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Not Alone, by Ghislain Masson, Geek Attitude Games, art by Sebastien Caiveau, 2-7 Players

My group has a soft spot for hide-and-seek style board games. Beginning a few years back when we discovered Escape from the Aliens in Outer Space, and gaining momentum with every new discovery–Letters from Whitechapel, Fury of Dracula, Specter Ops. I find that games of this type share the deductive appeal that makes games like Spyfall, Avalon, and Secret Hitler so appealing, while also introducing a geographical element to the sleuthing that makes the game more accessible.

Not Alone by freshman designer Ghislain Masson send players on a mission to the planet Artemia, where they crash land and have to survive until their rescue. The twist is that one player plays The Creature, who is hunting the other players.

not alone game

Each of the crash survivors is given a hand of five cards representing the five places initially available to the survivors. Each round all of the survivors select one card from their hand to represent the location they are visiting that turn. After everyone has made their selection in secret, The Creature places a large token on one location. If any of the survivors picked that location, bad stuff happens to them. Eventually the survivors are either picked up or they succumb to the depredations of The Creature.

Cards that are played get discarded and need to be recovered before they are available for further use. This is where our mistake came in. The most powerful card is called the Lair, depicted above. When survivors visit the Lair they are allowed to take back all of their discarded cards, but not the Lair itself. The reason for this is that the Lair, while it is being played, is neither in hand nor in the discard pile, so it’s not available to bring back from the discard pile.

Another mistake we made involves another location, the Beach. The Beach accelerates rescue efforts, bringing the survivors closer to rescue and victory. Using it is a two-step process. The first survivor going there places a token on the Beach, which primes the location for use. The next player who makes it to the Beach without interference from the Creature or something else then takes the token off, which signals the rescue vessel, drawing it closer. However, only one player can use this location each turn, so if two or more survivors visit the Beach each turn, only one may interact with the token and the rest are out luck.

Early impressions of Not Alone are quite favorable. The gameplay is uncomplicated and easy to teach, while still allowing for lots of decision-making and surprises. Gameplay moves at a brisk pace. The art is pretty and, unlike most games of this type, the box is small enough to fit in a carryon. It is difficult to tell if the game has any balance issues. At once it seems like the survivor’s escape is assured and that the Creature’s project is doomed, yet simultaneously the Creature can engineer stunning reversals that make escape seemingly impossible. Artemia is well worth a visit if you get an opportunity–but be careful, it’s harder to leave than it is to arrive.


We Were Playing it Wrong: The Voyages of Marco Polo

The Voyages of Marco Polo, by Daniele Tascini and Simone Luciani, Z-Man Games, art by Dennis Lohausen, 2-4 Players

It’s been a while! Last night I played a game which has become a favorite in my group, The Voyages of Marco Polo by Simone Luciani and Daniele Tascini, the creative duo behind another favorite, Tzolk’in: The Mayan Calendar. Although we love this game, there was always something a little off about the movement rules, which we found to be overly restrictive. Turns out it’s that way because we were not playing them correctly. When a player places dice on a space (contracts, movement, grand bazaar), they get to pick from a number of places equal to the lowest die placed.

For example, the player who placed the red and white die here can choose to either pay three coins and move one space, or seven coins and move two spaces.

We mistakenly played that whatever you placed was how far you had to move, without an option to select a lower value instead. Naturally this makes movement much more difficult because it removes options that would make movement less expensive. Not only that, but a player could also choose to move two spaces but end up moving one, whereas I thought a player needed to exercise all available movement. Oops. Also, and less noteworthy, but we played the Grand Bazaar the same way, meaning that players have the option to pick a lower value spot. Of course, usually the higher value places give you the best bang for your buck, but players could in theory “overpay” for spot on the grand bazaar in order to get a mix of goods and camels or coins.

Another Example: The player who played the yellow dice could pick any of the first four columns and receive the indicate amount of cloth. Although picking the fourth would result in the most goods received, in theory the player could pick the third because it comes with a camel.

I loved this game already and I’m delighted to have found the correct rules open it up a bit, as movement is always difficult in the world of Marco Polo. Then again, it being hard to get around is historically accurate.

We did one other thing wrong. When the contracts board is depleted due to players having selected all the available contracts, you’re supposed to refill the first two spots on the board. This is a small rule that we completely overlooked but it’s critical to have contracts available for purchase because they basically make the game “go”. Again, it’s lovely to find a rule that opens the game up a little bit.

We Were Playing it Wrong: The Voyages of Marco Polo

We Were Playing it Wrong: Capt. Sonar

Captain Sonar, by Roberto Fraga and Yohan Lemonnier, Matagot Games, art by Ervin and Sabrina Tobal, 2-8 players

Lately my group has been playing Capt. Sonar by Roberto Fraga and Yohan Lemonnier on Fridays. After making a splash (get it?) at GenCon, this game has created a bit of a buzz with my friends, as the game seems to be that rare title that seats a lot of people, plays at a fast-pace, and provides a good amount of strategic depth (get it?). Indeed, a couple of times we’ve had a full complement of eight players and still had people waiting to get into a game.

After playing the game several times a couple of mistakes from the initial tutorial became apparent. We got the rules for surfacing wrong—our rule-explainer thought that you could surface in any zone, effectively giving your boat the ability to teleport across the map if you’d been cornered by your opponent. Actually subs need to surface right where they are and declare their zone to their opponent. This makes Silence extremely important as it is the only way to slip away from an opponent. Speaking of  Silence, don’t forget to mark off a first mate gauge and engineering box just like a normal move. It even appears that you can even double move back activating Silence and then moving normally.

We also got the rules for Drones completely wrong—we thought using a drone required your opponent to announce their zone. In fact, the team activating their drone gets to ask whether or not their opponent is in a particular zone. There’s also usually questions about when teams can and can’t use their available systems (mines, sonar, etc.) as near as we can tell you can use them before or after moving. Due to the fluid (get it?) nature of the game, this ends up being less of an issue in the real time version of the game. Remember also that the First Mate can activate sonar and drone systems without getting the captain’s approval.

While strategy is not my focus in this blog I’m going to head into the deep waters (get it?) and offer a small amount of strategic advice for the real-time game: it seems like it’s less of an advantage to move often during the real-time game than simply moving at a pace your crew can handle easily. This is because the radio operator is the primary source of gaining information about the opposing sub’s location, and the radio operator only gets new information when an opposing sub moves. With each new move, the possible locations a sub could be drops off by an order of magnitude until in theory only one path remains. One way to mitigate this could be to simply not move as much, denying the opposing radio operator the information needed to eliminate possible locations and paths. Moving at less than full speed also prevents the sub from cornering itself as easily by preserving moves for the sub to take, and also might make it easier for the engineer to keep systems up as long as possible. The only advantages to moving quickly is that systems can be recharged quickly, and it allows one to close with the enemy. Until the end of the game neither of these benefits outweigh the benefit of minimizing the possibility of being detected and maximizing the possibility of getting away.

We Were Playing it Wrong: Capt. Sonar

We Were Playing it Wrong: Camel Up

Camel Up, by Steffan Bogen, 2014, Z-Man Games, illustrated by Dennis Lohausen, 2-8 players

I received Camel Up, by Steffan Bogen, in the BGG Secret Santa last year when I asked my santa for a game that is good with a larger number of players. This game is a quick-and-dirty racing game where players make wagers on which of their favorite camels wins the race. It has a cool mechanic for movement that was the source of some confusion. Each camel has a different color (blue camel, green camel, etc.) and a correspondingly colored die. All the dice are put into a cardboard pyramid such that they only come out one at a time. We got that part right, but as soon as we resolved a move, we put the die back in the pyramid. Whoops! Turns out you’re supposed to keep them out until each of the camels has moved, whereupon all the dice go back in at once. Playing our way produced some outlandish results, like the time when a single camel moved maybe one or two spaces until the end of the game but still managed to win the race from way behind. Sometimes I miss playing it that way.

The game’s desert tiles also produced a little bit of confusion. At first we failed to observe the rule preventing players from placing desert tiles next to other desert tiles. This created fun slip-n-slides where camels would shoot ahead or tumble backwards as they hit him. We also failed to observe the rule where a desert tile is removed at the end of a leg.

This game is a lot of fun, and I think it says something about Camel Up that it can be so much fun even when half of the rules aren’t being properly followed. With all of its attendant rules in place, the game is much more procedural and predictable but still a great time. And it plays nicely with a large  headcount too.

We Were Playing it Wrong: Camel Up

We Were Playing it Wrong: Scythe

Scythe, by Jamey Stegmaier & Alan Stone, 2016, Stonemaier Games, art by Jakub Rozalski, 2-5 Players

Scythe by Jamey Stegmaier and Alan Stone, has stunning art and miniatures as well as elegantly designed rules. I’ve only played it once, but when I did we got a couple of things wrong. The game features a special deck called the Factory deck. Unlike all of the other decks where you draw one or more cards, players interacting with the Factory deck draw (number of players + 1) cards, picks one, and puts the rest back. Subsequent players interacting with the deck look at one less card than the previous player. I haven’t played enough to know for sure, but I think this is a critical change because the actions printed on the Factory cards can be swingy and narrowly tailored to a particular need—a random draw will produce a random and sometimes useless, sometimes extremely useful result.

Botching the Factory deck was the big error we made but it wasn’t the only one; we also played such that attacking mechs couldn’t carry workers into combat. This isn’t the correct application—Mechs can carry any number of workers along with them, even into enemy territory. If an attacker retreats with workers, the defender doesn’t lose reputation. Finally, it didn’t come up, but I was under the impression that players were guaranteed an equal amount of turns. In fact, the game ends immediately after a player places their last star—even if they haven’t finished their turn. There’s some convoluted rules in the back of the rulebook for how to handle game-end in the middle of turn with some things not technically resolved when the game ends, and we may have accidentally not followed those procedures, and I can see how it would be easily missed given the abrupt nature of Scythe’s endgame.

We Were Playing it Wrong: Scythe

We Were Playing It Wrong: Blood Rage

Blood Rage, by Eric Lang, 2015, Cool Mini or Not, Art by Adrian Smith, 2-4 Player (base game, expands to 5)

The Basics: 2007 was probably the greatest year in terms of board game publishing. Agricola. Race for the Galaxy. Last Night on Earth. Brass. Talisman (4th). Zooloretto. Container. Tammany Hall. BANG! The Bullet. Case Blue. Galaxy Trucker(!). And, tucked snugly into the hip pocket of 2007 was a small game that I had the pleasure of playing many times—Eric Lang’s Midgard. Originally a relatively straightforward drafting and area control game with middling art direction and components that were average for the time, Midgard reemerged with a vengeance last year when it Mr. Lang teamed up with the folks at Cool Mini or Not and designed a new edition that features approximately all of the bells and whistles available for a crowdsourced project of this day and age. The resulting Kickstarter went on to generate a brazillion dollars and, more importantly, produced a lovely new version of this game which is quickly becoming a legend unto itself.

What we did wrong: Many, many things. Our rules guru for this game is an old friend of mine from out of town (coincidentally the same one who introduced me to Midgard all those years ago now). Initially we took most of what he was saying on faith, but towards the end of the learning game a lot wasn’t adding up, so we actually read the rulebook and found that we had a lot to learn. Anyway, here’s a rundown:

  • Ragnarök phases kill figures in the province’s supporting fjord in addition killing everything in the province.
  • Pillage tokens are placed on the board with their reward side face up so everyone can see what they get for pillaging a given location.
  • Each player participating in a battle must contribute a card to the battle unless they’ve nothing in hand. Losers in the battle reclaim all played cards back to hand. Additionally, only the player who took the pillage action is eligible to claim the pillage bonus.
  • Pillaging all provinces triggers the end of an age.
  • Not a mistake per se but new players typically have a difficult time remembering that their Horns value is a limit on how many figures they can field. Might be worth keeping an eye on. New players also sometimes forget how reinforcement works.

…to be honest I am not even certain this was all we ended up doing wrong.

Conclusion: I LIVE! I DIE! I LIVE AGAIN! Welcome back, Midgard!

We Were Playing It Wrong: Blood Rage

BGG Spring ’16 Weight Loss Challenge Diary Entry 02

BGG thru 160407

Another week, another couple of  pounds down. The challenge runs until the middle of May, and participants are considered successful if they lose 6% of their overall weight by the last day of the challenge. As indicated by the chart above, my rate of weight loss has slowed by a bit. Despite that, I am still on track to lose the 16.7 pounds I need to by May 15 to successfully complete the challenge successfully. In fact, having lost 11.3 pounds already, I am 2/3s the way there and have more than a month to go.

I’ve been able to maintain this by carefully regulating the amount of calories I eat and incorporating some light exercise, mostly walking. My only major lapse came on Saturday when, after a session of Star Wars: Imperial Assault, my rebel partner and I celebrated our victory over the hated Empire with a trip to the local sushi bar, where we succumbed to a small temptation…

22 pieces sushi, 12 pieces of sashimi, and a dragon roll. It was a great deal, and a really great meal.

As a side note, each piece of sushi clocks in around fifty calories. We may have overdone it. slightly.

BGG Forecase

This week’s forecast is slightly more realistic, as opposed to last week which was calling for me to lose somewhere on the order of fifty pounds in two months (which is possible maybe but screw that). The new forecast is to lose somewhere on the order of 35 pounds instead. Obviously these numbers are still soft to the point of being squishy, but if I were to lose about twenty pounds in less than two months due to light exercise and adopting healthier eating habits I would be pleased as punch.

BGG Spring ’16 Weight Loss Challenge Diary Entry 02