Reflection on this BLOG

When this site was created my intention was to provide an outlet to collect my board game reviews and share them in an interesting and pleasant format.  My enthusiasm for the board game hobby remains high.  I continue to share and evangelize about the amazing games available for individuals, friends and families to experience.  We are truly fortunate to be living in a time when it feels as though a board gaming renaissance is all around us.

This hobby became part of my life somewhere around 2004.  For people in the modern designer board game community, I’m a newcomer to the hobby.  While the demands for my time and game playing availability has dropped off considerably, enthusiasm remains strong.  In my early board gaming days I wrote a number of extensive reviews and contributed them freely to the finest board game enthusiasts community and web site www.boardgamegeek.com.  With this site I began to collect my reviews, permitting a bit more freedom in how they are presented.

The lack of any meaningful in-depth recent reviews is a reflection only of the demands for my time.  Personal enthusiasm for this hobby remains high.  My board game collection continues to grow as I add games that I find to be truly innovative and enjoyable to experience.  There is such a backlog of exciting games I want to review and share with friends and strangers curious about the hobby.  With limited availability because of family and career I find that selecting which games I will study and review next is a bit of a challenge.  Truly, having broad choices in board games to review is a great problem to have.

You may also have noticed that reviews or comments I post here about board games are hardly ever negative.  A little reflection explains that.  I’m only going to take the time to write about games I enjoy.  If a game does not interest me much I’m not going to take time to write about it.  My little board gaming hobby site is entirely self-selecting to be games I enjoy.  I’ve never intended for this web site to be a repository or reference of game reviews in general.  These are games I like.  A lot.  I use this vehicle to share about the games I think deserve special attention.

I’ve been experiencing a trend recently where I will get solicited by board game publishers, designers, and hopefuls, to review or mention their games.  It seems that every week someone contacts me asking if I would review or mention their new game.  The simple truth is that I don’t have time to do that much work.  Sure, I may end up reviewing new games either just published or seeking funding for publication.  But this is not why this site exists.  I just want to share about the games I love playing.  Every game I review I purchase with my own money, play with family and close friends and very much enjoy.  If I review a board game here it is because I really dig the game and want to share about it with like-minded hobbyists.

Probably every blogger out there faces the same challenge of keeping their content current and interesting for readers.  Even if you love the hobby, this takes time.  It seems that between career and family I’ve had less available free time to review or even play many newer games.  I have a “backlog” of game purchases that I really want to share about and review.  Thank you for visiting my little board game reviews site and thanks especially to those readers leaving comments.  Well, except for those who only leave comments hoping I will review their game.  I don’t want to disappoint new game designers.  You make this hobby better.  But I’m going to continue to be very selective about any games I choose to review and play.

Mid-2015 New Game Recommendations for Starting Out in the Hobby

Here it is mid-year and I have not posted an update in “for ages”.  Recently I was thinking about some of the people I have met who have expressed a genuine interest in understanding what this modern board gaming hobby is about.  Often my game reviews tend to be about game of pretty good mental depth and challenge because those are the games I like.  Seems reasonable.

However if someone is really new to this hobby, diving in where the water is more than just a few feet deep is generally not recommended.  So how about I create a short list of board games that are both currently available (in print in 2015) and easy to learn, enjoy and that will provide many hours of fun with friends and family?  Here goes.

pic38668_md

Ticket to Ride

It goes without saying.  This is the best board game I know that introduces people to modern board games.  It’s very easy to learn and quick to play.  About an hour or less to play, the first few games might take the full hour, and it plays quite well with as few as 2 players and it scales up to 5 players.

There are expansions for it and variants of the game, but this basic one with the map of the USA is the one I recommend.  You can find this on the shelves at department stores like Target and book stores like Barnes & Noble.  And of course you can find it at a friendly local board game store.

“Ticket to Ride” is an outstanding example of these modern designer board games.  Key features of these games:

  • It has no player elimination.  Everyone stays active in the game until the very last turn.
  • Plays quick.  Games take about an hour or less.
  • No complicated rules to learn.
  • Player turns are quick.  Often after you complete your turn, in a surprisingly short time it is your turn again.
  • It has the classic German-style score track that goes around the edges of the board.

If you have not played this game, stop now and go get it.  You will  have fun.

 

dixit

Dixit

This game is easy to learn and plays well when you have 4 or more players.  It scales from 3 players to 6.  The game takes about 30 minutes to play.  You’ll probably play it several times in a row.

The most interesting thing about Dixit is how imagination feeds the game.  The game is a collection of 80+ over sized cards, each having beautiful and unique artwork.  Every card is different. The game is played in rounds until there is a winner.  Each round one player chooses a card secretly from their hand and tells a little story that the card describes.  Here’s the thing.  Not a single card conveys a simple theme.  The other players then look at their own hand of cards and selects one that they think is close enough to the story teller’s description that it will fool everyone else.  You see, you want get people to vote for your card instead of the correct card.  Of course you don’t know what the original card looks like yet.  Then, all the chosen cards, one from each player including the selected card by the round’s storyteller are shuffled together.  Afterwards all the cards are revealed and the players vote for which one they think is the one belonging to the storyteller.  The storyteller does not vote of course because she reveals which card is the correct one.

Again, this game is fun and works quite well as a quick after dinner game where everyone gathers around the table.  Like “Ticket to Ride” I’ve seen this game in department stores, book stores and game shops.  One thing to watch out for is that there are two different box covers for the same game.  The international version is shown above.  There’s another version that some of the department stores have that looks pretty different, showing little pictures of many of the cards on the box front.  The game inside the box plays the same.

 

pandemic

Pandemic

This game may be a new experience for you because it is a cooperative game.  All the players of the game are on the same team trying to defeat the board game itself.  In this case Pandemic is about the outbreak of highly contagious diseases around the globe and how the team, as members of The Center for Disease Control (CDC), work furiously to contain and exterminate the outbreaks.  “Pandemic” is for 2 to 4 players and takes about an hour or less.  Once everyone gets the hang of what’s happening and how to play, the game moves quickly.  What’s particularly fun is how everyone can be lulled into a false sense of security where disease management is working and everything appears to be under control.  And then epidemics break out in the weakest areas of the game.  I’ve seen it happen where the game can rapidly come to close and defeat the players just when everything looked like it was under control.

This game is also readily available at the same locations as the others mentioned.  For an interesting twist where the team plays together, I recommend “Pandemic”.

 

box-carc

Carcassonne

This is my wife’s favorite game.  It’s surprisingly competitive, or can be with the right players.  This is a classic in the style of euro-designer games.  What’s interesting about Carcassonne is that the board is constructed by the players each round as play continues.  Each player places one square tile down on the table connected to the existing tiles on the table (certain placement rules are followed).  This continues until the draw stack of face-down tiles are exhausted.  Scoring is accomplished the the game progresses.  It’s a bit difficult to describe without showing off graphics of each tile and discussing placement of the little wooden “meeple” (mini-people).  But it easy to learn and fun.  It plays quite well with only 2 players and scales up to 5.  Again the game time is about 45 minutes.

I’ve not seen this one at many shops other than game stores, although I have seen it at a Toys R Us.  Like I said, it’s my wife’s favorite game.  We have a portable version we take with us when we go to restaurants and play at the table while awaiting the food to arrive.

 

That’s just a few games to try.  Give the hobby a shot.  I’ve had the experience of introducing people to what are sometimes called these Euro Games and the reaction has been universal.  Folks are pleasantly surprised by how clever and fun these games are.  They are nothing like the games you played growing up like “Monopoly”, “Sorry”, or maybe “Risk”.  There’s a huge world of these designer games out there, literally thousands of titles, and they are often a complete surprise to Americans.  Hope this little list provides you some fun.

Excellent reference for playing Dixit

I’ve blogged about the fantastic game called Dixit before.  Recently I was describing the game to someone and realize there must be easy-to-view reference material on the internet.

Then I remembered that Wil Wheaton did an episode of Table Top where they taught and played the game with friends of his (often they are also celebrities).  Here’s the link to a You Tube video of that episode.

Carcassonne at the Hospital

Melissa has had some pretty severe gastrointestinal problems in the past and last Thursday evening we had to pay a visit to the Emergency Room.  She was admitted to the hospital later that same evening and I’ve been staying with her everyday until things gets resolved.

We took a break last evening and went for a stroll from her hospital room and walked down to the lounge area for visitors on the same floor.  It’s a nice area, with a large fish tank and some shelves with books.  We spotted a really nice round wooden table with chairs.  Both of us thought the same thing: “Hey, we could play a board game there.”

So today we had our teenager, Nicholas, before he came to the hospital to visit, bring our copy of Carcassonne with him from home.  And we played a game this evening in the lounge.  Melissa took a panorama photograph during the game.

carcassonne_hospital_2014

 

You can see the fish tank back behind my left shoulder.  That’s her “IV pole” on the right.  It was a pleasant break and we enjoyed playing a competitive but relaxing game before going back to her room.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that of course she won.  She always does.  It’s her favorite game.  Or one of them.  Final score was 143 to 67.  It was still fun for me even though I lost by more than half the points.

Board Games Played in 2013

I thought it might be fun to list some of the different games that we played this past year. The most played games are listed first. Sometimes what makes the play count of a game higher than for others has more to do with the fact that it’s a shorter playing time. This is certainly obvious for the first entry on the list.

flash-point
Flash Point: Fire Rescue
This is a co-operative game for 1 to 6 players. We each play the part of a fire rescue team working to put out a house fire while simultaneously searching for people, and sometimes their pets, and getting them out of the burning building before it collapses. It’s a great theme and easy to play. The game does a pretty good job of helping the players feel as if they are under real pressure to rescue the trapped people and get that fire out.

airlines
Airlines Europe
Airlines Europe is designed by Alan R. Moon, the same guy that designed the amazing game Ticket To Ride. The game is for 2 to 5 players and is just a little more difficult to learn than “Ticket To Ride”. In this game the players compete by investing in different fictional airlines operating in Europe. The players do not actually “own” any single airline. Rather, each player purchases stock in the companies and attempts to make the ones they are invested in the most valuable by connecting valuable routes and cleverly timed investments. It’s an economic game that is a lot of fun and we got this one to the table a few times in 2013.

escalationEscalation!
This remains a family favorite and is a frequent “filler” game we play either between more challenging games or just to start everyone off when we all sit down to play some games. I’ve written a review for it in the past so not a lot of additional description is needed.

pandemicPandemic
Pandemic is another co-operative game that continues to be popular. I own the original edition, and last year Z-Man Games, the publisher, did a major update to the artwork, game board, and components for the game. This game has also received a review from me in the past. We actually like this game so much that Melissa and I recently purchased a copy as a gift for a friend.

netrunnerAndroid: Netrunner
Android: Netrunner is a 2-player only game that I really like. It was re-introduced and re-themed by Fantasy Flight Games. The original game design dates back to 1996 when it was just called “Netrunner”. “Android: Netrunner” is an asymmetrical card game. This is really neat, because that means the 2 players, which are most definitely playing directly against each other, each have a different role in the game with unique rules specific to only that role. This game is themed to take place in the future where a very dystopian world, a lot like from the film “Blade Runner”, is the context. One player takes on the role of a large powerful corporation and the other player takes on the role of a hacker trying to break into the servers of that corporation and steal key data assets. It plays pretty quick and is fun from either side of the table. The game is different from a Collectible Card Game (CCG) in that there are no unique cards that you can find in individual add-on “packs” of cards. Instead, Fantasy Flight Games has developed something they call a Living Card Game (LCG). In this case you can purchase inexpensive expansion packs of cards but they are well defined, known and specific. No surprises. Everyone that purchases an expansion pack gets the same new cards. I like this game enough that I’ve purchased the entire first generation of expansion packs which came out slowly over the course of the year 2012 – 2013. I’ve played it a few times with Melissa last year and she’s pretty good at it too.

dixitjourneyDixit
I’ve also shown the box cover to the game “Dixit: Journey” which is essentially the original game re-released and sold in some of the larger department stores here in the United States. I’ve seen “Dixit: Journey” on the shelves at Target, for example.  Okay, this is a really fun game that is easy to teach and play and works for 3 to 6 players. The game plays really well with 5 or 6 players. It is a card game that has amazing beautiful artwork – a unique drawing on each card.  The cards are pretty large size but still easy to manage. “Dixit” is a creative card game where each card suggests multiple meanings to anyone that sees them. The easiest way to explain this is to show an example card:
dixitcard
So here is how the game works. Each player has a handful of 8 cards that none of the other players can see. Each card is equally as interesting and non-specific as the one shown. The game is played in rounds and one player takes the role of “Story Teller”. That person can say a phrase, or name a song, or they can make a gesture, or hum a part of a tune, almost anything that they think describes one selected card from their hand. They do this without showing anyone the card. For example with the card above, the story teller may say the phrase “safe passage”. That card is then placed face-down on the table. Each other player looks at the cards in their hands and selects one that they think may fool the other players into thinking their own card fits the description too. Then all the cards are placed face down and shuffled. The story teller then turns over each card one-by-one, usually repeating the phrase (in this case: “safe passage”). Perhaps another player put this card down for their own choice:

soldiersThis card could be “safe passage” too. Each player other than the story tellers votes with a token for which card they think is the one belonging to the story teller. They know which one is their own card of course. The scoring then happens. The trick is that the story teller wants to provide a phrase or clue that is “close enough”. If no one gets it or if everyone guesses it, that’s not good for the story teller. And if someone votes for someone else’s card, they get a point for each person they fooled. After the round, everyone draws a replacement card and adds it to their hand and then the role of story teller rotates to the next player. Eventually someone wins when their score marker is the first to cross the finish line on a score track. I recommend this game highly if you want something lightweight and really creative fun. Our family loves this game so much we have purchased every expansion we could find to keep adding more interesting cards to the mix.  I have recommended this game as a good “party game” too — a game to play with folks who don’t normally like to play board games.

lettersLetters From Whitechapel
Letters From Whitechapel is a deduction board game for 2 to 6 players. It’s a “period” game that takes the players back to the time of “Jack The Ripper” in the Whitechapel district in London 1888. One player takes the role of “Jack” and secretly selects a hideout location on the game board (the board is quite attractive and a detailed map of Whitechapel) and the other players take the parts of the detectives working the streets. Then as the game progresses “Jack” murders a “wretched” — and the cops start their frantic search while Jack secretly dashes around Whitechapel and gets back to his hide out. This game is tense and requires good logic skills from all the players. The neatest part of the game is that Jack has to sit there at the table while listening to the detectives discuss their strategy and possible guesses where he might be on the board. In some cases Jack might be right next to a detective hoping the detective doesn’t move in his direction searching for a clue. This game is well designed and quite popular in our home.

venusMerchant of Venus (2nd Edition)
Merchant of Venus is a recently reprinted and updated design of what was once thought of as a “grail game” — it was hard to find and sought after and last published in 1988. It’s a space-themed game with discovery and pick-up-and-deliver as a primary game mechanism. The re-released version from Fantasy Flight Games is outstanding. It is beautiful and well produced and proves to be quite fun to play. It is for 1 to 4 players. Playing time is a bit long for this one; plan on the game taking 3 to 4 hours. But don’t let that distract you. If you want to try something a little heavier than many of the games listed above, this is a great choice.

 

There were quite a few other games played last year.  Of course old “stand-bys” like “Ticket To Ride” and “Carcassonne” made it to our game table too.  We even managed to get in a play of “Twilight Imperium III” – a deep and heavy space-themed game quite favored in our home.  I’ve written reviews for each of these three here on this web site.  Also, for the games mentioned above, each has a link to the full game web page at Board Game Geek.  You can go there to read more about the mentioned games and also see a huge collection of pictures for each too.

Where to buy these games?

I get asked, often after introducing people to some of these more modern “Euro-Game” board game designs, where one goes to purchase? I have a couple of thoughts about this question.

Supporting your Friendly Local Game Store (FLGS) is always the better choice. Sure you generally pay full retail price, but you are supporting the hobby and your local merchants. I look first for board game shops, and if that doesn’t work, often hobby comic book shops carry these games too.

But here’s the really amazing news. The “classic” Euro Games are showing up in places like Target. I’ve seen “Ticket To Ride”, “Settlers of Catan”, “Pandemic”, “Zooloretto” and many others in the games section. Target even has a special variant of “Settlers of Catan” which was themed for Star Trek called “Star Trek Catan”. I think that version was unique to Target stores for the first year but may now be appearing in other hobby game shops. Another great place to look is your local Barnes & Noble book store. They now have a section for these modern games. I have noticed that the selection seems to vary by store. The interesting thing I remember reading was how successful this new product line has turned out to be for B&N. They dropped the DVD and CD section of the store and replaced it with board games. If you think about it, I think that’s even a more natural fit for a book shop.

Lastly the Internet is the place to look if you seek a game not carried in your local stores. My favorite online shop Thought Hammer unfortunately closed down this past year. But there are many reputable online shops, and several that I have done business with. And of course there’s always Amazon and Ebay.

Here is a list of my favorite online board game shops (no preference to order entry here):

http://www.timewellspentgames.com

http://www.fairplaygames.com/index.asp

http://www.boardsandbits.com

https://www.funagain.com/control/main

I’m sure I’ll remember a few other popular ones after this post goes up…

Board games should be played with family and friends

Aside

It may sound obvious, but playing board games for me at least is almost always just with family and friends. I’ve gone to gaming conferences where I have sat down at a game table and played board games with people that up to that point were complete strangers to me, but generally that is the exception. Someone commented to me the other day when I listed all the games played in the past year that they wondered how I was taking time out for my family.

And they miss the point entirely. Board games are almost always about including family. For me, when I play games it most always includes family. Sometimes games are played with neighbors or friends, but I always prefer to have at least one family member included. For me board gaming is not some isolating activity where I pursue a hobby interest on my own. Board gaming is inclusive.

Board games played in the first half of 2012

I gathered some board game play statistics.  This is a summary of every board game I have played so far this year.  All games counted here are face-to-face in-person board games at a table.  I play games on my iPad and iPhone too, but those are not counted here. Also, the games included here are only ones that I own.

The results are ranked with the most often played games first. Here they are:









Nuns on the Run Core Worlds Eclipse Escalation!
Played: 12 Played: 9 Played: 9 Played: 7








7 Wonders Carcassonne Elder Sign Letters from Whitechapel
Played: 5 Played: 4 Played: 4 Played: 4








Lords of Waterdeep Oceania Race for the Galaxy Rune Age
Played: 3 Played: 3 Played: 3 Played: 3








Deadwood Panic Station Ticket to Ride Black Friday
Played: 2 Played: 2 Played: 2 Played: 1








Caylus Forbidden Island Mow Mr. Jack
Played: 1 Played: 1 Played: 1 Played: 1








Mr. Jack Pocket Mystery of the Abbey Perry Rhodan: The Cosmic League StarCraft: The Board Game
Played: 1 Played: 1 Played: 1 Played: 1






Starfarers of Catan Twilight Imperium Played: third edition Warrior Knights
Played: 1 Played: 1 Played: 1

There are a few games that jump out of the table.

Nuns on the Run is very popular with our family right now.  Its a deduction game, or maybe better classified as a “Hide N Go Seek” game.  It scales really well up to 8 players.  This is another one of those games where after finishing a game people often ask if they can play it again.  The rules are easy to explain and the game play can get really tense.  This is definitely on my short list of games needing a review.

Core Worlds is a deck-building game like the very popular game Dominion.  It’s a science fiction themed game and it’s quite interesting.  It has a lot of plays so far this year because of how new it is and folks being interested in another “take” on the deck-building game design.  I like it quite a bit.

Eclipse is another one of the gems that came out at the end of 2011.  It’s easily one of the best games released last year.  The first printing sold out rapidly.  The second printing which came out just this June is already sold out at most of the on-line game stores.  I’ve seen 1 copy recently on the shelf at a local game shop.  The game is a great science fiction themed game with a heavy economic feel to it.  I think the design and presentation are an outstanding example.  It’s not a lightweight game but it is a lot of fun.  This game is going to remain popular for a while.  Again, I need to write a real review about the game.

I just read that Eclipse is the winner of the Dice Tower “Best Game of 2011” award.  A well deserved award.

7 Wonders is a great game that has also seen a lot of table play in our home.  It’s very easy to learn and plays very quickly.  The game also scales nicely up to 7 players.  This game won the award for best German strategy game in 2011.

There are 2 other games that have been well received in our home that are in the list.  Letters from Whitechapel is a deduction game that is quite fascinating, and as I’ve already mentioned here, I need to write a review about this one too.  My wife says I’m too good at these kinds of deduction games and told me recently she wants to play it once where I only watch.  What?!!

The other very cool new game is Panic Station.  Panic Station can best described as a board game version of John Carpenter’s The Thing.  This is a sami-cooperative game where all the humans are trying to eliminate the alien nest from the base.  The trick is, that somewhere by the end of the 2nd turn, one of the human players secretly becomes infected by the alien horde and begins to work to infect everyone else in the game.  It’s a deduction game too, although classifying it as a paranoia game would probably be even better.  Very early in the game the players begin to realize they don’t know who they can trust.  And if a player makes a mistake and manages to get infected by the “host”, they then also secretly join forces against the remaining humans.  Always a blast to play and often requested.

Lastly I want to mention Lords of Waterdeep.  It’s a “worker placement” game that is easy to learn and player turns are incredibly light and quick.  We have just started playing this game in our family and it’s been very well received.

When we play board games, the cats like to watch

Recently we were playing the board game Letters From Whitechapel and I played the role of Jack.  The game is an excellent deduction game where one player takes on the role of the infamous Jack The Ripper and the other players are the detectives trying to catch him before he gets back to his hideout.  The game drips theme and the board is historically accurate for the Whitechapel District of London in the days of Jack The Ripper.  It’s a tense and challenging game and it’s beautifully produced.

I included the above picture because one of the fun things that happen in our kitchen when the family plays board games is that the cats often like to watch and see what’s going on.  In this picture our youngest cat, “Tupac”, (yes named after the deceased Hip Hop artist because he’s a rescue-cat and has “street cred”), is sitting patiently in the corner of the table.  In this picture I like to imagine that he was giving “Jack The Ripper” tips on how to stay hidden.  In the foreground you can see that another cat was sitting in Melissa’s lap, also watching intently.  It’s an interesting photograph for board game lovers that also love cats.

This board game is on the “short list” of ones for which I intend to do a full game review.

Games Blog now a WordPress Site

Okay.  I think I have the re-direct working and all of the content moved.  Twitter integration should also be working now.  New posts should trigger something to my Twitter account @stevewessels

Just tried my first post that should have posted something to Twitter didn’t work right.  Re-testing now…

Sorry.  Changed the configuration.  Here’s another test post.