Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Board Gaming 101: So you want to start a "game night"...

I just got a request from someone who is starting a game night with some friends and was wondering what games I would recommend for him.  (He described the desired category as "slightly harder than Settlers of Catan or simpler".)  I decided that my take on this might be useful to others, so I'm posting this on my sort-of-defunct blog for wider distribution.  This is directed at people who do not consider themselves board gamers.  

Those of you looking for a general introduction to the hobby would be well served by looking at the introductory episode of The Dice Tower podcast, which can be found by following the "New to the show?  Here's an introduction to the Dice Tower" link on their homepage (or directly, here).  For my specific recommendations, I approach the subject with the intent to showcase a wide variety of styles of board game.  My hope is that this will serve as a good starting point for building a collection out of (relatively) simple and popular board games, as well as introduce you to a lot of concepts and game mechanics that would serve you well if you wanted to delve deeper into the hobby.

I'll be mentioning retail prices, which is what you can expect to pay at a Barnes and Noble or a local game store. If you don't care to stay local, (and are ordering more than the $100 minimum to get free shipping) you can get them for around 30% less at CoolStuffInc or Miniature Market. And there's always Amazon, where prices are less predictable, but still almost always below retail.

I am also slightly tailoring this list to the particular group using the following assumptions:

(a) the target audience is largely men in their early/mid twenties
(b) there may be drinking involved, so we should avoid anything that requires supre long-term planning or complex strategy

With that in mind - the games!

Light Openers/Closers/Fillers

These are the prototypical beer-and-pretzels games: the ones that don't take too long and don't require too much concentration.  This makes them great to pull out when (a) tired at the end of the night, (b) intoxicated, or (c) just waiting for the rest of the gang to arrive.

1. Bohnanza

The classic game of bean-farming(?!), Bohnanza is an oldie-but-goodie.  This game focuses on hand management, set collection, and negotiation.  You have to plant bean cards from your hand in the order they were drawn, which makes many of them unwanted as each of your two fields can only hold a pile of a single type of bean.  This means that finding a way to (profitably!) unload the unwanted beans on your neighbors is of paramount importance.  This one takes 30-45 minutes, and can play anywhere from 3-7 players, which makes it great for almost any group.  And with an MSRP of around $20, it can fit in almost anyone's budget.

2. Sushi Go!

This recent release is one of my favorites.  Sushi Go is a card game revolving around a single mechanic: card drafting.  In Sushi Go, 2-5 players compete to assemble the tastiest sushi meal, with all players keeping a single card out of their hand each turn before passing it to their left (or right) and receiving a new hand from another player in turn.  Each food type is scored differently (sashimi is scored only in sets of three, dumplings are worth more the more of them you have, etc), and the player who assembles three meals (rounds) totaling the most points wins.  The cute art and simple play make this one particularly popular with non-gamers.  Sushi Go takes 20-30 minutes, and costs $10-$15.

3. King of Tokyo

If the previous two looked a little too cute and non-confrontational, King of Tokyo may be more your style.  This dice game is like Yahtzee with Kaiju monsters.  You and up to five others are competing to be the biggest, baddest monster in Tokyo.  The dice are rolled yahtzee-style (two rerolls, keeping what you want) and then resolved.  Different dice combinations can heal your monster, damage other monsters, collect energy which can be redeemed for power-ups, or even score points directly.  Additional points are scored by taking and holding Tokyo against all comers.  The winner will be the either the first player to 20 points, or the last off-brand Kaiju standing.  This one is simple enough for kids to play, but still features a lot of tough-but-simple decisions to be made.  King of Tokyo retails for around $40 and plays in 20-30 minutes.

There is also an expansion (which I recommend), and a sequel, King of New York (which I have heard is even better, but it was literally just released and is impossible to find, so I have yet to play it).

4. Escape: The Curse of the Temple

Remember the beginning of Raiders of the Lost Ark?  This game starts the moment Indy stole the idol.  This is another dice game, but with two twists.  First, it is cooperative; players must work together to beat the game itself rather than competing against each other.  Second, it is played entirely in REAL TIME.  The game will last ten minutes, and you had better all get out of the temple by the time it collapses!  Players must explore the temple (revealing new tiles as they go), place magic gems to weaken the curse sealing the entrance, and help each other battle the curses that keep locking up their dice.  Escape will play 1-5 players (cooperative games will play solo if desired, but why bother?), and is one of two games that will leave you frantic and out of breath at the end of it.  While it does require more focus than the others above, the fixed ten-minute game time keep it firmly in the opener/closer/filler category.  Escape: The Curse of the Temple retails for around $50.

Also, this video review is awesome:

Main Event Games

These are games with a little more meat on their bones.  These feature more strategy. more complex mechanisms, and longer play times.  I have restricted my recommendations to games with play times under two hours.  Longer games may be equally great, but they tend to be a bit intimidating to newer players.  Welcome to the main event!

5. Dominion

Dominion is the quintessential deckbuilding game; released in 2008, it introduced the mechanic.  Deckbuilding games have you start with a small deck of cards (composed mainly of "money" cards).  On your turn you draw a hand, play your cards, and then use the "money" you've played to purchase new cards from a common pool that go into your discard pile and will be shuffled back into your deck once you've run through it.  The purchased cards could give you better money, let you draw more cars, score points, damage opponents, etc.  In Dominion, the particular strategy must change from game to game (depending on which 10 of the 25 possible cards are available for purchase), but it generally involves building your purchasing power as much as possible, and then at some point pivoting to purchasing "victory point" (VP) cards.  The player with the most VP at the end of the game wins, but the VP cards themselves are dead weight in the deck, which do absolutely nothing.  This is a fantastic game that I have successfully taught to the many people, and only one has ever found it not to his liking.  Dominion plays 2-4 players in 30-60 minutes, and retails for about $45.

6. Flash Point: Fire Rescue

Flash Point is a full-length cooperative game where 1-6 players are trying to evacuate a family (and their pets) from a burning home while keeping it from falling down around their ears.  Each player has a fixed number of actions on each turn, which can be used to put out some flames, move your firefighter, carry a victim, knock a hole in the wall, or other things.  But you can't do them all, so do you try to douse the smoldering tiles so they can't reignite, or do you follow the cries of the victim from the next room?  Or do you cross to the other side of the house where you know another firefighter need a hand to keep the blaze suppressed?  There is no right answer, and the game really is out to get you.  Flash Point: Fire Rescue plays in 45-75 minutes and retails for around $40.

Runners up for cooperative game: Forbidden Island - I find the theme a bit less compelling and the game a bit too puzzly, but it's incredibly kid-friendly and it's tough to beat the $15 MSRP.  Forbidden Island's more grown-up sibling is Pandemic, which is probably the most popular coop game, I find has a less engaging theme than Flash Point, but it deserves at least a mention here.  It would be hard to go wrong with Pandemic in this slot.

7. Galaxy Trucker

Galaxy trucker is another game that is quite possibly more fun while intoxicated.  The game is played in three rounds.  Each round begins with a real-time session of tile-laying, where players are grabbing tiles and assembling a spaceship out of what they find.  Once it's assembled, you all get to watch hilarity ensue as the ships encounter slavers that steal your crew, pirates and meteor showers that destroy the ship out from under you, and planets that you can stop and trade at.  Once you get the end of the journey (a deck of 8-16 random events) you collect your money earned, grab a new and bigger ship board, and do it again.  The player with the most money at the end of 3 rounds wins.  There is little funnier than discovering that while you may have forgotten to grab the batteries to power your shields, your buddy built his ship so shoddily that if he loses a single tile half the ship will fall off - and then watching that all-important tile get taken out by a meteor!  Galaxy Trucker is for 2-4 players, lasts for 60-90 minutes, and retails for a (slightly steep) $75.

8. Stone Age/Lords of Waterdeep

You only need one of these, but I honestly couldn't decide which one.  Both Lords of Waterdeep and Stone Age are worker placement games.  Each player has a number of workers, each of which gets assigned to different tasks on the board each turn.  The more workers you have, the more you can get done.  Conflict in these games usually consists of crowding out other players (once a spot on the board is filled, other workers can't go there to do that task).  Workers are used to gather resources, which are then converted into points.  It sounds a bit dry in the abstract, but these are among my favorite games.

Stone Age has each player shepherding a tribe of cave men (and women) through pre-history.  Workers assigned to gather resources roll dice (one per worker) to see how many you get, and these resources can be used to get points by building huts or developing technologies.  Workers can also plant farms, create tools to modify dice rolls, or have kids (getting you more workers).  But you can't focus too much on point-scoring, because at the end of each round you've got to feed your tribe - and if you haven't hunted up one food per worker, you'll take a big score hit.  Stone Age plays 2-4 in about 60-90 minutes, and retails for $50.

Lords of Waterdeep works similarly.  Here players are shadowy guild leaders who are using their agents (workers) to recruit adventurers (resources) who will be sent out on quests once the appropriate adventuring party has been assembled.  Quest rewards include points, end-game bonuses, additional resources, or new player powers.  It is less random than Stone Age (no dice rolls), but features direct conflict through the Intrigue cards (e.g. pick a player to give you an adventurer of his choice, force a player to complete a crappy mandatory quest before he can do the ones he wants to, etc).  Lords of Waterdeep derives its tension from direct competition with the other players, unlike Stone Age, where the tension is more commonly centered on competing against the game itself to feed the tribe and the general need to keep up with the other players.  Lords of Waterdeep plays in 60-90 minutes and retails for $50.

9. Rampage

Also known as Terror in Meeple City (name change due to some idiots failing to secure the license), Rampage is my favorite of all dexterity games.  In Rampage, 2-4 players compete to score points by smashing buildings, eating meeples (small wooden people), and beating each other up.  All of this is accomplished by flicking discs around the board, flicking objects off the head of your avatar, blowing at buildings, dropping the monsters from shoulder height, and other physical mechanisms.  This one is simple to learn, has randomly assigned player powers to add variety, and requires almost no strategy beyond "HULK SMASH".  It's a hoot.  Rampage plays in 60-90 minutes and retails for $60.

10. Small World

Every comprehensive list needs a war game of sorts, and Small World nicely fits the bill.  Small World introduces two important concepts: hidden scoring and area control.  In Small World, players control a whimsical fantasy civilization composed of a "race" and a "power".  This random combination provides the civilization with two unique abilities (and a specific number of army markers).  Players are then tasked with taking and holding as much territory as possible for as long as possible, as at the end of their turn they score a point for each territory they control (plus and ability bonuses).  Eventually a player will have lost enough armies or be so spread out that they can't really make progress.  At that point, they can send their civilization into "decline", and start over with a new civilization one while continuing to score points for whatever their old one manages to hang on to.  The points collected each turn are public, but total scores are not, so you're never quite sure who has the lead.  (E.g. One player had a few really great turns, but another has been having consistently good turns...)  Play continues for a fixed number of rounds, and the player with the highest score at the end wins.  This is a war game that beats the pants off of Risk - the random abilities and combinations thereof add tons of replay value, and the fixed game-length, lack of player elimination, and the possibility of replacing your civilization if you have a bad turn mean that everyone can stay involved and nobody gets bored.  Small World plays 2-5 (I personally recommend 4-5), will last about 90 minutes, and retails for $50.

11. Ticket to Ride

No list of recommendations for inexperienced gamers would be complete without Ticket to Ride, which has sold over a million copies and won more awards than you can shake a stick at. This is the classic train game of set collection and route building, where players compete to score the most points by claiming routes on the board to connect the cities on their hidden tickets. On your turn you can draw train cards (either from the 5 face up ones or randomly from the deck), draw new tickets (draw 3, keep at least one), or claim routes. Routes are claimed by redeeming a set of train cards that match the color of the route. The game ends when a player runs out of the plastic trains used to mark their routes, and the player with the highest score wins!  It's simple, moves quickly, requires just enough strategy and planning to keep you thinking without overloading you. If you only get one game, this is the closest thing there is to a sure hit. Ticket to Ride plays in 60-90 minutes for 2-5 players, and retails for $50.

Party Games

These are the games you bust out when you have a crowd.  I'll admit that I'm not much of a fan of the genre, so my recommendations may be a bit off from those of others.

12. Dixit

Dixit is my go-to game for a smallish crowd when I don't know the tastes of the group. In Dixit, each player has a hand of unique full-art cards that feature scenes with the twisted whimsy of some modern-day Lewis Carroll. The active player will choose a card from their hand, place it face down on the table, and give a clue. This clue could be a word, a phrase, a grunt, anything. I actually whistled a tune once as the clue!  Each other player then submits a card (face down) that they think matches the clue. These cards are shuffled with the "true" card, and then placed face up. Players then simultaneously guess which one was submitted by the active player. If anyone guesses correctly, then they (and the active player) score points. But if everybody or nobody guesses correctly, everyone but the active player scores; ideally you want to then be giving clues that are obscure, but not too obscure.  Players also score by suckering others into voting for their submissions. First player to 30 points wins.  The base game plays 3-6, but it works very well in teams, and there is (or was) an expansion that allowed for 12 players. This one has universally been a hit when I pull it out. It takes around 45 minutes and retails for about $35.

13. Wits & Wagers

If you absolutely, positively, must have a trivia game, Wits and Wagers is the cream of the crop.  There are seven questions, each of which has a numerical answer.  Everyone submits an answer on a tiny white board, and they get arranged from highest to lowest.  Players must then bet on which answer is closest without going over - with answers farther from the middle yielding better odds!  The answer is given, bets paid out (and the person who submitted the winning answer gets 3 chips) and play proceeds to the next question.  The winner is the player with the most chips at the end.  This game is terrific because it can be won not just by knowing the answers, but also by knowing who else is likely to know the answers!  Wits and Wagers plays in 30-45 minutes and retails for $40.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Seems pretty close...

From Borepatch: What D&D Character are You?

I Am A: Chaotic Neutral Human Cleric (4th Level)

Ability Scores:

Chaotic Neutral A chaotic neutral character follows his whims. He is an individualist first and last. He values his own liberty but doesn't strive to protect others' freedom. He avoids authority, resents restrictions, and challenges traditions. A chaotic neutral character does not intentionally disrupt organizations as part of a campaign of anarchy. To do so, he would have to be motivated either by good (and a desire to liberate others) or evil (and a desire to make those different from himself suffer). A chaotic neutral character may be unpredictable, but his behavior is not totally random. He is not as likely to jump off a bridge as to cross it. Chaotic neutral is the best alignment you can be because it represents true freedom from both society's restrictions and a do-gooder's zeal. However, chaotic neutral can be a dangerous alignment when it seeks to eliminate all authority, harmony, and order in society.

Humans are the most adaptable of the common races. Short generations and a penchant for migration and conquest have made them physically diverse as well. Humans are often unorthodox in their dress, sporting unusual hairstyles, fanciful clothes, tattoos, and the like.

Clerics act as intermediaries between the earthly and the divine (or infernal) worlds. A good cleric helps those in need, while an evil cleric seeks to spread his patron's vision of evil across the world. All clerics can heal wounds and bring people back from the brink of death, and powerful clerics can even raise the dead. Likewise, all clerics have authority over undead creatures, and they can turn away or even destroy these creatures. Clerics are trained in the use of simple weapons, and can use all forms of armor and shields without penalty, since armor does not interfere with the casting of divine spells. In addition to his normal complement of spells, every cleric chooses to focus on two of his deity's domains. These domains grants the cleric special powers, and give him access to spells that he might otherwise never learn. A cleric's Wisdom score should be high, since this determines the maximum spell level that he can cast.

Find out What Kind of Dungeons and Dragons Character Would You Be?, courtesy of Easydamus (e-mail)

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Mug O' Cake

Posting this here for an internet friend who lacks access to my facebook account.  Enjoy!

Mug O' Cake

A few years ago several Mug O’ Cake recipes were circulating by email.  The wife loved the idea, but didn't quite like any of them.  So she adjusted them until she did!  This recipe makes a generous single portion and takes only about 5 minutes start to finish.

3 tablespoons cocoa
2-3 tablespoons sugar
1-2 tablespoons flour
3 tablespoons milk
3 tablespoons oil
3 tablespoons egg beater, or 1 egg
¼ teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon – 1 tablespoon chocolate chips

Mix dry ingredients in large mug.  Add wet ingredients and mix very well (otherwise egg bits will appear in the cake).  Drop in chocolate chips.  Microwave in 950 watt oven for two minutes at 70% power.  Let sit a little and enjoy.

Variations/Final Notes:
This will overflow a standard size coffee mug during cooking, so be sure to either use a latte/soup mug or put a plate under it in the microwave.
Add sugar to your taste, less sugar for a darker chocolate taste.  Extra cocoa will also make it taste like darker chocolate.  Adding the extra flour helps keep the texture more like cakey and less rubbery.  The extra chocolate chips also make the cake much richer in flavor.  Sometimes I add butterscotch chips too.

Saturday, March 03, 2012

Grown-Up Mac 'n' Cheese with Spanish Chorizo and Caramelized Red Onion

I just made the best Mac 'n' Cheese of my life, and I feel compelled to share.  It's based on the recipe here, with a lot of scaling and edits to match what I already know I like in Mac and cheese, and what I already had on hand.  It's amazingly rich and cheesy, with a bit of spice from the chorizo and a touch of sweetness from the caramelized onion.  It was amazing, and I will definitely be making this again.

1 pound dried rotini pasta
6 oz Spanish Chorizo, halved lengthwise and then sliced thinly
1 large red onion, halved and then sliced thinly
3 ounces dry white wine
8 ounce ball mozzarella cheese, finely diced
3 Tablespoons unsalted butter
3 Tablespoons flour
1.5 cups milk (skim is fine)
10-11 oz shredded cheddar   (this is an estimate - it was an 8 oz
block plus whatever we had left off the end of another)
1 ounce Parmesan cheese, grated  (we actually cheated and used a
parmesan/romano/asiago blend that was laying around)
panko bread crumbs

Preheat oven to 350 deg F.
Cook pasta according to instructions, then drain and rinse with cold water to stop the cooking process.
Meanwhile, fry chorizo for 5- 10 minutes until browned. Be careful not to burn it.
Remove with slotted spoon and add onion to the rendered fat. Cook the onion for 10 minutes or until caramelized.
Spoon pasta, chorizo and onion into a 2.5-3 quart gratin or casserole dish and mix well.

Now, Cheese Sauce:
Melt the butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. 

Stir in the flour gradually to make a roux. Let cook, stirring constantly, for about 2 minutes. Do not let it brown!
Gradually add the milk, whisking or stirring vigorously to incorporate each time before adding more.
Cook over medium-low heat, stirring often, until thickened and just short of boiling, about 5 minutes.
Lower the heat as far as possible, and begin adding the cheddar and stirring, melting each bit thoroughly before adding more.
Repeat for the mozzarella, then stir in the wine.

Spoon cheese sauce over the pasta, then sprinkle with Parmesan and breadcrumbs.
Bake for 30 to 40 minutes, then broil briefly if the breadcrumbs
aren't browned enough.
Serve and enjoy!

Notes: Bites with chorizo were plenty salted enough, while bites without seemed to need just a touch of salt.  I think this could be fixed by quartering the chorizo before slicing thinly, in order to get it more evenly distributed in the pasta.  Also, the mozzarella didn't melt all that cleanly into the sauce, but it turned out magnificently anyway, so no worries.

Monday, January 09, 2012


... when I eventually own a house and have the space, I am building myself one of these:

Okay, if I have kids that are Doctor Who fans, I might build it for them, but I want one in my house in some form!

Thursday, January 05, 2012

Board Gaming 2011: Five and Dime List

It's become a tradition in the online circles I run in to publish what games you've played the most over the past year, in the form of a "Five and Dime" list.  (Games you've played at least 10 times, or at least 5 times, in the preceding year.)  So, here's my list for this year:

2011 Dimes
Race for the Galaxy 38*
Innovation 24
No Thanks! 12
At the Gates of Loyang 10

2011 Fives 
Dominion 9
Jaipur 9
The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game 8
Dice Town 7
Magic: The Gathering 7
Perry Rhodan: The Cosmic League 7
Carcassonne 6
Stone Age 6
Aquarius 5
Arkham Horror 5
For Sale 5
Memoir '44 5
Small World 5
Ticket to Ride 5

A lot of these were two-player games with my wife - particularly Innovation, which has given me the most bang for my gaming buck of any purchase ever, and At the Gates of Loyang, which is her current favorite game.  Most of the RftG was played using the excellent Keldon AI program, so that might deserve a bit of a caveat there...

Monday, November 28, 2011

Recent Board Gaming - Lots of it!

I've had a lot of time to play games lately, including several new (to me) ones, and decided I'd share my thoughts and experiences with y'all.  Enjoy!

Thursday 11/17
Some friends invited us over for Indian take-out and games.  Here's what we played (all games with 4p).

For Sale (3-6 players)
This was my first play of this classic filler game, and it was a remarkable amount of fun for such a short game.  We busted it out while giving the take-out restaurant time to get our order together, and it proved the perfect length.

The game is composed of two halves, each of which revolves around a different auction mechanic.  In the first half, people are bidding on the rights to the best of a pool of properties (one for each player), and as players drop out of the bidding, they pay half of their current bids and take the lowest-valued property in the pool.  Once all of the properties have been sold to players, the second half begins.  In this auction, a number of checks are revealed (one for each player), and all players simultaneously (and secretly) choose one of their properties to sell.  All properties to be sold in the turn are then revealed, and the highest value property sells for the highest check, lowest for the lowest check, etc.  The player with the most money (checks plus leftover cash from the first half) wins.

This is a great fifteen minute game for some light fun, and it would work great as a family game.  As you'll see in some of my later plays, this is good fun even for non-gamers.

Dixit (3-6 players)
The winner of the SdJ for 2010, this game is a bit like Apples to Apples or Balderdash, but with art.  Each player receives six cards with some very whimsical and surreal art (imagine some sort of Dr. Seuss/Salvador Dali collaboration).  On your turn, you place a card face-down on the table, and give a clue.  This clue can be a sound, gesture, word, phrase, sentence, or basically anything else you want.  Each other player then submits face-down a card from their hand they think will match the clue.  These are shuffled and flipped face up, and all other players must guess secretly and simultaneously which one was submitted by the current-turn player. These guesses are then revealed.  The catch in the scoring is that if nobody (or everybody) guesses your art correctly, then they all get points, and you get nothing.  Thus, the goal is to submit clues that are sufficiently vague that some will be lost, but not so obscure that you're the only one who has a clue.

We played this while eating dinner, and had a great deal of fun.  It's a bit light for my taste, and it needs some more art.  With the right group and some expansions (which do exist), it looks to be good fun.- just don't expect to get too deep into it.  Another great one for non-gamers.

Arkham Horror (1-8 players)
After dinner, our host decided he was in the mood for some serious gaming; while we only got through a partial game, I was glad we got this one to the table.  I'd been itching for an Ameritrash dice-fest for a while, and Arkham Horror delivers on that front.  My wife had never played Arkham before, and so while it took some explaining, most of that could be done on the fly.  We seemed destined to lose, as our Eldritch God of choice was requiring us to muster 8 clues to seal a portal and we continually found ourselves falling behind, but we'll never know for sure.  We had to pack it up when the night got a bit too late.

If you want a more detailed description of the game itself, you'll have to look elsewhere - it's a little more complex than I care to go into here.

Saturday 11/19: Game On! Game Day
This day of gaming was hosted by the duo behind the Game On! Podcast: Cody Jones and John Richard.  The podcast is based in Indianapolis, and so, living in Lafayette, I was definitely in range to participate in the day of gaming.  Many thanks to them for putting it together!  You can see a list of everything that got played here.

Small World (2-5 players)
As I walked in, a group of three was looking for more players for Small World.  It's one of my favorites, so I jumped at the chance.  And proceeded to get my butt handed to me, coming in 3rd of 4.  I got some sweet racial/special power combos (including Marauding Skeletons!) but that made me a bit too conspicuous to the other players, who took any chance they got to prune back my empire-building.  I had a blast.

Alien Frontiers (2-4 players)
After finishing Small World, I suggested we play Alien Frontiers.  They had all played before, so we jumped right in.  This is one of my recent acquisitions, and it's quickly become my favorite euro-ish game for four players.  Players are competing to be the most influential in the settlement of a new planet, the planet Maxwell.  It's mechanically a combination of worker-placement (in the form of dice, which represent your ships), with area control elements when dropping your colonies on the planet.  The retro-sci-fi theme really resonates with me, and the game is really very tight, with the lead changing several times in the final few turns.

Alien Frontiers manages to give excellent strategic choices, while preventing the brain-burn of games like Agricola by having the values rolled on your "ships" each turn restrict where you can place them.  For me, it's providing a satisfying amount of strategy-gaming, while being accessible to lighter gamers.  I love it, and can't wait to see what the Factions expansion (which I backed on KickStarter) has to add.

Tumblin-Dice (1-4 players)
Following Alien Frontiers, I drifted for a while, watching some guys play Dungeon Run and seeing what was going on.  Then I saw Cody teaching Tumblin-Dice, and knew I had to get in on that.  This was an incredibly light dexterity game that was very fun.  Players toss dice down along a terraced track, and get points equal to the value of the die times the multiplier of the step it's on.  But it's not scored until the end of the round, leaving the chance for other players' (or your own!) dice to knock yours around to different steps and faces!

I played twice and lost horribly each time, but enjoyed the heck out of the whole process.  Highly recommended, and I need to see about tracking down a copy.  This looks like it would be great for family events and kids as well.  I would have loved to have it a Thanksgiving.

Crokinole (2 players)
Cody then taught some of us the classic dexterity game Crokinole, which is apparently quite popular in Canada.  I managed to eke out a victory in game one, and then got a string of good luck to run away with game two.  I'd love to acquire a set, but the wooden boards and pieces cost a pretty penny, so it's not in the cards at the moment.

Crappy Birthday (4-8 players)
My opponent then invited me to participate with his group in a game of Crappy Birthday.  I reluctantly allowed myself to be persuaded.  This was a mistake.  Crappy Birthday is like Apples to Apples, minus the fun! You get cards with terrible or quirky birthday gifts on them, and each player submits what they think is the worst present from their hand to the person whose turn it is.  That player then chooses.  You get points if they take yours.  I only lasted three turns before I couldn't take it any more.  I know others like it, but I found this game to be absolutely dreadful.

Trans Europa (2-6 players)
After that dreck, I was in the mood for a new game that wouldn't leave a bad taste in my mouth, and found someone willing to teach a train game.  We decided Steam might be a little too long for our current mood, and settled on Trans Europa.  In this game, players are assigned randomly and secretly five cities from five different regions of Europe, which they must connect via rail.  Rails can be laid along lines of a predetermined triangular grid, and each player can lay two sections of track each turn.  The first player to connect all five cities wins the round, with a vicious scoring system that causes other players to lose points based on how far they were from finishing their connections; the game ends when a player reaches zero points.  If this sounds a bit too easy and a bit too random, that's because I haven't told you the twist - all players' track is identical (it's all black).  You don't care who connects your cities, so long as they get connected.  This means that you're constantly trying to piggyback on others' work while concealing what your true destinations are and avoiding connecting cities unnecessarily.

We finished our game in about half an hour, and I found it quite enjoyable, though not a home-run.  I ended up winning by a comfortable margin, so I that may color my impression.  It's about the same difficulty level as Ticket to Ride, but it feels much more cutthroat, which would scare away lighter gamers.  I'd give it a recommendation to try before you buy.

For Sale (3-6 players)
I then suggested to the group that we play some fillers while others were finishing some games, and brought out For Sale.  It went over well, and though the group thought it was a bit light, they enjoyed it.  I had a blast playing it (again) despite losing.  The final scoring was tight, with all five of us finishing within a $5k range.

No Thanks! (3-7 players)
Another classic filler, which I think I've discussed on the blog before.  This one has an even easier rules set than For Sale, but can be played more cutthroat than For Sale, and this group proceeded to do exactly that.  They even gave the game the ultimate compliment of requesting a second play immediately after finishing the first!  The first game was spent learning the strategies, and so had a wide scoring spread (though I, the experienced player, lost by a decent margin).  In the second game I eked out a one-point victory, as others failed to assemble the straights they were hoping for.  This one is a great (short) game for gamers and non-gamers alike.  I recommend it for everyone's collection.

Kingdom Builder (2-4 players)
My final game of the day was my first play of the so-new-it-squeaks release from Donald X. Vaccarino, the designer of SdJ 2009 winner Dominion.  Kingdom Builder seems to be a light Eurogame, but appearances can be deceiving.  In this game, a modular board with regions composed of hexes of several different terrain types is assembled, and then the players settle it.  The core mechanic is that each turn you draw a terrain type card, and are then required to build three settlements in that terrain type, contiguous to one of your previous settlements if possible.  Throughout the game you can acquire special actions by building next to specific landmarks (i.e. build an additional settlement on the end of a row of three preexisting settlements).  The scoring system is rather novel, and lends itself well to replayability.  There is a set of 15 kingdom cards, each of which propose different scoring rules.  You select three at random during setup, and they determine how points will be awarded at the end of the game.  In our case, we had one area-control-like goal that awarded points for having the most and second-most in a "sector", one that awarded points for waterfront settlements, and one that awarded points for each horizontal line you had a settlement on.  There are also four castles on the board that you can get points for settling adjacent to.

My opinion of the game is somewhat mixed.  It starts out as a light Eurogame, but as the turns progress it begins to feel heavier and heavier, until on the final few turns your actions are extremely restricted.  This leads to the turn being reduced to a solvable problem, and you feel the intense Agricola-like pressure to play the optimal turn, because you know you can find the optimum if you think hard enough.  Combine that with how easy it is to build yourself into a corner with a combination of poor early-game planning and bad luck, and I don't think this is the game for me.  I'd play it again of someone asked, but I won't seek it out.  This was a bit of a disappointment.

Following that, it was time to call it a night and head home.  (Well, okay, I made a stop to swap my Lord of the Rings LCG set for Shadows over Camelot on the way home.)

We hosted Thanksgiving this year, and had lots of family around for the weekend.  My wife's entire immediate family, plus grandmother and cousins, as well as my brother, all descended upon us for the duration.  Twelve people in a 2 bedroom apartment is a tight fit, even in one as comparatively spacious as ours.  (No, not everyone slept here.  Most had hotel rooms.)  It was a blast, but I'm still recovering.  As I'm somewhat known in the family for my board gaming hobby at this point, it was almost required that I bust out the games with everyone around.  And, well, nobody had to twist my arm to make that happen...

Wednesday 11/23
7 Wonders (2-7 players)
The family all came to town, and after the elders and tired people retired for the night, we were left with seven people in the mood for a board game.  What do I have for seven that takes about an hour?  7 Wonders, of course.  This being my third play, I've mostly internalized the iconography on the cards by now.  Two of the non-gamers found it to be a bit much, but even they managed to play reasonably competently.  My brother, who had never played before, managed to trounce us all by virtue of a good military, a lot of blue VP cards, and some good luck in the final round.

Thursday 11/24 (Thanksgiving Day)
After we finished cleaning up from our turkey and carb feast, it was time for some relaxation.  Some of us just sat around while others decided it was game time.

Betrayal at House on the Hill (3-6 players)
While I was busy relaxing, the rest of the family was busting out this old favorite: Betrayal at House on the Hill.  (This is the older Avalon Hill printing, not the recent reprint with so many component issues.)  The game is a straightforward Ameritrash game that is actually mechanically quite similar to Arkham Horror.  The players begin as explorers in a haunted old house.  They wander all over, revealing tiles and building the house as they go, all the while encountering freaky events and omens.  Eventually the Haunt is triggered, and one player (determined by how the triggering omen and location) turns traitor.  The heroes are given one book, and the traitor another, and they separate to strategize.  Each team knows their own victory condition(s), but have only what gets revealed by gameplay to guess at what the other is trying for.

Two of the non-gamers got roped in and while they seemed to enjoy the first half of exploration, once the haunt happened, they quickly got overwhelmed by some of the fiddlier rules and poorly written objectives.  In this scenario, the traitor was trying to go "Alien" on a poor hero and breed giant spiders in his abdominal cavity (eeeew!).  The heroes needed to (1) free him from the web, (2) destroy the eggs inside him, and (3) get someone out of the house.  The poor egg-laden hero was killed, which seemed to render goal (1) really, really, stupid, but the rules failed to address whether he could be abandoned or needed to be carried out.  The family for whom this game was already a favorite still enjoyed it, but it failed to win any converts.

Dixit (3-6 players)
Following that overwhelming game, they decided to do something a bit simpler for the non-gamers, and brought out Dixit.  This one went over extremely well.  I think at least two people left with the intention to buy themselves a copy, and it got so raucous at one point that I couldn't even hear the conversation I was trying to have.

Sentinels of the Multiverse (2-5 players)
Having just gotten Sentinels of the Multiverse for my birthday, I was eager to try it out.  I convinced two of the guys to sit down and give it a run with me.  Sentinels is a cooperative card game where players take on the role of comic-book style superheroes to battle a villain with dastardly intentions.  Each player gets a fixed deck corresponding to their hero of choice (we went with Legacy, Absolute Zero, and Tempest), then you choose an environment (Megalopolis) and villain (Omnitron).  This villain/environment combo was supposed to be easy, and so we chose it for the first play.  The villain plays mechanically, so you don't need a player to actively control it.  In the game the villain gets a turn (play a villain card and then do anything the villain's character card tells you), then each hero gets a turn (play a card and use a power from one of your cards in play), and then the environment gets a turn (play one environment card).

While this turned out to be a fairly easy opponent, the game itself is awesome.  The theme is all-encompassing and it really feels like you're acting out a comic book.  The Omnitron is ravaging the city!  It has mechanical drones everywhere!  Watch out for the falling monorail!  The Tempest uses his weather powers to damage all the drones at once!  It was great.  Unfortunately, without going into a three-page essay, I can't give much more detail on the game than that.  Because each hero, villain, and environment is so individualized, describing this game would be so idiosyncratic as to be unhelpful.  If you want more, I suggest oyu go read this review.  Suffice it to say: fun!

For Sale (3-6 players)
We played this one late at night, when we were all a little too tired to do anything complicated.  The non-geeky non-gamer cousin loved it, and we all had a good time.  Again, it only took about 20 minutes, including teaching.  I'm really liking this one.

Friday 11/25
This is the traditional post-Thanksgiving Christmas-cookie baking day.  I took on a logistical support role (i.e. errand boy), while competent bakers did their thing.  As cookies were being frosted and then left to dry, it was time for gaming!

Wits and Wagers (3+ players)
I corralled five others to play my first game of Wits and Wagers, and they all seemed to love it.  This trivia game presents questions that can only be answered numerically.  Each player (or team) submits an answer, and the answers are ordered on the playmat.  Players then bet on which answer they think is correct, with answers at the ends of the distribution paying better odds than those in the middle.  The answer that is closest without going over is the winning answer, and that slot pays out winnings, as well as awarding the player who submitted it.  After seven questions, the player with the most chips is the winner!

We played two games, with my brother and I each taking one, and then I left the game while they continued to play a couple more.  It wasn't quite as big a hit as Dixit, but it seemed to scratch the trivia-game itch without the tedium of Trivial Pursuit's category crapshoot. After all, in W&W you can always just bet on the answer submitted by the person you think should know the subject.  (I do have to lodge a complaint, though.  One question asked how many elements were on the periodic table, and the answer given was clearly incorrect; they said either 110 or 111, and there are currently 112 named elements, with a few more having been discovered but just numerically named up to 118.  Not sure how that happened.)

Sentinels of the Multiverse (2-5 players)
This time we had a five-player game, with Ra, Bunker, Legacy, Wraith, and Tempest battling Grand Warlord Voss in The Ruins of Atlantis.  It was again intensely thematic, and our choice of environment proved fortuitous - the kraken kept eaten the bad guy's minions!  I think it's a bit too easy with five heroes, but it was still a ton of fun - enough so that I've already backed the Rook City expansion on KickStarter.  The replayability of the game with so many heroes and villains to choose from looks to be immense.  The only complaint is that the box doesn't contain any HP tracking mechanisms, which are required to play.  I recommend a pile of d10s.

Memoir '44 (2 players)
My brother was looking for something confrontational, so we pulled out this two-player war game and I taught him how it works.  He was confident in his ability to beat me and so, despite my warning that the introductory scenario was quite unbalanced in favor of the Allies, he took the Axis side.  He proceeded to lose, but no worse than the Axis usually does in that scenario.  After that, bedtime.

Saturday 11/26
Small World (2-5 players)
I'd promised my brother-in-law that we'd get a game of Small World in, after having taught it to them last Christmas, so we pulled it out and got a 5 player game going late on Saturday.  Two had never played before, but they learned fast.  Again, I made myself too conspicuous, getting a few good turns early (leading wit Stout Ghouls helps in that regard), but getting cut back fairly quickly by the others.  It turned out to be a runaway victory for the brother-in-law, as his first race of Commando Trolls proved too hard for us to root out in decline, and he racked up a lot of points in the mid- to late-game.  I still love this game, even though I'm winning much less frequently now than in my first few plays.

The next day, everybody shipped back out, and the wife and I collapsed into a much needed day of relaxation.  My gaming itch has been well and truly scratched of late, and so we'll see how much gaming I get in the near future.