21st March 2021
It's a Sunday lunchtime and I'm logged on to my PC in the living Room and signed into Board Game Arena.
The first game of the day was Takenoko, a game about gardening in Japan... and pandas.
Caveat: We played this game online, but I own a physical copy which I've set up for the photos.
What's in a game?
All of the cartoon-like art is uniformly bright, colourful and appealing, even the rulebook is filled with it. It shows a nice touch.
Finally I'll add that there's a giant sized Takenoko that was released a while back.
How's it play?
On to play
After a starting player is chosen, play proceeds clockwise.
Some actions do not count towards the usual 2 action limit. The active player can carry out any number of free actions at any time during their turn.
The endgame is triggered after someone has played a certain number of objective cards, dependant on the number of players.
The player that triggered the endgame immediately take the Emperor card and conclude the rest of their turn normally. Then continuing in clockwise order, every other player has one more turn.
After this, scores are tallied, highest score wins.
Firstly I'll mention how the game is uniformly nice, presentation is excellent and component quality is good, nothing to criticise here.
Since there are always objectives to work towards in Takenoko, there are generally always meaningful decisions to make.
The game's player interaction comes from conflicting objectives such as one player getting the gardener to grow bamboo and another getting the panda to eat it.
This is also a game about recognising opportunities and adapting to the card and plot tiles you draw and to a lesser extent the results from the weather die and not about strategizing too much.
There is some strategy regarding the uneven distribution of bamboo (Generally objectives that involve the less common bamboo score more points.) but that's about it. I suppose there could be a high level strategy where you watch what other players are doing and try to anticipate what objectives they're going for and try and scupper them but you'll probably scupper yourself as well in the end.
Optimising your actions per turn seems to be very important.
Takenoko is a relatively simple and straightforward game to play, the concepts behind it should make it a fairly accessible crossover game. For dedicated gamers there might not be enough meat on the bone to satisfy them though.
Ultimately Takenoko is a light somewhat gentle game that you shouldn't take too seriously if you play it. If you want something heavy on strategy and direct interaction, it's probably not the game for you. However, if you're in the mood for an undemanding game, it's a reasonable diversion.
14th March 2020
It's a Sunday night, I'm on my PC in my living, logged on to Zoom and the Tabletopia website.
In Paleo each player controls a tribe of cavemen and is a cooperative card about life & times in a prehistoric times. According to Paleo, our caveman ancestors were pretty obsessed with woolly mammoths, either chasing or running away from them!
Caveat: Paleo was played virtually on the Tabletopia website, so I cannot attest to the quality or lack of regarding the components.
What's in a game?
Paleo is a card game with a lot of different types of cards, the majority are encounter cards (Explained Below) but not all cards and tokens are used in every game.
Paleo uses a base set of encounter cards and also employs a module system which determines which other sets of cards are used, each game uses 2 modules from a selection of 10, this will also affect the games difficulty. The rules suggest combinations to use for easier and harder games ranging from 1 to 7 in difficulty. Ultimately you can even choose your own set ups. Modules can add a narrative flavour to the game as most modules are themed.
How's it play?
Paleo is played over any number of rounds, each round has a day phase and a night phase. The vast majority of gameplay occurs during the day phase, the night phase is mostly for managing what happened during the previous phase.
What actions a player can under take will depend on the situation and what encounters they errr.... encounter!
Play continues during the day phase until all player tribes have gone to sleep, the day phase is now over and the night phase commences.
The night phase is much shorter than the day.
All tribes must collectively discard an amount of food equal to the number of people cards in all their tribes. If they cannot manage this, a skull is added to the night board.
Furthermore they must also meet the conditions required on the 2 module specific missions. Each one they fail adds another skull to the night board.
Once the night phase is concluded, all the cards on the discard board are put into a single deck, shuffled and dealt out to the players again, then the next day phase begins.
Play continues until the players have accumulated all 5 victory tokens, in which case they immediately all win.
If 5 skull tokens are placed on to the night board, then the players immediately lose.
Some mystery cards may contain alternate ways to win the game.
First thing I'm going to talk about are 2 interlinked mechanics.
The exploration mechanic of drawing 3 face-down cards and choosing one from the card back is excellent. It feels a bit like exploring, does a player choose to go to the forest or the mountains? They'll have a pretty good idea what to expect but it's not guaranteed. They most likely will get the wood or stone or whatever they're looking for but they might encounter a rockfall or a dangerous animal.
Additionally, players will also get an idea of what's coming in future turns
It's a great mechanic.
The other equally great mechanic is how each player's own deck also represents their tribe's time & energy, completing encounters frequently forces a player to discard 1 or 2 cards from their deck, so when it's depleted - so is the tribe for the day. When the game begins on day 1, players will have 15 cards, so it's possible to burn through a deck very quickly, why is that significant?
Essentially the encounter deck is another resource that needs to be managed. In most games, my instinct would be to gather as much food/wood/stone/resource as possible but in Paleo you sometimes have to fight that urge. You have to ask the question, what resource do I really need?
For example; near the end of a day I had 3 cards left, 2 in my deck and a forest encounter. Turning the card over, I had the option to discard 2 cards for 3 wood, 1 card for one wood or help another tribe. The others didn't need help from me, so I was free to collect wood but collecting 3 wood would send my tribe to bed. Because we knew the top 2 cards on everyone's deck, I knew that another player potentially had a mammoth hunt coming and would probably need help. We didn't need the wood for now so I chose to ignore my card and I also ignored my other 2 encounter cards just so my tribe would be around for 3 more turns to help other tribes if needed. Realising this gave me an appreciation of the game's subtleties.
As well as managing encounters, players will need to ensure they generate enough resources to pass the night as well manage discoveries and crafting.
Creating a few tools gives the game a good sense of progress as it increases the capabilities of a tribe significantly. You can almost feel a the game transition from scrabbling to survive encounters to being able to go on mammoth hunts, it's quite gratifying to complete encounters that had to be ignored earlier in the game.
Like all good games, collectively there were always meaningful decisions to make. Before long we learnt that we needed to communication and coordinate on which encounter cards to keep and when they were then revealed we frequently had to coordinate on which encounters to complete, rarely did all players manage to individually complete their encounters.
For example; if all players for some reason chose mammoth hunt encounters, it would be most likely that all bar one would be ignored. Mammoth hunts generally required a lot of strength thus cooperation but also gave significant rewards, including on occasion victory tokens. Coordination is vital and it feels like players coordinating.
As a result I liked Paleo quite a lot, it's a game I'd happily play again.
21st February 2021
It's a Sunday and I'm on the PC in the living room logged on to Zoom.
Time for the final part of our Gloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion campaign.
Matt and I came into this campaign in the latter half and now we've reached the conclusion.
Despite the awkward circumstances we made it work, it's been a positive experience and as someone commented, being able to play something during the lockdown was something of a blessing for them.
See what I thought about Gloomhaven here.
5th February 2021
In the living room and logged on to Zoom on my PC.
What better way is there to spend a Friday night other then playing the concluding part of our adventure in Forgotten Waters?
You can read my thoughts about it here.
29th January 2021
Friday and I was in the living room, logged on to Zoom on my PC.
It was time for another adventure in Forgotten Waters, read my blog about it here.
21st January 2021
It's a Thursday and I'm in the sitting room logged on to Zoom on my PC.
Time for a another question in Forgotten Waters.
Read my blog about it here.
15th January 2020
It's a Friday evening, I'm logged into Zoom on my laptop and I'm sitting in the living room.
So it's time to play Forgotten Waters, a co-operative fantastical pirate exploration game that we've only played over video chat.
Caveat: I've only played this game over video chat and never in person, I've also never actually seen the physical components for the game. So this blog will probably be a bit different to the usual.
Before we begin
Forgotten Waters is one of this new breed of boardgames that requires an app to play, not just an app to help, but actually required to play.
Additionally, the game has a Remote Play Assistant app available. This app is what has allowed us to play online and in this time of Covid-19 is a welcome feature.
What's in a game?
Because I've never seen the game physically and because the remote play assistant app replaces the need for some components, it's hard to gauge what exactly, is what?
It's hard to talk about the quality of these physical components though as I've never see them other than briefly over video chat.
But I can talk about the apps.
It's clear that the game's developers have put a lot of thought and effort into insuring the quality of the game app. It's very slick with professional voice acting and production qualities, scripting and dialogue is very well written and often witty. There were frequent chuckles at gags that hit the mark more often than not.
I'm not sure what to think though, like many people; the idea of a game needing an app to play sits uncomfortably with me. We all know the question, what happens to the game a few years down the line, how long will the developer support the app?
However, I doubt this game would even exist in this form without the app. The game seems to have hundreds of differing encounters that can contextually change according to the story mission being played. It would require a fairly elaborate book to manage all of this physically, slowing the game down and no doubt adding to the cost.
The remote helper does it's job well enough to facilitate remote play and is easy to use, apart from the occasional need to refresh the browser and put everything back in sync, it works perfectly well.
I cannot say enough about how useful it is though. We played a game with 7 players and someone commented how how this was the most people they'd talked to in a year. In these times of self-isolation it has proven to be a godsend.
One minor criticism I have is about the character sheet PDF. It is a slight oversight that it is not form-fillable as it could save on the unnecessary use of paper.
How's it play?
First of all, one of the 5 available missions is selected, this will give the players a series of objectives to aim for, then play can begin.
Essentially, the ship travels from hexspace to hexspace dealing with the encounters that are generated by each space.
Each encounter will have 7 pertinent actions. Players take turns placing their standee on the action they want to perform,
Some actions are mandatory, some can only be completed by one player and others can completed by any number of players.
Additionally, some actions become locked when they are completed whilst others can be repeated.
Some actions are specific to certain encounters or mission objectives and others are generic and frequently appear during encounters.
Players place their standees on the encounter spaces in order of the infamy track, Forgotten Waters utilises a real time mechanic during encounters. If players have not placed their standee/worker in the allotted time, they receive a misfortune token as punishment.
Once all workers have been placed, then actions are carried out but in the order shown on the encounter.
There are a great many different action in the game, related to combat, sailing, exploring, trading, objectives etc.
Often players will be given 2 or 3 sub-choices for their chosen action and sometimes they will have 2 actions they actions they can perform.
Many actions will increase one of the player's 6 skills, frequently this will then require a roll using the relevant skill, generally there are 3 different levels of outcome depending on how high the final roll is.
Once all actions have been repeated, the turn ends. Depending on the situation, players may have the choice of staying and repeating the parts of the encounter which are not locked (Like foraging for supplies, burying treasure etc.) or they have be forced to move on to another encounter.
This continues until the endgame.
There are numerous ways to lose.
If the ship's hull, supplies or crew are reduced to zero then it's game over.
If the crew's discontent value increase to or beyond the crew score, then it's also game over.
Finally there's threat rating. Threat can go up and down; the game will on a fairly regular basis call for threat checks, depending on the result this may generate a threat event, this is another type of encounter. The higher the threat rating, the more likely it is that a threat event will be triggered, when one does occur the threat rating is reduced to zero. If four threat events are triggered, then it's also game over.
If all the objectives of a mission are met then the player's collectively win.
Each character also has an individual ending though, depending on how many stars they filled in on their constellations, this may be bad, good or legendary. Bad endings are usually very bad comical demises for the character, explosions, drownings etc.
The good and legendary endings are as comical but obviously better for the character.
Forgotten Waters is a long game to play, a mission can take 4 or even more hours to complete and the developers are aware of this, all missions come with a natural breakpoint, which can be used a temporary stopping point and then picked up again at a later date.
Mostly the game gives players meaningful co-operative decisions to make and the timer forces them to think quickly.
It's also a well produced, smart game that is entertaining to to play, the app does add to the atmosphere and help with booking.
but I do have some quibbles to do with game balancing.
Firstly; when undertaking tasks, some tasks are more attractive to complete than others. One example, during ship combat:
Furthermore it exacerbates and perpetuates the imbalance. Once a character starts firing cannons, thus increasing their aim skill, it makes sense for them to continue doing that action, because they're more likely to get better results. So one player can be stuck loading cannons and earning little to nothing and another firing cannons and getting skill points and treasures.
Sometimes it's not so bad because with some actions, multiple characters can perform it but with single-character actions, it can be irritating.
Maybe its deliberate, it certainly can make the infamy track more important for actions that can only be done by one player.
Forgotten Waters is a mostly co-operative game, but it also a little edge of competitiveness as well, players can steal treasures from other players and so on.
Maybe the game wants to force players to choose between what's good for them and what's good for the mission?
Speaking of which, characters seem out of balance. When they earn bonuses, the usefulness of them seems to vary widely, some characters will get permanent items that confer constant bonuses whilst other characters get one-use-only less useful abilities.
Additionally, it appears that constellations are harder to complete for some characters than others for what appears to be no rhyme or reason why.
Luckily they don't affect the game too much, especially since it's co-operative. Other than that I've found it a fun game to play.
So.... that was 2020. Interesting times....
Time to see how Covid-19 has affected my board game playing in 2020.
Total number of different games played: 29.
Of which were new (To me.): 13.
Total number of gaming sessions: 49.
Game sessions played does not mean the number of times a game was played, short games might have been played several times in single session.
Unsurprisingly, the numbers are well down on 2019.
In 2019 I played 77 different games over 171 sessions, about 3 times as much. The difference would be even starker if it didn't include Gloomhaven: Jaws of The Lion which was played for 10 sessions/scenarios of the campaign were played.
The 5 most played games of 2020 were.
Hopefully, it will pick up some time in '21.
Now it's time for the highly prestigious, world-beating 3 Spellcasters and a Dwarf 2020 game awards!
These are not necessarily for new games, but for games I first played in 2020.
Game of the year: Pan Am.
I only got to play Pan Am once but it was enough to convince me of the game's quality.
A game with an interesting theme of basically selling out to Pan Am. It's balance of depth, rules complexity and interesting use of several differing game mechanics led to some rock solid gameplay. Well made components, art and production qualities complete the package
Surprise of the year: Skulls of Sedlec.
18 cards is all it takes to play Skulls of Sedlec, a game that cleverly uses game mechanics to match its theme of er.... digging up graves!. Easy to learn and quick to play with some interesting decisions. It packs a lot into a game that's one third of a deck of cards and delivered in a little wallet.
7th January 2021
Thursday night and I'm in the living room and logged into Zoom on my laptop.
It's the next scenario for Gloomhaven: Jaws of The Lion.
Read my blog about it here.
29th December 2020
Christmas has passed and year's end beckons. It's a Tuesday evening in the living room, logged on to Zoom on my laptop.
Time for the final gaming session of 2020 and another scenario of Gloomhaven: Jaws of the Lion.
Read my blog about it here.
I play, I paint.