My Haul at Gen Con

Gen Con was fun again this year! My bro and I walked for miles searching for both new and classic games. What did we find….inquiring minds want to know! Well my faithful friends, read on, read on for the answer!

— day one loot!

In the photo above you can see what I found on day one!

Smash Up! Oops, You Did It Again — I found this new expansion that I was looking for. Can’t wait to get in some Smash Up Games with these four new factions.

Scythe: Rise of Fenris — Is this expansion a set of alternate game rules (i.e. modules), a legacy campaign, or both!

Too Many Bones: Undertow — I kickstarted this game. It looks like a really fun dice builder. The components inside are top-quality. And many thanks to the guys at the booth who switched out the duplicate dice for the omitted dice that were missing from my box.

Horizons — A 4x space game. I love these sort of games (e.g. Eclipse, Ascending Empires, Eminent Domain)!

Unlock! — My wife loves these puzzle/escape room games, so I was happy to pick up a few more adventures.

Call of Cthulhu: Nameless Horrors — Six new adventures for CoC RPG, and it was only $15! Let the sanity checks begin!

Eminent Domain: Oblivion — Yes, yes, and more yes! Finally that Politics card gets to be a role! I am super-pumped to integrate this expansion into one of my favorite games.

King of New York: Anubis Monster Pack — A new monster and it even has a Pyramid die!

Day Two was more about taking in the convention than grabbing Games, but still we found a couple things.

— day two loot

Near and Far — This game looks cool…and I got the next to last copy at the booth too! Is it a legacy game, a worker placement game in the vein of Raiders of the North Sea, or an RPG disguised as a board game? Is it all three? Did I mention that the maps are in a spiral-ring notebook? The art is great too!

Cat Lady — Saw this at the AEG booth and I had to buy it for my wife. She loves cats.

Star Realms Promos — Yep, picked up some free promos. You want to know why? Well I’m not telling you…at least not tell my next post!

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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!

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!

Tiny Epic Galaxies: The Good, The Bad,and the Very, Very Ugly

Tiny Epic Galaxies (TEG) from Gamelyn Games ( Tiny Epic series ) is the latest in their series of Tiny Epic games…games that come in a small box, but supposedly pack an epic gaming experience into it.

teg-sol-01

TEG promises to be both a multi-player game as well as a solitaire game.  It is for 1-5 players and the box says that it will take 30-45 minutes.  In this post, I review both ways to play the game.  And so that you are not left in any suspense: the solitaire game is solid but the multiplayer game has a really giant downside to it that can ruin the fun.  Read on for my reasoning and see if you agree with me!

Multiplayer Game Play

Basically, TEG is a more sophisticated game of Yahtzee.  You roll a set of dice (and a set that can increase over time as your galactic empire grows) and take actions based on the symbols that you roll.  There are six actions, one on each side of each and every die (as an aside, wouldn’t it be cool to have some non-uniform distributed dice so that you could bias your rolls toward a particular outcome?  How sweet would this game be if you could tailor your empire toward a particular strategy?  Anyway, I digress).  The six actions are: Move A Ship, Acquire Energy, Acquire Culture, Advance a Diplomatic colonization effort, Advance an Economic colonization effort, or Utilize your Galaxy Mat/Colonized planet actions.

The start of each player’s turn is quite easy:  1) Roll your dice.  But from there it gets more complicated.  2) You can activate a die.  If you do, any or all opponents may “follow” by paying 1 culture and taking a similar action.  3) At any time you can re-roll any/all of your dice by paying 1 energy.  This may occur before or during taking actions through #2.  When you are done, play passes clockwise.

What do you do with these dice?  You are trying to get to 21 victory points to trigger the end of the game.  There are only 3 ways to get victory points: advance your empire from level 1 to 6 (with a varying set of points along the way), colonize planets with your ships by using Advance actions, and achieving your single “secret objective” (always worth 2 to 3 points).

That’s it!  It is just like Yahtzee…roll and re-roll and hope to get more points than everyone else.  Okay…to be fair, it is much more complicated than Yahtzee, but the rolling mechanism is the same.  However, you do get a cool galaxy mat and some wooden figures to move around on it.

tegsol-03

The player mat with ships at home, my empire at Level 3 (hex with a star on it), my energy (lightning bolt) and culture (column) at zero.  I have 3 colonized planets worth a total of 5 victory points.

Which dice do I activate, in which order, when do I re-roll, how many do I re-roll, who will follow, and what will they gain when they follow?…and why these decisions in combination can be very, very ugly!

The crux of why the game is strategic and not just multiplayer solitaire (like that crappy Race for the Galaxy game) is the “follow” mechanism.  Because other players can mimic your actions for a very small price (=1 culture) they can do almost the same thing you do…but during your turn not during their turn.  For example, if you acquire energy they might acquire more…on your turn!  Thus, the game is all about opportunity costs.  You will not want to advance your empire if 1 or more enemies do it too, you won’t want to acquire energy if other players acquire more, etc.  You are going to want to take actions that might help you and be of little to no use to your opponents.

But this same mechanism is why the game is very, very ugly in multiplayer.  For example, in a recent game I found myself on the last turn (another player had triggered the end of the game by achieving at least 21 victory points).  I knew that I could win if I could get the dice to precisely be utilized in a specific order that would 1) get me enough energy (at least two dice of energy) to advance my empire, 2) roll a Utilize your Galaxy Mat action (to actually do the advancing of the empire), 3) because of actions available on my colonized planets and the open planets, I could roll another Galaxy Mat action to help out by using a planet power, 4) perhaps if I roll two ship movements I could land on a specific open planet and use its power to get some of these other actions done, 5) get me two diplomacy to colonize a planet and VERY IMPORTANTLY, 6) because of the follow mechanism these had to be done in a particular order so that my opponent with 21+ victory points wouldn’t get more points.  Also, I thought it a priority to colonize a particular planet to get my secret objective just in case he had met his secret objective (note: at the end of the game he revealed that he had indeed achieved it).

Guess what happened next?  Well, I started with 5 energy and used a bunch of it to re-roll, get more energy, and re-roll, and get more energy and re-roll.  In between each of my actions was many, many minutes of agonizing calculations of probabilities (if I re-roll 3 dice versus holding that one ship and two dice, which would be better?  What if the other guy follows any of these actions?  What if I have to re-roll after this re-roll?  How can I manipulate my ships and energy to maximize this process for the most re-rolls?).   That last turn TOOK FOREVER! Okay, okay, it was more like 20 minutes, but it seemed like an hour!  It was just plain awful.  And what do you think my opponent was doing the whole time?  Telling me to get on with it…but I couldn’t because I knew a solution was possible.  I was frustrated, the game wasn’t fun, he was quite angry and I am surprised that we didn’t just sweep the game off the table and forget about finishing it.

And what was the end result?  After gaining energy so that I could seemingly endlessly re-roll anywhere from 1 to 3 dice, it eventually came down to a last re-roll of a single die, where I had a 50% chance of winning and a 50% chance of losing–and I lost by rolling one of the wrong 3 symbols.  All of that agonizing for a coin flip to decide it!  Yep…truly the very, very ugly!

Verdict on Multiplayer:

To use a common term (and one that has been used in another review of TEG), this game suffers from a dramatic and debilitating case of Analysis Paralysis.  The game easily can take 2+ hours.  Each activation of a die or a re-roll can be an agonizing and exhausting effort in multi-variate calculus!  As the game progresses, the number of dice rolled expands, the number of colonized planets with possible actions expands, the possible number of re-rolls and follows expands…and all of this leads to a massive headache when trying to take actions!

Why does this happen?  First, the cost of following is too cheap.  Only 1 culture is needed, and it is possible if the active player is acquiring culture to actually gain culture on his turn (he uses his dice, you gain more than him!).  This is a basic flaw in the game.  Other games with a lead/follow mechanism make following either quite expensive, or make leading more profitable (for example, check out the mechanism in the excellent game Eminent Domain ( Eminent Domain on BGG  ) by which the “leader” gets an extra benefit that followers do not get).  Second, because there are 4 to 7 dice to be activated, one by one in a sequence, there are 4 to 7 separate lead actions and much more possible follow actions (in a 4 player game, if I roll 5 dice my opponents have a potential 3×5=15 follow opportunities).  Just thinking about the order in which 4 to 7 dice can be sequentially utilized produces many, many combinations (you guys can do the factorial math on your own).

As a multi-player game, the exceptionally long agonizing over activations/follows, especially during the last turn, ruins the fun of the earlier turns in the game.  Unfortunately, I cannot recommend this game to any gaming group in which even a single highly-calculating, serious, strategic player is involved.  The last few turns play much like Chess…one guy sits and sits, calculates and calculates for minutes, and then makes a single move…except that in TEG this is multiplied by the number of dice that one guy just rolled and multiplied by the possible number of re-rolls!

Solitaire play = Quite Fun and Fast

In the solitaire version, you play against a programmed opponent.  These “Rogue” galaxies can be found on the backs of the player mats and have increasing difficulty from Beginner to Epic (duh!).

teg-sol-04

The Beginner Rogue Galaxy!  Note the pre-programmed actions (the red bubbles).

In short, the programmed opponent never follows and you can force it to re-roll a die by spending 1 culture and 1 energy.  Its ships always colonize and never land on planets to use that planet’s action.  Its ships also colonize faster, as all of the rogue’s ships move when he rolls diplomacy or economy.  It has pre-programmed attacks that occur whenever it rolls a utilize a colony die face.  And quite importantly, when the rogue galaxy maximizes its energy it upgrades its empire automatically; and when it maximizes its culture it takes an extra turn.

The Rogue galaxy automatically wins if it reaches 21 victory points or if its empire gets to the final hex (the skull and crossbones).  You win instantly if you get to 21 victory points before the Rogue galaxy.  Pretty simple, huh?

Solitaire game play

The solitaire game is much quicker because 1) the player can follow the Rogue’s actions but the rogue cannot follow back, and 2) the Rogue is programmed so it never wastes time in calculation.  In short, each turn takes precisely as long as the player wishes to take on it.  If you want to calculate exactly the best way to follow the rogue and/or make it re-roll, go ahead and do it; if you don’t want to do the mental gymnastics, go ahead and do that instead!  Either way, there are not other players to sit around and steam while you take your time figuring out those probabilities in your head.

teg-sol-05

The whole TEG experience! 

The solitaire game preserves all the fun of rolling the dice, deciding which dice to accept, in which order, and when to re-roll, as well as, deciding whether to spend that 1 culture on following.  You do have to work to beat the Rogue and you feel like it will race ahead of you toward victory if you make mistakes.  At the same time, the solitaire game jettisons the downtime waiting for other players and dramatically reduces the calculus needed for the active player (in this instance, the only player) to decide on a clear path on their own turn.

Solitaire Verdict:

I highly recommend TEG as a solitaire game.  It doesn’t cost much, it has an opponent who scales in difficulty, it meets the 30-45 time limit advertised on the box, it has minimal set up, minimal clean up, and is a fun time (well, as much fun as you can possibly have in a solitaire game).

Overall Verdict:

You are going to want to play TEG as a solitaire game…because if you play it multiplayer, you and your friends might get so mad at each other that you will prefer to be by yourself anyway!