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.

Animal Upon Animal

What is your son’s favorite game.

I am a fan of board games, so folks often wonder what I play with my son. He doesn’t get the social aspects of play (competition, cooperation, trading, and so forth), nor the narrative arc of games like Max, but he enjoys the pattern-matching of picture dominoes and The Kids of Carcassonne, even if we don’t keep score.

His favorite game, however, is the simple but engaging Animal Upon Animal.

Animal Upon Animal comes with 29 chunky wood animals: a single crocodile, which starts the game in the center of the table, and four sets of seven different animals. Each animal has a distinct shape, with smooth curves (snakes), bumpy backs (sheep), pointy ridges (hedgehogs), and flat feet (penguins).

On a turn you roll the six sided die, and perform the action indicated.  In most cases this will involve taking one or more animals from your personal stash and placing them onto the ever-growing pyramid in the center of the table, but some of the die faces allow you to instead enlarge the base of the pile, or even give one of your animals to an opponent. Any animals that topple to the table during your placement go back into your reserve, and the first player to get rid of all of his animals wins.

The game is pure dexterity, and therefore perfectly suited for my son. Even better, his nimble little fingers make him a better player than I, and he has a knack for spotting clever placements, where the edge of one animal fits neatly into the groove of another. His only fatal flaw, in regards to strategy, is his preference for the snakes, even when another animal might be easier to place. But I have to admit the snakes are the cutest, and it is very satisfying to sneak one onto the top of a tall and precarious stack.

I recommend Animal Upon Animal to all parents, not just those of children with autism. It’s one of of the few kid’s games that’s as fun for adults as it is for the intended audience. Just make sure all the pieces go back in the box after you are done — step on a hedgehog in the middle of the night and you will swear off board games, or children, forever.

Games: Dungeon Roll

playtested:

Let’s get this out of the way: Dungeon Roll is a solitaire game … But as solitaire game, it shines.

I’m friends with Chris Darden, the designer of Dungeon Roll, so declined to review it myself for Playtest. This instead comes from Sandor Weisz, a.k.a. The Puzzler.

When Sandy describes Dungeon Roll as a “solitaire game”, it’s not criticism in the same way that “multi-player solitaire” often is when applied to euro. He’s not pointing out a flaw, he’s stating a fact.  Yes, you can play DR with 2 or 3 or 4 (or 30), but you are all playing in parallel, and the only interaction comes in comparing scores afterward. 

Here’s the thing, though: it’s a really fun solitaire game. I’ve gotten into the habit of playing a game or two each night before hitting the sack, striving to beat my own previous best score. 

I haven’t played with three or four, but two players is fine as well.  Yes, when it’s not your turn you simply act as “dice rolling robot”, but I unlike Sandy I think this role (so to speak) is fun enough. Even though it’s all random, you find yourself willing the worst on your opponent, and cackling evilly when the dragon appears. What’s not to love?

And it’s worth noting that DR is a near perfect bar game: portable, fast, and enticing to even the hardened non-gamers in your circle. For that alone I’m glad it’s in my collection.

PAX Impressions

Some brief thoughts on the games I learned at PAX.

Alien Frontiers: I’ve heard a few raves about this worker-placement game, and jumped at the chance to give it a whirl during PAX. It is one of a number of newer worker-placement games that use dice as the workers, with the values determining what can be done with them. Along with the dice, Alien Frontiers adds another distinctly non-Euro element: “Take That!ism”. Some actions and cards allow a player to directly target opponents, allowing them to steal deresources or otherwise complicate their plans. I have no objection to this when it’s done well; Lords of Waterdeep, for instance, also has this element, and I quite enjoy that game. But in Alien Frontiers, it seems like it’s a little too easy to dogpile on the leader, such that all the players wind up within one point of victory and the winner is he who gets slapped down the least. Wondering if our one play was an anomaly, I checked out the comments by several reviewers I trust on boardgamgeek, and saw my concerns echoed: “seem to always come down to everyone just about winning”, “too much kingmaking”, “endgame is weak & incredibly swing-y”. Suspicions: confirmed! If I want dice-as-workers, I’ll stick with Troyes; if I want a little politics in my Euro, Waterdeep remains the one to beat.

image

Dungeon World: I’m a sucker for both dungeon crawls and modern roleplaying games that put the emphasis on storytelling, so it’ll come as no surprise that I loved my first session of Dungeon World.  The system, based on Apocalypse World, boasts several innovations, foremost among them the fact that the DM never rolls the dice.  Instead, she sets up the situation (“the ogre swings his club at you”), and it is incumbent upon the player to drive the action forward, by taking “moves” (“I will attempt to Defy Danger by dodging out of the way”) and rolling two six-sided dice to determine the outcome. A 10+ means they accomplished whatever they set out to do; a 6 or less means they failed.  But the fun of the game comes when a move roll results in a 7, 8, or 9,  at which point the DM gets to decide what “partial success” looks like (“you can either: take the blow and full damage, or block with your sword arm, taking less damage overall but losing the use of your arm for the rest of the fight”).  No doubt my favorable impression of the game was due in part to Brendan Adkins, our excellent DM, but I really think the game works well as a rules-light D&Dish RPG, perfect for those who prefer storytelling to min-maxing.

image

Space Cadets: Dice Duel: Apparently this game hasn’t been released, but there was a copy available for play in the PAX library. Players separate into two teams, each of which works to maneuver their ship around a gridded board, collecting crystals, using tractor beams to move things around, and firing torpedoes at their opponent in the hopes of taking them down. To accomplish this, teams roll dice and then assign them to various stations: the helm for movement, the weapons systems, the shields, and so forth. The gimmick is that all of this is done simultaneously, and in real time. In other words, a team will be frantically rolling dice and allocating them to the various systems as quickly as possible, hoping to get an edge over their opponents through efficient play and fortuitous rolls. In this respect, the game is like a much more convoluted Escape: The Curse of the Temple, which also has players rolling dice in real time and frenetically using the results to accomplish tasks. I am unconvinced, however, that the added complexity is an improvement. Escape is simple, but players are able to follow the action even while rolling dice as quickly as possible; In Dice Duel, however, no one player can track everything that is going on, which is kind of fun, but also a bit anticlimactic when you abruptly win or lose without having any idea what preceded the outcome. I may enjoy Dice Duel, but I’m definitely going to need a few more plays to make that determinatio

image

Pathfinder: The Adventure Card Game: This was the belle of the ball at Gen Con, and it’s easy to see way: hugely popular RPG theme (dungeon crawl) + hugely possible RPG license (Pathfinder) – the need for a DM. Like the roleplaying game on which it is based, P:TACG has a party of adventurers cooperating to explore, fight monsters, acquire loot, and ultimately confront a villain of some sort. Normally one player would have to run all this, but here everything is automated, and the players work collaboratively to beat the system itself.

A scenario has a number of location, each with it’s own draw deck. On a turn a player picks one of these locations and explores it, revealing and encountering the top card from its deck. Some of the encounters are Boons that a player can acquire, such as weapons, items, allies, and blessings; others, like monsters, are Banes, and the player must overcome them. In either case, the player rolls against one of his skills to determine success. When a deck is exhausted, the corresponding location is “closed”, and the adventurers move on to another of the sites. The overarching goal is to to flush out and defeat the scenario’s Big Bad.

Some of this is standard deck-builder fare, but P:TACG offers several novel twists on the formula (including a hand-size mechanic that is downright elegant). The biggest draw of the game, however, is that state persists from game to game; that is, if you acquire a sword or an ally or an item in one game, you can start the next game already owning it. Your characters also level up as they would in a RPG, so you slowly become more powerful and better equipped over the course of several sessions. You can play one-shots of course, but the game is really designed for a dedicated group, with players using the same characters for each session, and working their way through the Scenarios that compose the Adventures that compose the Adventure Paths.

A member of my game group picked up a copy of P:TACG, and we are in the process of setting up a monthly Pathfinder night dedicated to playing it. That probably tells you all you need to know about the game’s allure and potential.

image

Sentinels of the Multiverse:  Last year a reader wrote me of the blue to recommend Sentinels of the Multiverse, which he described as “a cooperative superhero card game in which up to 5 players work to defeat a supervillain”. “Superheroes” and “cooperative” piqued my interested, but upon further investigation I came to the (erroneous) conclusion that the game was a deck-builder, a genre for which I have little enthusiasm. Even that wouldn’t have stopped me from buying it though, as I will act on pretty much any recommendation, but I also couldn’t find the game for purchase anywhere. It appeared to have been a Kickstarter project that was not generally available.

Since then the buzz around Sentinels has grown (it has been suggested to me several times in the last six months), so I picked up a copy at PAX, and am very pleased to have done so. The core game is fairly simple, with the players attempting to reduce the Villain’s Hit Points to 0 before he knocks out all of the Heroes, or before time runs out. To that end, cards are played that deal damage, or heal damage, or have a variety of other effects. The cooperative element of Sentinels elevates it above standard “Take That!” fare though, and many cards amplify or modify the effects of others. On my turn, for instance, I might play a card that reduces the Villain’s Hit Points by 3, or I might choose to instead play a card that adds 1 to the damage dealt by every other player until my next turn. Some cards remain in play and have lasting effect, such that, as the game goes on, the options available to players grow, as do the opportunities to clever, synergistic plays. Much of the fun of the game comes from working with the other players to find and exploit powerful, cascading chains of effects that will wreak havoc on the Villain’s plans.

Sentinels is often likened to Magic: The Gathering, not only because cards interact with one another in interesting and powerful ways, but also because each player has a unique deck with an overarching “theme”. Some of the heroes deal large amounts of damage but can do little else; others specialize in weakening or undermining the the Villain rather than hurting him outright. The hero I played in my first game was Legacy, a quintessential team player, who could redirect damage meant for others to himself, and often chose to assist his fellow heroes rather than bask in the spotlight. With 10 different Heroes and 4 Villains (each of which also have their own decks and specialties), there are lots of combinations to explore as you play through a comic book series of your own making.

image