The 2016 Good Gift Games Guide

My 2016 Good Gift Games Guide appears in The Morning News today. Here are the ten games featured:

Game Rules Purchase
Harry Potter: Hogwarts Battle Not online Amazon
Valeria: Card Kingdoms PDF Amazon
World’s Fair: 1893 PDF Amazon
7 Wonders: Duel PDF Amazon
A Fake Artist Goes to New York PDF Amazon
Stockpile PDF Amazon
Beyond Baker Street BGG Amazon
Fuji Flush BGG Amazon
Ice Cool PDF Amazon
Potion Explosion PDF Amazon
* * *

 

Additional Picks

All of the nominations for this year’s guide can be found here

The G3 guides focus on games that are easy to learn and play, so sometimes my personal favorites — which are often meatier — are omitted. I would be remiss to not mention the two games I have enjoyed the most this year:

Mansions of Madness: Second Edition (Fantasy Flight Games, 1-5 players, 90-270 minutes (depending on scenario): I’m a voracious consumer of Lovecraftian board games, but the first Mansions of Madness left me cold. I appreciated what it was trying to do — bring the mystery-solving element of Arkham Horror to the fore, as it is in the Call of Cthulhu RPG — the the game felt more like a pile of interesting ideas rather than a cohesive whole. Plus, I always had to serve as the GM, while I would have preferred to play as an investigator. The second edition of the game, I am pleased to report, solves all of these problems in one fell swoop, with the addition of a digital assistant. Now an app (available on most devices, as well as for PCs) moderates and narrates the game, while automating a lot of the fiddly bits. It’s hella expensive when you consider that you only get four scenarios in the box, but I feel like it was worth the money all the same (and we’ve replayed one of the adventures several times in a thus-far-vain attempt to eventually win). MoMv2 is truly as close to a roleplaying game in board game form that you can get. [Boardgame Geek | Rules (PDF) | Amazon]

Imperial Assault (Fantasy Flight Games (I don’t own stock in the company, I swear), 2-5 players, 90 minutes): I played (and reviewed) DOOM over ten years ago when it was first released, and every iteration of its “roll dice for range and damage” system since. Imperial Assault is far and away the best. The missions are rarely longer than 90 minutes, the game seems well-balanced between rebels and the Empire, and holy smokes is it fun. Plus, you get a ridiculous number of missions for the price (more that twice what you’ll play in a single campaign) and a second set of rules that allow for head-to-head brawls. The weight bumped this one off my main list, but this would be an amazing gift for someone who likes Star Wars and is comfortable tackling a moderately complex game. [Boardgame Geek | Rules (PDF) | Amazon]

Mansions of Madness: Second Edition and Imperial Assault.

And here are the “greatest hits” from over a decade of Good Gift Game guides:

* * *

Other Opinions

Don’t trust the yeti? Here are the highlights of some other “2015 best game of the year” lists.

German Game of the Year:

Deutscher Spiele Preis (the “other” German Game of the Year award):

Golden Geek Awards:

International Gamers Awards:

* * *

Where to Buy

I dunno about your hometown, but board game stores have recently been cropping up in Seattle like toadstools after a rain. Plug “games” into Google Maps and see what you get. As for online, Amazon now carries just about everything I recommend. Funagain Games is one of the oldest board game retailers and remains one of the best. Others that I’d recommend include:

* * *

Need additional info, or want a more specific recommendation? Don’t hesitate to drop me a line or @ me on Twitter.

The 2015 Good Gift Games Guide

My 2015 Good Gift Games Guide appears in The Morning News today. Here are the ten games featured:

Game Rules Purchase
Patchwork PDF Amazon
Codenames PDF Amazon
Pandemic Legacy BGG Amazon
Lanterns BGG Amazon
Colt Express PDF Amazon
Ca$h & Guns PDF Amazon
Sheriff of Nottingham PDF Amazon
Mysterium PDF Amazon
Looney Quest PDF Amazon
Dungeons & Dragons Fifth Edition: Starter Set D&D Basic Rules Amazon
* * *

Additional Picks

The G3 guides focus on games that are easy to learn and play, so some of my personal favorites for a year if they are long or complex. That said, the circles in the Venn Diagram of games I most enjoyed in 2015 and games listed above perfectly overlap — with one exception:

Dead of Winter (Plaid Hat Games, 2-5 players, 90 minutes): Cooperative games with potential traitors are nothing new, but Dead of Winter is the first to do it right, in my opinion. Each player owns a faction of followers in a colony besieged by zombies, and can use them to kill the marauders, barricade windows and doors, search nearby locations to for loot, or shore up morale in the face of unrelenting doom. Loyal players work toward a common objective (killing a set number of zombies, say, or surviving for X rounds); the betrayer — if there is one — only wins if the main objective fails. The traitor element works in DoW because all players are a little treasonous — each loyalist has a secret goal in addition to the main objective, and to meet it they must often act a bit shady. Thus, the traitor is incentivized to behave “good” (to stay hidden), and the team players are incentivized to behave badly. The end result is an game where the humans have as much to fear from one another as they do from the shambling dead. [Boardgame Geek | Rules (PDF) | Amazon]

And here are the “greatest hits” from over a decade of Good Gift Game guides:

* * *

Other Opinions

Don’t trust the yeti? Here are the highlights of some other “2015 best game of the year” lists.

German Game of the Year:

Deutscher Spiele Preis (the “other” German Game of the Year award):

Golden Geek Awards:

International Gamers Awards:

* * *

Where to Buy

I dunno about your hometown, but board game stores have recently been cropping up in Seattle like toadstools after a rain. Plug “games” into Google Maps and see what you get. As for online, Amazon now carries just about everything I recommend. Funagain Games is one of the oldest board game retailers and remains one of the best. Others that I’d recommend include:

* * *

Need additional info, or want a more specific recommendation? Don’t hesitate to drop me a line.

 

The 2014 Good Gift Game Guide

The 2014 Good Gift Games guide appears in The Morning News today. Here are the ten games featured:

Game Rules Purchase
Splendor PDF AmazonFunagain
Machi Koro PDF AmazonFunagain
Concept PDF AmazonFunagain
Marrying Mr. Darcy How to play AmazonFunagain
Tokaido PDF AmazonFunagain
Star Realms How to play AmazonFunagain
Terror in Meeple City (FKA “Rampage”) PDF AmazonFunagain
Camel Up PDF Amazon, Funagain
Mascarade PDF Amazon, Funagain
Quantum PDF Amazon, Funagain

It’s often difficult to whittle the selections down to 10, but this year was especially tough. Here are five more that were on the list at one time or another, but eventually pushed below the fold.

  • Thunder Alley (GMT Games, 2-7 players, 90 minutes): I name-checked this one in the main list, as a possible alternative to Camel Up. Stock car racing games are often uninspired — roll a die, move your piece — but Thunder Alley has players managing a team of cars rather than a single vehicle, trying to maximize a score rather than simply cross the finish line first. [Boardgame Geek | Amazon | Funagain]
  • King of New York (IELLO, 2-6 players, 45 minutes): King of Tokyo is a perennial suggestion as a Good Gift Game (see “A Decade of Good Gift Games”, below), and King of New York improves upon it in nearly every way: it accommodates more players, it introduces buildings to destroy, and you can even gain an ally in the form of an animated Statue of Liberty. I still recommend Tokyo to non-gamers for its accessibility, but for everyone else, this is the one. [Boardgame Geek | Amazon | Funagain]
  • Istanbul (AEG, 2-5 players, 50 minutes): Where most pick-up-and-deliver games have players transporting freight across a nation in a train or across the galaxy in a starship, Istabul is confined to a marketplace, where you shuttle goods using your trusty wheelbarrow. The core mechanics are simple but there are a plethora of special spaces and actions available, making it unsuitable for the game Good Gift Games list due to its complexity, but also one of the best strategy games of the year. [Amazon | Funagain]
  • Tiny Epic Kingdoms (Gamelyn Games, 2-5 players, 30 minutes): TEK packs a lot of game into a tiny package, although perhaps not as much as it boasts: it claims to be a 4X game when, truth be told, it is more of a hybrid between an action selection and an area control game. Classifications aside, Tiny Epic Kingdom offers a pretty amazing gameplay-to-footprint ratio. [Boardgame Geek | Amazon]
  • Eldritch Horror (Fantasy Flight Games, 1-8players, 180 minutes): I spent more hours playing Eldritch Horror in 2014 than on any other game. I’ll write a full review shortly but, suffice it to say, I will likely never play Arkham Horror again so long as EH is in my collection. [Boardgame Geek | Amazon | Funagain]
* * *

A Decade of Good Gift Games

This year marks the tenth anniversary of the Good Gift Game Guide’s publication in The Morning News. Not all of the selections over the last decade have withstood the test of time, but here are 20 that hold up (and are still available) today.

* * *

Other Opinions

Don’t trust the yeti? Here are the highlights of some other “2014 best game of the year” lists. German Game of the Year:

Deutscher Spiele Preis (the “other” German Game of the Year award):

  • First PlaceRussian Railroads (I haven’t yet played, but my strategy game group loves this one)

International Gamers Awards:

* * *

Where to Buy

I dunno about your hometown, but board game stores have recently been cropping up in Seattle like toadstools after a rain. Plug “games” into Google Maps and see what you get. As for online, Amazon now carries just about everything I recommend. Funagain Games is one of the oldest board game retailers and remains one of the best. Others that I’d recommend include:

* * *

Need additional info, or want a more specific recommendation? Don’t hesitate to drop me a line.

 

Board Games via Skype

Hmm, that’s an interesting challenge. I’m sure I could search Google and find some board games that are routinely played via Skype, but let me ruminate on the problem a bit first.

How could this be done? I’ll think this through using Monopoly as an example.  One party (A) would set up the board and position the camera such that the other party (B) could see it; Party A would also be in charge of moving the pieces and placing houses/hotels onto the board.  Party B would roll their own dice, take deeds from their own set when purchasing property, and use their own bank.  When money was transferred from a player in one party to a player in the other, the debtor would return the sum to their bank and the creditor would take an equivalent amount from theirs.  When a player in Party B landed on a Chance or Community Chest space, a player in Party A would draw the card on his behalf and read it aloud.

As near as I can tell, Monopoly would work without requiring any modification to the game rules.  So would Carcassonne, if someone in Party A revealed tiles on behalf of the players in Party B and placed them (along with the associated meeples) in accordance with the wishes of the active players.  Viewing the board might be a pain for players in Party B, but it’s doable.

Here are a few others that use a central board, and would require parties to coordinate their moves/components, but could hypothetically be played via Skype:

The common denominator in the games above is the lack of hidden information. The problem comes when players draw items (such as cards) from a common pool (such as a deck), and these items are meant to be kept secret. Hence the exclusion of Settlers of Catan from the list above (development cards), and the main version of Agricola (Occupation and Minor Improvement cards).

To see why this is an issue let’s examine Scrabble, where each player has their own set of hidden tiles. Here again Party A could be in charge of the board, placing tiles onto the spaces dictated to them by the players in Party B.  But from where does a player in Party B draw to refill his hand?  If each party the tiles in their copy of the game, it messes up the distribution: you have twice as many Z’s etc., and you’ll have to play twice as long before you run out of tiles. If you only use one pool, and there are at least two players in each party, I can’t think of an easy way for a player in Party A to draw tiles on behalf of someone in Party B and communicate that information to them whilst keeping in secret from himself and others.

(If Party B was composed of only one person this could be done, though. Party A sets up a rack right in front of and facing the camera; replacement tiles are placed onto the rack without the drawing player looking at them. When the player on Party B plays, he indicates which tiles he’s using and where they should be placed, e.g. “the second, third, fifth, and sixth tiles from the left to spell ‘carbine’, intersecting ‘trundle’ at the ‘n’.”)

Given all this, the ideal game for playing over Skype would seem to be one without a central board, or common pool from which hidden items are taken. Dice games leap to mind, such as Roll Through the AgesDungeon Roll, and King of Tokyo (the superfluous board of which could be replaced by simply putting the in-Tokyo monsters in front of the camera).

Another category would be games in which each person plays from his own deck of cards. Dominion almost works (but when a player in one party bought a card, the other party would have to trash an identical card), as does Sentinels of the Multiverse (although the Villain and Environment decks are a “central board” of sorts).

Sentinels is also cooperative, which simplifies some aspects of playing over Skype. Other co-ops that should work well include Forbidden Island and Forbidden Desert, Flash Point: Fire Rescue, and Elder Sign.

What am I forgetting?

P.s. After posting I allowed myself to Google this topic, and there are fewer suggestions out there than I had anticipated. Most recommend playing via V.A.S.S.E.L. or similar service that mediates the game, with Skype there to facilitate the social aspect.

Upcoming Gamenight / Tweetup

Based on the success of the first one, the Seattle Gamenight / Tweetup has officially become A Thing, and will henceforth be held on the last Friday of each month.

For the next, February 28, I have reserved a room at Cafe Mox, Seattle’s premiere game parlour. The space only holds 10, so please RSVP via Twitter or email if you intend to join; if we get > 10, we will relocate.

On March 28 we are back at The Elysian, for a gamenight featuring Special Guest Star @ansate. Yay!

And a week later, Saturday April 5th, it is International Tabletop Day. I have no plans as of yet, but will cook up something in observation of the event. Stay tuned.

Google Calendar addresses:    :

 

Seattle Gamenight / Tweetup

Come join me, royalbacon, hellbox and more on Thursday, January 30th at the Elysian on Capitol Hill for an impromptu gamenight / tweetup. The festivities will begin around 6 PM, and I will come armed with:

Plus: The Resistance, Love Letter, King of Tokyo, and your requests.

Come to play, or just say hello.

The 2013 Good Gift Games Guide

The 2013 Good Gift Games guide appears in The Morning News today. Kind of a strange list this year, populated almost exclusively with card games. The only games with traditional boards are VivaJava and Eight-Minute Empire (albeit one the size of a large index card). There also no games exclusively for two-players. I was originally going to include Agricola: All Creatures Big and Small (see below), but ultimately omitted it from the main list for the crime of Excessive Dryness.

Here are the ten games featured:

Game Rules Purchase
Sushi Go! PDF AmazonFunagain
Rise of Augustus PDF AmazonFunagain
Hanabi PDF AmazonFunagain
Pathfinder Adventure Card Game PDF AmazonFunagain
Dungeon Roll Download page AmazonFunagain
Coup Can’t find AmazonFunagain
Forbidden Desert Download page AmazonFunagain
VivaJava PDF Amazon
The Little Prince: Make Me a Planet PDF Amazon
Eight-Minute Empire PDF Appears to be out of stock everywhere, but the sequel, Eight-Minute Empire: Legends, will be released on 12/09 according to Amazon and Funagain.

See also: the Good Gift Games Greatest Hits (although I need to update it with King of TokyoCards Against HumanityLove Letter, and Lords of Waterdeep).

* * *

My Other Favorite Games of the Year

The Good Gift Games guide focuses on games that are “easy to learn and teach, fun and engrossing to play, and that can be completed in 90 minutes or less”. I like games that meet these criteria of course, but also enjoy the meatier stuff. Here are five of my favorite mid- to advanced-strategy games of last year or so.

  • Android: Netrunner (Fantasy Flight Games, 2 players, 45 minutes): I’m late to the party on this one (it was released in 2012, and is based on a game from the 90s), but holy smokes, Android: Netrunner presses all of my buttons.  I’m a sucker for the setting — hackers vs. corporations in a dystopian cyberpunk future — and every element of the game reinforces the theme, from the mechanics to the art to the terminology (the corporation’s draw deck is called “R&D”, for instance). It’s a “living card game”, which means that there are endless expansions to buy, but there is plenty of game in the base set alone. [Boardgame Geek | Amazon | Funagain]
Android: Netrunner
  • Sentinels of the Multiverse (Greater Than Games, 3-5, 45 minutes): As long as I am confessing to late-adopterism, I should also point out that, after years of being urged to play Sentinels of the Multiverse, I finally did so a few months ago. And yes, everyone was right: it’s right up my alley.  Each player has their own, custom deck in this cooperative superhero card game, which pits players against a supervillain and his minions. What elevates the game beyond the basic “play a card, do what it says” filler is the fascinating way in which the good guys, bad guys, environments, and assorted powers interact, providing lots of emergent gameplay to explore. [Boardgame Geek | Amazon | Funagain]
  • Terra Mystica (Z-Man Games, 2-5 players, 120 minutes)Terra Mystica is very much a euro despite its fantasy theme, a worker placement game that emphasizes resource management and long-term strategy.  I’ve had my fill of “point salad” games, but the various races in Mystica set it apart from its brethren: in my three games I’ve played the halflings, the giants, and the nomads, and each has required a completely different approach.  There’s a steep learning curve on this one, and you’ll be perpetually checking the rulebook for clarifications, but so far it’s paid hefty dividends on the investment.  [Boardgame Geek | Amazon | Funagain]
  • Tzolk’in: The Mayan Calendar (Rio Grande Games, 2-4  players, 90 minutes hours): My other favorite euro of the year, Tzolk’in has one of the best board game gimmicks in recent memory: a set of interlocking gears that completely regulate the gameplay.  You can read my full review at Playtest.  [Boardgame Geek | Amazon Funagain]
image
Tzolk’in: The Mayan Calendar 
  • Agricola: All Creatures Big and Small (Z-Man games, 2 players, 30 minutes):  Agricola is a huge, sprawling, complex game, in which 2-5 players have to manage seven types of resources while trying to eke out an existence on a 17th century farm; Agricola: All Creatures Big and Small, on the other hand, is its adorable little nephew, allowing two players to just focus on the fun part of farming: chilling with the livestock. To that end the players take turns building fences, constructing stables, and raising sheep, pigs, cows, and horses. And what happens if you have two animals of the same kind at the end of the round? Yay, babies! [Boardgame Geek | Amazon | Funagain]
* * *

Other Opinions

Don’t trust the yeti? Here are the highlights of some other “2013 best game of the year” lists. German Game of the Year:

Deutscher Spiele Preis (the “other” German Game of the Year award):

International Gamers Awards:

GAMES Magazine Awards:

  • Abstract Strategy GameKulami
* * *

Where to Buy

I dunno about your hometown, but board game stores have recently been cropping up in Seattle like toadstools after a rain. Plug “games” into Google Maps and see what you get. As for online, Amazon now carries just about everything I recommend. Funagain Games is one of the oldest board game retailers and remains one of the best. Others that I’d recommend include:

* * *

Need additional info, or want a more specific recommendation? Don’t hesitate to drop me a line.

Halloween

My son doesn’t really understand holidays, but he enjoys their trappings, Christmas carols and Easter egg hunts. Halloween is his favorite, with its pumpkins, candy, and monsters especially.

When my son was younger we read him books about poky little puppies, and very shy kittens, and donkeys with magic pebbles. But his favorites were those about monsters. We went through two copies of The Story of GrowlMy Monster Mama Loves Me So was in heavy rotation for a while, and, like most children, he is an enthusiast of The Monster at the End of This Book.

And his fandom transcends the literary. His “monster blanket” — a quilt with a mosaic of smiling creatures — is one of his few material possessions to which he has a strong attachment. He enjoys playing Go Away Monster! He has monsters on his posters and on his backpack. One year for Halloween we even dressed him as Max from Where The Wild Things Are, a role he was seemingly born to play.

image

* * *

The roles that monsters and clowns play in childhood seem to have transposed in recent decades (since the advent of Elmo and Stephen King’s It, I reckon). Even so, my son’s affinity for former seems greater than most. He certainly shows no fear of them.

In fact, he is overtly frightened of little. He was so fearless about heights when younger that we wondered if he truly understood the danger that they posed, and I was reluctant to let him ascend to the top of the huge climbing structure in our local playground. One day I relented, though, and allowed him to climb to the top while I flitted about directly below, ready to break his fall should he slip. In the end it became clear that he is as attuned to the perils of heights as any other kid, and that my fear had been unnecessary.

He is also bereft of social fear, for want of a better phrase. He doesn’t worry about fitting in, or if he has too few friends, or if he lacks the cool new status symbol. He seems unconcerned with how others view him, or how they might treat him. I don’t know if he understands the concept of the future, but, if so, it does not weigh on his mind.

But here again my wife and I scurry around, fearing on his behalf. We arrange play dates with his classmates so that he has friends. We fret about teasing and bullying. We worry that, if someone were to hurt him, he wouldn’t think (or know how) to tell someone.

In this respect we are no different that the parents of neurotypical children, concerned as they are with these very same things. But when it comes to the future, we have a fear that is specific to a special needs child: we don’t know what will happen to him when we are gone.

Despite the early intervention and intensive therapy, it seems unlikely to me that he will ever be able to live independently, nor will he have a partner of any sort. (But, again, I no longer make predictions.) Where then will he live? And who will serve as his caregiver?

Fortunately, we are not the only parents thinking about this. It sometimes seems like the autism community is laying tracks down in front of us, just at the moment we need them. Shortly after my son was diagnosed services for children with autism expanded enormously (which isn’t to say that it wasn’t a struggle to find and secure them), and I was able to find a job that had recently started providing medical coverage for those treatments. We managed to get him into a newly founded special needs elementary school, which became a K-12 a few years later. Now, as we turn our attention to his long-term well-being, we learn of others who are doing likewise for their own children. From a recent article in The New York Times, entitled The Architecture of Autism:

The life expectancy of people with autism is more or less average. Here is another truth, then, about children with autism: they can’t stay at home forever.

This realization — as obvious as it is worrying — has recently stirred the beginnings of a response from researchers, architects and, not least, parents. In 2009, a pair of academics, Kim Steele and Sherry Ahrentzen, collaborated on “Advancing Full Spectrum Housing,” a comprehensive design guideline for housing adults with autism….

Knowing that there are others out there who struggle with these issues, and who are working to build an infrastructure to address them, brings me great comfort. But I am not without some sleepless nights.

* * *

image

Putting a costume on my son and taking him Trick or Treating is a bit risky, but he usually takes it in stride. This year we got him a simple bat costume, and to our surprise he was amenable to putting it on. (We had to compromise on the hat with ears, though: he would wear it, but we couldn’t tie the strings below his chin.)

When the door to the first home opened I prompted him with “what do you say?”, and he replied with a hearty “thank you!” He was handed a Milky Way, which he promptly unwrapped and ate, returning the wrapper to the bowl of the homeowner.

He got the hang of things after a few houses, although “thank you!” remained his go-to line. We visited our immediate neighbors, all of whom have become familiar with our son since the elopement, and assumed that would be sufficient. But when I asked if he was done, he said “more Trick or Treating”, and we continued around the block. A banner year, to be sure.

His first words, when we returned to the house, were “bat off,” a fairly sophisticated utterance in that it implied awareness of his costume’s motif. We stripped him down to his PJs and let him partake in some Skittles before putting him to bed. When I checked on him several hours later he remained wide awake, still excited about the evening’s activities.

* * *

I occasionally worry about the future, but spend most of my time enjoying the present. Raising my son is a little like Halloween: sometimes scary, but a whole lot of fun.

image