Archive for the '50 Games in 50 Weeks' Category

50 Games in 50 Weeks: Qwirkle Cubes

May 20 2013 Published by under 50 Games in 50 Weeks,Reviews

Qwirkle Cubes (Schmidt Spiele)Qwirkle Cubes combines Scrabble with dice.

The game comes with 90 six-sided dice. You draw a “hand” of six dice, which you roll immediately upon drawing. The first player places a set of dice in the middle of the game to form the “grid.”

Play then proceeds in turns, with players adding dice to the grid, getting points for each die added of the same color in a row or column, and additional points for completing a row with all the available symbols. That’s a little complicated to keep track of in play, but one gets used to it.

Unlike in Scrabble, all players can see all the players’ hands at all times. This allows you to plan according to how you think your opponents will play their dice.

So, while there is a random element to the game, the game quickly evolves into a strategic conflict as you build out rows and try to block your opponents.

The only complexity comes in remembering the rules governing which symbols and colors you can add to a row or column on the grid. While these rules aren’t complicated, I made several illegal moves in my first game due to my confusion. Even by the end of the game (each lasts for 20–30 minutes), I felt unsure I fully grasped those rules.

But overall, it’s a game suitable for kids and adults, that provides sufficient strategic complexity to challenge experienced adults.

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50 Games in 50 Weeks: Thurn and Taxis

May 06 2013 Published by under 50 Games in 50 Weeks,Reviews

Thurn And Taxis board game components

Thurn And Taxis board game components

Thurn and Taxis is a Euro board game that’s somewhat like Ticket to Ride. In addition to building routes, players also explicitly dominate regions.

Your options are determined through a deck of cards, each representing a region on the board. Each turn, you can play a card to add a route in the region specified on the card. As your routes grow, you can score them, and as your routes connect cities, you can score them, as well.

One interesting strategic concern lies in timing which routes you score. You can score them early (thus locking them in) or wait and try for a higher score.

Moreover, Thurn and Taxis contains many different ways to score and win the game. This dramatically increases your strategic options, and helps to make the game a little less directly competitive.

Indeed, players of Thurn and Taxis compete less directly than they do in, say, Ticket to Ride. For example, one player can’t block another player’s route. However, you score more points if you claim a region first, so the game becomes more of a race than a fight.

Because the board contains a small number of cities, the game ends pretty quickly. Time-strapped players, take note: a game of Thurn and Taxis takes about one hour.

Overall, I found this to be a deeply strategic yet easy to learn (and set up!) game.


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50 Games in 50 Weeks: Alhambra

Apr 29 2013 Published by under 50 Games in 50 Weeks,Reviews

AlhambraAlhambra is a territory purchase game: you collect cards representing different kinds of money, then use that money to buy square pieces of a garden. You get points based on how many pieces of your garden you can fit together (each piece has some walled borders, and you must join sections appropriately), and the types of garden pieces you have.

Alhambra‘s a wonderfully consistent game: just as interesting early in the game as it is near the end. You have to pay attention during others’ turns as they collect money cards and buy garden pieces, since 4 garden pieces are available to buy at any given time. You must plan your turn effectively. Moreover, the ongoing score is an effective but imperfect predictor of success.

It’s easy to grasp, because there are so few parts to the game. Kids could play it, though they’ll likely get blown away by adult players. Adults will find depth to the game’s strategies, without too many options at any given time.

This probably all old news to most of my geek viewers, thanks to the Tabletop episode on Alhambra. If you want to see the game in action, here you go:

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50 Games in 50 Weeks: Dungeon Raiders

Apr 15 2013 Published by under 50 Games in 50 Weeks,Reviews,Role-playing

One of the most fun experiences in my life is running a game I designed.

The game’s never perfect. Players almost always suggest changes. And they almost always have fun.

I’m going to describe what it was like to run Dungeon Raiders, which is my simplification of original D&D, during last year’s DC Game Day.

I ran “Temple of the Ghoul,” a free old-school adventure I’ve run several times. I love it. It’s a mostly linear environment: one entrance, a few upper-level temple rooms, and a small complex of rooms underground. The heroes have choices, but not many.

The system ran beautifully. Most of my players played early editions of D&D, so they became comfortable very quickly. Each class uses its own die for attacks, and you’re always trying to meet or beat 4. Nobody asked any rules questions after the first 15 minutes.

Like most retroclones, Dungeon Raiders makes combat so simple that players tend to exercise their creativity. When every round of combat looks the same–one die roll and one hit–players chafe and start to move their characters around the room, asking about the environment and tactics.

Unfortunately, I made one mistake: near the end of the game, while surrounded by zombies, the cleric gleefully cast Turn Undead. There’s no such automatic spell in Dungeon Raiders, and I told him with regret that his cleric couldn’t do that. He humbly accepted this and we moved on, but I realized that I had no reason to deny him. It wasn’t about to break the system, and this was a one-shot tournament game anyway.

Nevertheless, we built to a climactic slowdown with the titular Ghoul, and the players destroyed him surprisingly quickly and claimed a room full of gold.

Dungeon Raiders is completely free and available in PDF, mobi, and epub.

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50 Games in 50 Weeks: The Dresden Files RPG

Mar 18 2013 Published by under 50 Games in 50 Weeks,Reviews,Role-playing

The Dresden Files RPG is the game built around the Dresden Files urban fantasy world, using the FATE system.

I had an unusual experience running Dresden Files. During PAX East 2012, some friends wanted to try the system. I borrowed a copy of the rules from a booth selling Evil Hat merchandise (thanks, guys!), and we grabbed a table in the cafeteria section of the conference center. As the players built their characters, we started brainstorming about the city we’d play in. The choice was obvious: Boston, the city in which we sat. We came up with lots of great ideas about Boston as a center of magical stories, and then….

I improvised.

I’ve dreamed up plots “on the fly” before, but I’d always built at least a few antagonists and ideas beforehand. This time, I had to invent a plot hook and involve the characters from the first minute.

And it was magical. Pun intended.

I created an incident in the basement of the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center, something really nasty involving a lot of blood. The characters were pulled in and quickly began investigating.

The system should support stories that fit its world, and Dresden does so wonderfully. Your character’s Aspects define that character’s personality and powers, while skills define standard real-world abilities. You roll against those to determine how well you do something, and can invoke an Aspect for a boost.

There’s a lot more to the system, but that summary illustrates one nice element of Dresden Files: if you know nothing else about the system, you can just roll against your skills. That’s how we familiarized ourselves with the system.

I’m glad I grabbed the physical book. The book’s large amount of material makes it difficult to jump around, at least in PDF form. It’s easier to bookmark and flip through the physical book to look up a spell’s effects, sample NPC stats, etc.

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50 Games in 50 Weeks: The Miskatonic School for Girls

Feb 18 2013 Published by under 50 Games in 50 Weeks,Reviews

This is a game about schoolgirls driven slowly crazy by horrible monsters, yet it’s quirky and fun. If you can’t imagine how that might be, this is the wrong game for you.

Miskatonic School for GIrls

Miskatonic School for Girls artwork

Miskatonic School for Girls is a card game in which you build a deck of schoolgirls and school paraphernalia, face monstrous teachers, and try to drive other players’ girls crazy while protecting your own from paddling and daily exposure to Teachers From Beyond.

It uses deck-building, similar to Dominion. However, you can also draw monstrous teachers and use them to attack other players’ girls. Other players are attacking your girls, too, and you use your girls to fend off the monsters, with school paraphernalia (diaries, candy, etc.) to improve the girls’ scores.

If a girl succumbs to a monster, she gets paddled, which decreases her sanity. Once all your girls lose sanity, you’re out of the game, so the last player with even marginally sane schoolgirls wins.

The lush, full-color artwork keeps the game light in tone. This premise could induce shudders in many gamers, and thankfully both the artwork and concept avoid any sexual or depressing themes. For example, the image used when a girl loses all her sanity is simply a girl with crossed eyes and a goofy grin. The art maintains a comic strip tone, where the monsters are those under Calvin’s bed instead of the ones in a Japanese hentai movie.

Games run quickly, 45–60 minutes once you’re used to the mechanics. The decks contain just enough variety in cards that you must constantly adjust your strategy throughout the game. While I’ve only played it twice, Miskatonic doesn’t feel like it has very deep strategic possibilities. This is a game to pull out every few months and enjoy for a round or two.

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50 Games in 50 Weeks: Gamma World 4E

Feb 04 2013 Published by under 50 Games in 50 Weeks,Reviews,Role-playing

Gamma World 4E

Gamma World 4E

4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons‘s modularity makes it suitable for many genres: the modern era, Spelljammer, and even the gonzo mutant future of Gamma World.

For those unfamiliar: Gamma World was a D&D post-apocalyptic setting that included grenade-throwing rabbit-men, sentient plants, and crumbling radioactive cities. It’s a wonderful, ridiculous potpourri of post-apocalyptic elements. Gamma World 4E updates this with D&D 4E’s mechanical approach.

A lot of people dislike 4E’s mechanics for being “too much like a board game.” Fortunately, Gamma World is ideal for such mechanics, since it involves skirmishes between groups with a wide variety of weird weapons. 4E models this world cleanly and beautifully.

I ran Gamma World using one of the scenarios provided in the book, The Steading of the Iron King, which involved infiltrating a closely-held compound of Usagi Yojimbo knock-offs. I ran it as a Google+ Hangout using the Tabletop Forge add-on, which handled all our maps perfectly.

We had a great time, blazing away at bad guys and dealing with cramped passages. It’s light entertainment, with plenty of options and a gonzo tone.

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50 Games in 50 Weeks: Dungeon Run

Jan 28 2013 Published by under 50 Games in 50 Weeks,Reviews

Dungeon Run

Dungeon Run

How do you make a dungeon crawl into a board game?

I can’t think of a better way than Dungeon Run.

The players start by choosing a hero, and placing it on the single dungeon entrance tile. The heroes then move to new rooms and fight monsters. Eventually, someone will find the Summoning Stone, turning the game into a race to capture the Stone and return to the dungeon entrance.

The monsters are deadly when faced solo, encouraging cooperation among heroes to fight them off. However, at the end of the game, only one player will win, turning the game’s finale into a competitive scrum.

The build-up to that tilt is my favorite aspect of Dungeon Run. You know it’s coming and must plan for it. It colors your choices even while the game pushes you towards cooperation.

Drake’s Flames’ review complains about the game’s mechanics and dependence on luck, which I had no problem with during my one play. I wonder if the reviewer wanted a different game. Luck affects your experience, but skill remains important. Dungeon Run never struck me as a tactical game, so I didn’t miss its absence.

It’s a fast, loose board game that you can finish in an hour, complete with high-quality art and plenty of variety. I had a blast.

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50 Games in 50 Weeks: Giants (board game)

Jan 21 2013 Published by under 50 Games in 50 Weeks,Reviews

Giants board game

Giants board game

This is a fascinating game, both for its historical perspective and its mechanics.

Giants simulates the behaviors of Easter Island’s inhabitants. You control the population, consuming the island’s resources and building giant stone statues. You have to quarry the stone, then move it to the coast for carving and erection.

A few interesting mechanics: you need logs to move your statues, and there need to be people on all the game board spaces leading from one place to another. But they don’t need to be your people. So you’re paying attention to other players, and may do them favors by adding players to certain spaces.

More interesting, though, the game requires depleting the island’s resources. By the end of the game, there’s practically nothing left on the island but statues. And there’s no stopping that if you want to win the game.

It’s a fairly long game–several hours–with a lot of room for strategy.

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50 Games in 50 Weeks: Cthulhu Dice

Dec 24 2012 Published by under 50 Games in 50 Weeks,Reviews

Cthulhu Dice is an odd little game. On one hand, it’s dramatically simple: each player has three sanity tokens. On your turn, choose another player, roll a die, and do whatever the die tells you (take sanity from the other player, lose sanity, etc.). If you’re targeted by another player, you get a free die roll in response. Continue until only one player has any sanity left, which usually takes about 10 minutes. That’s it.

The game so depends on die rolls that the only interesting mechanic over which players have any control is in choosing which other player to target. It quickly becomes a game of favoritism, leaving some players alone while ganging up on others. It also means the game is best played with groups of 4 or 5.

As a result, Cthulhu Dice can be an amusing diversion, a fun way to pass a little time with friends.

You can play a free online demo of the game.

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