Bärenpark (Lookout Games, 2017)

Date played: February 24, 2019

Gist of the game: You are creating a bear park, complete with green spaces for visiting humans, houses for the bears, and bigger bear enclosures. The park features four types of bears, including honorary koalas. Place tiles on your board to gather more tiles for future use. When you fill a board (and you’ll have a total of four during a game), you get a bear statue. Bear houses, enclosures, and bear statues bear (get it?!) points, while the green spaces help you fill stray tile slots that get left behind by the bigger pieces. One spot on every board cannot be filled except by a bear statue when all the other spots are filled. Once the first person fills their fourth board completely, or no player can place a tile, the game ends. The player with the most points wins.

Color commentary: Ok, first, this game is practically perfect, because it a tile-laying game AND features bears! I’m having a hard time imagining a game that could have a more auspicious set of starting features. And, as an added bonus, it also features my favorite aspect of German games:

IMG-1458Yes, ladies and gentlemen, this is a bag of bags for the various components. And unlike Power Grid, which gave us a seemingly random number of bags, Bärenpark came with exactly the correct number of bags for the various components. 

While you can technically place your additional boards (unlocked with special spots on each board, including the first) in any location fully adjacent to at least one other board so long as it is not below the entrance to your park, I worked exclusively left to right, so that my four boards formed a line. I did this all three games. Now, it could be because my broad spatial reasoning is such that I easily get lost in restaurants and other enclosed spaces, but I was having a hard time envisioning what building my boards out in other directions would look like. On the other hand, constructing them the way I did gave me a horizontal Tetris board, where I do much better (seriously, if you ever need help packing a bunch of stuff in your car, let me know. I’m a pro at this). M adopted this strategy after the first game, and his scores went up markedly (though he also changed his strategy which, as I type this, probably made a bigger difference, since I had no idea what he was doing in the first game). M says he had no idea what he was doing in the first game. Also M remains unconvinced that this is the four-board-long is the best strategy, but none better have come to him.

I also liked the feature where the first of the bear houses you take have the highest points and you work down to the lowest number of points. In a two-player game, you had three houses each of the four bears. There were three enclosure pieces per bear, worth 6-8 points (with points escalating with difficulty of playing the piece). Also, green spaces came in 1 (toilets), 2 (playground), 3 (L-shaped river), and 4 (food street) spaces, so they were pretty handy for filling spots. The last piece I played in the last two games we played were rivers. There was a run on toilets the first game, but not in any of the subsequent games. I enjoyed this game a lot, and am looking forward to playing it again.

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Kingdomino (blue orange, 2017)

Dates played: February 21, 2019 & February 23, 2019

Gist of the game: Use domino tiles to construct a 5×5 (3-4 players) or 7×7 (2 players) kingdom. Tiles are constructed as dominoes, with two domains per tile and adjacent tiles must share a domain (water, wheat, cave, forest, etc.). If you cannot make an adjacent play, the tile is discarded. Some half-tiles have crowns, which will give you points when all the tiles have been exhausted. The player with the most points (combination of number of crowns and size of domains, that is, how many like-pieces are connected).

Color commentary: There’s a mechanism to call dibs on the next round of four tiles that I’m convinced we’re not executing correctly, but M insists we are (or at least are executing correctly enough). For the sake of our marriage, we modified the rules a bit so that in a two player game, Player 1 chooses the first tile, Player 2 chooses tiles two and three, and Player 1 gets the leftover tile as their second piece. M calculated that otherwise, the player who got to choose first always won the game.

Given my affection for Carcassone, Takenoko, and Tsuro of the Seas, I might just be a sucker for tile-laying games, but after we got the dibs-calling order sorted out, I like this game a lot. Pre sorting out, I was a little stabby.

The shuffling of the tiles between games and the dibs-calling means that there are a lot of possible combinations of kingdoms, so I feel like this is going to have a lot of replay potential. M has requested that we just keep it on the table so it’s ready to go at a moment’s notice. Not even Groo received this honor, so you know he must be a true fan.

Playing this makes me want to introduce M to Carcassone (we have the Big Box at our disposal), though, and go on a tile-laying binge.

Groo: The Game (Archangel Studios, 1997)

 

Date played: February 22, 2019

Gist of the game: Players construct towns using resource dice (a la Catan dice game) to build buildings and construct armies. A special die indicates which town Groo, that beloved barbarian buffoon, wanders to each turn. On their turns, players discard, draw back up to 5 cards, optionally launch an attack, role the dice for the construction phase, share any leftovers with other players, and draw back up to 5 cards again. Event cards (that must be played immediately), wild cards, and Groo Effects cards (playable when Groo icons come up on the resource dice, mainly to thwart your opponent) add some additional variety to the game. First player to 7 victory points (obtained through buildings) wins.

Color commentary: I bought this game from the local comic book shop when I was a kid. I would go and buy Groo comics while my sister shopped the Magic: The Gathering selection. It wasn’t until I started dating M that I was informed that in addition to the marginal fame of Groo (variously published by Pacific, Eclipse, Marvel, Image, and Dark Horse), Sergio Aragonés is more notable for his decades-long contribution to MAD Magazine. This particular copy of the game is even more special to us because Sergio Aragonés spoke at Michigan State University a couple years ago, and we were able to get the box autographed (and impress him that we owned the game, and simultaneously disappoint him that we had never played it). This game was for you, Sergio!

M points out that the dominant strategy in Groo, like in Guilotine, is a strictly short-term strategy: make the best move in the moment, and don’t count on it carrying over across turns, certainly not more than one turn. I think the leftover-resource sharing is a neat mechanic, though is probably most beneficial to all players in a two-player game. That said, there’s enough chance in the game between the cards you draw and the dice you roll that there’s not much point in trying to plan ahead. We didn’t use the combat mechanic all that much, though it does provide the opportunity to strip your opponent of victory points. 7 victory points may also be a bit too few, at least in a 2-person game. We had plenty of cards left over (and have the expansion pack, also autographed!), so at least with just the two of us, there’s no real reason not to go up to 10 points and extend game play a bit.

While nostalgia may be a fairly large reason for my enjoyment of the game, it’s just complicated enough to stay interesting but simple enough to be true leisure. And no matter how simple the game, it will always be infinitely more complex than the inner-workings of Groo’s brain.

Tsuro of the Seas (Calliope Games, 2012)

 

Played: February 17, 2019

The gist of the game: The emperor sends you out to explore and make known that everything he can reach, he owns. As you sail along, your ship creates wakes that you glide along. Beware the giant monsters (daikaiju), though. If you said into one or one moves into your path, you’re dead. And if you get carried along by the wakes and drift off the edge of the board, that’s the end of you, as well. On each turn, players roll to see if the daikaiju move (they do if you roll a 6, 7, or 8; if they move, you then roll a single die and move each monster according to the directions on the monster tile). If the player survives their move, they place a wake tile and move to the end of its current path. Wake paths can intersect as players lay more and more tiles. The tile art is fine, but the art on the actual game board (mostly visible above) is amazing. M points out that the main strategy may just be to not make any obviously bad move, as there’s a considerable luck component, given the randomness of the daikaiju movements and the wake tiles you draw.

Color commentary: The main impetus for playing this now (which we got through the Lexicon online flea market last April) was to see if we liked the game, because I’ve backed a sequel on Kickstarter. One could argue that we should have figured out if we liked it before we committed to the sequel, and one wouldn’t be wrong, per se, but significantly less adventurous, right? Fortunately, it was a pleasant game. We were able to play three rounds before I insisted on writing this blog. We may play a few more rounds, or I may force us to learn another new game.

This is probably one of slightly-more-complex games we’ve collectively figured out the fastest. The daikaiju movement mechanic was a little confusing at first (the instructions kept mentioning a singular daikaiju, but the premise would really only make sense if you moved all of them), but we got that sorted out pretty quickly. I was consumed by jerk-ass daikaiju in fairly short order in our first two plays. The third game lasted significantly longer, and we got to experience intersecting wake paths (my paths intersected with M’s earlier tiles, and M intersected with some of my earlier tiles), which was a pretty neat feature.

The game can be played with 2-8 players, but honestly, the thought of playing with 8 stresses me out. M points out that each player would have a lot fewer turns, and the wake paths would probably intersect much more quickly. On the other hand, games with more players start out with fewer monsters, so they have that going for them.

Estimated game time is 20-40 minutes. I think our first two games probably lasted less than that, because as soon as someone goes off the board or gets eaten by a daikaiju, the other player wins. More players would probably extend the minimum game time. Our third game probably lasted a solid half hour.

And now, at M’s request, he would like the story told of his ship (olive green, in the lower right quadrant of the picture) in the third game.

IMG_1077

He valiantly skirted the edge of the board and monsters several times. He intersected my previous wake path and managed to forge a new path forward, back toward the center of the board and away from certain doom. And then, on his turn, the daikaiju moved. When it became obvious what was going to happen to the ship, the musicians firmly planted themselves on the deck, playing their violins until the last. The daikaiju acted quickly, eating the crew in such a way that they did not suffer, but rather bravely followed the sextant to the captain’s quarters in the sky. After the daikaiju was done snacking, the other ship could hear “Taps” playing softly as the agitated sea whipped against its sides.

Christmas Miracle Board Gamevaganza

Winter break was a glorious time for games in the Hendriquist household. I was able to introduce M to a game I had played as a child, we discovered we had been playing Camping with Sasquatch almost entirely incorrectly, and we got to play a game we’ve been wanting to but have never been able to rustle up a third person for. Plus, my sister combined all my Boss Monster cards into the snazzy lunch-box-esque carrying case (except for Crash Landing, which I swear was in the board game bookbag but which we were unable to locate at the time and which I haven’t bothered to look for since returning home). I still have yet to play Catan, which is certainly interfering with my life goal of competing in the national Catan tournament (but there’s still time to train before the 2019 Lexicon competition, if I can find a consistent third player!), but there’s always spring break for that. The rundown is below, starting with the game we played for the first time, Sheriff of Nottingham.

Sheriff of Nottingham
The gist of the game: You are but a poor merchant trying to get to market. You may be carrying legal goods, contraband goods, or royal goods (a special kind of contraband). The Sheriff’s job is to confiscate contraband. Each turn, a player is the sheriff while the other players try to outwit the sheriff and get their goods to market. Players can bring up to five goods to market (and must declare the correct number), but can only declare legal goods, and can only declare one kind of good. Merchants can bribe the sheriff with money or goods to make it through without an inspection. If their bag is inspected and they were completely truthful, the sheriff pays them a penalty. If they were not truthful, they must pay a penalty for each undeclared item, and untruthful items are confiscated.

Color commentary: I have discovered that bluffing games are not for the faint of heart or cultural Catholics. As someone who generally has little reason to lie, I’m not accustomed to doing so, and essentially being forced to (if you want to win the game) was a little anxiety-inducing. Combined with M’s, ahem, enthusiasm for playing the sheriff (poking bags, soliciting bribes and upping the ante), it was a little stressful, but still fun. (M says he would have been a great guard in the Stanford Prison Experiment.) The game theory nerds quickly realized that a mixed strategy of some truthfulness and some deceit would be most effective, but that the specific mix would be determined in part by the personality of the individual players (note: I am a sucker). The art on the player boards is fun, and there’s a nice mix of types of goods. Plus we got to use my mom’s automatic card shuffler, which provided almost as much entertainment as the game itself.

Revisiting games at least one of us has already played

ASAP
In a game apparently reminiscent of Scattergories (but I don’t know this for sure, because I’ve never played it, but conveniently received a copy of it for Christmas this year from my best friend from high school), players move around a board of various categories. When a player lands on a category, they flip over the first card in a deck of 26 letter cards. The first player to name something in that category beginning with that letter “wins” the category and is the next player to advance. It’s essentially a game of quick thinking. Highlights of this go around were none of the four of us being able to think of an ice cream flavor that begins with the letter V (basically everyone else we posed this challenge to identified vanilla within about half a second), but M declaring Yul Brynner to be an actor starting with the letter Y without missing a beat, and certainly without being able to contemplate the category/letter combination for more than a fraction of a second. A friend we were playing with thought she could modify the game slightly to be a great tool in the language classes she teaches. I personally wonder if any categories would be different if the game were re-released today (the rock/mineral fad seems to have faded somewhat, for instance, although M is wondering if such a fad ever existed), but since I’ve played this off and on since I stole it from my sister in the mid-1990s, the replay value is high.

Boss Monster
Poor M. He didn’t play video games as a child, and thus the premise of heroes trying to make it through a castle (or the twist, playing the boss and trying to kill the hero) is not intuitive. (M does acknowledge wasting his youth reading and watching television, but accepts that the die has been cast.) Nonetheless, we played this with my sister for a few rounds and had a fun time constructing our dungeons (with cards mixed up from all three “main” games: Boss Monster, Boss Monster 2, and Boss Monster: Rise of the Mini Bosses, plus the expansions: Paper & Pixels, Tools of Hero-Kind, and Implements of Destruction) and trying to slay heroes. I will say this: the Epic Heroes sneak up on you quickly. Not to mention the dangers of having players tie for the most “types” (Mage, Thief, etc.) in your dungeon so that a glut of heroes builds up and then ends up being dispatched all at once, which may allow a player to win on a single turn even if they’ve been lagging prior to that. I think the replay value is higher with all the games and expansions mixed in, as that creates more variety and possible combinations. Plus we got to use the card shuffler again!

Camping with Sasquatch

As it turns out, you’re only allowed to have one trick of a given suit going at any given time. This certainly dispenses with the strategy issue M and I had the first time we played. Also we scored incorrectly previously. And my sister had the clever innovation (not included in the instructions, which were silent on this issue) of having us draw a card whenever we couldn’t play a card. This also had the benefit of prolonging the game, which always seemed to end so quickly when it was just the two of us (granted, we were playing with my mom and sister, which would have lengthened the game anyway, but this feature had a greater impact, I think). We’re still trying to sort out the slapjack-sasquatch mechanics, but now that we have the rest of it accurate, we can puzzle our way through that and develop ancillary rules as necessary. Also, the game is better with a card shuffler.

 

SeaFall (IronWall Games, 2016)

SeaFall 2

Gist of the Game: It comes in a large box. In the box there are many pieces. There is a long instruction manual. The makers provide a 45-minute “Getting Started” video online.

Color Commentary: Given that I strained a muscle in my legs squatting over my printer/copier to copy the 289723879247348934-page instruction manual, I should have suspected that maybe this game wasn’t going to go as well as some others we’d roped people into playing with us. We were going to play-test it for use in a class I was going to be teaching, and convened a special game night for that very purpose. We opened the box, peering inside like frightened children. The sheer magnitude of what lay before us was overwhelming. When the four of us began looking through the rules, we couldn’t make sense of them. We couldn’t even discern a basic objective. All I remember is that there are seasons within the game. Seeking guidance from those with more gaming prowess than ourselves, we took to the internet. What we found was a 45-minute “Getting Started” video, which I think was distinct from a video actually teaching you how to play. I think it was concerned only with getting everything set up. We gave up, ate Thai food, and played Guillotine instead.