Tuesday, January 02, 2018

Delve: Here's a Game, Let's Review It

This review originally appeared on the Opinionated Gamers website - and I should have shared it with you here a while back. But this blog has been dormant for six months due to work, life and the pursuit of happiness. 

  • Designer: Richard Launius & Pete Shirey
  • Publishers: Indie Board & Card Games
  • Players: 2-4
  • Time: 45-60 minutes
  • Ages: 14+ (my 12 year old does just fine)
  • Games Played: 4 (with a review copy provided by Indie Board & Card Games)

There’s A Dungeon - Let’s Crawl Through It

We are all treasure-hungry clans of adventurers, seeking to loot a dungeon filled to the brim with gold and magical goodies. I’d make fun of this unbelievably overworked storyline… except I have (by my count) 15+ games in my personal collection that are some variation on that exact theme. He who lives in glass dungeons should not throw stones.

The game structure of Delve is pretty straightforward (and leans heavily on the Carcassonne model). Players (ahem, adventurers!) take turns playing a tile from a hand of 3 tiles to the board to create rooms and corridors. They may place one of their five heroes on the tile they just placed. If a room or corridor with heroes in it is completely closed, it is resolved to see who gets the gold & precious objects. The only things that must match during tile placement are corridors, which makes it easier to sculpt the dungeon in ways that help you close off rooms.

If there are heroes from more than one clan (aka “player”) on a closed room, they dice off to determine who gets a share of the treasure. (The dice are custom dice and have both swords for fighting & coins for gathering extra loot.) If a single clan is present, they instead have to work their way through a card from a “choose your own adventure” deck to see what they manage to acquire.

The game goes on until (a) a certain number of tiles with sun symbols are played, or (b) when the gold deck runs out. The clan with the most gold wins!

The Seafood Gumbo Game Design Paradigm

I had the privilege of living in SE Texas for a year… right on the edge of the bayous and Cajun country. I learned to love boudin, etouffee, and gumbo. All of them involve the mixing together of a bunch of different ingredients/flavors to make something spicy and delicious.

The same design paradigm is common in board games - examples include Lisboa, The King of Frontier, and Walnut Grove. The recipe is similar: take 2 or more design elements and bolt them together to build a playable game. (My good friend and fellow OG writer Jeff Myers calls them “Frankenstein” games - hence my use of the word ‘bolt’ earlier has even more resonance.)

Delve is very much in this school. You’ve got:

  • tile-laying that is very similar to Carcassonne: The Castle
  • “Choose your own adventure” cards that are similar to Runebound (and other adventure games)
  • Dice-resolved combat (see pretty much every adventure game ever published)

There’s a Dungeon - Let’s Expand It

This will come as no surprise to any gamer who’s ever seen a classic fantasy adventure game - there’s already an expansion. Delve: Perils Awaits adds more adventure cards and more treasures to the game - which is actually a nice to expand replayability and variety without adding any problematic new design elements to the game.

The Trouble with Quibbles

I’ll get to my reaction to the game as a whole in a minute - but I do have a couple of component issues that need to be mentioned.

First, the player pieces are nice plastic squares with a sticker on them denote the particular dice that they roll. However, they are too large to fit comfortably in the majority of the rooms that are created by laying tiles. This problem is worse when you’re attempting to claim a corridor.

I’m not sure there’s a good solution for this - but the size of the pieces caused confusion a couple of times in our games… and the “it doesn’t look right” thing bothered me every time I played.

My second issue is the odd color choices made for the custom dice and the player piece stickers. In less than perfect lighting conditions, I have a very difficult time telling the blue & purple icons apart.

Different Strokes

So, with those quibbles out of the way, we get to the 64,000 gold piece question: what did I think of the game?

I appreciate the thoughtfulness that went into Delve and the combination of the various elements… the game works. I think there’s a tug of war in the design between the controllable elements (the hand of tiles, the choice of which tile to play, the placement of clan members) and the random elements (the tile draws, the dice combat/adventure resolution) - and that tension is exacerbated with more players and the subsequent loss of player control that is inherent in any multi-player game. No surprise - I like it best with 2 players. (Note: I feel the same way about Carcassonne.)

Delve is a perfectly playable game - the design functions as promised and there are actual decisions to be made. That said, it’s one of those games that falls into the “won’t refuse to play but probably wouldn’t suggest it” category.

For me.

On the other hand, my 12 year old gamer son finds it exhilarating and enjoyable. He’s asked to play multiple times. He likes the “choose your own adventure” aspect of the game, which is more prominent in 2 player games.

Your mileage may vary.

Monday, January 01, 2018

It's Still Personal: My Five & Dime Game Lists for 2017

Hey, campers... I may have stopped collecting the Five & Dime stats for everyone else - but I haven't stopped collecting my own!

Here's my own personal Five & Dime list (the games I played 5+ and 10+ times in 2017).

As always, I include only face-to-face games and games played with human opponents over apps/online.

Games with an asterisk [*] were on my Five & Dime list last year, games with two asterisks [**] have been on my list for the past two years, games with three asterisks [***] have been there for three years, games with four asterisks [****] have been there for 4 years, games with a plus [+] have been there 5 years, games with a plus and an asterisk [+*] have been there 6 years... and games with a plus and an asterisk [+**] have been there (wait for it) for the past 7 years!

  • Jump Drive 40
  • Clank!: A Deck-Building Adventure 32
  • DC Comics Deck-Building Game (includes Teen Titans & Forever Evil): 26 ***
  • Port Royal 20

  • Star Realms 17 ***
  • Runebound (3rd edition) 14
  • Sentinels of the Multiverse 14 +
  • DC Comics Deck-Building Game: Rivals - Batman vs The Joker 13 *
  • The Dresden Files Cooperative Card Game 13
  • 7 Wonders Duel 12 *
  • 7 Wonders 11 **
  • Android Netrunner 10
  • Hotshots 10
  • Pandemic: The Cure 10

  • Adrenaline 9
  • Ghost Fightin' Treasure Hunters 9
  • Sushi Go Party! 8
  • Mole Rats in Space 8
  • Space Cadets: Away Missions 8
  • Flamme Rouge 8
  • Trains 8
  • Fabled Fruit 7 
  • Harry Potter: Hogwarts Battle 7
  • Skip-Bo 7 *
  • Bang! The Dice Game 6
  • Clank! In! Space! 6
  • Family Business 6
  • Habitats 6
  • New York Slice 6
  • Armageddon 5
  • Zirkus Flohcati 5
  • Codenames 5 *
  • Descent: Journeys in the Dark (2nd edition) 5 *
  • Pandemic Legacy (Season Two) 5
  • Galaxy Trucker 5
  • Fast Forward: Fear 5
  • Race for the Galaxy 5 +**
  • Roll for the Galaxy 5 *
  • Summoner Wars 5 +*
  • Ticket to Ride 5

Just Missed (with 4 plays)

A caret [^] denotes that they were on the Five & Dime list last year... and a pound sign [#] marks games I'm pretty sure will return in 2018.
  • 51st State: Master Set
  • Chariot Race
  • Colony ^ #
  • DC Deck-Building Game: Confrontations #
  • Fast Food Franchise #
  • Favor of the Pharaoh ^ #
  • Fields of Green
  • Hop Hop Hooray!
  • Karuba #
  • Liar's Dice
  • Numeri
  • Quantum
  • Quarriors! ^
  • Rhino Hero: Super Battle #
  • Snow Tails ^
  • Smash Up
  • The Pursuit of Happiness ^ #

After All These Years

These are game that fell off the list... after years of repeated play. I felt compelled to say a few words at their passing.
  • The City ****
    • Mostly replaced by Jump Drive... but it still comes out every once in a while.
  • Fast Food Franchise ****
    • Missed making the list by one play - it'll be back.
  • Machi Koro **
    • The bloom is finally off the rose on this one. I need to strip it back to the base box - the expansions have more variety but make it less fun to play.
  • Catan *
    • It is a fight every year now to get this to the table - I still love the game, but there are a couple of folks in my gaming group who detest it and my oldest son won't touch it with a ten foot pole. Sigh.
  • Pandemic Legacy (Season One) *
    • We finished Season One - so no surprise this disappeared.
  • GUBS: A Game of Wit & Luck *
    • My youngest son still loves this game - it could make a return as it's a good 15-20 luckfest he will play before calling it a night.
  • Can't Stop **
    • This will come back... it always does. 

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Wretch Like Me

Amazing grace! How sweet the soundThat saved a wretch like me!I once was lost, but now am found;Was blind, but now I see.

John Newton, “Amazing Grace” 
One of my favorite Bible stories is the multiple chapter epic that is the life of Joseph. In the latter part of the book of Genesis, the writer lays out a story with sibling rivalries, dysfunctional parenting, murderous intent, false forensic evidence and human trafficking. Joseph’s life covers multiple kingdoms as well as success at business, a false rape accusation, unwarranted imprisonment, the interpretation of dreams, a surprise meeting with the Pharaoh and promotion to one of the highest offices in Egypt. His family re-enters the story due to famine and we see the temptation for revenge, the planting of evidence, and the tearful reunion when Joseph reveals himself. Honestly, I’m surprised that Netflix isn’t developing a mini-series… it’s got all the right elements.
Grandson: Has it got any sports in it?Grandpa: Are you kidding? Fencing, fighting, torture, revenge, giants, monsters, chases, escapes, true love, miracles...Grandson: Doesn't sound too bad. I'll try and stay awake.Grandpa: Oh, well, thank you very much, very nice of you. Your vote of confidence is overwhelming.

The Princess Bride (film)
Joseph makes a pretty amazing hero. You’ve got to admit, anyone who can survive being sold to slave traders and getting thrown in prison unjustly and still not bring down the mighty wrath of the Egyptian kingdom on the brothers who traded him away and faked his death has got “white hat” written all over him.

Here’s the problem, though - that’s not the whole story. The first time we see Joseph, he’s ratting out his brothers to his dad. Just a couple of lines later Dad is giving him the fabled “coat of many colors”, otherwise known as the “I love you more than any of my other children” coat.

One wonders if young Joseph is wearing the coat when he decides to tell his brothers about his dreams - dreams where he is the center of attention and they bow down to him. (Important safety tip: just because you have a dream doesn’t mean you have to share the contents with everyone around you.) This is one tone-deaf privileged teenager.

And the fateful trip where Joseph was thrown down a well while his brothers decided whether to murder him or to sell him off for beer money is because he was doing his father’s bidding and once again setting up to “bring a report” on his siblings.
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,Prone to leave the God I love

“Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing” 
Joseph is, in the words of the famous hymn, a wretch like me.

I don’t like the word “wretch” - I’d prefer to be “conflicted with various moral and ethical problems” or “working through dysfunctional family issues” or “tragically misunderstood.” But the painful reality is that I’m responsible for my own choices… and those choices tend towards selfishness, towards pridefulness, towards assuming that the world revolves around me.

I have a lot more in common with Yertle the Turtle and the star-bellied Sneetches than I do with Horton or the Lorax. Though I’m loath to admit it, an honest read of my heart would have the Sorting Hat put me in Slytherin. I’m more like Draco than I am Harry.
It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.  
J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets 
With all that said, it’s encouraging to see that Joseph struggles with the same things that I do. His sinfulness and his subsequent faithfulness remind me that my story isn’t determined by my worst choices… instead, it’s profoundly shaped by the most gracious choice ever made - Christ’s death and resurrection. His payment for sin - my sin - makes it possible for me to be draw close to God, to make wise choices, to be a hero in the epic story of the kingdom of light (Colossians 1:13).
But the practical side
Said the question was still
When you grow up what will you be?
I wanna be a hero
Steve Taylor, “Hero”

Thursday, April 20, 2017

10 Questions + 1 About Jump Drive

Designer: Tom Lehmann
Publishers: Rio Grande Games
Players: 2-4
Time: 10-30 minutes (if this is taking you 30 minutes, you’re playing it wrong)
Ages: 13+ (10+ is a better guess)
Games Played: 20

People have questions about Tom Lehmann’s newest game… I, as your humble and ever-helpful game reviewer, have answers. Read on!

Q: Is Jump Drive just Race for the Galaxy Lite?

A: While Jump Drive shares some iconography, card art and structure with Race for the Galaxy, it is not the same game.

  • No Consume, Trade or Produce.
  • Your action choices do not dictate what other players may do.
  • Victory points “snowball” rather than remaining static. (In other words, a card produces victory points each turn.)
  • Jump Drive ends solely based on the number of points collected – when someone gets more than 50 points, the game is over.

The designer has clearly stated that while Jump Drive is billed as “an introduction to the Race for the Galaxy universe”, it isn’t “Race for the masses” and was never intended to be. Tom wrote: “Jump Drive is a ‘filler’ game, intended as a quick diversion while waiting for others to arrive or as a fun, fast ‘closer’ to an evening of other games. I believe it succeeds as this (your mileage, of course, may vary).”

As you’ll see, I think he’s absolutely right.

Q: Does it taste great or is Jump Drive just less filling?

A: Jump Drive is fast (the longest game I’ve played went 8 turns)… but is surprisingly meaty for a filler. You have to make real decisions about what you’re going to buy, the wisdom of exploring to find appropriate cards vs. the loss of a turn, and finding the synergy in what you have in your hand.

It’s not as layered as Race for the Galaxy – but Jump Drive is more than just “build the most expensive card you can build.”

Q: What about Roll for the Galaxy?

A: I consider all three of these games (Race for the Galaxy, Roll for the Galaxy & Jump Drive) to be part of a family thematically. Roll is probably the least like the other games in design – but they definitely feel related to each other..

Q: I don’t particularly like Race for the Galaxy or Roll for the Galaxy. Will I like Jump Drive?

A: I think a better predictor will be how much you enjoyed Tom Lehmann’s The City. Since there are only three icons on the cards (military, explore & chromosome), the common complaint about Race for the Galaxy iconography is pretty much toast. As well, I don’t think Roll for the Galaxy’s dice-spending mechanism has a lot in common with Jump Drive, so I don’t know that disliking it will be a good indicator of your potential to take delight in Jump Drive’s charms.

Q: Is this The City dressed up in sci-fi clothing?

A: No… and I say this as someone who LOVES The City and has played it 85+ times. While the basic structure of the game is similar, they are not identical. In our experience, Jump Drive has slightly smaller tableaus and more synergistic relationships between cards.

A question for discussion in the comments: if these games dressed up for Comic-Con, what characters would they be? (Come on, people, entertain me.)

Q: Does this game really just take 15 minutes to play?

A: Yes. Set up is easy (shuffle the deck, deal out 7 cards, each player discards 2 cards and the game is underway). Since the game never goes more than 7-8 rounds at a couple of minutes each, you’re totaling up final scores in 15 minutes.

It’s going to take you longer to read this review than it is to play the game.

Q: How short can you make the rules?

A: Pretty darn short.

  • Set Up: Shuffle deck & deal 7 cards to each player. Players choose 2 cards to discard.
  • Game Play: Players simultaneously choose a card or cards to play from their hand. They pay for the card(s) by discarding cards from their hand.
    • If you build a development, you get a 1 card discount.
    • If you settle a world, you draw a card after you pay for settling.
    • If you develop & settle, you pay full price & do not draw a card.
    • Players can choose to explore and draw/discard cards.
  • Scoring: Players score points marked on cards played.
  • Income: Player receive income (cards) marked on cards they have played and discard down to 10 if necessary.
  • Game End: When one or more players goes over 50 points, the player with the most points wins.

Q: Is there a single overwhelming path to victory in Jump Drive?

A: Absolutely not. I’ve seen a wide variety of winning card combos:

  • Focusing on collecting Galactic Trendsetters
  • Using military power to bring in big-point worlds
  • Building a technology engine that cranks out high-point developments
  • Keying off chromosome symbols
  • Each of the four world types has a workable growth path as well

Q: Isn’t this just another multiplayer solitaire game?

A: No. I’m sure that others can offer deeper analysis than I… but knowing what your opponent is doing – both the type of cards and the speed with which they are building – is important to playing well. My boys are learning that I like to increase my card income early and then develop/settle in the later turns to speed up the game… which means that their point-heavy engines need to get running quickly or they’ll fall behind.

You can have games where you just don’t draw the right cards… but since the game lasts only 10-15 minutes, I’m perfectly willing to live with that in exchange for a great game experience. (I’m also a fan of Harry’s Grand Slam Baseball and the aforementioned The City, both of which have the same “problem”. Of course, your mileage may vary.)

Q: You probably got a free copy of this game, right?

A: Nope. I went out and actually paid full MSRP at my FLGS for Jump Drive… because I didn’t want to wait any longer for it to arrive. I played the game for the first time at Gulf Games… and it was an immediate “must get” for me.

(Bonus Question – yes, if there were numbers on here, this review would be going all the way to 11) One of the Opinionated Gamers asked me if scoring was like The City… and if so, was it easier to calculate?

A: Yes, and yes. I had the privilege of learning The City from Tom Lehmann (back when I was running the Stained Glass Games weekend in central California) and the scoring method that is codified in the rules of Jump Drive is the method he taught us for scoring The City. It involves placing the victory point chips beneath each card… then simply adding the change in score rather than recounting each time. (There are plenty of victory point chips in the box, so this works really well. There is also a nice example on the back of the player aid cards.)

Thursday, April 06, 2017

Mole Rats in Space (Game Review)

  • Designer: Matt Leacock
  • Publishers: Peaceable Kingdom
  • Players: 2-4
  • Time: 10-30 minutes (if this is taking you 30 minutes, you’re playing it wrong)
  • Ages: 7+
  • Games Played: 8 (with a review copy provided by Peaceable Kingdom)

I could only assume/guess/surmise that the name of the new Matt Leacock game - Mole Rats in Space - had some distant relationship to:

a)    Pigs in Space (one of the great bits of weirdness from the Muppet archives) and/or
b)    Rufus the Naked Mole Rat (boon companion of Ron Stoppable)

And the villains of the game, a plethora of snakes… well, just ask Samuel L. Jackson or Indiana Jones about those slithery monsters.

Imagine my pleasant surprise to find out (thanks to the rulebook) that mole rats actually work cooperatively with each other… and that the main predator for them is… snakes. (On or off a plane.)

Anyway, you didn’t come here to read my ramblings about board game naming and pop culture. (Or maybe you did.) So, let’s get to the reviewing.

It’s Not A Tumor (aka Chutes & Ladders)

So, pretty much every time I’ve opened the board up to teach someone Mole Rats in Space, the first thing out of their mouth is “It’s Chutes & Ladders in space.” No, no… a thousand times, no.

Chutes & Ladders is, in no uncertain terms, one of the worst in-print games ever designed. The only reason for making your child play it is because you want to develop a deep-set streak of fatalism in their philosophical outlook. The “game” (and, yes, I used scare quotes on purpose) is deterministic – spin the spinner and move. Hit the wrong space (which you can’t control) and you go backwards. Hit a different space (which you also can’t control) and you are rewarded.

While Mole Rats in Space has a similar board structure with ladders that lead deeper & deeper into the ship (to where the escape pod is located) and suction tubes that move you down a level or into the deep inky airless vacuum of space, the game play is markedly different.

I’ll Take Cooperative Games for $500, Alex

Mole Rats in Space is the newest cooperative game from the dean of cooperative game design, Matt Leacock. His most famous creation is Pandemic

…what with three expansions…

  • Pandemic: On the Brink
  • Pandemic: In the Lab
  • Pandemic: State of Emergency

…and four spin-off games designed by Matt:

  • Pandemic: The Cure
  • Pandemic Legacy (Season 1)
  • Pandemic: Reign of Cthulhu
  • Pandemic: Iberia

He’s also well-known for designing a pair of family-friendly cooperative games – Forbidden Island and Forbidden Desert – both of which I’ve reviewed here on the blob. (You can click on the game names to read my reviews.) Matt also designed the official Thunderbirds cooperative game.

Yeah, he knows what he’s doing.

“…at a bar called O'Malley's, where we´ll plan our escape…”

The objective of the game is simple: get away from the horde of snakes that are slithering out of the air vents. In order to do this, your team of intrepid mole rats must gather four important items (duct tape, toothbrush, radishes and a map) and board the escape pod. Similar to Pandemic, you can lose in a variety of ways:

  • If one of your mole rats is sucked out of the space station, you lose.
  • If one of your mole rats is bitten twice by snakes, you lose.
  • If a snake gets in the escape pod, you lose.
  • If your team runs out of time (empties the draw deck), you lose.
  • [There is one additional way to lose when you’re playing in challenge mode… but I won’t spoil the secret.]

The set-up is simple:

  • Put one snake of each color (there are four of them) on their starting spaces.
  • Place the important items on their starting spaces.
  • Place the mole rat figures (with a med-kit in their backup) on their starting spaces.
  • Deal each player one card face-up from the deck.
  • The youngest player starts.

Each turn, a player moves (depending on the card):

  • His mole rat
  • Any mole rat
  • All the mole rats

The number of spaces is indicated on the card… but the player chooses the direction of movement.

Then the player executes whatever snake action is called for:

  • Moving one snake of a particular color
  • Spawning a new snake
  • Moving all the snakes of a particular color
  • Having one (or more) snakes of a particular color climb the closest ladder

If you end movement on a piece of equipment, you pick it up & put it in your backpack.

If you move over or onto a snake, you are bitten and must discard your med-kit and put your mole rat back on their start space. Remember: a second bite ends the game with a loss… so just don’t go there.

Like I said, this isn't a difficult game to learn. The simplicity masks some very tricky (and very enjoyable) problem-solving, though!

Mark’s Mini-Thesis on Cooperative Games… As Applied to Mole Rats in Space

For me, cooperative games succeed or fail on some simple questions:

Is there a coherent and/or compelling story arc to the game?

Yes. Gathering the equipment and getting to the escape pod while snakes multiply around you works like a charm.

Are there meaningful decisions to be made by the players?

Yes. Though Mole Rats in Space is the least complex of Matt Leacock’s cooperative designs, players have to balance priorities to successfully escape: getting the equipment, keeping the mole rats venom-free, and slowing the relentless march of the snakes toward the escape pod.

This is made easier by the “look ahead” that the group has due to the face-up player cards. I’ve enjoyed how my sons have spotted chain reactions that I missed – both saving us from certain doom and opening up ways to win.

Is the game system have enough randomness to offer a new play experience each time… while predictable enough to make the players feel like they have both strategic & tactical choices? (Note: I didn’t say that players HAD to have strategic choices – just that they felt like they did.)

Yes. While the board is fixed, the order that cards are drawn can have a big effect on player decisions.

Is the game susceptible to a player/dictator?

One of the problems inherent in cooperative games is having one player “direct” the play of the rest of the players to solve the puzzle. There are various ways to solve this as a game design problem: hidden information, real-time play, appointing a leader, etc... (Or my favorite home remedy: don’t let obnoxious people play games with you.)

If Mole Rats in Space has a weak point, it’s the alpha player problem. I think for the intended family audience that it’s unlikely to be an issue… but the potential is there. With that said, we haven’t experience that in our games with people who have played a number of cooperative games.

Note: I actually created this series of questions for my review of Matt’s Forbidden Desert

Challenge… Accepted

A nice touch is the inclusion of a sealed Challenge cards envelope which adds some additional cards to the deck, along with an additional way for the mole rats to lose their battle against the reptilian invasion. The rules strongly suggest that you need to win three games before opening the envelope… even thoughtfully provided checkboxes on the envelope to track your wins.

No spoilers here - but it’s not a radical change to the basic structure of the game. It makes the game a bit more difficult, which is a good thing as players get better at figuring out how best to play the game.

And in the End...

After 8 games, my sons & I are 4-4 against the snakes… and we actually won our first game using the Challenge cards. I think that’s an appropriate balance for a family-oriented cooperative game. We’ve also found that the larger number of players feels easier since you have a farther “look ahead” with what those pesky snakes are going to do.

Compared to the subtleties of Pandemic or even Thunderbirds, Mole Rats in Space is a pretty simple & straightforward game. While that makes it unlikely to take the hardcore gamer community by storm, it is perfectly suited for the family audience. The $19.99 MSRP makes it an affordable entry into cooperative gaming… and the simple gameplay makes it easy to teach, even to non-gamers.

The board and cards are nicely done, as are the plastic mole rat pieces. The cardboard pieces (snake tokens, equipment tokens, and med-kits) are thinner than I would like, but they work just fine.

More importantly, it’s one of those games that have the “potato chip” factor - as soon as you finish playing, there’s a temptation to immediately play again… especially if the snakes overwhelmed your intrepid team of mole rats.

All in all, I’m excited both for Peaceable Kingdom (who has put out a great entry into the co-op genre) and for new audiences who will find a world of family gaming opened up to them.

For those playing along at home, the pop-culture references include:

  • The Muppet Show
  • Kim Possible
  • Snakes on a Plane
  • Raiders of the Lost Ark
  • Kindergarten Cop
  • Jeopardy
  • “Escape (The Pina Colada Song)” (Rupert Holmes)
  • “The One With The Embryos” - Friends
  • “The End” (The Beatles)
This review originally appeared on the Opinionated Gamers website.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Minister's Kids 101

"...whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea." (Matthew 18:6 ESV)
My original title for this post was "An Open Letter to Church Members About PKs"... then I realized:
  • Some part of my audience wouldn't know that PK is "church talk" for pastor's kid. 
  • Another part of my audience was unlikely to realize that the PK stereotype affects kids whose parent is a ministerial staff member (but not the lead pastor).
  • Pretty much all of my audience would think - as I do now - that the title I came up with is pretentious and preach-y.
So, new title. But the same basic content - a list of admonitions and advice for church members in dealing with the kids of ministerial staff.
  • It is not your job, mission, vocation, calling and/or sacred duty to parent the pastor's kids.
  • A simple rule: if you wouldn't butt into the parenting decisions of a non-ministerial family, don't do it to your pastor and his family.
    • If you are the type that chooses to butt in, it's time to carefully examine your motives. Are you motivated by pride in your own parenting skills and success? Are you looking for more "dirt" to hold against your pastor?
  • Treat PKs like you would treat any other kid in your church
    • Don't single them out for discipline because of their role in church life. 
    • Don't fawn over them in an attempt to build a conduit to get to the pastor.
  • Your church hired/called the staff member... not his/her kids. (And not their spouse - of course, that's a similar rant I'll get to on another day.) 
    • The ministerial family is not an extension of the staff member's ministry - and they are not "freebies". They are children of God with their own spiritual walk and identity.
  • Do not force PK's to be junior pastors, spiritual examples or model church citizens.
    • Kids develop spiritually in different ways and at different speeds. Forcing them to put on a mask of spiritual maturity and/or obedient compliance that they are still growing into is manipulative and wrong. "Fake it till you make it" does serious damage to nurturing a genuine relationship with God.
  • PKs are not all the same: they are individuals with varying temperaments, gifts, interests, struggles and needs.
    • Don't straitjacket them with your preconceived stereotypes of PKs and PK behavior.
Note: the only church I served as pastor while I was also a parent was actually very good to both of my boys. This post is in response to conversations I've had recently with adult PKs. The issues in here did not reflect the majority of our experiences as a family.

Friday, March 10, 2017

La Granja: No Siesta! (An Opinionated Game Review)

  • Designers: Andreas “ode” Odendahl
  • Publishers: Stronghold Games
  • Players: 1-4
  • Time: 30-45 minutes
  • Ages: 10+
  • Times Played: 5 (with review copy provided by Stronghold Games)

I wanted to start this review by making some kind of sweeping pronouncement about the nature of dice games versus games that merely use dice… and then I realized that:

  1. I was about to go down the metaphorical gamer rabbit hole, take a giant swig of “Drink Me” and end up being chased around by playing cards with lances
  2. I could not possibly sound more pompous and self-important if I tried.

So, instead, you get a relatively straightforward review of La Granja: No Siesta (The Dice Game) from someone who (gasp!) has never actually played the well-liked Euro “parent”, La Granja. (That’s right – never played. Wouldn’t turn down a game if it showed up at the table, but I’m much more likely to end up playing The Dragon & Flagon or Sentinels of the Multiverse.)

By the way, I’m going to call the game No Siesta from here on out… the full name of the game is a bit unwieldy for blogging purposes.


I never understood the popularity of Farmville on Facebook… then again, I never understood the popularity of badgering your friends to support your online gaming addiction. And while I’m a huge fan of Uwe Rosenberg’s Agricola, I’ve always been kind of flabbergasted at the popularity of a game about medieval farming… or farming of any kind, for that matter. (For the record, part of the genius of Agricola is how well the theme of the game meshes with the design of the game.)

No Siesta is a farming game… and once again, I’m blown away that I’m actually interested in roofing my barn and getting my produce to market. Similar to Agricola, the gameplay is easily explained in terms of the theme, making it easier to teach to new players.

There are seven possible resources:

  • Olives
  • Grain
  • Grapes
  • Silver
  • Pigs
  • Donkeys
  • Hats (yes, I know, a hat is not strictly a resource – but I take it to mean “hard work”)

Those seven resources are used to do six different things

  • Finish roofing your barn
  • Send your goods off-island (we’re on Majorca) for sale
  • Cart your goods to the nearby market
  • Hire helpers
  • Store up resources in your warehouse and stable
  • Advance your marker on the siesta track

As I pointed out earlier, all of that makes sense – and that melding of theme & game mechanic(ism) is a real plus in my book.

It’s Getting Drafty In Here

No Siesta itself is simple in structure – the active player (who is given a lovely little wooden pig meeple and a set of resource dice) rolls those dice (but not the pig) to generate a set of resources. Each player chooses one resource and marks it on his resource board. When all players have chosen one resource, the active player picks up the remaining dice and rolls them again. There is another round of drafting resources. After this, there will be a single die remaining, which is rolled by the active player – and all players mark the resource rolled.

Now players use their resources to fill in the various areas of their farm. (This can be done in turn order or simultaneously with more experienced players.) Resources are spent left to right and offer various benefits as objectives are completed.

  • Roofs cost silver – and when finished provides both victory points and a one-use bonus of resources, resource manipulation or another victory point.
  • Hiring helpers costs a various resources – and when finished allow players to recruit a helper tile that provides additional powers for manipulating and obtaining resources.
  • Shipping good off-island requires a set of three identical resources (once per resource per game) – and when finished provides both victory points and a commodity (a wild resource that is marked on your resource board).
  • Carting your goods to market costs a variety of resources assembled in order as well as the appropriate number of donkeys to pull the cart – and when finished gives victory points in a manner similar to Roll through the Ages monuments. It also gives a commodity and allows a player to lay claim to a market bonus scoring objective on the market board.
  • Storing resources in your warehouse or stable provides a victory point for each complete set (olive/grain/grape or donkey/pig) at the end of the game.
  • Advancing your marker on the siesta track costs hats – and each step on that track is worth a victory point. In addition, there are three spaces on the track that give a player an additional resource disk. Finally, reaching the end of the siesta track triggers the end of the game.

Players can save a single unspent resource on their resource board.

Honestly, that description makes No Siesta sound dry as unbuttered toast… but in practice, it’s a very enjoyable game that runs about 15 minutes per player.

Multiplayer Solitaire?!

I personally enjoy playing board games solo – especially if the designer/publisher has given a meaningful solitaire mode in the rules. (Excellent examples: the solitaire engine in the first arc of Race for the Galaxy expansions, the solo mode for the aforementioned Agricola, and the single player version of The Pursuit of Happiness.)

However, there is a tendency on the part of some players to assume that providing a solitaire mode means that the game is “multiplayer solitaire.” (To get the full effect, you need to say “multiplayer solitaire” in the most dismissive tone possible, as if you were talking to a small petulant child.) I’m here to tell you that, despite the solo mode provided for by the components and the rulebook, No Siesta is NOT multiplayer solitaire.

There are a variety of ways you can impede the progress of the other players…

  • Draft to Deny: Take resources in the draft that can assist other players. The most obvious use of this is keeping hats out of the hands of a player who is pushing the timer (see below).
  • Push the Timer: Some of the longer-term strategies (shipping goods & taking carts to market) can be made less effective by a player pushing the siesta timer and hastening the end of the game. This must be done in tandem with some other way of gathering points (roof building, filling the warehouse & stable, etc.)
  • Finishing Carts First: It can be worth it to sacrifice efficiency for speed in order to finish carts before other players. Not only does it maximize points, it also give you the first shot at the market bonuses.
  • Choosing Market Options Wisely: While you can select bonus options to maximize points for yourself, you can also choose a slightly less attractive option if it will deny your opponent the ability to earn those points.
  • Selecting Helpers: The advanced rules of the game have a common pool of helpers for all players, which can lead to drafting helpers not only for their value to you but the denial of that value to another player.

Variety is the Spice of Life (And Games)

No Siesta offers three different play “modes”:

  • the base game for 2-4 players… each player had their own identical set of 6 helpers to recruit
  • the advanced game… which adds 6 new helpers and uses a common pool of helpers for recruiting
  • the solitaire game

We played both the base & advanced game – and found the advanced game to move slightly faster (due to the easier availability of hats for players that focused on those helpers). We’ve found that a number of different approaches to winning seem viable, which is always a good sign.

Another observation: the supply of helpers is “tighter” in 2 and 4 player games… meaning the friendliest version of the game is 3 player advanced.

Resource Manipulation Can Be Fun!

The rural heartbeat of No Siesta is about manipulating stuff to achieve your objectives. It’s a game about priorities and (mild) risk… and my boys and I found it be enjoyable and fast-moving. It’s not a particularly complicated game – I put it in the same difficulty zone as two other dice game adaptions: Roll for the Galaxy and Nations: The Dice Game. (I will note that Roll is much more difficult to teach.)

One final point: it’s a great game for your travel bag… you can reduce the size down from the not-overly-large box into a zip-lock baggie for easy transport.