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!
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…
As a side note, each piece of sushi clocks in around fifty calories. We may have overdone it. slightly.
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.
The Basics: Bad Beets, designed by Magic: The Gathering champion Justin Gary and adorably illustrated by Liz Nugent, was published by Stone Blade Entertainment in 2015. The game is described by the publisher as, “the fast-paced bluffing game that’s good for you!” Players are given a number of beet tokens at the beginning of the game that they are trying to rid themselves of because the players are…well…crappy little kids who don’t like eating beets.
To accomplish this goal they take turns during which they can feed beets to the dog, share them with a friend, or even eat one their beets if things get desperate. Each action (except for honestly and resignedly eating a beet) has a card associated with it. If you don’t have the card for the action you want to take, you can still take the action, but an opponent may call a player’s bluff. If they call and the player taking the action has the associated card, the calling opponent is penalized, the acting player is bluffing and doesn’t have the card in their possession, then the bluffing player is penalized instead.
On one level, this game owes a debt to Rikki Tahta, because at first blush this game plays an awful lot like a weird, inverted version of Coup. Players lie, set traps, call bluffs, wage economic warfare, the whole deal. The game uses a device, however, that sets it apart. Players pass a card around the table as the begin their turn which they may freely exchange with the card they hold in their hand. Depending on the cards and the players, this device usually has the effect of avoiding moribund game state such as may be found in some games of Coup.
What we did wrong: Early on when a player successfully tattled on another, the player being tattled got their beets from the supply, not the tattling player. This lead to beet counts that were amusingly high and practically impossible to dispose of. On further review of the rulebook, clearly the beets are supposed to go from the tattler to the tattled (nobody likes a tattletale, but they seem to do quite well).
Conclusion: This game is all right. While it probably won’t have the same impact that Coup has had, it’s fun. The best games of Bad Beets happen when the players really throw themselves into the game and start acting like little kids themselves. It seems relatively easy to have unfair games of Bad Beets through the caprices of the deck—high volatility and low card counts go hand in hand—but what was it that your parents used to say when you were a kid? Life’s not fair?
This entry is a bit of a change of pace: it’s not about any particular board game. In fact, it’s not about board gaming at all, except that the BGG Weight Loss Challenge is something I stumbled upon while searching for more board game info on my favorite site.
Like a lot of people, I’ve had some trouble controlling my weight during and after college. I work at a sedentary job, and my hobbies aren’t very active either. I figured it was worth a shot, so I decided to take part, tipped the list and then tipped the scale for my first weigh-in on the morning of March 21, 2016. I weighed 278.8 pounds.
I weighed myself at the end of the week and…I gained about half a pound. Normally this would represent a complete failure of the first week, until you take into consideration that I was on vacation in New Orleans, Louisiana, and was enjoying stuff like this:
Plus many more! So, as you might imagine, I was overjoyed to learn that I’d only gained half a pound after a week of bacchanalian eating at one of America’s best cities to eat. It likely had something to do with the fact that I walked 20+ miles over the course of the week in NOLA.
Since returning, I’ve weighed myself regularly. Here’s what I’m working with:
I’ve managed to accomplish this so far by eliminating as completely as practicable the traditional bugbears of the American diet: cheese topping; sweets; fried food; alcohol; red meat; large portions, and by tracking my calories on the myfitnesspal app on my phone. So far so good. Here’s my projected weight loss through the end of the challenge, May 15.
A couple of caveats: first, there’s definitely not enough data to put much stock in this projection so far. It would be great if my program would be this successful in so short a time, but I don’t think I’m going to continue to lose at a rate of about one pound per day.
Second, I’m going to begin incorporating an exercise regimen into the plan now that I know I can handle the diet under normal conditions that is probably going to change the rate of weight loss. It might accelerate it due to extra calories burned or it might slow it down due to added muscle. In either case this projection is likely to look a lot different next time it’s updated.
Today we have fellow gamer and friend of the site JayBeeThree, who shares his experience with a rules mistake that not only ruined a game for him but perhaps dessert as well.
The Basics: There’s a popular phrase in Japanese: 仕方がない (shi kata ga nai), literally meaning “way of doing, cannot” and commonly translated as “It can’t be helped” or “it’s no use.” Shi kata ga nai is not just an idiom similar to English’s “What’s done is done,” it’s a philosophical outlook. The idea that unseen, unchangeable forces influence our daily actions and there’s nothing we can do as individuals to change it for the better. After all, life is suffering and the pockets of joy we design for ourselves can be torn away.
Such is the way with Sushi Go!, a light card drafting game designed by Phil Walker-Harding, played over three rounds that are separately scored. Like a sushi bento it’s quick, light, and easily digested. Some cards grant you instant points, others reward long term planning, and some are all-or-nothing. I expected a tight card drafting game in the same vein as 7 Wonders.
What we I did wrong: Here’s where Sushi Go! falls off my platter and onto the dusty floor— the dreadful pudding. The player with the most pudding scores 6 points; the least loses 6 points. “Not a bad incentive” I originally thought, thinking foolishly that it was scored at the end of each of the game’s three rounds. But true to the theme pudding does not want to be enjoyed until the end of the game. And those points are split evenly among tied players.
As a scoring mechanic it becomes completely unnecessary. Here is a card that is statistically worth the fewest points in the game, will rarely influence the final outcome, and doesn’t see an effect until the very end. You have to play your whole hand by the end of the round so the game ends up becoming a crapshoot of who sees the least pudding. It’s like that one Aunt who thinks canned fruit and nuts suspended in jelly makes for a delicious dessert at Thanksgiving. She hands it to you and waits in anticipation. You smile sheepishly, ask how her self-employment is going, and nonchalantly pass it to the poor fool reaching for the buttered rolls.
I can’t help but feel that 7 Wonders’s military mechanic should’ve been a more satisfying fit. If you win you score 1, 3, and 5 points per round up to a max of 18. The loser only ever takes -1, up to -6. In 7 Wonders, not having military sucks but isn’t the end of the world. Investing too heavily into military takes your attention away from higher scoring cards. It’s a more tightly designed mechanic that keeps players thinking about their every action.
Conclusion: What should be a satisfying finish is a sour ingredient that spoils the pot. Curse you, pudding. You are wasted calories bloating an otherwise passable game. When I see your smiling flushed face, channeling your best Urkel “Did I do that?” I can’t help but feel defeated on turn one. Shi kata ga nai.
Today we have a guest feature from a fellow gamer and friend of the site, Chippen N., who talks about his experience with Antoine Bauza’s co-op game, Ghost Stories. – Ed.
The Basics: Ghost Stories is a game by Antoine Bauza, a designer with a great personal track record that includes notable games such as 7 Wonders, Takenoko (Editor’s note: Takenoko is one of prior victims) and Hanabi, all of which I’ve played and own, and all of them are games I go back to regularly. Ordinarily I don’t keep track of who designs what, but when I made the connection between Ghost Stories and all of Bauza’s other fun games I became very interested in giving Ghost Stories a try.
Ghost Stories is a fully cooperative game where players take on the role of Taoist Priests or Monks defending a small village from a horde of ghosts. Why? An urn possessing the mortal remains of an evil sorcerer, Wu Feng, resides in the village and apparently the angry ghost of Wu Feng would like them back. You all will need to work together, using unique special abilities for each Taoist, and plan actions carefully to maintain a proper balance.
The game board is comprised of a random 3×3 grid of tiles, each of which allows a player present on the tile to take an action. Each player’s character also has special abilities, and there are 3 spots for ghosts. While the game states to randomly assign the player colors and the abilities I’d suggest you start out by selecting each and save the randomness once you have a few wins under your belt, which may take some time. Ghost Stories is a difficult endeavor.
The core of the game is simple enough. On a player’s turn they draw a ghost and place it according to the ghost’s color: yellow, blue, red, or green. There are also black ghosts that go in any available spot the active player chooses to place them.
The player may then move and choose to use their current tile’s ability OR to exorcise ghost(s). If they choose to exorcise the ghosts they roll 3 dice and compare the strength of the ghosts, represented by dots of the ghost’s color to their roll. Players can boost their roll by spending tokens called Taoist tokens which are acquired through a variety of ways throughout the game.
The ghosts can have abilities that effect the players or board when they come into play, during the turn of the player whose board they are on, and/or when they are defeated.
Balancing the abilities of the ghosts is important as you can lose 3 different ways: If all Taoists are dying, if 3 tiles are flipped to indicate they are haunted or if the deck runs out with an Incarnation of Wu Feng. Being that this all revolves around Wu Feng’s attempt to get his remains back he will send one or more incarnations which are stupidly difficult ghosts that have special requirements to defeat. The only way to win is to survive the hoard until the last incarnation of Wu Feng arrives and send him back to Hell AND survive and any departing curse that might occur.
What we did wrong: First, my partner and I started by having every ghost with on turn effects trigger every turn. This escalated the game to unwinnable in 4 rounds. On turn effects should only trigger for the ghosts on the current player’s board.
Second, during the ghost arrival step we initially were drawing the ghosts and placing them even when our player boards were overrun. The rules on ghost placement are pretty simple but some of the penalties became confusing during the first few games. The in-game aids help quite a bit in clarifying when to place ghosts, and we might have avoided some confusion if we’d checked them more often. Ordinarily, on a player’s turn if their board has all 3 ghost slots filled they take 1 Qi damage and do not draw an additional ghost to place.
Additional confusion came when I thought that if the board the ghost should be placed on was full that player would take Qi damage. Properly played in this case the ghost should be placed on the active player’s board. If no spot is available, the player places in any available spot of their choosing.
Lastly, while this wasn’t done wrong it was overlooked as an option. During an exorcism, the players are capable of defeating 2 ghosts from the corner tiles if two ghosts are present. In order to do so, the exorcism roll in combination with Taoist tokens, player abilities and tile abilities must meet the difficulty of each ghost to defeat both. To this end, we found that placing the weakest ghosts on the corners made it more manageable as players could defeat two ghosts with one action.
Conclusion: Ghost Stories takes worker placement, resource collecting and push your luck styles and puts them together in a cooperative game that will have players stressing over their desperate collective situation. Players will remember the exact moment where things went south and rejoice in the triumph that bought everyone some breathing room. Everyone that I talked to about it said that it’s the most difficult game they’d played and I can see why. I’m a fan and if you enjoy working together this game can bring spirited reactions to your table.
The Basics:Mafia de Cuba is designed by Phillipe des Pallières and Loic Lamy. Pallières is a veteran designer with credits stretching back to the 90s. He also designed a little game you may have heard of called Werewolves of Miller’s Hollow. Mafia de Cuba is in many ways a follow-up to Werewolves, which is rightfully considered a classic and is one of the primary originators of the hidden-role bluffing type of game that have been so popular for the past few years.
Mafia starts off with a cool little twist: the game box is a component used during gameplay. This is because the game box represents the Mafia Don’s cigar box, from which he gives his favorites one after-dinner cigar. This cigar box also happens to hold the Mafia Don’s collection of diamonds (the Don is not very smart). The Don passes the cigar box to his consigliere and then, although this doesn’t appear to be strictly stated in the rules, should probably just leave the room. The other players then take turns taking stuff out of the box. A player may either take a poker chip that has role printed on it which establishes a victory condition applicable to the player taking it only, or can instead take one or more diamonds. Then after everyone has taken something, the Don comes back and, incensed that his treasure is gone, begins asking questions and demanding his henchmen turn out their pockets. His goal: get all his loot back. The thieves, such as they are, want to not only get away, but to get away with the most stolen diamonds. For this reason being a gangster is tricky: If you think someone has stolen more than you, you probably want to rat them out. On the other hand, they might retaliate…
What we did wrong: Games like Mafia require some variance in order to avoid becoming too routine. In Ultimate One Night Werewolf not every role is given to every player. In The Resistance players don’t know who is on which team. In Mafia de Cuba, the first player to pull stuff out of the cigar box is the Consigliere. The Consigliere may, in addition to taking a role or diamonds, put a role in a special black bag. That role is completely out of the game. When I played Consigliere, I thought a player could also put diamonds in the black bag, but it turns out that it’s just roles. Further, the player who gets to examine the cigar box last doesn’t need to steal anything. Everyone else must take something, either a role or one or more diamonds.
Conclusion:Mafia de Cuba is a fun, quick game. One of the things I like about this game in particular is that it de-emphasizes the semi-cooperative team play in favor of an every-man-for-himself style of play. In the genre of hidden-role bluffing games, that can be very tricky to pull off. And Mafiade Cuba does pull it off, at least in the short term. The chains of information in Mafia are not clean, and sometimes the game can feel a little chaotic. Also, this game is probably best enjoyed in a larger space that can accommodate everyone rifling through a cigar box in relative privacy. Whether or not the game becomes a classic on the same level as The Resistance or One Night Ultimate Werewolf is something that only time can tell, but fans of those games should certainly give this a try.
UPDATE 02/16/2016:Subsequent research on this fine game makes it seem pretty clear that Sr. Lamy was the lead designer of this game, even though my review seems to indicate otherwise. I regret the misunderstanding and want to make sure credit goes where it is due.