We had an epic day of gaming this past week that included a few rounds of the Castles of Mad King Ludwig. What a game. We enjoyed it so much we were inspired to start a few bands based on our crazy castle building experience. But don’t expect to hear the Glamour Castles or Intimidated by Hallways playing anytime soon at a stony palace near you, we’ve decided just to play the game many more times rather than actually start a band, which is really a bonus for everyone.
During the planning of our 9 castle tour, we asked ourselves, why did this game inspire us to be as crazy as King Ludwig? Was it because the game had too much downtime, too much time to think? Or did it not have enough downtime, forcing our brains to run at high speeds? You know what, the downtime was just right. What about the length, maybe too long and our exhausted brains became delusional? Or too short with more time to be silly in between games? No, actually, the game length was just right. Guess what Goldilocks, this game is just right in so many ways. Are there others like Mad King Ludwig, not too hard, not too soft, but just right? We think so, and here are some of our favorites, but first, the criteria for getting Goldilocks to sleep in your bed. Um, sorry, I meant like your game.
The Golidlocks Game Test: The game must be just right in the following categories.
Length: For us, a little over an hour, but well under 2 hours is just right, so about 90 minutes. Interestingly, that is the average time for a full sleep cycle. Could being in the zone during a 90 minute game be just as refreshing as a sleep cycle? If so, bye, bye sleep, hello Goldilocks games from midnight to 7 am.
Simplicity: This refers to the rules, which should have a certain elegance rather than being a clunky collection of interactions between bits.
Complexity: This refers to the strategy. Planning ahead is fun, but if you have to hold 23 things in a brain space designed to hold only 7, Goldilocks will not be playing, which is a bummer, because she’s cute and cheery.
Downtime: We play games to use our brains in new and interesting ways, so thinking hard for short periods of time is enjoyable. Watching someone rub the skin off their chin is not. Goldilocks wants some downtime in her games, just not a halftime show.
Player Interaction: Too much player interaction and you have a great loud and chaotic pub game, too little and you might be playing a Feld or a Rosenberg. We’re looking for just enough interaction to keep the competitive tension high without the possibility of having your entire game ruined following one silly move by another bear.
Dr. Cloud’s Goldilocks List (numbered, but not in any particular order actually)
For a slow quarter, our new arrivals table is looking pretty full. A few weeks ago we had to make space on the table for the Star Realms Crisis expansion packs and Roll for the Galaxy, two stellar surprises (oh yeah folks, get ready for more groan-inducing puns to follow). About the same time, Carcassonne Gold Rush rode into town, which is a very cool looking addition to the Carcassonne Around the World line, an idea wrangled from the Catan franchise.
This week the new releases just kept sailing in, with the Machi Koro Harbor expansion topping the hotness list. Well, technically, Uwe Rosenberg’s new 2-player game, Fields of Arle, tops the hotness list of new arrivals for the week, but you’ll see none on our table because supply is now fallow. Anyway, The Machi Koro Harbor expansion adds a fifth player and includes enough cards to allow for a variable setup, very cool. Serious game enthusiasts like to pitch Machi Koro overboard, but in our opinion this is one of the better casual and mixed-ages family games to be released in a long time. I know at least one local podcaster who can’t wait to get his hands on this puppy.
To round up the new releases for the week, we had a slick Star Realms storage solution fall from the sky, an illustrated card box with enough themed card sleeves to shield one base game with all the Crisis expansions and promos (the card box also contains a promo card). For those hooked on the Firefly Board Game, the Artful Dodger mini-expansion made it past the authorities. Finally, a deluxe tile version of the 2013 Spiel des Jahres winner, Hanabi, exploded onto the scene, and an interesting historical euro game, the Staufer Dynasty, paid us a visit.
Whew, so much for a slow month. But while all of the new goodies piled in, I had the chance to play a few older titles. The holiday season put a bit of a damper on my ability to relax, sit down, and play, so I have quite a backlog of titles to try out. High on my backlog list was Castles of Mad King Ludwig, which has been receiving a lot of low-level buzz, and for good reason. I’ve lost 2 games miserably now, but thoroughly enjoyed doing so. In this game, players buy rooms from the current market to build their own crazy castles, and try to score points by creating room combos and finding the King’s favor in often unusual ways. What I find most brilliant about this game is the mechanism for establishing room prices. Players take turns acting as the master builder, which means they get to set the prices for the available rooms for the round. And as the master builder, the other players pay you when they purchase a room. So cool.
I also finally had the chance to play Theseus: the Dark Orbity, and my respect for the publisher, Portal Games, has now skyrocketed far out of orbit. I’m a big fan of weird strategy games that provide absolutely unique experiences, and Theseus makes that list. The story behind the game is a bit reminiscent of an Aliens movie, 2 groups of humans and 2 groups of aliens trying to survive on a giant space station. The rules for the game are ridiculously simple, and then they’re not. It’s too hard to explain, and while I’m not a fan of saying this, it takes multiple plays to get comfortable. For strict eurogame lovers it will probably feel like the sci-fi horror movie Event Horizon, so stay clear of the blast doors. But in my opinion, it’s a wonderfully fresh design. Look for it on the rental shelf, and just give me a reason to play it on a game night, I want more of it!
Cheers everyone! And since I’m loving the local developing podcast and blog scene, I’ll leave you with a few recommendations from them that you can find on our rental shelves.
The new release schedule for 2015 kicks off with 2 highly anticipated space games, one the dice game version of a gamer staple card game, and one is the expansion for a relatively new and extremely popular card game.
Roll For the Galaxy: We’ve been getting questions about this game since we opened over 4 years ago. It actually arrived at our distributors in November, then the entire lot of games was rapidly recalled due to missing components. Well it is finally on our shelves, and the copy we opened for our rental library was complete.
Roll for the Galaxy is a dice version of the card game Race for the Galaxy. As in the card game, you are truly racing to discover alien technologies, control newly discovered planets, and trade a variety of galactic resources. The central mechanic of the game is role selection; each round you will roll your citizen dice and allocate them to tasks such as exploring, settling, or trading. Trick is, you will do all this behind a screen and you will be selecting just one action as your role, this is the action you know you will get to perform. Your opponents are also choosing roles, and if you can predict their behavior and allocate your dice wisely, you’ll get to perform far more than just one role for the round.
Now while I wholeheartedly respect the Race for the Galaxy card game, I can’t say that I’m a huge fan. Admitting this is difficult, because not liking Race for the Galaxy seriously lowers my geek cred, which is dangerous in my line of work. I do thoroughly enjoy the dice game however, and I think fans of the card game will enjoy this new title as well. Roll for the Galaxy gives you all of the tableau-building combo-creating fun of the card game with a very satisfying dice allocation mechanic. Hopefully a tiny bit of my geek cred will be restored by liking the dice game.
Star Realms Crisis: Imagine what would happen if Dominion and Magic the Gathering were mashed tightly together into a bright dense mass that ripened and eventually became a beautiful planet of cards. Well that’s Star Realms, a head-to-head game of building ships and star bases to expand your galactic influence while reducing that of your opponent. This tiny little 2-player card game hit our shelves last year and is now a big sensation. We had to set up an account with a new distributor just to keep the game in stock all year.
Now we have the Crisis expansion packs, 4 different packs of cards to mix right into your original deck. The event pack adds a bit of silly randomness to the game, not my favorite. 2 of the other packs add more bases and ships, very cool. My favorite though, is the Heroes pack, which adds a new type of card that comes directly into play when you purchase it, and can basically be sacrificed to kick other cards you play during the round. Tricky to use, but that’s why I like them. We’ve got plenty in stock, so saunter on over when you have a chance to expand your Realms.
2015 is here, and all this week we’ve been looking back at 2014 to see what we did well, what we did not, and of course to find our favorite games released during the year. Looking through the list of games released in 2014 at first appeared challenging since boardgamegeek lists over 4000 new titles. But a large number of those were never available to US consumers through normal channels, many were reprints, and most were small runs from new publishers. Still, we were looking at around 2000 new titles for 2014, but our top picks all came from within the top 100. Here are our picks, with Star Realms Dead of Winter vying for absolute best game of the year based on all-around experience:
Kirsten’s Top Picks
1. Star Realms (a surprise hit that will continue to please. Look for the expansions sometime this month)
3. Dead of Winter
4. Camel Up (Easily a great light, fun, and very social game)
5. Doodle Quest (A game made for kids, but strong enough for adults!)
Not played that could make the cut:
1. King of New York
Games from any year that she wants to play more of:
1. Merchants & Marauders (so amazed she like this game, one of my all time favorites, with an expansion on the way!)
2. Lords of Scotland (A great tactical card game, with a reprint coming this year)
Ben’s Top Picks
1. King’s Forge (Another surprise hit from Kickstarter, some great fresh mechanics in this one)
2. Warhammer 40K Conquest Living Card Game (Lots of depth but easy to jump in and play)
3. Imperial Settlers (A very simple to play card game with lots of depth and great combo options to play around with)
4. Abyss (One of the prettiest card games ever made)
5. Camel Up
Not played that could make the cut:
2. Nations Dice Game
Games from any year that he wants to play more of:
2. Blood Bowl Team Manager
3. Chaos in the Old World
4. 7 Wonders Babel
James’ Top Picks
1. Dead of Winter (Not my standard genre of interest, but this game’s design is just too good to ignore)
2. Imperial Settlers
3. Doomtown: Reloaded (played it wrong the first 10 times, I love the way this one hurts my brain)
4. Red7 (Oh Chudyk, you madman. Red7 is now another great 2-player pub option)
5. 7 Wonders Babel (7 Wonders is now a pillar of the hobby, and this expansion takes the game in an interesting new direction)
Not played that could make the cut:
1. Castles of Mad King Ludwig
3. Star Wars Imperial Assault
Games from any year that I want to play more of:
3. Imperial Settlers
There you have it, our favorites. Since we’ll have only a few significant new releases during the first and second quarters of 2015, the games on these lists are what you’ll likely see us trying to bring to the tables during upcoming game nights.
As for what we did well and what we did not, we’re still working through some of that. We’re pleased that we did continue to grow, despite some contraction in our product diversity, dropping our regular Saturday game nights, and instigating a permanent pay-to-play policy for our space. We also experienced a massive increase in the use of our game rental library and will continue to focus on the quality and diversity of the library this year, including an expanded kids and family rental section. We firmly believe in the philosophy of the game rental system and want to continue to provide the best library and service to Portlanders.
Our regular Wednesday game nights experienced a lot of turnover this year with many great new faces, and the loss of a number of great folks who moved away. It feels like the qi is still trying to settle after the turnover, but that’s how communities operate. There is some concern that the games played at game night are now slipping towards the lighter end. We’re not sure that this is truly the case, but we’ll keep an eye on it. We consider the game nights as somewhat community owned, so the games played are largely those that the group has decided to play. Personally, I love my meatier games, but since I’m actually a primary host at game nights, playing the big boys is generally not an option for me, we’ll see if I can work something out. Finally our Last Saturday Metagame nights have been interesting. About half the attendees like the weird themes while the other half do not. I think we’ll experiment with mixing some straightforward themes with the unique ones to get everyone smiling.
Here’s to a great 2015 gang, time to get ready for some gaming!
Now I’m not technically a kid anymore, but that is just a technicality. There is still a rather big kid in me who knows that this is one of the greatest weeks of the year. This special week between Christmas and the New Year is a free week, the last of the year. This is the week we all get to play with our gifts without a bedtime or a morning alarm.
I guess when I say we, I really mean all of you lucky jobless boys and girls with no school until the new year, I still have to work this week. But compared to the past 4 weeks, this upcoming week will hardly feel like work. We had a very busy month, we had a strong holiday season, and we had some stellar support staff that made it all run smoothly, I mean stellar.
But now its playtime folks. Kirsten and I enjoyed a few light kid games yesterday during our PJ Christmas. I spent some time sorting out my copy of Star Wars Imperial Assault (I love you Fantasy Flight, nobody can provide cardboard punching and token sorting game preparation joy like you do). This week I’ll be digging back into Doomtown and building at least one new deck for the upcoming meetup.
I still feel so silly getting excited about this stuff, like I did in high school when I hid my inner game geek every day until that final bell rang. I had to chuckle at my glee this Christmas as I ripped open the Imperial Assault game and admired every beautiful cardboard tile. Assembling the Walker was a bit dicey though, did a little finger damage and nearly shot my eye out.
But once I had my Imperial Assault game all prepped, my bubble deflated a bit when I realized that I had to wait for the gang to play it. This got me thinking, as I’m prone to do, about the social value of board games, which then lead to a reflection on my progression through the hobby. Now, many years after my first fateful plays of Ticket to Ride and Settlers of Catan, my approach to the hobby has changed dramatically.
See, our humble little shop gets visited most during the holidays by new gamers, or people shopping for new gamers. This season I interacted with a lot of folks who were new to the hobby. I could tell that, like me, they had played their first game of Settlers, or T2R, or Carcassonne, and were left awestruck. Like seeing your first David Lynch movie, the first experience with modern strategy board games leads naturally to the thought ‘Wow, what just happened?’.
I vividly remember the games I played during my early days in the hobby, and I remember my reactions to them. The three pillars, Carcassonne, Settlers, and T2R, left strong impressions. Without these games I would not be involved in the hobby, our shop would not exist, and Target, Barnes and Noble, and Powell’s would find something far more profitable to fill the shelf space in their game section. I can also recall some early disappointments, like Notre Dame and Power Grid. But you know what I don’t remember as much from those early days that is so important to me now? The people I played with.
Early on in the hobby the games were so mind-blowing that they took the spotlight and the people I played with were largely just opponents. I didn’t care who I played with, only the game mattered. I would play nearly anything because it was all so new, and I just needed bodies to fill the seats around me. Then, I got a bit pickier about the games, but still less-so about the players. Just take a seat and move those pieces will you, I want to play this hot new game.
Now, after playing many ho-hum games with great people, and playing great games with ho-hum participants, I’m much less concerned with what’s on the table and more interested in who is sitting around it with me. I, like many board game enthusiasts, spent far too much time in the land of game snobbery, and I still often revisit the dark gooey world if my sleep schedule is disturbed or I’ve had a wee bit much to drink. At one point for me, the pillars of the modern strategy game world were simply gateways to larger and more complex games. They were high speed train cars to the land of game snobbery where any muggle in my path to find the greatest brain burner was punished with a swift joy-depleting kick to the gut.
Through all of the long hours spent selling games this Christmas season, one of the greatest joys was witnessing people leave our shop excited to give and possibly try out the goodies in their bag. Our aisles were largely filled with the new or more casual game-players that too often get discounted by some of us hardened pros. They are the reason this hobby is blooming and staying strong, and their glee and awe are so contagious and nostalgic. Moving forward as a gamer, I want to avoid the trend of narrowing my taste in games and instead try to recapture that new-gamer glee by playing big games and small games, simple and complex games, amazing games and crappy games, but always enjoying the people I’m playing with.
To honor the idea that the latest and greatest don’t mean much without good people, we’ll be hosting a game gathering this Saturday night dedicated to the lowest-rated games in your collection. Go ahead and bring some stinkers, we’ll still have a great time.
Enjoy the end of the year everyone!
The holiday shopping season is officially underway, and we are working like elves. The Little Boxes event this past weekend, was fantastic, bringing in great customers, both repeat and new. What made the event especially great for us was our holiday crew. I need to toss out a huge thanks to all who helped us out this busy weekend. Since we’re such a tiny shop, having multiple staff members year round is impossible. Luckily we have a fantastic customer support crew that pulls through every holiday to help out with customer service, gift wrapping, and of course, cleaning. We seriously would not be able to survive the holiday season without their help.
The same awesome crew will be back this coming weekend as we celebrate the local business community event, Decemberbville. While this is yet another chance to save some holiday shopping dough, more importantly, it is a chance to get yourself drenched in holiday spirit. I’m a child of Christian suburban descent, so the wintry, elfy, clydsdale, santa memes all carry serious nostalgia for me. The Christmas season was about that feeling for me, something about the cold and the cheer, spending time with family, and being 100% wide-eyed child. I like Decemberville because it tries to capture that spirit. The event turns the neighborhood into one large Santa-like village. We can all curse the consumerism of the season, but that does not mean we should give up the cheer. Decemberville is a time to put the scrooge outfit in the closet and be a kid again. Bring on the wonder and warmth, and burn some skis for the snow gods to top it all off.
As for the shopping side, we have a few deals going on this Saturday. First, everyone will receive 20% of a single item. Second, purchaser $60 or more and get a free copy of the classic family card game, Milles Bornes. Third, purchase $100 or more and choose from a selection of kids games for us to donate to the Children of Raphael House Toy Drive. We’ll see you Saturday, bring your cheer!
Now from memes to themes. We just finished our Last Saturday Metagame night, and this time the night was dedicated to games with a female designer or artist, which I thought was fantastic. We saw games hit the table that we’ve not seen in years, or never seen. One gamer brought only Dominion cards illustrated by female artists, very cool. I was able to end the night with a game of Village, a game I enjoy that I have not played in a while, and it is designed by a very worthy husband and wife team. This is why I like the theme nights, because games you would not normally play can get played. Sure we could do more straightforward themes, but then you would probably just play the games you would play anyway. I don’t want you to be able to just look at your shelf and easily pick out games that match the theme, I want you to have to research your game library to find ones that fit. That’s why December’s theme will be the lowest rated games in your collection, good luck. But based on what I know about many of your collections, this is still going to be a night of awesome gaming.
Happy December folks!