Friday, September 25, 2020

Board Game Top 100 – 25-21

25 – Blue Moon City
In Blue Moon City players rebuild the city of Blue Moon using card sets from their hands. When you contribute to the reconstruction of a building, you place a cube on the building card. Once the card is complete the building is flipped over. Everyone that contributed to the building gets the benefit that the building provides. The player that contributed the most to the reconstruction of the building also gains a bonus benefit. A flipped over building provides bonuses to adjacent buildings as these are completed as well. Players collect crystals in this way to contribute to the building of a massive obelisk and once one player contributes enough to the completion of the obelisk the game ends with the player who completed the obelisk being the winner.

24 – The Quest for El Dorado
A simple family weight deck-builder with board game elements, in Quest for El Dorado players are racing through the jungle in search of the famed city of gold. Cards in your hand dictate your movement through the jungle and different cards specialize in different terrain types. Optimizing your hand of cards to move through the jungle more quickly than your opponents, and choosing the path that will work best for your hand of cards is key to success. The jungle is made up of modular tiles that can be arranged to create courses of various difficulties which gives The Quest for El Dorado a lot of replayability. The Quest for El Dorado is a great game for all ages and would be the perfect choice to introduce someone to the concept of deck-building who had never tried it before.

23 – Evolution: The Beginning
Evolution: The Beginning is a family weight engine building card game. Engine building is a genre of game where players build a tableau of cards in front of them designed to provide on-going benefits (an engine.) The best of these allow players to create a synergy between various cards for greater effect. Evolution is really good at this. In this case your “engine” is made up of evolving species of animals. Some animals eat plants while others eat meat, and those will attack your opponents’ cards to stay alive. This “take-that” element would normally turn me off of a game, but here it is so completely integrated in the theme that I don’t mind it. One thing that I don’t like about attack type games is that the weakest players tend to get ganged up on. This isn’t a problem in a two-player game, and personally I would probably only play games like this one with two players. That’s works fine here since
and I really like Evolution: The Beginning a lot!

22 – Super Motherload
Like The Quest for El Dorado above, Super Motherload is an awesome deck building game with a neat theme and some pretty cool board game mechanics thrown in. In Super Motherload players are miners on Mars drilling deeper and deeper for the richest resources. The “deck” that you are building is your drilling crew, folks (cards) who will help you to achieve your goals. The board (actually boards) is a depiction of the land that you are drilling into. As you drill you take the rewards shown on the board and then cover the area drilled with black-out tiles to show that the area is now nothing but a hole. The game is played over four boards. When you reach the bottom of one, you place an new board underneath it. You cycle through the boards so you only ever need two on the table at a time, and the game comes with numerous boards (all double sided) for massive replayability. I love Super Motherload. It kind of reminds me of Dig Dug the board game!

21 – Karuba
Karuba is super easy to understand, but really engaging to play. Here you place tiles that show differing paths through a jungle. Your goal is to create paths for your explorers to reach the temples that match their meeple colors. The tiles are drawn from a bag and the number on the tile is announced BINGO style. Then all players take the tile that was called out and either place it on the board or discard it for movement. When you discard a tile for movement, you are able to move one of your meeple explorers a number of spaces equal to the number of exits from the tile. For example: a straight path has 2 exits, so you can move a meeple 2 spaces; a “T” junction has 3 exits; and a crossroads has 4 exits. Getting to a temple of a specific color first allows you to claim the best treasures (victory points) and some tiles that you place may have gold or gems on them (more victory points.) That’s the whole game: place or discard a tile; get your meeples to their temples as efficiently as you can. Everyone plays at the same time, so Karuba plays as quickly with 4 players as it does with 2. (I have even considered buying a second copy of the game so that I can facilitate up to 8 players.) What’s so awesome is how every player is playing the exact same game, but everyone’s board will look completely different by the end of the game. Karuba is an awesome family game!!

Thursday, September 24, 2020

Board Game Top 100 – 30-26

30 – Portobello Market
Portobello Market gets it’s name from the famous road market in London. Players attempt to obtain a majority of market stalls in different sections of the board. Placing your stalls is dependent upon the movement of a Bobby (policeman) meeple, but if you really need him to go somewhere, you can pay him a little coin. Points are scored by the placement of shoppers and some shoppers spend more than others, so you are in competition with the other players to attract the best. It’s an interesting twist on area control, that’s more puzzley than other games of this type and Julie and I really enjoy it.

29 – Livingstone
In Livingstone, players are explorers moving down the Zambezi River. On your turn you can take one of the following actions: set a camp, mine for gems, earn some coins, or draw a card. This is a dice drafting game with an interesting mechanism. When you take a die and it comes back around to your turn, the next die that you pick has to be higher than the one you took before. Higher dice give you more valuable actions for greater points, but it means that you don’t get to do as much on your turn. For example, if you take a 6 then you get to set a camp at the farthest spot up the embankment (the most valuable points wise,) draw 6 gems out of the gem bag (giving you the best chance at the most valuable gems,) or take 6 coins, but when the dice pool comes around again, you won’t be able to take another die because nothing is higher than 6. Do you grab the highest die, or grab a lower one hoping to get more actions than your opponents? You can also use a die of any value to draw a card. Cards can give a variety of benefits, but since they work the same with a 1 or a 6, it’s best to use the lower dice to draw cards. Movement down the river is really just a turn counter, but it feels thematic and the game is really fun. Also, everyone has a little treasure box that they can put some coins in each turn. At the end of the game money placed in the box is each players tribute to the Queen. The person who gave the smallest tribute to the Queen is the automatic loser of the game, even if they had the most points. So, be careful not to be too stingy! Livingstone is a great family game! Even Kaylee will play it!

28 – Nations The Dice Game
In Nations The Dice Game, players roll custom dice to gain the resources on the dice to build different buildings to advance their civilization. The buildings give victory points or benefits like certain resources or ways to mitigate your dice rolls, or even new dice to add to your pool. The game is played over 4 rounds and scoring is checked at the end of each round. Building your pool of custom dice is key to winning the game. Different dice favor certain types of results and you will want to optimize the combinations that you collect to obtain the results that you want. Nations The Dice Game is like a deck-building game, but instead of a deck of cards, you’re building a pool of dice.

27 – The Dwarves
Based on the novel Die Zwerge [Eng. The Dwarves] by Markus Heitz, the goal of the cooperative game The Dwarves is to keep evil from flooding Girdlegard. Another cooperative game in the mold of pandemic, the Dwarves scores high because of its thematic ties to its source material. Based on a book that I’ve never even read, I still feel transported to the fantasy world that is this game’s setting when I play the game. Evil orcs, elves (yep, elves are evil), and trolls, are all marching their armies toward the Dwarven capital and players must work together to stop them. You must also manage the political climate in the Dwarven council to gain benefits that help you during play and go on quests to level up your characters. Dwarves is a rich cooperative fantasy adventure game and one of the best in my collection.

26 – Cacao
Cacao combines tile laying with worker placement in an interesting way. There are a few tiles out on the table to start, and these show actions that a player can take. Players have tiles in their hands that show workers around the outside edges. The actions you take are based upon which tiles you have placed your workers next to. During play new action tiles come out and your options continuously grow as you try to figure out the best way to place your personal tiles to create the best opportunities for your workers. This is a fun puzzley little tile layer about growing and harvesting Cacao. Yum!

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

Board Game Top 100 – 35-31

35 – Quirky Circuits
In Quirky Circuits players work together to program a robot to move around a board filled with different objects and try to achieve certain objectives. I talked a bit about programmed movement with River Dragons. The idea is that we all play cards in advance and then watch them play out one at a time. Cards in Quirky Circuits move your robot forward or cause it to turn. Things like that. The trick with Quirky Circuits is that everyone is controlling the same robot and while everyone knows what the goal is, you aren’t allowed to talk strategy. You do have some information. When I play a card in front of me that moves the robot forward, you can see from the back of the card that it’s a movement card, but you have no idea how far. Completing the course is not straight forward because inevitably you won’t draw the cards that you need to move the robot the way that you want. So, you have to get creative, and unfortunately, that will usually throw your teammates for a loop. The thing about it is that it’s actually hilarious to watch the robot veer off course. One mistake means that every card played after that is likely to make matters worse, and all you can do is watch to see what happens as your program gets played out. Quirky Circuits is great, chaotic, unpredictable, fun!

34 – Smiths of Winterforge
In Smiths of Winterforge players are dwarven craftsmen working to forge various items for profit and victory points. This game has a really cool feel to it as you must go to the market place and purchase goods with which to forge the items that you have taken commissions to make. These items have a difficulty number on them that you must roll on your dice. Starting out you will want to craft simple, easy to make items. As you make items you will become more skilled and be able to take on more difficult commissions. In addition to difficulty every commission tells you the types of raw materials needed in the items construction. When you go to buy materials, the quality of material that you buy determines which dice you get to roll. You can spend more money on better materials, or you can buy cheaper materials and hope to pull off a lucky roll. If you fail the roll, don’t worry … you actually gain a token that will make your next attempt a little easier and you can try again. You will eventually succeed, but with cheaper materials you are gambling that the project won’t take too long, because time is money, and money leads to victory.

33 – Meduris
Meduris is an awesome little resource management and area control game where you build settlements to gain points. It's got an interesting worker placement mechanic where workers are able to stack on top of each other and the worker on the top of the stack gets the most stuff! I've not seen anything like it in any other game that I've played. All the settlements are built in this large circle and unbroken groups of settlements are worth money to whoever holds the majority of buildings in the group. The groupings can be broken up by the placement of temples and these are key to scoring points. The mechanisms in Meduris are simple, but mastery is tricky.

32 – Walking in Burano
In Walking in Burano Players are building beautiful, brightly colored houses (using cards). Each house section displays specific features like: curtains, lights, flowers, chimneys, or even kitty cats! These score points depending on the resident that you match with the house. The puzzle is in getting the right sections for each house and then matching it with the right person. Matching colors in your houses is also important, but each distinctive color bears a watermark making the game color-blind friendly. "Walking in Burano" is fast, fun and engaging!

31 – Fabled Fruit
In Fabled Fruit players are collecting sets of fruits (cards) to turn in to purchase fruit juice (more cards.) This is a really neat little set collection worker placement game. The twist here is that the locations that you place your workers on to perform actions are the same cards you are trying to buy for points. So what happens when you buy up a location? A new one takes its place. A new location, with a new ability and a new way to manipulate the system to collect more fruits to make more juice to win the game! Fabled Fruit is an incredible innovation in that every time you play the game is a little different. As players gain points and take cards, new cards come out. New ways to play are introduced, and you barely scratch the surface after a single play. The game gives you a simple method for saving your progress so that you can pick up exactly where you left off. The stack of cards provide 59 different powers, but there are 4 of each card (236 total) so when a new power comes out, it sticks around for a little while so everyone gets a chance to use it, and see how it works before it gets all bought up for victory points and goes away. It took Julie and me several weeks to work our way all the way through that deck and we played it a lot! There was a time when Fabled Fruit was my favorite game. It’s definitely something special.

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Board Game Top 100 – 40-36


40 – Kingsburg
Kingsburg is a dice placement game where you use your dice to curry the favor of various influential figures of the nobility. Said influence comes back to you in the form of resources that you can use to build up the strength of your own personal little township. Players add buildings to their personal tableau and these provide permanent benefits like ways to mitigate dice, military strength, and victory points. I mention military strength, but Kingburg isn’t a “take-that” kind of game. Each round of Kingburg is divided into four seasons. In the first three seasons you are building up your town, but when winter comes, there is a monster attack. This comes in the form of a random card draw, and it attacks all players. So, it’s fair to everyone, and everyone needs to be ready, because … “Winter is coming.”

39 – Agricola Family Edition
Agricola Family Edition is a reimplementation of Agricola, which is a much heavier game. There’s a great resource for board game enthusiasts available on the interwebs called, board game geek (; BGG lists information about all kinds of board games. It’s where I go when I want to know something. One of the things that BGG does is that it gives each game a “weight” on a scale from 1 to 5, with 1 being the simplest of games and 5 being the most daunting. Tic-Tac-Toe for example has a listed weight of 1.16, while chess has a listed weight of 3.71. With only a 5 point scale to work with it might be difficult to know where your personal tastes fall. For me, games between 2 and 3 on the scale seem to be my favorite, with 2.5 being my sweet spot.
The original Agricola has a listed weight of 3.64 (close to chess), while the Family Edition has a weight of 2.4, perfect! Now, I tend to prefer lighter games. When I sit down to play, I want to feel like I’m … well, playing – not running a marathon or taking a math test. So, I was happy to see that the publishers of Agricola, which is a very popular farm sim game, saw that there was a market for an easier more accessible version. I have mentioned before that I like farm sim style games, and Agricola is arguably the best. In Agricola Family Edition, I add buildings to my farm, grow crops, raise livestock, expand my family and my home, all in the pursuit of victory points. Everything is done through worker placement, where I take farmers from my home, and put them on spaces on the game board to take the actions, or gain the resources that I need to accomplish my goals. It all works beautifully here, because the designers started with a time tested masterpiece, and just made it easier to play. It doesn’t hurt that worker placement is one of my favorite game mechanics. Agricola Family Edition is a great game about building the most prosperous farm, and I love it.

38 – Village
Village is a worker placement game that is set in a Village. You have workers that you place on locations in the village to do various things. You have a player board which represents your small personal farm, and you are trying to evolve it as well as your workers in the Village. The twist with this game is that workers that you place in the village stay there and work … forever. Well okay, not forever, but until they die. That’s right, in Village your workers die. Village is played across generations and this creates a layered game play experience that is really interesting and challenging. I mentioned game weight when talking about Agricola above. Village has a listed weight of 3.07, which nudges it close to being too heavy. I remember after the first time we played that
and I laid awake talking about strategies, and what we might do differently the next time we play. So, complexity can be a rewarding thing, but it comes at a cost. Julie and I love Village and are intrigued by the challenge it presents, but we haven’t gotten it back to the table. Because, along with the added complexity comes an added time commitment. For us, it’s difficult to get the longer games played. We have to be prepared to invest four plus hours of our day to a game. That doesn’t happen often, but when it does, Julie and I will be playing, Village.

37 – Rallyman GT
I shared a post about Rallyman GT a short while ago, so I’m not going to talk too much about it here, but I will hit the high spots. GT is a car racing game. The track is modular hex tiles that you build yourself into any configuration. You place dice to establish your route around the track. Then you roll those dice. Dice have hazards on them and if you roll too many hazards you risk damaging your car. When you roll, you have the option of rolling one die at a time to play it safe. This enables you to stop when you want, and can allow you to avoid damaging your car, or you can roll all the dice at once. In this instance, you must take what you get, and this is a big gamble, but if you take it, you get special tokens that allow you to save dice rolls on subsequent turns, ensuring you have a better time on a later turn. Ideally, when you need it most. Rallyman GT provides a great balance of push your luck and risk vs reward. It’s a great car racing game.

36 – Rise of Augustus
Rise of Augustus showed me how a game that I would not consider to be a board game, could in fact be a brilliant board game. That game is BINGO. In Rise of Augustus players have cards in front of them. These cards have spaces that need to be covered in order to win the card. One player is the caller, that person pulls out a token from a bag and calls out the symbol on the token. Then everyone including the caller covers that symbol on the cards in front of them. When a player has completed a card, they call out, “Ave Caesar!” And they gain the benefit shown on the card. Some cards provide immediate bonuses, some add to your game engine providing permanent benefits to help you during the game, some cards provide graphic elements that contribute to the set collection aspect of the game. There are many things to consider, because there are a lot of different ways to score points, and once you have won your first card, you must choose your replacement from a limited selection. Picking the right cards in the right combinations is key to winning the game. Rise of Augustus is an awesome game! The BINGO game play means that every player is fully engaged on every turn. That means that Rise of Augustus plays just as well at 6 players as it does at 2. Who knew that BINGO could be so challenging, and so much fun!?

Monday, September 21, 2020

A Tale of Time Past!

Last week's story featured the art of Don Newton. I decided I'd like a little more of him. So, here's a story from Batman 328 drawn by Don Newton.

Saturday, September 19, 2020

Board Game Top 100 – 45-41

45 – Hero Realms
I shared a lengthy post about Magic and Dominion. I have played and enjoyed these games in the past, but I don’t own or play either of them now. For Magic it’s about the expense and the commitment. Magic is not a game one can play casually very easily. For Dominion its because so many new games have built something more with that game’s foundation that I would simply rather play those games. Hero Realms is one of those games. In fact Hero Realms is the perfect marriage of both Magic The Gathering and Dominion. In Hero Realms you dual your opponent attempting to reduce them to zero health using cards of various types, some that do damage and are discarded, some that stay on the table to do damage round after round. The cards can interact with each other, like in Magic. Hero Realms has a very Magic like feel. This is intentional. In fact I believe the game was designed by some former Magic the Gathering designers. But there is none of the post game commitment that you have in Magic, because in Hero Realms you build your deck as you play. Hero Realms uses all the deck building mechanics of Dominion and adds a “game” to them. Hero Realms is super awesome. It would probably rank higher on my list except that I have not ever played it with
. For some reason I have it in my head that this might not be her kind of game and we just haven’t played it together. I need to change that, because Hero Realms is one of my favorite games.

44 – Cavemen the Quest for Fire
And while I am on the subject of card games in a small box, let’s talk about: Cavemen the Quest for Fire. This one I have played with Julie, and we both love it. In Cavemen you gather resources and build dwellings to advance your little cave people society and recruit more cave people. You have to hunt to feed your tribe and kill dinosaurs, all in the hopes of discovering fire and winning the game. The game is fantastic. It’s a fun, compact little civilization building game, and the card art is AMAZING! Each card has a piece of unique artwork (no duplicates here,) and all the art is photographic stills of clay sculptures of scenes and characters and creatures made specifically for this game! Nothing else in my collection looks like this game. It’s just wonderful.

43 – Majesty for the Realm
Majesty has a medieval theme which I love. It was designed by Marc AndrĂ© who also designed Splendor. Marc has a talent for creating a game that focuses on a single game mechanism and doing it well. With Majesty for the Realm it’s all about set collection. While Majesty may look at first glance like a city building game, it’s actually a city populating game. In Majesty all players have the exact same “city” in front of them. This is represented by a set of cards that fit together forming an attractive panorama. As you play, you draft citizenry cards to live in the various buildings, and depending upon how you create your different sets your little medieval town is going to earn you money. There are many ways that the different sets interact with each other and finding the best combination from the cards available to you is key to winning the game. Julie and I have played this several times, but it’s been a while. I think I need to get Majesty back to the table soon. It’s a really good game.

42 – Can’t Stop
So, as I was ranking my games, deciding which games I would be more likely to keep than others, sometimes I would surprise myself. Can’t Stop is a big surprise. It’s such a simple little game. It’s the oldest game on my list by 20 years. (Referring to when it was designed. Can’t Stop was designed in 1980. My next oldest game, River Dragons was designed in 2000.) What’s surprising to me is just how much I love it. Can’t Stop is a super simple press your luck dice game. My “printing” of the game released in 2011. This version has a really nice plastic board that is shaped like a stop sign and player pawns shaped like traffic cones. Each player gets 11 cones in their player color. In addition to this the game comes with 3 white cones and 4 dice. In Can’t Stop you roll the 4 dice and then match them into 2 pairs. You then take two of the three white cones and place them on the board in the column with the number matching the result showing on your two pairs. Now, you roll again. If you can arrange the same numbers as before, you advance the cones. If you can’t, you still have one cone left, so you pick a pair and place that cone. Now with 3 cones on the board, you have to roll one of those three numbers. So you roll again. As long as you can advance at least one cone you can keep going, but if you can’t advance a cone, then you bust and you lose all the progress that you’ve made. So it’s a good idea to stop. When you stop you take the cones of your player color and replace the white cones. This saves your place in those columns. You will now never lose that progress. If you roll that number again you will start from where you saved and advance from there. The first player to reach the top of three columns is the winner. That’s the whole game, and it’s amazing! It’s fast. It’s exciting. It looks great on the table. You can play it with anybody. I will never get rid of Can’t Stop. It’s the perfect family game.

41 – Sagrada
At number 41 is another dice game. In Sagrada players draft dice to add to a player grid in front of them. There are rules for placement like you can’t place the same color or number orthogonally adjacent to each other, but you do always have to place next to another die. You score points for having the most of a certain color of die or for matching specific patterns that change from game to game. The theme of Sagrada is that you are making a stained glass window. So, all the dice are brightly colored and of the see-through variety. It doesn’t really feel like you are making a stained glass window while you are playing the game. It feels a bit more like solving a Sudoku puzzle. That's okay, because the theme isn't about game play, it's just a neat spin around which to build the "look" of the game, and Sagrada looks beautiful! This is a great game that I have had a lot of luck introducing to friends.

Thursday, September 17, 2020

Board Game Top 100 – 50-46

50 – Mystic Vale
Breaking into the top half of my list is Mystic Vale. Mystic Vale takes the idea of the deck building game one step further with the concept of card building. In most deck building games you add new cards to your deck. In Mystic Vale you have 20 cards to begin and you always have 20 cards. As you draft new “cards” for your deck in Mystic Vale, what you get are transparencies with features printed on them. You slot these transparencies into your existing cards to change them. This creates a really neat puzzle as players “build” their own custom cards while fighting their way to victory.

49 – Gardens
In Gardens players place square tiles showing 25% of a flower garden in each corner of the tile. There are 4 player colors (red, blue, yellow, and pink) and each player color is represented by the color of the flower garden on one corner of every card. The goal is to place your tile so that where the tile intersects with other tiles, your color is represented the most. This is a game concept called “area control.” Once 4 tiles have intersected to complete a set of four colors, if one player has a majority of colors in that set, they get to “plant” their garden there. The garden is a special tile that sits over the top of the intersection. This tile is just a bunch of flowers in your color. You want these on the board because this is how you win the game. To make placing tiles a bit more challenging, each tile also has pictures of walkways on them, and many also have water features. When placing a tile, you must match these features up as though you were doing a crossword puzzle. So, it’s not just a matter of putting your color where you want it. But wait, there’s more. Those walkways aren’t just for decoration. Your gardens don’t plant themselves. Every player has gardeners (pawns) that walk on those walkways. When you place a new tile, your gardener has to have a clear path to walk to the tile that you’ve placed. If your gardener can’t get to a tile, you can’t place it there. (And other player’s pawns can block your gardener.) I really can’t emphasize how much I love this game. It would be in my top 10 except that the two player version of the game is a little wonky. In the two player variant, to keep the board “tight,” each player plays 2 colors. (So, it’s really a 4 player game.) Julie and I really didn’t like trying to alternate between colors like that. It made things more confusing than they needed to be. (I am considering trying to play the game straight with just one color per player to see how it works, but haven’t tried it yet.) Gardens is a great game, but don’t expect to pick one up at your local game store. It was only published in Germany. (I had to find the English language rules on line and print them out for my copy.) But, if you really want to play, give me or Julie a call! I’m sure that we could work something out.

48 – Azul
Another tile laying game, Azul nudges past Gardens in my list (because of the aforementioned 2 player issue.) In Azul, players take turns drafting colored tiles from the supply to their player board. Later in the round, players score points based on how they've placed their tiles. Extra points are scored for specific patterns and completing sets. Wasted tiles harm the player's score, and it’s possible for other players to draft tiles in such a way that you can get stuck with a bunch of tiles that you can’t use. Azul is an interesting puzzle. The tiles are attractive chunky pieces of bakelite of various colors and with various patterns. Azul looks great on the table, and Julie and I like pretty games, so this helps to push Azul further up in my 100. Azul is a game you can easily find in your local game store, and it even has a couple of sequel games that are also very good.

47 – Pandemic Fall of Rome
I have already talked a bit about Pandemic and cooperative games. Fall of Rome is a Pandemic game where you are defending Rome from hoards of various enemies and trying to prevent Rome’s inevitable collapse through diplomatic and military means. This is a great variant of the famous cooperative game. It adds combat mechanics which are neat, and Julie doesn’t mind so much when we lose because, “That’s what was supposed to happen.”

46 – Pandemic The Cure
So, moment of truth: I don’t actually own the base game of Pandemic. I have Cthulhu, which plays very similarly but with a much cooler theme. I have Fall of Rome, which plays very similarly but with a much cooler theme, and I have this game, The Cure. Pandemic The Cure has the same theme as base Pandemic. (Save the world from a pandemic – very topical.) But, Pandemic The Cure’s game play is nothing like base Pandemic, and I for one, like The Cure much better. Pandemic The Cure is a dice game. Dice are used instead of cards to spread disease and represent disease in the world. Speaking of which, “the world” in The Cure is (for me) much easier to navigate than the cumbersome game board of the base game. Here you have coasters representing different parts of the world, and moving between them is very straight forward. There’s never any problem figuring out where something goes. Finally, the player powers in The Cure are awesome. Every individual player has their own set of specialty custom dice that reflects the abilities of their unique character. This awesome aspect of the game elevates it past all the other Pandemic games. Pandemic The Cure is the best!

Card Game Confusion

Magic is sold in booster packs.
It's a collectible card game.

Once upon a time Richard Garfield created a game called: Magic the Gathering. Magic is really popular, (I played the heck out of it.) and it’s an important game. It’s important not just because of its innovative game play, but actually more so because it brought so many new people to the gaming hobby. Enough new people that it single-handedly kept game stores open that would otherwise have closed. It saved what was in the United States a dying industry. This allowed those game stores to import more and more European (especially German) made board games. These in turn created all kinds of innovation in game design and changed the way people see board games.

The board game industry wouldn’t be what it is today without Magic, and I believe Magic, along with Dungeons and Dragons, are the most important games in the hobby. Magic owes much to D&D. (5 colors of magic that are also the same 5 colors of D&D’s original chromatic dragons – coincidence? No.) D&D players formed a big part of Magic’s early core audience which gave it the foothold that it needed to find its way into stores. And find its way into stores it did … big time.

Trading cards are cards that buyers can collect and trade. The most common example of these is baseball cards. When developing Magic, there evolved the idea that it would be really cool if it was created as a set of trading cards. Cards that people could collect and trade, and also play a game with. This concept required Magic to have a modular design. Like kids bringing their own collection of marbles to the playground to play, Magic needed to allow every kid to play with their own personal collection of cards.

Each player in Magic comes to the game with their own personal deck of cards. Cards are sold in packs, and like in baseball cards, the best cards are made very rare to encourage players to buy more packs. The collectible card game is born. Players even “ante” a card randomly at the start of the game to create some sense of risk and reward. This was also like marbles where players gamble away their marbles as part of the game.

Magic’s design allows cards to be swapped in and out of a player’s individual card deck. This process, known as deck construction, is a large part of the game. This is done prior to play. Requiring careful planning and experimentation, one considers the best combination of cards to bring to the next game to battle an opponent who has done the same. Magic is a challenging battle of wits where that battle begins before the players ever meet across the table. As in war, each “general” prepares their “army” prior to battle. This is both Magic’s greatest strength and its greatest weakness.

The amount of commitment required to play Magic the Gathering has alienated both existing and potential new players. There is a learning commitment that requires players to understand each card and how it interacts with countless others. There is a time commitment as players consider these cards in their many combinations, and tries to determine the optimal combination with which to form a deck. Perhaps greatest of all, is the financial commitment. While people have developed the skill to win games of Magic with cards that are commonly available, it is sadly true that often the most successful decks are those with the highest monetary values.

Magic the Gathering was first published in 1993. Fifteen years later, 2008 saw the publication of another innovation in the modular card game. Donald X. Vaccarino thought that it would be really cool if players could have the whole modular card game experience that is Magic’s greatest strength, without all the time commitment and expense that were Magic’s greatest weaknesses.

Dominion has a bunch of cards in the box.
Players create decks while they play.
It's a deck building game.

In Dominion, like in Magic, players each play with their own personal deck of cards. But, unlike in Magic, players don’t construct their deck prior to playing the game. In Dominion constructing your deck of cards is part of the game. In fact, constructing your deck is the entire game. Dominion also did away with the “collectible” part of Magic.

In Dominion players draw from a shared pool of cards. Each player begins play with an identical deck of 10 cards. Players draw from this deck of cards to form their hand. Cards played from a person’s hand give them the resources they need to acquire cards from a central supply. This supply is shared by all players.

Cards acquired from the supply are not immediately available for use by the player. These cards are placed in the player’s discard pile. Once a player has cycled through their deck of cards – which doesn’t take long with a starting deck of only 10 cards – the discards are shuffled and made to form a new deck. Now, the player has the potential to draw the new cards into their hand. This process continues with the player cycling through their deck many times during play until they have acquired the most difficult to acquire cards, cards that have the points they need to win the game.

Dominion introduces players to an entirely new kind of card game – the deck building game. Deck building is one of the more popular mechanics of modern board gaming and for the most part all deck builders follow the same formula originated by Dominion. Start with a small number of “weaker” cards. Use these cards to acquire “stronger” cards and place those in your discard pile. Cycle through your deck to bring the newly acquired cards into your hand. Repeat this process improving your deck with each round providing ever increasing rewards until the game is won.

When I talk about board games, I worry that I tend to use a lot of jargon. There are a lot of terms and some of them are confusing. I have a lot of games that use deck building mechanics in my board game collection. The term “deck-building” is one of those that I think might be the most confusing. So, I thought a little “history lesson” might be helpful.

Deck construction is part of Magic the Gathering – but, it’s something that is done before the game is played. Because it is not part of the game play, Magic the Gathering and other games like it are NOT deck building games. Magic the Gathering is a “Collectible Card Game.” (Retailers especially want you to remember that “collectible” part.)

To complicate matters further, there is a third genre of games that I haven’t even talked about yet: the living card game. The idea of the living card game or LCG is to provide a game that gives players new cards on a regular basis (like Magic) but without the “collectible” part. An LCG releases all its cards as sets. There is no random distribution. So, the “pay to win” problems found with collectible card games is avoided.

Arkham Horror is sold in sets.
New cards are released regularly but not randomly.
It's a Living Card Game.

The LCG model is about the way the game is sold and distributed, not about game play. Some LCG’s require players to construct decks prior to play and some use deck building mechanics. If an LCG doesn’t specifically state that it’s a deck building game, expect that you will be spending time constructing your deck of cards before you can play.

All of these terms become tangled up because these card games share a common history. It confuses me, and I’ve been doing this awhile. Hopefully, this article helps.

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Board Game Top 100 – 55-51

55 – Thunderbirds
This game is based on an old British children’s television show from 1965-1966. The series was an action drama about the Tracy family. Jeff Tracy, the dad (a former astronaut) and his 5 sons (all old enough to drive, but still living at home.) Together the Tracy’s form International Rescue! A super secret rescue squad! Designed by cooperative game, master, Matt Leacock (designer of Pandemic.) Thunderbirds is not content to rest on its IP. This is a great cooperative game! Game play centers around the evil plots of an enemy called: the Hood. International Rescue must thwart the Hood’s plans while also managing various random catastrophic events that come up during play, all based on episodes from the series. Managing these situations involves using International Rescue’s various motor (and rocket) vehicles to travel all over the world and into orbit! The art in the game is photographs from the TV show. That really works here since the characters are all puppets. (Oh, yeah. Thunderbirds was a puppet show.) The card art is wonderful and invocative of nostalgia for the show if you are so inclined.

54 – Isle of Skye
In Isle of Skye players draft tiles to create a small kingdom. This process works differently than in any other game that I’ve played and it’s that which elevates Isle of Skye above similar games. Here you must choose three tiles and then price them and offer them back to your opponent. Your opponent gets to buy one of the tiles that you have selected before you get yours. If there is a tile that you really want then you can put a really high price on it to discourage your opponent from buying it, but you then will be paying that very high price for the tile yourself! This creates a really interesting player controlled in game economy. Add to this a modular score board that provides points for tile arrangements that change with every game, and Isle of Skye is truly a masterpiece.

53 – Splendor
“It’s the simple things in life that you treasure.” – Fred Kwan. Splendor has a straight forward and elegant design that elevates it above other games. In the game you collect gems (poker chips) a few at a time and then trade these for cards. The cards create a tableau in front of you and each will have a gem pictured on it. The gems on the cards become a permanent currency that you can add as a bonus to the gem (chips) that you have collected on your turn in order to buy other cards. The more expensive cards grant victory points in addition to increasing your game engine and the first player to reach 15 points wins the game. The art on the cards is beautiful and the poker chips are heavy and of high quality. This game is easy to get to the table, looks great, and is quick to play. I recommend Splendor to everyone even persons who don’t normally play board games. If you only have 5 board games in your collection, Splendor should be one of them.

52 – Pandemic Reign of Cthulhu
Pandemic Reign of Cthulhu is a cooperative board game incorporating a theme based on the works of H.P. Lovecraft. Players are adventure heroes trying to stop the ever growing hoards of evil cultists in Victorian Era England. The map here is tight, representing a single town, and loaded with thematic locations. Players work together to close mystical portals opened by cultists who are attempting to summon the Great Old One. If they succeed, it’s game over. I am not necessarily a fan of Cthulhu. I am only tertiarily aware of the mythos and the works of H.P. Lovecraft. However, this setting, it’s implementation in this game, and the sense of adventure, wonder, and horror that it evokes all score high marks with me. Pandemic Reign of Cthulhu is a great game.

51 – Above and Below
In Above and Below players run a small village community in a mysterious new land. The land is riddled with tunnels and caves and subterranean chambers that hold strange new life forms, and hidden treasures. As you play, you can build above ground structures to expand your village or explore underground to open up new areas. Once these areas are open, then you can build special structures there as well. All this building requires money and in Above and Below you gain money by assigning resources to a sort of commodity time line. The more of the line that is filled, the more cash you are granted at the start of each turn. Resources are also worth victory points depending upon their position in the line. The further down the line a resource is placed, the more its worth. So, there is a push and pull as you struggle with filling your time line early to get more money or holding off to try and get rare resources to place in the first part of the time line saving common resources for later because you can get a lot more victory points that way. This economy puzzle is interesting and fun, but it’s not the main draw of the game. The main draw of the game is the story book. When you go to explore new underground chambers in order to expand your village, the player next to you reads a story from a story book and presents you with a challenge that you must pass in order to clear the chamber and add the card to your tableau. These stories are short and charming. They give Above and Below a sense of wonder and narrative that other games can’t match. For a long time Above and Below was my number one favorite game. It’s awesome!!