Tuesday, July 19, 2016


It is fun to build a landscape even if you aren't actually playing

Carcassonne is a historically important game if for no other reason than it coined the term “meeple” for little game-piece people.  It was also one of the first modern Euros we played.  Becky bought it for me along with a number of expansions*.  Then we realized that not all expansions make games better.  

*those 8 days of Hanukkah add up


Rio Grande (Newish Edition Z-Man)


Klaus Jurgen Wrede

Elevator Pitch:

You lay down tiles in a communal landscape and try to gain and maintain control of and finish cities, roads, cloisters and farms.

Personal Impression:

I don’t have particularly strong feeling on Carcassonne.  I’m happy enough to play but it usually isn’t my top choice.  Adding more tiles makes things more interesting, but lengthens game play.  It is fun to go back and forth for control or of a board section or draw that perfect tile, but it can also be frustrating to be blocked or stuck.  Often I care as much about making the scenery look pretty then winning the game.

Good for People who Grew up Playing with

Jigsaw Puzzles
Ease of Learning:

Each turn in Carcassonne is simple.  You draw one tile and then place it in a legal location.  Since you are taking the action publically other players can even help you in determining where you can and should place it.  The difficulty in the game revolves around how to protect your territories and hoard in on those of other players, as well as some rule quirks like farmer scoring.

Fidgety Index

You can stack your meeples, though there are not enough of them to do anything too interesting.

Universal Theme:

Theme is pretty strong here as you can see your countryside take shape.

Player Count and Length:

2-5. Expansion adds option of 6 players.  Works fine with all counts, though there can be a lot of downtime at higher player counts.  To speed things up, consider drawing tiles at the end of a turn instead of the beginning.  The base game can be played in 45 minutes, but it can be much longer with expansions mixed in.


Carcassonne, as one of those rare games that made oodles of cash, has a large number of expansions and spin offs.

Inns and Cathedrals:  Adds ways to double down on roads, cities, and farms, a 6th player, and a super meeple along with some interesting new tiles.  It adds a lot life to the base game and is well worth getting.

Traders and Builders: Gives bonuses for finishing structures and allows double turns creating alternate incentives for gaining points..  The 2nd and final must own expansion.

Princess and Dragon fundamentally changes the game into an aggressive chaotic mess.  

The Tower gives a nice visual, but it similarly disrupts play in a way that ruins the game’s original charm.

The Abbey and Manor in a collection of mechanics that add new ways to score.  It doesn’t ruin the game unlike the previous couple of expansions, but it doesn’t add much either.

Catapult is... um... a well named expansion.  You use a catapult to, I don’t know, does it really matter?  This has become the gaming equivalent of jumping the shark.

Bridges, Castles & Bazaars and Hills & Sheep are the newest two large expansions.  I haven't tried them, but don’t have great confidence for ideas that were behind catapult in the pecking order.

There are also more than a dozen mini expansions.  Some of them have cool pieces, but none are essential except for the rivers, if your base game comes without it.

Spin Offs:

Hunters and Gatherers adds an animal theme and eliminates the complex farmer rules of the game.  It’s many people’s preferred way of playing Carcassonne.

Ark of the Covenant is good if you want be both a gamer and a good Christian.

The Castle offers an interesting 2 player only variant.  Plus Castle!

The City is the coolest looking version of a game adding city walls to the festivities.

Cardcassonne is a card version of the game.

Kids of Carcassonne is an intro scenario for children

The Discovery, New World, South Seas, Gold Rush, Wheel of Fortune, and Over Hill and Dale are additional spin-offs that change a feature or two, and that is all I have to say about them.

Star Wars Carcassonne is a thing that exists.  Really.  It simplifies farmer rules and adds some combat.

Introducing the Game to New Gamers: 

Consider playing without the farmer rules.  Try to share a small city with an opponent to show how it works, but don’t aggressively block or steal a large feature.


At $10, Carcassonne is one of the more expensive board game apps.  It is also perhaps the best built app and well worthy of the price.  The game features intuitive controls, exceptional  AIs, a fascinating solo game puzzle, pass and play and online play.  There are also options to buy add-ons for the first few expansions.


Monday, July 11, 2016

Top Ten Disappointing Games

There are games that you expect to be bad and live up to those expectations.  Exploding Kittens is a hideous use of cardboard, but I could at least enjoy the pain of others as everyone tried desperately to lose first.  There are other games that are generally considered good, but aren't the type of games I like, such as Race for Galaxy or Power Grid.  The frustrating ones are the ones I expect to enjoy, but fall flat.  Onward to the negativity in no particular order.


Past me, a person who was halfway into this game, was a big fan.  It had exploration, a tech tree, civ based special powers, and 4 distinct paths to victory.  Then we reached the end game, where two colluding players and a stupid rock paper scissors combat system destroyed my hard built empire.  I gave the game a 2nd try at 2 players, but it ended in an equally aggravating fashion.  The combat system is bad enough that an expansion completely replaced it, but I don't imagine I'll give this a third try.

Steam Park

A game I bought on sale due to a cool theme -- building an amusement park, and mostly positive reviews, but it failed before it was even ready to play! The pieces were such poor quality, an x-acto knife was necessary to separate them from their moorings.  Even the theme was disappointing, as it turns out you are building a theme park for Robots.  Mainly though, the game was just dull.  I cared so little about what other players were doing on their turns that I found myself wandering away from the game to see what else was going on.

Kingdom Builder

Kingdom Builder was Donald Vaccarino's attempt to be known as a Game Designer rather than The Dominion Designer.  Well it turns out I'm more of a Dominion fan than a Donald Vaccarino fan. Like many on this list, Kingdom Builder was just boring.  You get to do so little on your turn, and often it was obvious what to do.


Trajan, at the time, was the top rated game by my favorite designer, so the odds were I was going to like this one.  Sometimes you roll snake eyes though.  The game revolved around a Mancala inspired mechanic that allowed you to play a series of mini-games. It was trivial to manipulate ones pieces in the Mancala section to take whatever action you wanted.  It didn't matter though as all the actions were uninspired, tedious, and disconnected.  For people who do not like Stephen Feld games, this must be what playing one of them feels like.  They still are mostly wrong, just not on this one.

Stone Age: Style is the New Goal

This expansion for Stone Age strives to add complexity to a simple game, but the additions undo the simple elegance of the original version.  In Stone Age,  one of the key decisions is to pick which resources to get, but the new trading mechanic makes it meaningless.  The other editions were either unbalanced or uninteresting.  I was hoping that Style would add life to a game I'd grown a little bored with, but it utterly failed on all accounts.

Catan Trails to Rails

A Catan spin-off with a cool looking map.  Sadly it missed much of what made the original great, like exponential growth and multiple paths to victory.  The game was repetitive and went on well past its welcome as each player did slight variations of the same thing.  There was a time where I wanted to own every Catan game, but I have seen a number of duds over the year, none more so than this one.

Great Snowball Battle:

I don't fund a lot of Kickstarters, but I couldn't resist one with a snowball fight theme.  The artwork and card names are cute, but it couldn't overcome terribly designed game mechanics.  Players ganged up on an unlucky participant or the game falls into an endless loop of attacking and running for cover.  I was tempted to try to redesign the game completely, as I do still love the theme, but I'm lazy, so I traded it away instead.


Marketed as Tichu for 2-3 players, I was automatically intrigued.  It lost me quickly by giving players 3 wild cards every hand, resulting in a game that is based much more in short term tactical advantage and repetition than its predecessor.

Nations Dice Game

Nations is a neat game.  Nations the Dice Game takes nothing from the original beyond the name and symbolism.  Most purchases are similar and way too often you have dice that you can do nothing with.

Labyrinth The War on Terror

From a designer of Twilight Struggle, it is the first attempt to game-ify modern conflicts.   Sadly, it fails to capture what makes Twilight Struggle great.  While TS had two opponents battling back and forth, in Labyrinth the two sides feel disconnected.  More problematically,  while TS has lots of die rolls that allow luck to balance out, Labyrinth has a few crucially important ones.  Either the bomb goes off and you win or it fails and you don't, which is way too big a swing for one roll.

Dishonorable mention

Founding Fathers: Squarely in the cool theme, poor execution category.

Troyes: I didn't think I could dislike a dice game quite this much.

VS System: I enjoyed the CCG,  so was hopeful for a streamlined version, but it streamlined away the good parts.

Bananagrams: I am a big fan of both word games and bananas, so I had high hopes for this one.  I like making cool words though, and Bananagrams doesn't care as long as you do it fast.

Quarriers:  Dominion with dice.  The randomness of dice rolling added to the randomness of picking dice from a bag, made planning utterly pointless. 

Monday, July 4, 2016

What I've Been Playing: May & June

A not untypical turn in Dominion Empires

PitchCar is a game involving flicking a disk around a race track.  The flicking part I can handle, but keeping it on the track is not my strong suit.  The last time I played, I finished well behind the people who showed up 20 minutes late, and that is for generous values of finished.  The host setup the track in advance and was excited to play the game again, but mostly excited to watch me play again.  I showed up late, but not quite late enough to avoid playing.

I went first, the advantage of being terrible, and flew off a side railing.  My 2nd attempt was much better; I got slightly farther before sailing into the abyss.  Other players slowly made it around the track and towards a large ramp in the middle, while my token remained directionally challenged.  Finally, with a clear track in front of me, I managed it to the next section. The next few flicks weren't great, but I made forward progress.  Meanwhile most of the other player were having trouble getting over the ramp, knocking into each other and falling off repeatedly.  I reached the base of the hill with only two players having surpassed it.  Amazingly, I made it to the top of the ramp on my first shot.  Going down the other side took a little longer, but the people in front of me were going slowly, and the ones behind me were still stuck.  I made it around the final turns and into the final straightaway while others still struggled.  I centered myself with a short flick and then sailed over the final railing to land on the edge of the track with half my token hovering over nothing.   I finished an astonishing 2nd, just ahead of the person who played the whole game while holding a baby.  It may have been my greatest gaming achievement.
QuarterMaster General,

A 90 minute, 6 player, World War two game, where players team up as the Allies and Axis.  The 90 minute time-frame makes it much more playable than most Axis vs Allies type games, but it did lose something in the distillation.  You can only play 1 card a turn, so often you are going back and forth with an opponent without making any progress.  For particular players, you can even get stuck with little to do on your turns.  Given the positive reviews, I'd try it again, but I wasn't especially enamored with it.

Millenium Blades:

A game that was designed to feel like collecting a collectible card game without the need to take out a second mortgage.  Players buy packs (the game uses stacks of money for individual bills which is great), and build decks and collections to compete in in-game tournaments.  For better or worse, it captures that feel very much, both in the excitement and frustrations.  Despite the happy nostalgia, the game overall though felt long and overwhelming, with players receiving too many cards to be able to analyze them all.  More problematic was that the in-game tournaments were dull and lacked complex decisions or interactions.  Making cool decks isn't that much fun if you don't care about the deck you are making.  Like many Kickstarter games, the concept was great, but the execution needs some work.

Dominion Empires:

The 10th Dominion expansion, and the 2nd one after the "last" expansion, is every bit as good as its predecessors.   The set features a number of new and expanded concepts such as events, landmark cards (items that give/take away points for achieving certain things), gathering cards (cards that collect victory tokens), and debt (getting cards and paying for them later).  The quality of the game components are as good as they have ever been, with heavy and shiny new victory and debt tokens.

As with other recent sets, I hosted a tournament to get to play a bunch of games with recommended sets.   9 people came, which is a nice number for such things.  I enjoyed how the new cards changed player goals turning normal Dominion decision making on its head.  Alas I fell short in the tourney, needing 1 more copper to win a decisive qualifying match.  We did get our fifth different tournament winner in five tries, which is neat.   I have played a number of games of it since with my wife who is a big fan of the set.   She has built super-turns from cards such as the Villa (a card in the village family that allows a player to jump back to the action phase from the buying one.) and Royal Blacksmith (A debt card that lets you draw 5 cards and requires discarding coppers).  She has won a number of these games quite handily, but I did heroically buy the last two provinces and a duchy in one such contest to lose 63-32.


Jaipur is a popular two player card game where players buy, sell, and trade gems and camels.  I played it first online and enjoyed having simple turns that still had multiple compelling options.  I bought a copy in a game store in my wife's hometown though that was partially to support a neat looking store while getting something that would fit in a suitcase.  I still haven't figured how much of the game is skill vs luck, but I'm curious to keep exploring.  My initial opponents were not as enamored with the game though, so I might have some difficulty finding opponents.

Above and Below:

I wanted to try Above and Below mostly because it looked pretty.  And pretty it was, though it could have used clearer visuals to distinguish between different types of cards.  The game combines an action selection game with a story telling one.  Players can explore the "below" which result in mini choose your own adventure style adventuring.  The game had some interesting concepts and fun stories, but ultimately lacked focus and ended before much could be accomplished.  For example, there was a nice tension between using common resources early to get money, or saving them for later to maximize points, but you got so few resources until the end that it didn't matter all that much.  The stories were amusing but repetitive, always having similar requirements and rewards.


Days of Wonder's latest production is a light-ish tile laying game where players draft tiles and place them in a tableau, scoring points for getting combinations of buildings together.  At times drafting choices were severely limited or unimportant, while at other points players were overwhelmed with information.  Compared to Between Two Cities, it had more interesting scoring rules, but was slower and accommodated less players.   I'd be interested in trying how the advance rules changed the dynamics of the game.