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Last weekend, after a longer-than-usual wait, I went to Great Plains Game Festival. It's a gaming event hosted by the Great Plains Gaming Project, a non-profit organization that promotes gaming in the area. This was my sixth straight GPGF.
You might remember my post from last year. This one will be similar: rankings of board games I played at the event, plus some other notes and thoughts. (And if you need a refresher on my ranking system, go here).
We... didn't actually play any games on Friday. We were out of town and got back late. Disappointing!
We did, however, take full advantage of the swap meet. You bring your games you want to get rid of, put price tags on them, and register them with the swap meet booth. They handle the cash/card transactions for you. You can take 80% of your earnings as cash, or 100% of it as "con bucks" to spend at the vendors or on other swap meet games.
We brought 25 games to sell on Friday, and by Sunday had sold... 25 games! We made a few bucks, GPGF made a few bucks, and I'm confident they went to good homes. Great deal all around.
Crokinole is the best dexterity game, period. You flick disks onto a waxed wooden board, trying to keep your disks in the middle of the board while knocking your opponent's disks out.
The downsides of Crokinole are its price ($100+ for a cheaper board, $300+ for a nice one) and its size (~3 feet in diameter). If you have the money and space, though, it's well worth it.
I played in an 11-person Crokinole tournament. A full round-robin, playing 4 rounds against every other person, preceded a top-4 playoff. Each round used tournament scoring: if you won, you got 2 points, and if you tied, you got 1 point.
I was 4th in the round robin, so I made the cut to the semifinals. I managed to beat the #1 overall seed (after playing a tie-breaker fifth round!), then lost to the #2 overall on the very last shot of the last round. Despite that, I had a great time playing. Everyone was really friendly and clearly there to have fun first. The whole tournament took only 2 hours, with little downtime!
Between the Crokinole tournament and lunch, a few of us decided to try a game at one of the booths, a card game called Hordes of Power. The designer/artist is local and clearly loves 80s He-Man cartoons and retro comic book-style art, so he made a game based around them.
The game itself, unfortunately, was about as fine as fine can be. Draw a card (each of which looks like a comic book panel), chuckle at the art, play a card. Most cards give you points, some cards get rid of other people's cards, a few cards have special effects. There wasn't much strategy, which is fine, but even the take-that interaction got cut short by cards that couldn't be moved or destroyed.
I don't deny that the art is skillfully done for what it is trying to emulate, but I don't love the very-sexualized, very-revealing art. I don't think it's sexist per se—most characters are hyper-sexualized, not just the women or men—but even if I enjoyed the game I wouldn't want to show it to people. I think there's plenty of space for affectionate parodies of cartoons and comics that also avoid the least welcoming parts of older media.
Now with a full complement of four players, we took on Cartographers, a roll-and-write game from the same publishers as Roll Player.
In Cartographers, you are a map-maker, charting territory for the Queen. A new card with a small piece of territory is flipped over each turn, and everyone must pencil it into their map. Some of the territories are actually monster encampments—to draw these, you pass your map to your neighbor, who places the monsters in the least convenient spot possible.
I'll be blunt. I like roll-and-write games. I like short games in small boxes that don't have too many rules. I like relatively high-quality art and components. I like the small creativity of drawing items on a map. Railroad Ink is one of my favorite games and this is similar, yet different, in many positive ways. So this is a big hit for me! 4 out of 4, and I'll be looking to find a copy of this, or its sequel/expansion, soon.
Tiny Epic Tactics is a mechanically large game in a very small box. In the default competitive mode, you control a band of four characters with different abilities on a grid map. You can move around the map, fight your opponents, and try to capture flags, all for points at the end of the game.
This game is absolutely adorable. All of the Tiny Epic games are. What's special about this one is the map itself. You unroll a cloth map to serve as the base, but then you stack the bottom of the box on top of it, along with other smaller boxes, to create a layered map with high and low terrain.
My main complaint about the game is that it has a number of rules exceptions on top of its already fiddly rules. Moving characters around the map, using their abilities, and tracking health and resources was plenty for our first game. Having to remember the rules for portals, peaks, the ballista, villages, and the flags at the same time was a bit much. If I rewrote the rules, I'd include a "starter game", leaving out the special terrain features to focus on combat and flags. Even if I played again, I'm not sure I'd use the ballista or peak rules—they seem overpowered and weird.
Still a 3, with room to move upward if a second play was smoother. I know there's a cooperative mode in the rules as well, which I'd like to try.
At this point in the evening, we had a couple of family members along, so we gravitated toward simpler games with fewer rules.
Roll For It! is a dice-rolling game plain and simple. There are several possible score cards in the middle of the table. You roll dice on your turn to try to match them before your opponents do. Every card has different numbers on it and is worth a different number of points. The first to 40 points wins.
There's very little to keep track of besides your score. Still, there are some choices to make: do you pick up cheaper cards, which are easier to achieve but less efficient? Or do you go for the big cards, knowing that you might be stuck for several turns with unlucky rolls?
This game plays quickly and ends quickly. A perfectly fine warm-up or filler game for a board gamer, and a good time for a family.
The simplest way I know of to describe Sherlock 13 is this: it's like Clue, but quicker, smaller, and more clever. It's a deduction game for 2-4 players. One of 13 people has committed a crime, and you must investigate suspects to narrow down who could have done it before making your final guess.
The game is simple enough that I'll describe its setup. In a 4-player game, everyone is dealt 3 character cards. The leftover 13th card stays in the middle of the table, face-down; that's the criminal. You know for sure that the characters in your hand didn't commit the crime, so you note that on your sheet. Each character has 2-3 icons on their card, so you note those too. Then, you take turns asking questions of the other players about the cards in their hands, like "Who has at least one book icon in their hand?" or "Sam, how many badge icons do you have in your hand?" until you think you've figured out who-done-it. If you guess right, you win!
The joy in this game is the fuzzy logic of trying to match the icons used in your questions to the remaining characters. Sometimes you can definitively eliminate characters based on your questioning, but the real game is in trying to understand why your opponents are asking their questions. You have to balance getting more exact information with giving away your strategy. You also have to balance asking questions with letting your opponents guess first.
We loved this game. It is far more clever than it suggests. It was a hit with both gamers and non-gamers at the table. We played it four times in a row, which is not common even for the shortest board games in our collection. And as an added bonus, we won it in the raffle at the end of the con, so we get to play it some more! A clear 4 ranking.
Azul is a modern classic of board gaming. At its most basic, it's a pretty tile placement game. At its most ruthless, it's an advanced efficiency puzzle. Azul: Summer Pavilion, a semi-sequel to Azul, is in exactly the same category of game. The tiles are now diamond-shaped (ooh!) and there are a few other tweaks to make it stand out.
There are exactly six rounds in Summer Pavilion. In the drafting phase, you draft tiles in turns, with some additional rules to consolidate piles of tiles. Once all the tiles are drafted, you go to the placement phase, where you place pieces on your board. Your board has one star in each of six colors where you can place that color of tile, plus a rainbow star in the middle. Placing tiles requires a varying number of tiles of that color. Each round, one of the colors is wild, and can help you place any other color of tile.
Whenever you complete certain areas of your board, you get to take bonus tiles from the bonus display. This is the main wrinkle in timing your placements effectively; you might want to take a particular bonus tile before your opponent does. After six rounds, you count up your score, plus some bonuses, and see who wins.
It's similar to, yet different from Azul in most ways. And this is welcome. Azul is a great game and still in our collection. I don't know if any household needs to own more than one Azul game, but there wouldn't be anything wrong with choosing this one over Azul. I like it about the same; the bonus tiles are fun, but the extra math required to take advantage of them makes the game a little slower, so it's a toss-up.
We went looking for the smallest, dumbest game we could find, and boy did we find it. Sports Dice: Baseball is a fast-paced dice-chucking game. You're trying to score the most runs in three innings of baseball.
To figure out what happens, both sides roll six dice. The pitching/fielding dice have things like Strike, Out, Double Play; the batting dice have things like Ball, Single, Home Run. Whatever result on your dice is most common is your result. Then you compare results. Whoever has more dice showing their result, that's what happens. If there's a tie, the person with the tiebreaker chip can concede the play or win the play and pass the tiebreaker chip to the other person.
As long as you know how baseball generally works (4 balls, 3 strikes, 3 outs, baserunners), you'll understand how to play. As long as you're ready to let the dice fall where they may, you'll be prepared to play this. It hit the spot: quick dopey fun.
The Night Cage is a cooperative horror-themed board game. Everyone starts on a separate tile in an empty grid. You move around in the dark, illuminating tiles as you go but removing tiles you can no longer see. Once you find one key for everyone, you all have to meet on a gate tile to exit the cage.
There are two main obstacles in the basic game. One is the monsters that you can stumble into. If you move into or out of line-of-sight of a monster, it will charge you and everyone else it can see. When it does, it extinguishes your candle so you can't see past the tile you're on. The other obstacle is the limited stack of tiles. The stack depletes every time you move and contains only a few copies of the key and gate tiles you need to complete the game.
The tension between staying put to keep track of a gate and moving around to avoid getting ambushed by monsters is great. The art and theme are wonderful; most of the art is black-and-white, the monsters are spooky aberrations, and the use of "nerve" as a resource is very well done.
I would happily introduce new players to the basic game, which we played twice. I would also definitely try the advanced variant, which adds news kinds of monsters and tiles to the stack. Certainly a game unlike most I have played, and was a lot of fun. A tentative 4.
Next we tried Paranormal Detectives, a competitive mystery deduction game. Each player plays a different investigator trying to figure out who caused a death, why, how, where, and with what weapon. One of the players is the ghost, who uses imperfect ghostly techniques to try to answer questions posed by the players.
The imperfect ghostly techniques are the game, essentially. You ask the ghost a question, and they try to trace the answer on your back, or give you hints on a Ouija board, or draw on paper using your hand, or form something out of a pipe cleaner. The investigators take turns asking questions, recording answers, and trying to guess each part of the death. The ghost has a few powers of their own they can use if the investigators aren't picking something up.
If you've played Mysterium, this is nearly the same premise, but instead of the Dixit-style art interpretation, you get a variety of wacky clues. The novelty of trying to figure out what someone is drawing on your back is entertaining!
However, it didn't hold together for us. The death we were trying to guess wasn't a murder, which made it difficult to feel like a hard-boiled investigator. Also, despite being a competitive deduction game, we ended up discussing our guesses as a group in a semi-cooperative way. (There is an official co-op variant, but the difficulty increases to compensate.) Overall, far less clever than Sherlock 13, and despite its novelty, not something I'm in a hurry to return to.
Fort is a deck building game about kids. Like all kids, you want to play with your friends (and best friends), and your goals are to collect pizza and toys to build the coolest fort.
Fort riffs on other deck building games by adding a following mechanism to most cards. You do something, great, but then everyone else can optionally do it during your turn if they discard a card of the same suit. Cards that you don't use on your turn end up in your yard and can be recruited by other players... if you don't hang out with your friends, someone else might!
The theme of this game is fantastic. You have stuff (pizza and toys). Some actions let you put stuff in your backpack, which lets you hold more stuff. Upgrading your fort lets you have more lookouts (kids that act as a passive bonus) and can give you secret objectives (called "made-up rules"). The art is adorable, too: every unique kid has its own name and cute drawing.
I wanted to love this game, but something held me back. Maybe it was the fact that we exhausted the deck of kids, triggering the "default" end-of-game condition, without anyone at the table being anywhere close to fully upgrading their fort. Maybe it was the chaos of constantly recruiting and losing cards, not found in such quantities in other deckbuilders. Maybe it was the need to constantly pay attention to everyone's turn, which may have fought too hard against the sense of boredom between your own.
I'll give it a tentative 3, with room to move up or down based on another play.
Stone Soup is a card game similar to Bullshit or any number of similar games. Everyone adds ingredients to a central pot by declaring what they have and how many, then adding them to the pot face-down. Other players can accept it as true, or call them on it. If you call someone and you're wrong, you have to take cards from the pot into your hand, but if you're right, they have to take cards back. The winner is the person who gets rid of all of their cards first.
While the core bluffing of Bullshit can be a lot of fun, I think a little something is lost in translation here. It's hard to keep track of which cards you're supposed to be playing due to the theme. There are different rules for placing the wrong vegetables vs. stones into the pot. The default hand size at 4 players is just way too high. I had fun, but I'm not looking to play this specific flavor again.
We ended the afternoon, and the convention, with a game of Trails. In Trails, you walk back and forth across a trail of spaces with different abilities. These abilities revolve around getting or trading resources: pebbles, acorns, leafs, sticks, and photos. At either end of the trail, you can trade your resources for badges, which give you points and other bonuses. As the game progresses, the sun starts setting, strenghening each space right before the end of the game. You can additionally take pictures for points and encounter a bear, who lets you double up on actions.
Trails comes from the same designer/artist/publisher as Parks, a game I have not played but looks lovely and has a good reputation among folks I know. In a way, Trails seems to be a Parks-like game in a small box with a short play time, which is right up my alley. As with many games I played this weekend, the art is wonderful, and the theme is cute and non-generic.
In this case, I definitely liked the underlying game just as much as the art and theme. Turns are lightning-fast, even if you take two actions by encountering a bear. (This part of the theme doesn't fully make sense to me, but anyway.) Keeping track of resources is easy. The game doesn't take too long, and it's really obvious when it's almost over as the sun marches across the trail. There's room for careful resource counting and different, if subtle, strategies.
Ranked a 4. It also makes me interested in its bigger cousin, Parks.
This was the freebie game I got for preordering my convention badge. It's apparently a cooperative game about hosting a party for meeples with a variety of personalities. Looks cute!
A simple roll-and-write about filling in provinces in Japan with similar numbers. Bought it from the swap meet on a whim. I hope it's fun!
We played this bluffing game a while ago at Spielbound and decided owning a copy was smart. Another swap meet find.
It felt weird buying a single $5 game from the swap meet with a credit card, so we took a chance on this game that one of the volunteers recommended.
This game was given to us by the developers, who were walking around talking to folks. They compared it to Mario Party, which is a weird conceit for a card game... but I'll try anything once!
My favorite overall game was Sherlock 13. It's such a clever game, and the fact that it fits in a small box and plays in 15 minutes is amazing.
The most interesting game was The Night Cage. It's unlike anything I have played on a board. Well-designed and unique.
The game I'm most interested to purchase is Cartographers. There's so much potential for creativity in how you play and in the art you draw on your page. (If we hadn't won Sherlock 13 in the raffle, it would have won this category too!)
Until next year!