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Explaining Games – and Other Stuff (part 2)

Personally, I have never tried to bribe a pirate. I understand that some people may enjoy the activity, and in principle I am not opposed to it, but it just doesn’t appeal to me as an individual. Fortunately, should I ever be compelled to bribe a pirate, the details of how to do it have been concisely summarised for me in the text pictured above. This shows a representative two page extract from the fifty page long rule book to the game Viceroys. This particular part covers fleeing from combat, the weather gauge, bribing pirates, taxation, inflation and war in Europe. Being two pages out of fifty, it constitutes 4% of the overall text. Yay.

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How do you store your games?

When I was a student, I remember getting together with a bunch of other students to play Talisman.  A friend of mine used to play it a lot as a child and reckoned we’d all enjoy it.  I’d never played it before, so was curious to try it, but never again!  It turned out to be a long, draw-out affair with copious amounts of randomness.  I did badly.  Not that I’m bitter or anything…

My reason for bringing this up though, is that our host had more games than I’d ever seen in my life.  In fact, he had an entire shelf of games.  They were piled haphazardly (this was before box sizes became relatively standardised) and he must have had nigh on twenty games.  Twenty!  Boy, was I jealous.

Of course, my perspective has changed rather these days, but at the time I think I had three or four games.  I couldn’t imagine having twenty games in my wildest dreams.  I remember mentally totting up how much it would cost to buy all of those games.  It was hundreds of pounds!  On games!

I’m getting side-tracked again though.  What I really want to talk about today is storage.  The last time I counted (which was a few years ago), I had over a hundred games.  I dread to think how many I have now.  I keep meaning to sell some of them, but I’m a compulsive hoarder.  So last weekend my thoughts turned to storage.  How do you store your games?

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Explaining Games – and Other Stuff (part 1)

As a fully trained physicist, I know the secret of explaining something well: you just have to remember that the most important thing you need to get across is how much smarter you are than the person you are explaining it to. The more you ridicule and patronise them the better – nothing will make people like and respect you more than conclusively proving your intellectual superiority.

So, since ordinary people are often very bad at explaining things, I will now tell everyone how they ought to be doing it. Be sure to pay close attention. This can be a challenging subject for people – such as yourself no doubt – who have only limited experience of thinking.

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How to Read Out Loud like a Pro

I was playing Near and Far last night.  It’s a worker-placement game crossed with an adventure game.  Having collected various resources and hired companions in town, you venture off into the wilderness and have adventures!

Each adventure spot has a number associated with it and you look up the number in a big book.  It provides you with a short story describing some kind of encounter and then offers you a couple of choices as to how you might respond to what you find.  Depending on your choice, a conclusion will be read out and if successful, you’ll receive a reward.

So a large part of the game involves reading sections of story out loud.  A lot of people find this quite difficult.  It might seem like a rather odd topic for a blog post, but today I thought we could tackle the subject of how to do that well.  How can you learn to read out loud like a pro?

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Does Theme Matter?

Does the theme of a game really matter, or is it all about the mechanics? (more…)

Pretty Clever

I’ve never really been into roll-and-write games.  I played plenty of Yahtzee as a kid, which was fine, but the whole system felt outdated to me.  However, roll-and-write games seem to have made something of a resurgence in recent years.

I was pleasantly surprised by titles such as Harvest Dice and Dice Stars.  They’re a bit lighter than the kind of game I usually like to play, but there was enough strategy to keep me interested.  When I heard that one of the Kennerspiel des Jahres nominees this year was a roll and write though, I was astonished.

The Kennerspiel is the strategy game of the year and the nominees are a step up in complexity from the lighter Spiel des Jahres nominees; they’re usually what I would call medium weight at least.  Could a roll-and-write game be sufficiently involved for a Kennerspiel nomination?  You bet it could!  Let me tell you about Pretty Clever

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Terra Mystica II

Terra Mystica two, or “Gaia Project” as it’s being marketed, is so similar to Terra Mystica that I haven’t even learned the new set of names for the buildings and resources, and keep referring to them by the old ones. We will therefore have to start with a glossary:

Worker” = Ore

Dwelling” = Mine

Temple” = Research Labs

Favour Tile” = Technology Tile

Stronghold” = Planetary Institute

Sanctuary” = Academy

One other word that I’m liable to use incorrectly, for which I have the friend who taught me the game to thank, is “quickie.” This is how I was taught to refer to “Quantum Intelligence Cubes” (QICs), or as most players will know them, the small green plastic thingies that are not quantum, not intelligent and for some reason not even cubes. Calling them quickies has already got me into trouble a couple of times, and I must say that I think it is thoroughly disgraceful to deliberately teach someone the wrong word like that, particularly when it is a word with sexual connotations. Maliciously twerking someone’s understanding of language like that can be very cruel.

So, now that people will actually understand what I’m talking about, let’s get down to business. Jonathan has already made a thorough comparison of Terra Mystica and Gaia Project here, so I will just say that I like Gaia Project better because I think the inter-game variables are more strategically significant. The important question is how to win it!

I can’t help you!

The faction powers are even more important in Gaia Project than in Terra Mystica. If you aren’t making regular use of your special abilitie(s), and in a way that actually helps you rather than just for the sake of it, then you won’t win. Unfortunately, with so many factions to pick from, I can’t write an individual post about each of them. You’ll have to work out how to use each faction’s special abilities for yourself.

TAIGA… um… PROJEC

So, it would seem that always trying to use the same trick doesn’t necessarily work that well! This is a key point about Gaia Project – the inter-game variables are so important that you really can’t afford to get stuck on any one particular strategic pathway. The most important ones to consider, which do not appear in Terra Mystica, are the distribution of the favour tiles and advanced favour tiles across the science tracks and the distribution of planets on the main game board. In particular, players of Terra Mystica often forget to consider planet distribution, since the land tile distribution is never randomised in Terra Mystica.

The advanced favour tiles, at the top of the science tracks, can be game changing. It is therefore worth considering their distribution right from the start even though they may not be accessible/useful until the late game. Personally I think the ones that give you one-off VP are the best, simply because the ongoing scoring/economic boost tiles can’t usually be got to early enough to make them really worthwhile. There are of course a couple of exceptions to this – for example the points for towns on passing tile, or if you are playing as the Ivits and can form a town very easily in the early game.

Exchange quickies for favours

Don’t neglect the QIC action spaces, they can be very valuable. The two and three QIC spaces aren’t generally of much interest until about round 4, but the 4 QIC space which gives you a favour tile can be well worth it in the early game. Consider that a QIC is generally considered only slightly more valuable than a knowledge – for example it requires the same amount of power to purchase with the any time conversion. However, while 4 knowledge gets you only one science track advance, 4 QICs on this space will get you one science track advance and an associated favour tile. This is not at all a bad deal!

Plan your power cycle

The fact that everyone has fewer power tokens to begin with, combined with the need to have some left to build satellites with, makes burning power much less appealing in Gaia Project than in Terra Mystica. As a result, it is much more important to make sure your power gets to the right place at the right time. The Gaiaforming mechanic also complicates things – be wary of wasting VP by taking leech only to move your tokens straight from bowl II to the Gaia zone.

Fortunately the game introduces some mechanics you can use to help you with this. There are various ways to gain more power tokens and several ways other than leech to gain power cycle within a round. The most important of these are the 4 power cycle action favour tile and the 3 power cycle you receive immediately for crossing the threshold between the second and third space on a science track. Use these carefully to make sure you have power in bowl III when you need it!

Avoid the Bal T’aks

The Bal T’aks and Xenos are both very weak. In fact faction balance is a pretty serious issue. Because the conditions vary so much between games the only really fair way to have a truly competitive game is to set everything up and then have all players bid VPs for their preferred factions, so that those who get a stronger faction end up starting with fewer VP and vice versa. However, this is time consuming and unfair on beginners, and a less fair but sometimes more expedient alternative is to house rule the factions to make them a little more balanced. Below are my suggested changes for improving faction balance. They will be far from perfect, but I think they probably provide better balance than the base rules on average.

Itars: whenever they use their planetary institute to take a favour tile, all opponents gain 1 coin.

Nevlas: whenever they accept 2 or more power in leech all opponents get 1 power cycle.

Xenos: third dwelling provides income of 1 ore and 1 power cycle.

Gleens: at game start +1 ore, also +1 coin if the QIC bonus tile is used and/or if the +3 range bonus tile is not used.

Firaks: game start +1 ore, +1 coin.

Bescods: during each income phase may purchase one item for VPs. 3 VP for a QIC, 2 VP for a knowledge, 1 VP for an ore or 0 VP for a coin.

Bal T’aks: game start +1 QIC

Geodens: no change.

Lantids: no change.

Terrans: receive 1 less VP per dwelling from round bonuses for building on Gaia planets and 4 less VP for endgame scoring for most Gaia planets (minimum 0).

Hansch Hallas: no change.

Ivits: game start -3 VP if the endgame scoring does not include most satellites and/or if it does include most buildings in towns.

Ambas: no change.

Taklons: moving the Brainstone using leech costs either 1 VP or 1 power (their choice). Brainstone can’t be moved using benefits from my house rules for the Nevlas. Otherwise it moves as normal.

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My Top Games from UKGE 2018

On the whole, I wasn’t overly impressed with the offering at the UK Games Expo this year.  I really enjoyed myself at the convention, but in terms of exciting new games to try, there wasn’t a lot that really interested me.

That being said, there were a few diamonds in the rough.  I didn’t get to try everything I wanted to (some games became booked out almost as soon as the show opened), but of the ones I played, these were my favourites…

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Confused Drow mages play with letters (part 3)

Arise from your wage-dorms, cast aside your warm Doges and your dower mags, and if you are a gambler apply some wager-mods. This post will be no sog-warmed amalgamation of mowed rags, no sad gem row through which the hapless gamer morg-wades. Today we cut, saw-gormed, through the dewar smog and distill the very orgasm dew of truth from the subject of word games. (more…)

Heaven & Ale

The Spiel nominees were announced recently and one of the surprise nominations was a game called Heaven & Ale.  It’s been nominated for the Kennerspiel des Jahres – the “Strategy Game of the Year” award.

Whereas the Spiel des Jahres games are meant to be light, family-weight games, the Kennerspiel are meant to be more complex, but still accessible to people with some gaming experience.  Previous winners include Istanbul and 7 Wonders.

How does Heaven & Ale stack up?  Is it likely to win?  Let’s take a look at it…

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