Tag: board games (page 1 of 3)

Game Review: Poo

I know a lot of people who have a fondness for Cards Against Humanity. I can’t deny the appeal of a social lubricant with an unlimited number of players and a puerile sense of humor. The fact of the matter is, though, that there isn’t much game there. In my humble opinion, if you want to play an actual game with your friends, and still laugh at the goings on just on the face of the cards in play, look no further than Poo, a card game by Matthew Grau, who went on to design a follow-up dubbed Nuts. More on that later.

Courtesy Wildfire Entertainment

You and your friends are monkeys at the zoo. And you’re bored. To amuse yourselves, and possibly the tours of school children walking by, you’ve decided to start flinging poo at one another. As monkeys get absolutely caked with the stuff, the keeper hauls them away to get hosed off. The last monkey standing (that is to say, least covered in poo) is the winner. The premise, really, could not be simpler.

Gameplay is simple, as well. On every turn, the monkey in question plays a card from their hand, either to fling poo or to clean themselves off, and then draws to replace the card played. Out of turn, other players have cards that allow them to defend (for example, using your buddy’s face to block an incoming wad) or cause mishaps (“Nope, sorry, that was just a fart!”), also drawing to fill their hands afterward. There are also special events, like poo landing on the lights or the tiger getting loose. With clear rules listed on the cards, written in conversational language, it quickly becomes clear that this is definitely a game that anybody can play.

Courtesy Wildfire Entertainment

Experienced gamers will recognize that Poo is, like so many other games, an exercise in hand and resource management. Timing is everything, from how long to hold on to that Dodge card to the correct moment to let fly with The Big One. While there is definitely some thought involved in these decisions, it can’t be said that Poo is a very strategic game, nor is it meant to be the sort of experience that goes on for hours. It’s quick and funny, an icebreaker or a social game, which is good because of its other flaw: player elimination.

In a social setting, say around a dinner table or with a round of drinks, player elimination is not a big deal. Conversation and kibitzing adds to the flavor of the experience for those left standing. In other environments, though, player elimination can be troublesome. Poo mitigates this with hilarious art and its blatantly worded cards, but it definitely benefits from a more casual setting than some other games. Like Cards Against Humanity, this is more meant to break the ice between people, or pass the time amusingly while waiting for food or in a queue, but unlike Cards, there’s definite gameplay, split-second decision-making, and humor based more on the content of the cards themselves than the context of how they read for a particular person.

Courtesy Wildfire Entertainment

Poo comes in a standard tuck box, which can make packing or unpacking the game slightly problematic at times. Still, it’s sturdy and travels very well. The follow-up game, Nuts, is similar in theme but sees players hoarding their resources rather than giving them away. I haven’t played Nuts myself, but if Poo is any indication, it will likely be an improvement on an already memorable and very good design. If you have a group of friends you see often, or if you want to introduce your family to gaming using a brand of humor most people can get behind (since everybody poops), I’d definitely recommend Poo.

Tabletalk: What’s In A Game?

As pleased as I am to see board gaming emerging from basements and grottos to become a more visible and enticing hobby, I think some people still see it as something of an enigma. The average person probably still thinks of Monopoly or Risk when ‘board games’ are mentioned. Thankfully, modern games provide a lot more than dice rolls to keep their action going and players coming back to the table. Let me tell you about a few of those methods.

Worker Placement

Lords of Waterdeep

‘Euros’ are board games that hail from Europe, or that are inspired by the same. They lean heavily away from random chance as a game mechanic, focused more on player choice and limited resources. Gathering those resources often takes the form of worker placement, as in games such as Caylus, Notre Dame, and to a lesser extent Lords of Waterdeep. With a mere handful of representatives on the board, players must claim what resources they can to achieve their goals before the game ends. That’s another feature of euros – many of them have limited turns, adding pressure to the puzzle presented by the board. And with other players competing to complete their puzzle more completely than yours… well, you get the idea.

Deck Building

High Command: Warmachine

Made popular by Dominion and a key feature in games like Eminent Domain, Ascension, Arctic Scavengers and High Command, deck building games present a tableau of choices to their players, letting the participants craft their experience to their liking. The goals for the game may be the same, but they can be achieved through different means. Rather than resources being directly limited by a static board, a stack of cards can get depleted if it proves to be popular. Like worker placement, deck building games do not entertain the possibility of random chance ruining the experience, but rather use it (in the form of players shuffling decks) to spice up the game and keep players coming back for more.

Procedural Boards


Perhaps one of my favorite mechanics of modern board gaming, the type of game that features what I call ‘procedural boards’ places a randomized set of tiles in front of the players and has them assemble the board on which the action unfolds before them at the time of play. This can be a central board, as in Twilight Imperium, Archipelago, Escape! The Curse of the Temple, Mage Knight or Quantum, or it can be in front of the individual player, as in Galaxy Trucker or Suburbia. Not only does this provide the charm of being different every time, it can also allow for other game mechanics to be layered on top with little difficulty. Archipelago, for example, uses worker placement as well as a procedural board, and Mage Knight has elements of deck building.

What other aspects of modern board gaming do you enjoy?

Tabletalk: The Rules of the Game

Courtesy Theology of Games
Courtesy Theology of Games

There are only a few board games that one can play entirely on their own. They essentially become very complex puzzles that you setup and solve on the fly, rather than being assembled, disassembled, or arranged correctly. Sometimes this is fine, but for the most part, you’ll want to get other people involved with your games. That means, you have to teach them the rules.

The rules of any given game provide the framework and nature of the challenge that game presents. They’re essential to board games of all shapes and sizes. But teaching said rules does not have to be a dull undertaking that fills up time you could spend playing and having fun with tedious rules explanations that sound just short of obfuscatory legalese. Here are a couple basic tips for making a session of teaching the rules of the game not suck.

Don’t just read from the rulebook.

Direct reading of rules from a rulebook to a potential player is poison to the interest in the game. While some gamers will still be fascinated by how the rules interlace or the ramifications of certain situations, new players in particular (especially if they don’t often play board games) will not want to hear the dry, uncharacterized rules right from the off. That will just play up the stodgy stereotype of board games and the people who play them, and we do not want that.

Instead, give the players an idea of what their options are on their turn. As much as this can lead to players being somewhat isolated in early turns, it puts their focus on what’s in front of them. “So you have these cards, these pieces, and this objective in mind. What do you want to do next?” When they decide what they want to do, be it for the objective or just for fun, encourage them and show them how its done while explaining any rules involved. It gets you playing faster, it gives context to the rules, and it pulls new players in quickly.

Introduce components before rules.

The other problem with rules explanations is that it requires new players to focus entirely on what you’re saying, and it needs to make sense. Dry readings from the rulebook can be very difficult to make interesting or even sensical, as some rulebooks are more reference sources than coherent reading experiences (looking at you, Fantasy Flight Games). But your board game has more than just the board and the rulebook – you have components, cards, dice, miniatures, and all sorts of things that can help your players pay attention.

I can’t take credit for this one. Quinns from Shut Up & Sit Down pointed out that people are actually more attentive if they have something in their hands. If they’re just sitting there listening to a tutorial, they are unlikely to retain everything they hear. Give them a component, a hand of cards, or some currency or tokens, and suddenly they’re paying more attention. This also ties into the previous point of giving them options for their first turn. Tying your explanation into what they’re holding and what their choices might be engages them in the proceedings right from the off.

If you’re going to teach it, know it.

This might seem like a no-brainer. And it doesn’t apply to all situations. If you’re unboxing a game for the very first time in front of new players, it’s impossible for you to know the game front to back the way you really should in order to teach it. But this is likely to be a rare occurrence. Most of the time, you’ll have the game before the time comes to play it. In that case, you should know it before you teach it.

This will help you in not reading dry rules from the rulebook, getting new players involved, and focusing more on their opening moves than on what the rules say.

Provide personal examples.

Most people like to hear stories. Many also like to tell them. There are some humorless folks out there who don’t want some silly story about emotions and morals and personal interest to interfere in their action, but that’s usually more applicable in terms of first-person shooters than board games. When you’re teaching a new game to people, it can be helpful to tell them some of your own experiences with it, especially if you tell them how you’ve lost.

Not only does this help new players figure out what to avoid, it demonstrates that while you know the game, you are not infallible. This will increase their confidence and get them more eager to play the game you’ve taught them. And when the game is over, they’ll have experiences of their own to relate to others!

Don’t take my word for it.

I mentioned Quinns and his site, and he has more tips on rules explanations right here. There are also lots of folks in the comments section to provide guidance. Be sure to check it out here!

Board gaming is a great hobby, and it’s even better when you get more people around the table. The more the merrier may be a somewhat cliched phrase, but it’s true. Even two players tends to be better than one when it comes to board gaming, and some games really come into their own when you get a great number of people playing at the same time. As much as they all need to know the rules, there’s no need for learning said rules to be boring. Make it interesting. Bring them in. And before they know it, they’ll know the rules of the game well enough to teach others. The cycle will continue, the hobby will grow, and more and more games will come out of the basement and into the light.

Game Review: Splendor

Board games come in all shapes and sizes, and run the gamut from frenetic, brief bursts of simple gameplay, like Escape! The Curse of the Temple, to day-long brain-burning grand strategy experiences, such as Twilight Imperium. Some games, however, manage the tricky feat of being both easy to learn and play, and deep in terms of strategy and puzzle-like challenge. One such game is Splendor, a contender for this year’s prestigious “Spiel des Jahres” (game of the year) award in Germany.

Set during the Renaissance, Splendor casts its players as gem merchants, using the glittering resources to build and expand their holdings. Some of these properties do little more than feed more gems into one’s pockets, while others earn the merchant prestige. Famous figures will also watch the proceedings, lending their support to merchants who play into their interests. Merchants are, of course, too refined to degenerate into violence, but that does not mean that the competition for holdings is not excessively cutthroat. You have to be smart, fast, and ruthless to earn the right combination of holdings to earn the most prestige.

The holdings are displayed on cards in a tableau available to all players, arrayed in ranks from one to three. First-tier holdings are simple mines that offer no prestige but are very cheap, and provided permanent discounts to future purposes. Second-tier holdings are pricier but offer prestige along with their discounts, and top-tier cards are pulverizingly costly but bring in tons of points. The aforementioned famous figures each display a given number of holdings in certain colors, and the first player to reach that number of holdings earns the figure’s prestige. On your turn, you can pick up a diverse number of gems, double down on a single color, purchase a holding, or reserve a holding by picking up a single ‘wild’ gem. The purchase of holdings is facilitated with thick plastic chips, each representing a different kind of gem. The number of chips is limited, and once they’re gone, they’re gone, at least until a merchant buys a holding.

The bank of gems: source of and solution to all your problems.

A good board game does not base its core gameplay around randomization, but uses randomization as part of its setup to increase replay value. The decks of holdings are shuffled, and the patrons selected at random, before the game even begins, so the tableau presented to players is always different. The challenge, however, is always the same: how can you use the limited resources available to grab the cards you need before someone else does? Splendor‘s presentation, in addition to being beautiful, always challenges its players. There are multiple ways to carve a path to victory, with some players trying to go wide in their holdings’ diversity while others opt for vertical collections of deep discounts to rush towards high-prestige rewards. Players bounce off of the tableau as well as each other in their quest for victory, and the game manages to combine the tension of competition with the intellectual challenge of puzzle-solving.

In addition to its rock-solid gameplay, Splendor is simply pretty to look at. The art of the holdings is very attractive, their color palettes informing the gems required to pick them up. In addition, the gems themselves are weighty, large chips that clack and clatters as they move from their stacks to players’ positions and back again. It lends the game an almost poker-like feel as players study the tableau the way professional gamblers study the spread of cards at a Texas Hold-‘Em tournament. For all of its relatively simple design and easy-to-explain rules, Splendor provides not only a challenging gameplay experience, but a lovely one.

The holdings are just gorgeous.

The Spiel des Jahres award is one of the highest in all of gaming. To qualify for it, a game has to be challenging and interactive but also straightforward enough that anybody can play it. Splendor hits all of the right notes: its concept lends itself to diversified gameplay, its rules are clear and simple, the layout is fantastic, and the design is nearly flawless. Even if it doesn’t win the award, it definitely deserves a place in your collection. In a world of heaving shelves full of wargaming and sci-fi miniatures, and massive boxes teeming with monsters to slay, games like this may seem simplistic and easy to overlook, but a game this attractive, this challenging, and this rewarding is truly a sight to behold. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

Tabletalk: Your Table’s Real Estate

Courtesy Theology of Games
Courtesy Theology of Games

Space at your common table, be it in your dining room, den, or boudoir, is precious. It needs to be used wisely when it comes to entertaining. You need room for everyone to sit and be comfortable. Room for refreshments is always welcome. Games that occupy the table should make good use of whatever remaining real estate their is, holding the attention of your guests and keeping them involved and interacting. This is one of many reasons why Monopoly sucks – most of its board is full of negative space.

It also never changes. Board games that I’m finding myself thoroughly enjoying have gameplay that varies from session to session. When a galaxy in Twilight Imperium is created by the players around the table, it is going to be completely different from any scenario setup or previous galaxy, adding another element to the strange brew that makes it fun to devote eight hours to a single game. Quantum is similar in that the ‘board’ is mutable and can be altered or changed drastically to change up the experience. Games like Mage Knight, Archipelago, and Escape: The Curse of the Temple take it one step further by making their boards what would be called ‘procedurally generated’: the board is revealed and assembled as you play, guaranteeing a fresh experience every time.

Other games like to decentralize the action. Galaxy Trucker may have a central board to track everyone’s position in the convoy, but all of the real action happens on the players’ individual boards, as meteors and laser blasts render your cobbled-together space truck back into the shoddy spare parts you used to build it in the first place. Suburbia gives each player their own space to build their SimCity-esque metropolis, with its bank and goals in a central location. Seasons may have a calendar in the center of the table and a single, shared scoreboard, but players will be interacting with their own decks, tokens, dice, and boards to manage the careers of their chosen adorable aspiring forest-wizards.

While board games continue to provide new and interesting ways to make the most of your table’s real estate, card games remain some of the most economical entertainment to grace that same area. While deck-builders like Dominion and Eminent Domain centralize the pool of cards players have to choose from in constructing their decks, Boss Monster takes the route of games above that sees players focused on individual areas just as much as the center of the table. Chez Geek and Munchkin encourage players to keep track of both their own area and those of other players as competition for victory becomes more and more rapid and cut-throat. Finally, hidden role games like Bang!, One-Night Ultimate Werewolf, The Resistance: Avalon, and Coup bring the eyes of the players up from the table and into those of the other players, the game play arguably more about bluffing, gambits, and deductive reasoning than any information provided at the center of the table.

Just to reiterate a point made earlier in this post, Monopoly sucks. Its gameplay never changes and its board consumes too much real estate on the table. Many games make better use of the space, even with similarly sized central boards; Pandemic, Ticket to Ride, SmallWorld, Lords of Waterdeep, and Battlestar Galactica are all examples of recent games that require a good chunk of your table’s space but make the most of it by varying gameplay elements, getting players involved and interacting, offering challenges or emergent narrative, and so on. It’s these things that make the game I’ve mentioned well worth the space on your table (and your shelves), and will more than likely bring people back for more, time and again.

Older posts

© 2024 Blue Ink Alchemy

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑