Saturday, January 9, 2016

My Gamer's Resolution: Play the top 100 on by Year's End

Hi all,

For those of you that do not know me, I do not write often. When I do write, it is usually on this blog. To provide a little background about this exercise, I should state that I think New Year's resolutions are silly. That said, I do create a list of goals for the year in order to provide focus for things that I want to accomplish. In this particular case, I call this a resolution because it involves gaming and I think I will actually finish it.

These musings will be paragraphs, not reviews and not walkthroughs, and they will simply by my entirely biased opinion of a particular game, though I will provide basic details of what one does in the game. The list will be played in no particular order. If I do not complete it, I will lose exactly 0 seconds of sleep. Also, I have already played 47 games on the list. I do plan on playing those games this year so that my musings will be fresh. Also, if a game is on the list twice (looking at you War of the Ring), I will not be playing it twice. Additionally, if there is only an expansion listed, I will play the base game. If there are multiple games listed from the same family (17 versions of TTR) and if in my opinion they have sufficiently varying mechanics, then I may play both. This is if I am feeling benevolent and it happens to be raining on that particular day.  I will list the game in the number order in which I find it on my list. This list was copy/pasted to Excel this morning from BGG (here), so no it will not be current throughout the year. To provide myself some more focus, I'm going to write about my experiences here. Also, if you have not realized it, my humor is fairly dry. Also, be forewarned I think that I am much funnier than I probably am.

This list scares me a little because there are a lot of Euro style games on it, and I am more of a heavy theme, light on mechanics kind of guy. I play fast, enjoy chaos, and making things go Boom! Even my own things. Ask my friends. If I have to choose between losing and knocking someone out of first place or getting next to last, I will always go for the former. That said, I have been gaming for the better part of 6 to 7 years and think (entirely in my own estimation) that I give fair and intelligent feedback on things. I hope that through this exercise, I will not only play some new games and get games to the table with friends I don't see often (because I need to make use of their obscure game libraries) but also gain some respect for styles of games that I would not normally gravitate towards. Final Disclaimer and then I'll talk about games: I'm not a game designer. I'm not even a very good playtester. I am definitely not good at winning. However, I am a frequent teacher and demoer of games. My slant will have demos in mind. As of this posting I have played 2 games from said list that I compiled. One of them I own and have played before, the other I joined my friends Jason Hammer, John Adkins, Luc Lim, and Homer Hensley to play for the first. You will hear about these guys often because they are in my weekly game group.

#99 Istanbul - I chose this one first because I knew that Jason owned it. I have never played this game before, but the gist is that it is a worker placement where you can only place workers one to two spaces away from where your special worker is located. He's a merchant I think. Also, you can only activate a space if you either have a worker to leave behind or pick one up who was left behind. For sanity's sake there is also a space where your main dude can call all of the little dudes back to him. The goal of the game is to collect a number of gems (I think determined by player count). Also, there is a guy in jail, and I totally ignored him. He deserves to rot for what he did. Board setup is randomized for replayability and is setup on a 4X4 grid. If you add a couple of expansions the board can be expanded to a 4X5, max of 5 players I think. Learning the actions in the game (like all worker placement in my opinion) is like getting dumped in the middle of a giant river with a life jacket and your skivvies.

I spent half the game figuring out what things did with their little symbols (which were not crazy hard) and the other half trying (unsuccessfully) to plan ahead. I came in 4th of the 5. By the end I did have a strategy developed, so that's something I guess. One of the things that I enjoyed about the game was that player conflict was super minimal and the conflict was thematic. That is my understanding anyway. If you enter a space where a player's main dude was located, you pay that player two pieces of money. It's even less conflict than Lords of Waterdeep, and that conflict is low. Don't get me wrong, I'm pro high-conflict games, but I think I could get this to the table with my wife, which is a plus. I also like that spaces provide multiple ways to get gems, so if a way is closed because someone has all the coffee, there are other ways to obtain the gems you seek or to make your actions more profitable. I think the game is easy to explain, but a new player should expect to lose. I did as well as I did due to playing other worker placements. I would not have this be the first game someone plays in their hobby gaming career. I definitely recommend this and will play it again. Also, my friends wanted me to add the disclaimer that the game is much better with the expansions and super dry without. We did play with expansions.

#47 Pandemic - I played this last night with my wife and a couple of friends, one newbie. This is probably touted as a gateway game. You can probably buy it at non-hobby stores like Target and I recommend that everyone own a copy. It is not one of my favorite games of all time, but it is easy to teach, accessible, quick, and enjoyable. I am not a proponent of owning all the gaming things, but I am a proponent of owning all the gaming things that will make non-gamers want to game. This was normal Pandemic, not Legacy. Yes, I own Legacy and no I haven't started it. Yes I know it will be amazing. Yes I know it is #1 and seriously, I'll play it this year, might even get through all 12 months. In this section we are talking about normal Pandemic, so hold your horses.

The game is 2-4 players and participants play medical people (not sure how else to describe them) with varying abilities and they attempt to cure 4 random diseases of varying colors before one of several bad things murder the planet. This game is cooperative and it can also be very unforgiving or very easy. Ways to win: cure 4 diseases. Ways to murder the planet: run out of location cards in the player deck, have 8 outbreaks, don't cure a disease before you burn through all cards of that color, or run out of a particular disease's color of cubes (i.e. you cannot put any more disease on the board because you have run out of disease). Where you put disease is determined by a green deck of infection cards. The game starts with 21 cubes of randomly drawn colors (not random of the color but the cards that you draw).

Then a player takes a turn, draws cards, and spreads disease. Thee next person then becomes the active player and this continues until either the players have won the game and cured the diseases, or until the planet is murdered. Poor planet. Shuffled into the player deck are 5 Epidemic cards which are really bad. They cause the infection counter to increase, the bottom card of the infection deck to be drawn, and 3 cubes are placed on this location. The discard pile is then shuffled (including the recently used card) and added to the top of the deck. Finally, infection cards are drawn to the number of the current infection level (2 or more)  and cubes are placed on the places you probably recently infected.

It is one of those games where things are going so well and then it turns and is a bad day for all. This concept also exists in games like Dead of Winter and Battlestar Galactica (spoilers, both on my list). On a player's turn they get to take up to 4 actions (maybe more depending on ability and special cards.) These actions include moving to a new location, playing a card to move far away, building a research station (needed to cure a disease), using an ability, taking a card from a player (if you are both on the same location and the card is for that location, treating a disease (removing a cube from the space) or curing a disease. Curing a disease normally takes 5 cards of the color of the disease you are treating. When a disease is cured it becomes easier to treat and the Medic's ability becomes pretty powerful. He just enters the location and the disease magically flees.

If all cubes are removed for a treated disease, then it is eradicated and cannot return in the game, which is nice. Because everything, except some actions, is determined by card draw, sometimes the game is forgiving and you crack through pretty fast. Sometimes it kicks you in the teeth and causes 8 outbreaks in one turn. Overall though, I think the wins to losses usually balance out. By the way, an outbreak is caused if you need to place a 4th cube of a color that already has three cubes on the space. Instead of placing a 4th, it kicks a cube of that color to every place connected to the place of the outbreak. It causes some cube cross-pollination. The good news is that if there are 3 cubes of blue in a space, a new red cube won't mess stuff up. That's how real disease works, right?

I really like the tenseness that is created when you know a card that you do not want to see is coming up as well. As stated earlier it is super accessible and in my opinion a lot of fun. I will say that after quite a few play-throughs, the game might become repetitive to some. Also, since it is entirely cooperative if you have one of those alpha gaming friends, (you know that guy or gal) punch them in the face and tell them to shut it. Or just politely ask them to not play for the other players. I was a dwarf beardzerker in a past life, so I go for the former. Only kidding...I think.

I know this one was pretty long, they should be shorter in the future, but thanks for working through this with me. We'll see you later reader people.

See all of Nate's impressions on 2016's top 100 games here!