that forces you to constantly rejigger a forever-decaying tableau. Naturally I wanted to play his newest, so when a friend offered to host the official Tabletopia implementation I accepted. We played the intro game as Hova strongly recommended so my impressions aren't representative of the other modes, but WOW is this excellent.

I could do an entire "the best thing about Heroquest"-style ramble about how well every element of High Rise works. The time track that's cut into regions to prevent the traditional leapfrog, the varied incentives tugging you in different directions, the perpetual temptation of corruption for more actions, the minigames on a handful of the spaces, the pseudo-Monopoly (no I am not joking) threat of using other people's buildings, and I could easily go on but none of this is useful to read so I'll stop. Suffice it to say this is a phenomenal system and I absolutely need to play the other modes. If they're good, and I'm confident they will be, there's a very real chance we'll be seeing a Cardboard Diogenes Club entry for it in the future. The impression was that strong.

This blog's format tends to follow the positive with the negative, but I don't have any criticisms! Instead I want to commend Hova for once again creating a wholly original game out of familiar parts. The Networks didn't do anything that hasn't been seen before on a mechanical level, but in using its elements to their greatest effect he created a thematic, satisfying game that we've enjoyed for a while now. High Rise is much the same, yet completely different, and that's inspiring to see. I've said on many occasions (and been digitally yelled at for it by folks in the industry) that "good" isn't good enough in the board game scene anymore, that the bar has been raised too high for derivative to be tolerable, that a game that takes risks and fails is worth more than a game that doesn't try at all. Hova takes a traditional approach, similar to a Knizia or Dorn game. Mechanisms are his tools and he understands how to perfectly utilize every single one to achieve his goals and create something truly singular and new, yet comfortable and smooth to play. It's a level of mastery we don't often see and I continue to look forward to his future designs.

THE LAST BIT


Nothing major to report this bi-week! Working on a few pieces as of late, but they're mostly about video games. I've also been playing ungodly amounts of Fall Guys. That game is pure joy. Highly recommend it.

Thanks so much for reading! See you all in 14.
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Sat Aug 15, 2020 4:03 pm
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The Cardboard Diogenes Club - Off the Cube Rails (and also August's game)

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Bit of a different piece this bi-week - I'm going to write about a specific topic. It might end up being sort of a review/reviews? I don't know yet.

I've had a gradual introduction to cube rail games over the last 2-ish years. It began, as I assume many do, with Chicago Express. I haven't spent much time with it since so my memory's a bit foggy, but I remember being impressed far beyond my expectations. Then I played Northern Pacific (my introduction to Tom Russell's games as well) and absolutely fell in love with what the genre could be even at its most distilled. Trains may not do anything in particular for me, but high-interaction spacial knife fights sure do. This "cube rails" thing had my interest.

Since then I've spent time trying trying several others which I won't delve too far into so as to not get lost in the weeds just naming Winsome games over and over. Highlights include the bombastic Irish Gauge and the oddball charms of The Soo Line, lowlights mostly consist of an excruciating 2-hours-and-some-change playthrough of Locomotive Werks so painful that a friend spite-sold his copy of Chicago Express afterwards due to train-induced PTSD. Yes I know it's not cube rails, but it was Winsome! I wanted to believe!

Anyway.

Today I want to focus on two games. They're both by John Bohrer, which should surprise no one familiar with the genre. The reason I've tagged this as a Cardboard Diogenes Club entry, besides it chronicling an acquisition, is that it directly ties back to one of the two preorder games that I specifically set up at the start of the year. As those were the only two I actually planned around it seems right to give them special treatment on the blog. This entry isn't particularly structured, so if you're here for honest to goodness stream of consciousness mind vomit I've got plenty.

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For context: Ride the Rails and Cosmic Frog were the two games I announced at the outset of this year that I would buy, despite not having played either at the time. I've since played both. Cosmic Frog is good, but this is not a post about Cosmic Frog.

Irish Gauge was an absolute sensation with my work group. We played it over 50 times at least. I don't track plays so I don't know the exact number, but based on how many months it hit the table in a row that's a very conservative number. Point is it was a sensation. I was absolutely locked in for Iron Rails 2, knowing full well that it would be a different game, because if it was even mostly as good as IG I figured it'd be worth it.

I was half right. It goes without saying that Ride the Rails is a very different game despite its aesthetic trappings. No auctions, instead focusing on generating victory points (they call it money but it's never spent so it's VPs, fight me) via shared incentives and route creation. Ok! I like those things too. As a matter of fact the game's 3 phases are pretty clearly delineated: get stock (incentives!), lay track (routes!), scoot passengers for points (pick up and deliver!). And this is where I started to lose the thread.

The actual play of Ride the Rails lies in those first two phases. Choosing which companies to go in on and how to spend their very limited cubes (tiny trains but still) is great! I like it in other cube rail games and I like it here. Where RtR loses me, and I really didn't expect this to be a problem, is the actual scoring mechanism. Looking past the weird thematics of passengers wanting to take the longest routes possible (these games are ultra mechanical and that's fine), this part of the game just isn't interesting. It's actually pretty easy to math out which passengers to scoot for the most points, and it only takes slightly longer to find one that's almost as good while avoiding paying your friends quite as much. But - and this is the critical point - that process is not fun. And of all your time spent in a play RtR, over half of it is spent here.

I've seen a few folks voice concerns about analysis paralysis in this phase. I don't have that problem because I'd rather fumble than waste time, and other people taking their time doesn't particularly bother me. But my god it just takes too long to drag a meeple from hex to hex to hex, counting everything it touches, scooting the bits on the calculator time and time again. Even with the adjusted scoring method attributed to Heavy Cardboard this just takes too darn long for how little is actually getting done. I found myself getting impatient, not with the players but with the game itself, and this was true in multiple sessions with different players.

My other problem with RtR is the sheer amount of bits. Many hands make light work here, but compared to the elegance of Irish Gauge almost being devoid of upkeep this was a rough adjustment. Playing a version on Tabletop Simulator only did so much to alleviate this as moving bits on that platform is like playing every game with chopsticks; it's almost surgical. I couldn't help but think that it would be better as an app with a bot managing upkeep, but then you'd sacrifice much of the social element which is the entire point of the thing.

I got the additional maps with RtR and haven't played them. I've been told they're better, and I can kind of see why, but I don't think I want to spend much more time with this system. Other folks I know have this and perhaps I'll play theirs sometime after enough time passes. It isn't a bad game, to be clear. And I'm not mad that one of my two "special games" didn't land for me. I'm just disappointed. I'll still be very interested to see what Iron Rails 3 brings but there'll be a number skip on the shelf if I decide to pick it up next year.

With that said, I've replaced it. With another Bohrer box, even! And now we arrive at August's game:

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I was introduced to GM&O a few weeks ago by some cube rail enthusiasts. Initially I was a bit put off, what with the dozens of card stacks and funky "divide everything you bid by 3" system. Despite tying for a win at the end I never quite felt like I had a handle on what the game was trying to do. It felt weird, especially so. But unlike RtR's milquetoast abacus management, that feeling stuck in my brain afterwards for days. I had to play it again, try some things, pull some levers, see if it worked the way I thought it did. And that was the point where it cracked wide open.

GM&O can easily be described as an auction game because, well, it is. You have to bludgeon each other with bags of money in order to get almost anything done. There are only four possible actions in the game, one of them's a pass, and the other three all cost player-determined dollar amounts. But there's more to it than just auctions here. No one "wins" an auction in GM&O. You pay for the privilege of affecting the game state. You pay to choose when your actual turn is. You pay to force the cube color to change. You pay to leech off your opponents' work. You pay, you pay, you pay, and it's in this cycle of paying into an uncaring bank that's particularly stingy with its dividends that the game lies. Unlike most euro games the "worth" of an action is nigh impossible to ascertain. Oh sure, I can tell you exactly how many points you're getting per dollar, but what's a point worth in this particular game? Is it a high scoring one or a low? The degree to which this system allows players to steer the course of the game is practically unlimited, and it does all of this in under an hour.

Of course, some of this goes away past the halfway point once players are building to cut routes and connect cities for color bonuses before anyone else does. But the game you play from then on is the one your actions have created. I've played 6 games of GM&O at time of writing and not a single one of them has felt remotely the same. An example: in our most recent session someone made a particularly spicy play, spending somewhere in the 20s of dollars (a lot of money!) to completely cut off Atlanta (the most valuable city!) from every direction. Completely surrounded, no way in or out, scorched earth. He ended up losing the game as we managed to create alternate hubs while his expansion efforts couldn't keep up, but the fact that that was even possible and could work blew me away.

I also want to take note of the parasitism. GM&O doesn't opt for the shared incentives that many of these games love to toy with. Instead, buying the second share (which is the ONLY other share) of a company is a purely selfish act. It reduces the original owner's income, allows the buyer to place cubes for their own score exclusively, and makes the buyer money when dividends pay out. There is no "helping" here unless you count capitalizing off the board state at opportune moments as "helpful", which I do not. This is a knock down drag out area control game that's entirely powered by your wallet. It's wonderful, and much unlike any other cube rail game I've played. That isn't to say there aren't others that work this way - I probably just haven't played them yet - but I love what this does from start to finish. So I grabbed it from my FLGS. This is August's game. Yes it's on 8/1, and I'm ok with that. GM&O is worth it, and will be sliding directly into the vacated spot RtR left.

Was this fun for anyone to read? I don't know! I didn't play a super broad spread of games over the last two weeks so I needed to do something different and this seemed more or less in line. Let me know what you thought, maybe I'll shift programming around more often.

Thanks so much for reading! See you all in 14.
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Sat Aug 1, 2020 8:01 pm
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Games of the Moment 44

Demetri
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Got a fair variety of games to cover this bi-week with a spread of opinions! Delicious. Let's dig in.

THE CYCLE CONTINUES




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DTB review is up! I enjoyed the game and all its eccentricities. It won't be for everyone, but maybe it's for you: https://pixeldie.com/2020/07/15/dinosaur-table-battles-revie...



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In summary: Iron Helm is Roguelike con Cardboard. Central mechanism's neat. The actual game I'm meh on. I'll elaborate a bit.

The core premise of Iron Helm is appealing: you're an aging adventurer looking to do One Last Job (tm) before retiring. Your score at the end is based on how well you did, and therefore how comfortable your retirement is. Of course this is assuming you live at all. It also makes the existence of the expansions weird as they seem to just throw this premise out the window, but eh, that's a nitpick at best.

Where IH intrigued me was its core mechanism - the door kick. Every turn you have two doors to choose from. You open the first and then decide: take the primary effect of the door you're looking at, or take the unknown more severe effect behind door number two. Sometimes this works wonderfully, like finding extra food/treasure for example, but more often it'll get you jumped by a baddie who's now EXTRA dangerous. It's an excellent loop that's not so much push your luck as it is risk management, since you learn the odds of the fairly slim dungeon deck fairly quickly but never have full information on what remains as unseen doors are discarded face down. I liked this system in Desolate and it's done even better here.

Unfortunately that is where my praise ends. IH is genuinely compelling initially, but what's actually behinds those doors just never interested me. Combat in this is a stodgy affair of getting bonked over the head, deciding whether or not to spend energy on extra dice, rolling to bonk the enemy, repeat ad-nauseum. I like rolling dice, truly I do, but a game with this much combat needed to have more to consider than "well I guess I'll have one more die". Even in boss fights and near-death battles the tension just isn't there. I understand that solo gaming is a meditative exercise for many and maybe that was the goal here, but that's not what I go to a dungeon crawl roguelike for.

Good news for folks who like what I've described: there is a LOT of it. It appears that Grey Gnome Games is going on a hiatus for a while but there's still a lot of content and expansions to try out at present. Their upcoming solo deckbuilder Gate still has my attention as it's working in a different design space, but after a few losses and a win I'm done here.



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AAA is a wonderful acroynm. "What're you playing?" "AAAAAAAA."

Small box deckbuilders are a space I keep an eye on, which is pretty easy when there are so few. Sometimes you get winners like Valley of the Kings. Sometimes you get weird stuff like Master Merchant. Sometimes you get games like Star Realms that are great fun but completely outmoded by an app. And sometimes you play the vegetable game where you churn and burn until someone wins.

There are so many individual elements I like in AAA - cards have no cost and are taken straight to your hand, the "read 'em and weep" win condition, plenty of direct conflict - but I can't help but feel like it desperately needs more veggies. That's not to say I want the game to be bloated - maybe half as many cards per type and twice as many card effects. I know that'd be a ton of design work, and maybe expansions will get it there over time, but what's there now feels thin. The 10 cards largely feel useful at very set points (eg: Broccoli and Potatoes only work early, Eggplant only matters late) which leaves games feeling a smidge scripted. After 3 plays I have respect for the unconventional elements of the design but no desire to revisit in its current state.

However: I do see the appeal here. Gamewright is marketing AAA as a "my first deckbuilder", and in that regard I could absolutely see it succeeding. If you want a card game for mixed ages that they can eventually teach on their own this seems like it'd be suitable. I was a bit disappointed that this wasn't on the level of some of their other "Food: The Card Game" entries (Sushi Go/Party/Roll, Go Nuts for Donuts) as far as playing with adults go, but folks seem to be reporting AAA as an excellent addition to their kid's shelf. So maybe they really nailed that? My concern as always is long-term replayability, but kids are unpredictable as to what they'll latch onto. Worst case this makes for a far more engaging kids game than most.



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A CDC pick! Praise be. If you've read my stuff before you know I like weird games. Understand then, that when I say Pan Am is strange I truly mean it, though maybe not in ways that are immediately obvious.

The rules of the game, with the exception of claiming routes 4 different ways, don't really demonstrate why the play of Pan Am is bizarre. It's entirely a matter of game feel: the game simultaneously feels random and on rails, deterministic yet wild. The space bidding is pretty straightforward with standard auction surprises, and stealing routes out from under people is as satisfying here as it is elsewhere, but Pan Am's existence as an entity and the directive cards throw a whole toolbox's worth of wrenches into the gears.

Cards allow players to break all kinds of rules and can potentially grant free points at end game. This creates a Catan-adjacent feeling of fear whenever a player goes dumpster diving and doesn't play the thing they found for a few rounds. Pan Am is a capricious mistress, only offering a portion of its endless coffers to routes determined by die rolls. We had greatly varied experiences with the megacorp as well as our income, branching out everywhere while bonking each other over the head, and yet despite all of this crazy stuff scores ended up really tight! It was a bizarre experience.

I certainly enjoyed my time with this but need to play it more in order to figure out how good it actually is. I need to see more events, more combinations of cards, in order to figure out whether these scores were kept close via good play or artificially. Since buying VPs is a choice I'm inclined to think it's the former but I can't say for sure. First impressions: this is a charming thing that bridges the gap between mass appeal Target game and Nerd Box for Nerds, and though it may struggle to quite nail either demographic I quite like it thus far. Optimism reigns!



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Hold on, apparently that's not the final title and cover. Egg on my face really, I'm so embarrassed. Let me issue a correction:



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There we go.

I like cube rails a whole hell of a lot. GMO is the most recent new introduction for me, and unsurprisingly I liked it quite a bit as well. Whether you'll feel similar is entirely dependent on how much you enjoy the most venerable board gaming mechanism - the auction.

I'm not joking when I say "Holy Shit! Auctions!" is an equally if not more valid title. 90%+ of your time here is going to be spent hemming, hawing, and agonizing over whether or not to raise a bid. Thanks to some particularly restrictive placement rules it's essentially an area control game powered by money, and open information (as is the Winsome tradition) means you'll need some serious misdirection and adaptation to pull one over on the other players. It's as good of an economic knife fight as you've come to expect from the genre while feeling quite different in execution.

There are some weird production things here, and no, they aren't RGG's fault this time. Simply put: this game has a shitton of cards that need to be arranged in a spread of 2 card stacks, then scooted around constantly in the early game as new cities make new companies available for auction. That combined with the conga line of cubes that needs to be put together at the start makes it more of a bear to set up than most games of its ilk. This isn't actually that big a deal since you can just huck the cubes at other players and tell them to get to work, but the card thing can be a problem when you need to figure out which rail corresponds to which card, who owns it, how much cash they have, etc. Eventually the game speeds up though, and it seems to be intended to be played by the seat of your pants rather than ultra-tactically, so I can excuse a lot.

This is a big year for cube rail reprints and normally that'd be excellent news, but the CDC means I must be ultra-vigilant. Selective to the point of petty pickiness. I like GMO a bunch and would gladly own/review it, but to buy it now would potentially lock me out of the OTHER Winsome reprints on the way, as well as cool stuff like Leder Games' Fort. So for now I sit, contemplate, and wait to read/try out Trans-Siberian in case that's even more appealing.



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This was another contribution from my friend who likes the miniatures. Before he had me try Crisis Protocol and I was surprised at how tightly wound the system was. This time it was a bigass CMON joint, which I normally don't even glance at, doubly so when their main marketing gimmick was a Cthulhu garden gnome. So imagine my surprise when the game managed to pierce through my preconceptions and I actually enjoyed myself.

It's quite good actually! Very pulpy. The flaws and sanity mechanisms in particular are inspired. Using your character's affliction of short term memory loss to forget your guilty conscience and negate its potential negatives is some fantastic setting integration. For as grim and eldritch as the game likes to present itself in its art it's actually much tonally closer to a parody, and it's just genre aware enough to pull that off. The snippets of writing support that with a consistent tone of exasperation and "aw shit here we go again"-ness. These investigators aren't new to this whole thing, they're just travelling from problem to problem and shooting it in the face. Overall it's a nice refinement of the dungeon crawl that evokes its genre with tongue planted firmly in cheek, and that's a nice change from so many weak attempts at trying to make a board game scary.

And now, a new segment! Working title:

Other things I've played recently but don't have much to say about either because we play them a lot or I recently talked about them, which usually means I just don't mention them, but I thought why not mention them briefly here for a change:


Krass Kariert: ridiculously good, I should really get over my mind goblins and review this one at some point

King of Tokyo Dark Ed.: as enjoyable as I said it was here: https://pixeldie.com/2020/06/26/king-of-tokyo-dark-edition-r...

Innovation: one of my very favorite card games, which I simultaneously play fairly often and yet not enough. Still just base Inno and that'll likely never change after we bounced hard off the Echos exp. Well over 100 plays at this point, a true evergreen

The Captain is Dead: one of the very best "standard" coops, in large part due to masterful thematic integration that makes every decision feel punchy and significant. The role cards are just incredibly well made and the game sings at every player count

Las Vegas: we play Las Vegas all the time but I rarely mention it because what can we even say about it at this point? It is OUR dice game, the true filler, praise be to Vegas, may the house always win

Northern Pacific: an excellent psychological study masquerading as a game, for which Cindy made a fan-board to torture our friends where all the city names are made up and geography doesn't matter

The Last Bit


Been an exhausting bi-week for reasons that have little to do with games. I'm ok though! Just tired. Bit too tired to write a lot here like I do sometimes.

Joshua Buergel very kindly sent me a Foresight deck! Will give that a spin soon, see how much the hints affect games we're used to. I have a feeling it'll be tremendous.

Playing almost everything on TTS has been fine by me, means I get to hang out with a lot of folks. That said I do miss my local hangouts. We even had a friend move across the country during all this and didn't get to see him off. A sadness.

Thanks for reading as always! See you all blah blah blah you know the drill.
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Sat Jul 18, 2020 5:55 pm
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The Cardboard Diogenes Club - July's Game

Demetri
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You click the subscription button on the BGG toolbar, listlessly tapping away just to stave off boredom for a few precious minutes. Another blog entry from that one weird guy who documents his acquisitions loads up, complete with an image. You still aren't sure if he thinks this will help someone or if it's entirely self indulgent, but you're definitely certain that it's of little consequence.

As a group, choose one option:

Skip: There are better things to read. Click the "next" button.
Read: Begin combat...

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This is my shit. Old school GW, Fighting Fantasy, what have you, combined with gorgeous black and white illustrations? And chucking dice? You'd best believe I'm gonna try that out. I've been wanting something extra ameritrashy and narrative focused lately and this is that all the way to its bones. When one of my local stores let me know they got ahold of it I was there within the day.

So far we've had 3 plays (1x 2p, 2x 3p) and the third ended in a climactic victory! This is the point where we're gonna start trickling in expansion content I think. Keep things spicy, unpredictable, add just a smidge more complexity. The goal isn't to make this overwrought - its lean ruleset is one of its greatest strengths - I just want to give it a little push and make the decks bigger. In a game like this more content is pretty much always welcome.

EtDC isn't *for* most people on this website but it's a better version of the games a lot of us loved back when. I'm glad to have been able to get my hands on it.
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Sat Jul 11, 2020 5:12 am
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