10 Great Games of the 2010s (Article by Chris Wray)

The 2010s were a monumental time period in tabletop gaming.  The industry and hobby grew exponentially, with tens of thousands of new games hitting the market and hundreds of thousands of new players entering the fold.  It was a decade marked by the rise of Kickstarter, and also one marked by industry consolidation and a continued internationalization of the hobby.  

New classics were born.  But what were those shining games among gamers?  

Today’s article is part of our “10 Great” series that features 10 great games in a given subcategory.  I pick a mechanic, theme, publisher, etc. In this case, I picked a recently passed decade.  We here at the Opinionated Gamers then all vote behind the scenes to create a list of 10 great games that meet the criteria.  We’re aiming for an article a month, and I’d love your suggestions about future lists.

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Patrick Brennan: Game Snapshots – 2020 (Part 2)

The Pinnacles, Nambung National Park

When I re-discovered boardgaming in 1999, I immediately knew I wanted to play anything and everything, just to “know” – know what was out there, know what I liked, know how to play well, know enough to recommend good games for others, know enough to be trusted by others. With the passage of enough time, last week I reached 3000 ratings and comments on boardgamegeek. There’s certainly a sense of satisfaction at having reached that kind of number, not only of being some kind of sign of how far I’ve progressed in my search for knowledge, but also of how much I’ve been able to give back to the hobby. Even if they are just one guy’s opinions in a sea of opinionated gamers!

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Posted in Reviews | 4 Comments

Brandon Kempf – Surviving the Purge 3

Over the next few months, instead of going with my Three Games articles, I am going to take a look at my collection and try to discuss why certain titles survived the great purge of 2019. During this process I may take a look at some games that didn’t survive, but only as a measuring stick for what did survive. Since I am silly, like a lot of gamers, I use Ikea Kallax shelves to display the games that we own. This makes it pretty easy to break things down cube by cube, so that’s what we’re going to do, twenty-four cubes, plus a top shelf for games that don’t fit in the cubes, over the course of a few months. I hope you enjoy!

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Dale Yu: Review of Fire in Adlerstein (spoiler free)

Fire in Adlerstein

  • Designer: Alexander Krys
  • Publisher: iDventure
  • Players: 1-5
  • Age: 13+
  • Time: 2 hours
  • Times played: 1, with review copy provided by iDventure

(This review is meant to be spoiler free.  There are pictures of the game components in the review below, but they are either taken from the publisher’s website or are introductory material which includes no spoiling information)

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Posted in Essen 2019, Reviews | 1 Comment

Dale Yu: First Impressions of Res Arcana: Lux et Tenebrae

Res Arcana: Lux et Tenebrae

  • Designer: Tom Lehmann
  • Publisher: Sand Castle Games
  • Players: 2-5
  • Age: 12+
  • Time: 20-40 mins
  • Times played: 5, with preview copy provided by Asmodee NA

Res Arcana was, without a doubt, one of my favorite games of 2019.  If I were king (or at least a jury member), it would have been my vote for Spiel des Jahres.  As it was, it was my vote for the International Gamers Awards.   My review on that was posted earlier last year, and you can review it here.  In short, Res Arcana provides me with a quick game with constant twists/turns due to the interactions between the different cards.  The game is quick playing, and it demands that players make the most of every turn as the race to the finish line is so fast.

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Posted in First Impressions | 10 Comments

Dale Yu: First Impression of Minecraft – Builders & Biomes

Minecraft – Builders and Biomes

  • Designer: Ulrich Blum
  • Publisher: Ravensburger
  • Players: 2-4
  • Ages: 10+
  • Time: 30 minutes
  • Played twice with review copy provided by Ravensburger USA

So when I first read about Minecraft – Builders & Biomes (pre-Essen), I’ll admit that it was with some trepidation.  I have honestly not had the best of experiences with the mass-market targeted Ravensburger games from this year, and based on the IP source, this game portended to be more of the same.  I honestly didn’t look at it while at SPIEL as a result.

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Posted in Essen 2019, Reviews | 1 Comment

Dale Yu: First Impressions of The Fox in the Forest: Duet

The Fox in the Forest: Duet

  • Designer: Foxtrot Games
  • Publisher: Renegade Games
  • Players: 2
  • Time: 30 minutes
  • Times played: 2 sessions, with preview copy provided by Renegade Games

The Fox in the Forest was a very well received 2 player trick taking game – a game which used special abilities on the cards to spice things up.  Generally two-player trick takers fall flat for me, the the original Fox in the Forest gave players an interesting challenge.  That 2017 release now has a follow-up, The Fox in the Forest: Duet (FitF:D) – and this new version brings yet another new twist – the game is cooperative.

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Posted in First Impressions | 2 Comments

Brandon Kempf – Surviving the Purge 2

Over the next few months, instead of going with my Three Games articles, I am going to take a look at my collection and try to discuss why certain titles survived the great purge of 2019. During this process I may take a look at some games that didn’t survive, but only as a measuring stick for what did survive. Since I am silly, like a lot of gamers, I use Ikea Kallax shelves to display the games that we own. This makes it pretty easy to break things down cube by cube, so that’s what we’re going to do, twenty-four cubes, plus a top shelf for games that don’t fit in the cubes, over the course of a few months. I hope you enjoy!

The shelf of Next Move Games’ titles. This may be my favorite shelf over time, we’ll just have to wait and see. 

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Frank Branham – Beatdown: Streets of Justice Review

Beatdown: Streets of Justice (Game Review by Frank Branham)

  • Designers: Matt Barr
  • Artists: Jenisa Barr
  • Publisher: Piston City Games
  • Players: 1-4
  • Time: 40-150 Minutes
  • Times Played: 3 (1-3 players)
  • Copy provided by publisher

I never really grew up reading comics, and so Beatdown: Streets of Justice never turned up on my radar. The pitch is that it is a comic book themed game where you fight bad guys and eventually try to take own the corrupt mayor of Piston City by punching, kicking, and grappling everything in your path is totally baffling to me. Except…I cannot match this game to any comic I know. Your characters don’t seem all that super, and are divided into more mundane classes of Boxer, Kung-Fu, and Luchador. The cards are full of lots of kicks, punches, grapples, and throws with a variety of combo moves. So I’ve really got no idea what Piston City Games was going for thematically. 

And yet when I put on my 80’s era giant aviator shades and imagine that the President’s daughter has been kinapped by ninjas, I can totally see this as being a game about classic arcade beat-em-ups like River City Ransom, Final Fight, and Double Dragon. The game is even structured into 3 fights with a wave of enemies appearing and (in my mind at least) a large arrow and the word “GO” appearing at the end of each one. 

Upon Opening the Box

The packaging and presentation is odd and a bit quirky. You get an oversized butter box closed with a magnetic latch. Inside is a functional CCG-ish cardboard insert for cards, dice, and acrylic cubes. There are some nice thick tiles for hero boards, and enemy tiles. You are also immediately greeted by:

“Big Joe is actually holding a log in his Hero card. Everyone says it came out looking more like a cake though. We’re suprisingly okay with that.”

The art itself looks…amateurish. The characters look slightly puffy and are outlined with strange overly thick black outlines, and with a few odd proportions. And yet the poses an character designs are gloriously dynamic with a lot of apparent movement and strong character designs which are instantly recognizable even across the table. The table presence is a riot of contrasting colors that almost looks like a heavily-caffeinated teen artist’s Trapper Keeper. If you look deeper, you may start to have questions: 

Why does the boxer on the rulebook cover (depicted in a rocking chair reading a book) wear pink shoes?

How much damage does a Pinata actually do?

One of the pieces of equipment is a metal water pipe. Seriously, why doesn’t the game’s marketing talk about beat-em-ups?

Kind of a mix of awful, awesome, and quirky. This is the kind of presentation which Kickstarter should REALLY be about, but often fails to produce. 

The Tedious Section With the Rules Overview

The basics of the game are that you do three fights, with the Boss in the final fight. Each turn, players hit guys by laying out strings of fight cards. They sum up the values of the cards and apply them as damage. Any surviving enemies flip up a card from a deck to determine how much damage they do to which particular player. In between fights, you can spend your kills like XP for health or for limited-use items to protect you or add damage. 

That above part is all pretty straightforward. The underlying details are where things get different. The biggest important thing is the Combo value. Each character hs a base combo value as well as all of the cards. You have a hand of three cards, and if you want to play a new card, you have to roll a D10 equal to or higher than the existing combo value of your base Combo plus all played cards. Succeed, and you can play a card from your hand or the top of the deck. Fail, and your opponent immediately takes a free shot at you. Then you can keep trying to hit it you wish, with every fail ending up with a nasty Wham! Once you stop, you do your damage. 

The second big twist is that each card is vertically divided into two halves. When you play a new card, you cover up the values on the right half of the previous card, but damage and combo values on the right half of the current card now count. So those values can fluctuate up and down. This card play ends up being eerily similar to the newer Awaken Realms game Tainted Grail. (Beatdown was first in case you are curious.) 

Then add some complications to the cards. Some cards want to be played in a specific slot in the sequence. Some will apply a bonus or penalty to the next player’s attack. Some have Star Powers on them which are only activated if the previous Combo Roll rolled a Star (10). Typically, your hand will end up with the really good situational cards and your will play the basic cards and just pull from the deck. 

The other big twist is that player’s roll for initiative at the start of the round, an assign their attack target immediately afterwards. Then players take turns stringing together their combos in initiative order. 

And so what really drives the game is the Combo value’s Press Your Luck aspect. The difference here is that you can ALWAYS keep rolling to add cards–but at the cost of more damage. A lot of really high damage value Combo Closer cards will screw the next player in sequence, so there is a fair bit of table talk during turns. And it is mostly engaging in a beer and pretzels kind of way. 

More Details

Each character has a different special ability as well as a mix of base combo value and hit point stats to differentiate the characters. Further, each character add their pool of of 5-6 character-specific cards to the basic Fight deck. Any player can end up with these cards and use them, which is a little thematically odd, but works in play. The Kickstarter stretch goal characters get overtly silly, with one allowing bonuses for being nice to the other players at the table. 

Most villains have some sort of special ability, and each Boss has a global power which affects the entire game. Kardma effects are on some cards which can be played out of turn. There is also a concept or armor and exposure: if a combo roll fails, the fight card shows which area are exposed keyed to attack locations on the resulting enemy attack card. So you don’t always take damage from a fail. Similarly, some items give you armor which just block hits to certain locations. It all works, and meshes together pretty well.

Once you figure out the rules. The rulebook is hard to follow. The rules are all there, but the order of presentation is slightly confusing. The critical flaw here is that there are NO examples of play or of the rules being applied. The game has just enough unusual concepts and quirks that it really isn’t patently obvious from the rules themselves how you are supposed to do things. Particularly tricky are the rules around armor and exposure and criticals and when they apply. While the rest of the game quickly clicked solidly into place, that bit still eludes me. 

The Important Part, The Actual Review

After the initial confusion, the game gets rather enjoyable. Until it run out of steam and starts to painfully drag on.  The key to why that happens is the 40-150 minute play time. That is pretty accurate, and 40 minutes per player is about how long a full game would take. After somewhere between 60-90 minutes, the game starts to feel more of the same. The only upgrades present are the limited-use and fairly rare Items, followed by more rounds of guys to fight. Enemies have a lot of hit points as well 15-35. Typically, each player may end up doing 6-15 hit points. So an entire round of attacks in a 3 player game might not take out a single target. 

And we found the game is fun for 1-2, but getting old around the 90 minute mark with 3. The game handles scaling by adding more enemies for higher player counts. It works, but absolutely guarantees a fairly linear increase in duration for each additional player. Which is really a pity, because I rather enjoy the game and love its inherent quirkiness.  However, 1-2 player games very rarely hit our table, and so it will in all likelihood never be making that trip. 

I have wondered if a bit of hit point scaling could be applied to pep up the game at higher player counts to speed up the game. Just rein in the number of HP for players and enemies to flatten out the game length slope.  

Also interestingly, none of our games produced wins for us. The game is difficult, with one of our games ending in the second fight. This is a design choice I wholeheartedly approve. A sense of “OK, this time we are totally going to beat this thing” is a far more certain motivator for us to play this kind of coop fight game than anything else. 

Ratings from the Opinionated Gamers:

I love it. 

I like it. 

Neutral. Frank Branham

Not for me…

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Patrick Brennan: Game Snapshots –2020 (Part 1)

As a new year commences, perhaps it’s timely to ruminate on the journey that junkie gamers take.

In your introduction to the hobby, every game is amazing, your eyes are opening up to a world of endless possibilities, every game must be tried just to see what you like, with the possibility of even better games just around the corner.  As you settle in, you become more discerning, understanding who you are and where your gaming preferences lie, and your spending reigns back in to something more reasonable and manageable. Eventually, the more you play, the more each new game reminds you of something you’ve played in the past. They don’t quite offer the same exciting learning curve experience. You’ve climbed that curve before. You enjoy every game, especially the company and the social, but it takes something special in a new game to provide the zing of a new learning curve experience, something that must be brought back to the table and override the call of the cult of the new. What was an 8 the first time you played “that game” is now a 7. Another decade passes and it may even be a 6.

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Posted in Sessions | 4 Comments