Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Innovation, by Carl Chudyk

Imagine, if you will, the halls of the Hyatt Regency at DFW Airport in November 2014. A few thousand of my friends and I are huddled together, sitting, waiting for the great pearly doors to swing open and let us ascend into BGG.Con. It's warm inside. There are lawn chairs, and men lounging in them. It's morning, so the smell of fresh-caught taquitos is in the air. A fellow con-goer - lonely, bearded, and proud - looks to me and says, "Innovation is the only game you'll ever need to own." I pall, unsure if I should trust his wild eyes and be led into the darkness... 

Fast forward three months, into the bitter depths of a Texas winter fraught with frigid evenings and frantic gaming with my mates. We've played Innovation a half-dozen times, each round more topsy-turvy than the last. We've nearly lost our wits keeping up with the swirling madness pouring from that golden box. To contain the unpredictable malice that's enveloped us, a member of my crew utters these words of invocation, "Innovation is just Fluxx for smart people."

The enchantment momentarily broken, we force the cards back into the paper vault from which they came. Our breath returns in quick bursts as sanity settles into our minds once more. I wonder, which of these friends was correct? The one who insists Innovation is a vital organ, like a heart or dice tower, or the one who reduces it so aptly into an exercise in randomness? I am lost, I can't find my way. 

Come, join me as I search for my answer...

Monday, May 18, 2015

Castles of Mad King Ludwig, by Ted Alspach

"This castle has six rooms to sleep in but nowhere to prepare food!"

At a glance:
-Players build flat castle layout to score points
-Several clever mechanics working perfectly in tandem
-1 to 4 players
-90-120 minute play time
-Moderately heavy, easy to teach to a player with some experience but maybe not the best choice to introduce a new comer.

(Which I will abbreviate to ‘Castles’)

Friday, May 15, 2015

Eminent Domain: Microcosm, by Seth Jaffee

"Microgame" is an ambiguous term in the tabletop gaming world. It's kind of an "I know it when I see it" thing - Love Letter (16 cards) is definitely a microgame, and so is Tiny Epic Kingdoms (lots and lots of cubes and boards and pieces), but I don't often hear folks call Coup a microgame, even though it comes in the same size box as TEK and has fewer cards than Love Letter (albeit with some chips and other little boards).

I admit confusion at what constitutes "micro", but I still use the word to describe those things that definitely are a game in a small package. Not all microgames are created equal, and in a Kickstarter-led world of reducing components and size and weight to reduce shipping and printing costs, there's a whole host of games that are playable, but fit squarely in the "flash in the pan" variety. 

Not so with Eminent Domain: Microcosm. At 34 cards and about a playmat's worth of table presence, ED:M could absolutely be called a microgame, but I'd rather call it a great game. Just like its macro predecessor, Eminent Domain, there's nothing micro about the depth of choices and the various paths to victory that emerge during play. The experience lives up to everything I expect from larger, deeper two player games like Patchwork and Akrotiri, and for this I say it's one of my favorite games of the year! 

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Patchwork, by Uwe Rosenberg

There are an understood set of popular themes for games that show up across our favorite titles - space, The Renaissance, exploration, nautical combat, high fantasy adventures, wild west showdowns - if I put up a poll, I bet I could get 20 examples of games that fit those themes. But what about quilting?

Patchwork is a two-player game about making a quilt. It's not a zombie quilt, or a space quilt, or even a magic quilt for Dwarves that live in a cave. It's a regular quilt, and you probably won't even finish it. You'll have some holes left, and it will be covered in buttons (???), and you'll feel so zen while you're doing it that you'll never poke fun at your grandmother's habits again.

With that, I invite you to join me as I explain why Patchwork is one of my top-five games this year.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Pit, and an Interview With a Competitive Friend

Age ain't nothing but a number
As I've become more and more immersed in this world of tabletop gaming, it's been easy to be consumed by the "hobby" game market and conveniently forget about - or worse, look down on - the millions and millions of people who play "mass market" games like Risk, Stratego, Uno, Clue, Whist, Euchre, etc in their regular play groups. 

For more than a century, at least four full generations of Americans have spent their evenings around the table playing a game about making markets and furiously trading cards in an attempt to collect sets and make money. It's not Monopoly - that mainstay of American tabletop gaming - but it is just as old. (Seriously, 1903 was a great year for game design!)

The game is Pit, and your great-grandparents learned it from their parents around the kitchen table after dinner, when the radio was newer and more interesting than Marvel's current cinematic universe and "Eurogames" meant the renewal of the ancient Olympics in Athens, Greece just a few years before.