Author: ootgamer

GeekList: My non-gamer spouse choices

GeekList: My non-gamer spouse choices

I am one of those lucky enough to be married to the nicest person I know. While she might argue otherwise, my wife is among the very few people I know who is generous with what she has; whether it is time or attention. She has few interests and a chockfull of responsibilities. Meanwhile, I am into virtually everything in the pop culture genre and have a borderline psychotic addiction to games.

Now with a one-year old stamping around the house, which constantly amazes and terrifies us simultaneously, I came to the stark realization sacrifices needed to be made. Weekly gaming sessions turn into an infrequent luxury; frequent raids on online board game stores turn into a rare but no less intense begging and attempts to justify my purchases. That said, as one is responsible for one’s own sanity, my relentless battle for the chance to occasionally play my favorite games helps maintain a functional mental health to deal with uncertain but rewarding life as a new parent.

Although my wife’s gaming escapades in between the baby’s naps are mostly limited to gaming apps on her phone, the right timing combined with a tithe of shortcakes from a nearby bakery might persuade her to indulge me once in a blue moon. With this post, I would like to share the FIVE games out of my collection that she would actually ASK to play, along with a short description. I will most probably do more in-depth reviews of these games at a later date. Without further ado, here are the rarest of the gems, in no particular order.

★Splendor★

pic1904079_mdIn Splendor, players are gem traders vying to be the most savvy, wealthiest merchant in the business. The game is teachable in 5 minutes but offers deeply strategic decisions. Players use 5 types of gems they acquire during the game, represented by heavy-duty poker chips with beautifully illustrated precious stones, to purchase gem cards which in turn provide them with discounts when buying future cards. Smart planning to obtain help from influential townspeople and the use of gold chips as wild cards keep the game engaging without being too complicated. Playable in around 30 minutes, it is a great game for couples and families alike. Nominated for Spiel de Jahres and won the Golden Geek Game of the Year in 2014, it is perfect for casual and non-gamers alike.

★Dixit★

pic455883_md

Dixit has become a staple when we have guests over. The most striking feature of the game is the oversized cards filled with lovely, fantastical images that can be interpreted a thousand ways. Each turn a designated storyteller sets a theme; which could be a sentence, poem, song or story; and place a card face-down on the table. Then the other players have to also each play a card from their hand which they think best matches the theme. After all the cards are shuffled and revealed, all players but the storyteller vote on which card is the storyteller’s card. You score points not only when you correctly guess which card, but also when other players vote on your card. A whimsical game for 3-6 players which demands creativity and promotes light-hearted fun. Won Spiel de Jahres in 2010, Dixit would also be suitable for children as young as 6 years old.

★Rhino Hero★

pic2022956

Haba is a company famous for its children’s games. But that does not mean adults cannot play them and have tremendous fun while at it. In Rhino Hero, players have to take turns constructing a building with cards as its walls and floors, which gets shakier as it gets taller. The floor cards have effects that require players to skip turns, change play directions or draw additional cards, not unlike Uno. Alas, the mighty Super Rhino in his excitement to save the world often forgets his own weight. One card effect requires players to place a wooden Super Rhino token on one of the floor cards, further increasing the possibility of toppling the building. A nail-biting game for 2-5 players which won the 2012 Spiel de Jahres Kinderspiel Recommendation and nominated for the Golden Geek Best Children’s Board Game in 2014.

★Goblins Drool, Fairies Rule!★

pic1392330_md

I love rhymes. A game involving rhymes? Not so much, because I know I would be terrible at it. However Goblins Drool, Fairies Rule! is such a simple children game anyone can enjoy it. The game comes with two-sided cards, Goblins on one side and Fairies on the other. Each card has a short rhyme on it related to the image on it. The goal of the game is for players to get rid of their Goblin cards or obtaining 6 Fairy cards. They do so by playing a card onto the common pool on their turn. Consequently, all the cards already in the pool with matching symbol (Sun, Moon, Mushroom, or Frog) will be flipped, revealing their opposite sides. The turn player then takes all the cards with matching rhymes onto their play area. Once a player reaches one of the goals, the game ends and he or she wins. Nominated for Golden Geek Best Children’s Game twice in a row, it is a great choice to teach children phonetics and rhyme.

★Above and Below★

pic2398773_md

The only game that actually comes with a board on this list. Players are villagers looking to settle in a new haven after their last villages were ransacked by barbarians. You finally found one, but need to brave countless dangers and encounter fantastic creatures to rebuild your settlement both above and below ground. The game comes with a book of encounters which the player on your right read on your turn, narrating the events you have to face during your explorations. A combination of choose-your-own adventure RPGs and a worker placement game, Above and Below offers a meaty, strategical fantasy adventure with lots of interesting choices to be made. Nominated for Golden Geek Award in 5 categories and the Meeples’ Choice Award, it is apparent Above and Below would be a hit with gamers throughout the spectrum.

And there we have it. Let me know your thoughts in the comments, or even make your own recommendations for games suitable to play with your non-gaming spouses. Until next time, keep on gaming.

 

 

Advertisements
String Safari

String Safari

Epic, hours-long games are great. They offer deep, fulfilling experiences even though by the time you finish a game you might realize you only have an hour to catch a few winks of sleep before heading to work. Therefore, the demand for shorter games that are somewhat satisfying is increasing in recent years. Especially since it has become increasingly difficult to find serious gamers in my neighborhood that, most often than not, convincing someone whose core gaming experience is Angry Birds in the bathroom to try out board games is inevitable. That is where micro games come in. And in recent years, many small independent publishers in Japan has churned out so many, often good, micro games. String Safari is a very good example.

  • Designer: Hisashi Hayashi
  • Publisher: IDW Games; OKAZU Brand; Pandasaurus Games; Japon Brand
  • Year published: 2013
  • Number of Players: 3-5
  • Playing time: 30 minutes.

Overview

Players are animal experts, or zoologists, trying to gather as much information about the wild animals living in the savanna. The main goal of the game is to fulfill certain research goals, which are different for each player. The unique selling point of this game is the board is made up of your gaming table and a piece of long, spread out piece of string, which represent the savanna. A turn consists of 6-8 steps, which I will elaborate on later in this review. Players take their turns in clockwise order. When all players have had their turns once, a round ends. Players then start a new round and continue until a set number of rounds based on the number of players has been completed.

img_0257
From top left to bottom right: Extra long, dark brown Field string, rules booklets in English and Japanese, gray Research string, Land tiles, player Research markers in 6 colors, Animal tiles, Victory point coins and Research tiles

Components

I have the Japanese OKAZU Brand version, the first edition of the game. The components might not be as nicely produced as the other versions but it gets the job done to some extent. The tiles are well produced and the illustrations are fine. The animals look like those you might see on a poster at a pediatrician office, which I understand is a strange example but you get it right away, don’t you? If I have one complaint it is with the coins. They are cheap, tiny plastic coins in four different colors to represent four different point values. However, they all have the same faces, which requires you to decide beforehand which color represents which value before the game. It annoys me slightly but it is functional. I suspect the English versions of the game have better components.

Gameplay

img_0258
A game set up for 3 players

To set up the games, you take the long dark brown string and spread it out on the playing surface. Then, within the confines of the string, place 16 animal tiles randomly face up on the field with at least a finger’s breadth between each of them. This is the savanna. The research tiles are then shuffled then placed next to the savanna with 5 of them placed face up. Each player gets a number of markers based on the number of players.

At the beginning of each round, all players do 2 things:

  1. Draw an animal tile.
  2. Take a face up research tile or draw one randomly from the face down pile. Then replenish the face up tiles.

A Player Round:

    1. Place an animal tile from your hand on the field.
    2. Enclose tiles (animals and/or land) with the grey Research string.
    3. Collect Victory Points based on the tiles you enclose and your current research tile. Look at the picture below for an example scoring.
    4. Place a Research marker on one of the tiles you have enclosed that does not already have a marker on it.
    5. Carefully remove the Research string. Make sure it does not shift any tiles around.
    6. Draw a new animal tile from the deck.
    7. Take a new research tile on place it on top of your current one.
    8. Pass the Research string to the player on your left.
img_0260
This enclosure, for example, requires a player to enclose three carnivores near the edge of the savanna (the icon on the bottom right of the Research tile). This particular research gives the player 3 points (for the carnivores) + 1 bonus point (for the “footprints” tile). However at the end of the game, the owner of this research would get -1 point (bottom left of the Research tile).

Continue playing a number of rounds. In the final round, skip steps 6 to 8. Then calculate your final score by adding the following:

  • Your accumulated coins.
  • The total points on the bottom right of all your Research tiles.
  • The total points on the bottom right of all Animal tiles with your markers on them.

The player with the most points wins the game! Roar!

Final Thoughts

A quick, simple game that is still interactive due to the marker placements. The innovative use of strings is also a big plus. Here are some reasons why String Savanna deserve a place in your collection:

  • Family friendly due to the simple rules and its educational nature. Not only can young children learn the names of animals, they can also to some extent learn about their characteristics, e.g. Leopards are nocturnal carnivores; Golden jackals are canines, etc.
  • Small enough to carry around and as long as there is a flat surface it can be played almost anywhere.
  • A relaxing, tactical game for those looking for fillers between longer games.
  • Comes with simpler rules for younger children. The lowest recommended age is 6 years old.

And there you go. I might post something other than reviews for the next one. Meanwhile, have fun gaming!

Nations

Nations

Most civilization-building games are bittersweet. On the one hand, they provide players with rich, fulfilling and productive experience, while allowing for deep, strategic choices to be made. On the other hand, a lot of them are way too long and complex, making your friends’ eyes glaze over with feigned interest while you attempt to explain the rules with increasingly sweaty palms. There have also been some quicker and simpler games available, but their lack of depth inadvertently brands them as nothing more than fillers between longer game sessions. Among all the civilization building games, there has been none as deep and fulfilling as Through the Ages: A Story of Civilization. However that game is also at least 4 hours long, and that is for experienced players. It is also unforgivably hard, fiddly and somewhat abstract.

The closest, more accessible alternative I have found so far is Nations. As a bonus, the designers’ names come with circles on the As.

Overview

Nations covers 4 Ages, from Antiquity (476-1453) to Industrial (1760-1850) with each Age spanning 2 game rounds. Each round is divided into 3 phases: Maintenance, Action and Resolution. I will explain each phase in greater detail later in the review. There are ways to adjust the difficulty levels of the game to make it easier for beginners or more challenging for experienced players.

Components

For a modern board game, the artwork is comparable to older classical board games; it is aesthetically simple but functional.

all
The components (top left to bottom right): Scoring board, progress board, rule book, tokens and cards,  player boards.

The icons depicting the various resources are easy to remember and instinctive. A few rounds and they will be second nature. For less experienced players and turkeys, the game comes with handy dandy player aids.

IMG_20160828_175921
The resources: Coin, VP, Food, Stone, Books

Gold is used for buying Progress cards; Stone for deploying workers in Buildings, recruiting Military, and building Wonders; Food allows for population growth and protects from famine; Books provides VPs at the end of every Age.

Cards are of good quality; mounted boards are thick and sturdy, while player boards are made of thick card stock. Overall, the components are top-notch and worth the price. However, there are a lot of them: Hundreds of cards and tokens, boards for each player and the main boards. Definitely get a big table or a play on the floor. Yes, I have friends who play board games on the floor. Suffice to say we no longer play at their places.

Gameplay

If you organize your components, setup and cleanup are fairly quick. After setting up the Scoring and Progress boards, each player needs to pick a nation to play as. Take the board you like then choose a side to play with: A- or B-side. A-side is for your first game and all players would have identical starting setup. Pick B-side if you prefer each player to begin with unique starting setups. Here is a comparison of the A- and B-sides of the Persia board.

IMG_20160828_180144

IMG_20160828_180219

Now let us take a look at a summary of a round. We start with…

I. Maintenance Phase:
1. Move the Round marker.
2. Refill the Progress board with cards.
3. Growth: Take either a worker, coin, food or stone.
4. Draw a new Event card.
5. Refill Architect spaces.

This phase is the upkeep phase so there aren’t many decisions to be made. Taking note of the new Event card and Progress cards really helps you decide your next move in which you pick one of the three actions available in the…

II. Action Phase:
A. Buy Progress Card.
IMG_20160828_175416.jpg
Progress cards (top left to bottom right): Advisers, War, Building, Golden Age, Wonder, Military, Colony, Battle
offer.jpg
Progress board setup for 3 players

This is the chunk of the decision you have to make in the game. The Progress cards provide you with effects and powers to help you build your nation and form your strategy. As the game progresses, you obtain more Progress cards which you place on your Player board.

B. Deploy a Worker.

Place a Worker on either your Military cards (to grow your army), or your Building cards (to make them work in them).

C. Hire Architect.
Architects are black colored cubes that you can place on your Wonder cards to build them, which in turn give you powerful effects.

After all players pass, we see how the round resolves in the…

III. Resolution Phase:
1. Production: Produce/consume resources based on what is written on your Player board.
2. Adjust player order based on Military strength.
3. War. Interestingly, there is no bashing nor stabbing in this phase. The strength of the War card played during the Action Phase determines whether you are affected or not. Any player with Military Strength equals or higher than the War card’s is not affected. Those with lower Strength lose VPs (and sometimes resources). However, this loss can be reduced by your Stability.
4. Events. Thematic historical events that benefit or impede certain players based on their statuses at the time.
5. Famine. Lose Food shown at the top of the Event card.
6. Score Books. Only do this at the end of each Age.

The game ends after Round 8, and players score VPs based on the cards on their Player boards, resources and VP tokens they have accumulated during the game. The nation with the most VPs is the winner. Huzzah!

Final Thoughts

Although I would not herald Nations as the best Civilization game ever, it does what it sets out to do: create a simple, accessible engine-building experience that is different every time you play it. Here are the reasons why I think Nations deserve a spot in anyone’s collection:

  • The decision making process is so intuitive and thematic, yet straightforward enough any casual gamer would have no trouble lapping it up.
  • It rewards you for maintaining a balanced and unique strategy.
  • It does not punish you for choosing peaceful tactics over more aggressive strategy, and does in fact provide you with tools to deal with warlike players.
  • It is a gamer’s game that I would not hesitate to bring to a gaming session because the possibility of getting it on to the table is quite high due to its customizable length.
  • It is awfully balanced almost to a fault.

And there we have it. Thanks for reading this far. I am off to celebrate my first board game review blog with a glass of ginger ale and a good night sleep, in that order. Check back for more in a couple of weeks.