4 Things I Learned from 3 Games of Scythe

You would have to been living under a rock the last couple of years to somehow not have heard of Scythe. It has been getting rave reviews, the art is spectacular, and it seems like everyone has played it at least once. Yet, the high cost of the game ($90+) might have deterred you from buying it. I put it on my Amazon wishlist and it cycled thru my birthday and Christmas before my brother bought it for me (Thank you Stew!).

Having now played Scythe 3 times (all 4-player games), I certainly agree that it’s a great game. One of the aspects that makes it so good, is that it is a “deep” game: there are multiple layers of strategy that are not so obvious initially.

Thus without any further ado, here are the 4 things that I learned from playing 3 games. For the sake of disclosure, I won the 1st game with Saxony, was 2nd with Togawa (from the Invaders from Afar expansion) in the 2nd game, and a distant 3rd with Nordic in the last game.

1–Getting All the Stars is Not How You Win

Getting all your stars (i.e. achievements) down ends the game, but this should not be confused with how you win the game. A player wins by having the most coins, not by having the most stars. In fact, in the 2nd game I got the dubious distinction of placing my 6th star on the Triumph Track, but still I lost the game. At the end of the game coins are counted as 1) coins in hand, 2) stars placed, 3) territories controlled, 4) resources controlled, and 5) structure bonuses. So always pay attention to your opponents’ popularity and how many coins they will get in each of these categories.

2–Some Strategies Seem Good but Fail by the End of the Game

Oh man, nothing worse than thinking you are doing something right and finding out by the end of the game that you were wrong. For instance, in the third game I decided early to rush to the Factory, grab a good card, and then try to generate resources, place mechs to defend workers, and rush to the end of the game. I thought I did not have the ability to attack opponents, so I chose peace as the best way to pursue this strategy. This seemed good early…but failed in the long run. Other players gained more territory than I did, occupied the Factory at the end, beat me to encounters, and piggy-backed off my turns through Recruit Ongoing Bonuses. My initial advantage evaporated.

3–You Need to Fight like You are Voting in Chicago: Early and Often

I won with Saxony by beating up one of my weak neighbors and launching a couple of assaults on my stronger neighbor. Similar to games like Eclipse, if you attack early you can really set back your opponents…even if you lose the battle. Of note is that losing a battle provides for a free relocation of Character or Mech(s) back to your home space. All those Power points are not worth anything if you don’t use them…so get out there and smack around your opponents.

4–I Am Only Beginning to See How Many Different Ways There are to Win

After 3 games, we have had 3 different players win, three different factions win, and 3 different ways the game was won (Saxony violence, more popularity than other players, and more territorial control). I think we are only scratching the surface of the possible ways to reach victory. Much like our early assumption that Riverwalk is mandatory to get early (it’s not, but that could be another blog post), I am going to bet that there are many more lessons still to be learned.—————————-Scythe is an excellent, and fun, game. I look forward to discovering many more aspects of the game as I get a chance to play it more.

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In Defense of American-Style Games: 3 Good Reasons to Play Ameritrash as Seen by a Grognard

With the popularity of Settlers of Catan in the 1990s, Eurogames have exploded onto the American gaming landscape. The emphasis of Eurogames on indirect competition, hidden scoring, broad themes, resource-driven game mechanics, and balancing mechanisms to keep all players “in the game” has proven to be popular, particularly with younger players.At the same time, American-style Games, often denigrated as “Ameritrash Games”, have been criticized, panned, and abandoned by many of these newer players. The critique is that Ameritrash games are either based too much on luck (think Talisman), too much on direct competition (e.g. Advanced Squad Leader), too complex (e.g. almost anything by Avalon Hill or SPI), too theme specific as to not be appealing to the average gamer (e.g. Air Assault on Crete), and too long to play (e.g. The Campaign for North Africa).

Well, as a Grognard (look it up kids if you don’t know what it means), I am here to defend Ameritrash Games with 3 good reasons you should be playing them:

1 – Direct Competition Can Be More Fun Than Multiplayer Solitaire

One of my critiques of Eurogames is that often the game is thinly disguised multiplayer solitaire (in other words, each player plays alone and the end-game scoring determines who played solitaire better). Players really cannot directly confront, impede, attack, etc, each other. Thus, each player’s “strategy” is not truly an interactive strategy, but really solitaire. Good examples are Race for the Galaxy by Rio Grande Games or Cities by Z-Man Games. Often a Eurogame adds one element of direct confrontation, such as card drafting (think 7 Wonders), that isn’t really “direct” confrontation as the emphasis is on denying an opponent a resource rather than taking it from them.

Direct competition in an Ameritrash title is more than just denial, it’s seizure! Take the classic game Dune by Avalon Hill (or the new variant Rex by Fantasy Flight Games). Your units (tokens) will move quicker if they have access to Arrakeen or Carthag. Taking those strongholds gives you an advantage and removes it from an opponent. The battles that I have seen in my 4 decades of gaming in those Dune strongholds are legendary! In a similar vein, Small World by Days of Wonder encourages aggressive acquisition of territory–at another player’s expense (much like Risk). Nothing more fun than making your opponents’ units disappear from the board.

And if you haven’t played Enemy in Sight by Avalon Hill, you are missing out on how much fun direct competition can be. There is nothing more enjoyable than screaming “Breaking the Line” to the tune of Judas Priest’s “Breaking the Law” as you wreck an opponent’s line of ships. I have seen grudges held for years (actually it’s two decades now in one instance) over a well-played Breaking the Line card! Taking the battle to your opponent can be very fun–and memorable!

— you don’t eat the worm, it eats you!

And here is the kicker–luck is NOT involved in battle in any of these games! The common criticism that Ameritrash games are full of luck can be untrue.

2 – Randomness Can Be More Fun than Repetition

What makes Talisman work? The random discovery of what monsters, treasure, etc, lie in every space! Why do battles in Star Wars Rebellion feel exciting–because you have to chuck dice and live with the results. Let’s face it, many things in life are random, and randomness in games is a good thing not a bad thing. Now, we don’t want so much randomness that we are playing Monopoly, but adding a random element can help make a game less predictable, repetitive, and boring. Even the classic Settlers of Catan has two random mechanisms (dice rolls for resources and random bonus card draw).

The main problem with Eurogames is that they are so repetitive due to a lack of randomness. And repetition can be boring. Really good games with repetitive play (for example, Lost Cities by KOSMOS) are fantastic (much in the vein of Rummy, Solitaire, Pit, etc) but a good number of Eurogames are not fun when repetitive. In particular, I find Carcassonne to be really boring due to it being the same game over and over.

— nothing says generic, repetitive play like these components from Carcassonne

3 – Strong Themes in Ameritrash Games Make for Evocative Gameplay

Okay, one thing I despise about many Eurogames is that the “theme” seems to be an afterthought. The game is so abstract that literally any number of broad themes could fit. The classic Puerto Rico by Ravensburger or the more recent Terra Mystica by Feuerland could realistically be titled and themed anything. The games are all about the gameplay “engine”, Puerto Rico has nothing at all about it that is truly Puerto Rico–other than the tacked on place names, currency, etc.

Strong creative or historical themes build evocative gameplay. When I play Dune, I can envision that Sandworm eating my units (even if they are just little round cardboard tokens), I can see the Baron Harkonnen backstabbing me with a traitor, etc. Eclipse by Lautapelit is a rather complicated game, allowing for players to customize their spaceships. Guess what? This detail adds to the space 4X theme and gameplay. Arkham Horror by Fantasy Flight is so thematic that when I play it I can actually feel the Elder Gods returning to Earth.

— Arkham Horror by Fantasy Flight, a million Cards, chits, tokens, bits, etc, but well worth the hours it takes to set it up and take it down


So in short, there is a lot to love about American-style gaming, so don’t believe the “Ameritrash” label and get out there and play a dice chucking, card drawing, heavy themed game today!

What did I just get from Kickstarter? A: Helionox

I support a lot of games on Kickstarter. I feel that sponsoring games from smaller companies is a good way to support the “little guy/gal” in the industry. So I am always happy when I come home from work and find a package at my door that contains a game from Kickstarter.

Yesterday I received my copy of Helionox!

I ordered the Deluxe Edition that includes the Mercury Protocol Expansion from Mr. B Games and Zeroic Games. Helionox is “a movement based deck building board game for 1-4 players that can be played in competitive, cooperative, or solo modes.”

I love sci-fi themed games, and Helionox is a dystopian future. “In Helionox, terrible events plague the Solar System as the result of a dying sun. Players are the Architects of the future, vying for influence among the remaining population. Craft your deck with powerful faction cards, explore and exploit the system’s worlds, and gain the most influence so you can lead civilization to a new beginning in the wake of the Helionox!”

The game combines deck-building with the common “threat” mechanism by which the slow build-up of events and catastrophes slowly bring about the end of the game.

The components look top notch (including wooden pieces not included in my photos) and the rules are clear and solid. The art by Luke Green is fantastic and evocative of the dystopian theme.

I can’t wait to play it!

Why Visiting Your Local Game Store is Good — Dice Throne and King of New York/King of Tokyo: King Kong

I am a big fan of buying games from internet sites. I can buy directly from the publisher, I can get a good price from an online retailer like Amazon, I can window shop multiple sites, etc. However, the biggest disadvantage of online shopping is that it is surprisingly easy to miss things. Amazon doesn’t have everything and search results can be more limited than it might appear.

That’s why I love going to my local game store every week to just see what might be there. For those with more inquiring minds, the closet local store to me is The Toledo Game Room. Those of you who go to GenCon might recognize the owner of the Game Room, Daryl, as “The Bits Guy” who sells all the Warhammer bits. Another good store in town is Checkmate Games. If you are in Fresno, Ca, I recommend Crazy Squirrel Game Store.

Anyway, going to the local game store turned up two games/game expansions this week.

First, I found a game that I knew nothing about: Dice Throne

I have only started reading the rules, but Dice Throne looks like a fun game where you can play 1v1, 2v2, 3v3, or free-for-all. I can’t wait to try it out with my usual suspects.

Second, sometimes I find something new for a game that I like. This time it was King Kong for King of Tokyo/King of New York.

I loved the Cthulhu expansion and I am super-pumped to bust out King Kong in my next King of New York game.

The moral of the story

So run, don’t walk, to your local game store to find unexpected gems. And do it like voting in Chicago–early and often!

Excelsior!

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.

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 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!!!!

GC17 03

Boba Fett — always a classic

GC17 02

An Ood from Doctor Who

GC17 01

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!

GC 17 05

A Roman soldier

GC17 07

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

GC17 04

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

GC17 06

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?