Larry’s Gathering Report: “New to Me” Games Segment

Sorry it’s taken me so long to get the next segment in this series posted.  I hate it when real life gets in the way!

Anyway, as I mentioned in my first Gathering article, one of my goals during the week was to play as many “new to me” 2014 games as I could.  If you check out the number of games discussed in this article, you’ll see that I was pretty successful with that!  All told, I played 18 games from last year for the first time.  I also added two other games I had played before, in which my experience this time around caused me to re-evaluate them.

Since these games aren’t particularly new, I’ll focus on my feelings about the games and not deal much with their mechanics.  They’re listed in order, from the ones I liked the most to my least favorites.  I’ve grouped them by the standard OG ratings of Love It, Like It, Neutral, and Not for me.

One of the reasons I was so anxious to play all these titles was that coming in to the Gathering, 2014 was stacking up to be my worst year for games since I entered the hobby 15 years ago.  I was hoping this exposure to these games would change that opinion.  Overall, that’s exactly what happened, as I found a bunch of new games I would happily play again or even suggest.  However, you’ll notice that none of these designs reached the status of I Love It!.  Right now, 2014 is very much a case of quantity over quality for me.  There’s a lot of games that I like, but almost none that I’m truly excited about.  That’s not the worst thing in the world, but I’m hoping for better things in 2015 (and the year’s already off to a great start, with Marco Polo, Baseball Highlights, and Think Str8! solidly in the “Love” category).

So here are the new 2014 games I got to play in Niagara Falls. Continue reading

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Goblin Magnifico: Wir Sind das Volk! won the award

Goblin MagnificoAfter the recent birth of Gioco dell’Anno, Lucca Comics & Games award for the best gateway/family game that substituted Best of Show and the passing of Ludoteca Ideale, we miss a real award for gamers in Italy. We have one of the most active gamers community in the world, with many associations and one of the greatest gamers event in Europe (PLAY: The Games Festival), with hundreds of tables devoted to board-games, so what we really nedd was a ture award. Here the official presentation from La Tana dei Goblin’s board:

The Award “Goblin Magnifico” is born with the aim to select a shortlist of boardgames for gamers, chosen by true gamers. We are talking about heavy games…
This award is sponsored by La Tana dei Goblin (the Goblins’ Lair): the most important Italian boardgame community – and widely spread – in the country, thanks to dozens of affiliated associations throughout our national territory, which are devoted to the diffusion of gaming culture.

How beautiful would it be to have a yearly list of “Magnifici”… games that would have particularly stood out amongst the multitude of boardgames published during the year!

Something thought specifically for the boardgaming community. Of course, there would be a winner, the “Magnifico” (chosen by a selected panel of judges), and another prize called “Scelto dai Goblin” (chosen by Goblins), selected by popular vote by La Tana dei Goblin online
community registered users.

This is the Goblin Magnifico mission!
Continue reading

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SdJ Re-Reviews #1: Hase und Igel (a.k.a. Hare & Tortoise)

Hase und Igel

 Hase und igel box

  • Designer:                 David Parlett
  • Publisher:               Multiple
  • Players:                   2 – 6
  • Ages:                        8 and Up
  • Time:                       45 Minutes
  • Times Played:         > 5, on the 2007 Ravensburger edition.

Series Introduction

This is the first entry in a 36-part series reviewing each of the Spiel des Jahres winners.  The Spiel des Jahres (SdJ) – German for “Game of the Year” – is awarded annually by a jury of professional game reviewers from German-speaking countries.  The SdJ is arguably the most influential award in gaming, with winners often receiving at least a tenfold increase in sales.  I have played all 36 winners, and the experience has been a trip through board game history.  This series will “revisit” each one, discussing both what it contributed to the hobby and reviewing it against today’s games.

 

Hase und Igel: The Inaugural Winner

When it was first published in 1974, David Parlett’s Hare & Tortoise was the latest entry in a time-worn and crowded genre: race games.  Nonetheless, the game’s central mechanic – “carrot economics,” as the designer has playfully dubbed it – turned out to be both popular and revolutionary.  Nearly all race games before Hare & Tortoise used dice or other randomizers to control movement, making them essentially games of chance.  In Hare & Tortoise, by comparison, the game is won or lost by resource management.  Non-dice race games would eventually be commonplace, but in 1974, they were a rarity. Continue reading

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New series for 2015 – Spiel Des Jahres Re-Reviewed

As we’ve documented in the past, the Spring is often a somewhat slower time for boardgame releases – and it’s a good time to write about some topics that have spent the winter on the backburner.

I was approached by a new writer, Christopher Wray, with the idea of doing a series of reviews of all of the Spiel des Jahres winners – seeing how they have held up over time.  In our usual fashion, the other OG writers will also share their opinions on the games as we look at them again.

 

Before we start, a short introduction from Christopher about the series:

 

This is the first entry in a series reviewing each of the Spiel des Jahres winners.  The Spiel des Jahres (SdJ) – German for “Game of the Year” – is awarded each summer by a jury of professional game reviewers from German-speaking countries.  The prize was established in 1978 (and first awarded in 1979) to “stimulate the idea of playing games with family and friends,” “give orientation within the large choice of games available,” and promote games as cultural assets.

The SdJ is arguably the most influential award in gaming, with winners often receiving at least a tenfold increase in sales, and sometimes a hundredfold increase.  Several past winners have sold millions of copies.  By my count, 27 of the 36 winners are still in print.  The award is widely credited with spurring innovation in modern gaming and spring-boarding Eurogames into popularity.

The modern SdJ jury evaluates winners on game concept (originality, playability, game value), rule structure (composition, clearness, comprehensibility), layout (box, board, rules), and design (functionality, workmanship).  Though there are exceptions, most winners are family-oriented, original, and light to medium weight.

The award has undergone many changes over its 36-year history, perhaps most notably in the eligibility criteria.  In early years the jury tended to carry nominees from one year forward into the next.  For example, when Rummikub won in 1980, Focus and Dampfross were also nominated.  Those two games would win in 1981 and 1984, respectively.  In modern times, to be eligible for the award, a game must be made available in Germany for a period roughly running from early April to early April (or possibly late March to late March).

I have played all 36 winners, and playing through the SdJ games has been a trip through board game history.  Many of the games — particularly the older ones — have a fascinating history.  Many designs from early SdJ winners are replicated in the games we play today.  It is a story worth telling, but to my knowledge, it is not a story that has been compiled in one place, at least not in English.

This series will “revisit” each one, discussing both what it contributed to the hobby and reviewing it against today’s games.  As always, the entire Opinionated Gamers team will share their thoughts on a game’s design and merits.

In preparing for each entry I have played each game at least five times, though generally far more.  I’ve also researched the history of each game using a variety of sources, including (but not limited to) materials provided by the game designers, books on the history of board games, and, of course, Board Game Geek.

If you’re curious about how I became such a big fan of the SdJ, here’s the synopsis.  The first SdJ winner I played was probably Sagaland (a.k.a. Enchanted Forrest): I vaguely remember an elementary school teacher of mine having a copy.  At some point in the 1990s my grandparents taught me Rummikub.  In 2004, a college roommate taught me to play Catan and told me about the SdJ and German board games.  I first learned about Call My Bluff (a.k.a. Liar’s Dice) after watching one of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies.  At some point in 2010 I picked up Ticket to Ride.  That was soon followed by Carcassonne and a couple of others.  Soon I made it my goal to play (and own) them all.  I met my goal this year.

If you have any feedback or material that might aid in the series, I’d be glad to hear from you: I can be reached on BGG as chriswray84.

We’re already working on collaboration on the first two reviews, and they should be posted in the very near future!  We will continue on with the series throughout the year.

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Catan Con 2015

Catan ConIt all began because of an article in GAMES magazine… and this highly touted import board game from Germany, The Settlers of Catan. I plunked down $35 at a local hobby store and brought home the original brown box edition with the photo art on the tiles… and my gaming life was never the same again.

I soon traded in my American first edition for a German copy so I could get all of the expansions… and I began running Catan tournaments each year at my local game store.

Push forward roughly 20 years and it’s no surprise that I found myself with a press pass to the first annual Catan Con, held in Nashville, TN, on the grounds of the Opryland Hotel. Mayfair brought the Catan van, a truckload of games for sale, an extensive games library and a bunch of their “big” versions of their games for 48 hours of Catan-focused fun.

I spend Friday evening, Saturday morning and Saturday evening at the convention (ah, the joys of living less than 20 minutes away). I’ll go through some of my personal highlights, as well as the highlights for my 10 year old son who joined me on Saturday morning. Continue reading

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Larry’s Gathering Report: 2015 Games Segment

This is my second report on the games I played at this year’s Gathering of Friends.  Today I’ll talk about the 2015 titles I tried.

Even though the vast majority of new Euros appear at Essen, there’s always some that are released during the first few months of the year.  Some years, there’s a lot of good new games to check out at the Gathering and some years, the cubbard is kind of bare.  There was a pretty good selection to choose from this year, including the game I was most anticipating and another one which was an enormous surprise.  In all, I played eight 2015 designs during the con; here’s a brief look at each of them, together with my OG ratings.

The Voyages of Marco Polo:  A Hans im Glück game from the Tzolk’in designers?  Yes, please!  I played this three times and it was my favorite game from the week.  Actually, I didn’t play by the proper rules until my third attempt, which kind of makes it the quintessential Gathering game.  But once we finally figured it out, I really enjoyed it.  The central mechanic is dice-activated worker placement, but unlike a lot of WP games, you can still use an area if an opponent has used it earlier, by paying money to the bank.  That reduces the frustration and adds to the strategy, IMO.  The game’s most notable feature is that every player is assigned a character with special abilities and these are all really strong and greatly affect how you play the game.  As someone said, “All the characters are equally unbalanced”.  HiG has been on a huge winning streak with me lately and this only adds to it.  I fully expect this to be one of my highlights for 2015.  OG rating:  I love it! Continue reading

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Larry’s Gathering Report: TL;DR Segment

I came back home Sunday after nine glorious days at Alan Moon’s Gathering of Friends.  I’ve been going to the Gathering for a dozen years or so and they just keep getting better.  The best part about it is that there are something like 150 people there that I’ve grown to know over the years, all of whom I’m delighted to chat with, game with, or just say hi to.  Having that many people whom you like and who share your passion concentrated in such a small area is indescribably cool.  I hope many of you get to experience similar things at the gaming conventions you attend.

My goal this year (in addition to my usual one of playing a bunch of recent releases and prototypes) was to try to play a lot of 2014 titles that I hadn’t had a chance to check out prior to this.  I was able to accomplish this fairly well, so my games played list included a plethora of “new to me” designs.  Too many to discuss in just one article, so I’ve decided to split up my report into four segments.  I’ll start off today with a summary of what I played.  I’ll follow that up with my impressions of the 2015 games I played, then the new 2014 titles, and finally some words about the prototypes I tried out.

So here are the fun facts about my 2015 Gathering of Friends experience:

  • I played 62 different games 77 times.
  • Of those 62 games, 19 of them are prototypes (12 of which will probably be published sometime this year).
  • I played 8 different 2015 games and 20 games from 2014 which were new to me.
  • Of the 38 non-party published games I played, only 5 of them were released before last year and there was only one game that came out earlier than 2009 (that one was the glorious Hare and Tortoise, which is just as terrific today as it was when it was published more than 40 years ago).  I love older designs, but the Gathering is a wonderful opportunity to play new stuff and I took full advantage of that.
  • I only played 8 games more than once and only 2 more than twice.  I played Chvatil’s word game prototype (which is currently called Code Names, a title that will change) 8 times (I actually sat down to play it 4 times, but each time, I played it twice, once as the Clue Giver and once as the Guesser).  I also played The Voyages of Marco Polo 3 times.
  • Here are my favorites for the week.  Of the new games (2015), the highlights were the aforementioned Marco Polo and Think Str8!, a deduction game by Leo Colovini(!) (I’ll be saying more about that highly unusual pairing in a future post).  Of the new-to-me 2014 games, I liked The Staufer Dynasty, Quartermaster General, Patchwork, and Royals the best.  And of the prototypes I expect to be released this year, my favorites were “Codenames” and two designs from Eggertspiele, Mombasa and Porta Nigra.

That’s the Bottom Line Up Front.  I’ll try to get the next article in the series posted sometime in the next few days.

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Ben’s Gathering Wrap-Up

This year’s Gathering of Friends has come to a close for me.  As happened last year, the the beginning of the week featured long, leisurely days of gaming and socializing.  Those days quickly disappeared toward the end of the week, replaced by an indistinguishable blur of laughter and tears, handshakes and hugs (all aided by an almost complete lack of sleep).  

Unlike last year, this year’s event turned out to be much more about forming deep friendships than about board gaming. It wouldn’t surprise me to learn that I had spent 24 of the last 48 hours just talking with people (sans games). I met some amazing people for the first time and strengthened my bonds to many I had met before.  I came out of the event with what I hope will be long-term friends who have brought out the best sides of me. Perhaps this is precisely what Alan Moon intended when he began the invite-only event.  

Of course, there was still plenty of great gaming going on, which I suppose you would like to hear about. Continue reading

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Ben’s Gathering Day 6

Very little gaming today, as I decided to go outside and enjoy the weather.  I opened the day with another game of CGE’s word-game prototype.  It is still in the early stages, so I am limited in what I can say.  I enjoy it a lot, however, and it is getting a lot of play and buzz here.  After that, I watched a group of players try one of the shorter combinations in Friedemann Freese’s 504. 

  

This one was pick-up-and-deliver, race, and majorities.  It seemed decent, but probably less involved than some of the other combinations.  Still, it was interesting to watch unfold.  504 is a likely purchase for me when it comes out.

Continue reading

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Ben’s Gathering Day 5

The Gathering of Friends is a strange kind of event at times.  You often find yourself playing games you never expected to with people you never expected to.  That was kind of the theme yesterday, as I opened the day by playing a children’s dexterity game with Friedemann Freese.  

I was then pulled into playing a secret prototype by HUCH! & friends.  I’m not confident I’ve ever played a game from this publisher, but this one was interesting.  It had a neat central mechanism and enough going on to keep four hardcore gamers well-engaged.

Continue reading

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