The Tao of Board Gaming VI

The Tao of Board GamingKoans I-III can be found in The Tao of Board Gaming I (December 2009). Koans IV-VI can be found in The Tao of Board Gaming II (April 2010). Koans VII-IX can be found in The Tao of Board Gaming III (October 2012). Koans X-XII can be found in The Tao of Board Gaming IV (May 2014). Koans XIII-XV can be found in The Tao of Board Gaming V (December 2014).

XVI. The Buddhist Nature of Munchkin

There was once a gamer who seemed to have a perfectly Buddhist nature. When he played Monopoly he simply nodded as all of his money was stolen away by fat cats. When he played Risk he had a light heart when his armies were cleared from the map of the world, even unto Australia. When he played Munchkin he smiled when he lost cards, and even levels, as his opponents cried out, “Take That!”

However the Buddhist gamer’s nature seemed to crack when his gaming group began to change their play from American games to their European brethren. He was still able to accept the loss of a meeple in Carcassonne, of a route in Ticket to Ride, or of a hex corner in Catan. However, he then took no joy as he collected his points, completed his tickets, and built his civilizations. Worse, he became agitated and unhappy, losing the Buddhist nature that was his core. Continue reading

New to Me: Winter 2016 — So Much Very Good!

Winter of 2016 was a somewhat unusual season of gaming for me. I played some new games and some older games that were new to me. Though I didn’t play any games that I ranked as truly great, there seemed to be more than the usual share of games that were Very Good — so many, in fact that I broke the category in two. Overall, it was certainly a strong season for gaming!

The Very Good

AquaSphere ThumbnailAquaSphere (2014). What a peculiar name, and it’s a peculiar theme too, with its board of a big underwater base. I think those two elements and the garish art put me off AquaSphere for a while, despite my love for Stefan Feld’s games. But, it turns out the theme is appropriate, because you’re programming robots. I actually ended up being  pleasantly remindedof Nautilus (2003) — a game that I wanted to be much better than it actually was because of its fun underwater theme.

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The Dissastisfaction of Victory

Codenames BoxCodenames (2015) by Vlaada Chvátil is a wonderful game. You work in teams, you come up with clever clues, you talk with your friends about possible solutions, you laugh at hilarious possibilities, and eventually someone wins. It often doesn’t even matter who wins because the gameplay is so much fun.

Except that a few months ago I played a game of Codenames that fell flat, and it was because of the victory. You see, my team won because our opponents guessed the assassin word (“mass”). Poof! Instant loss for them, instant victory for us. But it wasn’t because of our hard work covering codenames with red tiles. It wasn’t because of our cleverness. We won because our opponents screwed up.

And it felt empty.

Mind you, I think the assassin is a good deterrent for the game. It introduces tension. It sometimes creates obstacles when you’re trying to pick out a good clue. But when the assassin actually goes off and someone wins because of it, that can feel hollow. Continue reading

The Alea Analysis, Part Eight: Macao (#13), Alea Iacta Est (M#5), Glen More (M#6)

This article is the eighth in a continuing series that analyzes the entire Alea line of games. For past articles you can read about: Ra, Chinatown, and Taj Mahal in Part One; or Princes of Florence, Adel Verpflichtet, and Traders of Genoa in Part Two; or Wyatt Earp, Royal Turf, and Puerto Rico in Part Three; or Die Sieben Weisen, Edel, Stein & Reich, and Mammoth Hunters in Part Four; or San Juan, Fifth Avenue, and Louis XIV in Part Five; or Palazzo, Augsburg 1520, and Rum & Pirates in Part Six; or Notre Dame, In The Year of the Dragon, and Witch’s Brew in Part Seven.

In 2009 and 2010, the Alea large boxes were dominated by the production of Stefan Feld, while medium boxes trudged along between the heights of Witch’s Brew (2008) and Vegas (2012).

This article contains my final Alea Analysis from 2009, when I played through all 22 of the Alea games that had then been published in the US. The other two articles (on Macao and Glen More) and the rest of this series as it goes forward are new.  Continue reading

Asmodee: The Other Creature that Ate the (Gaming) World

Some years ago, I wrote an article about how Hasbro had gobbled up the entire gaming world. It’s ten years later and Hasbro is not just sitting pretty atop their piles of toys and games, but considering a merger to turn them into a truly terrifying megacorp. Hasbro’s games division is just a quarter of their entire business, but in recent years it’s managed to scrape by with $1.2 or $1.3 billion in sales. I think it’s safe to assume that they still own the vast majority of the gaming market, with everything from Monopoly  to Magic: The Gathering in their portfolio. And, I think their massive size continues to damage their less popular brands, including my beloved Dungeons & Dragons, which is being starved to death, one product-less month at a time.

But what about the other elephant in the room? What about Asmodee? What about the company who was one called Asmodée Editions and before that Idéojeux before they gave up the Francophilian accent. What about the publisher that began life as Siroz (cirrhosis) Productions, best known in the US as the original creator of the In Nomine RPG? Since their 2013 sale to Eurozao, they’ve gone on an impressive shopping spree, picking up publishing houses throughout the United States and beyond.

Do we have the next Hasbro on our hands, the next company to eat the gaming world? Continue reading

A Mini-Deckbuilding Look at Lord of the Rings Deck-Building Game

Lord of the Rings: Fellowship BoxOver the Christmas holiday I was fortunate to play a new-to-me deckbuilder, the Lord of the Rings Deck-Building Game (2013). It’s based on the Cerberus Deckbuilding system, which is the same game engine used by DC Comics Deck-Building Game (2012). In fact, it seems likely that the two games were developed in parallel, as DC Comics appeared in December 2012, and Lord of the Rings appeared just a few months later, in April 2013. As such, the games are pretty similar.

I already covered the core of the simple and light DC Comics game in a previous article, but Lord of the Rings still deserves a bit of discussion for how it updates and adjusts the Cerberus system. Continue reading

New to Me: Fall 2015 — A Really Great Season

It was a really great season for board games. I played perhaps a few less games that were new-to-me than usual, but the recurring theme was that they were all good or better. OK, I played Exploding Kittens near the end-of-the-year because Christmas family gatherings … but not even that could bring down what was a season of fine games!


The Great

Pandemic Legacy ThumbnailPandemic Legacy — Season 1 (2015). Any discussion of the new Pandemic variant should begin with my belief that Pandemic itself is a great game. I count it as one of the three most influential and important co-op games. Arkham Horror (1987) mostly invented the genre and Lord of the Rings (2000) reinvented it for the modern day. However, it was Pandemic (2007) that made the genre accessible. It’s also a near pitch-perfect design with huge piles of difficulty and chaos, and its great replayability.

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