New to Me: Spring 2014

It’s been a light quarter for my gaming, with me missing something like 6-9 of my regular gaming sessions. Still, I’ve got eight “new” games to talk about, running the gamut from awesome to (too much) meh.


The Great

PathfinderPathfinder Adventure Card Game (2013). The Pathfinder Adventure Card Game is an astonishingly innovative deckbuilding game, primarily for the complex ecosystem of cards that it creates — one that carries on from one game to the next. The idea of a cooperative game that continues from session to session is also pretty rare, and it’s done quite well here: the whittled down deck of cards that you carry from game to game is very meaningful.

The rest of the gameplay is a bit more pedestrian, with random card draws and random dice rolls allowing you to accomplish tasks via a simple task resolution system. Still, it’s nicely put together and it’s just dripping with evocative theme. I was jazzed to continue playing it after my first adventure, primarily to see my character grow over numerous sessions of play. I racked up a total of six games over the quarter. Continue reading

The Alea Analysis, Part Five: San Juan (S#5), Fifth Avenue (#9), Louis XIV (M#1)

Over the last few years I’ve slowly been updating, expanding, and revising my series of articles on Alea games. If you’d like to catch up, 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.

This article brings Alea into the mid ’00s with a look at the transition from their old Small Box series to their new Medium Box series. It covers San Juan, Fifth Avenue, and Louis XIV.


Small Box #5: San Juan (A+)

Author: Andreas Seyfarth
Publisher: Rio Grande (2004)
Alea Difficulty Scale: 3
Other Articles: Alea Treasures #1: Louis XIV & San Juan (9/10), San Juan Review (7/04)
My Plays: 37

San JuanSan Juan returned to the gameplay of Alea’s prize-winner, Puerto Rico. On your turn, you pick a role that everyone benefits from, and you try and use the benefits of that role to build production buildings and special-power buildings that will ultimately earn you the most victory points. 

Strengths: Innovative Cards

San Juan’s biggest innovation and its biggest strength lies in the the idea that cards can be used either for what’s printed on them or just as a resource. Generally, I find it an amazing idea. First, it notably decreases the effect of luck in a card game, because you only care about what’s printed on about a quarter of your cards, meaning that you have a lot more choice than you would if you used every card. Second, it introduces a lot of variety to the game, because on a given play you’ll only see a small number of the cards in actual use; it may be many, many games before you’ve played everything.

San Juan built upon this strong basis by adapting the basic roles of Puerto Rico to its new card paradigm. Now, many of the roles focus on different ways to draw cards: through selfishness (the Prospector), through overdrawing and discarding (the Councillor, who also includes another mechanism for reducing the luck of card draws), and through a more complex production-sales mechanism (the Producer and the Trader). It’s an excellent example of simultaneously innovating and holding onto classic play. Continue reading

How to Teach a Game

So you want to teach the rules of a board game? What follows is my best advice on how to do so, based on years of teaching many different games. It’s certainly not the only way to teach a game, but in my opinion, the suggestions below hit the most important points.


Getting Ready to Teach

To start with, you must learn the game. That’s the single most important requirement for teaching a game. It means reading through the rules in advance of the game and looking through the rest of the components to ensure that you know how they work together with those rules. I don’t worry about reading through every card or every space on a board, but I do think it’s important to understand the general shape of things.

If you haven’t played the game in a while, you should probably read the rules again. I have a few dozen games that I’ve played enough that I can teach them cold, but for the rest, I usually pick up the rules and at least skim them before throwing the game into my bag for game night. Continue reading

The Design of Real-Time Games

Real-time games are one of my favorite genres. Sadly, they’re pretty rare too, with a game of real note only showing up every year or two. In this article, I’m discussing several of the most interesting real-time games, to highlight what each does great (or not). Rather than trying to rank these games, I’ve listed them in order of publication … but if you want to know my favorite real-time game, it’s Galaxy Trucker (2007), hands-down.


Ubongo (2003)

UbongoUbongo isn’t exactly a real-time game by my definition. Instead it’s a game that you win by engaging in a task (the placement of puzzle pieces within a grid) faster than everyone else. However, Ubongo shows off the most important element of real-time gaming: adrenaline.

When I first played Ubongo, I was amazed by how jazzed I felt afterward and by how much I wanted to play again. That’s because it does a good job of making you want to play fast and rewarding you for doing so.

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A Deckbuilding Look at Pathfinder Adventure Card Game

In the last year I’ve been impressed both by the number of deckbuilder games that have made it to market and by how many different niches they fill — from pure deckbuilding to an increasing number of games with hybridized deckbuilder mechanics. Mike Selinker’s Pathfinder Adventure Card Game is one of the most interesting because it takes deckbuilding in some extremely innovative directions.


The Game

Pathfinder Adventure Card GamePathfinder Adventure Card Game (2012), by Mike Selinker, is a card-based cooperative campaign game. Players each get decks that represent both the abilities and equipment of their character and their character’s life points — so unlike most deckbuilders players have to be careful about their card plays, lest their character die!

The actual gameplay of Pathfinder centers on players exploring locations, which are also represented by deck of cards. When they encounter cards they’ll usually have to engage in a skill challenge by rolling dice — with card play by any of the players potentially improving the odds. The ultimate object is to close down enough locations that it’s possible to kill a scenario’s villain without him escaping. These are all pretty standard elements for cooperative play, but not something seen in many prior deckbuilding games.

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The Design of Dutch Auctions

Merchants of AmsterdamAuctions have faded a bit from the euro-scene. They were a prime euro-mechanic during the genre’s youth, but pure auction games like High Society (1995) and For Sale (1997) soon turned into auction hybrids like Amun-Re (2003). Then auctions became just another mechanic — a part of more complex games like Age of Steam (2002) — and even that has mostly disappeared in the modern day.

There’s one prime exception: a style of auction that has survived well into the present day. It’s called the Dutch Auction, and I think it’s survived better than standard auctions because it can be so tightly integrated into a game that you might not even realize it’s an auction at all.

In a Dutch Auction, prices on an item drop until someone decides to purchase it. That’s its power: there’s only one bid, none of this round-after-round silliness that can go on forever. If done well, it can look like a purchase — not an auction at all; the price just happens to drop as part of the normal flow of turns. And that’s how some of the best Dutch Auction games of recent years have done it.

I’ve listed five of them below, arranged in ascending order of elegance.. By chance it’s also a climb toward in the modern day. This isn’t unusual in designs: I think it shows how the use of the mechanic has matured over time.

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A Deckbuilding Look at DC Comics

DC: Super Power CardThe newest deckbuilders increasingly mix deckbuilding with other game mechanics to create more complex designs, so it was interesting to finally get to play Cryptozoic’s DC Comics, recently expanded by Heroes Unite (2014), which is a very classic deckbuilding design.

The Game

The DC Comics Deck-Building Game (2012) is a pure deckbuilding game that’s the most similar in feel to Ascension (2010) with a twist of Thunderstone (2009). As in Ascension there are a huge number of varied cards in the game, with just a few random cards available for purchase each round. As in Thunderstone, that’s supplemented by a monster (super villain) that you can kill (jail) if you a lot of money (power) to spend — and those monster/super-villains also act as the timer for the game.

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