Monday, June 17, 2024

Board Game Top 100 (2024) Part 44 (10-9)

#10 Red Rising

In Red Rising players are drafting cards from a central board in order to build the best hand of cards, while simultaneously racing up three influence tracks. The cards all represent characters from a popular book series called, Red Rising.


A central board displays all the cards on offer, as well as marking each player's progress on the various tracks where they are vying to gain the most influence. Only one of these is actually a track. That's the Fleet track. There's also the Institute where players place cubes to gain influence, and a central supply of "helium" represented by red crystals that players are trying to collect. It's three different methods of measuring progress. Functionally, it's three tracks.

Each track is directly linked to an area on the main board. These areas are: Jupiter, Mars, and The Institute. The Institute area is obviously tied to the Institute track. Jupiter is tied to the Fleet track, and Mars is tied to the Helium track. There is a fourth area on the board that isn't linked to one of these tracks, and that's Luna.

The four areas of the board (Jupiter, Mars, Luna, and The Institute) are columns and in each column there are cards. On a player's turn, they play a card from their hand into one of the four columns. This is called deploying the card. When you deploy a card you gain the deploy ability printed on the card. All of these cards have different powers that are going to affect the game in different ways.


After you deploy a card you replenish your hand by drawing a new card from one of the other three columns. You can't pick the card back up that you just deployed, you have to draw a card from the top of one of the other three columns. These cards are all face up. So, you aren't so much drawing a replacement card as drafting one.

When you draft a card into your hand, you add influence on the track connected to the column from which you drafted the card. Remember: play a card from your hand to activate its power (play:power); take a card from the board to move on a track (take:track). The exception here is Luna. Luna isn't tied to one of the three tracks.

At the start of the game, players choose to be a member of a specific faction from the world of the Red Rising novels. Each faction grants their player a unique player power. On your turn, when you take a card from Luna you gain a thing called: the Sovereign Token. This also activates your faction's unique player power.

Aside from activating your player power every time it is taken (even if you already have it), some cards will grant you bonuses if you have the Sovereign Token, and it's worth 10 points at the end of the game. As the game end is approaching it's not uncommon to fight for possession of the Sovereign Token, as that 10 point boost can sometimes feel substantial.

The tracks are important for scoring points and for tracking the progress of the game. As soon as any one player reaches 7 on two of the tracks or any combination of players has reached 7 on all three tracks, the game ends and scores are tallied. These scores come from the tracks, but also and foremost from the cards in each player's hand.

The cards in your hand in Red Rising all combo off other cards and score based on what other cards you hold in your hand. While you play, and as you are drafting cards, you are constantly measuring the strength of the powers of the cards that you deploy, against the value that they have if you keep them in you hand in order to combo them with other cards.

This push and pull of playing a card for its power now or holding it for points at the end of the game is a big part of what makes playing Red Rising fun and challenging. It's a great puzzle and a great game. That's why Red Rising has landed at #10 in my top 100 games of all time.


#9 Cavemen: The Quest for Fire

Cavemen is a light engine building card game. In this game players start out with two cave person villagers, a cave, some dinosaur teeth and some food. Cave persons have some icons on their cards to show what they can do. There are arrowhead symbols that contribute to your tribe's fighting strength, a light bulb symbol that contributes to your tribe's ability to invent new things, and an apple symbol that contributes to your tribe's ability to forage for food.


Every turn there is a little auction for the first player token. I normally do not like bidding games, but here, players generally only have a few teeth (teeth is the currency in the game) that they can bid with. So, auctions are tight and quick, also stakes are very high. The first player gets to act twice during the turn, both first and last. So, winning this auction is no small thing.

It might seem like you would want to take the first player token every turn, but it comes with its own burden. After the first player is determined, it is time to feed your people. For everyone except the first player, your entire tribe can be fed with one unit of food. However, for the first player, they must have one unit of food for every cave person card in their village.

Next you take turns buying cards from an offer to add those cards to your village. There are lots of other cave person cards, as well as inventions, and caves, and prehistoric beasts. Killing beasts can give you food and teeth, but can cause you to lose one of your cave persons in the battle. Recruiting more cave people costs food and you have to have enough caves to hold all the people of your tribe.


Each turn you are gathering cards to build your little cave person village. Inventions provide little ongoing benefits that can help your village, and these don't require you to spend any resources. You just have to have high enough inventive power among the people in your village to claim the card. This is in fact the goal, because the first person with enough inventive power to invent fire is going to win the game.

Cavemen is a pretty light game and I think that it plays best at 2. This one sits so high for me precisely because it is so light and easy to get to the table, and I love these kinds of village building games. I also love the art in this game. In fact, if I were to rank the top 10 board games in my collection strictly for their artwork, Cavemen might land at number one.

The artwork in Cavemen is made up of photographs taken of posed figures constructed from clay. Think of those classic claymation Christmas specials on TV like Rudolph: the Red Nosed Reindeer, and you'll get the idea. All of the art on the cards of Cavemen is that, and each model is unique for every card. No two cards have the same art. I love this. 

Every piece of art comes to life, claymation style, in my mind's eye as I look at it. Also, Cavemen is set in a fictional version of prehistory where cave people and dinosaurs coexisted. So, in addition to great claymation cave people, we get awesome claymation dinosaurs. This isn't a game of historical fact, but of childlike wonder and imagination.


I tend to approach games from one of two mindsets. I either sit down at the table thinking about the game play and how I can use it to win the game, or I sit down at the table thinking about the game play and the kind of experience that game will give me. I think that I tend to enjoy those games more that I enter into thinking about the experience rather than the win. Not that I don't enjoy winning, or that I don't care about it. It's just that I care about the experience of the game more. 

Cavemen: The Quest for Fire is one of those games that I approach from an immersive experience standpoint first. Yes, a lot of this is just about the art on the cards and my nostalgic connection to those claymation classics of my youth. From a gameplay standpoint, I like those games that let me build something. Building my little village tickles another aspect of that immersive experience for me. 

Cavemen is not without its problems. Heavy strategy gamers will find it too random. Aside from the bidding for first player, there is no player interaction. If a lucky player manages to get just the right cards to create a good engine, they will generally run away with the victory. I don't care. I love pretending with my little clay cave people in their little clay caves. That's why for me, Cavemen: The Quest for Fire is my #9 favorite board game of all time.


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Sunday, June 16, 2024

Happy Father's Day

My daughter Kaylee got me cards for father's day... 

And Donuts! 

Julie got me this awesome Dad Joke tumbler and played board games with me all day. 

Julie and I played, Crusaders Thy Will Be Done - 2x, Chronicles of Frost - 1x, and Call To Adventure - 2x all today, and Let's Go to Japan - 3x on Saturday!)

Tomorrow is the start of my Top 10 Board Games of all time! 

Saturday, June 15, 2024

Two Steps Forward, One Step Back

Going to school at Platt College meant moving to Tulsa. This meant that I was no longer a "guest" in my sister's home, and that I really needed to find a job and a place to live. The folks at the Center for the Physically Limited were there to help. A man with MS was looking for a live-in aide. He couldn't pay much beyond room and board, but it sounded perfect for me.

I interviewed with the man, his name was Louis. He was married and his wife worked as a nurse. She worked at night and was home during the day. The fact that I would be in school during the day, but there in the evenings seemed ideal and I was given the job. I helped Louis get up in the morning and made us both breakfast. By the time I was leaving for school, his wife was getting home. She would visit with him, make them both lunch and then get some sleep.

School got out at 3 and I was home in the afternoon and evening. I made dinner, and I was there as companionship and security. His wife didn't have to worry about leaving him alone. Mostly in the evening we just hung out and watched TV. His favorite show as I recall was called, "Wiseguy" about a deep undercover police officer. (Wiseguy was on the air from September of 1987, to December of 1990. That helps me to place this. I believe it was the fall of 1988.)


Tulsa has a lift service for the disabled which I qualified for, and was able to take cab rides to and from school for a dollar a trip. Louis paid me $20 a week plus room and board. Part of that $20 went to cab rides, the rest to comic books. I didn't save a penny.

Louis' wife appreciated having me there for Louis, but didn't really want me there on her days off. She wanted to have time with Louis without me in the house. Sometimes when this happened, it worked out that I could visit with Sally. Other times, I would take a cab to the Center and hang out there. I liked using the computers to write for APA, which was basically the same thing as I'm doing now for this blog – but it was analogue.

They also had the theater program. I was able to sit in on a few acting classes which were very informal and open to all members who wanted to participate. This turned out to be lots of fun, and all my experience playing D&D made me a natural. It was here that I was encouraged to come to an audition for one of their performances.

I auditioned and got a part in a play called, "Bell, Book & Candle." I was super excited, but I soon discovered a bit of a problem. Rehearsals were in the evening every night. Could I go to rehearsals and take care of my responsibilities to Louis? We talked about it. He could see that this was really something that I wanted to do. I could still take care of things in the morning; go to school; come back and make dinner; go to rehearsals; and get home and help him to bed.

We would miss a few hours of TV time, but I could do everything else. Louis agreed … initially. After two weeks of rehearsals, Louis told me that it just wasn't working. He needed me there in the evenings. This was the job that I was hired to do, and I wasn't doing it.

I had to quit the play.

Friday, June 14, 2024

Board Game Top 100 (2024) Part 43 (12-11)

#12 Forest Shuffle

In Forest Shuffle players are each building their own forest out of cards. Players draw from a huge deck of cards that contains trees and lots of other plant and animal life that can be found in a forest. Players start with six cards in their hand. Some of those will be trees and some will be those things that live in, on, or around the trees called collectively, "dwellers" whether animal or plant.


To start, you're going to want to play a tree. Trees are vital to your forest and to the game of Forest Shuffle. All other cards (the dwellers) are played attached to the trees that you have already played. All dweller cards show 2 different dwellers on them. These cards are divided either horizontally or vertically in half. Those cards that are divided horizontally in half will show dwellers on the top and bottom of the card. Those cards that are divided vertically in half will show dwellers on the left and right of the card.

To play a dweller card, you slide the half of the card showing the dweller that you are not using under a tree card that you have in play. In this way the dweller that you want to place into your forest is showing, and the other dweller on the card is hidden. If you don't have any trees in play, then you can't play dweller cards.

All cards that you play from your hand, dwellers and trees alike, have a cost. This cost is paid with other cards. Cards all have these little colored tree leaf symbols on them that sometimes matter when paying a card's cost. You can always pay for a card with any other card in your hand, but sometimes paying with the leaf symbols of a specific type will give you a bonus.

When you pay for a card, you discard the number of cards equal to the cost of the card that you want to play. These cards are discarded face up into an open supply called, "the clearing." Players can draw from the cards in the clearing on their turn. A lot of the decision space in Forest Shuffle is deciding what to keep in your hand, and what to discard to pay for the cards that you play.

Each turn players either play a card into their forest, or they draw two cards in any combination from the face up cards in the clearing or from the face down draw pile. Some care needs to be taken however, there are 3 "Winter" cards in the bottom third of the draw pile, and should the third Winter card be drawn, the game immediately ends and everyone's forest is scored.

Forests are scored based on card combos. Some dwellers like to be with other dwellers and score based on those combinations. Some dwellers score based on the kinds of trees that you have in the forest. Things like that. Trees also score based on different conditions. I have even managed to win a game using almost nothing but trees. 

If you ever need to play a dweller but don't have any trees in your hand, you can always play a card face down into your forest. The backs of the cards show a "tree" called a sapling. These don't score points, but can hold dwellers and are always available. There are plenty of "real" trees however, and I have never had to play a sapling into my forest.

All players also begin play with a card called the "cave" and some dwellers, like the bear, will put cards into your cave. These are worth points at the end of the game. Almost every card has some special way to give you points in Forest Shuffle. There is a ton of variety here, and it's that variety that makes this game so interesting, challenging and replayable.

Oh, and fun! Forest Shuffle is so much fun! In fact, it's my #12 favorite game of all time.


#11 Majesty: For the Realm

In Majesty: For the Realm, every player has a "realm" that they are building up. This is an engine building game played with cards. All players start with a sort of "empty" realm of 8 cards. These cards are numbered and arranged in order from 1-8. Arranged in this way, the cards create a pleasing panorama representing your realm and the 8 key locations within it.


There is a central display of people (cards) that you can move into your realm. In exactly the same way as is done with Century Spice Road, you can take the person furthest from the draw pile for free or place a token on it to skip it in order to take the next card. These tokens are meeples and all players have a "meeples card" capable of holding a maximum of five meeples, as well as five meeples to start the game.

The various people that you can move into your realm will only move into the specific location meant for them. When they do, they activate the location where they have moved. All of these locations do different things, but chiefly they are ways to get coins. Coins don't do anything in the game, there's nothing to buy. They represent the prosperity of your realm and are the victory points that will win you the game.

The more cards that you have placed at a location, the more powerful that location's ability becomes. Many locations also vary in power based on the cards at other locations. Building up the right locations in the right way at the right time is the key to success in Majesty: For the Realm.

I love the clean simplicity of Majesty: For the Realm. It's a great engine builder that's easy to teach but challenging to play. Oh, and all 8 locations have an advanced side that can be flipped over for an even more challenging game. The A&B sides of the location cards can also be mixed in various ways to create a lot of replayability.

Coming next week: my board game Top 10!


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Thursday, June 13, 2024

Board Game Top 100 (2024) Part 42 (14-13)

#14 Abyss

In Abyss, players are competing to gain the favor of different underwater factions. The factions are cards, and Abyss is a set collection card game. In the "story" of the game, Abyss is a water world, a planet that is just one big ocean. All of the sentient life on the planet Abyss has evolved, lives, and breathes at the bottom of this huge ocean, under the sea.


Abyss is one of those games where the theme doesn't really mean anything. The theme was chosen to create an artistic direction for the game, and what an artistic direction it is! Abyss is gorgeous. The various merpeople that represent each faction are stunningly illustrated. In fact, the original print run of Abyss featured different box covers in order to showcase this art. (None of these covers marred the art by having the name or any other markings on the front of the box.) 

The awesome thing is that Abyss plays as good as it looks. On your turn, you choose one of three actions. All three actions are represented on the central game board. This makes learning Abyss pretty easy. Just learn the three regions of the board, and you know what to do.

The top region of the board lets you draw cards to gain resources. Resources in this game are just small mini sized cards which show art with a symbol representing the card's suit and a number from 1-5. These card values are weighted so that lower value cards are more plentiful than higher value cards. There are a lot of 1's in each suit, but only a few 5's.

Next to the resource draw pile there are 5 spots to place cards. The fifth and final spot has a picture of a pearl on it. Pearls are the game's currency and are represented in the game by little balls that look like real pearls. These are cool, but they roll around. So, the game includes little cups to keep them in.

When you gain resources, you must first flip the top card of the resource deck face up into the left most slot of the track at the top of the board. Your opponents can choose, if they want, to buy this resource from you, before it falls into your possession. They do this by giving you pearls that you can add to your supply. Each player can only do this once on your turn. 

The first time an opponent takes a card from you, it costs them 1 pearl. The second time an opponent takes a card from you, it will cost them 2 pearls. The cost continues to escalate, and yes, your opponents could end up taking the better cards from you, but you'll be getting that money, allowing you to do the same to them on their turn. 

If your opponent doesn't buy the card, then you can add it to your hand, or you can draw again to hopefully find a better card. The next card you draw is placed into the next available slot and again, your opponents have the option to buy this card from you, but if an opponent has already bought a card from you this turn, that same opponent can't buy a card from you again.

You can continue drawing until you find a card you like, or you fill the fifth slot – the one showing the pearl. If you flip a card into the fifth slot, you have to take it and no one can buy it from you. Also, because that fifth slot shows a pearl on it, you get to take a pearl from the bank and add it to your supply.

With your turn completed you need to clear any unclaimed resources, but these don't go into a discard pile. Instead they are organized by suit and placed face down into the stack matching their suit in the center of the board. This brings us to the second action that you can perform: Visiting the Council.

To Visit the Council, you simply select one of the face down stacks in the center of the board and add it directly to your hand. You can't look at the cards that are there before you choose. So, you may try to remember what was moved down from before, or you might just want to take a stack that has a lot of cards in it.

The bottom action is to Recruit an Ambassador. Here you spend cards of a specific suit or suits and values to take an Ambassador card and add it to a tableau in front of you. Ambassadors have different special powers that will benefit you during the game and will be a big source of victory points.

The Ambassador cards are also the major source of art in the game. These are all big tarot sized cards featuring all the gorgeous artwork that I was raving about before. One special feature on many of the Ambassador cards is the key symbol. Once you have collected three key symbols you must automatically gain a location.

Locations are special cards that sit on top of the Ambassador cards that summoned them, covering their special abilities. This is unfortunate, but necessary, as it's these location cards with different scoring conditions on them, that make you the victory points, that you will need to win the game. 

Abyss is fun, light, intuitive and beautiful. This is another one of those games that I feel is a must have for every board game collection. It's a great set collection card game that is my 14th favorite game of all time.


#13 Botanik

Botanik is a two player only tile laying game. Each player is laying tiles to create their own personal network of interconnecting pipes called their garden. Each tile contains a small section of pipe. There are five different shapes of pipe section: a straight across section, a "T" section, a bend, a crossroads, and a dead end. In addition, each pipe section is one of five different colors: black, yellow, red, green, or blue.


Thematically, Botanik is about "steampunk gardening". The pipe sections provide water and nourishment to various plants and flowers growing from the pipes. Both players start with an origin tile that represents their gardener. As they build their pipe network out from their gardener they need to keep in mind that if a pipe tile doesn't create a trail back to their gardener by the end of the game, it can't be scored.

Pipe sections are scored by color. Color groups of four or more that are connected together directly are worth 1 point per tile in that color group. If there are not at least four tiles of the same color together in a color group, those tiles don't score. You also score for flower and fruit features on a tile as long as the tile showing the feature is connected to at least one other pipe of the same color.

That's the scoring for the tile laying portion of the game, but the challenge of Botanik doesn't come from laying down the tiles into your garden. The challenge of Botanik comes from drafting the tiles. Tile drafting involves manipulating a central board that is the key to Botanik's game play.

Sitting between the players is a central board that contains three rows of five spaces each. There is a row immediately in front of each player, and a row that sits in the middle between the two players dividing them. At the start of the game, the five spaces in the middle row are populated randomly with 5 tiles.

Each round three tiles are placed randomly face up beside the board. This is the offer. Players take turns selecting tiles from the offer. When you select a tile, it doesn't go directly into your garden, it goes onto the central board. (The player who goes first will get to take 2 tiles during the round, but then the other player will go first in the next round.)

When you select a tile, you can place it into an empty space in the row in front of you, or you can place the tile on top of an existing tile in the middle row. The trick is that in order to fill an empty space in front of you, you must match either the pipe color or the pipe shape of the tile in the center row.

Once you place a tile in front of you, it's yours. But, you can't add it to your garden until it is "released." To release a tile one player (either you or your opponent) must play a tile to the central row that doesn't match the tile pipe shape or pipe color of the tile that you are trying to release. Once the center tile no longer matches the requirements for the tile that it's holding, that tile is released and added to the player's garden.

Releasing tiles can be tricky business. The central row is shared by both players. So, releasing a tile for you might also release a tile for your opponent. Optimally, you want to release your tiles without releasing your opponent's tiles at the same time. You also want to try to plan ahead, stacking the center row so that you will be able to capture the tiles that you want on a future turn.

Botanik is a fun, fast, thinky, two-player puzzle game. It's awesome! Julie and I love this game so much. It's my 13th favorite game of all time.


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