Hello Dolly! The Smash Up Sheep are Here!

I took a break from the soccer match I was watching and went to go get my daily mail. What did I find? Was it a horse’s head? A bunch of junk mail from political candidates? Utility bills?

No — it was the free Sheep deck from AEG for Smash Up!

The deck has plenty of minions: Flock, Ram, Little Bo Peep….and some nice action cards, including the sure-to-be infamous Wood for Sheep!

Aren’t ewe jealous that you didn’t get one too? I just couldn’t resist the shear hilarity of that last pun! Look, I made another! Hahaha!

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What I Learned in only 2 Games of Forbidden Island

Lee gifted me Forbidden Island from Gamewright for Christmas.

The game is cooperative in which 2-4 players race across a sinking island to secure four treasures and get to the helicopter before everything descends into the murky, watery abyss. It plays similar to Pandemic in that players get to take actions, collect sets of cards, and slowly reveal what sections of the island sink each turn. As the water rises, the pace increases, and the players must try to stay one step ahead.

As a veteran of Pandemic (and Pandemic Legacy) as well as Ghost Stories and similar games, I felt I had a good handle on these sort of cooperative race games. Boy was I pleasantly surprised at how wrong I was! After two games, here is what I learned:

1 – The Island Sinks Fast

Compared to Pandemic, the pace in Forbidden Island is much quicker. The game plays in under 30 minutes….easily. I found that what I thought were reasonable actions (like shoring up some tiles–in other words, flipping a tile from flooded to unflooded) were completely wrong. I realized after two defeats that I would have to optimize my turn much more than I originally thought.

2 – Hand Management is Tough

To get a treasure, a player needs a set of 4 matching cards. There are two big issues: 1) there are only 5 of each treasure card available in the Treasure Deck and 2) a player’s hand limit is 5 cards. Unlike the higher hand limit and excess matching-color cards in Pandemic, the scarcity of cards in Forbidden Island and small hand size mean that players must trade cards more strategically.

3 – Protect Fools’ Landing

Fools’ Landing is the tile with a helicopter for the players to escape the sinking island after grabbing the treasures. If it sinks beneath the waves, game over Man! We lost a game because we chose to leave Fools’ Landing flooded while taking care of other tasks. We paid the ultimate price when a Waters Rise! card was drawn and the first Flood Card drawn was Fools’ Landing, sinking the tile.

4 – This Game is Fun!

Despite two losses (on Novice level, egads!) I am ready to try again. The gameplay is quick and enjoyable. I have a lot to learn, but the fun will be in the trying.

New Games that I am Pumped About: Northern Enchantress and Fragged Kingdom

Today was my lucky day! Two new games that I can’t wait to play showed up in either my email inbox or on my front door.

Northern Enchantress — Expansion for Heart of Crown

I really like the new deck building game Heart of Crown from Japanime Games. And just in the time for the holidays the second expansion, Northern Enchantress, has arrived (along with my setup playmat)! Heart of Crown is quicker and simpler to play than Tanto Cuore. The new expansion adds magic and non-humans. I can’t wait to give it a try.

Fragged Kingdom

A while back I picked up the Fragged Empire RPG. The game has some really cool ideas in it, like attribute damage, an innovative combat system, a nice “Spare Time” character development system, and streamlined rules for dealing with items and resources. Fragged Empire is Sci-Fi while Fragged Kingdom is fantasy. It promises to have rules for PCs to have “Holdings” and rule over territory, plus simplified mass combat rules. One gripe I have always had about traditional fantasy RPGs is that they typically deal with holdings and mass combat quite poorly. From my quick perusal of the rules, I have a feeling that Fragged Empire is going to get it right. I gotta get a campaign started right away!

How EA got Star Wars Battlefront 2 So Horribly Wrong…and Then So Right

Photo courtesy of my flatscreen TV

The Initial Controversy — Locked Jedi

By now you either are playing Star Wars Battlefront 2 by Electronic Arts (EA) or you are not. Either way you probably have heard about the controversial start of the game…and how mad Star Wars fans were. Basically, EA had locked some key heroes/villains like Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker behind a wall of credits. Players could acquire credits by playing for about a year…or they could purchase crystals via micro transactions…which means via spending real money….and unlock them now. Fans revolted at this injustice and the credit cost of the heroes was slashed.

The Real Problem–Vastly Imbalanced Game Play

But I am here today to tell you the #truth! The real problem was not locked heroes…it was that the game play was vastly imbalanced by the micro transactions! Here is my story. I bought the pre-order of Battlefront 2, which allowed me 1) early access to the game three days prior to the general release, 2) to start with some good Star Cards (power ups basically) especially for Rey and Kylo Ren, and 3) the unlocking of the Death Trooper class. Thus when I started playing on November 14th I was excited to try out my new Star Cards and Death Trooper. But guess what happened? Players who used micro transactions to buy 1000s of Star Cards were wiping the battle fields with their immense advantage.

This was grim, as I was unable to get many kills and was getting slaughtered. Now you might ask, why didn’t I just use my Death Trooper to fight back? Well it’s because as you fight, you earn Battle Points. The good classes of warriors (like the Death Trooper) and the Heroes (like Rey and Kylo Ren) are locked during a battle until you earn enough Battle Points to play them. So the rich kids who bought Star Cards were racking up Battle Points and grabbing all the heroes, slaughtering everyone else, getting more Battle Points, lather, rinse, and repeat! Now I had played Battlefront 1, so I was no slouch at the game. In fact, I was one of the best Starfighters in the world, so the sort of slaughter that was being inflicted on me was mainly a product of the vast imbalance in access to Star Cards.

So all my pre-order access and good Rey and Kylo Ren Cards were useless…because I could never get enough Battle Points to play them! In short, from November 14-16 micro transactions ruined Battlefront 2. The $70 I had spent was futile in the face of the rich kids spending $100s or $1000s to basically buy victory like they were the New York Yankees or Manchester United!

EA Gets It Right

Literally hours before the general launch on November 17, EA removed micro transactions. So now nobody can spend real money to buy an advantage, everyone has to earn credits through their game play. Since then, the game play has been normal. I now can kill and be killed based on my skill and the skill of my opponents. I can earn Battle Points and get enough to play the Death Trooper, Rey, and Kylo Ren. The game is what it was suppose to be all along.EA actually listened to player feedback and made changes that fixed the problem. Now this is not my usual experience with EA, as I ditched playing the FIFA series of games because of the lack of response from EA to the communities’ complaints. But this time, they actually listened. I guess the Force is strong in the Battlefront 2 community!

May the Force Be With You

Update: edited to get rid of the darn auto-correct that keeps messing with Star Wars names

House Rules — Making a Game Fit Your Needs: Tavern Masters

DECONSTRUCTION JUNCTION

A place where I dissect rules, themes, game components, and strategies and give my thoughts about them.

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Every now and then there is a game that you like…but you don’t love it. Maybe it’s because it doesn’t really fit the style or needs of your gaming group. You’ve played it with the guys a couple times, and it was fun, but you think it could be even more fun…if it was tweaked a bit. What is there to do?

House Rules

Well, the obvious answer is to use House Rules! Make up the Rules you need to get the game to where you want it. And today I am going to give an example of a game that I recently acquired on Kickstarter: Tavern Masters by Dann Kriss Games.

It is a fun, quick game for 1-4 players. It can be played competitively, co-operatively, and solo. Games last about 25-30 minutes. In short, you build a Tavern in a fictional fantasy world and try to accommodate as many patrons as possible, earning gold in the process.

We played it a few times and it was fun and fast. But it was too fast and really, didn’t have the strategic depth that we were looking for. In fact, with the exception of the first round Tavern card passing, the players never interact. Now, Tavern Masters is a light game with evocative art, so nothing I will write in this blog takes away from the excellent work put into this game. Yet, our group wanted a longer game with more tough decisions….so we introduced some house rules.

House Rule #1: Length of Game

The competitive game normally ends on any round that a player gets 20 or more gold. Our new house rule is that games go a minimum of 6 rounds and end at a pre-determined round from 6 to 10. This lengthens the game by 20-60 minutes.

House Rules #2: First Round Changes

The first round of the game can be frustrating if your Tavern cards do not match your Patron cards. Because the Tavern cards are dealt and played before ever seeing the Patron cards, this makes mismatches purely random. Our house rule is that on the first round the Patron cards are dealt first. Each player can look at his/her Patrons and only after that, the Tavern cards are dealt and passed normally. This allows each player to try and avoid mismatches and also pass the Tavern cards with more sense of strategy.

House Rule #3: Pass the Tavern Cards Every Round

Tavern cards only get passed in the first round normally, on the subsequent rounds they are directly drawn from the deck. Our house rule is to pass cards every round, with odd rounds clockwise and even rounds counter-clockwise. This continues to provide more player interaction and more strategic choices (you know, like in 7 Wonders–do I block or grab what I want?

House Rules #4: Icon Limits

Normally any number of Patrons can take advantage of a single icon (for example, if you have 3 Patrons in your hand who want Ale, if you have a single Ale card in your Tavern, you can play all 3 Patrons). Our house rule is that EACH Patron needs its own separate icon, both when it is played and also when you keep Patrons during the Counting the Till phase. If you have 3 Patrons who need Ale but only one Ale card in your Tavern, you can only play one of them.

Conclusion

Our house rules effectively make the game more strategic and make choices more demanding. The house rules make the game longer and more tense, and also add more player interaction. House rules to the rescue!

P.S.

The Dirty Deeds Expansion is also a must. It adds a phase where players directly mess with other players’ taverns. Pick it up if your gaming group wants more player interaction and backstabbing fun!

5 Things I Learned from My First Game of Zulus on the Ramparts: The Battle of Rorke’s Drift

Today I was able to get in my first game of Zulus on the Ramparts from Victory Point Games.  It is one of their solitaire States of Siege games, this time modified by Joseph Miranda.  In this game you play the British defenders who must hold off the approaching Zulu warriors.

After one play of the game, here are the 5 things that I learned:

1 – Don’t Fire until the Zulus Get Real Close

All of your volley cards, and the free volleys from you leaders, cannot reach beyond space #3.  You are going to want to maximize  the effects of your volleys (1-4=miss, 5=Zulus retreat 1 space, 6=one hit) by not forcing the Zulus to retreat out of range.  The best thing to do is to only fire when they get to spaces #1 or #2, get some hits and retreats, and then maybe finish them off at space #3.


In the photo above, I was able to destroy the Zulus near the North Wall by firing two volleys in a row.  Firing instead at the Zulus only half-way to the hospital will most likely only allow a single volley to be shot at them.  

Moral of the story: Let those Zulus get close…and then blast them.  Completely eliminating a stack of Zulu is much preferable to just forcing them to retreat.

2 – Use an Action to Make Leaders Available

You have a lot of things to do (resupply the ammo, build a barricade, fire volleys, form a reserve, play a leader) and you get only 1 action per turn.  Later in the turn you will get to draw a card and play one leader for free.  Thus, you might be tempted to use your single action on anything other than playing a leader.  This is a bad idea.  Most of the other actions require leaders, sometimes two of them.  Moreover, leaders can use their free action each turn, and a bunch of them fire a free volley.  The sooner you get those leaders into play, the sooner you will be building barricades, supplying ammo, etc.  


In the photo above, I have 4 leaders “available” (in other words, played from my hand and now each can use their abilities).  My ammo is already supplied (the low ammo marker is missing from its box) and I have already built one barricade.  

Moral of the story: playing leaders with your one action should be like voting in Chicago—do it early and often!

3 – Nighttime is the Right Time for a Fire

Once you draw the Night Fighting Begins card, none of your volleys can kill anymore Zulus, you can only drive them off.

The -1 DRM (die roll modifier) is going to sting.  How can you deal with it?  You need a burning building to provide light!  If a building is already burning, do not try to extinguish it.  If nothing is burning, pray that you draw a building on fire chit!  The disadvantage is that you can’t fire at Zulus on the other side of the building (and any heroic defender in the building is removed back to your hand) but this is a small price to pay to lose the -1 DRM as that glorious fire lights up those approaching Zulus all over the battlefield.

Moral of the story: Burn baby burn!

4 – Being Rescued is a Bummer

If the game goes on long enough, you will draw Lord Chelmsford’s Relief Column which ends the game.

Why is this a bummer?  Because maybe you had the Zulus almost completely destroyed!  In the photo above only one Zulu stack was still on the board, albeit with a chit beneath it (each chit is worth one hit, as is the standee).  Those silly Zulus stayed just out of range (at space #4) for about 10 turns.  Zulu movement is by random chit draw, and there are a lot of chits in the cup so movement is quite random.  So those Zulus stayed away from me—It’s like they knew that I was sitting on volley cards to blast them!  Anyway, the game was very, very dull during those turns as I literally had nothing to do on my turn other than draw a card and play any leaders.  My only hope was that those Zulus might eventually move into range—but then I got rescued instead.

Moral of the story: See note #1.  Don’t accidentally retreat those Zulus before they move within close range, you might not get another chance to blast them.

5 – Be Lucky and Roll a lot of Sixes

With only the roll of a 6 eliminating Zulu units, you gotta get lucky.  A couple times I rolled a pair of sixes with only 3 dice.  I eliminated 9 of the 10 Zulu chits plus 3 of the 4 standees.  This really helped when scoring your game on the Victory Point Schedule.


The points for eliminated Zulus counts quite heavily toward the result.  I got 9 points with leaders/groups, 27 for Zulu hit chits, 4 for one non-burning building, 18 for the Zulu standees, and 10 for the relief column for a total of 68 — Epic Victory/Zulu Debacle!

Moral of the story: It can be better to be lucky than to be good!  
Verdict: It’s a Fun Game

Zulus on the Ramparts is not as deep nor as challenging as Hapsburg Eclipse, but it has a very fun sense of danger as the Zulus rush the gates.  There are optional rules that add more cards, so I think that might add more variety and replay ability.  Overall, it’s entertaining and if you read the flavor text, you might learn a thing or two.  If you like solitaire games that resemble a “tower defense” game, give it a try!

Inverse Rule of Gaming: Part III–Early Results

Okay, the initial results are in!  I sampled 100 games at random on Boardgamegeek, recording the average rating (of all games that I found with at least 5 ratings) and assigned a salicousness score from 0 (no females depicted) to 5 (practically softcore pornography) based on the cover art/photo (nb: if there was no cover art/photo, I omitted that game).

I found games from 2017, games from pretty much all decades since the 1940s, some classic games (like monopoly), and even some games from my childhood that I had forgotten about (I’m talking about you, Chopper Strike!).

Here are the results:

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Is there a correlation between game rating and salacious rating?

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Variables:

Game rating: score on BGG 1 (lowest) to 10 (highest)

Salacious rating: score from 0 (lowest) to 5 (highest)

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Hypothesis: the higher the Salacious rating, the lower the Game rating.  

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RESULTS (from n=100, simple random sampling)



BGG=6.42-0.153*Salacious

Analysis:

The trend line is clearly a negative relationship: then greater the Salcious rating, the lower the BGG rating.  However, there are a number of issues.

  1. There are not many cases where Salcious > 0.
  2. There is not a single case where Salacious > 2.
  3. There is a single case with both a low BGG and Salacious = 1 that might be driving the estimate.

What to do?  Well, for my next analysis I am going to use cluster sampling.  I already have enough cases where Salacious = 0.  I will need to look at batches of possible cases and sample only those with Salacious > 0.  This will give me enough cases in the sub-groups to run a more robust analysis.

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Early Verdict:

The small sample (n=100) seems to imply that the hypothesis has some credibility.  However, a larger sample with more cases of salacious marketing on covers needs to be done.

Next Time: The Inver Rile of Gaming: Part IV–The Final Results

Gen Con 2017 — Photos Part II

And now without further ado, I bring you more Gen Con photos!

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It wouldn’t be Gen Con without an Imperial Stormtrooper!

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This couple clearly put a good deal of time into their costumes!

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Director Krennic.  This costume was a bit popular, I caught a glimpse of a couple other people dressed as Krennic too.

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Piper from Fallout 4.  You don’t just tell the news…you are the news!

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Now this costume must have taken some time to put together!  Very nice!

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She looks like a Magic: The Gathering card! I can’t place the costume, but it surely displays a lot of hard work to put all of that together.

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Love it! 

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In my opinion, the only really good use for CCG cards!  Some of these structures were quite impressive.  And of course, anybody could join in and add to it.

And finally….

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… your faithful narrator sitting on the throne at the Kingdomino booth.  Heavy is the crown!

Gen Con 2017 — Photos Part I

Okay, I did my usual trek to Gen Con in Indy this year.  I bought a bunch of games, and I will post about some of them a bit later.  Today I bring you ….. drum roll please …..

GEN CON 17 PHOTOS!!!!

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Boba Fett — always a classic

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An Ood from Doctor Who

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I am not 100% sure, exactly what costume this is. Maybe one of my faithful readers will let me know.  He did strike a cool pose!

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A Roman soldier

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Again, I can’t quite place it.  Help my readers, help!

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Pretty sure he was selling the items at the booth to the right of the picture.

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Jedi.  There are a lot of Jedi Knight masks out there, not sure exactly which one this is. 

Tomorrow I will post more.  See what all of you missed going to #GenCant rather than actually getting your pass early and showing up at Gen Con?

 

Inverse Rule of Gaming: Part II – The Methodology

Welcome back!  Today in Part II of my examination of the Inverse Rule of Gaming, I outline my research methods.  Wait…you don’t remember what the inverse rule of gaming is?  Well, I am here to help!

Inverse Rule of Gaming: The more female flesh and/or salacious images used to market a board game/table-top game/RPG/war game/etc., the more likely the game is poor.

If you need more information, check out Inverse Rule of Gaming: Part I — The Theory.

Research Methods

The first thing is to operationalize my variables.

Independent variable: Salaciousness — the degree that sex as represented by female flesh, sexual poses, sexual innuendo, etc, is depicted in the cover art of the product.  This is an objective measure and your faithful narrator, me that is, is going to code box covers.

Here is the ordinal scale that I am going to use:

0 – No female representation at all

1- Female(s) depicted, but in normal/appropriate clothing

2 – Female(s) depicted with exposed flesh/nudity

3 – Female(s) depicted with/without nudity and in an alluring/suggestive pose

4 – Female(s) depicted in a pose that connotes a sexual posture or a great deal of flesh exposed

5 – Female(s) depicted in a pose that connotes pornography or sexual acts

Clockwise from top left: Indy Car Unplugged=0, One Deck Dungeon=1 (females, but all clothed appropriate for combat), Warlord: Sage of the Storm=2 (notice the breasts sticking out and unneeded skin showing), Android: Infiltration=3 (basically a nude robot), Tales of the Arabian Nights=4 (a lot of flesh and a sexual posture), Oral Sex! The Game=5 (duh!).

Sampling Method

I will employ simple random sampling for my poll.  How do I do this?  Here is the method:

1- go to http://www.boardgamegeek.com

2 – Hover the cursor over “Browse”

3 – Click on “Random game”

4 – Obtain the “average rating” and determine the “salaciousness” of the art.

I intend to sample 100 games for my “early results” just to see if any association is present.  I hope to sample 1000 games for my complete results.

Data Analysis Method

Given that the independent variable is ordinal and the dependent variable is interval and likely normally distributed (or a simple transformation can make it approximate a normal distribution), a One-Way Analysis of Variance (ANOVA) would be the best associative method to use.  For those unfamiliar with the method, check out the Wikipedia entry  here.

Okay, that’s it for now until Part III – Early Results.

Make Mine Marvel!