New to Me: Fall 2013

Though my new gaming was light in fall (primarily because my gaming was light in fall, due to the holidays), I’ve opted to publish my short list of new-to-me games while they’re all still fresh. (And it looks like I still managed almost a dozen new games.) As always this is an assessment of how much I like the games, rather than whether they’re great or not. I tend to prefer light-to-medium euros that don’t make me work too hard.

The Great

Caverna: The Cave FarmersCaverna: The Cave Farmers (2013). I thought Agricola (2007) was great the first time I played it, because it combined worker placement with scarcity and it also supported deep and thoughtful gameplay. It’s too long for me to play very often, but it’s still a great game that I love when I play. Caverna is essentially more of the same, but with fantasy theming, with some simplified game elements, with reduced randomness, and with an interesting new expeditions systems. Overall, it’s a great variant, that’s just (barely) far enough from the original that you might want to own both.

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Anatomy of a Genre: Train Games, Part One — Connections

A few weeks ago, I was playing a game of Martin Wallace’s Steel Driver, and when we finished one of the players asked, “Is that what most train games are like?” Though Steel Driver has some fairly typical features of train games, it doesn’t cover the entire spectrum of train game design. Overall, there actually aren’t a lot of games that cover all the features that you find in train games … and so I expounded for a while on my theory of train games — which is what follows.

In my opinion train games feature three main mechanics — connections, stock holding, and pickup and delivery — but few games feature all three.


Ticket to Ride with Aliens

Ticket to Ride

The fundamental mechanic that makes a train game a train game is connectivity — the act of building connections from place to place over a large board. Certainly, not all connection games are train games, as Michael Schacht has proven. However, I think that all train games are connection games.

In the modern day, Ticket to Ride (2004) is probably the definitive connection train game. The whole game is about collecting the resources (cards) to build tracks. You’re then rewarded with points, both for the actual building and for connecting up specific cities. Unlike most train games, Ticket to Ride allows you to build discontiguous rail lines, but the rewards for connecting cities usually preclude players from doing so. Metro (1997) and String Railway (2009) offer examples of even more minimalistic connections-only train game (the latter with strings!),

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A Wife’s Perspective

This week, in honor of Valentine’s Day, I asked my wife to write an article for Boardgame News. Though Kimberly enjoys the occasional game, she’s by no means a serious gamer. Thus she offers a unique perspective on what games your loved one might enjoy. So, consider this a guide to games you might play with your non-gaming-spouse-or-girlfriend this Valentine’s Day, and an insight into why those or other games might be enjoyable. You might even print it out and give to them, so that they can decide for themselves if any of the games sound fun.

As for us, maybe we’ll play some Carcassonne or Lost Cities after a nice dinner out tonight at our favorite Cajun restaurant.

I’ll now turn things over to my wife, Kimberly Appelcline —SA Continue reading

Last Season’s Hot Games: A Top Ten (or so) from Nurnberg 2006

Last year I posted a list of ten games worth watching from Nurnberg ’06. I’d been hoping to post some followup on all ten games to talk about what was good and what wasn’t, but it took forever for the Nurnberg games to actually hit the U.S. shores, and to date there’s still a few that I haven’t gotten to play.

But, before the next Nurnberg rolls around I wanted to post my notes on the 8 games that I had gotten to try out. So: Nurnberg 2006. Some of these games are a bit old by now, but they nonetheless represent some of the more interesting games of last year, and if you haven’t tried them out yet, here’s some more info.

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Computerized Board Games: Six Mini-Reviews

For me this has been a great Winter, with the release of two computerized board games, Ticket to Ride from Days of Wonder and Puerto Rico from Eagle Games. Don’t get me wrong: I love tabletop games. That’s clearlythe proper way to play These Games of Ours, because you get the joy of the physical components and real interactions with real people.

Sometimes, however, I prefer a solitaire experience, and for this I look hopefully toward PC conversions. And, I’m not talking about games that allow good online play. That might be a nice add-on, but if I want to kick a game out in 5-30 minutes I don’t want to have to deal with someone else’s slowness, and if I’m feeling tired or grumpy, I don’t want there to be any expectation that I’m going to actually talk to someone else. So I look hopefully not just toward PC conversions, but toward PC conversions with good AIs that can really give me a challenge.

Over the last couple of years I’ve played slews of these games in web-based forms, but the best are inevitably those that I can download from a professional site or purchase on a CD, and I’ve decided to offer an overview of those today. You’ll find them listed below, from my favorite to my least favorite, with some comments about what makes them good … and what doesn’t.

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Games to Watch For: Nurnberg ’06

The Eurogaming year is centered on two points. Toward the end of the year we get the huge consumer show at Essen, and then in February we get the Nurnburg Toy Fair. Nurnberg is a different sort of show than Essen. It’s not open to the public, and there are more prototypes shown off, which might not become actual games for many months. Nonetheless, there’s cool stuff to be seen.

Last year in October I wrote about the newest releases at Essen, and now I’m going to follow that up with Nurnberg ’06: a look at a new set of games that may be making their way to us between now and … next Essen. As before, I’ve picked my top ten, mostly focusing on gamer’s games, with my top contenders marked with a star(*).

I should note that, as I commented on in my year-end round-up, much of the gaming fare continues to get lighter. Many of the games I selected are on the light-to-medium side of things, and many designers who have done heavier work in the past are emphasizing lighter games now. Over at BoardGameNews, a translated Nurnberg report seems to make the same point.
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The Problem with Colors

Colored ComponentsYou’re sitting down to play your favorite game, you pop open the box, and you start pulling out the pieces. It’s then that the pre-game activities begin, starting right off with the squabble for who gets which components.

Because game pieces innately come in colors.

We’ve been trained through years of playing that color is how we recognize which pieces belong to whom. When a game like Tigris & Euphrates comes along, which marks player pieces with symbols instead of colors, it’s a problem. I don’t know how many players I’ve seen who didn’t understand that they couldn’t be blue, red, black, or green in T&E. Personally, I found that I had to make my brain leap through strange hoops the first time I played that much esteemed game because symbols didn’t make sense, and colors do.
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