Games March 2024

March 31, 2024 8:25 pm

Games I played in March 2024. Like books, I didn't get nearly as much game playing done this month compared to February.

Wyrmspan - Expand your cave system and attract new dragons to live in it. This game just came out last month. It's an adaptation of the game Wingspan--changing some mechanics and swapping dragons for birds. This games falls under "group solitaire" in that what each player does has very little impact on the other players.

It's a game of resource constraints requiring careful analysis to maximize your actions for gaining points. If you want to score well, that is. You can just enjoy the artwork and collecting dragons and not worry too much about points.

We played once at the very beginning of the month and once more today. I lost both times (Jess won both times).

Escape the Crate - Sled Race - One of the "escape room in a box" companies for which Jess' parents gave us a subscription for Christmas.

This is the second box for us. The story set ups and narration are a bit campy, but the puzzles have been pleasantly reasonable and we've been enjoying them as a family. I think I enjoy them more than the "Exit" series.In this one we've time traveled to 1925 when a mustache-twirling-type nefarious time traveler had swapped the diphtheria antitoxin out before the dogsled relay rushed it off to Nome, Alaska. We have to work together to catch up and put the correct medicine back in place.

We completed the first half successfully at _just_ below expert speed--still have to play the second half.

Kinfire Chronicles: Night's Fall - Jess and I continued our adventure as Feyn and Roland and played Quest 16 (you don't necessarily complete them in numerical order).

We had a very successful little adventure and handily defeated the ursaur in battle and rescued the elven pilgrim. I'm still very much enjoying it and looking forward to continuing our story.

Games Feb 2024

February 29, 2024 9:23 am

Games I played during February 2024

Mystic Vale - This is a deck-building game, but instead of adding cards to your deck, you add overlays to existing cards. An interesting mechanic which avoids the problem of decks getting bloated or needing to get rid of low-power cards as the game progresses. However, it means cards are made of plastic and require sleeving. Played at the board-game group, I lost.

Empires's End - Instead of building up your civilization from scratch, your peak civilization is assailed by disaster after disaster. You do your best to mitigate the damage. The winner gets to be emperor of the rubble. Played at the board-game group, I won.

Keep the Heroes Out - The pesky "heroes" are coming to loot your dungeon, keep them out. Play as one of the creature factions that lives in the caves and work together to fight off the invading humans. It's a fun, light-hearted game. Played with friends, we lost.

Davy Jones' Locker: The Kraken Wakes - Sail your ship from port to port gathering supplies and readying yourself for the day the Kraken attacks. Then fight the Kraken in an epic sea battle. A cooperative game that I backed through Kickstarter. I want to like this game, but I think it fell victim to "more is more" and would be more enjoyable if the designer cut 15% of the features and focused on ways to streamline the game loop. After several plays, the most accurate word I have for it is "finicky"--which is annoying. I played solo (loss), solo 2-handed (win), 2-player with Jess (loss), 2-player 2nd-act-only (win).

Dune: Imperium Uprising - The sequel to Dune: Imperium, which builds around the 2nd-half of the Dune story (apparently the games were designed to coincide with the 2-part movie releases). The goal is to gain enough influence with the various factions to take control of Arrakis. It's a worker-placement crossed with deck-building game. We played in teams mode during DunDraCon for a whopping 5.5 hours. My team, the Fremen, lost--but not by a lot.


Encouraged by the guy that runs the board-game group I attend I decided to see what a board-game convention looks like. DunDraCon held its 47th event this year. It's emphasis is on RPGs, but they have miniatures war gaming, board games, table-top games of all varieties, and mostly lots of space for open gaming. It runs all weekend over Presidents' Day, but I opted for just a single day. I figured a whole day would be enough of new social environments for me for one weekend.

Recently the event moved to Santa Clara. It used to be in San Ramon, which would have been a lot more convenient.

As mentioned above, I played a game of Dune: Imperium Uprising there which took most of my day. But I also took some time to visit the vendors' hall. Lots of what you'd expect, but also a couple selling these laser-cut, hand-painted and -assembled Mimics and Monster Books (operating under the name "Serial Hobbyists"). They're absolutely amazing and available in a variety of sizes. After selecting your box/chest/book you get to pick out eyes to go on it which they glue in place for you.

I selected this Mimic and this Monster Book:

I still have to decide on something fun to store in each of them.

While there I participated in one prototyping event for a game called Rift Zone: Contact. It's a miniatures war game run through an augmented reality app on a phone. It's a neat concept, but not really my jam. One of the appeals of table-top gaming for me is to not be fiddling with technology, since I spend all day doing that for work.

Sagrada - Build the best stained-glass window in the cathedral. I also played this at DunDraCon. It's a drafting game which mostly falls into "group solitaire". It's fine, but not a game I'll be adding to my library. I lost.

Everdell + Spirecrest expansion - Return to Everdell Valley, but now send your explorers on an epic quest to map the surrounding regions and discover wonderful new experiences. Jess and I really enjoy Everdell. It's an enjoyable worker-placement game at its core, but built inside beautiful artwork and a cozy/folksy theme. I received the Spirecrest expansion for Christmas, but hadn't played it until now. It is a pretty significant expansion and really changes the game flow. With the base game (and other expansions) we always found the end game revolved around optimizing which cards you'd add to your town as you hit the 15-card limit But in our Spirecrest game there was much more scarcity pressure and I think only one of us actually hit the 15-card limit.

The game adds "big creatures" which you can put a little saddle on and have your regular meeple ride, which is completely unnecessary as a design element, but greatly amusing. Jess and I played with a friend, I lost.

Everdell Spirecest
Everdell with Spirecrest expansion really fills the table.

Kinfire Chronicles: Night's Fall - I've been searching for a cooperative narrative-adventure game that strikes just the right balance. I've tried Sleeping Gods, Legends of Andor, Legacy of Dragonholt, Legends of Sleepy Hollow, and Gloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion. Sleeping Gods is alright, but a little finicky and can be demoralizingly rough at times. Legends of Andor is a series of independent scenarios with tight time pressure, making it a puzzle/optimization game. Legacy of Dragonholt is a choose-your-own-adventure story with only a hint of gameplay. Legends of Sleepy Hollow hits the right core, but lacks polish. And Gloomhaven: JotL has a continuing narrative but is fundamentally a puzzle/optimization game due to a time pressure mechanic (I like it, but the puzzle/optimization nature slows things down dramatically).

Kinfire Chronicles, so far, is working out well. It's core mechanics are deck building and tactical combat. I've been playing it with Jess. I've been playing as Feyn Longstride (human bard) and Jess as Roland Wordforger (dwarven scholar). It builds an interesting world and the combat loop is pretty snappy--without the time-pressure of Gloomhaven: JotL or Legends of Andor.

We've played through Quests 1, 2, & 3 and won them all. I also played Quest 1 solo as Kohr and Valora Helsman (and won) to get a feel for the game before inviting Jess to join me.

Ex Libris - Compete to curate the best library in the land. It's a game about collecting and organizing books! Jess gave me this for Christmas and this is the second time we played it. It's a calm, relaxed game of acquiring books then adding them to your bookshelf while keeping them alphabetized, avoiding the banned books, seeking out the prominent works, and striving for your own, personal library focus. We played with a friend, I lost.

Christmas 2022 Board Game Roundup

January 8, 2023 7:47 pm

We got a bunch of board games for Christmas this year. Here's my quick rundown and roundup of the games. I'll give each game my own, personal, first-impression rating and an inferred rating from Heather and Corinne based on my interpretation of how much they enjoyed the game.

Exploding Kittens (2015)

Kyle's Rating: 2/5 (simple and highly random)
Girls' Rating: 5/5 (silliness, and EXPLODING KITTENS!)

Fairly simple competitive, player-elimination card game. Every turn you draw a card from the deck, if it's an exploding kitten, you're out. Last player unexploded wins. You have a hand of cards which allows you to modify the game flow and potentially defuse a kitten. It's short, it's easy, the instructions are clear. The girls like it. We played it several times inside the air fort. The girls played it with friends that came over and taught it without assistance.

Happy Little Dinosaurs (2021)

Kyle's Rating: 1/5 (terrible instructions, probably higher rated if taught by someone else so you don't have to deal with the instructions)
Girls' Rating: 3/5 (cute and a bit silly)

You're a stressed out dinosaur trying to survive the ongoing apocalypse around you. You'll face various calamities and do your best to stay alive. This is also a competitive, player-elimination card game, but slightly more involved than Exploding Kittens. You have a hand of cards that may enable you to better survive (or throw your fellow dinosaurs under the proverbial bus). Be the last dinosaur alive to win (or be first to escape the apocalypse by moving to the end of the track).

The game is pretty straightforward, and the artwork is adorable, but the instructions are absolutely abysmal. Some of the worst I've ever seen. I think the clearest way to describe their failure is that they seem to describe the game from a detached observers view--like an anthropologist describing what's happening but not understanding why its happening. So when you read them you can understand the "appearance" of the game, but not any of the motivation for why you're doing things. Once you get past that, the rules are actually quite simple.

Perhaps it was the pain suffered from attempting to decipher the instructions, but we were not particularly impressed with this one after a few play-throughs.

Camel Up (2nd edition, 2018)

Kyle's Rating: 4/5 (clear rules, analyzing probabilities provides some depth)
Girls' Rating: 4/5 (wacky camels and light hearted)

You're in Egypt gambling on the camel races, but this race is a little....different. The camels climb on top of each other and move in stacks and a couple of camels are running the wrong way around the track.

The instructions are well written and easy to follow to get set up and playing. You take turns either making bets or moving the camels (by dropping a die out of the pyramid). Once the race is over the player with the most money wins. I think Jess is a little annoyed playing with me since I'm able to analyze the probabilities fairly readily and made good bets. The girls have liked it and Corinne, after insisting she didn't want to play, loves it.

It's silly, a bit whacky, very much non-serious, and fairly quick to play.

Paint the Roses (2022)

Kyle's Rating: 4/5 (going to especially appeal to logic players)
Girls Rating: n/a (haven't played with the girls yet)

You're gardeners for the capricious and violent Queen of Hearts. She's given each of you different instructions on how she wants her garden arranged. You must work together and use deductive reasoning to figure out what the Queen has commanded your fellow gardeners to do while they do the same for you. Keep up with the ever-changing whims of the Queen or it'll be "Off with your head!"

You place new plants in the garden to communicate to the other players what instructions you've been given and/or learn about what instructions they've been given. We lost on the very last turn when the Queen caught us and chopped our head off.

Very nice artwork with detailed figurines for the Queen, the gardeners, and the White Rabbit.

Jurassic Park: Danger! (2018)

Kyle's Rating: 3/5 (dinosaurs are too smart, should be hobbled somehow)
Girls' Rating: 3/5

Jurassic Park is frightening in the dark
All the dinosaurs are running wild
Someone shut the fence off in the rain

One player controls the dinosaurs, hunting down the humans on Isla Nublar for sport. The other players are those humans desperately trying to get the park operating well enough to call for help and escape.

I played the dinosaurs and I think the biggest flaw in this game is that the dinosaurs are too smart. Since the dinosaurs know the objectives of the humans they can make strategic decisions to deny access to key parts of the board. This seems to be required to keep the game balanced as designed, but it also means the dinosaurs are unnatural and it takes away from the atmosphere.

I'm thinking about playing around with rule modifications to force the dinosaurs to make more "mistakes" and feel more natural to the humans. Even something as simple as "roll a die to determine which of your 3 cards you use this turn" would help.

I like the theme and board design should make for good replayability.

My Little Pony: Adventures in Equestria (2022)

Kyle's Rating: 3/5 (mechanics feel a little clunky)
Girls' Rating: n/a (haven't played through a complete game with them yet)

There's trouble in Ponyville and you need the magic of friendship to set things right. In this cooperative game you'll play as one of Pinkie Pie, Rarity, Twilight Sparkle, Applejack, Rainbow Dash, or Fluttershy and work to acquire the necessary resources to clear some hurdles and complete the final challenge.

I think this game struggles a bit on what it's trying to be. It bills itself as a deck-builder, but you don't have time to do as much deck building as in most other deck-builder games. There's a strict time pressure (not wall-clock time, but per-turn events) pushing you towards defeat. The result is that you don't have a lot of time to build-up your deck--if you try you'll lose. Instead you need to use a fairly aggressive play style to stay on top of things to win, which isn't my preference. I usually play more casually, but you will definitely lose this game if you do that.

There's a somewhat awkward "move" mechanic in the game where you need to expend resources to move your standee from one place to another. I feel like this could have been dropped entirely without losing anything related to the core game mechanic.

The Night Cage (2021)

Kyle's Rating: 5/5 (unique mechanics and well executed theme)
Girls' Rating: 3/5 (felt maybe a little too creepy)

You awake in an endless labyrinth with nothing but a flickering candle to light your way. Working with the other prisoners you must find a key for each person, find a gate, and meet there to use your keys to unlock the gate and escape. But beware, only the light of your candle keeps these walls stable. Any time a passage is not being illuminated by a candle it disappears and will change when next seen.

I heard about this game while looking for good Halloweeny games to play. I bought Horrified last October and put this on the wish list. Horrified is campy and light-hearted. The Night Cage is dark and creepy.

The constantly evolving board is well executed. And the candle theme is effectively integrated throughout the game. A little out of place in early January, but I look forward to playing it in October. The instructions are well written and the turn actions are clear. There's also an "advanced" game mode which we haven't tried.

Wingspan (2019)

Kyle's Rating: 5/5 (super chill, beautiful artwork, clear mechanics)
Girls' Rating: 5/5

Develop an ecosystem to support a variety of birds in your wildlife preserve. Manage food, eggs, and space to grow your population.

Players earn points for the different types of birds, number of eggs, and other specific goals. The player with the most points at the end of 4 stages wins. There's a lot going on, but the core game loop is easy enough. The complexity comes from how the base mechanics interact with each other as you try to expand your preserve.

I always find simple mechanics that combine to produce emergent complexity to be very satisfying. Too many games add complications to make a game seem more complex, but if not executed well it feels clunky (I think that describes My Little Pony, above).

Jess learned how to play and taught this one to the rest of us, so I can't comment on the instructions directly, but it also came with a learning tool in which it tells each player exactly what to do for their first 4 rounds to help you figure out what's happening. That feature was very nice. By the end of your 4th turn you have at least a vague idea of why you'd take each of the actions available to you and you're ready to fly solo.

The artwork is beautiful and the gameplay is very chill. Ostensibly you're playing against each other, but you're mainly just doing your own little thing collecting birds and reaching goals and then you compare scores at the end (though you could be aggressive about monitoring what everyone is doing and work to hinder them).

Splendor (2014)

Kyle's Rating: 4/5 (logical analysis and engine building, but also fairly shallow)
Girls' Rating: 3/5

You're a renaissance-era aristocrat looking to expand your influence and power. Acquire resources and grow your empire while gaining the attention and loyalty of local nobles.

This game feels like what you'd get if you boiled down 7 Wonders to a single core mechanic: Acquire low-level resources which will enable you to acquire higher-level resources until you've accumulated enough points to win. Conversely, 7 Wonders would be what you get if you built on this core mechanic to produce more depth and (somewhat counter-intuitively) speed up the game.

Jess also took on learning this one. It seemed to go well, the rules are straight-forward (since it's built around a single mechanic). Easy to learn, easy to play. I always enjoy a game where you get to watch your power build and the engine-building in this scratched that itch well.

There are several expansions that, presumably, increase the depth and complexity.


April 5, 2021 5:36 pm

I've been working on painting this figure from the "Gloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion" game a little at a time for several weeks now. The figure is 1.5 inches tall, so the detail work is pretty tough. This took about 13 hours worth of time. It looks somewhat less impressive in blown-up, high-detail photographs; so just zoom out and imagine it being quite small so the errors in detail are less noticeable.

Overall I'm happy with how it came out.

There are 4 characters in the game, so three more to go. This may be the most detailed one, but I painted it first because it's the character I'm playing.