Category Archives: Board Game Night

2016 Recap, The List, Looking Ahead

TheListImage-BoardsAndBarleyAt the start of 2016 I posted an article called “The List.” The article was a list of games that my gaming group owns but had not yet played. It was a pretty good sized list that grew throughout 2016. For the first half of the year I was regularly posting updates to The List and providing brief reviews of the games we crossed off. That tailed off a bit later in the year when I gamed less and lost a little interest in gaming due to life.

But here we are at the end of 2016 so I am providing one final recap to The List. Let’s take a look at how we did. Go back and visit the original article: The List.

The Final Tally

There are 57 games on The List, which does not include games like Great Western Trail, SeaFall, Grand Austria Hotel, and many more that were purchased along the way. I’ll leave those out for now since that’s too much to try and remember (I should have stuck with the regular updates).

Of those 57, 28 were played. 

So 28/57 means we played less than half of the games. Ouch.

Some games got traded before we played them. Others were just not interesting enough. Mistakes were made. Excuses rose to the surface. For one reason or another we didn’t do that great with The List.

This is kind of a downer and I don’t want downers to drown out the joy that I had through board gaming in 2016. So here are my top games from the year:

Top 5 Games of 2016

  1. pic2578828_mdOrleans: This was/is my favorite. I love how it all works together. I love how every decision seems like a good one and that everything you are doing moves you forward rather than backward. It works really well and flows smoothly. I think I might get the expansion for 2017.
  2. Pandemic: Legacy: I’m not a huge Pandemic fan. But this makes the list because of the great group of people I am playing it with. We’ve had a lot of fun trying to work through the ups and (mostly) downs that the game presents. We’ve come up with creative names, like Eko “Flavor-Crystal” Farts. Overall it has provided hours of great gaming time with great friends.
  3. Karuba: It’s so simple to teach and play. I’ve introduced it to a bunch of people and now my family collectively owns three copies between me and my brothers-in-law.
  4. Scythe: I only played once and I played poorly. However, it is obvious that this game has great depth and a truly immersive experience. It takes a special game to make you feel like you are in the game. This one succeeds at that.
  5. The Voyages of Marco Polo: True, classic, solid Euro. Really hit the mark for me. I LOVE the variable player powers. The dice placement works really well. Overall this is a game I can’t wait to play again.

Best Expansion of 2016

pic2623383_mdA little shameless self-promotion never hurt anyone, right? My favorite expansion from 2016 was Scoville: Labs!

What I love most about this expansion is that it adds a great layer of control to the game.

One of the things people griped about with the base game was that it was too tactical and they didn’t have enough control with what they were getting and when they would get it. That’s why i designed the personal pepper lab.

With the lab you can control exactly what you get and when you get it. This allows for a greater level of strategy rather than the more tactical base game.

Plus, as a bonus it comes with a bunch of extra peppers, which helps with the other common gripe from the base game that players would run out of peppers.

pic3003239_lg

Image via BoardGameGeek.com user mpalframan (link)

Check out Scoville: Labs from your favorite local game store or your favorite online game store.

Honorable Mention Games of 2016

There are a bunch of other games I really enjoyed from 2016. My list above was capped at 5 to really highlight those games, but these games also deserve some attention.

  1. Covert: The highlight of this spy-themed cold war Euro is how you can create fantastic combinations of cards, which allow you to pull of some really great moves. The gameplay works well and the artwork is amazing.
  2. Potion Explosion: This was a hit with some of our wives, which means it’s a winner. I didn’t have high expectations for this game, but once I played it I realized that I wanted to keep playing. The part that sells it to me was the special abilities of the potions.
  3. Quadropolis: So clever and tight and unique. Decisions are interesting and the placement of your tiles matters SO MUCH! I really like trying to figure out the best placement for tiles relative to how other players are playing. There’s actually quite a bit of interaction here as well.
  4. SeaFall: I’m not sure yet whether I enjoy this game. However, the experience is really what you are paying for when you buy this one. This presents a fantastically immersive experience for gamers. Now all I have to do is try to figure out how to get out of last place before we are done with the campaign.
  5. Terraforming Mars: Use the Draft Variant. This is a really enjoyable engine building game (using “engine building” lightly). Players use cards and can create combinations that will help them get ahead. Without the draft variant this game wouldn’t make the list.

Looking Ahead to 2017

I’m not doing another “The List” type thing. That was too much effort to track and bother over.

Another mistake from 2016 was that my gaming group switched to once-a-month rather than twice a month. We will be going back to twice a month.

As for design efforts I have one solo design that I believe has great potential and one co-design that I believe has even greater potential. Development on these two games will be at the forefront of my efforts. It would be great if I could get another game signed, but that’s something that is outside of my control and, as such, is not a reasonable goal.

My 2017 convention schedule is sparse at this point. I’ll probably go to Protospiel-Milwaukee in the spring and Protospiel-Madison in the fall. I’ll definitely be going to Gen Con in August. I’d love to go back to Grand Con in September or BGG.Con in November. Those are both enjoyable gaming-focused cons. Maybe 2017 will be the year I finally get to Origins.

As for this website, I’d like to hear from you. Let me know what sorts of articles you are interested in reading. What would you like to see on this site? Do you want more random design efforts like the Design Me articles? Would you like more tutorials like the “How To Teach Games” type stuff? Or maybe more game design related content like blank card templates or usable vector icons? Please feel free to comment here or on Twitter and let me know what sort of content you would be the most interested in.

Thanks for reading! I wish you a great 2017.

Non-Gamer Game Night Guide

I recently had a “non-gamer” game night with some neighbors of mine. It’s a great opportunity to be able to get together with people who don’t normally play hobby games. I love it when they play a game and then realize that there are more interesting things than LIFE, Monopoly, and Sorry.

I had tweeted a request for gaming options to see what people would recommend and I was inundated with great ideas. Thank you to those of you who replied to my tweet. Because I got so many results I thought I would bring all those suggestions together into this article to help you host a “Non-gamer” Game Night!

Invite some people!

You can’t have a game night without the people. (Well, you can since there are a lot of solo games out there, but I prefer playing games with other humans beings). So the first thing you’ll want to do is invite those neighbors of yours, or co-workers, or general acquaintances, who may or may not be interested in playing games. Bribe them with snacks or beverages. Tell them whatever you need to tell them to get them in the door.

Once they are there, here are two things to avoid:

  1. Don’t overwhelm them with the depth of your gaming knowledge. Just let them know you like games and wanna hang out with them for a while.
  2. Don’t go all crazy with the lingo by using words like “Meeple.” It may turn some people off. Use layman’s terms like “pawn” or “player piece.”

Did Someone Say “Snacks”

I usually like to have cheese and sausage and Peanut Butter M&Ms for game night. These are pretty safe foods, though the cheese and sausage should be accompanied by napkins to help the finger-lickers in the group have a more hygienic way of cleaning their fingers.

I have a general rule for game night snacks: nothing juicy, nothing sticky, nothing crumbly. 

Cheetos and similar foods are particularly bad because of the residue they leave behind on your fingers. The residue can easily be transferred to your precious game components. And when the typical game costs $40-$50 you just don’t really want to see Cheeto dust coating the cards. There was one time where someone wanted Chicken Wings. I almost uninvited them.

So pick out something dry and clean, like the aforementioned Peanut Butter M&Ms, or perhaps some Red Vines. Finger foods that can be popped into your mouth work well.

The (Gate-way) Games

So you’ve got the “non-gamers” in the door. Excellent work. (Note, I put “non-gamers” in quotes because deep down inside of us all we are all gamers even if we don’t know it). Now it’s time to get the right game to the table.

With non-gamers there are a few things you should consider when choosing the game:

  1. Are the rules easy to teach?
  2. Is the game easy to play?
  3. Does the game take a long time?

The first two mostly go together. You’ll want a game that is pretty simple to teach and play. Games that offer players only a few limited choices are usually good options. The third one is important because you typically don’t want to lose your audience in a 60+ minute game. It would almost always be better to player three 20 minute games.

This is where the tweet came into play. I wanted to get opinions about games that work well for non-gamers. I got a bunch of replies and here are some of the best games that I think fit my criteria for a non-gamer game night, in order of most recommended first:

  • Ticket To Ride – Classic gateway game. Build train routes. Three choices on your turn (Take Cards, Take Routes, Build connections).
  • Lanterns – A lovely game with a simple rule set. Play a tile, people get cards. Try to get the right sets of cards.
  • Camel Up – Qwirky theme and artwork. Players take one of five actions (Roll a die, Guess the Winner, Guess the Loser, Place a bid, Place Oasis/Desert)
  • Carcassonne –  Another classic gateway game. Place your tile and possible a player pawn. Do the best with the tiles you draw.
  • Codenames (And/or Codenames: Pictures) – A great party game where two clue-givers try to get their team to guess the correct words (or pictures). Great with larger groups.
  • Splendor – Basically a theme-less game, but the gameplay is simple and rewarding. On your turn you either 1) Take Gems, 2) Reserve a Card, or 3) Spend Gems to earn a card.
  • No Thanks – It’s a light card game about getting the right numbered cards. Try to get cards in sequence without gaps or you’ll get too many points. You don’t want points.
  • For Sale – Another light card game. This has two phases. Each is pretty simple to play.
  • Sushi Go – The easiest card-drafting game. Players are dealt a hand of cards. They choose one, play it, and pass the rest. Then they draw from the cards that they received. This continues for three quick rounds.
  • Love Letter – Very light and easy to understand yet full of interesting gameplay. On your turn you have a card in your hand already, you draw another, choose one of them to play and follow the instructions. You want to be the last person standing.
  • Qwixx – A light dice rolling game where players try to cross off numbers from 2 to 12 or vice versa. Easy to teach and quick to play.

There are some honorable mentions that are pretty good choices, but I couldn’t recommend them before any of those in the list above. These included

  • Bohnanza (Sometimes the “Bean Fields” idea confuses new players and some of the rules are just a little too much to remember for first timers)
  • 6 Nimmt (Haven’t personally played it so I couldn’t put it on the list)
  • Las Vegas (Haven’t personally played it so I couldn’t put it on the list)
  • Time Stories (I think this is probably too heavy and I haven’t personally played it so I couldn’t put it on the list)
  • Quadropolis (This was close to making the list)
  • Tokaido (This was also close to making the list)
  • Diamonds (Haven’t personally played it so I couldn’t put it on the list)
  • Rolling America (This probably could join Qwixx above but I haven’t played it so I didn’t want to put it on the list)
  • King of Tokyo (The special ability cards can make this a little more complicated than I’d like for non-gamers)
  • Forbidden Island (I don’t like co-op games for non-gamers)
  • Paperback (Fun deck builder, but deck building isn’t something I would push on non-gamers)
  • Libertalia (Very fun game but a little too deep for non-gamers)
  • Hanabi (Meets the criteria but it’s so thinky that I’d rather have something slightly easier for non-gamers)
  • Colt Express (Way too heavy for non-gamers)

Final Thoughts…

It is important to be patient with non-gamers. We gamers seem to grok new game rules pretty quickly and it is easy to take it for granted when new gamers or non-gamers don’t understand things. So take your time. It takes hearing something three times before it really sticks. Usually after I teach the rules I do a quick recap.

Remind people that you are getting together to have fun and hang out. Don’t make winning the only thing. Try to avoid back-stabbing play and certainly don’t go after any one player. Make them feel welcome and give them a chance for victory. If they win it will put good vibes in their head and they’ll be more likely to come back for another game night.

So there you go. Get your non-gamer friends in the door, choose some appropriate snacks, and get the right game on the table! Let me know what you do to help your non-gamer friends enjoy an evening of cardboard.

Scoville: Labs Now on Kickstarter!

The first expansion for Scoville is now live on Kickstarter! For $20 you can get the expansion. For $60 you can get the game and the expansion! But hurry, this campaign is only for 10 days and ends on August 21st!

The following information is from the Kickstarter campaign page

What’s In The Box?

Scoville Labs is an expansion for Scoville. [the base game is required for play.]  In the box you will find:

  • 6 Player Labs for private pepper research.
  • 9 Market Orders.
  • 9 Recipes.
  • Pepper Multiplier tokens.
  • 6 More “Plant 1 Extra Pepper” tokens.
  • 5 Phantom Peppers.
  • 5 each Green, Orange, and Purple Peppers.
  • 5 each Black, Brown, and White Peppers.
  • 1 Rule Book

And there are stretch goals, so when the project receives enough funding then we’ll get more awesome stuff in the box! Go check out the campaign to learn more about the stretch goals.

What Makes It Special?

The laboratory workbench for the blue player.

The laboratory workbench for the blue player.

Scoville: Labs is great because it gives players something they lacked in the base game: Control. Now that the competitors in the Scoville Chili Festival are allowed to do their own research they’ve all installed their own lab. The lab allows a player to plant and cross-breed peppers outside of the influence of other players. Now they can have more control over some of the peppers they will receive, and when they will receive them.

Using the 3 x 3 pepper lab players may plant a pepper in one of the pots each round. In subsequent rounds whenever a new pepper is planted it will immediately cross breed with the peppers directly adjacent to it. No one can mess with your lab, which means you have control over what you want to harvest from your lab.

I really like how the simple 3 x 3 personal lab can modify the game in such a fun and exciting way. I’m looking forward to seeing what you all think of it.

Plus, the expansion comes with more of those awesome peppers! So go check it out today! I’d love your support.

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

Big, as in a large number of games. Not as in the size of the game!

Big, as in a large number of gamers. Not the size of the game!

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:

  1. You’re playing games, perhaps enjoying a nice brew, and escaping all the other junk of life.
  2. You might even be enjoying some nice refreshments.
  3. With more gamers you often have more games to choose from.
  4. 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?

  1. You might wreck your budget trying to buy games for 8 or 10 players.
  2. Nuns on the Run, a hide-and-seek nun game, just doesn’t have the right theme!
  3. Players might get sick of finishing the night with a lap of Bisikle every time (gasp!).
  4. Indecision enters the gaming arena. Players struggle to agree on what to play.
  5. It’s often more difficult to break out new games. It always feels like you’re teaching new people old stuff.
  6. It’s often more difficult to break out heavy games. Big game night is more open to the casual player.

An 8-player recommendation!

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:

  1. Less beer options to choose from.
  2. Fewer refreshments.

3 hour games are acceptable at Level 1 Game Nights!

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:

  1. Heavier games make the table. Enter Uwe Rosenberg and Stefan Feld!
  2. New games can be played since there is usually a high willingness to learn together.
  3. Playtesting of prototypes happens more freely.
  4. You’ve learned what to expect from the other players.
  5. Inside jokes, Jerks!
  6. 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!

The Great Heartland Hauling Company

When I get home today I am hoping that my Kickstarter copy of The Great Heartland Hauling Company will be waiting in my mailbox.  During GenCon 2012 I was able to sit down and learn this game from the designer, Jason Kotarski.  Jason is a great guy that made an awesome game.  The Great Heartland Hauling Company was the first game I backed on Kickstarter.  The game uses a “pick up and deliver” mechanic in a very nice and simple package.  This game is accessible to gamers and non-gamers alike.  And the publishing company, Dice Hate Me Games, recently posted a video for how to play the game.  I am sharing that video with you:

How to play The Great Heartland Hauling Company, by Dice Hate Me Games

I really hope the game is there, stealthily waiting for me.  Filling up my mailbox.  Sitting next to the junk mail that goes straight to the trash.  This would be no trash.  There is no garbage can in the future for The Great Heartland Hauling Co.  This will go straight to the table.  And then afterward would find a nice cozy spot on the board game shelves, where it would soon make friends with all the other games in my possession.

UPDATE: For shame… my copy did not arrive today.

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