Saturday, May 18, 2024

Chuck

A few weeks ago I talked about playing D&D during the summer of 1981. I mentioned being disillusioned during the school year in the fall and failing my sophomore year of high school. In the summer of 1982, we moved. This for me, felt like the worst possible thing. 

I've talked about my struggles with school and with the young people that should have been, but weren't my peers, because I was a young disabled person in the public schools, but I haven't said much about my life at home. Prior to our life in Coulterville, we moved … a lot. My stepfather Chuck was a hard worker, but he had trouble keeping a job. He drank. 


Not "that" Chuck. 

My strongest memory from my childhood is the smell of beer. Chuck had a beer in hand from the time he got up in the morning until he went to bed at night. He was a rail thin man with bloodshot eyes who drank constantly but barely ate anything at all. He was rarely sober, but when he was, he was kind. Sadly, this was rare. 

We would move from place to place as Chuck moved from job to job. I believe that he loved us - his family, but I also believe that we were a terrible burden that he seemed to constantly fail. So, then too, were we a constant reminder of that failure. We brought resentment where there should have been joy, and this resentment manifested itself as mental and physical abuse focused on the source of that resentment. Oh, and of course, more and more drinking. 

My sister once told me whilst looking back on our childhood, how badly she felt for me. School, she told me, was a reprieve for her. She loved school because it was a safe place for her away from home, but it wasn't for me. I never had a safe place. I sought what solace I could in the pages of comic books. They were my escape. But, that was all in my head. Real life was always waiting just on the other side of my bedroom door. 

Having moved so much, never making friends, staying on the wrong side of everyone, even my teachers, meant that for the longest time, I didn't know that my world was wrong. I thought that what I was experiencing was the only thing available for me, but as I got older, I learned the truth about this world I was living in, and I decided to do something about it. 

I was 14. Chuck and mom were fighting. This wasn't unusual, but he hit her. I couldn't stand it and I charged into the room with the intention of putting myself between Chuck and my mom. I think she must have seen me coming because she reacted in a way that I didn't expect. She shoved Chuck backwards out the kitchen door and slammed it shut, quickly locking it, before running through the house to the front door and locking that one as well. I think she was trying to protect me, rather than herself. 

She told us (me and my sisters) not to worry, and to go to our rooms. I heard Chuck start the car and I thought for a moment that he might try to drive it into the house. He didn't. He drove off, almost certainly headed towards the closest bar. Once things had quieted down, mom started making excuses. "He's just drunk. He just needs to cool off." All the usual platitudes. 

I sat down with mom and told her that I wouldn't do this anymore. I told her that either she left Chuck, or I would walk out the door and she would never see me again. We left Chuck that night. We stayed with one of my mom's sisters (Aunt Janet or Aunt Darla … I can't remember) and within a few days we moved to Coulterville. 

I bring all of this up to emphasize how precious those few years in Coulterville were to me, and what a terrible step back suddenly moving again was. But, Mom had married again, and Fred (my new step dad) wanted to buy her a house… a new home. That new home was in a town called Cutler.

Friday, May 17, 2024

Board Game Top 100 (2024) Part 23 (52-51)

#52 Wild Space

In Wild Space players draft cards to create the best spaceship crews. The crews are anthropomorphic animal aliens and robots. Points are scored for grouping species of crew members or other various kinds of sets based on scoring cards that you collect.



Players move space ship pawns to different planets. Each planet provides an action that the player can take. Each planet card is divided into two halves. The top half is "orbit" and you have to move your ships there first. Then you can "land" on the planet in a subsequent turn. 

The orbit and landing areas of the cards have different actions. Cards also can trigger actions when played, creating a cascading effect. This is desirable as getting the most actions out of each of your turns will help you to win.

Planet cards vary in power and the stronger cards require a larger crew compliment to reach. So, you work to build a strong enough crew to reach the furthest planets and take all of your actions. Once all ships have landed the game ends and scores are tallied.

Wild Space is a combo-rific card game. Its design is clean and the game play is streamlined but engaging as you try to get the most out of every turn. Also the cartoon animal aliens are super cute.


#51 Pandemic: Reign of Cthulhu

In Pandemic: Reign of Cthulhu players work together to defeat cultists before they are able to summon the great old ones. This has all the usual Pandemic trappings, but the board represents gothic districtics described in the works of H. P. Lovecraft.



Enemies that pop-up aren't diseases but cultists. There are also monsters that can appear if too many cultists gather in an area, and instead of outbreaks - powerful old-ones will enter play changing the rules of the game for the worse! If the final old-one: Cthulhu is summoned, before the heroes are able to close all four summoning gates, the players lose.

This is my favorite version of Pandemic. I find its mechanics to be cleaner and easier to manage than any other version of the game that I have played. It's also dripping with atmosphere, the board, the cards, everything is just so gothic-pulpy good. 

Reign of Cthulhu even has proper miniatures to represent the cultists, the monsters, and the characters. Every character has a special power that matches the theme. Reign of Cthulhu feels more like an adventure game than a Pandemic game. I love that!

It's also the perfect game for Spooky Season!

Thursday, May 16, 2024

Board Game Top 100 (2024) Part 22 (54-53)

It's a fun coincidence (IMO) that my 53rd and 54th favorite games are both by designer Rüdiger Dorn, and that they were released in consecutive years (2014 and 2015.) Both games have appeared in my top 10 in the past. Rüdiger Dorn is one of my favorite game designers.

 

#54 Istanbul

In Istanbul, players move a stack of merchants, representing a Master Merchant and their assistants, around a modular board, representing a vast marketplace. For each step your Master Merchant takes, you must leave one assistant behind. So, movement in Istanbul is very Mancala like. When you have run out of assistants, or at any point that you wish to back track, you can return to a location and pick an assistant up. Basically, when you move, an assistant must be involved either at the start (drop off) or the end (pick up) of the move. If no assistant is involved in the move, then you can't make that move. (The Master Merchant is helpless without their assistants.) This movement puzzle is a key aspect of the game play in Istanbul. If you can create an effective "loop" to travel this will help you greatly. There is also a fountain that players can stop at to call all of their assistants back to the Master Merchant.

 
 

All of this movement is done to activate the actions at the various locations. This is being done to enable players to collect gems. Collecting gems is the goal of the game. The first person to collect a certain number of these gems will be the winner. Gaining gems requires players to participate in various game actions. They can collect and sell goods to earn money to buy the gems directly. They can gamble for gems, achieve milestones, like upgrading their cart that carries their goods, and many other ways. No matter what you are doing to get your gems, after you utilize that method once, the next time you attempt the same method it will be more costly. This encourages players to diversify their strategies.

I love Istanbul. The theme is engaging. (You even have a shady relative who will perform a bonus action for you, if you bail them out of jail. LOL!) Game play is clean and puzzly, and the conditions for victory are clear. Istanbul even won the 2014 Kennerspiel des Jahres (German Hobby Game of the Year - very prestigious!)

 

#53 Karuba

In Karuba players lead an expedition of adventurers through the jungle to find lost temples and gather valuable treasures. Every player has a player board that is made up of a grid of spaces. Along the bottom and left of the board is beach. Along the top and right of the board is jungle. Everything else is unexplored wilderness. Everyone starts with the same orientation of temple pawns placed on jungle spaces, and adventurer pawns placed on beach spaces.

 
 

One player is the caller. Each turn the caller draws a random wilderness tile and announces its number to the other players. All players then locate that tile and place it anywhere they like in the wilderness grid of their player board. Wilderness tiles all show a path through the jungle. The path might form a straight line across the tile. It might form a t-section. It might display a 90 degree turn, or it might show a crossroads. If you place a tile next to another tile, you must line up the paths on all adjacent tiles. Tiles cannot be rotated. The tile number must always appear in the upper left corner of the tile. These are the only placement rules.

Adventurers can only move on paths. The goal is to create a path from each adventurer to the temple of their matching color. In order to move an adventurer, you have to discard a tile. The adventurer moves up to a number of spaces equal to the number of path exits on the tile discarded. So a single straight or 90 degree turn path will provide a movement of 2 since it has 2 exits. A t-section has 3 exits for a movement of 3, and a crossroads 4 exits for a movement of 4.

The combination of paths vs movement on the tiles is just enough to ensure that no two players' boards are the same, despite the fact that everyone is playing the exact same game. Some tiles also have either a jewel or a gold nugget pictured on them. If you stop an adventurer on one of these tiles, you can collect those treasures for additional points. This adds just a little more to your decision space without adding complexity to the game.

The first adventurer to reach a temple of their color collects the highest valued treasure in that temple. Adventurers who reach that same colored temple later get a lesser valued treasure. These treasures along with collected gems and gold all equate to victory points. Play continues until all tiles have been played or one player has managed to reach the temples corresponding to all four of their adventurers, and the player with the most valuable treasures (most victory points) wins.

Karuba is awesome. It's very much a game of multiplayer solitaire, but everyone that I have played it with has loved it. The BINGO style simultaneous play means the game is just as snappy at four players as it is at two, with no down time. (I have even considered buying a second copy of the game so that we can play up to eight players!) Karuba was nominated for the 2016 Spiel des Jahres (German Family Game of the Year - very very prestigious!) but sadly lost out to Codenames (a game that did not make my top 100.

 

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Wednesday, May 15, 2024

Board Game Top 100 (2024) Part 21 (56-55)

#56 Splendor

In Splendor players gather chips in different colors and then spend them to buy cards. The cards each have a jewel at the top representing a permanent resource that matches the chip of the same color. 



The jewels on cards can be used like the chips when buying cards. Spent chips are returned to the supply, but cards used for purchases stay in front of you and are used over and over again. They represent permanent wealth. 

As players buy cards and collect more and more jewels they can afford more expensive cards. The cheapest cards grant only a jewel as a benefit, but the more expensive cards also provide victory points. 

The first player to 15 (or more) victory points triggers the end of the game. Play continues until all players have an equal number of turns and the player with the most points wins. 


#55 Subastral 

Players take turns drafting cards from a central board. The central board is divided into sections, each a place to put cards. The sections are numbered and the cards are numbered. On your turn, you place a card from your hand into the section that matches the number on the card that you have chosen to play. Then you can take cards from either one side or the other of the card that you placed, taking all the cards from a single section. 



Taking from one side puts the cards into your hand to play onto the player board later, taking from the other side places cards into your tableau for scoring. Scoring is based on suit and suit rarity. Card numbers don't impact scoring in any way. They are just used for the card drafting puzzle. Once cards are removed from a section, these are randomly seeded from the deck.

Players are ultimately collecting sets to score points. Each time that you collect a card, you must place it with its matching suit, or if the card is of a new suit, you must start a new column, placing such cards in front of you, moving from left to right. Suits collected later will therefore be located further to the right. This becomes important because the cards furthest to the right score the most points. This scoring puzzle makes for an interesting decision space as you collect cards. 

The card sets are divided by suit and each suit is a kind of climate or earthly environment, anything from arctic desert to tropical rainforest and everything in between. These are beautifully illustrated, and Subastral looks stunning on the table. Once the deck has been sufficiently depleted that a section of the player board cannot be restocked, the game ends and the player with the highest score is the winner.

Tuesday, May 14, 2024

Board Game Top 100 (2024) Part 20 (58-57)

#58 Joan of Arc: Orléans Draw & Write

Joan of Arc is a great little game where players pull tokens from a bag and then mark areas on their score sheet. The bag of tokens is a carry over from Orléans on which Joan of Arc is based, but it could have been cards. I have never played Orléans, which is a "bag building" game. (Players collect tokens to add to a personal draw bag and work to control their chances of drawing what they want. Quacks of Quedlinburg is another example.) Joan of Arc has a bag, but it's just a random generator, players do not have agency to control its contents.



What players can control is how they fill out the options on their score sheets and the combos they are able to trigger. Players collect resources, construct buildings, travel and build trade routes. All on their own personal score sheet (2 of them each, actually.) Joan of Arc is combo-rific fun. It's my 58th favorite game of all time.


#57 The Grand Carnival

In Grand Carnival players build a carnival, sell tickets, and give tours of attractions. Each round is made up of 5 turns where each player performs an action of a power from 1-5. You can spend each strength of action from 1-5 once and then the round is over. 5 strength actions are much more powerful than 1 strength actions, but you have to use each power level every round. Choosing when and how to use these actions is a huge part of the game.



Attractions must be built on top of prepared foundations, which make this a game about planning more than other tile placement games that we have played. The puzzle of Grand Carnival is rich and challenging. Plan your park, build attractions, have enough action strength left over to tour people through your park, because an attraction that no one sees is worth nothing. It's awesome thematic fun, and my 57th favorite game of all time.

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