Monday, 17 December 2012

A 2012 board game retrospective

2012 was an awesome year to be a board gamer. The hobby seems to be continuing to grow as it has year over year for as long as I can remember. Euro-style games are becoming as common here as are the traditional thematic games. Stores like Zellers and Toys R Us continue to add games like Catan, Carcasonne and even Dominion to their shelves. It seems like more and more mainstream media sites are talking about gaming. This is all a very good thing as far as I'm concerned.

As my personal game collection continues to grow and I wanted to share some of the best discoveries I made in 2012. Some of these are new just this year but many are just new to me. Games that have been out for some time but I just discovered them this year. This list also includes some games I don't actually own myself, stuff that awesome local gamers have brought out to our gaming events and have been cool enough to share.


One of the first games I played this year was Space Alert, which I broke out New Years eve. This is an awesome cooperative game in which players are trying to survive on a space station in crisis. The game uses a CD to tell the players what's happening to the ship as they plan their actions and react to things going horribly wrong. Gameplay is fast and furious and it's one of those games where it's almost more fun to loose than to win, not that you will be winning often.


Dominant Species was the next amazing game I tried in 2012. This is a great long play strategy game with a very cool theme. A deep thinker, this is a great main game for a night of gaming. Players each take on the roll of a species fighting for dominance on a randomly created Pangea. Mammals, reptiles, birds, amphibians, arachnids and insects start off in a delicate neutral balance which devolves quickly into survial of the fittest. One of the best and most detailed worker placement games out there, Dominant Species has players competing to become dominant on as many different terrain tiles as possible while trying to hinder their opponents from doing the same. Adaptation, migration and selective specification will all be necessary to get the most victory points.

Torres is a game that I heard was good, it won a Spiel and all but I had no clue what I was missing. It's one of the most unique game in my collection. In it players use plastic towers and wooden nights to rebuild the kingdom. Over three rounds players score points for each castle they have a knight in. Only the knight on the highest level of each castle scores and the points gained are equal to the height of the floor they are on multiplied by the area the castle takes up. It's a very cool looking game once under way, very three dimensional. 

Even with all of the other awesome games on this list no other game I played this year blew me away as much as Risk Legacy. It does things no other game has done before and so far no game has done since. Like many people I felt trepidation about permanently modifying my copy of the game but that went away after I ripped up the first set of cards. The only problem I have with this one is getting the group together to continue our war.


Next up is the reprint/second edition of Wallenstein. I tried the original version of this many years ago and fell in love. I picked up the English reprint/re-theme Shogun the month it came out and have loved it since. This new reprinting is well worth picking up though. It adds in all of the previously released expansions and clarified the rules somewhat (though there are no actual changes to the rules). I'm still in love with this mix of Risk style war game and Eurogame.


My friend Jamie introduced me to this one. He actually got it through Kickstarter and hasn't regretted backing it one bit. Alien Frontiers is, to me, the best of the new style of dice games that have come out. Get a set of six sided dice representing your ships, roll them and then place them on the board to complete actions. It's a new type of worker placement engine that I really enjoy. I haven't had a chance to play this one often but every time I have it's been very different and it's always been a close race to the finish. I'm hoping to get to pay this one more in the new year and hopefully try out some of the expansions that have come out since.


I picked up Ascension: Storm of Souls on a whim. We had our first gaming event out at Brimstone games this year and while there I wanted to help support the venue by buying a game. This is the one my wife and I picked and I have no regrets. This is the best deck builder I've played since Dominion. It plays just as well with one player as it does with four and the inclusion of Trophies and events are a significant improvement over earlier Ascension games.

Now I know this one is going to be on a lot of people's best of 2012 list and there's a very good reason why. Eclipse is an awesome game. It is the most elegant and well designed space exploration game made to date. It takes what games like Twilight Imperium and Galactic Emperor offer and refines it to a much faster, more intense and streamlined game. This is another one I hope to play a lot more of in the new year and based on how many others locally enjoy it, I doubt that will be a problem.


So those are some of the best games I tried for the first time this year. All of them are games I look forward to playing again and again, though I do have to wonder: what will 2013 bring?

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

What do you want to play next? For me it's Airships

What do you want to play next?

With an ever changing work schedule and the holidays hitting hard and fast I haven't been getting in as much gaming as I've wanted to. I recently took a trip up to Toronto where I spent far too much money on new games. The sad part though is that I still haven't had a chance to try some of them yet. So right now the top of my playlist is Airships from Queen Games.

Airships is an interesting looking dice based game. Each player is trying to build the best fleet of zeppelins while at the same time contributing to the building of the biggest zep. of them all: The Hindenburg. The interesting part about this one is that you start with just a simple crew and very little tech and you have to roll dice to get better stuff. Your starting bits give you two white D6. Now on your turn if you want to buy better engines, you have to roll these two dice and try to get the target number on those engines. If you make the roll you get them and if you fail your turn is wasted. What those engines do is give you more dice to roll, either more white or the better Red or Black dice. You continue like this using dice to buy better bits to give you better dice to buy better bits, scoring points for completing airships along the way.

The mechanics are unique to any other game I own and I really want to give Airships a shot. I'm hoping to bring it out to the Board Games at the Green Bean event this Friday.

Airships is the top game on my to play list. What game do you hope to get to the table next?

Monday, 3 December 2012

Never Unprepared: The Complete Game Master’s Guide to Session Prep - detailed review

Looking for the perfect gift for the Games Master in your life? Want to bring some holiday cheer to your gaming table? Looking to convince your DM to round up that last 100 XP so you can level before the New Year? Never Unprepared is the perfect gift for the guy or gal behind the screen this holiday season. 

Here's a detailed review of Never Unprepared I wrote up a few months ago in September and I stand by everything I said then.
 
Disclaimer:
I've been sitting on this review for quite some time. I finished reading the pdf of Never Unprepared: The Complete Game Master's Guide to Session Prep well over a month ago now. The thing is that I really wanted to put all of the great advice in there into practice and see the effect it had on my games before writing this up. As is usual things didn't go as planned. Shifting schedules, changing groups and lots of other mundane boring things got in the way. I'm still working on it though, I think the book has some valuable advice and I really want to give it a real try using all of the steps. Just the way that's going it's going to be a while. So this review is written while adopting the Never Unprepared methodology is a work in progress for me.

Review:
Never Unprepared is a 131 page PDF or Softcover book published by Engine Publishing and written by Phil Vecchione. Game preparation is a topic you do not see covered very often at all, maybe on forums or blogs but rarely in published products. This is the most detailed look at the subject I've ever seen. In addition it's written by a true professional. Phil is a Project Manager and deals with time management and organization for a living. It's very interesting to me, with a background in quality, leen and problem solving to see these tools applied to gaming.

The book starts with a forward from Sean Patrick Fannon, an introduction and a couple pages on how to use the book. It then dives into prep head first with the largest portion of the book: Understanding Prep. This is followed up by a Prep Toolbox and a section on Evolving Your Style. The books wraps up with a conclusion, references and index and biography. It's the three middle chapters that we really care about: Understanding Prep, Prep Toolbox and Evolving your style and I will take a quick look at each.

Understanding Prep is the "Guide" part of this book. Phil puts forward a very structured method of game preparation based on tested project management techniques. After a lot of talk about theory we get right into a working methodology that involves five stages. With Phil's method, proper effective game prep starts with Brainstorming. Here we see the usual Blue Sky, accept every idea and don't throw anything out style of idea generation. The most interesting part of this to me was that selection, is the next step and not part of Brainstorming at all. During selection you riffle through all of your brainstorming ideas and pick the on that will be best for your game. During conceptualization you flesh this idea out. Here's where most of the work that people think of when you say Game Prep happens. This 'work' continues in Documentation when you make all the physical notes, maps, artwork for your upcoming game. Last is a step I've never even really considered before and one that Phil, thankfully, goes into in some detail: Review. Here we are presented with a concept where we go over all of our prepared material, not just to read it over and put some of it to memory but to edit it. The breakthrough concept here though is to go through it as three different types of editors. We first look for spelling, grammar and structure as a Proofreader. Once proofed we review again as the Director making sure the story works and flows and makes sense with the overall campaign. Lastly we play through our notes ourselves as the play-tester. This part of the book really struck me as novel and a bit of a 'head-slap' moment.

I think the one of the most valuable part of the Understanding Prep section of the book is that Phil presents an open method that should be used by any type of gamesmaster. It's not a codified set of hard rules that you have to follow step by step. It's an outline of a methodology. GMs who are used to running with 5 bullet points on an index card can get just as much use out of this method as the GM who brings a full three ring binder full of notes to each session.

Prep Toolbox
This section talks about the tools you can use to facilitate the steps in the Understanding Prep section. This one was a bit of an eye opener for me as well. I never really considered how much easier it would be to prep with a nice pen and an organized binder to keep all my notes in. Where I'm not searching for a scrap of paper to make notes on and even worse trying to find that scrap minutes before the game starts. This section looks at these kinds of things. How do you take notes, where, how do you organize them. What I really liked in here was how modern the suggestions are. Lots of digital tools are suggested and it's excellent to read a book like this and find a new use for Dropbox. Phil actually discusses paper vs. electronic at length. Just like the last chapter, there's nothing pedantic here. The book puts forth arguments for both sides and fully understands that everyone is going to have their own preference.

The Toolbox section of the book is also the most philosophical. Chapter 9: Mastering Your Creative Cycle looks at your non-physical toolbox, your mind. Here Phil gives you a method to figure out when you are your most creative and how to use that energy. what is fascinating here is that the answer isn't just "prep when you are most creative". The method described suggests mapping your creative energy and then once you have that fit various preparations tasks (as outlined in the Understanding Prep section) into different highs and lows. When writing NPC descriptions do that at a high creative time. Lunch time at work, your juices are low but you have some time, well that's the perfect time to do something logical and mechanical and stat out those NPC.

Evolving Your Style
This section of the book takes a look at how to take all of the previous information and personalize it. Phil has you look at your strenghts and weaknesses as a GM and then gives you a method of documentation that will help bolster these weaknesses and emphasize the strengths. Again the paper vs. digital debate is brought up and the book really helps you hone in on what you really need and what you can skip over.

From here the book takes a realistic approach. There is discussion on what to do when you don't have enough time to put into effect all of the methodology presented in the book, called the Prep-Lite Approach. This is very detailed and has specific suggestion for what happens when you under prep in each area and how to compensate. A section on prep in the real world continues with suggestions and a lot of excellent reactionary measures you can take when things don't go as planned.

Design
Never Unprepared is a nice looking book. Evocative cover and lots of well placed well drawn black and while art. The index is a nice touch and something I wouldn't expect in a book like this. I personally read a PDF copy and my favourite part was the fact the book was well hyperlinked. The links did not only include material in the book but also external links to many of the tools discussed. I'm always impressed when a digital copy of a book actually offers me more functionality than just a scan of the dead tree product.

How has it worked for me
Here's what I'm sure everyone is interested in. How has this book helped me with my own personal games. Well so far it has all been positive, though I've yet to really do more than scratch the surface. I think the first and most important thing this book does, more important than any individual step is get you thinking about game prep and how you do it. Even if you never use a single step in the book, just sitting there and thinking about how you prep while reading the book is invaluable. As noted by Phil is's something we just don't normally talk or think about, it's just something we all do our own way. Analysing how I prep and thinking about how to make it better has helped me significantly.

The first thing I did after reading the book and being inspired to improve my method and find enjoyment in the act of prepping was to look at the tools I use. The first thing I noticed is that I do brainstorming for my games all the time, at random times. At work, while driving, while waiting in line, in the shower etc. The one thing I never did though was document any of this. This I realize meant that many times good ideas are lost. So my first task was to find some way to document my brainstorming and then selection task. So I crowdsourced. I went on g+ looking for suggestions. For now I've settled on evernote on my iPod. I'm still not 100% happy with it and that will probably change up.

Next I went and bought a new binder/organizer for my two current games. Something with dividers, a built in calculator, note pad, 3 rings, file folder all in one. No more will I be writing note on loose scraps of paper only to not be able to find them before the game. This has worked great. I've run 4 session since having made the binder and I've yet to spend the first half hour of the game scrambling trying to find my stuff.

As far as the rest of the methodology and system. I have to admit I haven't done much with it. At least not yet. I've taken the brainstorming and selection information to heart. I find that I'm now doing a lot better at picking where I want my games to go. The players seem to be enjoying the new direction and drive quite a bit. Now I'm not sitting down to the table asking 'so what did you guys want to do next, I can't remember' I'm sitting down saying 'so now that you've poisoned the food supply, you noted you were going to return to town, when you get there...." In addition to this, I've not formally sat down and done any of the review steps one by one but I have a mind for these things now and I find that while working on conceptualization I am a lot more aware of making logic errors in my story. I realize the importance of permanence in the game world and avoiding doing having an "oh that place was supposed to be 2 days away... right.... sorry, yeah it's a 2 day trip" moment. I want to improve my documentation and really want to find the time to sit down and make custom templates to use during my documentation phase but I just haven't found the time, and that's my main problem. Time.

I really enjoyed the section on mapping your free time and figuring out your creativity schedule. The problem is that it only seems to work for people who have a regular schedule in their non gaming life. It's great for people who work 9-5 and eat dinner around 6 every night. It's not so great for people like me, who's work schedule next week is - 7-3 Monday, 3-11 Tues-Thurs, 9-5 Friday, 7-11 on Saturday. I don't find out what my work week will be until Thursday the week before and it's always changing. Often 3-4 different shifts in a 7 day period. Due to this my free time becomes "When I can find it" and my Creative Cycle is pretty much irrelevant. So this section of the book while interesting I've found pretty much impossible to put into use for myself. Maybe at some point I should write a book: Chaotic Preparation: The Complete Guide to Game Preparation for Shift Workers.

So overall I was very impressed by the book. It had an immediate impact on my game preparation and an immediate positive impact on my next gaming session. While I've found it hard to implement everything in the book, the small steps I have taken have all showed noticeable reward. Based on this I've decided to continue trying to adapt more and more of Phil Vecchione's preparation methodology. Heck maybe some day I'll even figure out that lunch time on Midnights is the best time for me to draw maps. I strongly suggest this to anyone who ever plans to run an RPG. Even if you can't use anything in the book, the act of reading through it and questioning yourself along they way is well worth it. I can almost guarantee you are going to get a lot more than this out of the book though.

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

B.G. at the G.B. Board Games at the Green Bean - December 7th

The Windsor Gaming Resource returns to the Green Bean Coffee Co. on Friday December 7th.

The Green Bean is an independent coffee shop that provides a wide variety of coffees, teas, lattes and more. They have a full menu that includes fresh made soup, paninis and some really tempting deserts. There's the option for a bottomless cup of coffee and they have free WiFi. For us gamers they have a wide variety of tables and a well lit stage.

This is an open non-competitive gaming event that anyone is welcome to
attend. Any form of games are welcome, board, card, rpg, miniatures, whatever you want to bring we are willing to have you. We aren't rule lawyers. You are welcome to bring your own games or share in some of ours. Everything we bring we are willing to teach and no experience is necessary. The goal is to get as many local gamers out as possible to enjoy some good food, some good company and some good games!

Games we've played at events like this in the past include: Settlers of Catan, Dominion, Scrabble, Ca$h and Gun$, Bohnanzha, Magic The Gathering, Carcasonne, Race for the Galaxy, Puerto Rico, Agricola, Chess and more.

An important note: we are not a private club. Anyone and everyone is welcome to come out and join in the games. If you see someone playing a game and it looks interesting, ask about it. If you see a game on a table and you want to try it out, ask around and see if someone will teach it.

The Green Bean is located near the University of Windsor at:
2320 Wyandotte St. W (Lower). Windsor, ON.
It's in the basement of the Church with the big sign that says "God Loves Students" on the side of it, next to Harvey's



Note: The Windsor Gaming Resource has no political or religious ties to the Green Bean or the Church it is located in. It just happens to be an awesome place to play some games and meet other gamers.

You can find them on facebook here:
https://www.facebook.com/greenbeancoffee

You can find them on the web here:
http://www.greenbeancoffee.info/

The Windsor Gaming Resource on Facebook:

Sunday, 25 November 2012

24 Hour RPG 2012 contest results


The official results are in for this years 24 hour RPG contest over on rpggeek.com.

Congratulations goes out to everyone who entered. I now know just how hard, and how much fun entering one of these is. Special props to the winners. Lowell Francis Todd Sanders and Steffen O'Sullivan.

It is difficult to split the results down in great detail due to the nature of the single transferable voting system, but here are the top few positions that are at least partially discernible (with the proviso that these results are not directly meaningful, but rather a rough guide):

1st - Arclight Revelation Tianmar
2nd - Our Dust Earth
3rd - The Wind in the Willows RPG
4th - Men of Romance
5th - Eaten Away
6th - Breathless
7th - The Diminutive RPG
8th - One Night Only
9th= - Debrief / Noah's Mark
11th= - The Oathbreakers / We are all Star Stuff
13th= - Farmtopia / Holiday Heroes

Here's the official post on rpggeek:
http://rpggeek.com/thread/889328/2012-rpg-geek-24-hour-contest-results

Friday, 23 November 2012

Tim Kask shares more Gygax info on Dragonsfoot

Dragonsfoot is probably the most well known online gaming forum dedicated to the old school. It's definitely one of the biggest and most respected. It makes sense that Tim Kask would choose that forum to share quite a bit more info about the upcoming Gygax Magazine.

"The last couple of days have been more fun than I have had in a long time. I refer, of course, to the leaking of the news that a new magazine called Gygax Magazine is coming out next month. Just monitoring several FB threads yesterday took a lot of time.

Because this community has been very kind to me, I will share with you in what detail I can before the release. So, here are some snippets of the advertising packet or quotes from replies I wrote yesterday:

Gygax Magazine will be released next month, December 2012.
* The magazine will be available in both print and digital formats.
* The name Gygax Magazine refers to Ernie and Luke.
* We registered the TSR trademark in 2011, but we are a new company, and not associated with the original TSR or Wizards of the Coast.
Gygax Magazine will cover a wide variety of RPGs and strategy games, focusing on the games of today while preserving the traditions and history of the industry.
* We'd prefer to talk more about the contents of the first issue when it's available, but we hope people will love it.

>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

"Gygax Magazine is myself, Ernie Gygax, Luke Gygax, Tim Kask, James Carpio, and Jim Wampler. Our first issue is out in December; since it's not finished yet, we've been pretty quiet about things until it's ready.

Just to address some of the questions, I thought it was best that I leave a reply. We do own the trademark for TSR, and have since December of 2011. We are a new company, not the old TSR, as they were purchased by Wizards in the '90s. The trademark was abandoned about nine years ago, and we registered it in 2011. 

We decided the best thing to release first as TSR was a gaming magazine, because we wanted a way to bridge the traditions of the old guard with the awesome new games that are out today. " - Jayson Elliot

>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>.

When I googled Gygax Magazine earlier this evening, I was taken aback by the number of hits. Some of the stuff I read was nasty and suspicious, even a bit mean-spirited; the speculations ran the gamut of possibilities; most of the buzz is very positive.

I was approached by Jayson nearly a year ago and asked if I might be interested in allowing him and his incipient staff to pick my brain regarding putting together a crackerjack new gaming magazine. Jayson produced his bonafides in the form of a very classy music ‘zine he had produced. I enthusiastically agreed to come on board as a consultant, and am glad to say that they always listened to both my answers and my suggestions, and I shared my publishing philosophy with them, still pretty much the same as when I started Dragon, Little Wars and Adventure Gaming. Jayson has assembled a very impressive, small and tight staff. My position with the mag is merely Consulting Editor; additionally, I will produce a regular bully-pulpit column each issue and the occasional game article. (My first feature article will be in #2, an in-depth look at a game called Samurai Battles that is part minis, part board and has overtones that are remarkably similar to the currents running through minis at the dawn of role-playing.)

Our initial publicity has been a bit misleading and incomplete—this will not be a one-trick-pony magazine. We want this to have the same zest for capital G gaming as the early days of The Dragon andLittle Wars, and a philosophy I followed with Adventure Gaming. That means that we will spend our time showcasing what we think are great games regardless of who makes it. We want to have a little something for everyone in every issue. I proved that it could be done with the success of the aforementioned magazines.

I was asked if the new TSR planned to produce “the next great rpg”. Good gawd, NO! In an interview I did with a blog, I pointed out that we at EE were asked the same thing. My reply was that there was no way that the four of us could possibly agree on a set of rules; we had no plans to even try.

We have an absolutely stellar Table of Contents in this first issue, crammed with names of talented writers and designers, both old and new. We have some eye-popping art by some big names and names that we expect to be big soon. Our first cover is outstanding: our second will blow you away. We plan to have pieces about all sorts of games, some rules/brand-specific and others not. We are considering a regular figure feature, and perhaps one on painting them. By the same token, we might steer you to a great card game (though pretty probably not CCG’s). We have so many approaches to our beloved hobby that we can take; we plan to take a variety each issue.

We are in no way legally connected to any company in existence before 2011. Gary’s widow owns all of his IP and has already shown by her overt hostility that it is not worth going there.

Our intent is to celebrate gaming in its myriad forms. Gary’s two oldest sons are not going to do anything cheap or tawdry to diminish their father or his legacy; he raised them better than that."

You can find the original post as well as follow up conversations here: http://www.dragonsfoot.org/forums/viewtopic.php?f=11&t=23223&p=1301822#p1301822

Update: in addition to this it looks like Luke Gygax has done an interview over on Loremaster:
http://loremaster.org/content.php?282-Loremaster-Interview-with-Luke-Gygax


Classic WGR Review - Dominion

Photo by boardgamegeek.com user: Mike "makehulsebus" Hulsebus
My next classic WGR Forum review brings up another top ranked, one that seems to be extremely popular with the local gamers and one that has single handedly change the landscape of boardgaming with the introduction of the concept of "deck building". This one isn't nearly as old as the last two and comes from January 10th, 2010. My current thoughts on the game will be after the classic review.

Original WGR review:

Quickly - excellent draft based card game.

Summary:
Dominion makes me think that the designer used to be (or maybe still is) a Magic The Gathering player who thought the best part of a Magic Tournament was the draft. He had so much fun drafting cards that he decided he would make a game based on drafting. That's what Dominion is.

In this odd game you select a subset of cards and place piles of them out on the table. These become the cards that all players create their decks from. In addition to the cards on the tables the players get initial decks with some victory point cards and some money. The goal of the game is to construct the deck with the most victory points in it by the time the game ends. The game ends with 3 of the various stacks of cards hit bottom or when the stack of the highest victory point card runs out.

First and foremost this is an exception based game (like most of the CCG's it's based on). This means that the basic rules are very simple but that each card modify these rules in some way and it's the interaction of the various cards that makes the game fun interesting and strategic. The cards laid out on the table consist of Action Cards, Money Cards and Victory Point Cards. Each turn players work to build their deck by drawing 5 cards from their deck and then playing up to one Action card. After playing an action card the players then get to buy one card from the table. After this buy is done the players discard their hand. If their deck runs out they reshuffle it (which happens very often). That's basically it for the core rules.

What makes things fun are those action cards. Every action card lets the player do something that changes those basic rules. Most cards either give a player more actions, let them draw more cards, give them more money to buy cards and/or give them additional chances to buy cards. Many other 'card abilities' are also present ranging from attack cards that can cause the opponent to discard, to cards that let you upgrade the cards you have in your deck. I'm not going to take the time to describe what all the possibilities are. After playing one action card (and then possibly more if you play cards that add more actions) you then get to buy. You do this buy paying money cards from your hand. Each card on the table has a cost. Here the player decides if they want more action cards to give them more options in future turns, more money with which to buy better cards or if they should start adding victory points to their deck. What makes this most interesting is the fact that Victory point cards are useless during play so just take up room in your deck until you need them at the end.

That's basically it. The designers, brilliantly included 25 different Action cards in the base game. Each game you only play with 10 of these, so this leads to a great variety of possible combination adding a great deal of replay value. In addition to this there are a variety of expansions out that add one or more cards to the mix (heck even Boardgamegeek has their own Action card for Dominion).

The Good:
What a great an interesting concept. I would have never guessed I would be playing a game where building my deck was the game itself. The game is extremely easy to learn and is probably the easiest to explain game I have in my collection (which is nice compared to some stuff like Race for the Galaxy). The exception based rules are perfectly done and makes for an easy to learn and hard to master game. The card interactions are very well balanced and well organized. The fact that all players are drawing from the same resources reduce the random factor significantly which raises the strategic level. This is also a nice short game. I get tired of epic games that take me all afternoon to play and I enjoy being able to get in multiple games in one sitting and Dominion is perfect for that. One last note on packaging. This game has some of the best packaging I have seen. The box has an insert that has a spot for every single card in the game. They are designed in such a way that everything has a place and amazingly everything stays in that place even when the box is stored vertically.

The Bad:
I have very few complaints about this game at all. The only thing that irks me at all about it really is the price vs. what you are actually getting. Due to the fact that the game is made up of stacks of cards that are all identical, all you are really getting in the box is maybe 30 different cards. When I think of how little that would be to produce it's hard to justify the cost of this game. The company making it must have a huge return on investment on this one. Now the fact that this is one of the best games I have played recently does make up for it though. For the amount of fun I am going to have with this vs. what I spent it will definitely make up for the cost. It's just the thought of it when I look at the box contents vs. cost that makes me cringe a bit.

The Ugly:
First off I had a hard time coming up with something Ugly about this one. The only thing that really comes to mind is the fact that this game has the most 'plastered on' theme I can remember seeing. There is no reason at all that this needs to be an 'empire building medieval game'. This could have been a space game about colonizing planets just as easily as it could have been a game about collecting animals. Now of course this is just a theme issue and has no impact on gameplay or how fun the game is, so really not much of a complaint. I actually wouldn't be surprised to see a re-themed version of this in the future.

Overall:
Overall this is definitely a top of the line excellent game, worthy of it's current spot in the top 10 on boardgamegeek. It's great to see something totally new and totally fun. Due to the ease in explanation, the replay value provided by the mix of 25 different action cards to choose from and the speed of gameplay I expect this one to get quite a bit of use, especially at things like Games and Grub events where I like to get in a wide variety of different games. Even though you are paying a lot for what you get this is a great game and one I strongly recommend.

My thoughts now a couple years later:

Wow what's there to be said about a game that totally changed the landscape of boardgaming. Dominion introduced "Deck Building" and from that have spawned at least a hundred different games and variations. It seems like every new game has some variation on this new mechanic. It's definitely still the hot thing even two years later. Actually reading my review where I note this is some odd new mechanic I find that this just sounds funny now as deck building is such a common term now. Some games have done a great job of taking this simple system and running with it, others haven't done so well. But how does the original still stand up? Very well in my opinion. The main problem with Dominion is the main problem I've found with Catan. People have played it so much that they are sick of it. I also find Dominion suffers from a bit of a bloat. Far too many expansions came out far too quickly and now it's quite a beast. To me the core game is still the best, most balanced and fun version. I know not everyone agrees. 

D&D Encounters: The War of Everlasting Darkness - Session 3 and 4

Due to an unexpected schedule change I had to cancel one session of Encounters. So this week I ended up trying to squeeze two official sessions, 3 and 4 into one night. Sadly it didn't quite work out. When I arrived at the store I found I only had two players. So we killed fifteen minutes hoping at least one of the other regulars showed up. While killing time I overheard a young couple talking to the store owner about 4e D&D. It seems they had only recently gotten into the game and were trying to figure out what books would be most useful for their new campaign. I pounced. Withing about 15 more minutes I now had two more players. This is one of the things I love about public play.

So while grabbing some old Pre-Gen characters from past seasons of encounters and doing a quick upgrade to bring them up to 3rd level, our tardy Vampire player showed up. So now I had a group of five and I was ready to go. Sadly this was an hour into our planned playtime.

Session 3:

This session bumped the timeline a bit. I had one of the players re-cap last session and then I broke out the map and covered all of what had gone before, mostly for the sake of the two new players but also to refresh everyone's memories of key thing they may have forgotten. Basically some funky magic was making the world dark, this was Drow caused, the Drow have allied with the local orcs and war was choking the land in battle. The goal this session was to get to Mithral Hall, a Dwarven steadfast and meet with the king, passing on news that the Orcs who have allied themselves with the Drow were acting against the King of the Many Arrow Tribe.

The unused map. I really thought we would have a fight here.
When the group came upon Mithral Hall they found it under siege. After watching the Orc movements for a while the Dwarf in the group suggested that such fortifications always had secret entrances and that Mithral Hall should be no exception. I ran this as an impromptu skill challenge since the group decided to skip past the obvious hook of a big war horn that was controlling troop movements. There was much planning, sneaking, bursts of running and guard avoiding to be had before an entrance was found. The entrance led the group to The Maze.

The Maze was a rather well written skill challenge in which each character had to do something to help the group progress each hour. Success or failure determined how long the group was 'lost' in the maze as well as serving to reduce some resources. I took this as an opportunity to play with the rules mainly for the sake of the players who didn't have much 4e experience.  At first I just let people riff off each other and my rather vague descriptions not noting that any type of system was governing this. I let whoever wanted to try something do it and kept track of successes. I then presented the group with obstacles they failed to watch for (which happened to be "watching for enemies" so we had a quick fight vs. some Orc Minions. Now that the group had a feel for what was going on, I told them the actual mechanics of the challenge and let them decide who would do what. So the group split the tasks up, the Rogue Searched for Traps, the Fighter fought through obstacles, the Dwarf Cleric navigated, the Dragonborn watched for enemies. The vampire was left with "other" in which he came up with a pretty cool use for Arcana. For the last section of The Maze I twisted things around on the players. This time I let each of them narrate an obstacle that the group faced and how they planned to get past it and let them determine their own rolls to make. This proved fun and entertaining though it was obvious some of the players were not used to such narrative control. I like pushing people out of their gaming comfort zone though and I think this was a great experience for those players. Now the Maze should have gone on for at least one more round (probably two due to a few failed rolls) but I was short on time so I moved on.

After the maze we got to play out our first big 4th edition battle, on a grid with miniatures and full rules.  Up until this point we've done most combats either Theater of the Mind or very loosely on a grid. In addition most foes were there as minor obstacles meant to be taken out quickly. Here we had a big fight with baddies not going down in one hit. It proved to be very interesting and quite a bit of fun. We had markers out (I use a bunch of different Litko tokens to keep track of things like who's bloodied, and area of effect boundaries , we had miniatures, I even brought my invisible character tokens. People were pulled, there were opportunity attacks, flanking. All the stuff that makes Fourth edition a great tactical skirmish game. It was a good fight. The cleric ended up having to use all of his healing (see he's sometimes good at Cleric things Sean) two characters ended up bloodied and the Dragonborn had a real brush with death.

After the big fight, I did a quick wrap up. I would have loved to get into more roleplaying with the Dwarven King but we were already running out of time to fit in session 4, so I just passed on the needed info, gave the characters thanks and passed out a bit of treasure.  Then the group got a very odd letter from a very odd friend they hadn't yet met. This was a great moment and I enjoyed role playing the words of Axelcrantz

Session 4:

At this point we had less than an hour left before the store closed so I tried to run though things quickly while still hitting all the important beats. Three months game time had gone by since the last episode and I really wanted to do a "so what did your character do for the last three months" round table but we just didn't have time. We jumped right into the plot instead. Which had the characters at another Dwarven Fortress all the way on the other side of the map looking to talk to another Dwarven King (what's with all the meetings with Kings this season)? There was some roleplay, the group met the excentric Axelcrantz in person, there was more hilarious roleplay, the group met the King. Lots of roleplaying and poorly rolled Diplomacy and Bluff checks later the group found their way to a Haunted section of the Underdark looking for an old fortress that they needed to re-take from Duergar.

Along the way the group spent far too much time checking out some bones they had found that seemed to be from a dissolved dwarf. Not sure what I could have done differently but they just didn't want to give up and wanted to roll for every skill on their sheet to figure this out. Eventually I said something to the extent of "so you miss a minor clue, maybe you will figure it out later" to get things moving.
Dungeon Tile layout made up for one of the encounters.

There was an amusing bluff moment when the group pretended to be a patrol returning late, that quickly broke into a fight. This was another fun 4e fight for which I actually broke out the Dungeon tiles. Now I didn't expect the group to attack the Dark Dwarves and really neither did the published adventure, but hey, that's how things go some time. Thankfully I had this map prepared for a later encounter to it all worked out. So after a couple of rounds of combat the Duergar gave up. They were already demoralized and a group of adventurers busting in was just too much for them. After some questioning the group found out that the Duergar believed they were being haunted by a ghost, a ghost that had killed most of their band leaving just a pile of sticky gooey bones.

After ridding the rest of the fortress of dark Dwarves the group explored for a bit. Some clues were found but no sign of the wand they were here to find. There was the breaking of a hidden compartment in a desk and the brilliant plan to recover the item they broke inside it. Then there was the searching. Which ended with the Vampire shoving his hands into a Mimic who happened to be hiding as the tattered rug on the first floor. So that's what had been eating the Duergar and leaving sticky bones all over the place.

Fight time. Quick fight time. Store was closing in 8 minutes. This meant tossing the full 4e rules out the window. It was only one monster anyway so that wasn't an issue. This was a quick fight by necessity. Thinking back I probably should have ended the session on the cliffhanger of the Vampire getting stuck since I already knew I wasn't going to fit in everything needed for the session anyway. Oh well, what should have been a dramatic fight against a monster twice their level was a quick beat and bash. We still had fun.

Now were were completely out of time. The store was closed and we needed to get out, so I called it a night. As it stands the group still hasn't quite completed encounter number 4, but we got very close. I tossed the map and mini down for the final encounter as a sort of foreshadowing for next week. I spent a few moments inviting our two new players to join us next week or any future week, asked everyone to please have a level five version of their characters ready for next week and called it a night.

Overall we had good session, though it started an hour later than I had hoped. I tried my best to fit everything into our two hour window but it just wasn't meant to be. This I think is a good indication for how much more meat there is in each chapter this season of Encounters. I remember playing past seasons where we were done in half an hour. I also have to admit that I'm still amazed by how much we did get done. We ended up with only two hours to play and just read everything we were able to get done.

Looking forward to next week.

Thursday, 22 November 2012

Classic WGR Review - Cities and Knights of Catan

So for today's classic Windsor Gaming Resource Forum review I've chosen one of the very popular Catan games, Catan Cities & Knights. Well actually it's not a stand alone game but rather an expansion for Settlers of Catan. Like Shadows over Camelot I originally reviewed this game over six years ago, on Feb 6th 2006. I may not be bringing this one out as often as Shadows but I still enjoy a good game Cities & Nights.

Classic WGR review:

Quickly: great game, highly addictive, feels very different from normal Settlers of Catan.

Summary: 
Take you normal Catan game with your island, roads, cities, settlements etc, and add city walls, knights  barbarians, progress, science and politics. This expansion takes Catan to the next level. Besides trying to just build cities and settlements you must also collect commodities (Coins, Paper and Cloth) which you get when you have a city on the proper resource (Ore, Wood, Sheep). Use these commodities to upgrade your cities. Upgraded cities earn you development cards from three different decks. These cards give huge advantages like free road building, trading at 2:1, moving roads, taxing other players and more. While all this is going on barbarians slowly move towards Catan. This leads to the second big addition: the knights. Players can build/feed and upgrade a set of knights. These can be used to scare away the robber, hold good intersections on the board, break up longest roads and a bit more. The main time they come in to play though is defending the land. When the barbarians arrive you compare the number of cities on the map (the barbarians strength) to the number of activated (fed) knights. If the knight number is higher, the barbarians are defeated and the player who contributed the most knights gets a victory point "You are the Defender of Catan!". If the barbarians win, the players contributing the least knights loose a city. This adds a great new level of strategy to the game and also makes it a bit more competitive.

The good: 
As usual for a Catan game the bits are great. Well made wood pieces (though I hear the new edition has plastic), nice flip books for developments and a great border for the entire island that really helps for an 'Earth Quake of Catan". The level of strategy added is great. There are a lot more things to think about now, and it will keep you much busier then the standard game. Works well with 3-4 players and even better with 5-6 (which requires an additional expansion). The barbarians add a great element of suspense to the game when they are getting close and no one has or has activated any knights. The development cards are great with tons of sneaky and useful cards you can get to mess with other players and advance your own plans.

The Bad: 
This isn't always a bad thing, and it depends who you ask but the games take quite a bit longer then a standard Catan game. Even trying to play quickly a game will probably take at least an hour and a half, with some games going much later. There is still a high random factor in this as in the rest of the Catan series, even more so in this one with the extra die (that determines if the barbarians advance or if players can generate progress cards). Personally I don't find this an issue, but anyone that prefers pure strategy may not like this. Lastly, it doesn't 'feel' like Catan. Sure you generate resources, build cities, etc, but it just feels different, like a different game. Whereas Seafarers just added to the basic game, this added so much it 'feels' different. I don't know how else to explain it.

The Ugly: 
Really this is a great game, I don't have much bad to say and I am really having to think about it. The only ugly I can think of is the way the players may get. This has more backstabbing  sneaking and ganging up then the other Catan game so if your group has low sportsmanship there could be an issue (of course I know some groups that love this version of Catan just for that reason). Just play The Spy, Followed by The Bishop  then A trade Monopoly and see if your opponent is still smiling, or grabbing a knife ;)

Overall: 
A great game, truly  This builds onto Catan in many great and interesting ways. It doesn't feel like the basic Catan game which could be a good or a bad thing. Well worth picking up as the added strategy and the drama of the approaching barbarians will likely bring you back to the table again and again.

How I feel about it six years later:

I've still got a soft spot for this game. I will admit I don't break out any of the Catan games often. I just played them so much back when they were new to me. I've probably played more games of Catan and it's expansions than any other games in my collection. Cities and Knights still remains my favorite way to play Settlers though. Since this was written all of the Catan games have been re-released. They all of the nice wooden bits have been replaced by plastic (boo) but the frame that was so cool in Cities and Knights now comes with every edition (yeah). The gameplay and rules haven't changed though and this is still a solid choice, especially if you are still enjoying Catan but getting tired of just worrying about who has wood for sheep.

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Classic WGR Review - Shadows Over Camelot

Shadows over Camelot is one of the games I will be bringing to the Boardgames Are Really Fun event this coming Friday, so I thought this would make another good classic review to bring back to life from the Windsor Gaming Resource Forum. This review was originally written back on February 14th 2006. As I did last time, I will include my current thoughts on the game after the classic review.

Original WGR review:

Quickly: great game, best co-op game I have played.

Summary: 
Players each take the role of a Knight of the Round table and embark on various Arthurian quests. Players work together to complete these quests in an effort to beat 'the game' itself. Quests vary from Jousting the Black Knight, Battling an insane Lancelot, Finding Excalibur, Defeating a Dragon, the Wars with the Picts and Saxons, and of course The Quest for the Holy Grail. Play is simple with a ton of strategy. Each turn you must advance the cause of evil and then complete a heroic action. Advancing evil is done by drawing a black card (which generally makes one of the various quests harder to complete, or something special and evil happens) or by taking 1 point of damage, or by adding a catapult around Camelot. If the field around Camelot fills the game is over. Heroic actions include moving to a new quest, fighting catapults, playing special cards or doing a quest related event. The quest related events vary by quest. In Camelot you get 2 cards, against the black night you must play 2 pairs of white cards, against the Picts or Saxons you must play a straights of white cards, etc. Each knight also has a special ability (examples include, moving from Camelot for free, drawing extra cards, or getting to peek at the top black card. There is one final twist, there is a chance (a good one if playing multiple players) that one of the knights is actually a traitor and they are working against you. Rules exist for accusing this traitor and the way they influence the game for the side of evil. The game ends when Camelot is surrounded, all knights are dead or 12 swords are on Camelot. Swords are gained when quests are completed, black swords if the quest was failed and white if it was won. The greatest colour of swords at the end determines the winner.

The Good: 
This was a great game and a ton of fun. It is by far the best 'team up' game I have played. The components were beautiful, I haven't seen a game this nice looking in a long time. The game play is very quick once you get into it. The game has a great feel of tension once it gets moving as you feel you are fighting a battle on multiple fronts (Picts and Saxons to the left and right, an almost full field of catapults and Lancelot looking too tough to defeat all at once for example). There is a 'table talk' rule that is awesome. Basically you can discuss what you want as long as your don't give away the value of the cards you hold. This basically turns the game into a roleplaying session as all players are saying things like "I will need assistance in the final hour in my war with the Picts" (generally meaning the player doesn't have the final card for a straight). This element really made the game. It would have still been a good game, but this rule and the resulting roleplay pushed this one up a few notches. The card mechanic made things random enough that each game we played felt very different. One game getting just overrun by evil and the next being a closer fight. Advanced rules and variants exist for when you master the main game to add more longevity to it.

The Bad: 
The plastic the figures of the knights were made of was odd. It was a bit rubbery. This probably makes them more durable, but I wouldn't consider painting them due to this consistency  The game is confusing at first, and takes a few goes before you even understand what is going on. It's really very different from anything out there. It's not a pick up and play type of game at first. Really I can't think of much else.

The Ugly: 
This game is HARD! I guess you have to expect that for a co-op game, but man is it hard to even come close to victory. I would say this probably give the game longevity though. I don't think our group will be using the variants that make the game harder any time soon.

Overall: 
A great game, the best co-op game I have ever played. The roleplaying aspect due to the 'table talk' rule really pushes this to the next level. The game is very different from anything else and will take a bit to learn due to that. Don't expect to win this one the first time out (or the second or third time)

My thoughts now, six years later:

Well I think the fact that I'm bringing this game out to an event this coming weekend more than six years after writing this initial review speaks to how much I still enjoy it and the games longevity. This is still one of the best games I own and I still think it's the best co-op game out there. Yes to me it's even better than fan favourite Pandemic. As to the review itself, most of what I said six years ago still stands. My worry about the soft minis was unfounded, these miniatures are actually firmer than many on the market like those in Battlelore or Reaper Bones and I now own painted versions of the Knights. I still love the way this game mixes a traditional card based board game with roleplaying elements and I fully expect that I'll still be bringing this one out to events six years from now.

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Tim Kask lets slip some info about Gygax Magazine


Over on the Old School Gamers Facebook Group Tim Kask, one of the contributors to Gygax Magazine let slip some more details. What I'm really glad to see is that they are planning on supporting multiple games and multiple formats including print. I'm definitely excited about this one.

From Tim:
Gygax is a gaming magazine for new and old players alike .We are looking forward to the games of tomorrow and today, while preserving the traditions and history that got us where we are now.

Our articles and features cover current independent and major publisher games such as Pathfinder, Savage Worlds, The One Ring, Shadowrun, Godlike, Labyrinth Lord, Marvel Heroic Roleplaying, Warhammer 40k Roleplay, Traveller, and others, as well as classic out-of-print games with a modern following, like AD&D, Top Secret, and Gamma World.

Our features include comics by Phil Foglio (What’s New With Phil and Dixie), Jim Wampler (Marvin the Mage), and Rich Burlew (Order of the Stick). Contributors include Jim Ward, Cory Doctorow, James Carpio, Ethan Gilsdorf, Dennis Sustare, and many more.

Publishing quarterly in print as well as PDF and iPad editions, we hope each issue of Gygax will be an
anticipated and treasured addition to any gamer’s library.

TSR Lives again? Well sort of

So how many of you gamers have seen this yet?


Have you checked out: http://tsrgames.com/ or maybe http://gygaxmagazine.com

There's been a ton of speculation today over what this is all about. Well ENWorld managed to get some answers and I have to say I'm excited by what they found.

"Hi guys, this is Jayson [Elliot]. I'm the editor for Gygax Magazine.

Gygax Magazine is myself, Ernie Gygax, Luke Gygax, Tim Kask, James Carpio, and Jim Wampler. Our first issue is out in December; since it's not finished yet, we've been pretty quiet about things until it's ready.

Just to address some of the questions, I thought it was best that I leave a reply. We do own the trademark for TSR, and have since December of 2011. We are a new company, not the old TSR, as they were purchased by Wizards in the '90s. The trademark was abandoned about nine years ago, and we registered it in 2011.

We decided the best thing to release first as TSR was a gaming magazine, because we wanted a way to bridge the traditions of the old guard with the awesome new games that are out today."

Here's the original post over at ENWorld: http://www.enworld.org/forum/news/332022-gygax-magazine-update-gygax-family-involved.html

Props to Gareth Skarka for originally posting about this on G+

Monday, 19 November 2012

Classic WGR Review - Agricola

Photo by boardgamegeek user: Tony "blkstar" Bosca
For the second classic Windsor Gaming Resource Forum review, I've chosen Agricola. Back when this review was originally written, May 13th 2009, Agricola was the number 1 game on Boardgamegeek.com, a position it held for months. To this day it still ranks as number 3. Check below the initial review for my updated thoughts on this game.

Original WGR Review:

So how does the current number 1 game rate?

Summary:
In Agricola each player takes on the role of a farming family. They each start with a plot of land and a basic two room house and need to expand from there. The winner is the player with the best farm after 14 Rounds.

These rounds are broken into 6 stages, at the end of each stage is a Harvest Phase where farmers reap what they have sown, animals give birth and you need to feed your family members.

Each round of the game allows players to take one action for each family member. The available actions are all shown on a central board and players choose them by placing a large chit over them. Once an action has been chosen by one player it cannot be chosen by another. The actions vary wildly and include but are not limited to: taking building materials, going fishing for food, building a new room on your house, improving the materials of your house (from wood to clay to stone), building fences, buying animals (sheep, pigs and cattle), Going First, building improvements and more.

Scoring is done at the end of the game. Generally people get points for having lots of something and loose points for having none. So having No cattle is worth -1 point where as having 6 is worth 4 points. The following are scored - number of fields, number of pastures, number of grain, number of vegetables, number of sheep, number of pigs, number of cattle, number of empty fields (this is a penalty), number of clay rooms, number of stone rooms, number of points from Improvement and bonus points (usually from improvements or occupations).

There are two ways to play, Family Play or regular. Regular play adds Minor Improvements and Occupations to the game. Players each start with a hand of 14 cards that can be played during the game (by choosing the right space on the board). These do a huge variety of things and there are over 400 of them included in the game to ensure that no two games play the same.

The Good:
Reminds me of a mix of Princes of Florence and Caylus and that's a really good thing. The basic mechanics are excellent and very easy to understand in a short amount of time (even if they are hard to explain). The role choosing mechanism is one of my favorite mechanics, and this game does it well. The theme is very accessible and I think this would be a good gateway game because of it. The components are all pretty top notch with nice wooden bits. A nice touch was the inclusion of enough zip lock bags for every single bit in the game. We have played this game 6 times and every time I have used a slightly different strategy (and won or tied 4 of those 6 games) which is great to see, there is obviously no 'one way' to play and win. It's actually surprising that number of different ways you can approach play. This is also a fairly short game. Lasting only an hour or two. This is great for a game with this much depth. The huge amount of cards included in the game mean that you could play this game a near infinite number of times without the same combination coming up. Talk about replay value.

The Bad:
With all the nice wooden pieces for everything else I don't understand the decision to do food as a cardboard die cut chit. Why wasn't food just another cube, maybe green or something else not used? Here is something I do not understand. Each player has a field card, the backs of these are all different. One of them shows an example of a filled out field, that makes sense. The rest have various backs, supposedly for storing the various bits, though if that was the case why wouldn't they all be the same. Some have pens on them for holding resources and some do not. It's just not logical. I like the concept of including an example on the back for explaining the game, but never actually found it practical, plus it just doesn't make sense that it's not consistent.

The Ugly:
Okay we have now played 4 games with the Regular rules and tried all three of the different decks provided in the main game (The E, I and K decks). In each case there seemed to be players with 'good hands' and players with 'bad hands' This means that the cards add a rather high level or randomness to the game that greatly affects a players chances of winning. The Family game is very player vs player and highly strategic, this element seems to be lost with the cards. Now personally I liked the feel the cards added and I liked the random element (trying to still win with a crap hand I found a challenge), most of the players I played with hated them, and would have rather played the Family Game.

Summary:
Overall I have to say this is a really good game. An excellent game actually, one of the best I own. But it's not number 1. I can't see how a game with such a wildly random mechanic as the Occupation Minor Improvement decks can be considered the best in the world. I still recommend picking this one up or getting in a game at a friends (send me a PM) but I still prefer some other games like Power Grid and Puerto Rico more then this.

My thoughts 3 years later:

Well my opinion on this one hasn't changed much at all. I have grown more fond of the card mechanic as time has gone on. Mainly due to the fact that it ads variety to the game and your initial hand of cards gives you some direction as far as which strategy is best to use. I've also found the play time has actually grown on this one. The average game seems to take about two hours. The main reason for this is due to people spending a lot more time thinking. Playing with people who know the game well actually takes longer as they strategize the best move each turn. Lastly, I never did figure out why the card backs are different on each playing board.

I've recently head that the game now ships with 'animeeples' instead of cubes and chits. Now there's a nice touch that makes a great looking game even better.

Sunday, 18 November 2012

Classic WGR Review - Power Grid


My wife suggested I work on slowly migrating some of the reviews I had originally posted on the Windsor Gaming Resource Forum over to the new blog. Seemed like a solid idea so here's the first one. One of my favorite games of all time Power Grid. This review was originally written by me July 18th 2006

Quickly: it lives up to the hype. Probably the best game I have tried this year. A great game.

Summary: players compete to build power plants to supply cities with power either in the US or Germany. The game starts with an auction phase where players bid on power plants. Each of these costs a different minimum bid and provide power for a set number of cities while requiring various resources to run (Coal, Oil, Solar, Garbage or Plutonium). The plants start out inefficient and cheap and grow to more efficient and expensive as the game goes on. The next phase is the buying of resources. Resources vary in price depending on demand, and players buy in a set order, making buying first a huge advantage. The next phase has the players building grids. Players purchase 'houses' in cities they wish to supply power too. The cost for this varies depending on the connection between a city you own and the city you wish to purchase, some connections are very cheap, others are very expensive. Also at the start of the game only one player can supply a city, later int he game a second player can purchase a 'house' but at a greater cost. In the endgame a third player can set up shop in that city as well, but this again is more expensive then the other players had to pay. The last phase involves players spending resources to power their plants and getting paid for the electricity they have supplied. Turn order is determined by who is closest to achieving victory and reverses for many phases. Thus the player who has the most 'houses' bids on power plants first, but then they buy resources last. The game lasts about an hour or two and turns are fairly quick.

The Good: the components As with many eurogames put out by Rio Grande the board and pieces are top notch, including wooden 'counters' for houses and all commodities. The board is excellent looking and has two sides (which I love). The only complaint was the money (see the ugly). The variety of great game mechanics in one game was amazing. The auction phase was typical of a eurogame but usually this is a games only mechanic, in Power Grid it's just the first step. The way the resource price scaled as the game went on with supply and demand was unique to me and worked very well. There were times when you would buy resources just to drive up the price for other players. It's also interesting the way the 'higher end' commodities star off very expensive and slowly drop in price as time goes on. The way the power plants scale is also excellent, with near useless plants being replaced by powerhouses that can supply 6 cities with only one resource. The building phase was also interesting just due to the map. I have no clue how they determined how much it costs to link individual cities, but they way it is set up with a few pockets of cheap grids then leading out west being a huge expense is very well done. Without going on to much, I will just say this was a very fun game with a ton of variety in the strategies that one could play. I don't think any two games would ever be the same due to the variety of options and the power plant generation method.

The Bad: Due to the number of commodities it can be hard to keep everything on the board in the right place. The first thing I thought when we had to add more resources to the stock at the end of the first turn was this would be a great computer game, as there was quite a bit of standing up little wooden counters along a crowded track. It seemed like this may be a game where steamrolling occurs. That meaning that once a player gets the lead they continue to keep it. The person with the most cites and best plants just keeps getting more money than everyone else every turn, allowing them to just keep building more cities and getting more money, etc. There didn't seem to be a good way to 'stop the leader' There was definitely some jockeying for position, but once one or two people got about 3 cities ahead, it didn't seem like the other players could do much about it.
The Ugly: the presentation and components in this game were top notch, except for one thing. The money. Power Grid had the worst looking money I have seen in a game since monopoly It was also incredibly thin. This is a game where a ton of money changes hands and I can't see it lasting long. Now the game I played the owner (Sinister) had fixed this problem by using poker chips, which worked great, but it would have been nice to see something better included. It is possible in this game to shoot yourself in the foot. To the point where you can no longer play the game. If you spend too much on power plants and forget to save money to buy resources you can basically oust yourself from play. Now I am sure some people like this, and really it's just part of the game, but I am sure it's not fun to sit and watch the other players finish up while you do nothing turn after turn.

Overall: a game that definitely belongs in the top 10 boardgames. This is pretty much on my must have list now. I would love to head downstairs and play a game right now. Great components, interesting and good working mechanics and a variety of strategies make this a winner.