So Frankly...

So Frankly...

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Yearly Summary 2012

Last year I posted a sort of "year in the life" post that summarized my gaming.  Now, with the theme from Rent running through my brain, I will do that again for 2012.

The busiest year in gaming gave way to the slowest year.  I stopped this blog in February, moving over to the Father Geek website to blog.  What a great group of gentlemen, but I found that I was missing half my audience.  The guys at Father Geek are focused on family gaming, but I am trying to reach the casual gamer also.  As a result, and also probably because I was one of many writers, I really didn't write much at all.

Another factor in writing: this year was a slow year for actually playing games, both favorites and new games.   It was a very busy year outside of gaming.  Over the course of the year I have played 21 different titles for a total of 59 plays to date.  I am sure I will play a few more times this year.  It will most likely be the same titles, so the count will end up around 21/62.  Of the 21 titles I played, seven were new titles.  All of these numbers are about a third of last year's numbers.

I did slow down my game acquisition this year - just 47 new games.  One group of games I received were from our neighbors cleaning out their closet.  Quite a few of my new games were acquired in trades, as I realized that those four hour marathon games, no matter how good, just weren't going to be played.  Neither were those extremely complicated games, as they generally don't appeal to my gaming group.  My group falls somewhere between "casual gamers" and "hard-core". 

Best Acquisition of the Year:  Werewolves of Miller's Hollow.  I will review this game at some point, since this is my favorite group game.  All but one of the plays of this game were on my son's 8th Grade trip to Washington DC.  In fact, all of those plays were in five hours on the way home!

Most Played Game of the Year:  Werewolves of Miller's Hollow. Same story.  See how limited my game playing was?

Our gaming group celebrated four years of getting together.  However, we also had our first missed months.  After 3 1/2 years of meeting, we missed roughly four of the next six, for both good and bad reasons.  We really started pulling back together in the fall, after school started back up.

Since there really wasn't a group hit of the year, so I will go with:

Game Group Flop of the Year:  Small World.  After exactly one play, the gaming group suggested I trade it away.  There was no interest in trying it again.  I haven't reviewed it.  I didn't see the magic, but there are so many people who love the game that I figure I must be missing it.  Oh, and I did trade it away in a multi-game trade which netted me Notre Dame and YINSH.

A close runner up to Small World would be Warrior Knights, which is a complicated marathon game that I will keep.  It's a medieval multi-player wargame that is just the kind of thing I love!  I think we played our one and only play of that in the group, too.  But maybe I can sneak it in sometime this coming summer...

What's really remarkable this year are my favorite games that I didn't play, most notably Acquire.  That will certainly be played early in the year in 2013.

Finally, just like last year, I will list my Nickles and Dimes: games played 5 and 10 times respectively.  (Once more I won't count the 100+ games of chess I played online this year.)


Plays / Game
10       Werewolves of Miller's Hollow


Plays / Game
7         Hive
6         Bananagrams
5         Chess (over the board)

Both Pandemic and Carcassonne are likely games to hit the table in the last few days of the year, so I may have a few more nickles yet. 

Here's hoping that 2013 is a better year of gaming - for all of us!

It's Your Move!

Related posts and links:
Yearly Summary 2011 
In the Company of Teen Werewolves (Father Geek)

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

What is Kickstarter?

In my last post, I mentioned that I had a game on the way that I had purchased through Kickstarter.  Some of you may not be familiar with Kickstarter, and I thought I would give a brief overview for those who are curious.

Kickstarter is a website which, in their words, "is a funding platform for creative projects. Everything from films, games, and music to art, design, and technology. Kickstarter is full of ambitious, innovative, and imaginative projects that are brought to life through the direct support of others."  In short, Kickstarter is a place for projects to look for crowd funding.  This is not just for games, but for all sorts of creative projects.  After talking about how one supports a project, I will discuss my experience with the site, as well as a few thoughts I have on this way of funding or buying the fruits of other's creativity.

Finding Kickstarter projects is a matter of either directly searching by name, or clicking on "Discover Projects" and picking from a list of project categories on the right side of the page.  Either will result in a list of projects grouped by popularity, staff picks, projects that are recently fully funded, or the highest funded projects in that category.  I am not particularly fond of this part of the interface, since where to find a project that doesn't fit any of those criteria isn't obvious.  (I believe you will see everything in that category by clicking on the "see more Popular projects" link on the page.)  After getting to the project you are considering, there will be a description as well as images that describe the project.  Often there is a YouTube video to go along with it.  This allows you to decide.  On the right there will be a listing of funding levels at which you may pledge.  Each of these levels also lists the rewards that come with funding the project at that level.  It works much like a PBS pledge drive, with one big exception.  At the top of the page, listed below the total amount of pledges received to day, is the pledge goal, as well as the number of days left in the drive.  The important thing to know is that your money doesn't leave your hands until after the drive is over, and only if the project is fully funded.  If the time on the drive expires without the project meeting its goal, the project is cancelled and your money stays with you.  Honestly, participating as a supporter is pretty straight forward.

I have been a "backer" on six different Kickstarter projects.  Two of these were card games, one was a game expansion, two were gaming accessories, and one was a camera mount.  All of them, except the camera mount, reached their goals.  At that point my card was charged.  The money was used to finish the development of the projects, and I have received all but one.  That one project is being shipped to me now.  I have been happy with each of the projects, and I personally have no misgivings about supporting them.  I am a little picky, which is why I haven't backed more than six in a year and a half.  (Well, that and my needing to slow down a little on game acquisition after last year!)
I am picky because this certainly isn't a perfect system.  There are those who are worried about someone taking their funding and skipping town, so to speak, but I am not one of them.  In general, I think that people who are creative enough to scam us in this manner will probably have bigger targets in mind, and its far too much hassle for petty thieves.  Someone could use their money to finish their product development and fail, but that's a risk I am willing to take.  In fact, that's the whole point of crowd funding; the consumer is also an investor.  In my case, the return on investment is a game related product.  However, like investors in other endeavors, my return may be zero.  I accept that.  However, I have never heard of that happening.  I have heard of entrepreneurs losing money on the their ventures because they underestimated development costs.  In those cases, though, they still fulfilled their obligations to their consumer/investors.

My only concern is the quality of the product: the game. I don't mean the quality of the components; there is often a company behind the physical production, and that will reliably indicate the component quality.  I am actually referring to the quality of the gameplay, since even a great company can produce a dud.  If I had unlimited funds and storage space, I probably wouldn't care.  However, Kickstarter is allowing many more people to publish a game with out the full development of the gameplay or ruleset.  With Kickstarter, it is possible to contract with a fulfillment company to handle production and distribution, but without anyone to thoroughly playtest the game and finish the gameplay development.  Because of this, I tend to be a little more careful about a game I buy on Kickstarter versus a game traditionally published by Days of Wonder or Z-man Games.

Alien Frontiers is arguably the first and most successful of all Kickstarter games.  (Image by CleverMojo Games.)
I will continue to use Kickstarter.  It has a place in the boardgaming world.  It reminds me of eBay, in that it has been met with suspicion and speculation.  Like eBay, I think it will continue to thrive.  Without it, there are games that would never see the light of day, such as the hugely successful Alien Frontiers.  There are amazing game accessories that I think will only be developed this way.  Kickstarter has found its place amongst my gaming sources, amongst the local game store in my area, online gaming stores, eBay, and game trading through BoardGameGeek.  Take a look; there is something that will draw your interest.  Whether your interest is gaming, performing arts, or supporting a podcast, there is a project that you can help bring to life. 

It's Your Move!

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Gaming with Santa: Christmas Games

Everyone loves to give Santa a break on Christmas Eve, leaving cookies, milk, and perhaps a few carrots for the reindeer.  What if Santa needed a REAL break, taking a little bit of time to relax and play a game.  Let's say he stops buy Christmas night after delivering presents and a much needed nap.  What would you play with him?  Somehow, I think, wargames are out.  Games with a lot of negotiation, like Settlers of Catan, are probably out too...

"Santa, you can't just give the sheep away, you have to trade for it."

"Yes, I know you're the Santa Claus.  Still, in this game, it's the law."

"Yes, Santa, I know that even the Law of Gravity doesn't apply to you.  Hey, have you ever played Pandemic?"

"No, I don't suppose you ever get sick, either..."  [Sigh]

Finding good Christmas themed games to play is a little more difficult than giving games at Christmas.  Don't worry, I will find a few for you.

Promotional image by USAopoly
There are games that have a Christmas theme that don't work.  Many of them have movie or TV tie-ins, which is always a cautionary flag.  There are multiple games for Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer, A Christmas Story, and Nightmare Before Christmas.   In fact, there is a version of Monopoly for each of these movies, and at least Monopoly is a decent game as I have mentioned before, particularly if you play with the only good house rule: the game is over when the first player is eliminated.

There are better games, though, if you are willing to think a little outside the box, so to speak.  These may not have a Christmas theme per se, but certainly would be Chrismas-y enough to pass muster for most people.

Starting with the least thematic, I would suggest that a quick game to be played on the holiday would be Hey! That's my Fish.  This game has the additional benefit of being easily playable by little ones, and that's important since people on Christmas Day, and Santa himself, are so focused on the children.  Players are penguins trying to grab as many fish as the can as the iceberg they are on slowly sinks, piece by piece, into the water.  I won't go into details, (I have a full review available,) but suffice it to say this is a great game.  It's a little more cutthroat when its just adults, which may not be quite as giving on Christmas, but its so fun!  Penguins implies the South Pole, but since I think that's Santa's summer home, it's okay.  For Christmas, it does offer:

  • Snow! (well, ice)
An older version of the game in play.  Newer versions have better figurines.  Image by Chris Norwood

Promotional Image
Next, I would offer up Snow Tails, which is a dog sled racing game.  This is a game for up to five players, and is recommended by the publisher for ages 10 and up.  This game gets great reviews, and is sitting on my gaming table waiting for the Big Day.  Compared to Hey! That's My Fish, this game will be a little less, well, dog eat dog, since there really isn't as much direct interaction.  It takes a little longer at 45 minutes.  For Christmas, it offers:
  • Snow
  • Snow sleds
  • Evergreen trees
  • Puppies! (well, they might be full-grown)
Promotional Image

Ticket to Ride: Nordic Countries is another in the Ticket to Ride franchise.  This game is noted for being just a little more confrontational, since there are a few key train routes to control, but I suspect that's going to depend on your style of play.  At our house, no flavor of Ticket to Ride is ever terribly confrontational.  Of course, since this part of the franchise, you know it's going to be good!  This also plays in 45 minutes, but Days of Wonder suggests players as young as 8 years old, so it's another great option for the kids.  But is it Christmas?  We have:

Finally, I do have one more game that definitely is Christmas: 12 Days, now being published by Gamesmith, LLC.  This is a game funded through Kickstarter, and it should be in the mail to me today.  I have read the rules online, and I am sure that it will be a good game.  Take that to the bank - I slept at a Holiday Inn Express last night.  This is a light and quick game, recommended for kids 8 and up, and playing in about 15 minutes.  This will fill the time that is too short for the above games.  I don't know when this will become more generally available, but probably not until after Christmas, so it may have to wait until next year.

It's Your Move!


Related Posts:

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Review: Pizza Box Football

Pizza Box Football is a great game to play with kids young and old, so I posted my review on Father Geek.  This is a particularly good game for a Christmas gift, since gridiron football is ramping up for college bowl games and pro playoffs!

It's Your Move

Monday, December 3, 2012

Father Geek Article on Buying Chess Sets as Gifts

Last year I wrote this post about buying chess sets for the Holidays.  I covered the topic again over at  Father Geek.  If you read last year's post you won't find this one that different.  Whichever version you read, it makes sense to buy a child a good chess set that will last for years.

It's Your Move!

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Gift Buying Guide 2012

Even though I haven't been writing this post for a while, many of you have still been reading.  I really wanted to give my perspective on gift buying before Black Friday.  This way, those family gifts and tough-to-buy-for situations have some good options.  The games on last year's guide are still available, so use that guide for additional ideas.

Just like last year, I am writing this with a focus for those who are casually interested in the boardgaming hobby.  These games will be available through local game stores or online, and man of them should also be available through some larger, mass-market outlet.  Target and Barnes and Nobles are now devoting more shelf space to the types of games that I have written about.

Links to my reviews of these games are embedded in the text.  Now back to the show!

Type 1: “I loved playing games as a kid!”
This person has fond memories of playing Risk and Monopoly as a kid, and probably played these games at least some as a teenager.  Last year, I recommended the revised version of Risk as a good game, and this is still a great choice.  This year I will recommend Risk Legacy.  This game has a truly revolutionary game concept in it.  As the game is played, there are actions that can be taken that permanently change the rules of the game or the game board.  Some of these changes remove cards from the game permanently.  By permanently, I mean tear the card in two and throw it in the trash.  In other words, each game will be played under slightly different conditions.  My first reaction to this was, "What!  Why would I deliberately damage my game?!"  I have come to think of this as an experiential thing, and I would love to play! Furthermore, playing through all of the actions will take 15 game sessions, so there is a lot of experience to be had along the way.   A copy of Risk Legacy will probably need to be purchased online or at a local game store.

Type 2: “We love/loved Scrabble.”
I am going to repeat my recommendations from last year.  Buy Qwirkle or Bananagrams.  These are two great games, and still some of the more economical choices, too.  If you bought someone on of these games last year, buy them the other this year.  All of the mass-market outlets will have Bananagrams, and many will have Qwirkle (Target has carried it for several years now).

Type 3: “My family plays/played cards when at family functions.”
I am going to go out on a limb here and say Bohnanza.  I haven't actually played this, and it probably will need a local Barnes and Nobles or a trip online.  However, it has a great reputation within the gaming community and with friends of ours.  As a bonus, it plays well with 3-7 players, so it works well for gatherings.  Don't let the age range on the box scare you at 13+, I know younger kids love "the bean game".  The game sounds silly, but that's part of the charm.

Type 4:  The family/casual boardgamer
This starts to get tricky, because there is the chance that you will give a gift they already have.  However, Deadwood is a pretty safe bet, since it was published just last year.  This is one of the less expensive choices on the list.  It's American West theme will appeal to many.  Deadwood is published by Fantasy Flight Games, who puts a lot of care into a games presentation.  Deadwood has recently become available at Target.

Type 5: The Dedicated Chess Player
Handkerchiefs.  See last year.

Type 6: The Geek
By far and away the best game to geek-out on this year is the Star Wars: X-Wing Miniatures Game.  This is a dogfight game pitting X-wings and TIE fighters.  And Y-wings.  And Interceptors.   And the Millennium Falcon.  Not all of this comes in the box; some are coming out in expansions.  The box includes three fighters and everything else you need to play the game.  I have played the games predecessor, Wings of Glory, which is set in WWI.  As a geek, this game has me juiced, and my son is thinking he needs to own it.  Star Wars: X-Wing Miniatures Game is available at Target.

Type 7: Kids
Sorting through the drivel is the biggest problem.  I will go with the LEGO Ninjago Board Game.  It may not be the very best game, but hey, it's LEGO.  How far wrong can you go?  LEGO Ninjago Board Game has become generally available in the mass-market stores.

Type 8:  Families with no gaming experience
Last year I had Qwirkle and Forbidden Island here on the list.  These are still great choices. This year I will add King of Tokyo.  In this game, you play Big Monsters (think Godzilla) attacking the city of Tokyo, and each other.  Games are short and can be filled with lots of campy humor, since the monsters have such silly names as Cyberbunny and MechaDragon.  Sound effects are part of the fun.  Kids can easily play this, though the energy level might ramp up as they get into the them!  King of Tokyo is definitely going to be the toughest game to find on this list.  It might be between print runs as the holidays arive.  However, since the two choices from last year are solid options, I don't feel too badly about this one.

Type 9:  Party Gamers 
The Spiel des Jahres winner for 2010 was Dixit.  Think Apples to Apples with pictures.  One player makes up a sentence which tells a very brief story from a picture, and everyone else picks a picture from their hand to match the story.  The storyteller chooses the best match, and points are scored.  Sound a little similar.  What makes this a great choice is not only the proven style of gameplay, but also the excellent artwork.  Dixit can be found at many mass market outlets. 

Type 10: Couples / Everybody Else
Many of the games here work well for two.  For this, I am going to go with my recommendation for last year:  HiveThis game is an abstract strategy game the is incredibly popular in our Scout troop, and it is easy to learn.  There is now a smaller edition called Pocket Hive.  So, you can even recycle this idea if it was a big hit last year.  I have found Hive at Barnes in Noble.

I hoped this helped!  If you would like more personal suggestions, email me at
I will be glad to answer any questions!

It’s Your Move!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Teaching Chess to Kids – One Rule to Wring them All!

Most people think chess is a hard game to learn.  It’s not.  Once someone learns how to move the pieces they can play.  Sure, there are a few slightly complicated moves like castling or en passant, but generally speaking moves aren’t an issue.  Learning how to move pieces in combination, that is where the game gets involved.  It’s not the rules; it’s all of the strategy and tactics that make the game complex.

Except with kids.  Now we are into a whole different area.  First of all, kids want to know all of the odd-ball rules, not only castling and en passant but also the three-position and 50-move rules.  Normally, I try to just move past these topics, but generally someone has heard of them and I eventually end up explaining these rules.  They will try to invoke them, and be completely wrong; this is particularly true of the three-position rule.* However, we get past them and put them away.

So what is the concept that wrings all the certainty out of their heads, leaving the idea that chess is hard?  What is the hardest thing for children to learn (that actually does show up in their games): the knight’s move? No, they need some help with that, but it comes pretty quickly.  The key to that is not only the shape of the move, but the fact that the knight changes the color of the square he stands on with every move.  If the knight is on a dark square now, it will finish on a light square.  What about the pawn?  The fact that the pawn moves differently when it attacks causes a little confusion, but that’s cleared up quickly. 

The toughest part of chess to teach is check (and by extension checkmate!)  Then how do they end the game?  They end the wrong way, at least in the beginning.  Here are the most common misconceptions:

  • “If I threaten the king on this turn, and don’t call check, I can capture it next turn!”  Of course, the king is never actually captured in chess.  When the king is threatened, it’s in check, and must get out of check.  If the king can’t get out of check, then it is checkmate and the game is over.
  • “But you didn’t call check!”  Check is check, called or not.  Often it doesn’t need to be said, because it’s that obvious.  This is a common source of disagreements, because this statement will probably follow the previous thought!
  • "I’ll move my king next to theirs and put my enemy in check!”  The problem with this is that two kings next to each other are both in check!  Since a king cannot move into check, it’s an illegal move.  Last night I actually had an 8th grader, who has been playing for a year, suggest that doing this would allow a player to win with just a bishop and a king – wrong!

How does this get solved?  In the immediate game, I try to back the players up to the last legal move, and then continue the game.  Otherwise, I call it a draw.

Speaking of draws, stalemate is also a problem concept, but not as hard to overcome.  It is truly amazing how often stalemates occur at this level.  Last year our youngest member played his first ten games without a loss – 3 wins and 7 stalemates! 

As frustrating as it can be, teaching chess has its own rewards.  It is wonderful to see their enthusiasm, and fun to watch their faces as the “light comes on”.  Even though my son graduates from the school this year, I can’t imagine giving this up.

It’s Your Move!

* The three position rule says that an exact board position occurring three times is a draw.  For this to happen, every piece and pawn must be in the same position all three times with the same moves available.  As a result, a piece captured or a pawn moved means none of the prior positions can be repeated, since those pieces can never go back to where they were.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Tasteless Fun: Dominion -- Great Game, Little Flavor

I have to confess that Dominion is completely out of style with the games I normally like.  In fact, I probably would never have played it except for my brother's family.  The year it was published it was quite the rage.  Yet its reputation as a themeless game put me off.  So did the constant card shuffling I heard about.  Then why, in the end, did I end up giving it a rating of 9 out of 10?  After all, I like games that drip with theme, telling a story as they are played.  I was just as surprised as you.

Incredible fun in 30 minutes!
That year, when my brother and his wife came back from visiting one of their kids, they raved about Dominion.  For my brother to do this, it must be a huge success as a family game.  His motto is, “If it starts to feel like work, I’d rather work.”  This game he was anxious play with us.  For Christmas they gave my son a copy.  I still wasn’t convinced.  Not until we sat down to play it a few months later was I completely won over.  We got home late the night of our first play, but still took the time to break the seal on my son’s copy and get it ready to play.  A few days later I bought a copy of Dominion: Intrigue, which is the first expansion, but is also playable as a standalone version.  This way, when Big D (he has grown taller than me since I started this blog!) goes off to college, I am sure to have a copy.

Dominion is a card game which is supposedly building up a kingdom, a dominion, by adding various places, people and features to it as the game goes on.  However, the game doesn’t really feel like you are doing any of that.  Typically, this is where I take a pass.   The game play in Dominion is so good, however, that it makes up for any lack of flavor. 

Players have a deck of cards that sits at their left hand, and are holding five cards.  At your right hand is your personal discard pile.  More cards of various types are on the table for purchase, including cards which represent money and cards that are victory points.  On your turn, you can play one card from your hand for an actionand/or buy a card from the table, and then you “clean up” by discarding everything you bought, played and your hand.  Five cards are drawn from your deck for the next turn.  An action allows you to draw more cards, make more than one purchase, play more actions, attack or defend or some combination thereof.  When your deck runs out, you shuffle the discard pile and make it the deck and keep going.  When the game ends, the person who has the most victory points wins.

Some of the cards from Dominion (Image by Gary James)
That’s not a thorough description without going into the cards, but it does go about that fast: 30 minutes for a complete game.   It’s not terribly complicated.  (Little ones will have trouble with shuffling and reading text on the cards though.)  Your deck grows as you buy cards and they eventually cycle around.  The fun is in the interaction of the cards.  I love trying to buy cards that will work in combination to allow multiple actions or buys, or more valuable buys.

The game components consist exclusively of the cards and the rules.  While available at Target and Barnes & Noble, don’t look for it on the same rack as Rook, or Monopoly Deal.  This game comes in a full size box.  That’s because it doesn’t have the usual 50 – 100 cards; there are 500 cards in the box!  The artwork is adequate, though not awe inspiring.  As I said, the excellence of this game is in the game play.

If I haven’t convinced you yet, consider that Dominion was the 2009 Spiel des Jahres winner.  Since its publication, the game mechanism of buying the cards you will play with later in the game has appeared in a lot of games.  I haven’t played any of them, since I love this game so much.  It’s hard for me to justify another game that largely plays the same way.

I gave this game a 9 / 10.  That's pretty high praise from me; it's a rating for games I don't imagine giving up. 

It's Your Move!

 Dominion: ages 8 and up, 30 minutes, 2-4 players.
Good Casual Gaming! Kid Friendly!