Monday, April 13, 2015

New Train Titles - pt 1

So, a few new games were acquired late last year.  Some of these were discussed in the posting about Thanksgiving gaming, and some were mentioned in the post about the Christmas break gaming.  But, a few of the titles were train related, and as train related gaming is something of a high interest theme here at Gaming with Chuck, it felt right to do a short blog post about it.

First, a word about Train games.  These are not all what purists would call Railroad games.  To some, that includes the 18xx series.  To others, that includes the Martin Wallace masterpieces, Steam, Age of Steam, and the various derivative titles (Railroad Tycoon and Railways of the World).  Still others include railroad themed route building games (which tend to be lighter, such as Ticket to Ride, or TransAmerica).  To some it is the family of crayon based games, such as Empire Builder (and Dampfross, and many others).  It might include railroad theme games such as Russian Railroads.  And strange combinations of these, like Chicago Express.  Finally, to some it even includes games that have mechanics that are typically Railroad game mechanics, but for non-railroad themes like Elfenland, or Poseidon.

To me, all of those are Train games.  It can be a train related mechanic (pick up and deliver, stock manipulation, network building, travel), or it can be theme (Russian Railroads, Express).

So, what were some of the train titles acquired last year here at GwC headquarters?
  • Boxcars
  • Isle of Trains
  • Continental Express
  • Paris Connection
  • Russian Railroads
  • Ticket to Ride 10 Year Anniversary Set
  • Trains: Rising Sun
  • Yardmaster
  • Yardmaster Express
A few words about these . . .

Boxcars, of course, is the Rio Grande Games re-issue of the Avalon Hill classic, Rail Baron.  But wait!  Rail Baron was a reissue of the game Boxcars.  So we are now back to the original.  Except, it has a new board (the UK) and some adjusted rules.  This is a game of pick up and delivery.  The routes are all developed.  What players can do, other than receiving a constant stream of pickup and delivery points, is to purchase railroads, which are cheaper for them to run on, but more expensive for the competition. The game is a simple race to develop a pile of money ($200K) and then return to home base (starting position).  Very fun, and now made even better because the one tedious part of the game was using the charts to roll up cities for delivery.  This can be done, now, with a very nice App for iPad and iPhone - available for free from iTunes.  What a great thing!

Isle of Trains is a great little card game, from the Dice Hate Me games series of 54 card games called the Rabbits.  This was the result of a kickstarter, the ended up with six published titles.  The series includes:
Yep - Seth Jaffee of Eminent Domain fame is the (co) designer of this great little card game.  The game is one of building your train (using mechanisms familiar to deck builder game players - cars have costs, and you pay that cost with other cards from your hand), and then loading cargo on your own, and others', trains.  Why load on another player's train?  Well, because you are rewarded with special actions - and they make all the difference.  Once you have a train, and some cargo, you can complete contracts - of which there are six, each corresponding to one of the main cities on the Island of Sodor Isle that is the namesake of the game.  We have played this a few times, and the decision making and action planning is great - especially for a small format game.  It takes about an hour to play, and it is an hour well spent.  One of the best things about the game, is that the great card art (by Daniel Guidera and Christopher Kirkman) is fantastic, and very reminiscent of a Little Golden Book (especially The Train to Timbuctoo and The Little Red Caboose).

Continental Express is also a small format card game. This one is from Asmodee, and is packed in a really nice tin box, similar to another of their titles, The Builders: Middle Ages.  They have several other titles in this same format of small tin box (Noah, Souk, Cardline: Animals, Cardline Dinosaurs, and Cardline: Globetrotter), however The Builders and Continental Express seem to be the most mature of these.  In this game, as in Isle of Trains, you are constructing a train.  However, that is the goal of this one - building the train.  You collect sets of cards, drawn from a pool of available cards each turn, and then turn them in for new cars on your train.  Each new car card has a train line symbol, and there are bonus point categories for those symbols.  Not a bad little game, and set collection is always a good mechanism.  The artwork is gorgeous, although closer to the Ticket to Ride artwork, than it is to other styles.

More coming on other titles, but this is enough for now. . . .

Assorted gaming projects and activities - an update

Several things have been going on lately, in the Gaming sphere of life at GwC headquarters.  Here is a rundown...

Cold Wars - I attended Cold Wars last month - it was a touch and go decision up until the last minute, and it wasn't helped by the fact that there was a dreadful blizzard on the day I was supposed to leave.  I left the next day, and still had a great time.
I met up with Chris and a bunch of the folks from Maryland, and further north, who game together at the HMGS shows - I have played with them a bunch in the past, but mostly it was Warhammer Ancients.  Patrick, of course, was there - as were Mike and Gil and some others.
I got to participate, as a viewer/heckler and Referee's assistant (glorified title for flipping a few initiative cards) in some really compelling games of Muskets and Tomahawks from Studio Tomahawk (the fine folks who publish SAGA).  I bought a copy of the rules, and the cards, etc, from Steve at Age of Glory- a great fellow to deal with.

Painting - I have begun collecting some new paints.  I have wanted, for some time, to experiment with using artist acrylics, entirely, for a project - and then assessing what the finished look is like, compared to using gamer paints (like Vallejo or Reaper), or craft paints (like Folk Art or Apple Barrel).  The brand I have selected is Liquitex.  I went with the Basics line, rather than the Heavy Pigment line.  I have used some of the colors from their Heavy Pigment artist line before - notably Titanium White and Cadmium Red (for 19th century Egyptians and British Red Coats, respectively, because I wanted bold bright colors, and I wasn't getting that from the craft paints I was using at the time).  The results for me were excellent, and so I wanted to follow up by purchasing a full palette of colors to use for an upcoming project.  I went ahead and got the 24 color starter set - the additional colors in the 36 color and 48 color sets did not really inspire me too much as being necessary for an experiment in a new medium.  I did wander outside of the Liquitex range for some other colors I will need - notably, I picked a light terracotta color from the Winsor & Newton line, to use as a basis for flesh.  I plan to try this out on a unit or two of Vikings, either for SAGA, or Lionheart, or both.

Boardgames - Many new card games and board games over the past few months, since Christmas, mostly from Kickstarter rewards and a few trades and purchases.  I have begun writing an article about new Train titles at GwC headquarters, and will publish that shortly.  Played a few titles on the week leading up to Tabletop Day, but did not participate in any activities this year (we were on a spring break trip, and returned too late to host a game day, or attend the activities at the local game shop).  Some of the titles played recently included Salmon Run, On the Underground, and Valley of the Kings.  Loads of boardgames on the iPad, but hey - that don't count.

Wargaming - There has been, of late, a resurgence in interest in Wargaming in the Department of Defense, and a number of professional developments for me are underway, where I am participating in wargaming design, the re-purposing of models and simulators for wargaming, and also teaching my Combat Modeling class.  Not really hobby oriented, but hey - steel sharpens steel.

Roleplaying - I have taken up the flung gauntlet from John, in following on his Village of Hommlet game, in the World of Greyhawk.  I have the players investigating the circumstances (which, of course, includes a DUNGEON) around the mysterious deaths of three brothers, who were Knights from Veluna, who came with Prince Thrommel to fight the army of evil at the battle of Emridy Meadows.  The Knights, distracted by the youngest one who fell in love with a Village girl near Nulb, disappeared before the battle of Emridy Meadows took place.  Now, ten years later, the players were traveling through the region, on their way north from Hommlet, and they came across tales and rumors.  The game so far has focused on the upper level of the Dungeon they uncovered in the forest glade where the Brothers were laid to rest - but who killed them?  What happened to the girl?  How come two of the three graves are empty?  The game is going well, although we only play about 1-2 times a month. 

Conventions - I have been helping, and will continue to help with the ODMS conventions in Williamsburg.  Some of the Staff have had medical problems and the remaining crew needs the help.  Also, I plan to attend Fall In next November (I can't wait).  I don't know about Historicon (family travel the week before, and the week after, will leave that weekend pretty tied up), but have been thinking about "The Weekend".  Does that event's name sound like an M Night Shyamalan movie to anyone but me?  Also, planning on attending Congregate in Greensboro NC this summer, working staff for the Con Suite.  Plan to do some heavy gaming while there, as well.

That is all, for now, will report back soon, and hopefully the Train Game article will come around quickly.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

The Twelve Plays of Christmas

Christmas is a wonderful, unique time of the year - centered around the modern interpretation of a Christian Holy festival.  At Gaming with Chuck headquarters, we do many of the things (both religious and non-religious) that others do - we decorate the house, celebrate with family time and food, immerse ourselves in medieval Carols, as well as Victorian and modern songs, and try to spend time with friends, as well as much more family time than the rest of the year. Celebrating the birth of Christ with as much joy as we can muster.

During this time, one of the ways we spend our relaxation time together is (of course) by playing games.  So, once the weeks of the Advent started ticking down, and vacation times started, we started having multiple opportunities for board game sessions.  I wanted to get at least twelve good plays in this year (the "Twelve Plays of Christmas"), and if you count everything (including card fillers, etc) between the Saturday of December 13 (the weekend when vacation time for me started), up through January 1, we had 28 games.

For a list, check out these Board Game Geek stats.

Now, granted, at least 8 of those plays were lightweight filler games, but that still leaves a respectable amount.  I didn't get to play some of the heavier Euros I like to play, and no wargames included, but this was Family time, and Friend time, and we did get in some pretty respectable titles, regardless.

Breaking it down by Title, here is the list (from most plays to least plays):

Shadows over Camelot (3)
Trans Europa (3)
Yardmaster (3)
Guillotine (2)
Power Grid: The First Sparks (2)
Sushi Go! (2)
Ticket to Ride: 10th Anniversary (2)
Carcassonne (1)
Category 5 (1)
Easy Breezy Travel Agency (1)
Flash Point: Fire Rescue (1)
Lords of Waterdeep (1)
Munchkin Adventure Time (1)
Pandemic: The Cure (1)
Salmon Run (1)
Ticket to Ride: Nordic Countries (1)
Trekking the National Parks (1)
Valley of the Kings (1)

This did not include iPad plays of Ticket to Ride, Agricola, Stone Age, and Lords of Waterdeep (of which there were many, especially of the first two).

Of this list, some of these titles were new.  Here is a brief comment on those that are new to the staff at Gaming with Chuck:

Yardmaster - We got this title recently, benefits of a Kickstarter campaign.  It is a great little card game, with a nice industrial age Train theme, and we like it a lot.  Also came with Yardmaster Express,which we have not tried yet, but also looks good (and even shorter time to play).  Played a three way game with myself and two other competitive card players - it was quite tight and close scoring. Very satisfying.

Power Grid: First Sparks - We have owned this for a few years, but with the move last year, and other things going on, this is one of those titles that has been waiting to be played.  We finally tried it, and we like it.  Compares well with Power Grid - simpler, less complex economy, but much shorter playing time.  A good trade off - makes both very attractive, for different reasons.

Sushi Go! - This one was a Christmas gift for a good friend, and as we all enjoy drafting games, we thought we would like it.  I think we liked it more than our friends did!  Lightweight, but plays in a few short moments, and would be a good "set the mood" game for something deeper.

Easy Breezy Travel Agency - This is the first of the six pack in Dice Hate Me's "54 Card Rabbits" series, that we received recently (again, compliments of a Kickstarter campaign).  This is a really fun little game.  There might be a strategy hidden here, but it seems like it is over too quick for someone to get bent out of shape over not finding it.  Fun, and fast.

Munchkin Adventure Time - We don't care for Munchkin too much at GwC headquarters, however we do love Adventure Time - so this was a good compromise.  The character cards seem to be just right, and the many, many references (some esoteric) to elements of the TV show had us all giggling.  Played with a youngster, a teenager, and several adults - all fans of the show - as well as an older friend who didn't know what it was.  All of us loved it, regardless, and had a great Munchkin game (Editor: is there such a thing?) in the process.

Pandemic: The Cure - The staff at Gaming with Chuck are split on Pandemic.  Actually we are split on cooperative games in general.  Meaning, I like them, and the Mrs does not.  However, given that this (the Pandemic dice game) plays fast, is very interesting, and isn't too terribly cooperative, it was quite fun, and still didn't feel like a bunch of individual solitaire games going on (like, say, the Catan dice game, or some others).

Trekking the National Parks - This one is pretty fun.  It is a draw cards and move game, with the goal of getting Park card by visiting parks on the map, and turning in sets of cards.  Or is it a move around and collect stones to have the largest amount of certain colors?  Or is it a collect post cards, and then turn them into VPs by playing sets of cards?  Any of these three things seem like a reasonable path to victory in this deceptively simple (but fun) game about our national park system.  Very fun - drew many comparisons to Ticket to Ride - I felt like it was of an older Alan Moon vintage - one of his Elfen games.

Valley of the Kings - We have played this one a few times now - during this recent Christmas period, and a few times back around Thanksgiving.  It is a great little deck builder, with some innovative mechanics.  We love it - the theme, the play, the length of time, all of it.  Some really neat ideas for different strategies, but the strongest seems to be concentration on a particular category or two.  Not sure about timing of the collection of scoring cards (unlike Dominion, etc - this one has you removing cards from play in order to have them count as final scoring artifacts).  Is it better to score all throughout, or to get some big stuff at the end?  Will have to play more to experiment.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Thanksgiving Gaming pt 2

The holiday was fantastic!  Not only a great time of thanks, and fellowship - visiting friends, wonderful meals, relaxation and conversation - but also a great time for some gaming!

Of the original list from Part 1 of this article, three of the games (Pigpen, X-Wing, Age of War) were not played.  But the other three were, along with some other games that we played and tried out.

Trans-America was a lot of fun.  We played two times, one with four players, and one with six players.  Fun each and every time.  Originally a title from Winsome Games (as Iron Road), we have the printing from Rio Grande games (and Trans-Europa, along with the Vexation add-on).

There was a game of Valley of the Kings - all of the players were new to the game (including yours truly - my first time playing).  We picked up on it pretty well.  By the third or fourth time around the table, all four players had the hang of things, and had a grasp on the "entomb" focus of the game.  The end score, however, was a little spread out.  Top scorer had 45 points, two middle scorers had 26 and 27, and bottom scorer had 16.  Closer next time, I'm sure.

There was a seven player game of Elder Sign, where the intrepid adventurers ventured into the haunted museum One More Time to do battle with the minions of some outre, alien being.  Lots of dice rolling, tension, etc, and a win just in time.

There was a mad, mad round of Walk the Plank.  Further comment prohibited by the decency board.

A really good game (four player) of Lords of Waterdeep happened.  Great time.  We did not use the expansion, but probably could have, for more mayhem.

The game about the Justice League, defending the Watchtower, that is available only from Target - Justice League: Axis of Villains - was brought out.  It is a super hero themed Fortress Defense game, only this time four of the members of the Justice League (Batman, Superman, Green Lantern and the Flash) are working hard to keep a batch of DC Comics villains away.  Lots of fun, and I got to be Green Lantern, one of my favorites.  (why is there no Aquaman in the game?)

Finally, there was a game of Pandemic, to round out the board games.  As with Waterdeep and Elder Sign, none of the expansions available were used, but the base game (this time with four players) was quite good regardless. The roles we had were Dispatcher, Scientist, Medic and Researcher.  We played at the basic (Introductory) level, and we barely won.  The Player Deck was about to run out, even though we already suffered through the four Epidemics.

We also were treated to a short run through of Adventure Maximus - a (sort of) mix between a roleplaying game and a card driven strategy game (although in this case, it is fantasy adventure in a sort of Adventure Time type setting).  Very much fun.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Thanksgiving Gaming pt 1

Looking forward to time with friends and family this weekend. Planning some games, of course.
1. Lords of Waterdeep
2. Valley of the Kings
3. Trans-America
4. Pigpen
5. Age of War
6. X-Wing

After Action reports on all the fun, in a few days...

Monday, November 10, 2014

The power of Theme for Boardgames

So, just recently, I attended another session of the Fredericksburg Game Guild - this time it was a Sunday night meetup at the local game store - Game Vault.

First, a few kind words about Game Vault.  A very nice store.  I met the owner (Cathy) as well as some of the guys who work behind the counter.  Knowledgeable about games and gaming, certainly willing to entertain different opinions and interests, and eager to help a customer.  The store is clean, has all that a game store needs (drinks, bathroom, plenty of game space, lots of in-stock product, nice environment, and handfuls of gamers in the store doing what that tribe does...).  I enjoyed my time there, and will likely be back.

Second, the game we played - Stone Age.  Great game, from Rio Grande games (originally Hans Im Gluck, but I have the first English edition, from RGG, from 2009).  Worker placement, dice for tension, lots of win strategies - what's not to like?  And a ton of caveman jokes.

But playing Stone Age got me thinking.  Along the lines of the theme idea we had during our last gameday at the house - where we combined three games, to come up with a melded theme.  The games were Age of War, TransAmerica, and Trains - melding the themes of Japan (Age of War and Trains) with Railroad Building (TransAmerica and Trains).

Theme is separate from mechanics, but theme is important also.  At least to us here at Gaming With Chuck HQ, its important.  So I started thinking about picking a theme (as in the case of Stone Age - primitive man, prehistory, caveman - you choose one), and then trying to come up with three games (of different types of mechanics) to go along with that theme.

Sticking with Prehistory, lets go with:
1. Stone Age (worker placement)
2. Settlers of the Stone Age (civilization building)
3. Fossil (set collection)

Equally, just pulling from titles that either are currently, or used to be, part of the GwC library - these could have also been counted in:
4. Carcassonne: Hunters and Gatherers (tile laying)
5. Bitin' Off Hedz (roll and move, racing)
6. Neolithibum (dexterity)
7. Triassic Terror (area control)
8. Sticks & Stones (wargame)
9. Trias (area control)
10. Og (wargame)
11. Dino Hunt (dice push your luck)
 - probably some others I am forgetting...

Depending on the group, I might include Carcassonne: Hunters and Gathers in for Fossil.  If I wanted to shorten the session, I might include Dino Hunt instead of Settlers of the Stone Age.  All of these have a similar (or at least within the same family) theme - but very different mechanisms.  Even the similar ones - such as both Sticks & Stones and Og being hex-and-counter wargames - they are very different from each other.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Boardgame Meetup - Fredericksburg Game Guild

I attended my first meetup with the Fredericksburg Game Guild last night, which met at the England Run Library, in Fredericksburg.  The Group gets together several times per week and per month, for different meetings in different venues - and the individuals I met last night seem like it is a very good group.
England Run Library - the meeting rooms are down the hallway you can see to the right.

The shortcoming of the weeknight meeting at the library, of course, is that it is time constrained.  They meet from 6-9, which isn't a bad length for a meeting, but about 1 hour too short, if you want to play two meaty games.  It is time, however, for a reasonable length game, and maybe a short filler or two.

Last night I played two different titles, one new to me, and one somewhat familiar.  The first was the new title - Room 25.  The folks in the game were really excited because the theme is evidently based on the very successful and very popular trilogy of Cube movies.  I don't know anything about them, sadly.  However, I get the gist of the game.

The people I played with were extremely friendly and fun to play with.  The guy who owned the game, and introduced it to us, was very pleasant and did a good job of introducing the rules.  The game, however, was one I probably won't play again.  As I mentioned in my notes on Board Game Geek, this was a perfect example of a game session where "I loved the group, and had a good time, but I wasn't really crazy about the game."
Components of the game Room 25 *
The components of the game were excellent, and the idea (using programmed movement to explore a maze that the players have to escape from, together) was pretty good.  I like how 1 or 2 of the group members might be working for the Prison Guards.  But overall, there just didn't feel like there was enough going on.  And it felt like the end game was decided a priori.  In both our sessions, there was little (or nothing) that one side or the other could do about changing the endgame situation, over the last 3 or 4 turns of the game.  And considering that once the endgame mechanism is triggered, there are 5 or fewer turns left, that is not so good in my opinion.  Maybe an expansion will come out that will change things, or a similar theme but different mechanics.  I hold out hope to become impressed enough to play again.

The second game that I got to play was... Glass Road.  This is a great game by Uwe Rosenberg.  Unlike many of his other titles, this is one that could be played in as short as an hour or so, by experienced players.  There is a lot going on with this game, with a very large decision space, and a lot of potential strategies that the player could take, in order to try to win.  It has great components, terrific theme, and excellent mechanics (with some innovations too).
Layout of game, showing player map of countryside, with terrain tiles and building tiles *

The theme is basically, the players are all competing manufacturing interests in Medieval Germany, building up the facilities and resource sources to enable them to be profitable manufacturers of glass and bricks (similar processes with similar resources required).  Game play is in turn, selecting roles, and then carrying out actions related to those roles.  Actions involved either collecting resources, modifying the consist of your local countryside (filling in ponds, digging sand pits, harvesting forests), and then building facilities that benefit you in some way.  Great game, as always, and a bit lighter than other Rosenberg titles.
Setting up to play - from Game night at Moxie (Columbus, GA)

The very clever resource clocks - also from Game night at Moxie (Columbus, GA)

I had a great time playing, with three other players all of whom were new to me, and will always happily play this one again in the future.

Overall, the meetup was a great success for me.  I met some really nice local gamers - some of whom are also Roleplayers and Wargamers - and I plan to attend some more in the future!  Hopefully next time I'll get to teach a game or two to some people.  Nothing is better about the gaming hobby, than sharing with other fans.

* = These images are from Board Game Geek