Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Unpub Mini Vancouver

I love playing boardgames. I hope by now that's obvious. I love finding new ones or rekindling my love for old ones. But discovering new classics before they're even on the market is a rare and wonderful privilage, and last weekend I had the joyous opportunity to disscover not one, but several of them on the same day!

Unpub Mini Vancouver was a one day event organised to allow local game designers show off their prototype games, and a chance to have them playtested by a whole lot of new people outside their usual circle of friends. One of my regular gaming buddies, Chase, brought along his game, Berlin Noir which I've played several times and seen go through various iterations over the last few months. Another of the prototypes there was from one of the organisers, Marcel, who brought For Greed or Glory, a game I played at Terminal City Tabletop Convention earlier this year. With so many others on offer, I didn't play either of those, but luckily I'm friends with both, so technically I can pester them to bring their games over and play any time I want.

I arrived at the venue, Magic Stronghold around 11:30am, and there were already a few people playing various games. I was trying to be there by 10:30, but got utterly lost on the way. Apparently, they moved recently, so, while Google Maps dropped the pin on the current location, when I asked it to route me to the store, it took me to the old location. I just didn't double-check, blindly climbing aboard the indicated bus! Anyway, I got there eventually, and with more than enough time to game!

The first prototype I played was Town Builder, by Eric Raué, who happened to be the other organiser of the event! This is a drafting card game, where players collect and construct buildings in a town, competing over projects and materials for the top score.

One of my favourite touches was in the layout. This game was visually beauitful, with wonderful, colourful card art, and fantastic, clear card layout. Each card serves a dual purpose of both building and material. If you want a card as a building, you take it and lay it sideways to represent that it's under construction. But every card can also by materials to construct your projects, repersented by the material icons at the base of the card. If you want a card to be contruction materials, you take it and place it upside down under a project you're currently building. The materials icon is upside down in relation to the rest of the card, but rightside up when it's used as a resource! Genius! The only game I've ever seen have a similar design feature is the original Cheapass Games The Big Idea. I loved it there, and I love it here.

The art on Town Builder, by Fillipe Martin, is gorgeous. Eric claims there's still a lot to be done, but apart from one greyscale card, I loved how the rest looked on the day. The difference between "complete" and "nearly complete" seemed to be in object definition, with completed cards having buildings and elements outlined in sharp, clean lines. "Nearly complete" had this soft, almost impressionistic feel to them, a slight haze that made the scenes depicted into a dreamy, summer day. I really liked that style, but I can also see what Eric is looking for.

Play is clear and fast, with almost no downtime between your turns, even in a 4-player game. The whole game took a little over 30 minutes to play, even with having to explain the rules to two new players. Players draw two cards from the central face-up cards per turn, so you can decide to start a new project, or work toward completing a current one. It's worth noting at this point that it's a whole lot of fun to steal a building another player wants, just to throw it away as a resource for one of your own buildings!

But what's Town Builder like as a game? Honestly, it's great! I mean, Eric says it needs more polishing, and I'm sure he knows best, but I loved playing it as is. We all ended very close to each other in the final scoring, even though I was playing a 4-player game against the designer and another designer who had played a few times before. I got an awesome combo right at the end, triggering, if I recall correctly, four cards and completing two buildings! It plays fast, borrowing a gameplay mechanic from Bohnanza. The game ends when the discard deck is resuffled twice. The first play through the deck is the longest. When the deck is shuffled once, players already have a lot of cards out of it in play, either as buildings or resources. The second shuffle is a bit smaller again, and everyone knows the end is coming fast, so completing buildings becomes a top priority.

With a 30 minute playtime, Town Builder is a fast, fun drafting game that is easy to learn and beautiful to look at. I'll definitely be keeping an eye on Kickstarter next spring for this one, and I'll be letting you all know about it when it comes up!

The second game of my day was the even faster real-time co-operative monster masher, World Defence Force, by Adrian R. Walker. Players work together to trade and swap coloured cards in order to build up a stock of single colours to buy attack cards from central, shared piles in three minute rounds. At the end of each three minutes, whatever monster is showing on the Monster Deck takes its frustrations out of the Population Deck, eating a bunch of them and diminishing the players options. With only 100 cards in the Population Deck at the start, it's pretty devestating to watch 20 of them get munched on, then another 20 three minutes later and then another 15!

World Defence Force is frantic, but less stressful than something like Escape The Curse of the Temple, which can feel overpowering at times as players talk over each other and all continue to act simultaneously. In World Defence Force, players take actions individually, going clockwise around the table in standard turn order. Every turn is "Draw a card, discard a card, swap a colour set with an Attack card, if possible, and draw back up to five cards", all of which can be done fairly quickly, and planned, roughly, during other players turns. If one player takes 20 seconds to make a decision, that affects the time for everyone, but most players turns are over in less than 5 seconds.

The card design in World Defence Force is super clean and clear, something I really love. Each Population card is just a big block of colour in a thin boarder, and Attack cards are similar colour blocks with number printed big and bold on them. Each colour has its own unique pattern as well, which is just visual flavor, but really appealed to me during play. I wonder if Adrian has tested the patterns for colour-blind players, or if it's just a neat feature? Ensuring the patterns are visually distinct without the colours would certainly broaden the reach of this game.

World Defence Force was a blast to play. We had six players, including the designer and three others who had played a version of it before. Only myself and one other were totally new to the game. I certainly had a good laugh playing it as it stands, though there was a lot of discussion after about adding additional mechanics. I kinda like it for how clean it is, though additional, optional, mechanics might be nice once you've started to master the basic version. Another winner in my book, but there seems to be a while to go before we'll see it pop up on Kickstarter. There was a lot of blank monster cards, and Adrian is looking into options for the round timer. Maybe an app?

After breaking briefly for some lunch, The Shrine, by Shad Millar and Jay Cormier was the third game I played at Unpub Mini Vancouver. This is a strategy game where players place cubes on a 4x4x4 play space. Each cube is one of four colours, and has either two or three symbols out of an available four, with the same symbol on opposite facing surfaces. So some cubes might have two dots, two squiggles and two X's, while others might have four X's all around, and two squares on opposing faces.

Players chose one cube to play from four revealed cubes out of a big bag of possibilities, placing the cube in the playspace. Cubes placed on top of or next to other cubes must have matching touching faces. When a player places a cube they gain resources of the colour they placed and any touching cubes. Those are used to buy cards that count toward victory.

Once all the cubes are placed, the number of each symbol facing upwards on the final tower is counted, defining that symbols value. Only those sides facing up count toward victory, not the ones exposed to the sides. Then that value is multiplied by the number of those symbols on the cards you have, giving you the score for the symbol.

The Shrine is interesting, because when we played it, both myself and the other player in our two-player game thought we had broken it very early on. My opponent had a lot of dots on his cards, so for him, dots had a high value. With three dots facing up early on, he simply built three towers of four cubes straight up, guaranteeing him that high score right off the bat. I couldn't place cubes fast enough to block him by creating voids. Voids are created where two blocks facing each other with a single space between have different symbols on their facing sides. Because all cubes have the same symbols on opposing sides, this is an impossible to fill space, so a void cube is placed in that space, blocking the symbol on the cube beneath from scoring.

However, by the end of the game, we realised that the benefits of that strategy were somewhat deceptive. While my opponent built straight up, he left me to fill out the base layer, stacking it with symbols that were of benefit to me. While I lost in the end, his dots netted him significantly less than my squiggles, because hight doesn't count for anything during the scoring. I had seven squiggles facing up. With my six squiggles on my cards, I scored 42 points in one go. Had I played a bit better, I could have won, while allowing him to waste his time building his towers.

I really enjoyed The Shrine, and would love to play it again a few more times. I'm not sure if there's any problems with the mechanics, because I got so distracted by what seemed to be a huge issue while we were playing, but turned out to be seemingly balanced on the whole. It's certainly a fun game, and a level of strategy I can get my head around. It's in no way basic, or simple, but it is clear and easy to learn the core mechanics of, while the strategy emerges through play.

Finally, I wrapped up my long day of gaming playing a game I wanted to try since before I walked through the door. I first saw Sloops!, by SĂ©bastian Bernier-Wong and Peter Gorniak back in March of this year at the first annual Terminal City Tabletop Convention. Back then I simply didn't have the time to play it, as I was playing so many other games over the one day I had. So when I heard it would be at Unpub Mini Vancouver, I put it at the top of my list of games to play. So it was with just a smidge of irony that Sloops! became the last game I played of the day.

Sloops! is a game of naval combat with a worker placement element for drafting an action deck and gaining resource tokens. The turns are divided into two phases, an Island Phase and then the Sea Phase.

The worker placement mechanic is during the Island Phase, when you place crew around the island. All players take turns to play theier three crew one at a time, and then purchase cards that go into your deck. Unlike a lot of deck building games, purchased cards are first placed into your hand, rather than your discard pile, so that you can immediately use them in the next phase.

The Sea Phase is all about moving your ship and dealing damage, awarding victory points. Cards are played from hand to maneuver your ship or fire cannons. Damage is dealt with cannon blasts or ramming other ships, or rocks if your hand of cards really sucks. Ramming damages both ships, but only awards a victory point to the aggressor. Each time a ship takes damage, the player gains a Damage Card into their deck, which has no ability and just clogs up your later hands. The game ends when all the Damage Cards have been distributed.

As we started our 4-player game so late in the day, I didn't get to experience a full game. We cut it short, playing out three or four full rounds. Still, that was enough to know that Sloops! is a hilariously fun game. The theme is really well implimented, and feels like a core part of how the game plays, rather than a skin wrapped over some mechanics.

The worker placement element is great, with lots of choices and decisions to make. Do I want to claim a card I can't afford first, hoping I can claim the required resources with the next two crew members, leaving me open to being blocked by the other players? Do I spend a turn pooling resources for the next turn? Did I forget to grab some Cannon resources, meaning I now hold a Fire Cannons card I can't use? Yeah... yeah... I totally did. Dammit.

The Sea Phase is the action part of the game. Players play cards to move their ship around the ocean and islands, hoping to draw near other ships and wreck havok. We had great fun pulling along side each other, unleashing a hail of cannon shot, and then parting ways in a most gentlemanly fashion! There was a lot of ramming ships as well, with some player turns ending up as a series of ramming and being rammed.

Everyone had a lot of fun playing this one, and laughter at the table was an ongoing and regular feature. Turns are very clear and straight-forward, aided by the division of elements into the two seperate phases. Despite the two phase turn, Sloops! plays very fast. Players only have three crew to place on the island, and the Sea Phase is just a matter of going around the table as players play cards from their hand and move or fire their ships. I look forward to getting to play a full game of this in the future, and watching how it grows and develops, mostly in terms of components, which are mostly stand-ins for now.

Given that there was a wide selection of games on offer at Unpub Mini Vancouver, I'm delighted to be able to report that I really enjoyed the four that I played on the day. It probably helps that most of those games are well into their development cycles, and, though still evolving, they each have a solid grasp on where they want to be.

Whatever my experience was, it's clear that Vancouver is home to some incredible board game developers, and I look forward to adding many of the games on display at Novembers Unpub Mini Vancouver to my shelf in the future!

Related Reading: Check out Loaded Dice's review of the event and what they thought of the games they played in their Recap post.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Cosmic Encounter

Some of my favourite games are the ones that encourage a lot of player interaction throughout the game. BattleStar Galactica is filled with discussions of trust and traitors. Bohnanza is all about trading and negotiating for better deals. Resistance is entirely built on agreements and lies. Your only chance of winning co-operative games like Pandemic, Forbidden Desert and Elder Sign are based on the players working together to maximise their team's potential.

In Cosmic Encounter, players form and disolve alligences to gain colonies in a bid to expand across the galaxy. Players start with five home planets in their own system, and a random alien race from a massive stack of possibilities. The objective is to gain five foreign colonies among the other player's home systems.

Gameplay is actually fairly basic. On each players turn they draw a destiny card that directs who they will attack. Then both the Attacker and Defender, collectively refered to as the "main players", declare if they will accept allies. They can be selective with their choices, or simlpy declare that they're accepting help from all sides. Starting on the Attackers left, the other players then choose who they will ally with, based on invitations, or opt to sit this combat out if they're unsure of the results. Allying with a successful side grants rewards, the most important of which is a colony if the Attacker wins. Because of this, players will generally ally with the Attacker early on, but once a player is close to victory, they usually stop recieving Attacker ally invites. We'll come back to this in a minute.

Once allies are all declared, the main players play an encounter card face-down in front of them. This modifies the attack value granted by the ships committed to each side, and can reinforce a victory, flip a seemingly hopeless fight, or initiate negitiations. Once these are revealed, other cards can be played in to affect the final outcome, adding to values, cancelling deals, zapping cards and more. Even alien race powers can often activate at this point. Unless otherwise stated, at this stage, anyone can play cards, evevn if the player isn't directly involved in the battle.

If the Attacker wins, she and all her allies gain a colony, destroying the Defender and his allys, sending their ships to the Warp, a zone in the centre of the board from which ships can be recovered for future roles. If this was the Attackers first attack, they then have the option of a second attempt, starting by drawing a new destiny card to see who they will attack. Thus, they can potentially get a maximum of two colonies in a full turn.

If the Defender wins, all the Attackers and her allies go to the Warp, while the Defenders allies get to claim rewards. The Defender gets nothing, except the glory of a planet defended.

And that's it! Every turn is "declare attack, declare allies, play an encounter card, resolve encounter". It's pretty straight forward, but the immense joy of Cosmic Encounter is in the player interaction, and the huge variety of alien races on offer.

The core box comes with 50 races, each with their own unique rules and play style. That alone allows for a huge number of possible play variations, meaning that you'll rarely see the same set of aliens vying for victory. But each expansion adds between 20 and 30 new races, so that, at the time I write this, with all the expansions, I have a total of 165 alien race to chose from! It is so much fun watching races interacting with each other. No two games are ever alike. Some races make small changes to the base rules, while others can be more dramatic, even affecting other players actions. Alien races are sorted into three colours; Green, Yellow or Red. This represents their overall difficulty, though in my experience, most regular boardgamers will be able to just right in a play with any of them. Really, red aliens just have a slightly more complex ability, or one that requires the player to keep track of things during play. Most of the wording on the cards are clear and it's easy to understand how they effect the gameplay.

The other aspect that really changes every game you'll play of Cosmic Encounter is the level of player interaction. Players are constantly discussing who they and the others should ally with, the benefits of joining one side or the other, the effeect of another power on their turn and more. Discussion and debate takes up the majority of the playtime in Cosmic Enounter.

Do you ally with the Attacker and gain a colony yourself, but allow him to gain one too? Do you even invite allies as the Attacker, knowing you're giving them a colony out of their turn? Do you invite allies, knowing that you're going to lose, but hopefully hurting others in the process?

While you're trying to make these decisions, other players are negotiating for power. How confident is the Attacker in his hand of cards? If I help you now, will you help me later? No, but I won't help her either!

Victory is just five colonies, and can be shared by more than one player. If you're on your Attack turn, are you willing to share victory with the Red player? Is he willing to take a shared victory over going it for himself on his turn? It's all about tenuous verbal agreements that don't have to be upheld.

In a game where victory is a point based system that is clearly visible to all at all times, the endgame can drag out, as no one is willing to help the player in the lead. It happens in Monopoly and Settlers of Catan, and it happens in Cosmic Encounter as well. As stated earlier, once players get close to victory, they stop recieving invites. But in Cosmic, this only serves to keep everyone together, such that, at the end of the game, we've often had all the other players with four colonies apiece. Also, as mentioned, shared victory is always an option, so good negotiations can offset the slow endgame with a powerful, unstoppable alligence of races.

There are problems. Victory can sometimes come simply because players have spent all their cards stopping the others before it gets to your turn. With all the powerful cards in the discard pile, you can win by attrition. That being said, a sure victory can be snatched away at the last moment, as has happened to me several times before. It all looks great until your opponent Morphs your Attack +40, or another player steps in and Cosmic Zaps your alien race ability.

Overall, I love Cosmic Encounter. Games range from 45 minutes, where the last player in turn order didn't even get a chance to act as the Attacker, to three hours of back and forth negotiations, as players gain and lose colonies, and races combo off each other in interesting and complex ways. Finally, Cosmic is also one of the few games I own where I completely love the expansions. While each one does add some new components, like space stations, new decks or or additional tokens, it's the extra races that are most fun, and those are worth paying for alone.

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Thursday, November 13, 2014

Making Babies Is Easy, Except When It Isn't

Yesterday I announced on this blog about our impending end to free time and peace of mind. It was full of joy and happiness.

But as so many people will tell you, that's not always how it goes.

What some of you might not know is that Claire and I have been trying for this for about two years, and during that time we've had some painful close encounters. At least twice, we think we lost an embroy at around the five or six week mark, and every month that went by without even the hint of a successful fertilisation was another month of hope crushed.

When I was diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease in October of 2012, Claire and I agreed to accelerate our plans a bit. By then we were married four years already, when most couples would already have a few kids. But we had moved to Canada and were still settling down. We hadn't even applied for Permanent Residency yet, and our long term security was not entirely steady. But I felt like I was suddenly on a clock, like this diagnosis put a timer on how much time I have left to potentially be a good father[1].

So we talked about it. We looked at our finances and our lives as they stood. It's said that there is never a perfect time to have kids, and if you're waiting for that, you'll go on waiting. We were in a good place, and so it made sense to try.

Over the last two years we've had moments of hope and moments of despair. There were times when we thought it might just be destined not to be. But we had each other, and for that, I am eternally greatful. Claire has been amazing through everything, not just in relation to the pregnancy, but my diagnosis, work, the fact that Prometheus is such a terrible movie, the Permanent Residency process, everything.

What changed that brought us to this point? Mostly, once again, that's on Claire. Last February/March, Claire took up swordfighting as her hobby and main form of exercise at Academie Duello in downtown Vancouver. She loved it, and started doing it three nights a week. Then, around June, she went to see a naturopath, specifically one related to diet and lifestyle. She had been having some stomach issues around eating certain foods, so, after a few tests and trials, Claire changed her diet, cutting out dairy and gluten. The naturopath recommended some suppliments, and changed the type of folic acid Claire was using to a fast absorption one.

Before the end of July, Claire announced that she was pregnant. We went to Whislter for a vacation at the start of August and had a blast, driving ATV's and spending a day relaxing in an outdoor spa resort.

Since then, we've just been following the growth of our little Spawnling via an app on Claire's phone. It's grown from a lemon to an avacado to a turnip and beyond.

If you're reading this and currently trying to get pregnant and it isn't happening, take heart. Sometimes these things need to take time. Try a new activity. Try a new diet. Talk to us. Talk to the professionals. Ask for help. You're not alone, and you never will be.

It has not been easy to get to this point, but it's been worth it.

[1] It's very important to note that I no longer think like this. I did during the first two weeks and now and then during my lowest times in the first six months. But since then, I've come to honestly believe right to my core that very little has changed, and it won't for a long time. There is no timer, no clock ticking down over (or inside) my head. Life was amazing even before the pregnancy, and is only getting better. We landed a science vessel on a comet flying beyond Martian orbit yesterday. I am living in a golden age, and my own little bubble of life and living glows brightly.

Growing Secrets Exposed

Next March, Claire and I will be welcoming a new addition to our family. Here's an early preview!

HI GUYS LOOK WHAT I MADE

This has been one of the hardest things I've ever had to keep secret. When Claire agreed to marry me, we agreed to keep it to ourselves until we had the engagement ring. When we planned how we would get married six months in advance of our holiday to the US in 2008, we agreed to not tell anyone beforehand. When we got married in Las Vegas, we agreed to not tell anyone for a week until we were back in the land of fast, stable wifi and we could Skype everyone.

But when we discovered Claire was pregnant at only six weeks, I almost exploded. I wanted to shout it to the world, but we both knew that was just stupid. So many things can go wrong at the early stage, so we agreed that the smart move was to not tell anyone yet. When we got the first ultrasound at 10 weeks, it was just a tiny blob of cells. We told immediate family, but asked them to keep our secret as well.

Eventually we hit a point where we were confident enough to start telling some friends, but even then, we agreed to keep it a secret until we had the 20 week ultrasound, as it would be something more tangible to show off.

Finally, thankfully, the time has come.

Last Monday, November 10th, 2014, at 8:30am, Claire and I went to the hospital for the 20 week ultrasound and spent a half hour with the doctor as she photographed and measured every conceivable aspect of our little Spawnling[1]. I got to be amazed at her talent for pattern recognition, as I watched the screen fade between "mostly grey amorphous blobs" and "mostly light grey amorphous blobs". Every now and then I spotted a hand or a leg. The head was easy to see, but once it was measured, I was lost on rest. Our future bundle of joy was being a bit of a pest though, resting it's hand on it's chin, covering it's chest, and making some scans difficult. Despite the doctors repeated thumping of Claire's belly, Baby[2] refused to move or shift position. At one point, she was showing off Baby's facial features, when Baby visibly turned from the camera, leaving us looking at a perfectly formed spine and back of head.

We did get to watch it kick, which was nice. It's still too small for me to see or feel from the outside, though Claire tells me it's already starting to give her some trouble. We might be watching a movie or playing a video game, when Claire will poke at her belly and shout "Keep it down in there!"

All is great with mother and baby. Claire is still swordfighting three days a week, and sometimes at the weekend too. She's having to go easy on some of the floor exercises, but part of swordfighting is knowing how not to inflict injuries, so she's not having a problem with the fun bits of swinging large metal objects at each other. I'm doing great, mostly just smiling non-stop and constantly looking at Monday's scan, then smiling some more. All our friends know about the baby by now, so I've started telling anyone that will listen to me on a regular basis, like the English guy that works in the comic store, or the lifeguard in the morning at the pool I swim in.

2015 is going to be an amazing year. I just hope I still get time to play boardgames!

[1] Claire started calling it the Spawnling from around week 8. It stuck pretty fast.
[2] There was some discussion as to wheather we'd find out the gender before the birth. In the end, we agreed to keep this one a surprise until the big day, as I want, and find out in advance for the next one, as Claire wants. What can I say? I like surprises!

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Making Babies Is Easy, Except When It Isn't

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Dixit

As far as my gaming experience goes, Apples To Apples was the start of a new genre of boardgames for me, the basic theme of which is a single judge that others are playing towards. The massively popular adult party game Cards Against Humanity is cut from the same cloth, but I find it difficult to enjoy. I'm simply not that vulgar at heart, and find it difficult to laugh at some of the more extreme cards[1].

Dixit is a beautiful card game about imaginative descriptions. Each tarot-sized card contains no text, just a single, stunningly painted image. The judge for the round picks one of her cards in her hand and describes it in some imaginative way. In games I've played we've had players sing, name a popular TV series, simply point to another player announcing "You and me"[2], speak a phrase in Chinese, and play a short piece of music from his phone, to name just a few of the more imaginative clues given.

Based on the clue, it is then up to the other players to pick a card in their hand that most closely matches the clue. All the cards are put together, shuffled and then dealt out. The other players then have to guess the judge's card from the ones revealed, secretly choosing a card and voting simultaneously.

The fun of Dixit is in describing your card, or choosing a card that matches the description given. Interpreting the art on the cards in an unusual way requires some ingenuity, and even more when you need just one or two other people at the table to key into what you mean.If the judge was too obvious and everone guesses her card, then she gets no points, and everyone else gets a few. If the judge was too obsure, and no one guesses her card, then, again, she gets no points, and everyone else gets a few. In the Goldilocks zone, where a few vote for the card and few don't, the judge and those who voted for her card get points. Other players cards who received votes also get a small number of bonus points.

Dixit is a popular game at my table. It's short playtime allows us to break it out before a bigger game, or fill in time before food. It's also one of the few games that comfortably allow above six players, and we've had a few games with seven. While there was a 12 player version of Dixit available in the past, that is now out of print, so we've had to fudge the components we have to allow extra players.

The core game comes with 84 cards, and each expansion adds another 84. As a nice touch, the the latest edition of the core box has space for three expansion desks, giving you a huge selection. But part of the fun is seeing the same card described in a new, imaginative way, so don't feel obliged to buy expansions too quickly.

A fun game that always results in a lot of laughs, Dixit is simply beautiful to look at. A lot of time every game is spent just staring at the beautifully presented cards.

[1] - "Super-soaker full of cat pee" stills gets me every time, though.

[2] - I used that clue with a friend, and it worked. She was the only one to guess my card; a picture of a little boy sitting in front of a TV playing Super Nintendo, with the characters flowing out of the screen.

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Thursday, November 06, 2014

To Blow Up King And Parliment

Almost missed this year! For tradition! For continuity! For Alan Moore!

Remember, remember the Fifth of November,
The Gunpowder Treason and Plot,
I know of no reason
Why Gunpowder Treason
Should ever be forgot.

Guy Fawkes, Guy Fawkes, t'was his intent
To blow up King and Parliament.
Three-score barrels of powder below
To prove old England's overthrow;
By God's providence he was catch'd
With a dark lantern and burning match.
Holloa boys, holloa boys, let the bells ring.
Holloa boys, holloa boys, God save the King!

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Love's Lost Legacy

While attending PAX Prime 2013 with friends, one of the highlights of the weekend was being introduced to the micro card game Love Letter. My good friend JP picked it up and showed it to us, having played it himself while visiting San Fransisco.

Love Letter, by designer Seiji Kanai, consists of a slim 16 card deck. The basic mechanic every turn is Draw One, Play One. You always have a card in hand, and draw a second, chose one of the two you now hold, and play it. Card actions are clearly described on each card, and none are particularly complex.

The round ends either when one player remains in play, or, if all cards are played, the remaining players compare their cards and the highest value card, displayed in the top left-hand corner, becomes the victor. The game is played traditionally on a first-to-four-points basis, though it works fine as a one round per game quick filler.

AEG's Love Letter is a wonderfully tight game, with beautiful art on every card, and presented in a beautiful red velvet pull-string bag. It's fast, fun and intense, resulting in lots of laughs and gasps of astonishment as people get knocked out in the most unbelievable way. Deducting what cards are left in play from those that are sitting exposed on the table is a fun, taxing time, with a light-hearted tension resting over the players.

As well as the red velvet bag edition of Love Letter, I also picked up the green velvet bag edition themed around the world of Legend of the Five Rings. This is the exact same game with roles and art reskinned to match the L5R universe.

Then I discovered Lost Legacy: The Lost Starship, from the same designer. Another micro game with a 16 card deck, and the same Draw One, Play One mechanic, this game has a fantasy tinged with Sci-Fi theme. It plays very similar to Love Letter, but the card actions are universally different.

The goal of Lost Legacy is to discover the location of The Lost Starship, a unique card in the deck. It also adds a Ruins location on the table, containing one or more cards. Card actions allow you to look at, swap or shuffle cards in the Ruins during the game. The endgame mechanic is unique as well, introducing an Investigation phase on top of the Elimination victory. If the game makes it to the Investigation phase, the players that are still active have a chance to discover the location of The Lost Legacy, either within the Ruins, or in other players hands. Whoever successfully discovers The Lost Legacy wins the game.

Like Love Letter, Lost Legacy is a tight, fast game. Some two players games have been over in a single action! The art is, again, beautiful, with very cool and interesting depictions of a fantasy world infected with Sci-Fi technology. Adding to my collection of beautiful packaging, Lost Legacy comes in a blue velvet pull-string bag.Unlike Love Letter, Lost Legacy is played in single rounds. The winner of a single round is the winner of a game. In the future, there will be sequel sets, Flying Garden and Whitegold Spire, allowing you to mix two sets for a bigger deck, or playing each set back-to-back as a campaign, which I'm ready to buy into.

While they seem very similar, both Love Letter and Lost Legacy share playtime at my gaming table, sometimes one directly after the other. They are equally fun and I love introducing both to new players and watching them understand how much depth can be had in just 16 cards. Highly recommended, if you're not already enjoying either of them.

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Monday, September 08, 2014

The Year So Far

I've been really terrible at posting this entire year! This is actually my fourth post in 2014, easily heading for my worst year yet on this blog.

But mostly, that's because it's been one of my best, busiest, fun-filled years in recent history! Claire and I have done so much this year, from getting our Permanent Residency at long last, to taking a holiday all to ourselves for the first time since we got married!

Both of us have taken this year to get healthy and fit. I've been swimming again for well over a year now, and I recently started jogging everywhere I can, for as much as I can. That usually means I jog for two or three blocks, walk for a block or two, and rinse and repeat until I get to where I want to go. The hope is that I'll build stamina and extend those periods of jogging to three, four, five blocks while minimizing the breaks in between. I still swim most mornings before work, which gets me going for the day ahead.

Claire, meanwhile, gave up swimming in exchange for swordfighting! She joined Academie Duello in Downtown, near where she works. Several of our friends have been doing it for years, and in the six or seven months that she's been involved, she's rarely gone less than three evenings a week, putting in about eight hours of intense training a week! She's recently started noticing that her t-shirts are getting tight around her biceps, and her pants are getting looser around the waists, but much tighter around the calves! She's far more flexible, happier and loves swinging big metal weapons around. I'm delighted for her, and only a little afraid for my own safety.

Summer has been amazing. We've enjoyed trips to the pool, lots of outdoor activites, and generally loving the warm weather, even if it did get a little too hot to comfortably sleep for a while there. I spent the summer working with the school age summer group, which involved loadsd of field trips and spending a lot of time outdoors, developing a vicious farmers tan in the process!

Last summer, boardgames fell to the wayside in favour of outdoor activities, but this year we've balanced our time better, and we get together with friends almost weekly to game, chat and hang out. New, old and even as-yet-unpublished games have been played and enjoyed, and our circle of friends have grown significantly in 2014, thanks to this wonderful hobby.

Speaking of hobbies, I'm still reading at a phenomenal pace, powering through sci-fi, adventure and murder msytery books throughout the year. I've read a few comics as well, but not as many as I used to, usually one or two in between two novels, sort of as a short downtime. Though I did read the entire Superior Spider-Man run, which I highly recommend. Fantastic stuff! I really loved that new, meaner Spidey for a while.

On the other hand, video games have been very seasonal, with lots getting played in the opening months, but quickly falling off once the weather started to improve. I even did a bunch of Let's Play videos for my YouTube Channel, including a long XCOM series staring all my friends! Some died. The video thing is something I do hope to get back to as the winter evening creep back in. They were a push to learn all new skills in audio and video editting, as well as trying out commentary work, which is something I've always wanted to do. I definitely improved between the first and last videos, but I have a long way to go yet.

At the start of August Claire and I went to Whistler, a holiday village about two hours north of Vancouver. It's best known for its ski season, with stunning slopes, beautiful log cabins and lots of places to warm up around a cosy fireplace. But the summer season is awesome fun! We went on a two hour ATV trail up the mountain, during which time we saw no bears, unfortunately. We went to the top of the mountain on the gondola, and then across between the two mountains on the longest and highest unsupported gondola lift in the world! We have a buffet barbeque at the mountain peak, played crazy golf at the base, got lost in the woods around Lost Lake and relaxed and recovered in a Scandinavian Spa for a few blissful hours. And all that was just the first three out of five days!

Now we're into September. We have so much happening over the coming months, which you'll be hearing about as it happens. I have craft projects I can't wait to show off (Hint: They're boardgame related), new artwork I'm super proud of and more. Claire is hard at work on her writing and web development, constantly inventing new ways to create awesome things.

So while 2014 has been quiet on One Terrific Day, it hasn't been in our lives. New things are happening every day, and we can't wait to share them with you all as they come up.

Stay reading, stay gaming and stay tuned!

 

Friday, June 13, 2014

Hanabi

The hardest part of this game is that you hold the cards the wrong way around.

No. Really. That's going to be the bit that trips you up more than any other.

In Hanabi, you play technicians tasked with putting on a spectacular fireworks show, but you've made one slight error. The sequence for firing each rocket has been mixed up, and now you and your fellow technicians must correctly launch your coloured gunpowder tubes, without admitting your own fault.

Everything is backwards

Each player has a hand of cards, but holds them facing out to the rest of the table. Thus, you know what everyone else has, but no idea what you hold yourself. On your turn, you can play a card, discard a card, or give a piece of information. Information is limited, represented by eight clock tokens that get removed as information is shared, and recycled if a card is discarded.

It is up to the players to make five suits of fireworks, one in each colour, each containing five cards, numbered one to five, in ascending order. If a card is played incorrectly, either because a copy of it is already in play, or the card one lower than it is not yet in play, then the fuse shortens and the tension rises.

The game ends if all five fireworks are completed, if the draw deck empties or if three fuse tokens are discarded to the box, revealing the explosion token. At that point, the highest value card in each colour is added together to get the groups final score.

Hanabi is a fun, tense game of strategic planning, memory, deduction and a little luck. It plays fast, and supports up to five players.

We love this game at my house, and it gets a lot of playtime, most popular with four or five players, but fun with two as well. Because information is scarce, and there are restrictions on how information is given, what you chose to tell someone, and what you chose not to tell them becomes the key to victory or defeat. Also, once a piece of information has been given, it's up to that player to remember it. Other players shouldn't remind their fellow technicians what was revealed in previous rounds.

It's hilarious being able to see everyone else's hand, but not your own. Looking around at opening hands is always fun, realizing that the other players all hold all the fives, or that one player has three red ones in her hand. Co-ordinating the distribution of information with other players is easy at first, but becomes more difficult, as you can't explicitly tell the active player what to do. Trying to work out the value of being told "These two cards are RED" can be tricky, and I've often found myself discarding a valuable card or playing an inappropriate card because I misjudged something.

It can also be incredibly frustrating seeing a valuable card in another players hand, but not being able to get them that vital piece of information. But that's all part of the game.

I recently brought Hanabi into work with me and tried it out with some of the kids I teach. I was planning on just teaching the older group, but we had one seven year old in the group, and he was the first to totally get how the game works. While I was explaining the rules, he would stop and ask me a clarifying question, by way of a play example, and he was right in his assumption every time! When we played, it was clear that the group had no issues with understanding the rules, and enjoyed the tension of watching another player agonise over whether to discard or play a card inhand.

Hanabi is a wonderful game, and comes highly recommended. It's also the first of three games by designer Antoine Bauza that I'll be reviewing in upcoming posts!

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Thursday, June 05, 2014

Let's Play

Whelp! It's been a while! What?!? I've been busy... Mostly.

Claire got me a powerful PC for Christmas, and I started recording my games and uploading them to YouTube, which was a lot of fun while I was playing games, and then not so much when I started back into board games in a big way. I was only ever doing the YouTube thing as a hobby, so once I started spending my time on another, more social hobby, that fell to the sidelines.

Still, I had a blast making YouTube videos. I did a bunch of short plays, mostly showcasing opening areas, while I collectively called "Couch Projections". These were a lot of fun, and usually involved minimal editing, as they were straight plays of what I experienced. Some, like the fantastic OctoDad: Dadliest Catch ended up being too long, with too much of me feeling lost and not knowing what to do, so I editted those down to tight, short plays, highlighting the best parts. Others, like FLT: Faster Than Light seemed to be paced perfectly for what I intended the Couch Projections series to be. Either way, they were a lot of fun!

The only extended series I did was a full run on XCOM: Enemy Within, including all the DLC. The whole squad was named after friends and family, and they bravely fought aliens and died to protect humanity. I had an absolute blast recording this, and it was my first time ever finishing a full playthrough of XCOM, which I had originally owned on the Xbox 360 since launch.

As of this post, the final mission is not yet online. That's because, once I got to it and played it, it was kind of boring. It's a straight run through a linear base, with an alien voice explaining away any questions you had about the creatures you've been battling with for months. I struggled to edit and narrrate an engaging version of the mission, adding in fluff story details like I had been doing, but nothing was coming together. I'll really make an effort to go back to it and finish it just for the saake of completion, but it's not going to be a great ending.

I actually have plans for another XCOM series I'd love to do. There is a fan-made mod for the PC game called The Long War that dramatically changes many of the game elements, including skills tree, which are now much more in-depth, the terror tracks on nations, research, weapons and upgrades, and basically the whole feel of the game. I've been really excited about trying it out, so this is something I'm interested in doing. So keep an eye on my YouTube for that!

And if you want to volunteer to protect humanity, leave a comment on this post and you might see yourself drafted! Remember, service guarantees citizenship!

Wednesday, January 08, 2014

More

Happy 2014! It's been a great start to the New Year for me, and I have tonnes of stuff to look back and blog about from the Christmas holiday, but let's start 2014 off by looking forward.

While I don't make New Years resolutions, my goal for this year is to be "more". Make more, do more.

I'm going to draw more, and craft more. I have lots of art and craft supplies built up in a storage box, and I haven't been using them enough. I made my own Christmas tree this year, which was awesome fun, and I'm determined to make more stuff in 2013. Also, I'm going to draw more, both in sketch books and digitally. I still what to make a webcomic, so here's the deal: Ask me about it. Pester me about it. When I run out of excuses for why I haven't started, you have my permission to demand it. I love drawing, and I get a little bit better every time I take out my pencils. I just need to stop making excuses to leave them where they are.

I'm going to blog more. Yes, I realise the irony of saying that given that it took until now to write my first blog of 2014, but I'm going to do this. I'm immensely proud of how long I've had this blog now, and how much I've written in that time. 2014 is not going o be the end of that, but a strengthening of it.

For Christmas, Claire got me a monster fo a gaming PC. Suddenly, I found myself able to record my game plays, edit and upload them to YouTube and join the Let's Play community. I'm going to do this more and develop my editing skills more. I've been really enjoying it so far, and I find I'm even enjoying the game more because of it. I'm going to try live-streams in time, but before that, I want to try playing games I'm brand new to (Thank you Steam and Humble Bundle), and recording my commentary live as I react to these new experiences.

I'm going to role-play more and board game more. There was a time last year when we were board gaming every other week, sometimes more, but I stopped over the summer and only got back into it during Christmas. We gamed four times in that week, and I loved it. Also, it's been over a year, and probably closer to two since I GMed. Time to fix that.

I'm going to be with friends more, and talk to friends far away more. I'm going to Skype more and maybe even try this new-fangled Google Hangouts thing some time. I have my own PC with Steam now, so I'm going to try to game with friends more.

2014 is going to be more.

And anyone I can take along for the ride, I'll be happy to have the company.