BattleTech, Carcassonne, Finca and a Surprise!

September 19, 2011

A week ago Saturday started out as expected. My wife and I got the kids ready for the day and then we headed over to a friends house – our couples book club was meeting that day. After a nice morning chatting, I headed over to Russ’ house to start a new RPG Campaign set in the BattleTech universe. The session was the first time playing for all of us. With the MechWarrior soundtrack playing in the background we went out on a training simulation to get our feet wet. We had fun but had to wrap things up at about 4:15 as people had stuff to get to.

I got in my car and texted my wife I was on my way home. She called me back and asked if I’d stop at the store to pick up something we needed for dinner. No problem. When I finally I got home I walked in the door to our lower level and started up the stairs.

That’s when it happened.

“SURPRISE!” and at about the same time I saw faces that I didn’t expect to see in my house. Lots of faces.

I was floored. And speechless. My wife was thrilled. She had flawlessly pulled off what I told her many months before something she couldn’t do: throw me a surprise party. I was sure I would pick up the clues and figured it would never happen – I would find someway to spoil the surprise. Not only did it happen it blew me away.

I finally made it up the stairs and said hello to everyone – all 40+ people! Then I looked at my cake:

The meeples placed illegally were quickly eaten.

Cake-assonne! Even the Meeples are edible.

Wow. Even better than last year’s cake and that one was great.

All I could do is ask: How…? Where…? When…? I got the answers and all the little clues I had ignored previously started to make sense. Then we dug into the food and drinks and had a blast. Later in the evening I kept thinking about the past couple of weeks. It was like watching a good movie that has a surprise twist at the end. As soon as the movie is over you want to hit play again and see all the clues you missed.

A few days later I finally recovered my wits. Just in time to celebrate my birthday on the actual day. I received some fantastic gifts – one of which of course was a board game. This time: Finca. We played that night and had a blast. I’ve since played it 5 more times and am really enjoying it.

Now all I can wonder is: will I ever be able to top that surprise party…?

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Commands and Colors: Napoleonics Storage Solutions

September 15, 2011

Having spent about four hours this weekend applying stickers to the blocks for Commands and Colors: Napoleonics, I was faced with a problem: where to store them all. While it’s true that the pieces all fit inside the game box, it’s a tight fit if you bag each individual unit type, which means finding another storage solution. After digging around a bit on the web, I settled on buying a Plano LockJaw box. I found one for sale at my local hardware store. The top portion of the box fits the Portugese, British, and French infantry with plenty of room to spare for an expansion or two:

Plenty of space left over!

Meanwhile, the bottom portion can easily be arranged to fix the larger pieces–cavalry, artillery, and leaders–as well as dice, terrain, and chits. If I ever purchase an expansion, it will be easy to transfer the last three items to the original game box. This should leave space for expansion playing pieces.

Open the lid, and you've got all large playing pieces with room to spare for terrain, etc.

Once you lock everything up, you’ve got a lightweight, organized carrying case for all of your armies. I think it will drastically cut down on setup time for this game.

Who knew you could carry the great armies of Europe so easily?


How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Losing

September 7, 2011

With Labor Day weekend over, it is time to regretfully close the book on summer. Camping, grilling, brewing, mowing the lawn: Every day was filled with joy. That is, until I sat down in the evening to play a board game with my wife, friends, or family.

And then I lost. And lost again. And then lost some more.

Like my beloved but hapless Minnesota Twins, I spent most of the summer getting thrashed by the opposition. If you’ve been following the blog for a while, you’ll know that every Memorial Day I declare a “summer of victory.” You may also remember that last year, the Summer of Victory III, didn’t go so well. However, it was nothing compared to the utter debacle that was the Summer of Victory IV: Actually, the Summer of Defeat, Don’tcha Know.

The overall number of games played went up slightly this summer, 43 compared to last year’s 38. Of these 43, I went 14-29, a .325 win average. This is a huge drop compared to last year (.447 average). In two player games, 26 in all, I went 14-12, again a huge drop off from last year, when I was 15-1-2. I attribute this to the fact that I was playing my wife a lot more, and she has proved stiff competition this summer, winning 8 of our 14 games.

The most popular games of the summer of loss were Hive (11 games played) and 7 Wonders (7 games played, no lie!). These are also the two games that Sara and I purchased together this summer, and we played them a lot. And it seems 7 Wonders is the new Carcassonne for me, as I have not yet won a single game of it. On the other hand, I finally snapped my 17 game losing streak in Carcassonne, winning for the very first time in the two years I’ve owned the game! That was a small bright spot.

In the end, I think this was a summer during which I learned to “stop worrying and love losing.” I don’t mean that I’m trying to lose, but that it doesn’t bother me like it used to. I’m much more focused on playing games that provide a bit of fun and some tough decisions as well, but even more importantly, I am enjoying the company of those with whom I’m playing.

A warmer, fuzzier John? Perhaps. But I’m still declaring a Summer of Victory V next Memorial Day!


Columbia Block Games only 99 Cents?!

August 8, 2011

I saw the following ad on BoardGameGeek this morning:

Try a game for only 99 cents!


I clicked the link thinking it was for a mobile version of the game. It took me to Columbia‘s page for Juluis Caesar with the following info:

Welcome BoardgameGeek User. How’s this for a fair deal? You get to try Julius Caesar for just 99 cents and we pay for the Priority Mail shipping! You’ll have the game in 2-3 days. Play it for a month! Your credit card will automatically be billed the $64.00 balance if you keep the game. Or return it with no further obligation. Credit card required. USA only. 1 game only.

Interesting concept. Board games are often purchased after someone has actually played the game. Once they know what the game is like they will be much more willing to put down the $40-80 a new game costs. The deal appears to work with Hammer of the Scots as well (possibly other games too?).

My personal theory is that it takes so long to put all the stickers on those blocks that by the time you’re done the 30 days will be up. In all seriousness, I wish them well. But I have my doubts. And what about those of us who take advantage of this offer and decide the game isn’t worth the $60-65? Will Columbia Games be offering a new “pre-stickered” version of their game with the returns?


What’s the Word

July 8, 2011

A few years back my wife and I got on a kick of playing a board game together every night. Since this was before my world of board games were “card-driven” or “euro”, our choices were limited. We usually ended up playing Scrabble every night. We had fun and got better as we played.

We played with an official Scrabble dictionary by our sides. We used it on occasion to find words and certainly to verify spellings, but we weren’t allowed to bury our heads in the book until we found a word every turn – this kept the game from dragging on. I also had printed off a list of all the 2- and 3-letter words as well as the “Q without a U” words. I have no idea what some of them meant but they sure were useful. Our scores increased by quite a bit and we enjoyed the mental stimulation – not only of words and letter permutations but optimizing the score for each play as well. I look forward to using Scrabble as well as other board games as educational tools with my children (more on that in a future post).

But with work, family and other hobbies those game nights diminished. They also changed. We don’t play as often and when we do, we play Euro-style games when it’s the two of us or simpler games when our oldest joins us. However, recently the board game and especially Scrabble-itch has been scratched in a different manner: Wordsmith. It’s essentially an electronic version of Scrabble but with a different tile/letter distribution/value and board layout. The nice thing about this is that we can take turns when we have the free time, we don’t have to leave a board laying out – which wouldn’t last long with 3 kids under 5 around the house! Plus we still get to have a friendly competition in a game we are fairly well matched.

I’ve really enjoyed the ‘board game on a touchscreen’ experience with this app. I have sought out a few other games and so far it hasn’t been too bad. There is also more support from the major game publishers as well: Settlers of Catan is on just about every platform that exists. Days of Wonder has a couple of their games already on the iPad. Fantasy Flight Games recently put out a game and GMT is actively working on them.

I still prefer sitting down to a table with a board and friends, but I’m also excited at the possibilities of electronic board games in the future. Will these methods replace board games – I don’t think so. But the line between “video game” and “board game” has certainly been blurred, and in my mind, for the better.


Some Thoughts on PBEM Gaming

June 28, 2011

Looking back over my board game records, it’s clear that I haven’t been playing a lot of games in the past few months. There are a lot of reasons for this: my wife working in the evenings, shouldering new new personal and professional responsibilities, other hobbies like roleplaying and homebrewing taking a front seat, etc. But with a bit more time at home this summer, I have been picking up a few play-by-email (PBEM) games; I mainly play these turns when the baby is taking a nap, or in the late evening once she’s in bed. These online games include the Blog v.s. Podcast Smackdown previously mentioned, as well as a few different games in the engrossing and delightful Combat Mission series of computer games. Still, if I had the choice, I’d stop PBEM gaming and stick with face-to-face experiences instead; online gaming is sort of like caffeine-free, diet soda–it’s a paltry substitute for the real thing! However, online games still have their place in the way I approach the hobby:

Learn a Game, Learn New Strategies: Since I really got into boardgames five years ago, this is what PBEM has been all about for me. I post a message on a forum looking for someone who knows the rules cold so I can learn from them. This is how I came to understand Wilderness War and Here I Stand, two games that have a pretty steep learning curve. Then I take the lessons and bring them back to my own local group. Incidentally, sometimes I have ended up paired with some really talented opponents who have shown me new strategies.

Engage in a Competition: When there just aren’t enough folks around to justify a local tournament of sorts, I head to PBEM gaming. I was able to participate in a Here I Stand tournament this way (and got past the first few rounds!), and also participate in several Combat Mission tournaments. Again, the level of competition is fierce and I end up learning a few new tricks to bring back home. This can lead to revitalizing our local group’s interest in a game too.

Keep a Gaming Connection Strong: Living where I do, some of my gaming buddies are pretty far away. (Russ, for instance, is a 45 minute drive away on a good day!) So a PBEM game allows us to keep playing something even when circumstances keep us apart physically. This is true with my dad too; we’ve played a lot of Combat Mission over the years because playing it in “hotseat” mode takes hours, but PBEM is five minutes a day.

In the end, I greatly prefer the social interaction of a face to face game. Play by email will always be a distant second to it, but it can be helpful. I think it makes me a better gamer, but even as I described my three reasons for online play above, I realized that it all comes back to my local group and my friends.


Family Reunion Time

June 24, 2011

Next week I’ll be taking a much needed vacation with my family. We’ll be heading to Wisconsin Dells to relax, have fun doing some touristy stuff and most importantly visit with my extended family. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen some of my cousins – who, like me, are now married with children – the last time I saw a lot of them were at my Grandparent’s funerals. I’m looking forward to chatting and spending time with them. And when we get together we play games.

I have fond memories of visiting my Grandparents’ house as a kid. The crossword puzzle was always completed by Grandma before we were even out of bed. Playing Boggle against her was a losing affair. And at night we gathered around the dining room table to play poker and “Cayman Rummy” – a rummy variant they invented while vacationing in the Caymans.

They’re will be plenty of card games being played, but here’s a list of games I’ll be bringing for the trip. My criteria for bringing a game are: portable/small, easy to learn, plays quickly and multiple players. Obviously not every game meets all 4 criteria but here we go:

Travel Blokus
Although this is only for 2 players, how can I pass up bringing one of the few games specifically designed for travel. Plus the game can be taught and played in about 15 minutes.

TransAmerica
This is one that meets all 4 criteria. I’ve had good success introducing this game to several people and they all enjoy it.

Dixit
Another game that has been a hit after introducing it to several people. I think people enjoy the creativity it allows.

Space Hulk: Death Angel
I think some of my cousin’s children will be approaching – or already in – their teens years. I’m thinking I should be able to get a group of young men to rally together and slay some genestealers. Plus the box is so small I can’t justify leaving it behind.

Wits & Wagers
A trivia game for up to seven people that isn’t boring. Plus it plays quickly. Although the box is pretty big… maybe I’ll throw the components into a smaller box to make room for another game.

Carcassonne: Hunters and Gatherers

I’m bringing this instead of regular Carc for two reasons: 1) my little sister has the Big Box so I don’t want to be redundant if she brings that and 2) it’s my most recent game acquisition so it still has that new game shininess.

King Me!
Another one that meets all 4 criteria. I actually like this game more than I thought I would after a few plays. A little bit of psychological warfare in a small package.

I’ll let you know how these games go over.