Enchanted Tower Review: A Magically Fun Children’s Game

I recently got Enchanted Tower for my 5 year old niece, based on interesting looking gameplay and theme. It turned out to be a wonderful little game that both she and my 11 year old nephew enjoyed.

IMG_4361

Basic Gameplay:

The mechanics are straightforward but a lot of fun. One player takes the role of the sorcerer, and the other take turns controlling “Robin.” All the robin players close their eyes and the Sorcerer hides a key under one of the 16 tokens on the board (there are compartments for the key under each). The two teams then race to find the key. The sorcerer knows exactly where it is, but has a longer path before he can start looking. Once someone finds the key they try it in one of the six locks on the tower. If the princess is freed that team wins. If not the sorcerer hides the key again and things start over.

IMG_4359

General Thoughts:

There are a lot of little touches that take a great basic concept and elevate it. Each turn both teams roll a special die. The sorcerer rolls one that has pictures of the player tokens and determines which team moves first that turn. The other team rolls one with two color coded numbers on each face that determines how far each team moves that turn.

IMG_4360

The mechanism under the tower is separate and thus can be turned, so which lock is the winning one can is randomized each game. Magnets on the bottom of the pieces make it obvious when the key is discovered. The board, tokens, and pieces are all beautiful and of high quality.

IMG_4362

Everything comes together wonderfully to form an easy to learn children’s game that plays quick, is captivating for the little ones and enjoyable for the adults playing with them. My niece and nephew got very excited when trying the key and taking their turns as sorcerer. Overall Enchanter Sorcerer was a bit hit for us and I highly recommend checking it out for the little gamers in your family.

Escape If You Can – Part 2

I love the room escape games that have been popping up all over NYC, and have played quite a number of them at several different locations over the last couple of years. In Part 1 I discussed these games in general and spotlighted Escape the Room’s two locations.

Here I continue with a NON-SPOILER look at the other rooms/locations I’ve tried.

Mission Escape

Located in Chinatown, Mission Escape has quickly become my favorite room escape company. I’ve played 3 of the 4 rooms they currently have available and loved them all. The staff is friendly and the cluemasters are great. The clues are extremely useful without being straight out instructions (unless necessary). The use of technology is excellent and clever, and the puzzles are fun, logical, and deeply integrated with the theme of the room.

Speaking of the themes, all Mission Escape’s rooms have deep themes that have a background story and are excellently integrated into the room’s decor and puzzles. They might be a little difficult if everyone is new to this type of game, but otherwise this is the company I most highly recommend.

 

The three rooms I’ve played here, all of which are still running:

  • Escape the Initiation – In order to join Mister M’s secret society, you must solve and get out of the initiation room. A great room set in what looks like an old style study.
  • Escape the Hydeout – A Victorian themed room based on the story of Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde. Particularly great puzzles in this one with clever use of the theme.
  • Escape the Darkest Hour – You’ve been kidnapped by a serial killer and have an hour to escape before he comes back and makes you his next victim. SO CREEPY! This is their horror room, and the one that I referred to in part 1 as intentionally feeling cramped. It really wasn’t though, as there’s space to move around. The atmosphere is just so thick it’s unnerving. I’m not much into horror, in general but this was fantastic. It’s played in the dark with flashlights, and everything is thematic and disturbing, from the props to the eerie sounds playing to the puzzles themselves. Even knowing everything is fake there’s somehow an added underlying anxious feeling of needing to get out of the room. Add in some really ingenious puzzles and I can’t recommend this room enough if you think you can handle the theme.

 

Go Escape

The 2 rooms offered by Go Escape in Koreatown are quite different than the rest I’ve played. I wouldn’t start here, but they are quite interesting as a change of pace. They are much sparser compared to other places, with very few things to interact with / explore. But they is still everything needed for the puzzles and the themes and ideas employed are clever and unique. Each room has at least one element I’ve never seen in any form elsewhere.

The puzzles here sometimes do require an odd leap in logic though. Here I experienced the only puzzle where after I got the clue I thought “that NEVER would have occurred to me.” But the staff is great and the cluemasters are there to help with the rough patches, so both room were fun overall.

  • Six Days – You are a genetic experiment that has awakened in a lab and needs to get out while the scientists are away, using clues from your creator who wants to set you free. Neat room with a mixed bag of puzzles. A couple were kind of meh, but it also has a couple of the best I’ve seen
  • Lost in Air – This was a decent room based around the idea of being trapped in an airplane that was going down, but It looks like it’s no longer available. I might have to try it’s replacement, Zombie Jailbreak, sometime.

 

——-

That’s it for now. Overall my experience with this type of game has been great and I highly recommend giving them a try.

Escape If You Can – Part 1

One of the latest recreational crazes is the room escape game,  where several players enter a pre-constructed room with numerous puzzles to solve in order to exit back out of the door they came in through (which has been locked behind them). They’re a ton of fun and I’ve played quite a number of them at several different locations over the last couple of years, and enjoyed nearly all of them. Here’s a NON-SPOILER look at the rooms I’ve tried.

General Information

There are certain things common to nearly all games of this type. I’ll hit the high points here, and mention any exceptions when I discuss the individual rooms. All of the places I’m going to discuss are in NYC.

  • Everything you need to solve all of the puzzles is within the room(s) you are in. You don’t need to bring anything but yourselves.
  • There is a strict time limit, usually an hour. If you don’t solve the puzzles and open the door by the end of that time you have lost.
  • Each room has a maximum player count. Up to that many people can be booked for a given time. If you don’t want to risk being paired up with strangers, you can book the entire room (per person price times the maximum number of players) even if you don’t have the full number of people.
  • These are designed for groups. You technically can book a whole room for just yourself, but it’s really not a good idea. The sweet spot is the full number to about 2 less. If you have less than that it’s better to book just for the number of people you have and maybe others will book at the same time and fill out the room. Obviously it can be more fun to play with people you know, but so far I personally haven’t had any problem the couple of times I was paired with some strangers.
  • The rooms tend to be reasonably sized for the number of people allowed to play, and there is a gamemaster watching at all times (and occasionally providing clues). There is room to move around and the atmosphere is fun, so I wouldn’t worry about feeling claustrophobic or locked in. Only 2 rooms out of the 9 I played felt cramped (and one was intentional because it was a horror themed room). I’ll provide more details below.

Escape the Room

This is the first place I tried, and I played all four of the games I’m tried with them before trying other companies. They have two locations, which are vastly different so I’ll be featuring them separately.

Escape the Room – Midtown Location:

The Midtown games are all a lot of fun. The staff is friendly and the cluemasters helpful during games, watching through cameras and using a monitor to dispense clues as is most common.

The themes aren’t as deeply integrated as some of the other companies’ rooms, but they still provide a good amount of atmosphere and work well.  The puzzles are logical and fun, and have kind of a “classic” feel, due in part to using less tech and gadgets than other places. If you’re willing to try a few rooms / locations, this is where to start.

I’ve played all three rooms at this location:

  • The Home – A Victorian themed room after a certain famous detective. This was the first room I ever played, and remains perhaps my favorite. Lots of great puzzles and twists to this one.
  • The Agency – A secret agent themed room, with an assignment to complete and complications to work around. I’d place this near the middle of all the rooms I’ve played. It was a lot of fun with a cool theme but some other rooms outshine it in terms of puzzles.
  • The Office – They say this is their original room, and the advances in design show a bit in the others. The idea is to escape and avoid being trapped at work (“everyone’s worst nightmare,” the website says),  but the setup is more “home office” than “actual office,” which isn’t very intimidating. Definitely a fun room and perhaps the most new player friendly one I’ve seen, but it was my least favorite of the three here.

 

Escape the Room – Downtown Location:

And here’s what enticed me to try other companies. There are two rooms here, of which I’ve played one. The Apartment is the most plainly themed room I’ve tried, the idea being simply that you’re trying to escape a NYC apartment.

This room is where several of the exceptions to the general information I provided pop up. The max player count crams WAY too many people in for the space. We were constantly tripping over each other.  Now this may have been part of the idea – apartments in NYC aren’t known to be spacious. But as a practical matter it didn’t add to the experience, it just made it annoying to try to solve the puzzles.

Making things worse was the clue setup. Unlike every other location I’ve played, there was no way for the gamemaster to relay clues from outside the room. We had to hold up something in front of the camera to request a clue, then wait for him to come into the room to give it to us. Not only did someone coming in and out through the “locked” door we were trying to get out of ruin any sense of immersion, there were already too many people for the space so adding another was very annoying. He then would slowly walk around the room (with us having to struggle to move out of his way) to see what he could maybe give us a hint about, despite the fact that he was supposedly watching on the cameras. Given the timed nature of the game none of us were happy with this.

We had more issues, but I can’t get into them without spoiling puzzles. The puzzles themselves were good, so it wasn’t all bad, but overall this was the one time where playing a room escape wasn’t that enjoyable for us. It’s a shame because the Midtown games are great, but there are tons of great places to try so personally I’d avoid Escape the Room’s downtown location (although I haven’t played The Theater, so can’t speak specifically about that room).

——-

That’s it for part 1. In part 2 I’ll cover the other 2 companies / 5 rooms I’ve tried.

Nerd Block November 2015 Review

This month’s Nerd Block theme is “tis’ the Season” and most of the items are Christmas or New Year’s related.

IMG_4322

The Product of the Month was the one stretch on the theme,  as the card puts the ridiculous spin on the Sherlock Vinyl Figure that it’s “on the case for all your Holiday-related mysteries.” It’s a great item from a great property though so no complaints here.

IMG_4324

National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation Moose Acrylic Shot Glass is a wonderfully absurd, relevant inclusion from a property I certainly wasn’t expecting to see represented. Firefly was one of the series teased ahead of time, and the exclusive chrome variant Serenity Ornament is my favorite item this month.

IMG_4323

The teased Stars Wars inclusion turned out to be a Force Awakens Mini-Calendar, a practical and awesome little item from the impending blockbuster. I’ll admit I don’t know the reference or significance of the included print (and it’s not listed on the card), but it’s striking if a bit creepy.

IMG_4325

Finally we have the monthly t-shirt, a mash-up called Back to the Nightmare that amusingly combines the two expected movies.

IMG_4326

Conclusion

Nerd Block turns in a great batch in the last month of my subscription, with a nice variety of stuff I like quite a bit. It’s not enough overall to make me want to renew, as the Arcade Block offering is much more consistently to my tastes, but Nerd Block Classic is still a solid offering that I’m sure a lot of people will find satisfies their mystery box craving.

Life is Strange Episode 3 Review: That Next Step is a Doozy

Things have certainly changed in the five years since Max left her hometown, and her return hasn’t exactly been a stellar success. She’s running into the limits of her unexplained and unbelievable new powers, and an impending disaster looms over Arcadia, but the biggest threats may just be more human and personal in nature.

Life3

While Episode 2 of Life is Strange dragged a bit in the gameplay department, it ended with a pair of huge developments that affected a large portion of the cast. I was very anxious to see if the player’s choices and these results would continue to be carried over and well integrated, and I was pleasantly surprised and how often they were referenced and how it all actually affected the dialog and character interactions. Without getting into spoilers, the big event and Max’s subsequent accusations at the end of Episode 2 are not forgotten or mitigated in the least, and the consistency from episode to episode is one of the things I like best about this series.

The gameplay is solid here, with everything very atmospheric and foreboding, which helps the immersion. The puzzles tend towards the easy side but they’re still well done and fit the narrative. The big choices continue to have a “no right answer” feel, which is a wonderful touch in a game like this. There’s an underlying unease that builds and builds as more clues about what’s going on slowly unravel. I’m extremely curious to see how it all fits together. We end with a huge shake up to the status quo, providing an irresistible cliffhanger going into Episode 4.

Overall Chaos Theory was a great installment of Life is Strange and generates a lot of momentum going into the back half of the series.

Welcome to Shimmer!

Between Shimmer’s recent 10th Anniversary weekend and more and more Shimmer regulars showing up on NXT I thought this would be a good time to do a quick spotlight on some shows that are good jumping on points for new viewers to check out this amazing promotion. You really can’t go wrong with any of the Shimmer library, and there’s MANY more volumes I could point to, but here are just a few particularly impressive shows to start with.

All three (and many more) are available for purchase at Shimmer’s website.

 

Edit 7/14/17: It’s been wonderful to continue to see some of the incredible athletes from Shimmer get opportunities in WWE/NXT. I’ve updated this article with notes as indicated to point out appearances of more talent that has debuted since I wrote this, including numerous wrestlers who are part of the Mae Young Classic.

 

Volume 44

44

Why it’s great in general: The undercard has a lot of interesting, strong match ups including Serena Deeb vs. Yumi Ohka, Jessie McKay vs. Hiroyo Matsumoto, Athena vs. Mercedes Martinez, etc. The top four matches are all great and wrap up several ongoing angles while setting up a couple intriguing new ones. At the very top the most successful tag team in Shimmer’s history gets a chance to regain their titles, and Cheerleader Melissa gets a long awaited second title match against Madison Eagles.

Why it’s good for new viewers: I’ll admit this one is a little odd, as again it features the end of several ongoing angles. But the background is well explained in each case, and the payoffs really do work well even standing on their own, making this a really strong show. The big draw to NXT/WWE viewers will be Britani Knight (Paige) facing her mother Sweet Saraya Knight in Britani’s last Shimmer match. Jessie McKay (Billie Kay), Leva Bates (Blue Pants), Serena Deeb (Serena), Kana (Asuka), Davina Rose (Bayley), and Athena (Ember Moon) also all appear on this volume.

Full card:

  1. Kellie Skater vs. Davina Rose
  2. Taylor Made vs. Veda Scott
  3. Tomoka Nakagawa vs. Kalamity
  4. Nevaeh and Sassy Stephie vs. Ashley Lane and Mia Yim
  5. Serena Deeb vs. Yumi Ohka
  6. Allison Danger, Christina Von Eerie, Leva Bates and MsChif vs. Bonesaw, She Nay Nay, Melanie Cruise and Mena Libra
  7. Jessie McKay vs. Hiroyo Matsumoto
  8. Sara Del Rey vs. Courtney Rush
  9. Athena vs. Mercedes Martinez
  10. Kana vs. Lufisto
  11. Britani Knight vs. Saraya Knight
  12. Shimmer Tag Team Title Match: Ayumi Kurihara and Ayako Hamada (c) vs The Canadian Ninjas (Potia Perez and Nicole Matthews)
  13. Shimmer Title Match: Madison Eagles (c) vs. Cheerleader Melissa

 

Edit 7/14/17: Mae Young Classic participant Mia Yim shows up here, although she’s gets much more of a chance to shine on a show I spotlight later.

 

Volume 50

50

Why it’s great in general: Volume 50 has a nice variety of matches that do a good job of showcasing what Shimmer has to offer. The main event features a lot of the biggest stars at the time in a match that both pays tribute to Shimmer history and expertly weaves in several ongoing stories. In addition the co-main event is an amazing match between Japanese superstars Ayako Hamada and Kana, which is my personal all time favorite match in Shimmer (and which I talk about in depth here).

Why it’s good for new viewers: This is another good spotlight for several wrestlers currently appearing on NXT, including signees and enhancement talent, so would be nice for people who’ve seen them there and are looking to check out their previous work. Kana (Asuka), Davina Rose (Bayley), Athena (Ember Moon), Leva Bates (Blue Pants), and Shazza McKenzie all appear on this volume. And again with the two spectacular main events and an undercard filled with interesting match ups this show is a nice snapshot of what Shimmer is.

Full card:

  1. Veda Scott vs. Miss Natural
  2. Shazza McKenzie vs. Santana Garrett
  3. Sassy Stephie vs. Su Yung
  4. Taylor Made vs. Courtney Rush
  5. Cherry Bomb vs. Christina Von Eerie vs. Kalamity vs. Ryo Mizunami
  6. Rhia O’Reilly vs. Davina Rose
  7. Hiroyo Matsumoto vs. Melanie Cruise
  8. Athena vs. Tomoka Nakagawa
  9. Yumi Ohka vs. Kellie Skater
  10. Ayako Hamada vs. Kana
  11. Elimination Match: Allison Danger, Leva Bates, Cheerleader Melissa, Lufisto and MsChif vs. Saraya Knight, Mercedes Martinez, Lexie Fyfe, Portia Perez and Nicole Matthews.

 

Edit 7/14/17: Mae Young Classic participants Mercedes Martinez and Santana Garrett appear on this show.

 

Volume 67

67

Why it’s great in general: Volume 67 is possibly the best overall show in Shimmer history. Two of the greatest wrestlers in the world face in the main event as Kana gets her first (and only) shot at the Shimmer Championship, and the undercard is just as impressive. Rising star Nicole Savoy makes her debut here, Evie and Kay Lee Ray have an amazing contest, there’s a mind-blowingly great Joshi 6-woman tag (more on that here), Ozaki and Saraya beat each other senseless, Eagles and Matthews continue their “friendly” rivalry, and much more. Great stuff from start to finish, and a nice variety of matches and styles.

Check out my full show review here.

 

Why it’s good for new viewers: Besides featuring the best Shimmer has to offer, this show sets up a lot of angles for the next several dvds. It’s the perfect spot to jump on and watch forward to catch up to the most recent volumes or just to see a lot of the current roster and what Shimmer is like at present.

 

Full card:

  1. The Kimber Bombs (Cherry Bomb and Kimber Lee) vs. KC Cassidy and Bambi Hall
  2. Heidi Lovelace vs. Nicole Savoy
  3. Crazy Mary Dobson vs. Sassie Stephie
  4. Athena vs. Nikki Storm
  5. Portia Perez vs. Courtney Rush
  6. Nevaeh vs. Jenny Rose
  7. Mayumi Ozaki vs. Saraya Knight
  8. Evie vs. Kay Lee Ray
  9. Lufisto vs. Rhia O’Reilly
  10. Nicole Matthews vs. Madison Eagles
  11. 3G and Mia Yim vs Tsukasa Fujimoto, Kaori Yoneyama and Akino
  12. Shimmer Title Match: Cheerleader Melissa (c) vs. Kana

 

Edit 7/14/17: This is a particularly great show for those wanting to check out a bunch of the new faces in NXT and the Mae Young Classic, often against each other. Kimber Lee (Abbey Laith) and KC Cassiday (Peyton Royce) face of on opposite sides of the opening tag match. Nicole Savoy makes her Shimmer debut against Heidi Lovelace (Ruby Riot). Athena (Ember Moon) faces Nikki Storm (Nikki Cross). Evie (Dakota Kai) and Kay Lee Ray tear the house down.  In addition to all of that Crazy Mary (Sarah Logan) appears, and Mia Yim and Kana (Asuka) are in two of my favorite matches in all of Shimmer history.

 

IMG_1172

——-

Again this is just a small sample of the incredible wrestling Shimmer has put out. Check out more of my thoughts on some of Shimmer’s best matches, and a live perspective on the 10th Anniversary shows.

Again, all currently available Shimmer dvds can be purchased here.

Japan Crate November 2015 Review

November’s here and so is my box of varied and unique snacks from Japan.

IMG_4260

As usual Japan Crate includes a mini-manga that explains what each item is, has instructions for the DIY kit, and various additional context, pictures and promotion. The bonus item for the Premium Crate this month isn’t food, but a Naruto Blind Box Mini-Figure. Good inclusion to capitalize on the popular anime. One of the items listed in the book (Fujiya Lollipop Bag) wasn’t available in time, so an email was sent out explaining that it would be in next time and that two snacks had been added in its place. Nice touch.

So let’s look at the edibles.

IMG_4261

The Excellent

Both replacements were from Glico, and the Cookies & Cream pejoy ended up being my favorite snack of the month. Kind of a “reverse pocky,” these vanilla cream filled chocolate cookie sticks were delicious. The chocolate items were a big hit with me in general, as the Bar-None-like Black Thunder candy bars were fantastic.  The other replacement was also great: Hot Chili Salad Flavored Pretz, nicely seasoned pretzel sticks with a decent dose of spice.

IMG_4262

The Decent

This month’s Premium Crate’s drink is Chunosuke Water. I got the Apple flavor, and it’s a nice lightly flavored drink. Superstring Q is also a Premium exclusive, and is a 50 inch gummy string with two different types of grape flavored sections. It was decent, although I while I could tell the difference in taste between the two types it was more “sweet and different sweet” than “sweet and sour.”

Meiji Dice Caramel and Glico Man Caramel & Toy are both amusingly packaged caramel candies. They were fun inclusions and the caramel was decent, but in both cases it was a bit too sweet for me.

IMG_4293

The DIY kit this month was Funassyi Furi-Furi Shake DIY Kit, which is intended to create a sweet pear flavored milkshake by adding milk and an ice cube to the provided powder. I got almost more of a banana flavor from it personally, but it mixed to a nice consistency and was decent for what it was. “Add milk and ice and shake” is also far and away the least work required for one of these so far.

IMG_4298 IMG_4299

Another Premium exclusive, Parchishuwa Grape Soda Mix, is one of the most unique candies I’ve tried yet. It’s like a bit a pop rocks mixed in with a powder that fizzes a bit and some chewy pieces for texture. The book describes it as “exactly what grape soda would be like if you could eat it instead of drink it,” and they’re right.

Uranai-KKO Bubble Gum is a nice recreation of fortune sticks. The gum itself is decent and seemed to have a slight cola flavor. The book and blog provide a little to help try to translate the fortunes, but it’s not nearly enough and I found the most I could determine on the sticks I got was good or bad luck.  Spy vs Spy Sour Gum contained two identical looking soft sticks of lemon gum, with one much more sour than the other. This was one of the Premium Crate exclusives and I enjoyed both versions.

IMG_4263

The Meh

Fluffy Long Neck Marshmallow is a twisted rainbow marshmallow stick. It’s fine for what it is, but a marshmallow doesn’t impress me. I wanted to like the Purple Sweet Potato Sticks, which taste as advertised, but I really didn’t for some reason. So it goes.

Conclusion

This was the weakest Japan Crate so far for my personal tastes, but I still appreciate the chance to try all of these unique snacks. The Premium exclusives continue to provide some of my favorites, and the upgrade is easily worth the additional $5. Despite less to love than usual there wasn’t a lot I severely disliked either, there were still high points,  and I continue to be impressed with the variety of selections, not only within each box but across the shipments I’ve received.

My Top Ten Favorite Games (Nov 2015)

I’ve been wanting to do a rundown of my favorite games, but it’s always a bit odd as the list is ever changing as I play new things. I recently came across a wonderful blog entry by Jamey Stegmaier embracing that change and periodically updating his personal list. So I’m adopting his great idea and will likely be checking in every so often with updates to the below.

Ground rules:

  • This reflects my favorite things to play right now. I love everything on this list. Order is pure personal preference and whole list HIGHLY subject to change, as ten is a small number to cover all the great games I’ve played and something’s bound to be missing.
  • I need to have played something at least twice for it to be eligible. I think something has to hold up to at least a second play to be considered a favorite. So Imperial Assault, Suburbia, Tragedy Looper, and Impulse (and several others) all get automatic honorable mentions. I expect these the first two, at the very least, to jump into the list next time. I also have several interesting looking games I’ve never played in the waiting pile. Should be fun. 🙂
  • Expansions I have are considered with the base game and won’t be listed separately.

10. Alhambra

IMG_4291

A point that will pop up several times in this list is that I love games that are both accessible and deep. Alhambra shines in these respects. The basic mechanics of purchasing tiles and placing them in your own area with the player with the most of each type scoring points is easy to grasp, but the differing distributions and changing costs of tiles keeps things varied and challenging. There are numerous expansions containing several modules that can be swapped in and out to customize things even more exactly to your group’s particular preferences. This is one of my go-to gateway games.

9. Castles of Burgundy

IMG_2505

Castles of Burgundy is unlike any other game I’ve played, and it shines in the unusual way uses dice to determine both which tiles a player can buy and which purchased tiles can be placed on their personal player boards. There are a lot of “moving parts” and things to keep track of, but it’s all logically laid out and intuitive once you get the hang of it. There’s tons of replayability and different viable strategies, even before considering the numerous different player boards available.

8. Pillars of the Earth

IMG_4287

Pillars of the Earth is one of those games that looks VASTLY more complicated than it is. There are a lot of components and mechanics, but it all fits together seamlessly and makes sense. The use of worker cards and execution of resource management is perfectly balanced and well constructed within the theme. Pillars also has the best expansion I’ve ever seen for any game. It adds depth and challenge to the game without losing anything and makes every aspect it touches better. This is always a big hit with my groups and one of the first “heavier” board games we introduce people to.

7. Euphoria

IMG_1121

Stonemaier Games’ second offering, a fantastic dice-as-workers game with an incredibly unique theme of trying to achieve prestige and status in a dystopian world. Little touches like artifact cards depicting objects from today’s world and trying to keep your workers happy and stupid bring the theme to life and it’s very well intertwined with gameplay. Also, the production quality is absolutely unreal, with realistic resources, wooden commodity pieces, wonderful art, etc all making this as great to look at as it is to play.

6. Anima

IMG_4289

It can be hard to capture the feeling of exploration and combat in a card game without getting too bogged down or complicated. Anima and its expansions walk the line perfectly, creating a framework where you’re leveling up your team, gradually facing tougher monsters and opponents, and preparing to defeat the great evil and win the game in a natural progression without needing 100+ page rulebooks. This is the best “simplified” role playing experience I’ve found, and I continue to adore this game years and years after my first play.

5. La Citta

IMG_3003

La Citta is fifteen years old and feels so timeless and classic I’m actually surprised it’s not older. Wonderfully thematic game that combines tile laying and resource management as players try to build the most attractive cities and lure the greatest population (the game’s victory points) to them. Details like needing water sources to grow beyond a certain point, having to produce enough food to feed your population, and a changing priority system signifying what people value most in their cities each round make this a fantastically deep, balanced game.

4. Viticulture

IMG_0167

The debut game from Stonemaier, which instantly made them one of my favorite publishers. Beautifully realized worker placement game that is just completely infused with the unlikely theme of winemaking. The Tuscany expansion adds several great aspects that make it even more amazing, and the game scales incredibly well and feels like the same game no matter the player count. As usual with Stonemaier the production quality is absolutely unreal, with individually shaped building pieces and gorgeous art elevating the immersion.

3. Ghost Stories

IMG_3010

Fantastic co-op game that’s fairly easy to teach but has a lot of variation and depth. Best on its own or with Ghost Moon (Black Secret has fallen flat with my group so far). Notorious for its difficulty, but we’ve found it challenging rather than frustrating. The changing board, player powers and enemy cards make every game significantly different, which greatly aids its longevity. It’s also great to have a go to co-op game on hand, as many of my “non-gamer” friends have really enjoyed trying something that has them working with, rather than against, the rest of the group.

2. The Duke

Game in progress.

I amazed how quick this skyrocketed up my list. The Duke is an incredible two player game with elements of chess reworked into a much more accessible and variable experience. The vast number of movement patterns allows for deep gameplay, yet the smaller board and limited starting pieces keeps things manageable. The combination of each piece having its movement grid printed on it and the fact that the pattern is different on each side is just fantastic, and makes this both incredibly new player friendly and deep.

1. Princes of Florence

IMG_2470

Despite tough competition, Princes of Florence is still my favorite game of all time. It incorporates what’s usually one of my least favorite mechanics (the auction) in a quick and enjoyable way that enhances the balance of differing strategies greatly. The combination of resource management, strategic choices and maximizing opportunities is just perfect and I could (and probably will) play this a million times.

——-

And that’s a wrap. Will be interesting to track how this list changes in the future. What are everyone else’s favorites?

Looking Ahead: New and Different Board Games

Having too many awesome games to play and try out is a good problem to have. Here are a few games I’m anxiously awaiting an opportunity to try. Each of these has some new twists on established mechanics that seems extremely interesting.

Between Two Cities

IMG_3487

Stonemaier Games previous two games (Viticulture and Euphoria) instantly became favorites of mine, and despite being the first of their games not designed by their founder Between Two Cities looks to keep up their extremely impressive track record. It combines tile laying and drafting, but the real innovation is a concept of “competitive co-op.” Each turn you choose two tiles from your hand and will play one into each city on each side of you. Your opponents will do the same, so you are cooperating with those players to build the cities. There is only one winner however and your score at the end of the game is that of your LEAST valuable city, so balancing things is key.

The idea is fantastic and playtesting feedback and early reviews are very positive about how well it was executed. The fact that other players will always be placing tiles to “your” areas at the same time you do brings discussion and bargaining into the game, which should be a refreshing additional element.

Dark Moon

IMG_4280

I’m a big fan of co-op games with hidden traitor roles, although they can be tough to balance. In addition to having a great, atmospheric sci-fi theme, Dark Moon plays around with different elements of such games in ways I haven’t really seen before. The “uninfected” players are trying to survive through a certain number of game events. The secretly “infected” players are trying to destroy the outpost and doom the crew. When there are more than 1 infected players, they won’t know who each other are. This brings up interesting possibilities of deception and/or working at cross purposes.

But the really interesting part of Dark Moon is that the “voting” system consists of contributing dice to attempt to complete actions or quarantine suspected players. Dice are rolled in secret, but the one you choose to contribute is always public information. This seems to provide a lot more to go on when trying to identify the traitors than normal games of this type, and I’m excited to see how it plays.

Mysterium

IMG_4283

Mysterium is a co-op centered around a group of psychics trying to solve a murder and set a wandering ghost’s soul to rest. All of the co-op games I’ve played so far have either been symmetric (outside of individual player powers) or asymmetric with one player being the villain or game master and the rest working against that player. This is a completely cooperative asymmetric game. There are no traitors, villains or gamemasters among the players, but one player will be the ghost of the departed and is trying to provide clues to the psychics to help them solve the mystery. The theme and setup of the game sound great and I adore the unique take on asymmetry game roles here. Really looking forward to trying it out in both roles.

——-

Just a quick look at some innovative and intriguing games in the pile. Hope to be back with reviews in the not too distant future. 🙂

Suburbia Board Game First Impressions

I recently picked up Suburbia based on strong reviews and good word of mouth, but didn’t know a lot of details about it going into my first game. We tried it with three players, and all found it as accessible yet satisfying as advertised.

IMG_3175

Suburbia is one of those games that might look daunting at first given the numerous components but is quite straightforward at its core and easy to pick up once you start playing. Nearly every turn consists of picking a tile from the current real estate market (or taking one of three always available basic tiles) and placing it in your play area. That simple. The depth and appeal of the game  come from balancing the benefits and drawbacks of each tile, along with the changing cost as they move along the real estate market track. Wait a bit and you could get a great deal on a powerful tile, but you’ll miss out on it if an opponent decides it’s worth the extra cost.

IMG_3018

Different buildings affect your “income” and “reputation,” which both affect your ability to grow your suburb. All of this combines to draw people in, and “population” is the victory point system for the game. The theme is extremely well integrated and fairly intuitive. For example, airports provide greater income the more airport there are in play, but will “upset residents” and damage your reputation if you place them next to living areas. It’s a nice touch that makes it easier to really get sucked into the game.

IMG_3019

In addition to using the buildings as is, there a couple more options. For just the cost on the real estate track (not paying the base cost of the building) you can take a tile to use as a lake. All tiles have lakes on their backs and all lakes are identical – it gives $2 per adjacent building (other lakes don’t count). Not only is this an interesting strategic income choice, it allows players to “pass” in a way if they need to or potentially block an opponent from getting a valuable building. Each player also has three investment markers to use during the game, which can double the effects of one of their buildings.

The game plays until a certain tile, always placed towards the middle of the final stack, is flipped. When that happens the current round finishes and then everyone gets one more turn. So everyone gets a chance to make a play once they know the game is ending, and all players end up with the same numbers of turns. The number of tiles used varies depending on the number of players. There are also both public and secret bonuses for achieving certain things at the end of the game, like lowest income, most blue buildings, etc. Highest population wins.

IMG_3017

I’m glossing over some details in the mechanics, but I’ve hit the gist. I loved the balance and the strategic choices present while still having some chance involved that forces adaptability. Having some buildings depend on the total number of similar buildings in play, including in your opponents areas, makes you focus on what they’re doing as much as what you’re building. The combination of tile laying and resource management really worked for me, and I can’t wait to play this one again.