Hiss: First Impressions

So, Hiss is probably not the kind if game I’d normally reflect on; it’s super light weight, not at all a new release and it’s aimed at 4-10 year olds. For all that, though, it’s a lot of fun.

I’ve been in the market for games suitable to play with my son. At 26 months, that’s a tall order. I asked Andrew and Kerry’s advice on the topic and the steered me towards two games, one of which was Hiss. Mechanics are completely simplistic: player draws card, reveals a ‘segment’ of a coloured snake; player then tries to match said segment with existing snakes and, when one is completed, collects all the cards to tally at the end.

This game was FUN! Harry had a ball matching coloured segments and yelling “hisssssssss” whenever anyone scored (which was often). Even after we finished playing two back to back games, he continued to have fun, putting vividly coloured serpents across the floor.

Hiss is a small box (roughly 2 decks of cards worth, so it stores and travels easily. IMHO*, it’s perfect for young children and would be easy for 5 year olds to manage independently; with supervision and patience, even my 2yo managed it. Genuine family fun.

Hiss is available at The Wicked Goblin by order – ask Mick for a quote.

*full disclosure: my opinion is almost never that humble.

The Wicked Goblin: First Impressions

Well, Friday saw the opening of Cairns’ first dedicated games shop in about 10 years (old timers like me may remember Amazin’ or, even further back, the one in Oceania Walk, behind the surf shop).

I’ve got to tell you that I’m really excited by this, and not just because it’s a game shop … I’m excited because I think the Wicked Goblin has the potential to last. It seems like these things go on a rotation; someone thinks “I love [insert hobby here]. I’m going to open a store.” Then, on a budget of hopes and dreams, they open a dingy shop in a dodgy location and eke out a brief existence, relying on a core group of regulars (hell, no-one else would venture into such a place) until they admit defeat and close up shop, assimilating all the store merchandise into their own collections. I’m pleased to say that Mick and Stephanie’s offering to the Cairns gaming scene is a very different proposition.

There are 4 reasons why I think that The Wicked Goblin is going to succeed:

  1. Location. Situated in Lake St, TWG sees a lot of foot traffic and also offers street parking. Perhaps more important, its somewhere you can go to game knowing that a good, cheap meal is less than 100 meters away.
  2. Range. TWG stocks a serious range of games. From the obligatory Games Workshop and Magic the Gathering range to tabletop alternates like Warmachine and Historical 25mm offerings. I saw both Warhammer and Pathfinder RPG manuals and also ‘Living Card’ games like the Game of Thrones series. Most importantly to this readership, they stock board games Not Monopoly or Guess Who, but real boardgames like Settlers of Catan, Power Grid and Forbidden Island. I was incredibly covetous of Mice and Mystics, which is definitely one of the games to watch in 2013 and isn’t available anywhere in Australia (you can get it from Amazon or Ebay, but you’ll pay a premium for it, I assure you). I was also pleasantly surprised to see Pandemic on the Brink, which wasn’t scheduled for release here until November.
  3. Price. There isn’t a store on the planet that can compete with the online warehouses operating out of the UK or US, so let’s not kid ourselves that you’ll find it cheaper at TWG than you would online. Having said that, prices at TWG are, on agerage, between 5-15% more than online and I for one am willing to pay a bit more to support the local bloke … especially when they provide us with such an excellent gaming space. Which brings me to:
  4. Store layout. TWG is a big, clean, well-laid out store. You could see it in the faces of the general public passing by. They looked through the window and, far from being repelled by what they saw, came in and browsed. I have no doubt that they will remember the Wicked Goblin when next they get the itch to pull out a boardgame on holidays or are preparing for a Cyclone. Back to the layout, the white walls and multiple tables (which, I was impressed to note, packed away and were re-configured in minutes) were sensible, but separated from the shelves … vanilla people could come in an have a look without feeling engulfed in a nerdnami. There were two distinct areas, a gaming lounge and a store. I for one appreciated this, because it was somewhere my wife would gladly spend time (as opposed to a Games Workshop store where the heavy metal and overpowering musk of teenage BO gives her a headache).
  5. Mick and Stephanie. The term ‘good people’ immediately springs to mind when I think back to my meeting with them. I was genuinely impressed by them; Mick was all smiles whenever the for opened and they both knew their product lines well. I’m often unimpressed by the kind of people who run specialist stores; they generally tend to be aloof and more than a bit superior. Mick and Stephanie are genuine, down to earth people with a good manner and an open approach.

When all’s said and done, The Wicked Goblin fills a gap in Cairns’ gaming community and I certainly wish them well. Of course, we could all continue on buying our games from the ‘net, saving a few bucks here and there, but I’d like to think that we’re going to be able to support Mick and Stephanie; after all, they’ve put their livelihoods on the line to support our hobby.

Lords of Water deep – first impressions

Well, technically, this is a review of both Lords of Waterdeep and Scoundrels of Skullport. Playing the original and the expansion at the same time was an interesting experience; I don’t actually know what the original is like as a standalone game, but I’ve got a good grasp of the designers ‘vision’ for the original concept.

Game mechanic was easily grasped (at it’s core, this is a meeple/agent placement, resource gathering game); players choose where in under city (or, with the expansion, port) to  play their agents, collect the resources associated with their choice and then complete quests using the resources gathered. Perhaps my favourite mechanic was the ‘intrigue’ card system. Intrigue cards have two outcomes; they either help you, or they impede someone else (either through mandatory quests, with poor rewards or through resource taxation).

All in all, Lords of Waterdeep maintains the ‘feel’ of a D&D campaign, right down to the role playing elements of playing in character (of course, you don’t have to, but there are bonuses if you do), compressed into a 45-90 moon game. I said recently that I don’t need this game … But the more I think about it, the more I want it.

Lords of Waterdeep is brilliant, especially if, like me, you hanker for a return to the ‘glory days’ of dice rolling and finding the ‘mountain doo’, but don’t have the time. I’d you’re looking for something that’ll comfortably accommodate 6 players and feels epic eight up until the last points count, check out Lords of Waterdeep.

I can haz all the things?

I’ve been a bit quiet recently, but I was having a discussion with my students about how we choose which (video) games we buy and which games we leave, knowing full-well that we will probably never go back and buy them later (CF Robert Frost). This got me thinking; in a world where we have limited resources (money, time, cupboard space, spousal tolerance), how do we decide which tabletop or card games we add to our collections? Obviously, board-games don’t have the ‘hardware being superseded in 2 years’ issue that consoles and PCs do (*), but they do go out of print and getting your hands on them in the future may be harder than a Google search.

I’d be exceptionally interested in your thoughts on the topic, so please reply in the comments section, but I’m also going to share my thoughts on game collecting and how I choose which games ‘make it’ and which games don’t.

First of all, I am a sucker for Euro and co-operative games; I love competitive, non-combative games and I love the group dynamics that present in co-ops. Second of all, I’m pretty biased towards games which are appropriate for both the total novice and the seasoned gamer – something which seriously narrows down the options out there.

An example of this is Lords of Waterdeep, which I played for the first time on Monday night. Even playing against 4 experienced players, I was able to learn the dynamics and hold my own in the game within about 10 minutes (didn’t stop me trying to play intrigue cards when I should have been drawing them, but hey). But despite the fact that I enjoyed it immensely, the fact that it meets my ‘pick up and play’ and ‘competitive, not combative’ criteria … I wouldn’t buy LOW. Why not, you might ask? Simply put, I want it, but I don’t need it.

Which brings me to my next key purchasing criteria: My player group. I know my wife, I know my friends and I know my fellow CBBGC members (that’s you guys). Lords of Waterdeep is the kind of game that my wife would like, but not love. This means that it would be an occasional game in our household, rather than a game night regular. My other main gamers are a couple who live up the street and my brother in law and a friend of ours (who happen to be dating). Now, I reckon my BIL would like LOW and I think that our friend would too, but the other couple we play with regularly is almost certainly not going to like it (a religious objection to the Dungeons and Dragons logo on the box). As for my CBGC friends, both Andrew and Janelle own LOW and both of them are more than willing to bring it to any game night I attend host RSVP to on Facebook, but then don’t turn up to. So, given the above factors, it becomes a case of: while I loved LOW and I want to own it … I don’t need it.

Finally, it all comes down to money. I have a family (with another bub on the way), a mortgage, and ridiculous week to week expenses to cover on our single income. For a game to be worth shelling out for, especially if it goes over my $40.00 ‘comfortable spend’ budget, it’s got to be great. Now, I love the excitement of getting something completely new I am willing to take risks if I know the publisher, or I know the designer’s work … but handing wads of folding stuff over on a completely unknown product is hard for me to do (hence my love-hate relationship Kickstarter – I love the idea of backing something new and I love the stretch goals, but the idea of getting something that might be dud us hard to swallow).

 

So there it is; for a game to make it into my collection, it needs to meet these criteria:

  • It needs to be social – games that make people rage quit or endanger friendships  aren’t for me.
  • It needs to be easy enough to teach new players, but sophisticated enough to be enjoyed by serious gamers.
  • It needs to have broad appeal; I don’t want something taking up space or money which I’m not going to get to play.
  • It needs to represent value for money. This is hard to quantify, but I have to feel like it’s worth it.

So, how do you approach Board Game Ownership (maximal capitalisation for dramatic effect).

* Incidentally, I do own A NES-101, Super Nintendo and Nintendo 64.

Getting your money’s worth … value in gaming

Inspired by this post from Geek Coture blog Giant Fire Breathing Robot, I got to thinking about the value of board games and my increasing addiction to owning shiny new ones. I’ve long argued that a video game needs to provide me with a minimum of 2 hours play for every $10 spent to be considered good value. To arrive at this figure, I considered the cost of a movie ticket (discounted, I’m looking at $10) as, for that money I get 2 hours of check your brain at the door entertainment.

So here’s the question: If I’m willing to value video games at $10 x 2hrs, do I apply the same rubric to value in boardgames?

To help me decide, I used my recent purchase of Pandemic (which, if you’ve been reading this blog at all, you know I’m a tad obsessed with). I bought Pandemic for $35, which translates to 7 hours of play to be ‘good value’. Now, I’m over the minimum 7 hours already and I am nowhere near done with this one, so I can confidently say that this one is going to meet the criteria … but it leaves me wondering about games like Risk: Legacy, which come in at $70+ or Trains AEG edition, which sits at about $60. Will these games give me  the kind of longevity I need to be satisfied with the purchase price? Is a cost per hour rubric even the best way to look at it?

For some reason, and I really don’t know why, I feel the need to get more out of a board game than I do from a video game; I spend far more time agonizing over the purchase of a BG than I would over a PS3 game. Perhaps it’s the fact that I know I can take a PS3 game back if I don’t like it (I’m looking at you Skyrim, and frowning) or perhaps it’s just that IO’m more emotionally invested in boardgaming than I am in video games, but it still begs the question … what’s a fair price to pay for boardgames?

I’d love your opinion; leave a response.

Pandemic: the 5th game

When a game of Pandemic starts with an Epidemic and two outbreaks, you know you’re in for a rough ride … Especially when that’s just the first player’s turn.

We stuck to our guns though; our game-plan was to stick to the nature of our role cards and play like a single entity, rather than 3 individual players working to a common goal.

A scant turn or so later and we hit another epidemic and another outbreak chain – things were getting real, fast. Anyway, we got through the next few rounds, mainly due to some clever use of the event forecast and airlift cards played in conjunction with my containment specialist abilities.  Things were much smoother from there and we were looking good, with three cures on the board … It was all down to drawing one more black city card. We hit the card we needed and made some careful manouvers … The player with the 5 requisite cards was on a research station, with the cards in hand and It was her turn next … All we needed was an epidemic-free draw. You can guess what happened, can’t you? Our dispatcher drew the deadly green epidemic card, we intensified, shuffled and drew our infection cards. The first card was Taipei, which would have gone critical except for the fact I’d been camping on Hong-Kong for two turns as insurance against just such a possibility. There were 15 cards shuffled back into the top of the draw pile and only Santiago could stop us from winning; we turned the card over, it was yellow (groan), it was … Buenos Aires … We’d WON! not. Santiago came up and we lost, again.

It was a loss, but it was an epic loss … The faint smell of victory denied lingered long after our curses had faded. This is why I love  Pandemic – even our losses are amazing.

Playing Pandemic: four games in and I’m forming a strategy

So, my win/loss ratio is sitting at a dismal 1:3. My one win was playing at the library with Andrew, Alwin and Ethan; I’ve not actually managed to win a game without an expert advisor.

Having said that, I’m going to blog my experiences with this tough mother of a game and see if I can refine the way I play and see if different personalities in the group change outcomes.

I’ve come to the idea that simply entering ‘caretaker mode’ is going to end in disaster every time; basically, if you just run around trying to stop outbreaks happening, you’re going to fail once the first Epidemic card is drawn. I think that outbreaks are inevitable, especially in the short term. For my next game, I’m desperately hoping that we draw a medic, a dispatcher, a contingency planner and a scientist … I’ve got a gut feeling this is the ‘perfect’ combination of roles.

My strategy relies on the scientist ignoring infection and concentrating exclusively collecting at least one cure as early as possible; with only 4 cards needed, this should be ‘doable’ inside 2-3 turns. Removing at least 1 virulent strain early would make a massive difference to the mid-term game frantic scramble. I’d also aim to keep the dispatcher stationed at Atlanta so he can move other players ‘extra’ spaces to either treat or collect. I’d be focused really using the strategic, specialist skills of each role, rather than just having each player doing a generalist job. I’ve got a hunch that the game-makers were pretty specific in their design, so I should be equally specific in my playing style.

Of course, this is all strictly academic at the moment, but I’ll be sure to let you know how it goes.

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