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About Today’s Guest: This is the third interview in our “Voices in Board Gaming” series here on The Opinionated Gamers. Today’s guest, Bill Corey Jr., is one of my favorite voices in the hobby, and his live YouTube show, The Cubist, is always a pleasure to watch. As you’ll read below, Bill has been a gamer most of his life, and even though he’s been doing this for decades, his enthusiasm for board gaming is still contagious. You can reach Bill via twitter at @CubistPodcast or check out his YouTube channel for The Cubist.
(1) When did you get into the hobby? What’s kept you in it for so long?
My dad was one of the original playtesters for Dungeons & Dragons before I was born, and my mom did two of the pieces of artwork in the original three D&D books (the Amazon and Lovely Witch, I believe they’re called). I remember being in Gary Gygax’s house as a small child while all the grownups were in his basement playing something on the sand table down there. They had some bowling themed dice game they’d let me play to keep me occupied.
As I got older and learned to read, I discovered I loved the idea of stories being told through D&D, and I vaguely remember running my dad through a randomly generated dungeon at the age of 6. (Fun fact #1: that’s why I’ve always considered 6 my lucky number… it’s the age I first thought of myself as a gamer.) It was almost certainly terrible and un-fun for Dad, but we did it together, and that meant a lot to me as a child. Continue reading
In Spring Meadow (according to the story in the rules): The first delicate flowers of spring herald the end of the harsh winter while the sun shines longer every day, pushing the snow back. Lush meadows begin to bloom and the curious marmots wake from their hibernation. Spring is finally coming to the mountains, making it a perfect time for a hike. Carefully plan your route, watching out for the marmot burrows. Pack a picnic as your chance to earn an edelweiss hiking pin is rather slim if you end up hungry and sitting on a rock among the remaining snow.
Spiel ’18 (a.k.a. Essen) starts on Thursday, so our coverage here on The Opinionated Gamers begins in the next few days. Several of us will be at the fair, and I’ll be in town from Tuesday to Monday.
I’ll be doing coverage from the fair like I normally do, though I’m cutting back this year, instead opting for more frequent Twitter updates (@OpinionatedGmrs) throughout the day.
But due to the magic of importing games and/or games coming out slightly before the fair, I’ve already started playing several Essen ’18 titles. Below I put quick thoughts on 5 games. These are just my personal initial thoughts, and some of the ratings below are after just one play, so keep that in mind. Also, to cover all of these titles, I’m skipping any rule review and going straight to my opinion. Continue reading
Continued from Part One
Most Seattlites will surely have noticed the substantial glass balls that have sprung up in our downtown area recently. Many will even be aware that they were built as a part of Amazon’s area campus and can be seen to contain a great deal of greenery inside, to the point where they resemble the suitably artistic series of conservatories that they are. Otherwise, the interiors of the structures likely represent something of a mystery to locals not affiliated with the online retail giant, and are thus unable to easily get inside. They certainly did for me.
So it was with that in mind that our hosts wanted to wow their collected board game media by taking us inside their top secret glass globes (or Spheres, as I then learned they were officially dubbed). At the entry point Jonathan Franklin and I and the rest of the media present were issued a second set of visitor passes. We were told by a severe security guard that we could take pictures of anything in the building except the security station. I thought this was a notably odd restriction, since her station was the only thing that was easily accessible to the public in the entire structure. But it was a simple enough request that we all complied without a fuss.
Once through the gates, our group was met with a rush of sensations: a wave of moist heat; the sound of water falling all around; lush greenery in every direction including up. Gene Wilder sang “Pure Imagination” to us from the vantage point of my childhood, and I climbed the stairs into the great glass greenhouse with a smile.
Games, we were told, were being set up on the fourth floor. We climbed our way along the three story wall of exotic plants, past workers busily lounging at tables, and through a side jaunt to see a corpse flower, bursting at the seams and ready to bloom. Apparently, this biological phenomenon only happens once every seven years for the rare species from Indonesia, and we were warned it was due to happen at any moment. While the bloom’s powerful rotten meat smell would undoubtedly have ruined our evening in the Spheres, some small part of me hoped that it would happen anyway, just for the once in a lifetime experience. That did not happen (and still hasn’t as of this writing).
The Spheres tour was quite the impressive appetizer, and it served to set a jovial mood for a buffet of new Asmodee releases waiting for our group to dive into. As previously mentioned, Asmodee representatives were on hand to demo and play several new offerings with us, as were several Amazon folks. Up front I want to say, everyone was really fantastic. I’ve been in several demoing environments over the years, even on the retail side. Demoing is something of a grind in my mind. And yet, these people were bright and energetic, fully engaged. They gave their games the best chance to shine. So kudos!
To the game tables. First up for me was to be one of the two offerings near the front of the room, a dexterity game called Tokyo Highway. As someone who doesn’t follow the business side of the games market, and who is a founding member of the Cult of the Good/Old, I didn’t even realize this wasn’t part of the new hotness that filled the rest of the space. In fact, it was a game that had come out a couple years prior; that’s well past retirement age for most board games today. I’m taking that as the main reason no one else sat down to play it with me (I had showered and used deodorant, I swear, just as all good gamers always should).
With no critical mass, I got up and moved to the party game at the next table over — Just One. Being an avid party game fanatic, it didn’t seem like it would be a problem that I had missed most of the rules explanation. The only thing I really didn’t pick up on was the scoring run-down. But like a lot of great party games, scoring was incidental for Just One. They weren’t even tracking it that night, and when I played it with a group of friends later we abandoned all scoring after the first game. It’s all about the activity.
Just One is a cute little co-op, with the players giving one clue word each to get a guesser to say a target word. The trick, and what elicited all the laughter and groans, was that the clue givers showed each other their clues before they showed the guesser. Any non-original clues had to be erased from all the nifty little dry-erase easels that come with the game. So if the answer word was “Amazon”, three people writing “River” would eliminate that from the pool of clues, and the guesser would never see “River”. The effect of this was that sometimes people got too clever or too obscure to really help the guesser. It also sometimes meant that even semi-obscure clues could be eliminated if group-think sent multiple people to the same head space. The game really worked well that night, and I believe it will work well in any large group setting.
Afterward, a large chunk of that table moved over to sit down to Shadows: Amsterdam (though there is no colon on the cover), another light party-ish game that is most easily summed up as speed Mysterium meets Codenames. Two clue givers use cute Dixit-like cards to navigate their team around a board, with the aim of hitting known goals and avoiding traps. If that seems like a fine but not exciting way to meld those mechanisms, I would say it is. What gives Shadows: Amsterdam a little extra oomph is the real time speed aspect. That oomph could seemingly also break it for some people. I enjoyed it enough to try it a second time, just to see what it was like as a clue giver. I still think it’s fine, and will probably give it more plays.
I believe at this point there were people hovering around Tokyo Highway so I went back to try it. I adore interesting dexterity games, even though I am terrible at keeping a steady hand. Tokyo Highway is definitely interesting. And makes for a great photo op. Through an opponent’s spectacular attempt at greed and ambition on her final play, I managed to just barely not come in dead last. I had a great time, and it seemed like everyone else did as well.
On to Orbis, a lightning quick game of ancient gods and their worshippers. A game where you build your triangle of land and put your image at the top, once you decide which god you are. A game where you drop worshippers on nearby grid spaces as you pick up a land piece, either because you are clumsy and they fall off, or because they are fleeing your might and, well, clumsiness. Ultimately, it’s a game where you win by making the prettiest arrangement of land bits from the muck of chaos. At least that aspect was thematically solid. It worked fine enough in that three player game, but not as well in a later two player game at home with my wife. Some have compared it to Splendor and Century: Spice Road, and I can see that if I squint. Will definitely try again.
Somewhere in here the globe lights in the room started to dim. I heard someone say that the plants needed their rest and we would remain with mood lighting for the rest of the night. But then I heard someone else say that we had more time in the building. The room kept getting slowly dimmer and dimmer, until the mood was simply ludicrous. People soldiered on using their cell phones as torches until eventually the lights were finally brought back up to full and the entertaining evening continued.
Next I walked over to a demoer and was given the elevator pitch for an interesting looking game: Holding On: The Troubled Life of Billy Kerr. While it did sound like the title was trying to do something novel, which I applaud, the base mechanisms smacked of Pandemic. I don’t have any love for Pandemic and its ilk. So poor Billy’s fate wasn’t gripping me at that moment. I took a pass, but may yet come back to it at Sasquatch.
As I backed slowly away, I stumbled into another table and I was given another a pitch by another of the super friendly demoers from Asmodee. This time I was told about KERO. A few sentences in I said, “This sounds suspiciously like Space Truckers.” Thankfully, the demoer knew I meant Galaxy Trucker, and he agreed that it had a lot in common. Being one of my least favorite games that I’ve played more than once, I politely waited for an opening in the spiel, then I ducked behind the nearest moving player and shadowed their movement until I was certain I was clear.
A table full of players were nearing the end of Treasure Island, so I stood and watched a bit of that. From what I could gather, one player (the demoer) was a captured Long John Silver. He was being forced by the other players to give hints about the location of his buried treasure. Based on his hints, they were all working independently to go around and dig up places on the island looking for it. But there was a catch! Long was untrustworthy. He got to tell exactly two lies out of the series of facts he gave. People seemed unsure how to draw logical conclusions, or at least to my outsider eye they seemed to be flailing wildly. There was probably more to it, in fact I’m certain there was. But that aspect, plus a bit of fiddly measuring of objects and lines on the board, made me glad I hadn’t ended up at the table proper-like. I will say Treasure Island had some truly attention grabbing bits, like a giant suction cupped compass arm. And by itself, any game where you can draw directly on the board has a peg-leg up on its competitors. Still, I think it’s not for me.
Finally, near the end of a long day and a long evening, I got to sit down and start a game of The River, the one non-party game I most wanted to try that night. It’s got worker placement and tile placement and resource management and a lot of other things that are a solid start towards a game I could enjoy. And I was enjoying it, when the lights started dimming for the second time in the evening. This time it was real, and it was the building’s signal that we had to go.
Everyone helped to pack up and we slowly made our way back down to the street, our bags full of wonderful swag, discussing gaming and Amazon’s role in its future, among other things. As mentioned in Part One, we’re still not entirely sure what the point of the whole day was, from Amazon’s point of view. I’m not even entirely sure the organizers knew. To me, it had the feel of putting people in a room and seeing what happened. Or maybe there was indeed a greater point than just playing some new releases a week or two early. Either way, I had a great time at the event, and am keen to see what Amazon has in store for the world of board gaming now that they’ve got their smile trained on it.
Designer: Ta-Te Wu
Publisher: Sunrise Tornado Game Studio
Time: 15-30 minutes
Times Played: 6 times with review copy
I must admit, when small box cat themed games started to appear a few years ago, I lumped them in a pile of “not for me” in my mind. When I triage Eric’s preview lists for conventions, I tag them “not interested” without a second thought.
For Cat Rescue, I would have been mistaken. After my first play, at a recent convention, I immediately went to my car to get some expansions and play again. I think I would categorize this more as a puzzle-activity of sorts than a game, but I am finding it quite enjoyable.
The rules and setup are fairly simple. You have a deck of 4 colors of cats. On your turn, you’ll be “pushing” a new cat into the shelter, and if there are 3 (or 4) of a color in a row, the middle one(s) are flipped over to show they are ready to be adopted. If a facedown cat is ever pushed out of the shelter, it is considered adopted and that cat, as well as any adjacent “ready” cats, are adopted. At the end of the game, facedown cats which have been adopted are worth 2 points each, and “ready” cats are 1 point each.
There are, of course, some other wrinkles to that. So let’s take a step back and look at what we’ve got. Continue reading
Patrick Brennan: Game Snapshots – 2018 (Part 16)
(Let’s move to a new naming convention for this ongoing series so we can move articles around the calendar without hassling about title changes. World-changing, I know.)
We happened to pull out Cuba the other night. It’s been sitting on my top shelf looking forlornly at me, longing for some love, every game night since 2011. Well, I say, that’s the benefit of having lots of games … you can leave some on the shelf and pull them out years later and they feel fresh and shiny new once more. In this case, the passing of time didn’t help it a real lot, but still. It was ok. Continue reading
Designer: Wei-Cheng Cheng
Publisher: Formosa Force Games
Time: 60-120 minutes
Times Played: 1 time with review copy
One of my favorite things about going to a large university was the breadth of things I couldn’t do. That’s a weird sentence, but what I mean is – despite the variety of classes I did take and extracurricular things I participated in, I loved being able to walk around and be astonished at the things I couldn’t get to before graduation. So much to learn.
I would walk into buildings where I had no classes, and wouldn’t know what they did teach, but I’d enjoy the display cases and the peaks through open doorways. I would discover departmental libraries that held treasures I didn’t realize.
And one of the things the Geography library had were free posters from the USGS of map projections. (I found you a PDF!) In a recent Kondo-ing, I thanked the one I had been holding onto for years and then let it go, but between loves of math, geography, and looking at things from different angles, it’s a poster of my mind.
At Spiel next week, Formosa Force (Booth: 5-C122/5-D123) will release Mini WWII, a game with quite an interesting map, from a Taiwanese designer with a wargame pedigree. It is a map from a Polar view – something you don’t see often, but there’s one you probably know, and I’ll mention it later. There’s no formal “projection” here, we’re more interested in the adjacencies, and the map handles those in some creative ways, and with a little flowcharting thrown in.
After weeks of planning, Nate Beeler and I showed up at a fancy new Amazon building at 2:50pm on October 11, 2018.
After a security process and greetings, we were ushered up to a conference room for a late lunch (Jonathan) and an early dinner (Nate). The motley crew was made up of Nick and Kenny from Amazon, several well-known local audio/video stars, a team from a radio station, and two Opinionated Gamers.
Nate and I have been puzzling about this event since we arrived, expecting there to be ‘news’ about Amazon and board games. The day, described below in more detail, felt unformed yet not pointless. So we kept asking ourselves, what was the point. What were they trying to say to us that they could not say directly?
Here are our guesses – they are supported only by the few tea leaves and bread crumbs Nick and Kenny left us with. They could be completely wrong, counter to Amazon’s plans, or spot on and visionary. Only time, Nick, and Kenny can tell.
In the Forgotten City, player work to recover lost memories from the past – by building monuments, translating messages or creating miracles. There is a central game board, on which terrain tiles are placed in setup. In a 4p game, player order is randomized and markers placed on the monument track in order. The final 6 spaces are filled with monument tiles. Each player gets their own player board, and their leader meeple is placed on the central space of the main gameboard. Players also start with 2 each of the 4 different resources as well as 6 coins. Miracle tiles and nightmare cards are randomly chosen and placed on the appropriate spots on the board. One nightmare card is revealed to start the game. Continue reading