Star Realms: Frontiers and Beyond!

When I got back from Gen Con there was a huge package waiting for me. Guess what was in it?

— Wow, that’s a lot of Star Realms

I got my shipment of the latest expansion to Star Realms–Frontiers….and more. A year or so ago I added Star Realms into our Tuesday night rotation. It’s a fairly simple deck building game that combines the easy to learn/play dynamics of a CCG/TCG like Magic: the Gathering. Basically draft ships and bases, then unleash them on your opponent. Last player standing is the winner. I have recently been teaching my oldest boy to play it. Star Realms is simple and lighthearted with only a small degree of strategy (basically buy cards that combo together) plus lots of luck. A great game when you don’t want to think too much and have a boatload of fun.

Anyway, now I have every published expansion plus a wild amount of promos…and a great big box to put all the cards in!

Yee-haw!

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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!

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!

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