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Christmas Gift Guide for Gamers

Christmas Gift Guide

I would be remiss if I didn’t post an article sharing what I believe are some of the best games to give to family members for Christmas. So with Christmas a week and a half away, today I present my Christmas Gift Guide for gamers and non-gamers!

It’s always a little tough trying to decide what games your friends and family might like. Are they gamers who like strategy? Are they non-gamers that just like to hang out? It’s important to understand who you are buying for and what gaming environment they live in.

I’m breaking my recommendations into 3 categories: Party Games, Family Games, and Gamer Games. Check out the description for each to get a better idea from which category your gifts should come.

Let’s get started with “Party Games.”

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Party Games:

“Party Games” are games played with larger groups of people in a typically social, laid-back atmosphere. They often involve guessing, shouting, and laughing. These types of games also serve to help you learn about people.

Here are some solid games you can check out:

Dixit – In Dixit one player is the storyteller. They will choose a card and make up a story or one-liner about what they see on their card. Then all other players choose a card they think matches that story. The Storyteller’s goal is to get at least one player, but not everyone, to guess the correct card. Points are awarded for the guesses and the next player becomes the storyteller.

The Resistance (and The Resistance – Avalon) – This is a social deduction game. In this game each player is either a Resistance Operative or an Imperial Spy. For three to five rounds, they must depend on each other to carry out missions against the Empire. At the same time, they must try to deduce the other players’ identities and gain their trust. Players attempt missions and either support or sabotage them. Once the Resistance or the Imperials have won three missions, they win the game.

Telestrations – This game is also known in finer circles as, “Eat Poop, You Cat!” It is basically the game “Telephone” but in this case you are drawing the phrase and then the next player writes down what they think the drawing is showing. Then the next player draws that new guess and so on. We played this the other night and one of the pictures ended up with Three Wookiees at a beauty pageant.

Wits and Wagers – In Wits and Wagers players will guess a number for the question currently being asked, like “In what year did the Edmund Fitzgerald sink?” Then all the guesses are revealed and players will bid on the guess or guesses that they think are the closest without going over. Correct answers earn more bidding chips. Wrong guesses lose the bidding chips.

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Family Games:

“Family Games” are games for people who enjoy games but don’t want behemoths that are difficult to learn or take a long time to play. Often these games are accessible, quick to learn, easy to play, and have engaging themes. To me the word “accessible” typically refers to games that have a small decision space. Ticket to Ride, my first recommendation, is a great example of this since there are only three things you can do on your turn.

Here are my recommendations for Family Games:

Ticket to Ride – In Ticket to Ride players are competing to build the best rail network. Each player will have specific routes they need to connect. On your turn you either draw train cards, build connections with train cards, or draw new route cards. Throughout the game you will be building your network and hopefully connecting the cities on your route cards. The player with the most points at the end wins the game.

Sushi Go – Sushi Go is a fast and fun card drafting game where players are trying to score the most points with the cards they have. Each player is dealt a hand of cards. They will choose one card and pass the rest to their neighbor. Once all players have chosen they will then display their card face up. Then with the passed cards that they received they will choose another and display that as well. Each type of card has a different scoring condition. So choose your cards wisely. The player with the most points after three rounds will win.

King of New York – In King of New York players represent monsters trying to earn 20 points or be the last monster standing. Points are earned several ways. On your turn, you roll six dice up to three times, then carry out the actions on those dice. Actions include attacking other players and purchasing special monster abilities. You can also try to become the most Famous Monster in the city.

Camel Up – In Camel Up up to 8 players can participate in the camel race. On your turn you can move a camel, bet on a camel for the round, bet on a camel to win or lose the whole race, or place your track modifier. This game can get pretty chaotic and is good, light fun. I’ve never played where it wasn’t an awesome experience.

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Gamer Games:

“Gamer Games” refers to games that are more strategic and take longer than family games. Often these have more complicated rules than family games. But for that gamer in your family that needs more than Ticket to Ride to quench their gaming appetite, then check out these options:

Five Tribes – This is my game of the year because it is awesome. It uses a “worker displacement” mechanic where players try to unite the five tribes. Your objective is to score points via about 8 different scoring categories. You can also obtain Djinns (Genies) that allow you to do special things. There are a lot of clever moments where players feel rewarded for making good plays. The art is fantastic and the game is fun. I highly recommend it.

Puerto Rico – This is a “classic” role selection game where players are trying to build and develop the island of Puerto Rico. Each round players will choose one role each. When they choose the role they get a bonus ability for that role, then all other players get the option to copy the main ability of the role. Players have to manage resources while building buildings, hiring workers, and shipping goods. It’s a great gamer’s game.

Concordia – This is a sort of a deck building game. Players start with a hand of cards. Each card allows a specific action to be performed. Throughout the game players can build their deck by adding cards they believe to be beneficial. The cards also represent the scoring conditions so it is good to add cards to your deck. Players will also be trying to expand their control over the map by building settlements in different regions. The box cover art is hideous but the game is fantastic!

Star Wars: X-Wing Miniatures Game – Players will choose the Imperial Forces or the Rebels. These are represented by awesome minis of the ships from the Star Wars series. Each ship will be accompanied by a pilot with unique abilities or skills. Players control the flight of their craft and then one ship at a time they will have a chance to fire on the opposing fleet. This game is a lot of fun and is very thematic. There are also plenty of expansion ships you can waste spend your money on. Very fun game.

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I hope this helped you out. If you have other recommendations, please feel free to share them in the comments. Thanks for reading and I wish you a very blessed Christmas season!

 

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Monday Brews 12-8-14

We’re already a week into December and it’s been a good month so far. My family has had a sleepover in the living room in front of the Christmas tree (We have 5, 3, and half year old kids). I’ve played a bunch of new games. I just transferred my Belgian Dubbel from the fermenter to the carboy. It should be ready soon! And as a bonus it has been warm enough to melt most of the snow!

With a few weeks left until Christmas I’m sure a bunch of you are making your lists of board games you’d like to get. If you don’t have any ideas of games to get, or if you are not a gamer and want to know what to get for those awesome family members of yours who enjoy games, then check out these helpful gift guides from the folks at iSlayTheDragon:

Those are nice lists but they are a little restricted. I’m planning on posting my own list this week, so keep your eyes open for that and make sure your non-gamers relatives who need some Christmas ideas for you get a look!

And now, let’s get to the Boards and Barley!

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The Barley:

Image from San Diego Magazine. Rightly displayed with a Christmas Tree since it is a great seasonal beer!

BARLEY SPOTLIGHT:
Trader Joe’s Vintage Ale (2011)

Brewed by Unibroue in Canada and aged three years in my friend Adam’s basement! This was an amazing brew and I am now inspired to purchase and age my own bottles for future enjoyment.

This brew was a Belgian style brew that hit all the right notes. It was excellent. If you haven’t had any Unibroue beer I highly recommend any of them!

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The Boards:

Interesting art that tells nothing about the game.

BOARDS SPOTLIGHT:
Machi Koro

This one has had a lot of hype and coverage. I had heard good things and some mixed reviews. The thing that stuck out from the hype was that people were describing this as a fresh take on The Settlers of Catan. That piqued my interest.

After playing it I can definitely say that it has elements similar to Settlers. The overall gameplay is pretty similar. But rather than having settlements and cities you have cards. The cards you purchase allow you certain abilities based on the dice roll value. So you have to plan what cards you want and then whether or not you want to roll one or two die. I really enjoyed it and I’m looking forward to playing it again (and doing better).

  • Camel Up
  • Ticket to Ride
  • Kingdom Builder
  • Uno (My 5yo daughter has been really into this lately, except when she loses)
  • Tic-Tac-Toe – Played with my 5yo daughter. She got frustrated that I beat her every time but I was trying to teach her the secrets.
  • NEW: Pairs – I’m amazed that this simple pub game earned $330K on Kickstarter. The art is very nice and I’d play it again with the right crowd.
  • NEW: Evolution – This was better than I expected. I really enjoyed it despite playing really horribly. The mechanics of the game are really clever. I’m looking forward to playing again.
  • NEW: AttrAction – More fun than you should be able to have with magnets. It was actually a pretty fun experience.
  • NEW: Temporum – I could sense the Donald X in this game. It had some really cool things going for it. The downfall is that games can be drastically different depending on the combination of cards that are dealt. I enjoyed it despite that and I’m looking forward to playing it again.
  • NEW: Colt Express – I think this game could be a lot of fun… when you’re not getting shot! There are some really neat programming things going on in this game. Unfortunately my programming led to me being shot 10 times! I lost.

Overall it has been a great couple weeks with all the new games I was able to play. That being said, my gaming group still has over 10 games that are owned but unplayed. Must do more gaming!

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Designer’s Corner:

I mentioned a couple weeks ago that I had a couple new game designs I’ve been working on and that I was going to blog about them. And you probably noticed I haven’t blogged about them. In fact I’ve been pretty quiet on this site as of late. That’s because life is pretty busy with a full time job and three kids, one of which is a 6 month old.

I will be writing an article for each of my current designs: Ziggurat and Impossible. Those should be coming out this week in addition to the Holiday Gift Guide I plan on writing. I’m setting myself up for failure here, but I’d rather have my hand forced to actually put some content here. I’m looking forward to hearing what you all have to say about Ziggurat and Impossible.

Monday Brews 12-30-13

Welcome to the final Monday Brews of the year! Oh what a year it’s been. Last year this blog didn’t even exist. And now I have tens of readers a day. The three of you who keep refreshing the page are awesome!

But seriously, this blog has been a lot of fun to write and I sincerely thank you for taking the time to read it. I only hope that you’ve learned something about board games and beer. I’ll have a “2014 Goals” article later this week which will cover my big plans for 2014. But today is Monday, so let’s see what Boards and Barley I enjoyed in the past two weeks (I was traveling last Monday):

The Barley:

Have you ever had a smoked beer?

Alaskan Smoked Porter: I enjoyed this beer and the Paulaner while listening to bluegrass at an awesome local establishment. I think a full glass of a smoked beer is about twice as much smoked beer as I can handle. It was a pretty solid smoked beer, though.

Paulaner Salvator: I used to think I liked this beer, but I didn’t care for it during the bluegrass. I’m wondering, now, if the smoked beer beforehand wrecked my palate.

New Glarus Fat Squirrel: A local brew that was brought to a game night, this brown ale is an excellent cold weather beer.

Gray’s Bully Porter: Didn’t I mention a few weeks ago that I thought I was all Portered out? Oh well. This was also available at game night so I gave it a try. It was pretty good.

Central Waters Mudpuppy Porter: I love the name Mudpuppy. And the beer was pretty good, like the Gray’s. Unfortunately all these porters I enjoyed are all blending together and I can’t quite recall if one was better than the others.

Leinenkugel’s Snowdrift Vanilla Porter: Well, this one stands out from the other porters since it has the vanilla flavor. It also has a nice crispness to it. Or perhaps it stood out in my memory because I enjoyed it with my in-laws during our Christmas morning. Newton’s Oatmeal Stout: This homebrew of mine will sustain me over the winter. (4.2% abv)

I love the bottle label!

Fleming’s Scotch Ale: This homebrew of mine will make me tipsy over the winter. (6.6% abv)

Sierra Nevada Celebration: They love a good IPA or Pale Ale over at Sierra Nevada Brewery. But this IPA isn’t so IPA-ish. It doesn’t seem as hoppy as some of those hop-forward breweries who push the limits of the IBUs in their beer. I think I liked it, but I’m not sure I would drink it again.

Monk’s Stout DuPont: The typography on the bottle is awesome! The beer inside in interesting. Made in Blegium at Brasserie DuPont, this is the first beer I’ve had from the brewery. I think I need to try it again before I really form an opinion, but I think I liked it.

The Boards:

Too awesome to NOT make a game about them!

Sequoia Grove: This was supposed to be an entry into the Dice Hate Me 54 Card Challenge. The premise is that you are a researcher of trees, otherwise known as a Dendrologist. Your goal in the game it to grow the largest, widest sequoia tree possible. You can add height and girth to the tree during the game. My entry worked and was playable, but wasn’t up to the high quality expected in the Dice Hate Me line of games.

Backyard Astronaut: This is my friend Adam’s entry into the 54 card challenge and it IS up to the high quality of the Dice Hate Me line of games. It is a fantastic game and I believe it has a real shot in the contest. Nicely done A-Game!

Viticulture: Other than some cards being more valuable than others I think this is a pretty enjoyable worker placement game. It won’t take the place of Stone Age, but this is definitely a game I’ll play again. I like how you have to “save” some workers for the winter phase of the game.

Qwirkle: This game has made many a showing in 2013 and I imagine it will be the same in 2014. It is easy to teach and understand. It plays quickly. And if you have the travel size you can take it just about anywhere!

Compounded: I’ll write more about this game in tomorrow’s article. Over Christmas I was able to teach this to a new player and she won the game. It is easy enough to understand, it has a lot of awesome interaction and the theme is great! If you haven’t played it I highly recommend picking up a copy.

Dam It! Redux: You can learn more about my beaver game on it’s page. I tried reducing the game for the Dice Hate Me 54 Card Challenge and I succeeded… sort of. I successfully reduced the game to 54 cards. The game worked and the few playtesters that I played with said it was fun. But as a designer I knew it just wasn’t quite there. So I didn’t send this in. On the upside I do think this is something that I can finalize and put for sale on The Game Crafter.

Le Havre – The Inland Port: I received this for my birthday back in August and finally got to play it. It is a very interesting game of resource management that I royally lost. I’ll probably trade this game since it doesn’t get played very often. It just seemed like it was an abstract game in the Le Havre theme.

Agricola – All Creatures Big and Small x2: This game, however, had the awesome feel of Agricola. It was tight. It was nerve wracking. It was a nice mental battle. And it has the nice elements of Agricola without the fiddly cards and the need to feed your family. I’ll be keeping this one and I hope to play it again soon.

Kingdom Builder x2: I was able to set up and play a 6 player game of Kingdom Builder. The house rule for this is to add two more kingdom boards so that it is a 2 wide by 3 high board. Since all the scoring conditions are shared there is no real disadvantage to anyone by bumping it to six players. I hope that Queen Games has a few more expansions up their sleeves for this one.

Missing 14 years worth of cards.

Ultimate Outburst: My mom got me this game for Christmas because 1) I don’t own it, and 2) it’s not like all those thinky games I have. We played it together as a family and it was actually quite fun. We played men vs women and the women won. The big downside to the game was that its from 1999 and the information on the cards reflects that.

Tenzi x20: A while back I bought Farkle Party at a thrift store but it had no dice in it. (It had jewelry). I wanted the dice for prototyping purposes. My mom bought me Tenzi because instead of just 40 dice, it is also a game. You must roll your dice so that they all come up the same value. First person to get all their dice the same wins. It was a very thoughtful gift and I am happy to have the dice for design purposes. Thanks mom!

Carcassonne – The Discovery: This is an interested take on the Carcassonne world. You only have four followers and you don’t get them back right away when something is finished. That’s because you can remove them before their thing is completed, or simply wait and never remove them. I’m not sure if I liked it so I’ll have to play it again.

Scoville: I played with my family and was able to play with “final” artwork that I had printed out. While I didn’t have all of the final artwork I had enough to realize that it’s gonna be awesome! Hopefully the art can get wrapped up so we can launch the Kickstarter campaign in January, but at this point I’m not holding my breath.

The Little Prince x2: This is one of those game I was happy to get at GenCon this year. The gameplay is awesome. However, I have no nostalgic connection with the book on which the game is based, so I would prefer a retheme. Make it about colonizing Mars or something like that.

Euphoria: The second Stonemaier Game on the list and another worker placement game. This time your workers are dice and their values matter. I’ll definitely play this again as the first play was steep with learning. Overall I thought it was fun and I think that will be the case after a second play.

Designer’s Corner:

Quantum Orcas is getting there!

I have recently been making excellent strides in the design department and I owe it all to the 54 card challenge. That challenge really lit a fire under me and I tried as hard as I could to come up with something worthy of the challenge. I now have a new mechanic that I plan to utilize to the fullest in a future game design. It may or may not be awesome, but it is at least innovative.

Also I designed a card game version of Scoville that plays quickly and has the feel of Scoville. I already have it prototyped and I’ve soloed it twice. The next step is to put it in front of my friends for their analysis. I’m really excited about it.

I also worked on Quantum Orcas. It is now a better game, which wasn’t hard to achieve. I added oceanic wormholes (think of them as eddy currents) that open up the game quite a bit. I also changed things up a bit to eliminate the All-or-Nothing nature of ties. I’m hoping to submit my friends to this one as well. This is a game I would probably put up for sale on The Game Crafter, but probably not pitch to publishers. We’ll see where it goes.

And I’ve got big plans for 2014. I’ll have an article on the 1st about my Boards & Barley goals for the year, so you can look forward to that.

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There you have it… the final Monday Brews of 2013. What Boards and Barley did you enjoy over Christmas?

Holiday Gaming Guide

‘Tis the season to be jolly! Whether or not you celebrate Christmas, you can still see that this time of year is special. Winter is nearly here, snow may be on the ground where you live, and the year is about to end. As we scramble to get in as many games as we can before the end of the year we usually find that we get the privilege of gaming with friends or family that don’t normally play games.

So today I present my guide to holiday gaming. Let’s get started with the best introductory games for non-gamers!

Non-Gamer Games…

When gathering together with family for Christmas I usually like to “dumb down” the level of games that I bring along. While I think they would probably enjoy longer, heavier games I find it’s just not worth it to try and teach those types of games. So I like to bring games that are light and accessible, yet still fun to play.

The other day I sent out a tweet and asked what games people like to bring for non-gaming family members. I got a great response:

So let’s run through some of my favorites from those that people mentioned (that I have played before):

  • Have you got your ticket? All Aboard!

    Qwirkle: This is such a simple game but has such excellent tactics. I have the travel version so it’s so easy to bring along!

  • Dixit: It’s like Balderdash without the fiddlyness and with beautiful cards. Can you make up a story? Then try out this game. Plus, it can play up to 12 players so know one will be left out at your Christmas gathering!
  • Ticket to Ride: A classic gateway game renowned for simplicity and accessibility! My non-gaming sister-in-law put it on her Christmas list a few years ago. If you haven’t taught this to your non-gaming family members yet, this is the year!
  • Apples to Apples: It’s simple… play a card that you think the player will choose. While that sounds a little boring, this game is a lot of fun with family members. And it can help you learn about them. So invite your crazy uncle to play so you can learn to avoid what he likes!
  • Farmageddon: This is a fun “take-that” farming game where you scrape by to get any points you can. The theme is funny and the artwork is great. Plus, the price is ideal!
  • The Great Heartland Hauling Co.: For small box games with big strategy this one is a winner. You are a trucker utilizing a pick up and deliver mechanic. It plays quickly and has awesome wooden 18 Wheeler Meeples!
  • Hanabi: It can be infuriating! But it is so much fun. This is a hidden information game where you build fireworks. The info that is hidden are the cards in your own hand. Everyone else can see what you have except you. Work together as a team in this cooperative game to build all the fireworks!
  • Love Letter: About as quick as they come, Love Letter is a card game about winning the princess’ heart. It’s so quick and easy that it would be a crime not to play it with non-gamers.

Any of those games listed above would be good games to play with non-gamers. They are all accessible, relatively light, and all are fun to play. But if you’ve got people who want a little more strategy, here are my mid-tier recommendations for Christmas holiday gaming:

For those wanting more…

Sometimes family will want a slightly heavier game. You may have already piqued their gaming interest with one of the games listed above. So now what? Here are a few games that I think fit the “gateway” mold very well. These are games for people who want to play more and want a little more strategy.

  • How would you build a kingdom?

    Stone Age: I love teaching this game to non-gamers who want a little more. It has excellent strategy. But moreso, there is the idea of trying to do the absolute best with your tribe on every single turn. And the theme is fun.

  • Carcassonne: I would have put this in the upper list, but some people don’t always quite get the placement strategy. Fundamentally it is simple: Take a tile, Place a Tile, Put a meeple on it if you want. But there is a serious amount of fun going on here.
  • Dominion: I have had my fill of this game, but it definitely is a great one for those wanting more strategy and depth. This is the original deck-building game where each turn you can add cards to your personal deck. As the game progresses, the better cards in your deck allow you to do more and better stuff. It’s also pretty easy to teach and learn.
  • Pandemic: While I’m not huge on the cooperative thing in games, this game is greatly loved and adored my many people. You have to work together to stop the viruses from spreading and creating epidemics. The theme is pretty cool and there was recently a newly revised version out. So this might be something for those who want more.
  • Kingdom Builder: I love this game. And I love the variability with the expansions. The concept is simple, but the strategy is deep. Kingdom builder is another fun game where you try to maximize each and every turn. I highly recommend this one.
  • Bohnanza: This is a card game about planting beans. But the strategy here is pretty awesome. When should you harvest? Should you wait one more turn? Should you buy that 3rd bean field? This game involves a lot of fun decisions.

Those are some very good options for mid-tier games that you might want to try with your families. Finally, here are my gamer games that I might try to push on people this Christmas season:

The Big Dogs…

These are games that are deep, strategic, and heavier than what your family of non-gamers might be into. But if you can teach them well and quickly explain the games then they might be worth trying to get to the table.

  • Agricola: The game of farming and family growth.

    Power Grid: This can is a nice heavy game with a ton of strategy and interesting decisions. You are trying to build a power grid and supply power to the most cities. But there is a balance of overentending yourself for money or hanging back and trying to leapfrog for the win. Excellent game.

  • Anything Rosenberg: Agricola, Le Havre, Ora et Labora, Glass Road, Caverna. You can’t go wrong. These are heavy games that allow you to spend a long time sitting down with your family. But these games are intense and challenging. I recommend them.
  • Anything Feld: If you want something slightly less intense, but no less awesome, then check out games by Stefan Feld. Macao, Notre Dame, Trajan, In the Year of the Dragon, The Castles of Burgundy, Rialto, Bruges, Bora Bora. Seriously… this guy is a designer of awesomeness!
  • 7 Wonders: The learning curve is a little too steep for this to have been in the previous lists. But this game is seriously awesome. You are trying to build one of the 7 Wonders and you are trying to make yours the best! A cool card drafing mechanic is the main concept behind the game and it works really well.
  • Lords of Waterdeep: If you’ve got any Dungeons & Dragons people in your family then I recommend trying out this worker placement game with them. It’s a fantastic game that works really well.
  • Empire Builder: A classic. This game involves players drawing routes on the board with crayons. Routes allow your trains to access different cities. This is probably my favorite pick up and deliver game.

There you go. I’ve provided three different game categories for you to push on your families. After the holidays I’ll report back since I’m going to ramp up my efforts this year. And I’ll be looking forward to hearing how it went with you all! So pour yourself some egg nog, eat too much food, and play games with your family!

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