Monthly Archives: May 2013
I’ve had the privilege of playing Guildhall four times now so I figured I’m overdue to review it. So since it’s Friday and I post game reviews on Friday I figured better late than never. Let’s see what I think of the game!
Guildhall by Alderac Entertainment Group is a card game where players try to fill the halls of their guilds (imagine that). To fill a guild you have to have five different colored cards of the same character. There are Farmers, Weavers, Dancers, Historians, Traders, and Assassins. Each character type provides you with some different ability. For example, when you play a dancer you get to draw a number of cards equal to the number of dancers in your guild and you get an extra action. Players have two actions per turn.
This game is played to a certain number of points. Points can be earned in two ways. The Farmer cards allow you to earn points if you have a certain number of Farmers already in your guild. The other option to earn points is by completing a guild hall and turning it in for a card with a point value on it. The winner is the first player to 20 points.
Here’s a look at Guildhall on the table (Image via Trent Hamm via BoardGameGeek.com):
- OPTIONS: So there’s only six different types of cards, how many options can there be? Well, each card does something slightly different based on how many of that card you have in the guild. So 6 cards with 3 categories means 18 options every turn. But it’s even better because you can combo things, which is awesome!
- INTERACTION: This game has a great amount of interaction. You are constantly messing with other players guilds and they are doing the same to you. You are constantly hoping that they won’t mess up the guild that you’ll be able to complete on your next turn. This game definitely has a nice back-stabby layer to it!
- WEIGHT: This game is just a big deck of cards and a few coin chits. But beneath the surface is a pretty deep and tense strategy game. Players can’t plan too far ahead but it’s important to make good plays with at least your next turn in mind. This game is heavier than one would expect. And that’s a good thing!
- QUALITY: I’m sort of a stickler for good quality. In this case it’s not the physical quality that bothers me but rather the visual quality. My problem with it is that in the copy I’ve played there are different shades of the background colors. For example, the green Farmer will be a different green than the more limey green Trader. It just bothers me. This does not affect gameplay though.
- LACK OF CONTROL: Often in the game it feels like you don’t have much control over what’s going to happen to you. If you jump out to an early lead, beware, because they’ll probably all come after you. And there’s nothing you can do about it. That bothers me, but only a little.
- THE BOX/INSERT: The box for Guildhall is ridiculously large. Like I mentioned above, this game is just a deck of cards and coin chits. The box is just oversized for the amount of components you receive. This does not affect gameplay though.
Designer Perspective – What I Would Change:
The only thing I don’t really like about the game is that once you’ve filled a guildhall you basically just turn it into points. And if you’re wise you’ll likely grab the highest valued point card available. As a designer I’d like to see the ability to use the completed guild halls in a more interesting way. My suggestion would be that the face up cards that represent points would require sets of completed guildhalls (like Farmers and Dancers). This could make it more strategic if all the players are really trying to complete the same guild.
This game feels like a light beer but plays like a heavy beer. There’s one beer in particular that fits the bill for me and that’s Guinness, which drinks like a light beer but feels like a heavy beer. (I guess that’s the opposite… oh well) So I’m pairing Guildhall with a classic brew, Guinness Draught. This beer is a very enjoyable beverage that is deeper than one might originally guess. Just like Guildhall.
I didn’t care much for this game when I first played it. That’s due to my lack of understanding of how the cards could really interact with each other. (Maybe I shouldn’t review games after only one play!) But now that I’ve played four times I can really see how well this was designed. Not only is there player to player interaction, but card to card interaction. My favorite combo is to “weaver a dancer” and then play a dancer to get the extra card and action. I’ll rate this game an 8 out of 10 according to the Board Game Geek ratings scale.
Trading Post Part 1: Origin
I have a new game design I’m working on and today I am posting the first of 4 articles about it. Today, and the next three Thursdays, I’ll be writing about the game from it’s creation to the present state. Here’s the four articles I’ll be writing:
- TODAY 5-16-13: Origins of Trading Post
- 5-23-13: Prototyping Early Versions
- 5-30-13: Hiatus and Re-design
- 6-6-13: Path to GenCon
So let’s jump back to 2010 when I was first diving into game design and take a look at how Trading Post became a thing…
Here you are, explorer extraordinaire! You have been selected from an elite group of explorers to develop a new Trading Post. You role, should you choose to accept it, is to utilize the resources found on your section of their territory, and contribute the most to the Trading Post. Contributions include constructing new buildings for the Trading Post, successfully exploring all of your allotted territory, and completing trades that are beneficial for the Trading Post.
Concept: The Map
Normally when I start a new game design I start with a theme. Trading Post is an unusual case in that it started with both a theme and a map mechanic to be used in that theme. For some reason I thought that a square grid with spots on the corners for putting cubes would be a good idea. And it would seemingly work very well with the Trading Post concept.
Here’s a look at one player’s section of territory in very alpha artwork, if you can refer to lines as artwork:
The idea of the map is that you can explore the land and add buildings to the octagons. Then each building can produce something that you can place into the diamonds. The resources would be represented by cubes, which would fit very nicely into the diamonds. The really sweet part of this map design is that you have to try and move your goods into the diamonds that adjoin to your territorial neighbors so that you can trade with them without having to use the Trading post as a middle man.
Concept: Game Play
With a theme and map mechanic in place it was time to figure out how the game would actually be played. I had found a really nice article online about what makes a game good. It included things like Tension, Replayability/Variability, No Runaway Winner, No Kingmaker, No Player Elimination and more. If anyone know of the article can you share the link? I can’t ever find it. So after working through some of those things in my head I came up with a ladder type design where you would become more capable of doing more things on your turn.
The idea of this was that you would start as just a person in the Trading Post. You would thus be able to move one spot per action, and you could only explore up to two rows into your territory. Since exploring all of your land is part of the game it would be important to build up the capability. So the first step would be to purchase a horse via trade with the Trading Post.
Once you traded for a horse you would be able to move two spots per action. You would also be able to explore the next row. In the game design the tiles that would be available in this “Horse Region” were better than those available in the “Person Region” (first two rows). This would allow you to do more stuff, make better trades, and work toward the wagon.
The Wagon was the last “upgrade” you could do. To build the wagon you would have to make a series of trades to procure the necessary components: wheels, axles, canopy, box. Once you’ve upgraded to the wagon you can then move three spaces per action and explore the furthermost regions of your territory. This is vital as the most valuable resources are only available in the “Wagon Region.”
Concept: Time and Action Points
During the game each action would cost a certain amount of time. The game would be played over 7 years with each action costing a certain number of months. So moving would cost 1 month. That’s why it would be important to upgrade to a horse or wagon as early as possible to be able to move more spots with the same action. Basically with the game being 7 years of 12 months each player would have 84 action points to work with.
Because I made “time” part of the game I was able to also have the seasons play a role. Each year had a new “Event” card come up that affected something for the year. This could be seasonally dependent as well.
So I came up with a series of event cards to add several things to the game design:
- Replayability: Each game would be different since the draw of event cards is random.
- Variability: Specific scenarios of event cards could be established to promote specific game play.
- More details: Having event cards made the game deeper, in my opinion.
I found early on that having a time mechanic like this made things difficult to design. Since players weren’t always taking the same number of actions on a turn I had to incorporate a “last player gets a turn” mechanic similar to that in Glen More. By doing this I would never have to worry about how player order worked.
The other downside of having 84 actions points (84 months) in the game was that every single turn players would have to advance their “months” token and potentially their “years” token if they entered a new year. Fiddly.
I thought I really had something with this game design. I was gung ho about putting together a prototype and making this into the most awesomest game ever. With 8 different resources, 84 action points per player, upgrades to a horse and then wagon, land development, trading, exploration, etc. I knew this would be awesome. Perhaps I was being a little too optimistic.
In my mind I thought this game had a lot of potential. I put a lot of time into it early on only to realize that it was ridiculously complicated. Next week I’ll cover my initial prototyping efforts and the lessons I learned during that phase. In two weeks I’ll share with you the current re-designed version, which is night-and-day better, potentially even being a playable and fun game. And three weeks from now I’ll discuss my path forward with the game as we approach GenCon.
If you have any questions or comments about the game over the next three weeks, just let me know!
Scoville Print and Play Version 2
I am pleased to announce that Version 2 of the Scoville Print and Play files are available for download at BoardGameGeek.com. Here is the link:
There are no major rules revisions to the game. The only clarification to the rules is that when selling peppers you must sell peppers from your own supply. Peppers in the fields are not for sale.
There are a few changes to the Print & Play files. The most notable change is that Gold has been dropped in favor of Silver. I’d like to thank Adam “A-Game” Buckingham for the suggestion. This was done for two reasons:
- Black + White blends to gray, not gold. So from a color perspective this is much less confusing.
- There is a much lower chance of confusing yellow with silver. These two colors are now more distinct.
The PnP files also have a few other revisions. These include:
- Artwork for the Bonus Point Tiles for secondary peppers (green/orange/purple) has been adjusted to decrease confusion.
- The Field has been slightly increased in size to better fit with the pepper tiles.
- The pepper tile artwork has been changed to help with color blindness and for clarity.
Here’s a peek at the revised pepper tiles:
By adding the pepper image to each tile it will help with color blindness. Each pepper is a different shape. And by changing the artwork to include the green border it should help to clarify where the player pawns will actually be walking. I showed this image to my wife and she said she thinks the game would be better with these rather than the cubes. This was actually a suggestion of Brett Myers (@brettspiel) during Protospiel-Milwaukee, so I must give credit where credit is due!
As usual, if you have any questions about the PnP files or the rules, or the game in general, please feel free to leave a comment here on Boards & Barley or on the BGG download page. Or feel free to email me. And I’d love to hear what you think about the game!
Board Game Review: Myrmes
DISCLAIMER: I am reviewing Myrmes after one play (2-player). Why do I review games after one or two plays? Because It’s the first two plays that will determine whether or not I want to play it again! If I don’t like a game after those first two plays then I’m definitely moving on since there are so many other good games out there. Now on to today’s review…
Time for another Friday Board Game Review! Today’s game is one with an interesting theme: Building an Ant Colony!
In Myrmes you are in control of an ant colony. It is up to you to manage your workers, soldiers, and nurses to improve your colony as best as you can. Throughout the game you are faced with thematic decisions. Should you sacrifice a worker above ground to provide food for your colony? Should you leave a nurse behind and score points by completing an objective? Should you make more babies??? These are all serious questions, people! And when you play Myrmes you’ll have to make these sorts of thematic decisions! Over and over again!
Here’s a look at the board and components (image via BoardGameGeek.com):
So after one play what did I think? Let’s find out…
- COMPONENTS: This game has a bunch of components and they are almost all of very nice quality. The best, of course, are the little plastic ants even though they sort of look like spiders.
- ARTWORK: I think some of the artwork on this game is outstanding! I really like the player mats with the ant colony. The artwork there looks really nice and it feels like you are underground in an ant colony.
- THEME: I thought things fit the theme very well. It felt like you had to decide how to run a real ant colony.
- COMPONENTS: While quantity doth not make great a game, quality can ruin one! The hexes that are placed onto the board look and feel nice, but they are not the same size as the hex grid on the board. Therefore they don’t fit properly.
- ARTWORK: While the player mat artwork is really nice, the overall continuity of artwork in this game is non-existent. The player mats are so different from the board, which has about four different art styles (the score track leaves, the distressed seasons, the background, etc.). It just doesn’t seem to be the same style throughout all the components.
- THEME: By fitting the theme of an ant colony I asked myself, “What’s fun about an ant colony?” Aren’t I supposed to be playing a game and having fun? Are ants fun? The most fun I ever had with ants was burning them with a magnifying glass.
So that was interesting. For the first time I listed the same categories as both upsides and downsides to the game. I suppose that goes very well with my mixed feelings about this game.
Designer Perspective – What I Would Change:
While I can understand the desire to make a game that so thematically fits with the idea of running an ant colony I just wonder why they actually designed this game. There was very little interaction and I often felt like I was just doing things to do them. As a designer I would have tried to inject more tension in the game. I think this would be best accomplished by having all players be part of the SAME ant colony. Either they could each have their own role (i.e., one player could be a worker, another a soldier, a third a nurse, and so on) or they could control one part of the colony. Then the idea of the game could be to contribute the most to the colony. You could compete over the use of the colony’s resources. Doing it that way sounds like a much more fun game!
This is a difficult game to pair with a beer. But since the game felt more like work than fun I suppose I should pair it with a working man’s beer. So I’m pairing Myrmes with Working Man’s Lunch by Fullsteam Brewery. I’ve never had the beer so this pairing is based on name alone.
I didn’t really enjoy Myrmes. It was very ‘meh’ feeling to me. It felt more like work than like fun. The decisions weren’t very intense. There was nothing that stopped me from doing what I wanted. The interaction seemed minimal, though that could have been due to it being a two player game. And overall I can’t rate this higher than a 6 out of 10 according to the BoardGameGeek.com rating system.
Two Types of Game Nights
My friend Jeremy and I have been hosting board game nights for quite a while now and I’ve come to a realization lately that there are two different types of game night. There is the type of board game night where you get a bunch of people together and struggle to decide what to play based on number of players, difficulty to learn, setup time, etc. Let’s call this the “Big” game night. Then there is the type of board game night with only a few people where you choose to play the heavier, deeper, more intense games that typically can’t make a showing at the first type of board game night. Let’s call this the “Level 1” game night.
Today I’m going to examine the ups and downs of each type! Note: I’ll write about Board Game Days in a separate article.
Big Game Nights
I love big game night. But that’s partially because I love any game night! It’s great to get a bunch of guys (note: I’m not sexist… my group is just all guys) together for some board game awesomeness. But it’s not all rainbows and unicorns. There are some downsides to the Big game night, at least compared with the Level 1 game night. Let’s look at the good things first:
- You’re playing games, perhaps enjoying a nice brew, and escaping all the other junk of life.
- You might even be enjoying some nice refreshments.
- With more gamers you often have more games to choose from.
- Robo Rally. Chaos embodied in a board game can be quite entertaining!
There you go… the upside to the Big game night. What downside could there possibly be?
- You might wreck your budget trying to buy games for 8 or 10 players.
- Nuns on the Run, a hide-and-seek nun game, just doesn’t have the right theme!
- Players might get sick of finishing the night with a lap of Bisikle every time (gasp!).
- Indecision enters the gaming arena. Players struggle to agree on what to play.
- It’s often more difficult to break out new games. It always feels like you’re teaching new people old stuff.
- It’s often more difficult to break out heavy games. Big game night is more open to the casual player.
When our group was getting to 8 regular attenders I really did a search for 8+ player games. At one point I was ready to pull the trigger on Nuns on the Run. I ultimately went with Robo Rally, which ended up being a great choice. I also looked into Formula D, but never bought it. One of the issues with a larger board game night is that it is hard for everyone to play a game together. One 8-player game that I’ve found to be a lot of fun is VivaJava: The Coffee Game by designer TC Petty III and published by DiceHateMe Games.
The problem is that most games are not 8 player games. That means what was a big group of people is now split in two or three. That’s often less fun. You’ve got cross-table banter. People feel left out of the other table’s conversation, and a disconnect forms. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still a lot of fun… just not as fun as the “Level 1” game night!
Level 1 Game Nights
Several of us in our group use the phrase “Level 1” to refer to each other as awesome, tight, “I got your back” type of friends. On occasion we have an impromptu “Level 1” game night where it’s just a small group of us getting together. I wanted to refer to these game nights as “Intimate” but that just didn’t feel appropriate with all the finger-bending. These nights include the kind of friends you never hesitate to play any game with. These game nights also have an upside and a downside. This time let’s start with the downside:
- Less beer options to choose from.
- Fewer refreshments.
While those two can be tough to swallow, the Level 1 game night can make up for that in the quality of the games that hit the table. Here’s the upside:
- Heavier games make the table. Enter Uwe Rosenberg and Stefan Feld!
- New games can be played since there is usually a high willingness to learn together.
- Playtesting of prototypes happens more freely.
- You’ve learned what to expect from the other players.
- Inside jokes, Jerks!
- You never have to split into multiple games.
There’s a lot to enjoy with a Level 1 game night! But the bottom line here is that any game night can be fun. Go into them with the right expectations and you’ll have a good time. And remember, playing to win and playing to have fun are not necessarily the same. So get to your local game night and have a great time!