There is always an uneasy balance between trying something new and just refining what has come before. Try something that’s too different from what has come before or bring too many small innovations and you might find yourself with no one interested by your game. Keep it too close to what has come before and the same will happen. After all, why would I play your game instead of what I already have/know?
So it’s always tricky to innovate, be it mechanics or theme. By creating a line of games that are in a new, shared universe which is not an already existing IP, Alderac Entertainment Group, or AEG, does just that. The Tempest universe is a new one, which while it might feel a little like some of the more familiar fantasy/old timey universes, nonetheless brings something new to the table. And by having each game be a new chapter of an evolving storyline, they bring a novel concept to boardgames. Most gamers will be familiar with the second game of the series, Love Letter, but less so with the game that opens up the storyline, Courtier.
The idea of having boardgames being connected together by a storyline is new, but what of Courtier itself? Does it bring something new to the table and if it does, is it interesting?
Victory Point Games has been making print-on-demand games for quite some time now and they’ve always had the knack to come up with games on subject matters that were off-beat enough and with a small enough footprint to interest me. At the same time, while the quality of the components wasn’t a real problem when it came to wargames, pure card games were, at least to me, problematic. I’ve played in the past a number of Avalon Hill titles which had less than ideal cards but, in this day and age, I for one didn’t want to deal with a card game which had flimsy cards that were not standard size.
I was quite happy to learn that with their new production equipment they would be able to make something that was close to a real card for their card games and thus I was tempted once more with a game that I had my eye on for quite some time: Tenka, a card game of Shogun Japan that claimed a simple rule set for a quick, chaotic game. When I saw that Supernova Games had a copy at Stack Academy, my fate was sealed: I had no choice but to get a copy and boy am I glad that I got it.
I am a big fan of different types of games (some would say games in general) but there is always that special subject matter that fascinates me and that will make me seek out games that talk/deal with this subject. One such subject is asymmetrical warfare and more specifically COIN, or COunter INsurgence warfare. As such, these types of conflicts are usually represented by “hearts and minds” operation or having a group that is in power fighting against another, much smaller group who is trying to disrupt the status quo and this by much different means. Instead of being straight out fights, they attempt to simulate large armies trying to deal with much more nimble, smaller groups who’s primary aim is not to kill but rather to disrupt and win the sympathy of the local population.
One of the first game I’ve ever played on that subject is Ici, C’est la France (Legion Wargames) by Kim Kanger , which proved to be both fascinating and very fiddly. My love of the subject made me hunt down games by both Brian Train (Battle for China, Algeria, Shining Path and more) and Volko Ruhnke (Wilderness War, Labyrinth: War on Terror, Andean Abyss). Both have made games on COIN in the past and now they’ve collaborated in the GMT COIN Series on a new title: A Distant Plain. A match made in heaven surely, right?
Games Workshop is a company that really captured my imagination in the late 80s, early 90s when I started to explore and discover games other than the Monopoly/Sorry/Scrabble trifecta. I was in college back then and a whole new world had opened up to me beyond the confines of the suburbs that I grew up in: gone was the hair metal, bad sitcoms and boring novels. The new stuff was stimulating: punk music, bad horror movies and the books, ah the books: great novels such as Naked Lunch, On the Road and the British new wave of horror and fantasy, with Clive Barker and Ramsey Campbell at the forefront. Of course, a new type of games I was discovering was also opening up my eyes: role-playing games such as Dungeons and Dragons and Call of Cthulhu as well as miniatures games and the king of minis was Games Workshop.
Of course, GW made more than just minis games, but no matter what type, they always had gorgeous artwork and crazy back story to go along with it. One of the weirdest combination was Warhammer and Football (american football, that is) which gave us the great Blood Bowl. Cut to many years later and while I gave up on GW and their constant money-based escalation, the interest in their colorful world still remains. Now we have something that maintains that flavor with a price/expansion structure I can get behind: Blood Bowl Team Manager (Fantasy Flight Games) by Jason Little.
After the latest Math Trade at Pub Ludique Randolph, a few of us stuck around to play some games. Can’t go wrong with playing games at a game pub, right? I was joined by Marc (who organizes the Stack Academy events in Montreal) and Mike, with Jason who joined us later.
Randolph pub is a nice place to play: a small pub with about 15-20 tables, the pub has an extensive library of games, with party games rubbing shoulders with some fairly heavy games. It was only 1h00pm, so the pub was almost empty, but as we played on, the crowd started coming in slowly, with 5 tables playing games by the time we left at 4h30pm. The pub serves food and drinks, including alcohol. Nothing super fancy, but nice honest pub-style food. And you wouldn’t want a large meal anyway since you’ll probably be playing games at the same time. The staff is very knowledgeable, helping you select a game and explaining the rules if you want them to.
I had the chance to play twice this week and in both sessions, I revisited games that I had played recently, namely Keyflower and Puzzle Strike. Both titles got stuck in my head the first time I had a chance to bring them to the table and this, for very different reasons. One is a very thinky game where you need to adapt to what is available at the moment, the other is more of an optimization game where you need to build up your deck in order to beat up the other player.
Part of the reasons has to do with how little downtime there is in both games once you know how the systems work. Neither of them have very complex systems, but the decision space and the consequence of these decisions can be quite complex and have very deep ramifications, and this for different reasons.
I love games, but I think I love deep, thinky games that hurt my head even more. Don’t get me wrong: I love a short, funny game as much as the next guy, but give me a game that forces me to think long and hard and you’ve got me. It doesn’t have to be a long game, mind you, although I’m not averse to that either. But give me a game with some meat on its bones, a game where decisions matter and you can feel it when, a few turns later, you find yourself cursing over what seemed the right decision at the time and you’ve got me hooked.
Keyflower (Game Salute) by Sebastian Bleasdale and Richard Breese is such a game. With a very simple ruleset, this game gets its hooks in you and lets you sweat out every little decision. What’s more, it’s one of those games where you’ll find yourself thinking a few days later “Should have done this, then that would have changed to this”. In other words, it makes my head hurt and I love it.
Those who know me or have been following the (has-been-back-up-for-very-short-but-still) blog have come to figure out that I greatly enjoy train games. Now, I am not a fan of real-life trains, but as a theme or a game mechanic, I just find that trains and railways bring a lot to the table. You can do: stock market simulations; simple tech trees or advances; network building; goods delivery; simple or complex economic systems simulation. Of course, all train games are not equal and to me the apex of train games are a family of games known as 18XX, with 1829 and 1830 being the source of so much goodness. In this family you’ll find over 120(!) different games falling into that category. While they share a common framework, most of them bring tweaks or slight change to the basic system, sometimes to just the map, sometimes to the trains and tracks. Not all the variations are good, but those that are are fantastic. They are perhaps easier to teach/learn than most people think but they can be long, even with an experienced group. And taxing. And difficult to predict the first few times you play. And can lead to analysis paralysis for certain players. And a lot of fun with the right group.
Which brings me to this week’s Session Report, as I’ve had the chance to play 1844 (Double-O games) by Peter Minder and Helmut Ohley this weekend for the first time. This particular title takes place in Switzerland, amid all the mountains and valleys.
I finally had the chance last week to try out the 2nd edition of one of my favorite multiplayer wargames, A Game of Thrones, the Board Game, 2nd ed (Fantasy Flight Games), by Christian T. Petersen. I had played the first edition, along with the two expansions, many many times in the past and it was the favorite of two of the groups I played with, but for some reason, even though it’s been out for a while now, the new edition never hit the table.
A Game of Thrones: The Board Game, 2nd Ed.
The verdict? Wow, I really should have brought this out earlier. It is still one of the best “short” multiplayer wargame out there, but more on that later. Let me first go over the components and the rules.
Not the biggest gaming week last week, but I still managed to get three games in: a playtest session of Fire in the Lake, which I covered in my last Session Report (and hopefully will finish tonight) and a game of Leader 1 on Wednesday and some Skyline, on Saturday night.