Saturday, May 28, 2016

How much is enough?

I've been feeling lately like I don't get to play enough board games. This is a strange feeling for me to have, because most Tuesdays, I go the the local board game club, and every other Friday, I go to my friend's house to play board games. I even get in a third session on some weeks, when we have special events, like when the Dork Spouse planned a special board game night as a reward for some people who helped her out at a recent event, or the Dork Spouse and I go to the local Board Game Cafe for kicks.

But I keep thinking about some of the games I have in my collection (51 distinct titles, not counting expansions or classic games like Chess or Backgammon), and how long it's been since I've been able to play some of them (it's been years since I've played Settlers of Catan, and I've owned Winter Tales for two and a half years now, and still haven't ever played it once). I also find myself thinking about how much I enjoy playing certain games with certain people (there's a young woman I know with whom it is very rewarding to play The Resistance: Avalon).

Remember, of course, that games are an important part of my social life, because they serve as a framework for me, around which I can build my social interactions. Sometimes, in fact, I feel as if games are the most meaningful social contact I am capable of having. When I lack that interaction, it can feel as if I'm not getting enough social contact.

So in a way, when I say 'I've been feeling lately like I don't get to play enough board games,' to a great extent, what I really mean is 'I haven't seen my friend Josie in a long time, and I really miss her, and I always enjoy watching her getting angry enough to table flip when people don't listen to her during The Resistance: Avalon.'


'I'm feeling kind of lonely lately, perhaps because of the stress from the last two hectic months at work, and I would love to be able to sit down with people that I like and just have some pleasant social interaction based around the framework of a bunch of plastic and/or wooden pieces on a lavishly illustrated fold-out piece of heavy cardboard.'

And, if we're being totally honest, sometimes even:

'I've been watching some neat board game videos lately, or reading online reviews of board games, or looking back through my collection, and thinking some of these games look like a lot of fun, and I would very much like to play them. I wish I had an opportunity to play [insert name of game here].'

But of course, there's always the issue of having to be a responsible adult.

[insert joke about being an irresponsible person who's only pretending to be a mature, well-adjusted, responsible adult here]

The Dork Spouse would never allow me to game more than twice a week, except on certain very special and very rare occasions. Our house is pretty messy; it often feels like we have no chance of ever keeping up with all the things that need to be done around our home (tidying, dishes, cooking, laundry, yard work, maintenance, etc). Especially when we come home from long, tiring, emotionally draining jobs...

Sometimes I feel like I'm not far from becoming like Allie Brosh in her article about why she'll never be an adult, only with me, it's not 'Internet!' it's 'Board Games!' Apologies to Allie for this (click for a larger version):
Anyway, that's what's on my mind lately.
Tune in next week for another board game review. And until then, as always...

Game on!

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Road Trip to GenCon!

As most of you know by now, I've been writing for PinkFae for several months. This wonderfully progressive gaming site is in the process of becoming even more respectable and noteworthy, as the director intends to apply for non-profit status. To that end, I've been given the title of 'senior writer,' as well as a stack of business cards (which I've been passing out like candy, sheerly for the novelty of it). In fact, the director wants me to go to GenCon.

I applied for a press pass under the PinkFae banner, and was issued one. And last week, a friend and I booked a hotel together. Since the Dork Wife will not be attending (she is, after all, not as obsessed with gaming as I, and she looked into other attractions in the Indianapolis area, and decided that she was not interested in doing anything else there whilst I was at the convention), I needed to find someone to go with me so that I'm not making the 12 hour drive alone.

At any rate, the hotel has been booked and paid for, so this is something that is going to happen.

I'm pretty excited about it, although I also feel like I'm a bit in over my head. At this point in my life, the only convention I've attended is the Tulsa ComicCon, which is not exactly what one would describe as a real convention. From what I'm given to understand, it's much smaller than most of the big ones, like the San Diego Comic Con or the Chicago ComicCon. I believe it's grown since I attended, but when I was there, there weren't a lot of booths, and those that I did see often looked... sketchy.

Anyway, the point is, I'm not at all sure what I'm getting myself into. I plan to mostly try to gain information to use in writing articles for these two blogs. But even so, I would greatly appreciate any advice or suggestions anyone has to give. What should I expect at this massive event? What should I try to do?

I thank you all greatly in advance, and I look forward to meeting you back here again next week. Until then,

Game on!

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Board Game Review: Firefly: The Game

As promised, this week is another board game review. Since I haven't yet (for some reason), I'm going to cover the great board game based on a great series: Firefly: The Game. We start, as always, with the ratings:

Strategy: 2
Randomness: 4
Complexity: 4
Humour: Derivative
Attractiveness: Pretty
Average Length of Game Play: 2 ½ hours

Browncoats rejoice! Firefly: The Game lets you cruise around the 'verse getting into all sorts of trouble and adventures in familiar locations, like Persephone, Osiris, and the Space Bazaar. You might meet familiar characters, like Yolanda (or was that Saffron? Or maybe it was Bridget?) or Badger.

Here's the premise of the game: the board represents the 'verse. Players choose a ship (the base game comes with four firefly class ships, one of which is Serenity; expansions can add additional ships of other classes), and choose a character to serve as captain of the ship. They then fly around the 'verse, negotiating with contacts (such as Badger, Niska, or Patience) to contract for jobs. Then they continue flying around the 'verse attempting to complete these jobs. Once a job is completed, the player gets paid (shelling out some of that payment to any crew he may have hired onto his ship). As this continues, players work towards achieving the goals described on the story card (there are several story cards in the base set, and expansions add more. Story cards describe the winning conditions; players choose which story card they're going to use before the game begins). The first player to complete all of the listed goals on the story card is declared the winner.
Note that in this photo, all the expansions are included. The base set only contains the middle part of the board; about a quarter of the board on each end come from two expansions.

Really, that's (in general) about all there is to the game. On your turn, you can take any two of the four available actions, as long as it's not the same action twice on one turn: you can fly, deal, buy, or work. Thus, on one turn, you could fly once and deal once, or you could buy once and work once. But you can't fly twice, deal twice, work twice, or buy twice.

Of course, there are a lot of potential permutations involved with any of these actions. The simplest of them is the Fly action; you have two options: Mosey or Full Burn. Mosey means you move one space. Full Burn allows you to move up to the full movement rate of your ship, but you must expend a unit of fuel to do it, and you must draw a card from the Nav Deck for each space you traverse. Most of the cards are 'Smooth Sailing' cards; nothing happens. A few mean that you've encountered wreckage, or a stranded colony ship, or a trade convoy; you can either stop to pick up bonus cargo, fuel, parts, or passengers, or you can just keep going past. However, there are a few cards in the Nav Deck (there's actually multiple Nav Decks depending on which sector you're in) that mean you've run into an enemy ship (Alliance cruisers in Alliance space and Reavers in border space), and that can often have disastrous effects.

The other actions are more complicated. Deal actions can be taken on the appropriate planet (Persephone to deal with Badger, for example) to contract for Jobs (represented by cards). These cards describe where you must go and what you must do in order to get paid. Some of them require you to Misbehave (there are 'Aim to Misbehave' cards that describe some thrilling heroics that you must accomplish in order to continue attempting that job).

Buy actions may be attempted at certain supply planets (Osiris being an example) to look at some of the cards from that planet and decide if you want to buy (or, in the case of crew members, hire) them. These cards can be crew members, who bring extra abilities and increased dice pools to your missions. They can also be gear, which you can assign to crew members. They can even be ship upgrades, which improve your ship in some way. The range of possible effects, abilities, and modifiers is quite staggering, and this is most of what makes the game so complicated: keeping track of all the possible benefits from these cards.

Finally, the Work actions are what you do to attempt to complete the actions described on your job cards. For example, after arriving at the Pick-up location described on your card, you must use a Work Action to pick up (for example) three items of cargo. Then you travel to the Destination location listed on the job card, and take another Work Action to drop off that cargo.

This game is ruled by randomness. The cards available to you, the results of die rolls, and the cards you draw from the Nav Deck are pretty much the determining factor in whether you will be successful. You can attempt to build a crew that will allow you higher chances of success in a greater range of situations, but you have to establish yourself as able to afford to pay each crew member before that can become a viable option.

Normally, I don't care too much for most games that involve a high degree of luck. Being, as I am, a fan of player agency, I prefer games in which my winning or losing is the result of actions I take and decisions I make, rather than on which cards I drew or the results of dice I threw. However, Firefly: The Game does such an amazing job of capturing the feel of the series. I'd argue that it does the best job of any game based on an existing franchise. Moving my little Firefly class ship around the 'verse, seeing Jayne and Kaylee getting into interesting scrapes, the fun of recognising which episode my current card is based on... that makes all the difference. I personally really enjoy this game specifically because of that aspect.

My one complaint, aside from the complexity of all the different little permutations involved in the different actions (ok, two complaints), is that the sheer number of components means that this game takes up a lot of space. Especially if you have either the Blue Sun or Kalidasa expansions. This is not a game that can be played on a folding card table. You need a large gaming table to bring this game out.

Anyway, I think that's enough for this review. Join me again next week when I talk about something completely different. Until then,

Game on!

Monday, May 9, 2016

Can card games be humorous?

Ok, the past month has been beyond insane. I spent several weekends working on my celtic folk music duo, and one weekend lying in bed for nearly two days straight because I was so ill. Then, this past weekend, I sat down to write a new entry for this blog... and came up completely blank. No matter how I tried, no matter what I looked at on, no matter who I talked to, I had no ideas. So this entry is a couple days late. But I finally have an idea, so I'm going to run with it.

Obviously, the title is a little tongue in cheek. Of course card games can be humorous. But what I'm talking about here is the tendency of games to be card-text-heavy, which can slow the game incredibly.

Let me explain.

How many of you have played Munchkin? Or any of its supernumerary variants (Super Munchkin, Star Munchkin, Munchkin Bites, or Munchkin Fu, just as a couple of examples)? If so, you probably know that the point of the game is to engage in an evening of hilarious hijinks, betraying your friends as you fight ridiculous monsters such as the dreaded Gazebo. The winner is the first player to reach level 10, levels being gained most frequently by defeating monsters. Here's an example of game play, to give you an idea of how it works:

Daniel: I kick down the door! (draws a door card) I find a Large Angry Chicken. It's level 2, and I'm level 3, so I defeat it.

Susan: Nope! It's actually an Enraged Large Angry Chicken! (plays the Enraged card on the Large Angry Chicken card)

Daniel: Drat! I'm not high enough level now! Tina, will you help me defeat this monster?

Tina: What will you give me?

Daniel: I'll let you have the treasure card for defeating it.

Tina: Ok, sure, why not?

Daniel: Great, so your 6 levels add to mine, making us an effective level 9, so now we're defeating the Enraged Large Angry Chicken.

Susan: Nope again! I play the Wandering Monster card to add the Plutonium Dragon to the combat!

Tina: Oh, heck no. I'm out! I use my Invisible! Invisible! Invisible! power to abandon combat! (Tina and Susan both laugh uproariously)

That should give you the general idea.

Here's where the problem comes in: game play works best when cards are played quickly. But players who are unfamiliar with the cards can't play the cards quickly, because they don't know what the cards do!

I've seen this problem in several games. Aside from Munchkin, it's also true for Gloom, and it was exceedingly true for the game Burn in Hell. The games are meant to be funny, and if gameplay is quick and frantic, it can be. But players must have played the game several times to get familiar enough with the cards to be able to play them quickly.

In other words, these games have to be practised for several games before they can be played 'correctly.'

Don't get me wrong, the payoff can be considerable if enough work is put into it. But it strikes me as a little sad that you have to play a game several times through with it not being funny, because everyone is spending minutes at a time reading the cards and trying to figure out how they work, before the ultimate payoff can be reached.

I'm not sure really where I'm going with this. It was just what I was thinking about. Next week will be a nice safe board game review, so hopefully it won't be as pointless as this entry was. So there's that to look forward to! Until then,

Game on!