So Frankly...

So Frankly...

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Yearly Summary for 3rd Sunday Gaming 2013

This year marked the 5th anniversary of  my gaming group, which is just amazing!  While 2012 was kind of rough, 2013 ended up being a great year.  Not only did we manage to meet every month (I think), but we added two new couples that are great gamers.  As a result, we have a few more "heavy" gamers; the kind of people who like the complicated, longer games, such as Dune.  Plus, a couple of them are willing to take one of my games home, learn it, and teach it, which takes some of the pressure off of me.  That's fantastic!

The addition of heavy gamers also means that my game shelf has a bit different mix.  Before, I was largely trying to keep my collection mostly casual games that clocked in at no more than two hours.  Now, I have a few more games that are longer and more complex.  Or maybe I should say I am keeping a few more long, complex games.

In 2013, we played 21 different titles.  Quite a few of them were new titles, including games that I have owned for years and never managed to get to the table.  Some of them were not really suitable for family gaming.  Some of them I really should write up.  I didn't write as much as I wanted to this year.  Some of these titles are incredibly fantastic games, though some of them also are ready for the trade pile. 

Soon I will talk about my personal gaming this year, but that will probably wait a few more days.  My son and I are playing War of the Ring over the holidays, and there is normally some gaming going on at our house on New Year's Eve.

I'll be back soon!

It's Your Move!


Wednesday, December 18, 2013

About Being Behind (Gifts for 2013)

No, not in a board game, but in life.  I should have posted my 2013 gift guide weeks ago, but life and my new job have conspired against me.  So, for 2013, it just isn't going to happen.  Check out my other guides from previous years; all of those games should be available still.

In the meantime, here a couple from other portions of the boardgaming world:

Board Game Geek (BGG):  This site is the definitive boardgaming database and community.  I wrote about it in 2011, and I am still on it at least once a day for at least a few moments.  While every community has a few of those guys, BGG is an amazingly large and friendly community on the whole.  I once asked for help identifying the missing tile from a game I bought used.  Some one offered to help, just out the goodness of his heart.  I photographed all the tiles I had, and sent them to him.  He came back with a photo of the missing tile.  The fun part: he was from the Ukraine!  Wait, it gets better.  I sent the picture to the publisher, Rio Grande Games, and the owner (also part of the BGG community) sent me a replacement for the cost of mailing it.  These are great people.  BGG's gift guide can be found hereThe list is aimed at casual gamers, not hobbyists.

The Board Game Family:  My friend Trent Howell runs this site, and has published his gift guide for 2013.  Trent looks at games from a family perspective.  He has several kids, from elementary school to high school, and plays the spectrum.  His gift guide is here.

These are two I trust, so I feel okay about missing this year.  I will do better next year.

It's Your Move!


Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Rules Reduction

In the past, I have talked about using player aids, and I also use rules summary sheets. For some games, I have developed my own summaries or player aids. For others, I use documents I find on the web. The catch with rules summaries is that I still find myself going back to the full rules published with the game.

November is the final month of our gaming group for 2013. It’s just too hard to try to put together a time during the month of December. I am pulling out all the games we have played this year, a total of 21 different titles. (If you are curious, you can find the list here.) Some of these games we only played once during the year, not often enough for me to be familiar with the rules. This is particularly true of the games that someone volunteered to take home and learn so they could teach the game at a session. More specifically, there are five games that I need to review.

One would think a summary sheet would be great here. However, I am taking a different approach. I am using a copy of the rulebook as an aid, by highlighting and writing notes. I don’t want to mark up the original rulebook, just in case I trade away any of these games down the road. Specifically, I am highlighting things that might easily be forgotten, like a specific sequence of actions, or some other procedure that is important to get right. One common part of a rulebook that gets this hit hard is the combat section (if it has one). Often there are very explicit rules on when casualties are taken, when retreats occur and how, or some other aspect.

This is a pretty easy approach, since most game publishers put their rules out on the internet these days. Next time you are looking at a game and its rules, try this approach. It might keep you going in your game when the rules aren’t immediately coming to mind.

It's Your Move!


Wednesday, October 30, 2013


The past couple of chess years have been a little rough.  In reality, I am not a natural grade school teacher.  As a result, we adopted a chess curriculum for the club a few years ago.  This is the year we try again with another.

I am not going to mention the name of the curriculum the school previously purchased.  I don’t want to give the impression that it’s bad, because it isn’t.  It really is several different courses.  One focuses on openings, one on end games and the like.  However, to take kids who have never played at all before and bring them along requires a little bit of everything.  There is a plan for that in the material, but it requires physically reordering the lessons.  It’s a little like taking my wife to a restaurant.  Rather than missing out on something good, we cut up a little from everyone’s plate to spread around.  It makes for a fantastic experience, but there is some work involved.

So, while I am more than happy to take a few minutes to divide up a meal, I just don’t have the time to do the same sort of thing with the chess curriculum.  I have looked at several, but I ended up finding one right under my nose.

At the end of last year, I tried to get the kids to use the children’s online chess site  We had started late, and I wanted to keep them going over the summer.  As I thought, not a single game was actually completed, and only a couple of them actually even tried the site.  However, while exploring the site I found their scholastic lesson plans.  The goods folks there have broken things up into 20 lessons in five sections, plus an introduction which is largely aimed at parents and teacher-coaches.  Things are organized largely the way I would order them, though the middle few sections (endgame, openings, and tactics) could probably be done in any order desired.

Actually, the larger worry is probably how my schedule will work.  Once I land my next job, it may force a change in our chess club time.  We’ll have to deal with that if it comes to pass.

We will be starting to play chess in just a few weeks.  I’m told the 4th graders are chomping at the bit.

It’s Your Move!

Monday, October 14, 2013

Goin' Clubbin' - A Review of Clubs

[Sorry I have been away for a while folks.  I have been laid off for nearly two months now, and online networking, job hunting and applying have left me pretty burnt out on the web.   I have played a few more games, but more of the heavier, two-player variety I don't often cover here!]

I am not a huge fan of card games.  Generally speaking, that's because they don't have the Awesomeness Factor that a board game can have.  And, with the one exception of Oh Hell! (aka Up the River, Down the River or Blackout), I am particularly bad at trick taking games.  That was until recently, when I had a chance to play Clubs after our monthly gaming session.

[Full dislosure: Clubs was sent to me by the publisher, North Star Games, to review.  Other companies have done this in the past.  Those games were not reviewed, because my father told me not to say anything if you can't say something nice.  I am reviewing this game; I guess that gives this away.]

Promotional Image from North Star Games
Clubs is a great game.  I found it much more enjoyable than most trick taking games for several reasons.  The result of all this goodness is a game with the strategy of a trick taking game that has a lower barrier to entry.

In the box there are four suits of 15 cards, as well as six bonus cards and the rules.  The cards are great quality - the quality we repeatedly see in North Star Games products.

The gameplay is simple.  One player will play the lead.  In most trick taking games, this is one card of a suit. Going around the table, all other players will toss in a card of the same suit (following suit) if they can, changing suits only if they can't play the suit led.  This leads to one of the issues with a traditional trick taking game.  If someone doesn't understand the concept of following suit, the game starts to unravel.  Often the error is caught to late to save the hand.

Cards of the various suits. Note that the clubs have coloring
that designates them as scoring cards. Photo by Mike Hulsebus.
In Clubs, the lead player plays at least one card, possibly more, either of the same value or in sequence. This is referred to as a meld. The suit of the card(s) only matters in that clubs earn points, and the other suits do not.  Each subsequent player in the hand must play a meld of higher value: either as a play in value or in sequence.  In other words, a lead of a pair of 5s must be beat with at least a pair of 6s.  A sequence of 2-3-4 must be beat with at least a sequence of 3-4-5.  This ramps up, making this more of a ladder game with trick taking elements.  Players may pass, and actually have to pass if they don't have the cards to beat what's on the table.  Like other ladder games, and unlike trick taking games, the meld doesn't go just once around the table.  The play continues until no one can beat what is on the table or a 15 appears.  That wins the meld.  In addition to points for taking clubs, there are also points awarded for going out.  More points are awarded for going out first, with a decreasing amount as more players go out.  In fact, the final person left gets no points at all, not even from the clubs they took!

The strategic balance comes from needing to hold cards to win melds, versus the need to play cards to take the bonus for going out. This gives the game some fun decision points which are just right for a 30 minute game. I would be tempted to call this a solid filler, but the simple fact is that it's a game that could easily be enjoyed several times in a row for a great evening amongst friends. Most fillers aren't that satisfying.

Let me put it this way. If Clubs were an hors d'oeuvre, it would be loaded potato skins. Eat a few and you're good for the evening. Most fillers are like cucumber sandwiches; they leave you filling like it's time to get some real food.

Some of North Star Games' titles can be found at mass market stores, and I was hoping that Clubs would be too.  Unfortunately, I haven't seen it yet.  So far, it is limited to specialty game stores, as well as Amazon and B&N.  Shop around though; I have seen this game going from anywhere from $7 to &18.  I would probably be willing to pay $18 for this game, but why pay more? 

  • 2-6 players (but it should probably be 3-6)
  • 30 minutes
  • ages 8+
It's Your Move!

Thursday, August 1, 2013

3 Creative Ways to Use Salsa Bowls in Games

A couple of months ago my wife and I were walking through a discount craft store when I grabbed some white, plastic (and frankly pretty ugly) salsa bowls.  There were two in a pack for $1.80.  "For gaming?", she asked.  I nodded.

I am so glad she just smiles.

She had no idea what I wanted them for, but I had a reason.  In fact, I had three.  Here are the three reasons why a separate set of cheap salsa bowls make a great gaming accessory:

Holding game pieces during a game.  Take a look at the photo below.  Everything is neatly organized into piles.  However, it's very easy to have one of those little pieces wander off during the game.  With bowls, they all stay together.  Furthermore, if you need to pass the pieces around, or move them out of the way, that's easily accomplished. It also makes cleaning up after the game easier, since pieces can be dumped from the bowl straight into a bag.  You know, one of the bags that we all store little pieces in, right?  This is particularly true when you go to inventory the game before putting it away.  Yeah, we'll talk about that soon.

Warrior Knights has a lot of pieces!  Some of them, like the cardboard
counters to the left, are just begging to be organized into some type of
container.  Salsa bowl, anyone? (Photo by Bert Pike.)

Covering hidden information.  In games with hidden information, salsa bowls may be used to keep things from prying eyes.  Most people play Acquire with a house rule that makes which stock I own public information, and the amount of money I have private.  (The rules actually leave it entirely up to the players.)  I could hide my money, or a portion of it, under the salsa bowl so that no one knows exactly how much I have.  In Acquire, the only thing worse that not having the money to buy stocks is everyone knowing you don't have the money to buy stocks.

Sorting things while punching games.  Granted, many of the games that I have reviewed take little preparation after opening the box.  However, a game like Wings of Glory does.  Counters for this game, like those in the photo of Warrior Knights above, come on die cut sheets.  They need to be punched out before the game can even be set up for the first play.  If you're going to just dump these pieces in the box, you don't need to be worried (though I might point out that you will be worrying after you start losing pieces).  If you are going to bag the pieces though, it makes sense to sort them as you punch.  I punch my pieces into the salsa bowls, which keeps them together, and then dumped them into one of the aforementioned bags: one bag for each type.

Now, the bowls don't need to be salsa bowls, per se. They need to be opaque, so they can actually hide information.  I would also suggest they should be different than anything that might hold food, since a mix-up could be kind of nasty, not to mention permanent.  Unbreakable is also nice.

Like so many accessories, bowls will never make a game better.  However, they may make a gaming experience better.  Sometimes, that's the difference between a great gaming session and a mediocre session - the difference between playing once and playing again.

It's Your Move,

Saturday, July 20, 2013

The Red Baron Flies Again - A Review of Wings of Glory

Nearly everyone knows that Manfred von Richthofen, the Red Baron, was the German pilot with 80 kills during World War I.  This made him the most successful pilot of the war, despite the fact that he died seven months before the end.  He is well known for shooting down most of these planes in his red Fokker Dr.I tri-plane, which gave him his name.

Except he didn't.

The Red Baron's Albatros D.III
As it turns out, most of his kills were in an Albatros D.III, (also painted red) the plane in which he actually earned his reputation.  Richthofen was killed in his Fokker, though, if that makes you feel any better.

Don't worry, I didn't know this either.

What I did know was that you can recreate WWI aerial combat in a way that completely captures the imagination.  Wings of Glory is an incredible game that recaptures the romance and adventure of the era in 1:144 scale.  In this game, any number of people take to the air in their various aircraft, ready to shoot each other down, bomb targetsor strafe trenches (but mostly to shoot each other down).  The game has a lot going for it, including different maneuvers, weaponry and damage tolerance for different types of aircraft, as well as damage which impacts the ability to fly, miniatures.

Promotional Image of Wings of Glory
Each turn consists of two phases: planning and execution. During the planning phase each player select three moves from the deck of maneuver cards which are tailored to his aircraft's flight characteristics.  Everyone in the game is doing this simultaneously, so it happens very quickly.  The next phase is movement and firing together.  Each player uses his first maneuver card to physically move his aircraft.  When this is done by everyone, a range check is made, and if someone has a shot they give a random damage card to their target.  This is done for all three maneuvers, and then the next turn begins.  This continues until all the planes of one side have taken damage up to their planes damage limit, which is once again specific to each model of aircraft.  It's a straightforward affair.

I really love this game for several reasons:

Awesomeness. Did mention this game has miniatures?  I am really trying to not let this game become my rabbit hole, but it's hard.  There is a lot of cool stuff available for this game.  First of all, there are the miniatures (did I... never mind) that represent the aircraft.  For each of the aircraft models produced, there are three paint schemes available, and there are over a dozen models.  One can rack up quite a collection, and it's hard to resist doing so.  Additionally, there are game mats, which help keep maneuver cards from sliding around or spinning.  They are printed like giant computer mouse-pads, and have the French countryside portrayed on them as you would see from an altitude.  There are three different versions; one with farmland, one with a coastline, and one with towns on it.  They are designed so that any number of them can be put together as you desire; the rivers and roads line up no matter how it's done.  This really makes it an immersive game.

The French Spad XIII is in serious trouble, the Red Baron is coming with help!
This is a picture of three of the models I own on a countryside play mat (pay no
attention to the shadows!).
Fast play.  The planning portion of player's turns can happen simultaneously, and at times moves can be executed at the same time, too.  This keeps everyone involved nearly all the time.  Because of this, my son and I get in a game in about a half hour, even with each of us flying two planes.  Want to go again?  Resetting the game is a matter of reshuffling the damage decks and moving the planes back to a starting position.

Add your own complexity.  Wings of Glory can be played with very little complexity, or more as a simulation.  At it's most complex, there can be critical damage on a card (such as a fire), altitude, and limits on which maneuvers can be done in series (reflecting the aerobatic limits of the aircraft).   At its simplest, you move the planes and use just the points on the damage decks for firing.  This makes it a game for the hard core gamer, but also the under 10 years-old crowd - just add rules to taste.

Gaming communities.  There are Wings of Glory groups meeting in local clubs and online.  They share historical information, scenarios, playing aids, and the local (offline?) groups may have tournaments.  This can be a lifestyle game, like chess or Bridge.  Not only can this be fun, but that kind of community backing means the game will stay around.

This is my son's favorite game.  Okay, this is a very personal reason, but I have to go with it.  He will pick this over anything else.  I'm all for that!  One the other hand, maybe this is a good reason for everyone.  After all, he's 15 and playing this instead of some electronic twitch game.

Now, this game isn't really a game; it's really more of a game system.  First, you buy the rules, damage decks, and all of the things you need to play a game except the aircraft.  Those are sold separately.  Which aircraft you buy are entirely up to you.  They are sold individually, though there are some duel packs with one Allied plane and one German plane.  I would recommend the duel packs, since they are evenly matched aircraft.  Unless you know a little about WWI aircraft history, it would be possible to buy two planes individually and have one plane have a strong advantage.

This version of wings of war features
the Red Baron's Fokker Dr.I as a card
Their is another option.  Originally, Wings of Glory was published as Wings of War.  Their were three versions of Wings of War, and each was a complete game.  The difference between Wings of War and Wings of Glory is that the aircraft were represented by cards instead of miniature.  Multiple versions of each aircraft design are in a Wings of War box.  I have all three versions of this game, and as a result, I can put a lot of aircraft in the air - literally dozens.  That's an advantage, because I could play a game with a lot of friends.  (I know of one game with 80 players!)  Picking up one of these games is also a little more affordable, but not much.  They can be found on eBay.  However, the downside is that the Awesomeness Factor goes way down!  My son won't even consider playing this way.

Regardless of how you play this, it is and incredible amount of fun.  Once again it's a wargame, and won't appeal to everyone.  However, with its ability to be simplified, the large range in the number of players (one of my Wings of War versions is a solitaire game against observation balloons), and short play, I have to recommend this as a great family and casual game.

Wings of Glory
  • Any number of players
  • 30+ minutes (depending on the number of players)
  • ages 8+

It's Your Move!

Friday, July 5, 2013

July 2, 1863 - Battle Cry (A Review)

July 2, 1863 was the day the North nearly lost the American Civil War.  On that day, the South nearly turned the Union flank at Little Round Top, which would have compromised the whole Union position.  As many people know, thanks to famous scene in the movie Gettysburg, the feats of men like Joshua Chamberlain saved the North's position and turned the tide of the Civil War.

On July 4, 1863, Lee began his withdrawal.  One hundred fifty years later, my son and I sat down and replayed the events at Little Round Top, Devil's Den, and the surrounding area in the game Battle Cry.  The similarities and differences to history were interesting.  Both from a historical and gaming perspective, it made sense for me to take Little Round Top and attempt to turn the Union flank.  I focused on Devil's Den first, and paid for it.  The heaviest losses were suffered there for both sides.  At first, it looked like the Union (my son) was going to hold Devil's Den and use it as a base to advance, but my artillery and concentrated rifle fire were the source of the Union's heavy casualties.

At the same time, the Peach Orchard and the Wheatfield played only minor roles.  The Union actually crossed the Emmetsburg Road in front of the Peach Orchard, and assaulted the South's troops in the woods.  The casualties there were pretty high, too.

In the end, the Union won.

Battle Cry is a tactical wargame designed for two players to revisit Civil War battles.  It is the first of the Command & Colors system designed by Richard Borg, and is reputed to be the simplest of them.  Each side has troops which reflect the troops that actually participated in the historical battle.  On your turn, you will play a card from your hand that will determine what troops can be ordered.  Ordered troops may move or battle, and generally can do both.  The terrain of the battlefield impacts the ability to move and fire effectively, and shapes the way the game is played.  At the end of your turn you draw another card.  The goal is to eliminate six of your opponents army units or generals in combination.

Certainly, Battle Cry is light for a wargame; in general the wargame genre is characterized by several hours of very detailed interaction.  Don't get the idea that this is the Stratego or Broadside you had as a kid, or anything like the American Heritage game Battle-Cry. This game definitely gives some feel for the tactical decisions and frustrations that were faced in July of 1863.  I really enjoy Battle Cry, and it definitely fits in the family game closet.  Here's why:

Simplicity.  Many tactical games come closer to a simulation.  I like those too; they often deal with very specific issues for the battle they portray - supply, multiple types of weaponry, and many types of terrain.  Battle Cry has three types of units: infantry, cavalry and artillery.  They also toss in leaders.  There are only a few types of terrain, but enough to portray the battlefield in broad strokes and influence the course of the battle.  This simplicity means that it's easy to learn for children as well as casual gamers.  It also means that games last 45 minutes to an hour - much shorter than your average wargame.

Scenarios.  Battle Cry has a plain battlefield out of the box.  That is to say it models flat, open ground with a hexagonal pattern superimposed on it.  Terrain comes in the form of hexagonal tiles, which are set on the board to reproduce the actual battlefield.  There is a pretty good supply of terrain tiles, and the fact that they are placed means they can be moved around to simulate other battlefields.  In fact, the game comes with 15 different battle scenarios; each one is a historic battle of the Civil War.  There are two for Gettysburg: the one I described above, and a scenario for Pickett's Charge.  (We've played this one before and it was extremely close to the historical result; the South charged right up to the Union lines and was repulsed.)  There is a lot of replayability in the box.

Command and Control.  The use of cards to determine which troops will act in a turn adds a level of command complexity.  While you may know you want to take that hill, you may not have the card that allows you to move the nearby troops.  This reflects the frustration of the battlefield general who cannot get his troops to execute in a timely manner, if at all.  However, this is done so elegantly with the cards that it doesn't add to the game's complexity.

Confederate soldiers begin their march towards the Peach Orchard
Awesomeness. Often the units of a wargame are cardboard chits or wooden blocks.  Not this game.  This game comes with little army men in action poses, which are colored blue for the North and gray for the South.  I know I played with my cousin's army men for hours.  This is playing with army men with rules!  These figures are not just for show.  Taking figures off the board actually reflects a units losses.  A high Awesomeness Factor and functionality make this a great feature.

This is the new version of the game, available now.
(Promotional image)
I will admit this game is not for everyone.  Wargames will not appeal to all.  They do portray violence, though not in the same graphic detail that many video games do.  At the same time, I have had some great conversations about the nature of war and our nation's history as a result of playing these games.

The version I have is out of print, but a few years ago it was reprinted as a 150th Civil War Anniversary edition.  There are a few tweaks to the rules, but all-in-all it's the same game.  This game is a little more expensive than your normal hobby game, but given the contents and replayability, it is definitely worth it.  I highly recommend it.

It's Your Move!

Battle Cry
  • 2 players
  • 45 - 60 minutes
  • ages 10+
Recommended / Kid friendly

Monday, July 1, 2013

So, Frankly, why?

Why is this man blogging? We all know life can be pretty demanding.  We have to be at work, we volunteer time at church (or Scouts, or coaching or all of the above!).  We have to run kids around to their activities.  Somewhere in all of this we need to eat and sleep. 

And relax, right?

This blog is about how I relax.  Whether that’s my monthly, scheduled gaming group, camping for the weekend with Scouts, or just stealing a few moments out of the day for an online chess move, this is where I will talk about it.  Primarily it will be about boardgaming, and often about chess, but also about Scouting (and maybe coffee roasting at some point in time!).  Gaming is my main form of escapism; it takes a relatively short period of time and completely occupies the mind.  It is more social than many activities, though I do play the occasional solitaire game.  I plan to write about my playing experiences, and my adventures in teaching chess at the grade school level.   Occasionally I will provide a brief review of a game, and provide other musings of dubious quality.  Hopefully my enthusiasm will help people find more fun in the time they spend with their family and friends.  If not, I’ll still have fun.  

I am blogging for primarily two reasons:

I hope my enthusiasm will encourage more people to try boardgames.  Spending quality, interactive time with family and friends can be very challenging.  I will introduce games to those who have never played many games in the past, and have no idea how much fun they are missing.

I expect to showcase a wider variety of games to those who are already family or casual gamers.  There are over 60,000 games in the BoardGameGeek database, which includes everything from TicTacToe to The Civil War (a 20 hour, two player wargame covering the entire American Civil War) and beyond.  A great number of these provide new challenges which are approachable by kids of all ages, not just the hardcore hobbyist and not just games for children.  These games that have broader appeal are the ones that tend to line my gaming shelves.  (Just ignore that copy of Panzergruppe Guderian over there…)

What qualifies me to do this?  Absolutely nothing.  A few years ago, my son received Ticket to Ride as a gift, and my time loving games was reawakened.  I started to reenter the hobby, but had trouble crossing the valley between occasional gamer and hobbyist.  It is precisely because I am not a gaming guru that I might be able to help others.  While my family’s 300+ games are a pittance compared to others, it provides me with just enough knowledge to think I know what I am talking about, and can relate to those still getting started or just wanting to play casually.

Have fun reading this.  Ask questions, tell me what you want to hear, and help me make it better.  Your comments are welcome.

It's Your Move!

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

The Spice Must Flow... A Dune Review

I had one of the best gaming experiences of my life Sunday at our gaming group.  Many of the people in my gaming group are teachers, and a few are high school students like my son.  In deference to them, we avoid long games until the summer.  So, after five years of sitting on the shelf, I finally was able to get my copy of Dune to the table.

The 1979 Avalon Hill box cover
The game is based on my all-time favorite science fiction book of the same name, which should be required reading for everyone on the planet:
'Set in the far future amidst a feudal interstellar society in which noble houses, in control of individual planets, owe allegiance to the imperial House Corrino, Dune tells the story of young Paul Atreides, the heir apparent to Duke Leto Atreides as his family accepts control of the desert planet Arrakis, the only source of the "spice" melange. Melange is the most important and valuable substance in the universe, increasing Arrakis's value as a fief. The story explores the multi-layered interactions of politics, religion, ecology, technology, and human emotion, as the forces of the empire confront each other in a struggle for the control of Arrakis and its "spice".' [Wikipedia, "Dune (novel)"]
Knowing the book well isn't necessary, though a thorough familiarity with the story does increase your appreciation for what is happening in the game.  (I think I have read the book eight times through, so I was appreciating it after just reading the rules!)  Each of up to six players represent a different faction from the book, and use their troops and special abilities to gain control of the planet.

In our game, we had six players, so every faction was in the game.  Everyone took a different strategy, even as we were feeling our way around the rules and abilities.  The winner of the game is the person who controls three of five strongholds at the end of a turn.  However, The Spacing Guild, who transports things onto the planet from space, can win by making the game last 15 turns without anyone winning normally.  As a result, the Guild sat on a stronghold to wait out the game.  The noble houses of Atreides and Harkonnen started to head out into the sand to collect spice, which acts as the money in the game.  Eventually, so did the Fremen, the natives of the planet.  In the meantime, sandstorms were raging around the planet, killing troops caught out in the open sand and blowing away any spice where the storm passed.

There were some skirmishes over spice, but things didn't really start happening until the Emperor showed up on the planet.  He blew up the shield wall protecting the Atreides and Harkonnens from the storms, subsequently killing or stranding all of their troops.  With that, he formed an alliance with the Fremen and they swarmed over several of the strongholds.  With the alliance, they needed four strongholds to win the game, but the Harkonnens managed to take the home stronghold of the Fremen in retaliation. The game was saved for the moment, but the Emperor had two strongholds, the Fremen one, House Harkonnen one, with the last one empty.  With all his wealth, the Emperor could drop all of his remaining troops in the empty city, and the Fremen could strike over land.  The Atreides, Harkonnen and Guild players waited to see which hammer would fall.  Turn 9 was somewhat anti-climactic, with the Fremen moving first and taking Arrakeen, the capital city of the planet and last remaining stronghold.  The Fremen and Emperor reached across the table to shake hands.

Until I cleared my throat, reminding them of the my Bene Gesserit ability as master manipulators who have a very unique power in the game.  At the beginning of the game, the Bene Gesserit player chooses who they think will win on what turn.  For example, I might write down that the Fremen will win, say on turn 9...

That's when it became clear.  Of course I had been table talking along the way, encouraging the Harkonnen to save the game and avoid the loss on turn 8, and expressing my opinion on the best way for the alliance to win on turn 9!

I stole the win by predicting the winner and timing!

This is a great game, and I would feel that way even if I hadn't won.  What do I like best about this game?  A few things come immediately to mind:

The special abilities of the factions in the game are true to the book.  The Emperor is filthy rich, and can bide his time landing troops in one massive attack, just as in the book.  House Harkonnen has treachery as the basis for his strategy.  The Fremen understand the sandstorms and can use the giant sandworms for transportation.  The Bene Gesserit are manipulating all of the factions to their own ends.  Each player will find that a winning strategy is based on the unique abilities of their faction.

Alliances.  There are alliances in this game, but there is structure to them.  While someone could stab you in the back, they may never get a chance to actually do it.  You won't have the free-for-all that Diplomacy can be, but there is teaming and treachery.

Promotional image for the reimagined reprint
A unique combat system.  Combat is diceless; there isn't anything left to chance.  There is hidden information in what you will commit to the battle, so there are surprises.  The interesting part is that, even if you win, you are going to lose all the troops you committed (the loser takes total losses), so there is a critical decision point there.

The biggest problem with the game are that Dune is long and complex.  It certainly isn't going to appeal to everyone.  For that reason, I really can't recommend it for casual or family play.  However, this is probably going to make my top 10 after a few more plays.

Dune was originally published by Avalon Hill in 1979.  Rumors about a reprint circulated for years.  In the end, no one could get the literary license, but Fantasy Flight was able to get the rights to the game.  They rethemed the game to their Twilight Imperium 3 universe, calling it Rex: Final Days of an Empire.  It is currently available from Amazon or at your local gaming store.

Of course, if you want to play and your around Dayton, OH...

It's Your Move,

Monday, June 10, 2013

Why We Will Stay in Boy Scouts

First of all, let me tell you what you won’t find in this article: my opinion on whether or not BSA should have adopted their new policy about sexual orientation. The policy is adopted; that ship has sailed. The only question now is how each of us responds.

Instead, I am going to give you the three reasons why my son and I will stay in Boy Scouts now that the policy is being adopted. Not everyone will agree, and some have even stated that anyone keeping their son in BSA is an “unfit parent”. These are my reasons, and no one else's. Nonetheless, I hope to give people a reason to slow down and think before they just react.

Things will be the same now as it was a year ago.  There were gay boys in Scouting a year ago, and they have been successful young men in their Scouting careers. They make Eagle. They earn merit badges. They go on campouts with other boys. This all happens without incident. That will not  change, because the keeping one’s self morally straight has to do with activity, not orientation. The only difference now is that a boy’s orientation may be known, rather than kept secret. At the same time, I believe that the boys already know who is gay and who isn’t. They just aren’t telling the adults.

Ideology is left at the door.  At least in our troop, scouts and leaders do not espouse political or religious ideology as part of the Scouting experience.  The focus is on citizenship and leadership: principles that are universally accepted in this county.  Sexual ideology will be no different.  (We do expect the boys to be reverent, but without a preference for any religion or denomination.  "Reverence" also includes respect for the religious beliefs of others.)

Boys Scouts has so much to offer, that nothing compares. Boy Scouts of America offers a program that teaches leadership through adventure that will be very hard to match anywhere else. There will be parallel organizations that come to be; there already are. Will they have organized summer camp programs? Will they have a camp in the middle of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area? Will they have a Philmont? Will there be a national jamboree, which allows a boy to see thousands of other Scouts all living the same Scout Law and Scout Oath? More importantly, will they have the training infrastructure that not only turns boys into leaders and outdoorsmen, but also establishes safety policies (including youth protection policies) for the process?

This new policy may be a national policy, but it will be implemented at the local level.  The only time I have ever seen national BSA representatives inspecting for compliance on policy was at a council camp. (As I understand it, the camp was going to be a common overnight stop on the way to the new national camp, and the inspectors were making sure it would suffice.) The only time I have seen council representatives visit a troop is for Eagle Boards of Review or fundraising. By and large, troops operate independently, and are more influenced by their chartering organization (church, school or civic group). BSA adopting this new policy at the national level will have little impact on any one troop’s acceptance of gay boys.  If you are looking for a troop that doesn't accept gays, I am sure they will still be out there.  If you are looking for a "gay-friendly" troop, they will come to be. 

I may be wrong.  It may come to pass that BSA becomes an ideologically charged organization.  If that comes to pass, we will leave.  Understand, however, this will be true for any ideology that is sponsored - "conservative" or "liberal".  We are not in Scouting for morality lessons.  I have other means of accomplishing the moral teaching of my son, thank you.

In the end, the best way to make sure BSA is a good organization for your son is to get involved.  Get to know the boys and leaders who are going to be a part of your son's Scouting experience.  Scouting isn't for everyone.  You can leave if you or your son is uncomfortable.   

We're staying.

Friday, May 10, 2013

3 Great, Easy-to-Find Boardgames to Play on Your Patio this Summer

Last weekend I was camping with our Boy Scout Troop, enjoying some great weather and managing to play a few games.  (I was actually undefeated in three games of chess, three games of backgammon and three games of Hive - a very rare thing indeed!)  Playing outdoors is a lot of fun, but not every game can handle it. I wrote about this after the same campout two years ago, but with a focus on games good for camping.  This time, I want to talk about three excellent family games that could be played on a lazy Sunday afternoon right on your patio; games that would be easy to find.

The difference between a game good for camping, and a game that you would play on your patio, is the weather. When you're camping, you have to be prepared for any kind of weather that might come along. That limits your selection of games to those that could get wet. However, on a patio, you can wait until the weather is dry before you go out. That opens up some additional possibilities, like having an actual board in your boardgame. Another possibility would be having some tiles. Either boards or tiles will soak up some water if the surface is wet. You can avoid that on your patio. Additionally, a lot of picnic tables at campsites are not flat, but most peoples patio tables are fine. In fact, the only real environmental issue on a patio is the wind. So now that we understand why games good for camping are not necessarily good for the patio, let's move on to the actual games:
    • ScrabbleHere's our first case in point. Scrabble is a great game: a timeless classic. It does not work well as a camping game because it has a board which would soak up water if anything dropped on it, or was it laying on the table. However, on a patio, that's not an issue. Furthermore, this game's wooden tiles won't blow away in the wind. The best part about this game is that you probably have a copy laying around. Almost everyone knows how to play, or is at least somewhat familiar with its ideas. I know some people don't like Scrabble, because they don't feel their vocabulary keeps them very competitive . However, I wrote a whole article on approaching Scrabble as a strategic game, rather than a word game, and that will make anyone a winner...
    • Qwirkle.  Qwirkle can be thought of as Scrabble with colors and shapes. It has the opposite problem than Scrabble does though; it has no board.  It is therefore susceptible to unevenness in the playing surface. Picnic tables don't work well for this game. However with chunky blocks as the playing pieces, this game isn't going anywhere. Qwirkle was the Spiel des Jahres winner a couple of years ago, and that means it's a great game. This German award is given to the best new family game each year. My full review which can be found here.
    • Blokus.  The last game is Blokus. Blokus has a plastic board, so it cant get wet. Since its plastic, it's also rigid, and therefore doesn't care what service its all. It might think that this would make it a good game for camping, but some of the pieces a rather small and could be easily lost in the grass. This will be a great games to play with the little ones, it's fairly easy to understand and very colorful. I wrote about the entire family of Blokus games several years ago. 
    These are three great games for the family that will make a great afternoon or evening outdoors in the fresh air.  All of them are readily available at stores like Target, Wal-Mart and Barnes & Nobles.  None of them are terribly expensive, and the latter two are certainly playable by the under 10 crowd (probably down to about age five or six).  I've seen these games at all of those stores, as well as bigger grocery stores.  Barnes & Nobles stores are carrying more and more good games all the time.

    Bonus.  This brings me to my last point.  Speaking of B&N, I can't help but mention one other game that plays really well outside: Carcassonne.  This is another game without a board; you actually build the board by laying down tiles.  This game plays very well with anywhere from two to five players, and I just can't say enough about how good this game is.  This is one of the very few games I rate a 10/10 on BoardGameGeek, and I have played more than a few games.  At one point, we actually owned three copies, so we would have one for my wife and I each at work, as well as the one we keep at home.  I don't play games at work anymore, so that copy now belongs to a neighbor who loves it.

    Pick a warm night under the stars with a lantern and play.  Take an afternoon in the shade and have a blast.  In any case, everyone in the family will be a winner.

    It's Your Move,


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    Sunday, April 28, 2013

    Better Late Than Never

    Wow.  This has been a pretty different year.  Lots of things in my personal life have worked against my gaming, which is why I haven't posted as much.  Here's a quick recap.

    So far, I am on pace with last year.  In other words, I am having another bad year in terms of number of games played.  At this point in time last year, I had played 28 games of twelve different titles.  This year, I have played 27 games of 14 different titles - though seven of those games are a special case as you will see below.  It's amazing to me that I have dropped off that much.

    I have received a lot of fun by learning new games.  I have found that I learn a new game, and I am much better able to teach a new game, by playing the game through by myself with several players.  It's a sort of "multiplayer solitaire", but it's been good.  Of course, that's also kind of sad; I am getting the most gaming enjoyment from playing a game by myself.  Ugh.

    The good news is that the gaming group is managing to meet every month.  The group was very hit an miss last year.  Right now, we are hitting on all cylinders, and it looks like there isn't anything to get in the way this year.  That's great, because my gaming outside of the group is down.

    We also finally got the chess club started at the school.  With only a month left, there was some question as to whether or not it was worth doing, but the kids really wanted it.  We are just going to play, and not give much formal instruction.  I played seven of the kids at once this past Wednesday, which is what I was referring to above.  So instruction will be on an individual basis, as I point things out to the kids as they play. 

    We are going to try something different this year.  I play a lot of chess on, which is a great site.  (My number of plays doesn't include online chess games.)  They have an associated website for kids, on which parents and coaches can control the amount of contact their kids have.  I will be introducing it to the parents, so that the kids can continue to play over the summer with each other, and with me.  I will be able to comment and keep track of their progress.  If I can keep them playing, I will.

    It's their move!

    Tuesday, March 26, 2013

    Catching Up

    Well, it's been almost two months since I have posted to this blog. It's been busy around the house and at work, and I haven't gotten to play as much as I would like. That said, we did get in our February and March game group sessions.

    In February, we brought out an old favorite, Acquire, and had a blast playing it. That's one game that I will never get tired of. Since that game takes about 90 minutes, it took the majority of our time, and the only other game we were able to play was King of Tokyo. So there's no game to review from the February session, we played good old favorites.

    On St. Patrick's Day, we played medieval themed games. I actually have a game related to Ireland, Hibernia, which is also medieval. However, we didn't end up playing it. The Irish ambiance was limited to the food and drink: corned beef and cabbage with beer. We started the afternoon with Dominion, and played a couple rounds of that. The new game was Rheinländer, an area control game like China, but Rheinländer is not quite as complicated and actually plays better with a larger number of people. We played with four players, although one of us had to leave before the game was over. We just left his pieces on the board as obstacles. Not only would the game have been better had the fourth person stayed, but it really could have used a fifth player.

    I intend to catch up on reviews now; hopefully I can do that soon. In the meantime, you can check the existing reviews for some of the games we played over the last couple of months. And you can take some time to play some great games.

    It's Your Move!

    Tuesday, February 5, 2013

    Review of China

    In our last monthly gaming session, the I managed to get a couple of new games to the table: King of Tokyo and China.  As I said in my review, the former is a great family/casual game.  The latter is on the edge.  Since I gave it a 9/10, and also because it seems to be on sale right now for almost half price at online retailers like Thoughthammer and FunAgain, I should let you be the judge.

    China is the brainchild of Michael Schacht, the German game designer that also gave us Zooloretto.  Over the course of a 45 minute game, each player attempts to gain control of different territories and roads in ancient China.  At the same time, players try to form alliances between other territories that may not be under their control.  In the end, the person with the most territorial control and influence becomes the new Emperor of China!

    Or not.

    This game is a European style game.  Like many games of this style, determining the winner is accomplished by counting Victory Points.  The player with the most VPs wins.  Many European style games, like China, have very little connection between the theme or storyline of the game and the gameplay.  In fact, there is another version of this game which uses a European map called Web of PowerIn China, the primary mechanism is called Area Control/Influence.  Specifically, you are trying to get more pieces in the various spaces than the other players.  There is no direct confrontation, such as in Risk.  It's not possible to eliminate other players or their pieces.

    On his or her turn, a player will have a hand of three colored cards.  (Cards have not values.)  They use these cards to place pieces according to a simple 1-2-3 rule:  in 1 territory, a player can place 2 pieces using their 3 cards.  For each piece placed, the card must match the color of the territory played into, though two matching color cards can be substituted for one card of any color.  (If I have a green card and two yellow cards, I have two options.  I can play two pieces into a yellow territory using the two yellow cards, or I can play two pieces into a green territory, using the green card for one and using the two yellow cards as a green card for the second piece.  If I have green, yellow and purple, I could play one piece into any one territory of those colors, but that's all.)  Pieces consist of houses, ambassadors and fortresses (in the advanced game).  Houses are played onto house spaces, which set on roads, with one house per space.  Ambassadors are played onto the "dragon space", which doesn't have a fixed amount of room.  However, the total number of ambassadors in a territory cannot exceed the total number of houses in play in that territory.  That's it!  You've just learned 90% of the rules.  The hard part is the scoring.

    Image by Chris Norwood
    Scoring China is a little complicated because some of the score is relative.   I will leave out fortresses in this review.  There are two ways houses score points.  The first is that they score 1 point for each house that is part of a string of at least four houses along a road.  That's pretty straight forward.  There are a fixed number of house spaces in each territory.  The person with the most houses in a territory gets 1 point for each house in play in that territory.  The person with the second most number of houses get 1 point for each house that the player with the most houses has in play.  The player with the third most houses gets 1 point for each house the player with the second most houses has in play, and so on.  (For example, if Adam has 4 houses, Bonnie has 3 houses and Carl has one, the scoring comes out like this:  Adam gets 8 points since 4+3+1=8.  Bonnie gets 4 points for Adam's four houses, and Carl gets 3 points for Bonnie's three houses.)  This forms one of the basic strategies:  how hard to I try to control something, since putting more houses down only gives someone else points unless I manage to have the most.  Ambassadors score by a simple majority, however, I must have the majority of ambassadors in two adjacent territories to score points.  Add to that the fact that the total number of ambassadors is limited by the total number of houses in the territory at any given moment, and timing comes into play.  The tension between these two different area influence scoring systems is where the fun is!

    As you can probably tell, this game is a little "thinky".  Depending on your gaming style, that is either good or bad.  As you can tell by my rating, I like games that require thought (have I mentioned Chess recently?), particularly if the rules are simple.  China's rules are simple; once you play the game through the first scoring, it will all be crystal clear.  The rulebook does a far better job explaining than I did.  (But then, Mr. Schacht takes a little more room to explain the game than I did.)  If it does suit your style, this would be a great game for casual play, or for family play with older children.  It might be tough for the 10 and under crowd.

    As I said, the game seems to be on sale right now in the US.  That's probably because the US publisher has been out of business for a few years now, and online stores are dumping the last of their stock.  At roughly $20 USD, this is a great buy if it appeals to you.

                    Ages:                    12 and up
                    Time:                     45 minutes
                    Players:                 3-5

     If you like games that require some thinking, otherwise no.

    It's Your Move!

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    Wednesday, January 30, 2013

    King of Fillers: A King of Tokyo Review

    We normally don’t play many fillers in our gaming group.  For the most part, we know each other well enough that we spend time catching up before we start playing.  I have been trying to curtail that, since we have plenty of time while gaming to catch up, and we are trying to limit the session to four hours.  A couple of weeks ago we had a couple of people running late, so a filler was in order.  King of Tokyo was what made it to the table, since it met the player count and wasn’t too long.  Did we like it?  Well, we finished with it too…

    Promotional Image
    King of Tokyo is meant to be a light game where each player takes on the role of a giant monster attacking Tokyo.  There is light-hearted, tongue-in-cheek humor which is evident from the moment players start selecting their monsters from the pool consisting of Meka-Dragon, Cyber Bunny and Alienoid.  During the course of the game, each monster will gain special powers, helping them defeat the other monsters (by doing damage) or lay waste to Tokyo (by gaining victory points).  Players win by either gaining 20 victory points or by eliminating all other monsters.

    Here’s the thumbnail version of the rules.  On their turn, each player picks up a handful of dice and rolls them Yahtzee-style.  Each die has six sides with the same faces: the numbers 1, 2 and 3 as well as a claw, a heart and a lightning bolt.  The dice are rolled up to three times, with the player selecting which dice to keep and which to re-roll each time.   Rolling three numbers of a kind awards that many victory points.  In other words, rolling three 1’s gives 1 victory point; rolling three 2’s gives 2 victory points.  Rolling a claw is an attack, rolling a heart heals, and rolling a lightning bolt awards the player with an energy cube.  Energy cubes are the currency of the game, and are used to buy cards that give the special abilities mentioned before.  Players outside of Tokyo damage the one player inside the city (two in a five or six player game), and vice versa.  I won’t go into details on how one gets to Tokyo.  Suffice it to say that being in the city is a higher risk / higher reward position, and there are ways to force people into Tokyo.

    I won with Alienoid in the first game, but he let me down
    in the second! (Image by Raiko Puust)
    This is a GREAT game!  In the first game, I won by being the last monster standing.  I had the chance to move into Tokyo on a turn late in the game.  On my next turn, I played an “Air Strike” card which dealt everyone – including me – three points of damage.  I then rolled four claws, doing damage to everyone outside the city and eliminating them all!  Since it was a six player game, it was just between myself and the other player inside Tokyo.  A couple of turns later there was a showdown and I barely won.

    The second game lasted a little longer, and resulted in a victory point win for one of the other members of the group.  On one hand, this was a little less climactic, since only two people were eliminated (including me).  On the other hand, a longer game allowed more special powers to be put in play, and there’s some drama and humor to be gained that way, so it was just as fun!  Cards with titles such as, “We’re Only Making It STRONGER!”, this game begs to be played in your best B-grade creature feature voice.  In fact, part of the fun (at least for me) is going over the top with this.

    The cards add special powers to the monsters, not to mention some corny humor!  (Image by Raiko Puust)
      At a half hour play time, this game has that in-between playing time that is a little long for a filler, and a little short for a full experience.  It’s kind of like getting loaded baked potatoes for an appetizer; should I stop here or order more food?  I am also not sure how well this will do with kids.  The theme is perfect for them, and they will easily be taught the rules.  However, being forced into Tokyo and then having everyone whomp on you just might be a little traumatic for some younger children.  I’ll still call it a good kids’ game, because I believe a typical 8 – 10 year old will be past that point.

    The only other issue with this game might be finding a copy!  You will either have to go online or find a local gaming store to purchase it.  Do yourself a favor and find a way to get it!  When I recommended this on my 2012 Gift Buying Guide, I hadn't played it.  I based the recommendation on the games reputation, and it has more than lived up to it!  This is a great game that will be fun for many gatherings.  It will play well in both casual groups and in family groups across generations.  I plan to make it available at all of our game group sessions for quite a while, since it was a big hit with nearly everyone. 

    King of Tokyo
                    Ages:                    8 and up
                    Time:                     30 minutes
                    Players:                 2-6 (but I think it really needs at least three)

    It’s Your Move

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