Hey there gamers, sit back and enjoy the first of hopefully many guest contributions to our blog. Don’t be fooled though, he really isn’t all that grumpy. Check out the rest of his family blog at C. Jane Reid.
Grumpy Old Gamer reviews
War Games for Gamers Who Hate War Gaming
It’s time to be a bit honest. And a bit (more) grumpy.
I have a love/hate relationship with war games. I want to be a old, grumpy war gamer, but I can’t. And it isn’t for a lack of trying or investment. It just that most traditional war games are too long and complicated for me.
Case in point:
One year for my wife’s birthday, I wanted to surprise her with a board game that reflected her personal interests and would be a game she would want to play with me. She always had a great deal of interest in World War I and wrote her thesis on poets from that time period. It was also the year the movie “Warhorse” came out, so I figured a board game based on World War I would be a perfect gift we could both enjoy. Thus, after much researching, I bought Paths of Glory.
It was a great game.
And we only played once with the introductory set up.
Now, don’t get me wrong here. Paths of Glory is a fantastic simulation of the Great War, complete with starting the Russian Revolution, and all the historical flavor and events that transpired. But the game takes almost an entire day to play.
And the rules… Oh sweet mercy…
If I am going to play a game that takes all day, I would rather play Twilight Imperium 3rd ed., with a group of 8 players. We still have yet to play Path of Glory all the way through. It’s on my bucket list and I will do it some day, but finding time to play that long of a game with my wife is not going to happen anytime soon.
Thus began my quest for a fast, fun, and quick war game. I searched for years, found some really cool war games along the way (like Rex and A Game of Thrones), but it wasn’t until I found a copy of 1812: The Invasion of Canada sitting alone in a corner of a board game store that my quest came to an end.
|1812: The Invasion of Canada|
And I can tell you that 1812, and its sequel 1775: Rebellion are the best introductory war games I have had the pleasure of playing.
There are several reasons why. First is that they are fun. Both games are designed to be played as teams with over 2 players. This insures that there is little to no downtime between turns as you are engaged by strategizing and rolling your armies dice between turns in a round. The teamwork these games produce is amazing.
|1775 pieces and board. Looks like America is holding on to Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, but the British have New Jersey (the mind boggles).|
|1812 pieces and board. The British are coming!|
Second is the simplicity of the rules. Battles are brilliantly abstracted to dice rolls that accommodate retreating, fleeing, and hitting. There are no charts to consult on dice rolls as in most war games. Play a movement card, move an army in, and let the massacre begin. You win the game by controlling the most areas/colonies, which is triggered by treaty cards. And finally, both games are surprisingly educational. Each faction has special cards that contains some historical facts and flavor.
I have played both games with a different number of players and a wide range of ages, and each game has been a rousing success. My daughter and her cousin both destroyed me as the a British in 1812. One game of 1775 came down one die roll to who would win the game. Personally, I can’t wait for my daughter to study American history in school when we play again.
Here is what some of my fellow board gamers have said during the game.
‘This is a much better version of Risk’
‘This game is really fun’
‘I like making super armies’
‘Let’s take down these ungrateful colonists’
‘Time for a tea party.’
‘Run away! Run away!’
“If we move here we won’t entirely lose the game.” 1775 Gameplay
“Warships. We need warships.” 1812 Gameplay
So here is the bottom line from a grumpy gamer: If you enjoy marching armies to their doom, like rolling dice, and want a game that could get pretty rowdy as you watch your opponent’s plan fall apart because your army rolls hits while the opposing army rolls flees, these are the games for you. If I had to decide between the two, I think 1775 is a slightly more refined game, but 1812 handles five players really well.
A Note from the Blogmistress:
I love games with strategy, so naturally war board games are some of my favorite. But I must agree, most of them require more time then we can pull together. So it is nice to have a couple of lighter war games to get a bit of a strategy fix and still manage to pull together dinner before heading off to work.
1812 and 1775 are fun. The event cards are interesting, the boards are gorgeous, and the themes are decently represented given the basic game play. My daughter is quite invested in whoever is playing the Native Americans, so she likes to watch us play. She also demands the super armies, which look neat all in a group swooping in to try to take over an area, but in reality, you only roll as many dice as you have, so super armies are more like a handful of soldiers with a whole bunch in reserve. Which works in your favor, usually, but that’s quite a commitment of resources in one area.
But she’s nine and she just likes to see all the cubes ganging up together. The finer strategies will come later.
I also agree that of the two, 1775 is the more refined. And I’d like to add that the game coming down to a die roll . . . yeah, that was me and yeah, I won.
Bonus mini grumpy review:
This is a pretty cool worker placement/area control game. It has a really neat planning phase with tiles that are hidden from your opponents, and the artwork on the board is gorgeous.
If I have a samurai on the board that I am feeding with rice, and I am paying money to move, that damn thing better be able to go across the board and kick some major ass and wreak some havoc for me. All this jerk does is supervise erecting buildings in a city and gather wood and stones and more rice? This is what my bad ass warrior does? Harvest wood? Seriously? WOOD?
Maybe an expansion will let me use all that wood to make spears that will rain death and destruction upon my foes instead of making a trading post.
I am going to have to play this one again sometime. I never let a first play taint my opinion of a game, and I am intrigued with the scoring mechanic.
I just had to rant about my useless samurai.
Oh yea… A big thank you to Cloud Cap Games! Great store, great gamers, great fun! If you are ever curious about any game I review, go check them out. They can demo almost any game for you, and there are weekly game nights that have some of the best people to board game with in the Portland, OR/SW Washington area. Go check em out!
Well I finally got a chance to play Tzolk’in last night, one the new hot games from the world’s largest tabletop game convention in Essen, Germany. When I first heard about this game I quickly forgot about it because the board was covered in gears that looked to be a gimmicky trick to disguise a crappy game. When the game hit the demo tables in Essen, folks went crazy, not just for the gears, but for the honest to goodness great game that the gears brought to life.
Tzolk’in is a fairly typical euro-style worker placement board game in the sense that you are sending workers out to gather resources, construct buildings, or perform other actions with the ultimate goal of acquiring heaps of victory points. What sets Tzolk’in apart is of course the gear mechanism, which forces you to plan ahead as your worker rides around the gear, and it can take several turns before it is at the right spot to remove it and perform the desired action. This requires a fair bit of planning to get the timing right when your workers are moving along different gears, and the actions on some gears are necessary before you can perform actions on others. While this planning is challenging, it is also a ton of fun, and the execution of it all is so simple that you can focus on the strategy rather than the rules.
As with any great euro, Tzolk’in also offers a variety of paths to victory. Points can be earned by constructing buildings or monuments, advancing along different technology tracks, working on 3 different temples, converting resources, and making sacrifices to different gods. As for buildings and monuments, no two games will have identical sets on offer, providing variety to replays. Each player also starts with a unique and somewhat randomly determined set of resources, adding even more replay value.
While I am a fan of both euro-style and Amerifun games, I am not a fan of blandness in theme and presentation (Dominion and Kingdom Builder are exceptions there). Caylus, for example, is heralded as a masterpiece, but lordy what a drab bit of work that game is. I feel that Tzolk’in is a tight and well-built euro with flavorful theme and artwork. The unique mechanisms and strategic variety leave me hungry for more play. If you like your mid-weight euros, I can highly recommend Tzolk’in.
Many years ago I saved a few bucks and scraped the bottom of change cups whenever a friend gave me a ride, all to purchase a coffin sized box covered in bright fantasy artwork and filled with heaps of fantasy dungeon creation goodness. Because the price tag at that time was a smooth $100, I did wait until a year-end blow out sale at a local store (sure, I could have bought online, but friendly local game stores are too important and enjoyable to visit).
The game I finally purchased was Descent 1st edition, a pure dungeon crawl adventure game in the style of Dungeons & Dragons, with one person playing the evil overlord opposed by the other players acting as heros. I was so thrilled, and a bit overwhelmed, when I brought the box home and tore into it. It had so many tiles, chits, and handfuls of plastic miniatures that as I sorted the pieces I knew the game just had to be awesome, and I quickly got a group together to play it, including my wife.
Well, I, and everyone present, despised the game after the first playthrough, and 2 more attempts did not improve my feelings towards it. I really wanted to like it, but after 30+ minutes of setting up a game, then 3 hours of arduous fiddly play, the fantasy dungeon crawl experience just got lost for me amongst all the bits, line-of-sight calculations, and endless number of special items that you barely remembered you had.
Flash forward to this past weekend, where I had the chance to preview the 2nd edition of Descent: Journeys in the Dark at Cloud Cap Games (thank you Fantasy Flight for the opportunity). The first change I noticed with the 2nd edition was the box size, about half of the original, very nice. Once I opened the box, I was sooooo pleased to find only about half of the fiddly bits from the original, and more efficient and beautifully illustrated map tiles. Sure, there are fewer plastic minis, but they are still just as cool. The other fantastic item you receive in the new edition that cost an extra $60 to get for the original is a campaign guide, with rules and quests for creating a continuing story where both the heros and the overlord become more powerful and specialized.
I’ve played the 2nd edition numerous times now and I really enjoy it as the game I wanted when I first brought that coffin box home many years ago. Overall, the game is just more streamlined, all the fiddly parts take far less time than they used to, and the focus is now on playing. Every single encounter I’ve played has taken about an hour, and that includes set-up time and rules explanation for new players. Though the games play quick, they are incredibly engrossing, every move and roll of the dice is important for both the heros and the overlord, and all of your items and special abilities come into play. The individual quests are well made, and every one feels unique. Last night we played a quest where the overlord was trying to roll boulders into a canyon to stop the adventurers from reaching a bridge, so fighting the monsters was not the only concern the heros had. Even the decision to grab loot before fleeing the canyon was a difficult one, and had to be timed correctly.
Descent 2nd edition is simply awesome if you are looking for a dungeon crawl experience. The campaign rules and quest book will provide, reportedly, 20 hours for a single campaign. Adding new skills and items in between quests is very controlled so that each choice matters, and your character near the end of the campaign will perform very differently than they did at the beginning. Playing as the overlord is extremely challenging, so a single play through the campaign will not suffice for those who want to try and master each scenario.
The game won’t officially hit the shelves for at least another few weeks, but the preview demo copy is in the shop for any who want to try it out, and of course we are taking pre-orders. If you give it a try, I highly recommend running through the introductory quest, then leveling up and playing another quest to get the full experience. Hats off to you Fantasy Flight for a fantastic revision, and for bringing out my inner giggly geek dungeon-loving boy!
So its Thursday, and I’m going to rave a bit about a game called Friday, that I actually first played this past Sunday. As the weather warms up and the bugs start to hatch on the rivers, I spend most of my days off knee deep in fresh cold running water casting at feeding trout. When the sun sets on the river, though, the casting must end, and I need something to do for an hour or two before bed, otherwise my mind races with excitement for the next day of fishing. Games on a tablet device or games that can be played solitaire are perfect for these moments, and last Sunday I discovered an excellent solo card game called Friday, by Friedemann Friese (of Power Grid fame).
In Friday, you are helping a poor fellow named Robinson shortly after he was shipwrecked on a lonely island. On the horizon, two pirate ships approach, and you need to help Robinson develop his survival and fighting skills so that he can fend off the pirates, take their ship, and leave the island.
Friday is a deck building game. This means you will have a starting deck of cards that you’ll draw cards from to play, you’ll be acquiring helpful cards that will go into your discard pile, and when your deck has no more cards, you will shuffle the discard pile to make a new deck. In Friday, your starting deck is terrible. But as Robinson successfully explores the island and faces hazards, the hazard cards become reward cards that get added to your deck.
Each turn consists of drawing two hazard cards, choosing which one to face, then drawing a number of cards from your character deck as instructed by the hazard card. If your total fighting points match or exceed the hazard value, you win the hazard card, if not, you will lose some life but also have the option to destroy some of the terrible cards in your deck. In addition to fighting values, some of your character cards have actions you can perform, and this is where the game gets very interesting. The actions may allow you to draw more cards, rearrange the top 3 cards of your deck, gain more life, destroy cards, and a few other options. These actions can be performed in any order, and the play order is often very, very important. Unfortunately, all of the exploring and fighting takes time, and when you need to reshuffle your discard pile to make a new deck, you also add a horrible aging card to the deck that ruins a great offense when it shows up later in the game.
I’ve tried out a few solo games on my fishing trips, like the Lord of the Rings Card Game and Roll Through the Ages, both excellent games (If Mage Knight were more compact it would easily be the only game I played). Friday, though, is a near perfect game for my needs. It is compact, plays in about 30 minutes, and it is very challenging with fun choices. So if you find yourself in lonely situations, I highly recommend helping Robinson escape his own in a game of Friday by Friedemann Friese.
El Grande is a game I picked up many years ago after studying many geek lists and game reviews. In fact, it was one of the first modern strategy games I purchased for myself, and at the time I had no idea who I would get to play this possibly overwhelming game. Luckily, I found willing participants, the game was not so overwhelming, and I have enjoyed many plays of it, including a session just this week.
This game won the Spiel Des Jahres in 1996, just one year after Settlers of Catan, and for good reason: simples rules with interesting game play in 2 hours or less. As the dorky dudes on the front of the box imply, you play the role of a stuffy 15th century aristrocrat in a silly outfit, also known as a Grande. As a Grande, you seek to extend your influence across the whole of Spain, which at the time is a land divided by multiple ethnic groups and kingdoms. Through the cunning use of your power (in the form of numbered cards), you will decide when and how you want to employ your court of dapper aristocrats, called Caballeros. The largest point values come from controlling the most influential provinces, but seizing control of these areas generally means you are not able to send your Caballeros far and wide to influence a larger collection of provinces. The constant struggle between fighting for control of individual regions while trying to maintain a presence in many regions really guides nearly every decision you make as a Grande.
Despite the greatness of El Grande, the game has two features that can turn many off. First, the game is extremely dynamic. Wooden bits constantly shift around the board and control of any given region is eternally in fluxx. Every round has a new and randomly drawn set of actions, and players bid on who chooses actions first, so noodling out who wants what action and how badly they want it is how every round starts. For those who like to figure out a reliable winning strategy and pull it off nearly every time, El Grande is maddening. I, for one, really enjoy the dynamism of the game.
The second potentially frustrating feature of El Grande arises when one player gains a healthy points lead. This generally results in all other players trying their best to hobble that leader. I have heard an enormous amount of whining about this ‘get the leader’ aspect. Luckily, the whiners are just grumpy because they are getting picked on. In fact, I’ll bet that conspiring against a grande whose influence has grown too large happened regularly back in the day of ruffled shirt caballeros. So the metagame leader bashing that nearly always occurs helps enhance the theme of the game. A lot of games have rules that attempt to illustrate theme, El Grande goes beyond that by creating an unexpected form of interplayer interaction that helps players feel like they are actually wearing funny outfits.
wow, did I have a great week of gaming. so great in fact that my sleep really suffered, especially over the weekend. Hopefully none of you noticed reduced service at the shop as a result of my late night sessions.
At the game gathering on Wednesday, I was able to play a round of Quarriors with the Rise of the Demons expansion. Never did see any cursed dice enter my bag despite the fact that I was acquiring spells for passing them off to others. I definitely want to play this expansion again as I see some interesting cards in the set. I was able to fill my bag with some ghosts that respawned when my other critters died, which I had never really tried before. So you want to kill my Assistant, fine, his ghost will come back bigger and badder to haunt your sissy minions! I also want to try the ‘more strategic’ rules that will be published with the upcoming expansion, Quarmageddon (http://wizkidsgames.com/quarriors/quarmageddon/). If you are interested, the new rules are posted here: http://wizkidsgames.com/wp-content/uploads/quarma/QuarmageddonRulebook.pdf.
Friday night saw the return of Mage Knight to the table after a bit of a hiatus. Up until last week I think I was playing Mage Knight every night for 2 weeks straight, either solo or with friends. Friday night I played an absolutely incredible 2-player game of the Conquer and Hold scenario that kept me up way past my bedtime. The game was neck and neck until I decided to abandon a keep at the very end in order to capture another of my buddy’s mage towers. Well, he decimated all 3 defenders at my keep, while I was only able to defeat 2 of the 3 at his tower, leaving him 3 points ahead for the final. What a fantastic game! My buddy actually gets nervous before every battle, just hoping that he’s calculated everything correctly. We were both just flabbergasted at how different the new scenario felt. I am so enthralled by this game that I’m beginning to really understand how Gollum felt about the one ring. It is not long before I will be a full fledged servant of Vlaada Chvatil, the game’s designer.
Saturday night, despite my fatigue, I played a grueling game of Le Havre by Uwe Rosenburg, famed designer of Agricola. Le Havre lets you live the exciting life of a harbor manager and tycoon. What better way to end a hard day’s work than with a game about work. Le Havre is actually a very good game with a vast puzzly array of choices every turn. While I was leading early on, my strategy broke down late game, and I wound up with a bunch of nearly starving dock workers practically walking off the job and hitting the pub early.
Sunday night, with 2 very late gaming nights behind me, I went for round 3 with a 7 player game of Robo Rally. If you have never experienced this game, 7 players is a great way to play. Robots were twisting and turning every which way while they tried to touch each of 4 flags spread across a dangerous factory floor. My Hulk x90 caused the demise of a few robots, died a few times, then wound up in second place. One robot got so confused that it spent the entire last half of the game performing laps in a corner. If you want to practice gracefully dealing with completely insane random, and generally non-vicious, attacks, give Robo Rally a try.
Monday, after a little floor painting at the shop, Mrs. Cloud Cap and I hit the local pub, Oaks Bottom, for some international totchos and a round of Jaipur, a great 2 player merchant themed game. Playing this game with the Mrs. drives me absolutely bat nuts, I always want to smear totcho oil all over the cards! I just can’t seem to win, she is always grabbing up the best products to sell while I’m scrambling to sell twice as much junky leather!
until next time . . . .