One Night Ultimate Alien

One Night Ultimate Alien Kickstarter Over 2000% to Goal in One Day

It’s called One Night Ultimate Alien, but due to its Kickstarter going to 2000% to goal in one day, you could call it One Day Ultimate Alien instead.

If you’re a tabletop gaming enthusiast, you probably already know Bezier Games due to their outstanding catalog of games, which include Castles of Mad King LudwigUltimate Werewolf, and the highly popular One Night series, which includes One Night Ultimate Werewolf, One Night Ultimate Vampire, and One Night Ultimate Daybreak, and of which One Day Ultimate Alien is in the same family.  Additionally, all the One Night games are compatible with each other, so if you already have ONUW or ONUV, look at all the new character cards with which you get to mess around!

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Kickstarter pledges start at $25 to get a copy of the game, and higher pledges get other amazing goodies, including the following:

a One Night Ultimate Compendium with strategies for every role in all four games, card sleeves, a custom KS-only wooden collector’s box, and even these amazing clear role tokens (one for every role token in all four games – shown here are samples of just 3 roles)

 

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Those who already own a One Night game and use its smartphone app will get a laugh out of the first few seconds of the Kickstarter campaign video, which uses the same narrator to riff on the format of the app narration.

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/tedalspach/one-night-ultimate-alien/widget/video.html

You can find the Kickstarter through this link.

If you’ve never played a One Night game and are really interested by this release, Bezier posted these One Night Ultimate Alien gameplay videos to YouTube:

Cross-posted to NerdSpan.com


One Night Ultimate Werewolf

One Night Ultimate Vampire

One Night Ultimate Vampire

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Board Game Brunch: Puerto Rico and Settlers of Catan

Our other game-playing friends, who figured in a previous Game Night recap from June, came over this past Sunday morning for brunch and board games.

The main difference between a Game Night and a Board Game Brunch is that in the former, your opponents may be too mellow or tipsy to have good judgment, while in the latter, they are wide awake and alert.  Also, preparing a brunch is more work than doing a game night, as the eating stretches from breakfast to past lunch, and kudos to my wife for creating such a hit spread to fill eleven mouths—the four adults, our two kids, and their quintuplets. She made mini chocolate chip muffins, apple cinnamon donuts, guacamole, and more, and all of it vegan. I contributed a three bean salad to the table as well.

In terms of the games we played, we had time to teach and play Puerto Rico, a new game to our friends, and also a plain Jane, ten point game of Settlers of Catan.

Some Notes on Teaching, Learning, and Mastering Puerto Rico

As Puerto Rico is not a game that you can easily learn from playing a round, both of the times that I have taught this game to friends, I have opted for ten minutes of Puerto Rico 101, in which I went slowly and methodically explained each of the game elements. Until I conceive of a better way of teaching Puerto Rico other than my ten minute Show and Tell, this is the way I’m going to do it for the forseeable future, as both times the new players were able to jump in with a very small learning curve after my mini-lecture.

Puerto Rico is an easy game to teach and to learn if you take your time. If you don’t take your time explaining Puerto Rico, new players are likely to feel ambushed in the first few rounds, when there is so much going on that they are unlikely to be prepared for the actions of other players.

The hard part of mastering Puerto Rico is learning the rhythm of playing role cards, which is something that players can usually only learn by playing. For instance, playing Craftsman may seem a really good move for you, but if the player right after you plays Captain, they’re going to reap the benefits more than you will, as while you were the first to get goods in your Craftsman phase, you’ll be the last to load goods in their Captain phase. Similarly, most of the time you can let someone else benefit from the extra colonist obtained when choosing Mayor phase, but every now and then you need to be the one. You might really want to choose Trader to sell your Sugar, but if another player has a Coffee to put in there, you’re giving them a chance to get 4 coins, and if you’re both saving up for the 10 coin Guild House, you may have just lost it with your unintended generosity. Not only do new Puerto Rico players need to learn how choosing one role card can set up the next player’s role card, they also need to learn how players can benefit during their role card selection.


Puerto Rico Game

Puerto Rico: The Hospice Early Acquisition Strategy

(This next section delves deeply into Puerto Rico strategy, so if you are unfamiliar with the game, you may wish to skip to the seciton on Settlers of Catan that follows.)

Earlier on this blog, I analyzed the opening moves for the first player in Puerto Rico, and during this game, I had an opportunity to begin a game, because we decided that after giving our friends an introduction to the game that it would be best to have me go first, then my wife, and then our friends. I thought this would be a good way of reinforcing the concept of both the governor and the role cards before they had a chance to select one for themselves.

As I stated earlier, there are two preferential moves for the first player in Puerto Rico: the Settler and the Builder. Conventional wisdom says that it is good to open with the Settler, but I tend to disagree and prefer leading with the Builder. What I did differently this time around was that instead of picking the Small Market, which is a free purchase for the person who selects Builder and allows the player to conserve their doubloons for a good second round purchase as well, this time I decided to lead with the Hospice.

The reason for my change is that I am trying to come up with strategies for colonist economy, which I perceive to be the weak point of most players’ games. Most Puerto Rico players put a strong emphasis on doubloon economy after playing their first game and realizing what a disadvantage it can be not to be prepared to make a building purchase every time someone selects Builder, or to have a good ready to sell when someone selects Trader.

When you end the game with five buildings and another player has completed their city, that is usually the galvanizing factor that causes the new Puerto Rico player to pay special attention in the early to mid game to not which role cards will give them the most victory points, but the most doubloons. There is, however, a next step in developing a mastery of Puerto Rico: colonist economy. A shortage of colonists in the early to mid game can wreck a player’s production during Craftsman phase, which is not only fundamental to having goods to sell for money, and to having money available for buying buildings, but also a necessary step to having an advantage in victory points from shipping at the end of the game.

The easiest way to correct a shortage of colonists is either with the Hospice or the University, as both provide free colonists, the former on new island squares, and the latter on new buildings in the city area. As the University is out of the price range of players in the early game, I decided that the Hospice would be a good early buy.

Interestingly, in a four player game, player one can buy the Hospice at the outset. This is because in a four player game each player has three coins, and though the Hospice costs four coins, selecting the Builder role card gives you the additional privilege of deducing one from the cost of your selected building.

The obvious disadvantage to picking this expensive building in the first round is that the player then has zero coins for their second round purchase, which means they will probably not be able to buy something in the second round. This will be a disadvantage, unless no one plays Builder in the second round due to also having depleted their coins or preferring to save their coins. Also, it will become an ongoing disadvantage if player one does not then immediately focus on selecting role cards that will reward him or her with doubloons.

That said, was starting with the Hospice, and not with a free Builder purchase in the opening move (Small Market, Small Indigo Mill) as I have previously suggested, a viable strategy? Did the increase in colonist production offset the disadvantaged doubloon economy?

Here’s what happened. Player two took Mayor to put colonists on their small indigo mill and their indigo plot, and this enabled me to put a colonist on the Hospice right away, so that for the rest of the game, whenever a player took Settler, I got a free colonist with my selected island tile. And, on every subsequent Mayor phase, I could move those colonists around, just like other colonists I had acquired during Mayor phases, so that if I selected a Coffee and had no Coffee Roaster, no matter, I could take those Coffee hands and move them to my Small Sugar Mill instead.

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Entering the midgame and all but one colonist circle is filled.

Having the Hospice at an early stage also helps the player plan the future of their production. That is, I could plan for the future by building a Tobacco Storage facility and then colonizing it right away even though I had no corresponding Tobacco plots on my island, as all I had to do was select a Tobacco tile during Settler phase, and boom, I was already processing cigars.

Whereas other players had from half to two thirds of their island and city tiles occupied by the end of the game, all of mine had colonists, plus I had a few extra colonists in my windrose. My wife was able to buy a Hospice in the fourth Builder phase, and she had nearly all of her tiles occupied as well. Despite that fact, I do not think it is a mistake to buy it in the first round if you have the chance, even though you may suffer through a few early rounds of doubloon deprivation, as having the Hospice early in the game had an immense influence on my production. The first two times Settler was selected, I took Corn, and as it was immediately colonized, I was producing two corn and staking out a cargo ship at an early point in the game. To maximize this strategy, of course, another early purchase had to be a Small Warehouse, which was my fourth building purchase.

Can the Hospice Early Acquisition Strategy be adopted by players two, three, or four? Yes, but unfortunately, if player one selects Builder, and player two, three or four want to make an early Hospice purchase, as it is just outside of their three starting coins, then they need to either save their money or make cheap purchases (small indigo mill, small market, etc.) until they can amass the funds for it in subsequent rounds.

The above strategic analysis assumes a four hand game of Puerto Rico. In a five player game, of course, any of the players can buy a hospice as their initial purchase as each player starts with four coins. And in a three player game, no one can buy a Hospice in the first round as each player only starts with two coins. The best strategy for early Hospice acquisition in three player Puerto Rico is to take Prospector in the first round, and then hope you get to take Builder first in the second round. The earliest a player could buy a Hospice in three player Puerto Rico would be the second round, and it would be Player Two, who would have to select Prospector the first round, not make any purchases, and when they become governor in round two, immediately select Builder.

The best proof of the Hospice Early Acquisition Strategy is that I had my highest score ever in this game—60 points!

Settlers of Catan

While my tabletop gaming interests are gravitating toward diceless mechanics, and my choice of games is influenced by that, as well as a desire to sample hot new games and make time for my short list of favorites, there also seems to be an omnipresent fourth category, that is neither diceless nor new nor favorite: Catan. Catan is like a demigod or demon of the tabletop gaming table; it doesn’t get set up on the table, it haunts it, and as you begin to unbox it, you’re acknowledging that the eternal form of Catan will always be on your table.

Our old friends haven’t become jaded by Catan playing yet, as our game nights were put on hiatus by the arrival of their quintuplets a few years ago, and when their hands were full figuratively and literally, we have gone on to prefer other games. Game night with them used to be pretty much synonymous with Catan night, as that was our favorite game to play then, and although when we started to have Game Night again, I first taught them Broom Service, then today Puerto Rico, Settlers of Catan was an inevitable destination because it seem like the right journey to make with them. Or I was compelled by that demon Catan. I’m not really sure.

It was basic ten point Catan, as well, which would be blindingly fast, except we have a few bad Catan behaviors, like bribing people with a resource for robber immunity and constant trading. Our new bad Catan habit is lack of confidence in the dice, which caused us to swap the dice out twice for another pair during this game. Still, it was around a 90 minute struggle until a player had the winning total of three cities, one settlement, the longest road, and a victory point card. And it was as if he won by having the greatest amount of “Catan virtue,” as he traded only modestly, never bribed anybody with a resource to avoid the robber, and never suggested that we swap out the dice. What a guy: the father of quintuplets and a Catan saint on top of that.


Catan 5th Edition

Conclusion

While scratching my Catan itch is always satisfying, what was really pleasant was teaching more friends how to play Puerto Rico, one of my favorite games.

In terms of comparing Board Game Brunch to the Game Night model, I recommend the former as a great change of pace. Not only are gamers in orbit around their coffee in the morning, they’re getting a sugar rush on donuts and muffins, and everyone is alert and ready to play. Gamers seem more adaptable in their strategies in the morning as well, myself included. During Game Night, I would have went with my traditional opening Puerto Rico move, while in Board Game Brunch, I tried something new to develop my thoughts on colonist economy.

You can find my review of the Puerto Rico app through this link.

You can find my columns on Catan, “Catan Blues,” through this link.

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Review: Looking for Group, Pittsburgh’s Game Center and Coworking Space

In our Replay FX adventure, we spent about four hours learning new board games in an expanded tabletop gaming area.  Our game play facilitators, that either ran or got us connected to games of Pandemic Legacy, Hanabi, and One Night Ultimate Werewolf, turned out to be representatives of a new business in Pittsburgh, Looking for Group, and when we were near the top of our gaming high, they gave us red tokens stamped with their name and address, as well as an offer of one hour of free game play.

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A quick note on this is warranted.  Looking for Group’s marketing model is as cutting edge as their game center would turn out to be, as while you can’t really call it “undercover marketing” due to their eventual disclosing of their identities, they definitely disclosed it AFTER we were hooked on our first game.  What do you call “undercover marketing” after it has evolved into a more friendly model that plugs its association once it has gained your trust and sold you on the possibility of a customer relationship?  I found it to be not only clever but an intriguingly fleet-footed way of transmitting their whole business concept to their prospects.  However, it was undoubtedly aided by the friendly and knowledgeable Looking for Group representatives that were in attendance at RePlay FX.

I was sure to put the tokens on the mantle when we returned from RePlay FX, though it was a good three weeks later when we decided we would go across town to Brookline to see the facilities.  Looking for Group is located on Brookline Boulevard, a historic Pittsburgh shopping and restaurant district, within walking distance of other colorful businesses, like Rather Ripped Records, Geekadrome, and more.

But even the eclectic neighborhood couldn’t prepare us for what waited inside the doors.

Looking for Group is truly gamers’ Eden, with the two Trees, the Tree of Tabletop Gaming and the Tree of Video Gaming, fully flowered.  Video gamers can play video games both in the large format, in widescreen from a nine foot couch, or in the more personal format of video rockers a few feet from the game.  While one of my kids played Mario Kart Wii and the other got to try No Man’s Sky at last, the wife and I learned Tokaido from one of the owners.


Tokaido Board Game

Tokaido is an outstanding game, by the way, that will probably be our next tabletop game purchase, and you will probably eventually see it reviewed on Board of Life.  It is incredibly fun, with lots of strategy and a very tiny learning curve, so that you could play this great game easily with anyone you know.  It is also an extremely fast game, as it only took us about an hour to finish.  And after we completed our game, my oldest told me that she had great fun playing No Man’s Sky, in which she repaired a spaceship that she flew into outer space.  My youngest, on the other hand, did not want to leave, though we have Mario Kart Wii at home.

Earlier in Board of Life, I have blogged about the emergence of board game cafes, and while Looking for Group has some affinity with that concept, there is a much different vision here.  Looking for Group is described not only as a gaming center, but also as a “coworking space,” which started as kind of a game developers’ studio co-op, but has changed as people from different walks of life have joined the coworking space, not just game developers but also, for instance an educator and a systems administrator.  On their website, they say that their they have not only multiple server tools for game developers, but also things that would appeal to a more diverse group, such as fast internet, LAN access, a conference room, a kitchenette, and keyless entry via smartphone.

Membership at Looking for Group is pricey, ranging from a $25/month basic membership that allows site access for one day a month to the $225/month unlimited membership that allows access at any time.  There are also hourly rates–$4/hour or $10 for 3 hours–and a $20 day rate, for people to come in during gaming hours (2 to 10 PM), and every Wednesday from 7 to 10 PM there is a three hour Board Game Night that costs $5 per participant.

And this leads me to my only criticism of Looking for Group, that while the cost of the facility is probably reasonable for young millennials, it is prohibitive to families.  It would be $16 an hour for us to enjoy Looking for Group, or $40 for 3 hours.  Board Game Night would be more reasonable for us, at $20 for the three hour block, but there are numerous free board game Meetup Groups in the Pittsburgh area, including one that already meets on Wednesdays at a Crazy Mocha in Squirrel Hill, and that one has equally knowledgeable tabletop gaming fans as members.  And if I was a young millennial, I would have a hard time paying as much for one day at Looking for Group that I have paid for a whole month of gym membership.

Not that Looking for Group is aiming at the business model of a free library or meetup group, or even an economical gym membership; they’re selling the joy of networking, of unifying their coworking elite on the one hand, and of creating a tribe of gamers on the other hand.  Looking for Group is aiming at the church business model, and their high rates are not unlike tithing, fraternity dues, or the fees for auditing in Scientology.  They’re looking for members that will feel a belongingness to the space, not treat it with the rudeness that customers treat libraries, gyms, and movie theaters.

And, much as I am fascinated by world religious literature, I am fascinated by Looking for Group’s vision as well.  And, I have an undeniable affinity with their game center, so when I rue their exorbitant prices, it’s with the bitterness of Aesop’s Fox.  Not to mention the fact of their friendliness, professionalism, and welcoming nature, which makes me feel that my criticism is ridiculous, tantamount to Groucho Marx’s “I refuse to join any club that would have me as a member.”

If you’re in the Pittsburgh area, and you like board games or video games, you will undoubtedly feel right at home at Looking for Group.  I can attest to the fact that my entire family felt right at home and enjoyed every minute there.  However, the pricing is not as welcoming to families as the space is itself, so bear that in mind.  The pricing is geared towards young singles and couples that leave their kids at home.  And the most important caveat of all is that this space will make an impact on you, so that you’ll feel its draw moments after you leave.

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Game Review: Gamewright’s Imagine (2016)

While Gamewright is a publisher of what are ostensibly family games that you can play with your kids, perhaps because many of their games aim to cultivate the mind, they have found a wider audience of all-ages that enjoy stimulating tabletop games. In this household, we’re already fans of three eminently intriguing and mentally nourishing games, not only Dragonwood, which I’ve previously reviewed, but also Forbidden Island and Forbidden Desert.

Our most recent acquisition from Gamewright is Imagine, a game that dropped just this month during GenCon. It is described in its press sheet as a game that “transcends language and culture…which came to us from Japan via our French publishing partners” and allows players to “combine, overlap, and even animate the special transparent cards” in order to “convey your chosen subject without saying a word.” These are bold and ambitious promises, and Gamewright makes good on them with this curiously amusing card game.

To set up Imagine, you simply put all 61 transparent cards in a series of circles on your tabletop, so that all players can easily see them. Then you shuffle the Enigma cards, and place those and the score tokens within easy reach of everyone.

Here’s how you play one round of Imagine. On your turn, you grab an Enigma* card, which has eight different enigmas with corresponding clues. Any other player then tells you a number between one and eight to determine the enigma of that round, you provide the other players the associated clue, and then the hinting and the guessing begin. At this point, you can use any of the transparent cards, in any quantity, to communicate your hint. If no one gets it, you can build onto that hint, or you can scrap it and start over, whichever you prefer. There’s no set time limit either, and the players can decide when they’ve had enough. If no one guesses correctly, then no one scores, but if someone does grok what you’re trying to do, both that player and you get one point. Yes, Imagine rewards both good hinters and good guessers, which can encourage a quick game.

As for a more specific example of play, first take a look at a sample Enigma card:

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When this card game up during a game, someone called “six,” so that my enigma was “hula hoop,” and their clue was “Sports and Leisure.”  I only needed two cards here, and the hinter and I scored after about five seconds.

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No, it isn’t a perfect hint—there are only 61 transparent cards after all, so your selection of imagery is limited. I had wanted someone to call “five” so I could play these three cards as “Captain America”:

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These two are probably among the easiest enigmas in the game. More than most games, Imagine has a learning curve, as while there is a limited arsenal of symbols, there are still 61 different cards to absorb.  As the Imagine “alphabet” is learned, the game will become quicker as the players will be able to rely on a more articulate memory of the cards and not play “hunt and peck” as they pore over and over again looking for cards they don’t yet know by heart. After my first time playing this game, my second thought was the hope that there will be expansion packs with additional transparent cards, as 61 shapes are not enough for some enigmas. (My first thought was that I was looking forward to introducing this to other friends that play tabletop games.)

Three to eight players can play Imagine, and I can tell you that unlike games that break down in games with a low player count (I’m looking at you, Spyfall), my wife, daughter, and I played a very satisfying three player game. Footage of our game play could have been used for a TV commercial, as there was a lot of laughing, loud banter, hilarious clues, and amusing guesses.

I really only have one criticism of Imagine.  The game rewards bad hinters and bad guessers, not just good guessers and good hinters.  However, this flaw may assist the game in securing mass appeal, as  it levels the playing field.

You see, Imagine doesn’t end until every player provides two good hints that are guessed correctly by another player. In one game, a player provided two good hints within three moves (the seventh play overall), while it took six moves (the fifteenth play over all) for the player whose second hint ended the game. The superior hinter hit the hint quota early, and would have won if the game ended then; the inefficient hinter didn’t meet the quota until eight plays later, and because the game ended at that moment, the bad hinter scored the game point with her second good hint. Hence, Imagine rewards bad hinters by letting them enjoy a prolonged game with more scoring opportunities, as well as one of the two points given out in the final scoring opportunity.

As to rewarding bad guessers, this same player, instead of using thoughtful guessing, would throw out dozens of guesses at the rate of two a second, using the “throw everything until something sticks” strategy.  This scattergun approach is as effective as you would expect, and, pragmatically speaking, more effective than thoughtful guessing when the thoughtful guesser is drawing a blank.  Twenty bad guesses have a better chance of getting a right answer than no good guesses at all.

The bad news for those that like the casual analytics of tabletop gaming, or even those that overcome the learning curve involved with grasping the language of 61 symbols in Imagine, is that their acumen will not be much of an advantage over the bad hinters and bad guessers. The good news is that if you’re bad at hinting and guessing, you may still do well at Imagine, and you even get a slight advantage in being one of the two final scorers in a game.

As Imagine not only has a strong premise, enjoyable game play, high replay value, and a level playing field, its potential audience is huge, and I expect Imagine to have strong word of mouth that will sell hundreds of thousands of copies.

Footnotes

*”I, Enigma” is also an anagram of Imagine, which may or may not have influenced the translators during their localization of the game.


Imagine

Gamewright sent a review copy of Imagine. Board of Life uses affiliate links. Cross-posted on NerdSpan.com.

Game Night: Catan: Traders and Barbarians, 7 Wonders, and Sheriff of Nottingham

Our most recent game night was the pinnacle of a perfect day. Earlier that day we had gone to Market Square, where we ate veggie dogs at Franktuary, played a game of giant Jenga, and returned with two bags of coffee from Nicholas Coffee Company. We brought one of the bags–Cinnamon Pecan Praline—with us to our friends’ house, where it paired well with the home-made peach pie they baked. We didn’t start playing games until late, but we were still able to squeeze in three games due to selecting the fastest official Catan variation, the eighteen round game 7 Wonders, and the eight round game Sheriff of Nottingham.

If you’ve been following this blog for a while, you’ve probably seen that our sweet spot seems to be three games, as that is usually what we end up playing no matter how much time we have. This is a curious phenomenon which I believe to be an ultimately explicable attribute of game size, as measured by Scope, Scale, and Span. Just hold that thought, though, because this is a Game Night recap, and I won’t be going into depth on that subject here. We’ll call it fodder for later installments.

To complete the setting of the stage–the bright, sunny, day pierced the windows, and we had salads, roasted potatoes, and tofu marinated in cayenne pepper, garlic, and cracked pepper (the vegans), and various seafood including shark (the non-vegans). (Actually, the tofu was so good that everyone was eating it, so my overly simplistic demarcation is a bald-faced lie.) My youngest watched DVDs we brought of Race for Your Life, Charlie Brown and The Superfriends, so classic animation would crackle and flash in the background.

Catan: Traders and Barbarians: “The Fishermen of Catan”

First, we played “The Fishermen of Catan” scenerio from Catan: Traders and Barbarians. With so many variations of Catan between us—I have Seafarers, Cities and Knights, and Explorers and Pirates, and my friends have Traders and Barbarians and Star Trek Catan—it isn’t long before this demands expression in wooden empires on hexagon-ological islands. In an informal survey of our gaming group, only one of us had a clearly stated favorite tabletop game, and that was Catan. As for myself, Catan is the game that I hate to love and love to hate, and I acknowledge that there is a sixth element in Catan, aside from wool, wheat, ore, lumber, and brick, and this sixth element never leaves your hand and pulls you back to the game. It isn’t that we possess Catan, it’s that Catan possesses us.

I’d like to say that we selected Catan: Traders and Barbarians, the Catan box that we open least frequently, because we wanted to give the included scenarios another play, but it was because we had brought Catan: Cities and Knights and found that we had left the Cities and Knights progress and commodity cards in my 5-6 player C&K expansion box. So my friend took T&B down from his shelf, and we set up “The Fishermen of Catan.” It is the fastest scenario in Catan: Traders and Barbarians, and possibly all of Catan, as it is not only a ten point game like standard Catan, but the accumulation of resources is accelerated by the introduction of fishing to the game.

The fishing mechanic in “The Fishermen of Catan” is completely unlike the fishing in Catan: Explorers and Pirates scenarios. While in E&P, the player retrieves a wooden fish token with a wooden ship token, the simulation in T&B involves no movement of tokens. In fact, the game board is similar to standard 10 point Catan, with the exception that the desert is replaced by a fishing hole, and fishing shoals are placed between harbors. Fishing shoals and the fishing hole produce fish when their numbers are rolled, and you have a settlement or city bordering them.

Fans of standard ten point Catan should see immediately how this scenario will speed up play. Instead of a desert hex, which is a dead, non-producing, hex, that limits the value of settlements and cities bordering it, “The Fishermen of Catan” has the fishing hole, which produces a fish token on a 2, 3, 11, or 12, which combined is as good as having a 6 or an 8, circa 16% likely on a given roll. Additionally, if at the beginning of the game, there aren’t any good three hex spots left when it’s your turn to place your second settlemtn, the coastal region is much more attractive as there are also regions there that produce fish when a number is rolled. In Fishermen of Catan, it is much more likely that all four players will have both a six and an eight, if they would like to have both, due to there being many more spots on which to border a six or an eight. In fact, sometimes the coastal regions are much better than the island interior in “The Fishermen of Catan.”

Each player can only have seven fish tokens at once, but in both of the times that we have played this scenario, no player ever reached this limit as the fish tokens are so useful. You see, each fishing token has from one to three fish on it, and you can exchange a total of two fish—not tokens, but the fish on them—-to remove the robber from the board; three fish allows you to steal a resource from another player; four fish allows you to take a resource from the bank; five fish gives you a free road; and, seven fish gives you a free development card. Game statisticians will no doubt point out that resource producing numbers will be more efficient than fish-producing numbers at building roads or buying development cards, but fish can’t be stolen by other players or by the robber either, so they give each player a secondary, 100% secure, production bank. Well, not each player—just the players that were wise enough to focus on gathering fish.

So, with resources entering “The Fishermen of Catan” normally, and fish production being exchanged for resources, roads, and development cards on top of that, you can see that this scenario enabled its winner to hit ten victory points quickly. This is probably why there is an “Old Boot” concealed in the fish tokens that any player can give to another player with more victory points, and that player stuck with the Old Boot needs 11 victory points to win instead of 10.  In this game, however, no one ever found it, so the winner won with three cities, the Largest Army, and the Longest Road.

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7 Wonders

In games with score cards, our game night group dates them for posterity, and this meant that when I opened our 7 Wonders box that it was a black and white fact that we hadn’t played this marvelous game since May 28th. There’s really no excuse for this, as 7 Wonders is not only currently in a three way tie with Puerto Rico and Broom Service to be my favorite game, but it is fast and epic. Not only can you always find room for 7 Wonders in a game night, it is such an excellent game with so many different winning strategies that you should strive to do this at all costs. (I wouldn’t go so far as to call it a sin against the god of game night, but yes I would.)

I’ve discussed 7 Wonders in some detail on Board of Life, and each time we play I have a different takeaway. It seemed that both players to either side of me didn’t need the resources that I was saving either to build their Wonder or to supplement their strategy, so I learned how to win at 7 Wonders when I wasn’t getting any income. This was a marked difference from my previous win at 7 Wonders, when both of my flanking players were trading with me constantly.

We were using the B side of the cards, and selected our wonders randomly. Mine was Halikarnassos, and while I was initially disappointed with this one due to it only rewarding the building of its wonder with only three victory points, the Halikarnassos B side also has an outstanding special ability.

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It enables you to look through the discards once per age, in the round during which the wonder stage is built, even selecting from cards discarded that round. As I would have the greatest selection of discards at the end of each age, I decided that whatever happened, my sixth card every turn would build a stage of my structure so that I would be able to pick from the four discards in the sixth round for a free build. I was only getting three points from completing my wonder, so it was paramount that I grab the discard that was worth the most points to me. In the third age, the other players realized what I was doing, and the only discard at the end of the third age that was worth any points was the Arena. Which I grabbed anyway, as three victory points is nonetheless three victory points.

One strategy that I considered, but did not use this game due to rejecting its shadiness, involves abusing the rule that allows a player, instead of playing a card or building a stage of their wonder, to discard any card they want on their turn for 3 coins. I thought of discarding a card that I was unable to purchase so that I could then grab it for free immediately after by building a stage in my structure. I would be one card short at the end of the game, but I was already being rewarded for building my wonder by getting additional cards in my play area.

The strategy that I decided on was much simpler. After a heavy investment in brown, grey, and yellow cards in the first age, from that point on I simply picked the card from my hand that was both 1) a free build for me, and 2) worth the most victory points. Then, in the final, sixth round of each age, I would build a stage of my structure so that I could grab a free card from the discards. (It was very important that I not build it prior to that sixth round so that I have the largest selection of discards, as our group doesn’t cash in cards for coins very much.) By the end of the game, I had a set of green cards, several blue cards, and three of the purple guild cards.

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One general consensus in our group is that it is a mistake to over-invest in the green Science cards. The possibility of scoring twice with your investment in them is appealing to the math minded, but in practice it never works out. The player with the least amount of victory points had 26 points for six science cards, which sounds great until you consider that’s only 4.4 points a card, and there are many more valuable cards in the third age that are passing by while you’re completing your second science set; the three purple guild cards I grabbed were a total of 22 points, or about 7.3 points a card. If you can get a set of science cards before the end of the second age, that’s a good thing to grab, but go for the blue and purple cards in the third age. Even in the second age, the three blue cards (12 victory points) are worth more than a set of three green cards (10 points).

Sheriff of Nottingham

Next up was Sheriff of Nottingham, a game which has won my admiration after only two games despite the cold hard fact that I am horrible at playing it. This is partly due to the fact that I cannot keep from smiling when I am passing contraband, and my strategy to be always smiling like a fool, so as to conceal when I am actually doing it, simply means that my bag is always checked for contraband.

Some of you are saying, “contraband? bag? what?” Let me backtrack. As this is the first time I’ve discussed Sheriff of Nottingham in any length on my blog, for the uninitiated I’ll delve into the facts of the game, but as I may end up reviewing it on Board of Life, this will be a capsule summary.

Sheriff of Nottingham is best played with four players over a total of eight rounds. Each player is the Sheriff in two of those rounds, and a Merchant in the other six rounds. In every round, the other three players are Merchants that declare from their hand of cards—Chicken, Cheese, Bread, Apples, or Contraband—one type of good in any quantity to be in their bag. In addition to playing cards, Sheriff of Nottingham actually has enclosed not just cardboard coins, but also five “merchant bags” that are large enough to enclose them.

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When the Merchant makes a declaration, he must correctly state the number of cards in his bag, and he also must pick just one type of good to declare from the four honest goods in the game, either Cheese, Bread, Apples, or Chicken. If a Merchant makes the declaration “Six Cheese,” the bag might actually have six cheese in it, or four cheese and two bread, or one cheese and five contraband, or six contraband and no honest goods, or any other combination of six cards. If the Merchant actually has six cheese, that’s awesome luck, beause not only will the Merchant earn huge points from that haul, but the Sheriff will undoubtedly inspect and end up paying a penalty on that lucky haul. More than likely, however, the Merchant will make smaller declarations, whether for honest or dishonest reasons.

After all three Merchants have made their declarations, The Sheriff must decide whether each Merchant is telling the truth. He or she can inspect any bag they want, and if they find an incorrect declaration, the Merchant must pay him a penalty. However, if they inspect an honest declaration, the Sheriff must pay the Merchant a penalty.

Merchants can bribe The Sheriff if they want to do so—sometimes this is because they are trying to get contraband through, sometimes this is because they want the Sheriff to check another Merchant’s bag, and sometimes this is because the Merchant is trying to entice the Sheriff to inspect an honest declaration, so the Sheriff has to pay the Merchant a penalty. So bribery can be massively strategic in Sheriff of Nottingham.

In this game, I had a huge setback when I decided that I would try to be clever. In my first round, I played it safe and declared three cheese honestly. In the next round, after my draw, I again had three cheese as well as a bread and two contraband. I thought, why not declare the two contraband and a bread as three cheese? It will probably be passed through, and then when I declare three cheese—this time honestly—for a third time, it will undoubtedly be inspected so that I would be paid a penalty. Nope. The bread and two contraband were inspected because of my irrepressibly goofy smile, and my game never recovered from that.

Despite the fact that I was never able to catch back up after that initial loss, I still had a lot of fun playing Sheriff of Nottingham, just as I did the first time that I played. It’s fun to watch the Merchants try to get one over on the Sheriff, and it’s amusing to watch players try to rat each other out by bribing the Sheriff to check others’ dishonest declarations. And at eight turns, the game is of a perfect length, so that if you’re losing, you’re not losing for long, and if you’re winning, you get to savor your triumph quickly.

Conclusion

This was such a satisfying set of short strategy games that I recommend this exact combination for any game night in which you only have a few hours ahead of you. All three games took less than an hour while engaging our mental muscles in the strategic way that we usually expect much longer games to satisfy.

My curiosity is still piqued as to why three games seems to be the magic number for our gaming group, and once I have a large enough sample of Game Night recaps for analysis, I might speculate further on this mystery.


Catan: Traders & Barbarians Expansion 5th Edition

7 Wonders

Sheriff of Nottingham

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Grokking Games: More Thoughts on Game Span, Scale, and Scope

(While much of Board of Life is designed for all readers interested in board games, card games, and other tabletop games, “Grokking Games” is a column in which I write about tabletop game theory, and it assumes familiarity with the games discussed. “Grok” is a verb probably originating with Robert Heinlein, and it means a deep and intuitive knowledge.)

It’s been a few weeks since my last game night report, for multiple reasons, sad and otherwise. Game Night has continued, but my game night recaps take more wholeness of mind than I have possessed. I did do a mini-recap of sorts in my recent review of RePlay FX 2016, in which I played Pandemic Legacy, Hanabi, and One Night Ultimate Werewolf. The most interesting of the unrecorded game nights was a night on which we played Puerto Rico and Mysterium, and rolled up 1st edition Traveler RPG characters.

Why Traveler? This is part of an ongoing analysis of the three aspects of game size—Span, Scale, and Scope, specifically the one that, while the most abstract, is turning out to be the one I am most interested in measuring due to it being easy to create entertaining examples—Scope. Traveler, like the more successful second generation RPGs that followed it, such as GURPS, uses only d6 and combinations of d6 to generate the game content, and everyone usually only needs 2 six sided dice on hand, plus a pool of extra six-sided dice for larger weapons. It is my belief that this will decrease the imbalance between real time and game time that we’re observing in our AD&D chapters.

If you’re just coming in now, what we’ve seen in my analysis of our first two D&D adventures is that RPG games have tons of content compared to other tabletop games, and that they’re big in what I call Scope, or the size a game occupies in the players’ head space. The second D&D chapter, which centered on a larger battle, had less content and many more dice rolls than the one before it, and I believe there is a correlation between these elements, so that a first rule of Scope can be stated as the following: as opponents increase, Scope tends to decrease, until, when there are dozens of adversaries on a battle mat, you’re playing a tactical wargame and not a role-playing game for that chapter.

My recent experiment with AD&D 1st edition has made me well-aware of the shortcomings of all versions of Dungeons & Dragons—that players can stumble over dice too much as they’re generating game content. One of the problems with D&D is that it requires the player to switch out dice too many times, so that in one combat round a d6 is rolled for initiative, a d20 is rolled to attempt a hit, and any of six different dice (d4, d6, d8, d10, d12, d20) in different combinations (2d4, 3d4, 3d6, 2d8 etc.) are rolled for damage. Then the NEXT player has to do these things. The Dungeonmaster has to do all of these things, plus make d100 rolls occasionally. My thoughts are that because the players and the DM have to spend so much time going back and forth to the dice bank, so that a battle that takes five minutes of game time takes 45 minutes of real time for the players to translate it, it limits the real-time role-playing participation which is the heart of D&D. Hence, my second rule of Scope as applies to RPG: with diversity of dice and complexity of rules, Scope tends to decrease. Not that dice and rules are bad—dice and rules are the components of the “game” aspect of role-playing games, and without the game mechanics, there wouldn’t be a game to gather players around to enjoy the “role-playing” part. Most people like both parts of Role-Playing Games, but it seems obvious to me, now that I am returning to D&D after more than two decades, that the “game” aspect of D&D aspect is unbalanced. And it seems extraordinarily myopic of the game’s developers that in the years since 1st and 2nd edition D&D has become more complex, and not less.

A good analogy is to imagine if there were 25 minutes of forms that you had to fill out in order to ride a 90 second roller coaster. Now imagine that the roller coaster is one of the best in the world, so that it had literally millions of fans, with hundreds of forums for online commentary between Reddit, Facebook, and more. That roller coaster is Dungeons and Dragons, and for many fans of the game, it is such a wonderful and unique experience that not playing it is not an option, so these millions of fans regularly and masochistically throw themselves at the 25 minutes of forms in order to ride the ninety second roller coaster. When I was in college, we would start at noon on Saturday at the college union, and finish after 11 PM. During those eleven hours, perhaps a half dozen battles transpired. Do I remember any of the dice that I rolled? No. But I do remember some of the role-playing elements, such as key characters, settings, and narrative arcs. The goal of a good DM is to minimize the resistance of the game rules so that the players can participate more fully in the game setting and game narrative.

Also, while I haven’t concreted this into a rule yet, I’ve stated in our first AD&D adventure that I believe that controlling the time is paramount to mature enjoyment of these games, so that 90 minutes to two hours, at most, is allocated to an adventure chapter. Less is more—preferably no longer than a game of Catan. The same will be observed with Traveler. Expect our first adventure sometime in the next month or two.

As a bonus to former Traveler players, here’s the three characters that were created, but you have to be able to read first edition Traveler shorthand. The two humans are extremely viable characters, but the Aslan failed the survival roll during the first term, which according to the modified character creation rule that most Traveler GMs use, requires character creation to stop. One of my players suggest that we use the Aslan for an extra character on nights we have an extra hand, and allow the re-rolling of that character. I may allow this, because it would be nice for all the regular players to have capable characters. On the other hand, Aslans get more skills than humans do as a general rule, so that in the one term she was in, she got five skills compared to 8 and 10 for the three term humans. And she’s 10 years younger, which could be a benefit if they ever go to a Psionic Institute…but might not.

Human M former Marine Leading Sergeant. Age 30 88AD69 Gun Cbt-1, Battledress 1, Recruiting 1, Heavy Weapons 1, Vacc Suit 1, Tactics 1, Zero-G Combat 1, Leader 1. 7000 credits, High Passage, Traveller’s Aid Society.

Human F former Navy E8 Senior Chief Officer (MCUFx2, MCG) age 30 79586B Gun Cbt-2, Liaison 2, Navigation 1, Zero-G Combat 2, Ship’s Boat 1, Vacc Suit 1, Gambling 1. 10,000 credits, cutlass, Traveller’s Aid Society.

Aslan F Scientist age 20 795867 Computer 1, Gravitics 1, Electronics 1, Handgun 1, Jack of All Trades 1. 5000 credits, gun.

Follow this link to find vintage Advanced Dungeons & Dragons

Here’s your link to Traveler on Amazon

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I found the Traveler Aslan module on eBay

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River Horse Reveals Cover to MLP RPG, Tails of Equestria

River Horse has revealed the cover to their upcoming My Little Pony RPG, Tails of Equestria: The Storytelling Game.  The cover artist, Amy Mebberson, is well known for dozens of contributions to IDW’s line of My Little Pony comic books.

Tails of Equestria

River Horse had this to say about the cover art in an email to their newsletter subscribers:

What design choices went into the cover?

We knew pretty early on what we wanted out of the cover, we wanted to show anyone who looked at it what they would be getting when they opened the book, that is to say ponies and adventure! Working with the fantastic Amy Mebberson, we decided that catching an adventuring party halfway through their travels would give the best impression. So it went that we created a party, following the classic three person fighter/wizard/rogue set up that is such a staple in traditional roleplaying games. My little pony is a fantastic introduction to roleplaying games partly because of its vibrant world and varied species which meant we could show the magical unicorns, strong earth ponies and speedy pegasi in an instant and people would immediately identify with the archetypal party we made. After that it was a matter of placing them in an adventure (navigating through the Everfree forest!) and the rest fell into place.

River Horse is the publisher of the Terminator Genisys, Hunt for Red October, and Waterloo–Quelle Affaire! board games, and they are also widely known for having the license on not only this MLP project, but also Jim Henson’s Labyrinth the Board Game.

You can find previous news on Tails of Equestria through this hyperlink.