We made it back safe and sound after a very awesome trip. Vegas got old fast, but the games did not. I think all of us agree that we did not get to play nearly as many games as we would have liked, but that is really just a day-to-day problem.
The GAMA show is a business show: talking to vendors, analyzing products, taking advantage of special offers, listening to talks by more experienced retailers, and chatting with others in the industry. I was hunting games that I not only liked, but games that had appeal for a wider audience, our audience. See, ordering the strategy games is pretty easy, gamers are vocal about what they are interested in, and there are lots of podcasts and news sites to go to for the buzz. It’s finding the games for everyone else that is tricky, but it’s what sets us apart from the other guys. Nearly all of the other retailers at the show see 60% or more of their profit from Magic, we rely on setting all kinds of folks up with game experiences that they will enjoy.
Speaking of enjoyable gaming experiences, here are some of our highlights from the show:
Quick note: Wednesday Game night and Friday Magic will be cancelled the week of March 16-20 while the Cloud Cap crew is in Vegas for a trade show.
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!