Monday, May 15, 2017

Granite Games.

Granite Games, a local gaming convention in New Hampshire, is a young semi-annual affair attempting to expand to three days.  I went on Friday and Sunday, which with a plethora of empty space were definitely the slower days to be there, but still a solid selection of available games I wanted to try.  There were various activities for play-testers or people who wanted to win games, but mostly I just played games with people I knew.   With Unity Games seemingly defunct, it’s nice to see a new entity possibly take its place.

On to the games: 

Baseball Highlights 2045:
         I’d wanted to try this game for awhile, and though we played with 3 players, which isn’t an ideal player count, for baseball or this game, it served its purpose of teaching me the basic rules and mechanics.   It had a rock-paper-scissors-lizard-spock feel to it, where every card was counteracted by another card.  It had some cute aspects like using first/last names of different famous baseball players, but ultimately, I wasn’t overly enamored with it.    We only played some practice games, so I could see a full tournament with a proper player count being more fulfilling.  Ultimately though, I think though I’m too big a baseball fan to fully enjoy a baseball game built for non-fans.    

Spector OPS

Spector OPS is a hidden movement game where one player is trying to complete objectives, and the other players are trying to locate and stop him.  I’m usually not a big fan of these type of games as I find them to be fiddly and stressful.  Spector OPS wasn’t bad though as it had simple rules and a nice pace. It wasn’t perfect, the steampunk art left the board difficult to interpret, and there were a few too many turns were the optimal play was to do nothing, but I’d play it again given the chance.


A gorgeous game with a sparkling box and boards along with shimmering dice.  The game itself is simple but elegant, players draft dice from a common pool in order create a stained glass masterpiece.  There are various placement restrictions and rewards, but it was all pretty straightforward.  An excellent filler that may very well end up in my collection.


I didn’t want to play High Frontier, despite an admittedly beautiful enormous board, so I wandered around to see what other people were playing.  Which, as it turned out, was not much of interest, so I picked up Luna.  Luna was a holy grail game for me, the last classic Feld game I hadn’t played.    I attempted to learn the rules from reading the rulebook for solo play, then taught a 2nd player when they game along and two more after that who sat down right before we were about to begin.  As it turns out, going through the rules thrice was a great way to understand them.
  The game definitely felt Feldian with hallmarks like lots of actions featured, a smaller subset of actions useable at any specific time, oodles of ways to score, a player order wall, and a way to lose points.   Unsurprisingly, I liked it a lot.  There were lots of things to do, but not many novices (this game’s name for workers) or much time to do it.  So, you had fascinating decisions every turn.  Do you go for points now, or move your guys in better position for future turns?  Do you expand your populations or focus on going up the turn order track?  Do you rush the turn end or hope to you have time for an elaborate plan?  There is no hidden information or randomness, so you can plan ahead, but other players’ actions can be disruptive.  Not everything worked, the area control thing was weird and out of place, but mostly it was another fun intricate design that I look forward playing more. 


Defender of the Realm

I was excited to play Defenders, up until we passed out the role cards which featured clever character names like "paladin" and "wizard."  The location names were equally generic, featuring two word mad-libs of fantasy-esque terms like Monarch City and Orc Valley.  Throw in awful graphic design choices like blowup circles everywhere, and the liberal use of the Comic Sans font, and we were frustrated all game finding locations.  Still it is a Pandemic spin-off, so the gameplay had to be good right?  Alas no, it replaced a tightly designed puzzle with a random dice-fest.  Want to kill some enemies?  Better roll well.  Confronting a big bad? Got to hope the enemy doesn't randomly move before everyone can get these.   By the end I was actively taking strategies to ensure we won or lost quickly.  It was a terrible game and an even worse depiction of fantasy. 


I think I really should accept that I’m just not going to like any Carl Chudyk game.  I find them fiddly, unbalanced, and unintuitive.  This game was no exception.   Even when we played the game correctly, it felt like we were understanding the rules wrong.  There were concepts that just didn’t seem to work and cards that broke the game.   I won the game and haven’t a clue as to how, other than drawing a lot of cards on the last turn.     I like clean logical designs and nothing about Mottainai fits that description.

Hero Realms:

                A spinoff of Star Realms, it is basically the same game with a fantasy theme and a few more complex complements.  With unique decks and more complex cards, Hero Realms definitely had tougher decisions than its predecessor.  This was mostly good, particularly in the later game, but did cause the game to slow down, whereas Star Realms usually can be played on autopilot.  Thus my only concern is if the lack of simplicity will eliminate some of the charm from Star Realms, but will have to play it more to see.  We did play with a 3 player variant, which worked surprisingly well given the general 1 on 1 nature of the game.


Warhammer Quest Adventure Card Game
A campaign game with a similar feel to other Fantasy Flight LCGs like LOTR.  Each player only has four action choice, but there were plenty of tough decisions of when to help teammates, when to heal, when to attack, and when to explore.  The game was also well balanced, as we beat the mission, but it was extremely dicey and not all of us survived.  I feel like if it had a theme that I was more interested in than Warhammer, I could get really into it.

Terraforming Mars:

My 2nd play of the game, and I enjoyed it again despite not playing as Thor this time.  The game is highly thematic as you work to make Mars habitable.  The happy and mostly silly rendition of an environmental theme is a nice change of pace.  The gameplay features a fun collection of Euro Mechanics as you build up a nice personal economy.  Your strategy is built around what cards you draw, but there was almost always fun stuff to do.  Mars isn’t perfect with a dull main board and some definite balance issues.  The biggest problem though is the presence of take that attack cards.  There aren’t many of them, but a well timed one can swing the balance of power in the game and be totally frustrating to the victim whose plans can be crushed.  Still, there easy enough to ignore, so I’d happily play without them.  I also would be curious to try the drafting variant at some point.  



We needed a filler to end the convention with and this seemed to fit.  The game was fine, if unspectacular, a game worthy of playing, but probably not needing further exploration.  You play colored tiles in a line scrabble style, and then draw 5 minus the titles played.  Most decisions were pretty basic, with the only real questions of whether you want to play the moderately scoring tiles or save them and draw more.


Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Top 100 Games (26-50)

26. Nations

Like Through the Ages, Nations is an epic civ game that spans millennia. However, Nations is far more tactical than its cousin. For example, it is much cheaper to move workers between different roles, so I end up with very indecisive workers while I stall for time.
27. Wit and Wagers

My favorite trivia game, mostly because it doesn’t require you to know anything.

28. Summoner Wars

A 2 player miniature game that uses cards for miniatures.  Lots of diversity between decks gives each faction a very different feel.

29. Amerigo

Feld + Cube Tower = Win

30. Linko

A fun set-collection card game where the end-of-game rushes up unexpectedly.   If you finish with a positive score, you didn’t do too badly.

31. Patchwork

Another excellent two player game involving buying tetris shaped patches and placing them on a grid.  Despite its simple rules and quick game play, there are lots of competing elements that lead to difficult decisions.

32. Nefertiti

One of those games I really like while playing, and completely forget everything about the game an hour later.

33. Scrabble

Yeah I wish that not every 2 letter combination was a word, but I still enjoy it.

34. Merkator

A game of completing increasingly difficult orders.  Can drag a little bit, but lots of senses of achievement throughout.

35. Fits

Tetris the board game  The official and unofficial expansions give it nice variety, though some are overwhelming.

36. 10 Days

The perfect filler.  Plus I now know where all those small eastern Europe countries are.

37. Ticket to Ride Family

There have been a couple duds, I’m not overly fond of the UK map for example, but for the most part the Ticket to Ride Family has been consistently good.  It is difficult to pick a favorite, but I’ll go with the Nordic Map, if for no reason other than the exquisite snow-capped train cards.

38. Shogun/Wallenstein

Did I mention I love cube towers?

39. Resistance

Don’t play it much since it is best with 7+ and requires everyone to enjoy this type of game, but has had some of my most memorable game moments.

40. Lords of Waterdeep

Nothing spectacular or particularly innovative, but still an enjoyable D & D themed worker placement game.

41. Mu

A tricky five player trick taking game with rotating partners  Hard to grasp, especially the bidding element, but shifting loyalties makes for some intriguing relationships.
42. Bohnanza

The absolutely positively best game about planting beans.

43. Crokinole

A dexterity game on a large wooden board.   You can make some amazing shots, occasionally even on purpose.

44. Planet Steam

A weird steam punk themed economic game which, at least in its original form, came in the most oversized box that you will ever see.  However, it handles market fluctuations really well, so i can forgive it some eccentricities.

45. Star Realms

A quick mostly two player deck building game.  It hits the right spot of difficulty and speed to be a perfect phone app.

46. Fairy Tale

A drafting, game where you are making a story.  It is not quite as thematic as it could be, but making combos and blocking opponents allows for some agonizing decisions.

47. Battleline

A two player game where you are battling your opponent along nine fronts to get the best Poker hands.  Trying to plan your battles involves a lot of math and a lot of really hoping you draw that card you need later on.  

48. For Sale

A simple auction game that shifts into a new game halfway in.  Simple and fast, yet always tough to figure out just what to bid.

49. Alhambra

A game that almost always goes over well given its simple rules and the walled city you get to lay out in front of you.

50. Vasca De Gama

Another worker placement with a generic exploration theme, but I like that type of game, and Vasca is a particularly good one.  It does have some unique mechanics, such as its turn order bidding and sailing systems, which help it stand out.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Top 100 Games (1-25)

1. Dominion:

The game responsible for much of my gaming circle and thousands of played games.  This year has had its issues, but I can now happily play Dominion Online again, so it’s not all bad.

2. Codenames:

If you find me on some interstate transportation, I probably had Codenames with me.  Just a great simple amusing game for nearly any group.

3.  Through the Ages: A New Story of Civilization:

The new version fixed this game, which is pretty impressive given how good this game already was.  An epic that feels like you are telling a story about the rise and fall of empires.

4. Splendor:

Our go to phone app game.  I’ve played Splendor many times and feel like I’m very good at it.  There are highly competitive players that have a completely divergent strategy from mine.  That is amazing for so simple a game.

5. Tichu:

It doesn’t get played as much as it used to, but still my go to partner game.  Just filled with incredible absurd moments that are talked about long after.

6. Mage Knight:

I just bought an expansion for this game despite almost never getting to play the base game.  This is how much I like Mage Knight.  It is a many hour slog, even with two, but oh what a fun slog is. Anyone want to play?

7. Twilight Struggle:

The game that fixed war games for me, despite not being a war game.  Fighting a war by proxy throughout all the regions of the world is just fascinating.

8. Macao:

My favorite Feld with lots of dice rolls, four billion cubes, and incredibly satisfying super turns.

9. Castles of Mad King Ludwig:/ 10. Suburbia:

Two similar games designed by Ted Alspach with different strengths.  Castles is much more streamlined and results in having a castle built, maybe even with a Cheese Room.  Suburbia tiles are individually thematic, and it is the more strategic affair.  Both great and often flip in my personal ordering.

11. Keyflower: 

Accomplishes the task of giving players lots of options without overwhelming them.  It has a unique auction/worker replacement combo that feels very different from game to game.

12. Pandemic Family:

Pandemic is a satisfying puzzle game that was my favorite co-op, but I’ve grown a little tired of it.  Lately I’m enjoying Pandemic the Cure, as the dice rolling adds some much needed unpredictably to it.  Pandemic Legacy is also a worthy experience about which I have a write-up to post.

13. Catan:

I don’t play it much any more, but it is still a great ambassador for the hobby.

14. Mombasa:/15. Russian Railroad:

Mombasa and Russian Railroads are the two games I utterly fail at explaining.  They are complex Euro games with lots going on, which don’t tend to fit into a thematic box.  They are both fantastic and filled with diverse strategic options.  There are always things to do, but if you don’t plan well, you will get crushed.

16. Strasbourg:

Strasbourg is an auction game where it is okay to not win auctions, because runner-ups gets stuff two.  However, the game is maddeningly tight, so if you plan poorly and completely lose a needed item, the effect can be devastating.  It is fast paced and exciting, if occasionally stressful.

17. Apples to Apples:

Apples to Apples gets a lot of flak from “real gamers,” but I still enjoy it.  IT is the only game where I don’t try to win.  I’d much rather get the inappropriate sarcastic remark in.  Not really strategic, but still really funny.

18. Black Friday:

My favorite Stock Market game featuring the joy and agony of price fluctuations.  Wish I got to play it on days other than the day after Thanksgiving though.

19: Brass:

Couldn't tell you what it has to do with Brass, but it is another medium-heavy themeless Euro game with an enjoyable progression.

20. Risk Legacy:

Risk Legacy is an amazing achievement; it made Risk good.  I might never play it again now that we finished the campaign, but I remember more moments from it than most other games on this list.

21. Ice Cool:

See you flick Penguins…  My favorite dexterity game, I think because the penguins’ wobbles match my own.  Just so neatly put together.

22. Mech VS Minions

The game that makes every other appear to be an overpriced piece of crap.  It is just incredible.  it is really silly and fun.

23. Endeavor:
One of my go to games for five players, who don’t mind historical use of slavery.  The game has a nice buildup, going from a short and simple first turn, to a far more involved endgame.

24. Notre Dame:

A well paced tight drafting game that is easy to teach and does any player count superbly.  

25. Hansa Teutonica:

Careful with this game, cars have been known to get totaled outside during play.  The game itself is great though.  In a twist from most game,  you really want to be attacked here, and spend a lot of time tempting opponents.  

Monday, January 23, 2017

Mystery Hunt 2017: The One Built For Us

Last weekend I participated with in Mystery Hunt, an annual giant word puzzle competition hosted by MIT on behalf of the team Left as an Exercise for the Reader.   Despite being much smaller (officially 35, unofficially who knows) than almost every major competitive team, we, for the first time ever, got to the end.  There are some spoilers ahead, but not all that many, given the large portion of Hunt I barely saw. There is also probably song lingo that will be utterly meaningless to you, if you are not familiar with this type of thing.

To give some background, Mystery Hunt started in 1981 as a small event, one person creating a page of puzzles for MIT students solve.  It grew slowly for a while; one member of our team last won Hunt in 1991 with a team of 6. As it grew though, it became an arms race where puzzle writers tried to make larger and more difficult hunts to counteract ever growing teams and advancing technology.  

I first hunted in 2010 and have done it every year since then except one.  Mystery Hunt was my first puzzle event of any kind, and it was generally impossible.  I’m not sure if I contributed anything of value that year, and mostly felt dumb.  I’ve gotten better since then, but not enough that I don’t find Mystery Hunts to be mainly overwhelmingly difficult, with occasional satisfying moments of making a minor impact.  The worst one was 2013 where the designers underestimated the strength of their play testers, and decided to make their puzzles even harder with puzzles like this one.  That Hunt lasted 75 hours and required lots of free answers and hints to end it at all.  2014 and 2015 had better balance, but 2016 was written by another large team, and was rough on smaller squads.  I have found I have generally enjoyed smaller events like BAPHL and DASH, where I’m hitting my head into a desk less often.
Setec, this year’s host, is small for a winning team clocking in at around ~50.   They have a few wins in the past, but for a while were determined not to win.  If they got close, they started drinking more.  Eventually they forgot how painful writing a Hunt is, sobered up, and won last year.  They brought with them a new philosophy in writing this Hunt -- not-impossible puzzles are even more fun than impossible puzzles.  They wanted to make it challenging for the top teams too, but wanted to make sure everyone had fun, and that more teams got to progress to major milestones.

After partaking in my annual tradition of getting on the MIT Campus, I saw a cute opening sketch of a role playing game themed Hunt.  The first puzzle I worked on was Pic of the Litter, because I could identify pictures of objects and put it in a fill-in grid.  It was pretty straightforward and a nice start to the the Hunt.  Then I started on Hexed Adventure, a text adventure game.  Let’s see: desert to my left, mountain to my right, hills in the distance…  hmm that sounds suspiciously familiar.  I then spent most of the next 8 hours with a partner roaming around a Catan board.  The puzzle wasn’t hard per se, but it had a lot of steps and a mountain of text as you progressed to the actual solvable puzzle part.  We got stuck a couple times, most frustratingly missing where to get WD40 from, but for the most part we progressed steadily.  The solving part was also a little more challenging than it could have been, since we forgot wood could be lumber, and ended up with something that looked like it should give us an answer but wasn’t.  Still it was an incredibly fun puzzle, and I’d recommend giving it a try if that sort of thing appeals to you.  There was another puzzle with a mock BGG page, so for a while I was working on two board game related puzzles at once.  It was great.  

We were also visited by an economist, transfixed as Bob Barker, and played some Price is Right until we identified the exact price of a cup of our color pencils.   I nibbled at a few more puzzles afters, but didn’t make much progress.  My final useful contribution was standing behind someone who got stuck.  He proceeded to tell us what he done thus far, tell us what he just did that didn’t work, realize that in fact it did work, corrected a minor error and solved the puzzle.   Nice to know hovering works.  I left for the evening while we were trying to figure out how to use semaphore on elements in a circular periodic table.*

*Spoiler-- you don’t

Saturday morning, I came in knowing Death and Mayhem had already found the coin, winning the Hunt, which was a good sign for us getting far.   I bounced around a bit, trying to get back into the swing of things, not all that successfully.   Someone mentioned there was a Fantasy Baseball puzzle, Special OPS, so I joined in on that.  It involved figuring out the real components of fake stats.  We tried it both manually and through a program someone built, but we never had any success.  I spent a lot of time trying to make the numbers work, but they wouldn’t.  I felt bad for striking out on a puzzle that should clearly be in my wheelhouse, but it turns almost no one successfully solved it.  There were less impossible puzzles than normal, but there still was some, and even reading the solution, left me utterly confused.

Feeling dejected, I picked up a children’s book that we had received entitled The Puzzle at the End of the Book, modeled after the Sesame Street Book, The Monster at the End of the Book.  It was a small book, so I figured that it shouldn’t take too long to solve.  Turned out there were a whole lot of puzzles hidden in there.  It was a really cool puzzle in that everyone who looked at it found different things.   If you haven’t done any puzzle competitions, but the idea sounds interesting to you, this is a really good puzzle to start with.

We celebrated our team’s birthday at noon.  It was was our 10th entry into the Hunt.  We had tiaras and cake and invited some teams over including our neighbors, IIF, and Setec.  It went well, we even had an appropriate amount of food unlike last year, when we had to call HQ with an emergency cookie problem.  The only misstep was we accidentally sent Palindrome a blank invitation, which they assumed was a puzzle and proceeded to try to solve.  Palindrome finishes the Hunt early though, so we were just giving them something else to do.

I also made my biggest meta contribution that day, determining that the Crafty Criminal meta involved actually playing Mastermind.  Before I had to time figure out how that could work though, someone else discovered the black and white letters, and an offsite supersolver submitted a correct answer.*  Still, I feel good about that one.

*We don’t have a ton of off-site people but we have one who you know will solve quickly when he enters the google doc.
Late Sunday morning, I got an urgent e-mail, stating we were three meta puzzles away from the end.   When I arrived, we were working on several needed puzzles for the Meta like Tricky Wicket and Hamiltonian Path.  I took up a beast of a logic puzzle, Mirror Mirror,  that revolved around figuring out where mirrors reflected light.  Solving was slow, since many options were unlikely but not impossible, making it difficult to draw conclusions.  Our progress hastened when we realized the numbers spelled words, but halted when we made another incorrect assumption later on.  Then we solved the associated Meta, so we moved on to more pertinent puzzles.  Still it was interesting, and I’d like to solve it some other time.

We solved another Meta, so we were down to one final Meta in the last few hours of the Hunt.  We got  lot of visitors from Setec, including one who hung around poker faced, as we were the only team left on the brink.  I think they were both heavily rooting for us and enjoying watching us squirm.   The last Meta, the Broken Bridge, became a large group solve as everyone worked on it or the four remaining unsolved feeding into it.  We were told we had enough answers to solve it though, so we bashed our heads together on many a pointless path.

Finally, someone realized that each word had a 4 letter word associated with it and those words could be chained together by changing one letter between each.   Most of the words fit together, but there were a couple like Hugo that were way different, and we were missing some answers.  I noticed that tape fit between two words we had, and someone else saw duct could also work as well as role.  Aha Roll of Duct tape!  Nope, not quite.  We pondered other options, when Tree Rings, one of the four remaining was solved with the answer Winter Olympics.  Winter Olympics = Luge - Huge - Hugo…  We entered in HugeDuctTapeRoll, and for the first time, entered the endgame.  It was about 4:00 pm Sunday, 51 hours of the Hunt completed, 2 remaining.

We proceeded with almost our entire team to confront Mystereo Cantos the big bad, cheered on by IIF.  We gathered around him in a circle, answering random questions with thematic answers, while he made fun of us.   We then had to do one last thing to defeat him, which we had a little trouble working it out, mostly because our participants in this quest were completely different than an earlier one, which contained a necessary step in the solution.  We eventually figured it out though, gave him a “grouphug” and turned over a giant hex which had instructions for our final run around attached.

Anyone who saw us, a large group of people, wandering around the MIT campus, with someone reading off D and D sounding instructions from a giant hex, would have thought we were insane.  Of course if they were at MIT, they are probably used to these things.  We followed the instructions  which compared MIT landmarks to a fantasy setting.  Eventually we came across the row of lights, where our leader found the coin at 5:53, 7 minutes before the Hunt ended. We may not have been, but we certainly had the most efficient at pacing ourselves for an enjoyable weekend.