The Next Evolution in the Golden Age of Board Games

I think this partnership is a great idea as it helps to support two local businesses instead of just one. I believe that it is great that local businesses can come together like this to help one another out as it helps to grow the sense of community. ~Randolph Chacon

Golden Age of Board Games

Knight Moves Board Game CafeIn one of my earlier articles, I mentioned that I totally agreed with the idea that “we are in the golden age of board games”.  We can say this because in the last couple of years, the amount and variety of board games released have increased, the amount of video/blog reviewers have tripled and also, the amount of board game kick starters have been on the rise…so, the question is what’s next? Where is this trend going and how is it evolving?  And the answer is: Board game cafés.

This idea just clicked in my mind after watching a few video blogs, one of them being Watch it Played in which they went to a board game café called The Board Room located in Halifax, Canada. In the video they showed the layout of the café as well as the game shop that the owner runs out of it.  When I saw this video I thought to myself could a person really run a business like this?  Would people actually be interested in going to a place that has board games that they could play?  The more I thought about it the more it made sense. I mean, if Starbucks could get away with selling 5 dollars cups of coffee and have people just hang around, why couldn’t a board game café work? After doing some research, I found out that there are very few board game cafés in the U.S. Luckily, I recently moved to Boston and learned about Knight Moves, a board game café opened not long ago in Brookline, and the first of its kind in Boston. As you could imagine, I was really excited to go because I wanted to have a firsthand experience of what it is like to spend time and play at a board game café!!

From the moment my party and I walked into the café we were greeted by the owner, Devon Trevelyan. He gave us a nice tour of his café. While I was looking around in awe, I saw people from different ages just hanging around having fun playing different games. I thought to myself “this is awesome!!” then, he brought us over to his huge collection of games and said “feel free to grab any one of these to play.” He then asked me if I had any questions on the rules, and I said with surprise “you know how to play all these games?” In turn he replied to me “Why yes, yes I do” with a huge smile across his face. At that moment I knew that he was passionate about gaming and wanted to share his passion with other people. I also realized that it is people like him that could help this next evolution of board games keep growing as they attract more and more people into board games. Devon is just starting in his business, and I know that if he could get this café off the ground, that more and more people would see what a great hobby board gaming could be.

So, my wife and I chose a game and sat to play. As the night was falling, we noticed that more and more people kept coming into the café and join in on some games. At one point, there were so many people that came in that they ran out of tables and people had to wait to play! Since that day, my wife and I have gone back several times to play and it is a delight seeing so many people (especially on weekends) at one place having wonderful moments of fun together. I think board games are successfully gaining more adepts but, I also have to give credit to Devon, as he is very friendly and he truly cares about his customers; he will solve/explain any question about the games that you could have.

board games at knight moves board game cafe

If you are wondering about pricing, well it depends on what you would like to do, for example, if you just want to go and hang out at the café, drink some coffee while working on your computer then, you don’t have to pay anything. If you are a casual gamer or if you would like to try a game only one night (or day) there is a small fee you need to pay but it is worth it, because you can play as many games as you want (and he has a great variety of games you could choose from). However, if you are a gamer and would like to hang out there more often, then you could check out the packages that involve a membership to the café and that entitles you to a cup of coffee as well as a discounted rate to play the games.  In addition, if you end up liking a game so much that you decide to buy it, Devon has worked a partnership with Eureka (a board game store located one block down from the café) for you to get a discount towards the purchase of the game. I think this partnership is a great idea as it helps to support two local businesses instead of just one. I believe that it is great that local businesses can come together like this to help one another out as it helps to grow the sense of community.

Overall, I feel that the price for everything in his café is great and you get such a great value out of it considering you can try out a bunch of games that you may be interested in without having to buy them and then return them; but most importantly is that you have a place where you can go with friends, eat, drink coffee, and meet new people to whom you share the same hobby: play board games, now that is PRICELESS!

[Knight Moves: Board Game Café]

If you live in Boston I highly suggest checking out this place which is located on 1402 Beacon Street, Brookline, MA.  You won’t be disappointed.  I hope that Devon’s café gets more and more popular to the point where he has to think about expanding it because his place is a great example of how someone with great passion for a hobby can introduce it to multiple people.

Until next time my friends go out, play more and new games and most importantly, have fun will ya!

Gambler

Gamble by parker bros

A little known classic board game that deserves more attention than it gets is the 1974 version of Gambler, by Parker Brothers.  This game plays very much like its title implies: forget about strategy; throw the dice and let Lady Luck be your copilot.  And since you don’t need to puzzle out your victory, any group of players can jump right into the game with a brief scan of the rules.

Since this is a Parker Brothers board game, the game play is similar to others of the period: you take turns throwing the dice, moving your token and experience the joy of whatever you’re required to do on the square you landed on (like “Making Enemies” –Roll one die and all other players pay the Jackpot 10 times the number rolled or “Win a Few…Lose a Few” – Place bet. Roll Dice. Even total wins amount bet from Jackpot. Odd total, Jackpot gets amount bet.  Sometimes you draw a card, like, “Good News/Bad News” – Platinum Discovered Beneath Alberta Tar Sands!! (But you traded your stocks last week. Nosedive. Pay the Jackpot $40 or “Good News/Bad News –Hot Tip From Your Stock Broker!! Roll doubles and cop $250 from the Jackpot.  With each play, sometimes you come out a winner, sometimes you’re penalized; and it’s always a gamble.

Gamble by parker bros

This is not a game for the anti-gambling crowd.  When playing this game you gamble at every opportunity, and often entice your opponents to gamble with you.  You bet on the horses. You visit casinos. You play bingo. You play the lottery. If there’s a way for you to gamble in this game, the designers’ thought of it and you’re part of it.  There is even a special “Sweepstakes” dice shaker that you use to try to win big.  Mind you, my sister and I played a lot of this game in our younger days, and the biggest gamble I make these days is taking a chance on a new brand of coffee at the grocery store, so it doesn’t seem to have corrupted our psyches with its wicked ways.

If you’re looking for a retro game that you can enjoy without having to take a course in the understanding the rules, Gambler is the game for you.  It’s suitable for 2-6 players, ages 8 and up.  The more the merrier in this game, though!  Have fun!

Mouse Trap

Has any game inspired so many budding engineers than Mouse Trap? If there ever was a game that taught cause and effect, Mouse Trap was it. Some have claimed it was “too difficult” to put the game board together. Heaven forbid we teach our children the value of perseverance and rewards from accomplishing something difficult, or take the time to pull ourselves from our daily grind to actually spend quality time with our children. Our microwave society seems hell-bent on celebrating “everyone gets a medal day” while removing any challenges from our children’s paths, while decreasing the level of difficulty for any task to the point of being ridiculously simplistic. But I digress…

mouse trap
Box front for the 1963 Mouse Trap game.

Mouse Trap was created by Harvey Kramer, while working for Marvin Glass & Associates, and in 1963, the game was licensed to the Ideal Toy Company. Mr. Kramer was an odd duck: a toymaker who disliked children. (Shades of old Stauf from The 7th Guest!) The original game design called for very little interaction, with players simply moving their pieces around the game board and trying to avoid being trapped. The lack of interactivity wasn’t surprising, as the game was originally envisioned as a toy, and it wasn’t until well within its development that a game board and die were added. The resulting game sold well enough to propel Ideal into the market as a board game publisher.

mouse trap
The incredible Sid Sackson.

The game was redesigned somewhat in the 1970s by the legendary game designer (and freelance game troubleshooter), Sid Sackson. He added extra game elements to improve Mouse Trap’s interactivity: players now collected pieces of “cheese” while roaming the game board, and could now contrive to get their opponents into the special trap space. This version was released in 1984 by Milton Bradley – who had assumed the game’s manufacturing rights from Ideal – and remains the one embedded in the gaming community’s popular consciousness.

mouse trap
A typical Rube Goldberg contraption.

Mouse Trap was indeed a GREAT game. It was inspired by the drawings of Rube Goldberg, whose complicated contraptions had entertained Americans through the middle of the 20th Century. Unfortunately, although Marvin Glass acknowledged Mr. Goldberg’s influence to the game’s design, declined to play the then quite elderly artist any royalties, which Mr. Goldberg had neither the resources nor strength to fight. It’s hard to believe, but board game history is full of dastardly deeds such as this –just ask who actually invented the game of Monopoly. (But I digress…again.)

mouse trap
How the Mouse Trap works…

In a typical Rube Goldberg drawing, many small actions build one upon the other to create a chain reaction. In Mouse Trap, the sequence is as follows: the player turns a crank, which engages a set of gears. As the gears turn, they push against a lever, which causes a shoe to kick a bucket containing a metal ball. The bucket tips over, and the ball is sent down a set of stairs and into an eaves trough (rain gutter), eventually reaching the bottom where a rod holding a “helping hand” sits. Once the ball strikes the rod, a large marble is dislodged, passing through a bathtub, and landing directly onto a diving board, which in turn sends a surprised diver sailing through the air and into a large wash tub. The impact causes a cage to drop down onto the “trap square,” trapping whatever poor mouse is under it. Whew! I don’t know about you, but it sure sounds like a Rube Goldberg device to me.

mouse trap
Mouse Trap game box.

Although Mouse Trap is a game for 2 to 4 players, and is recommended for ages 6 and up, it really isn’t meant for kids to play unsupervised. The game board is too complex and finicky for a child to set up on their own, without a parent to either guide the process or to offer encouragement when things go awry. However, the game remains one of the best teaching tools to show the relationship between cause and effect, and the consequences of small actions. It can lead to a great conversation between parent and child on this topic, or can be a segue to a long discussion on the unforeseen consequences of undesirable behavior. Any game that can accomplish those tasks is a classic board game, and highly recommended!

And just because it is the best live-action Rube Goldberg machine I’ve ever watched on YouTube, here’s This Too Shall Pass from OK Go:

Ten Euro-Games Every Board Gamer Should Own

euro board games

The other day I started to look through my gaming shelf to see what my wife and I should play.  While looking through, I realized that most of my collection was made up of euro-games.  This really got me thinking about why this was.  I then realized that by game mechanics, euro-games were way more fun to play.  Even though they don’t have as great of a theme as ameritrash games do.  I had a great thought that hey maybe I should put together a list of games that every board gamer should own in their collection. In this list I’m going to start out with the best gateway games and work my way to the meatier games, so here goes.

Ticket to Ride

euro board games

Here is a game that to me was one of the first games I played that got me back into board gaming.  What amazed me about this game was the fact that it takes longer to set up the game than it does to teach the game to someone new.  This game takes such simplistic rules and adds a dash of strategy to it and boom you have an amazing game.  Basically you are collecting colored cards to lay down trains around a map of the United States.  Your goal is to connect two points that are tickets that you have in your hand.  I have taught this game to many of my friends and every one of them love it.  If you want to introduce some of your friends that are not sure about board gaming or have a loved one that you want to introduce into your hobby this is a game for you.

Stone Age

euro board games

Now here is a game that is considered a worker placement game.  It’s simplistic in the way you play the game.  You are the chief of a camp of primitive people that has to survive.  There are several ways you do this.  You have to hunt for food, go out and pick up resources, feed your people, and build buildings for them to survive.  The game takes turns in where players take turns placing people from your tribe out to do certain actions.  As you perform these actions you either collect resources, food, etc.  At the end you get points for the different buildings you make, cards you collect, and left over resources you have.  This is another game that is great to play with friends as everyone sits there and sees where everyone is going to place their people.  Once someone places their people down you will always have some great reactions from everyone playing and for this reason this game made my list.

Galaxy Trucker 

euro board games

Every time I think about the many games of galaxy trucker that I have played a smile comes across my face.  From the craziness of building my ship to the amount of screams and profanities that have been yelled as you watch your ship get blown to bits they were all great times.  In galaxy trucker you play the part of a space trucker that is trying to make him or herself some money.  The problem is that you are broke to begin with so to build your ship you have to use leftover scraps.  The game starts out with you having a basic grid where you can put squares that represent ship parts.  In the center of the table are all these little cardboard squares flipped face side down.  Once you yell go players start to flip the parts over only using one hand.  You place your parts down on your ship board until someone finishes.  The faster you finish the better your starting position.  After everyone is finished then the real fun of the game begins.  You flip over cards from a deck that represent what is going to happen on your trip through space.  Everything from space pirates to planets, to asteroid fields.  As the cards get flipped and these events happen you just have to sit and cringe as you realize that you forgot to place a laser on the side where an asteroid is about to slam into your ship.  If you want to have some rip roaring fun with your friends this is a definite buy.

The Castles of Burgundy 

euro board games

Now this is a game that had made a bunch of top games lists for many people.  I decided to pick this up when I heard that it was a great game especially for two people.  I figured this would definitely be a game that would be good for my wife and I.  Sure enough it only took one play through before she was hooked on it.  In castles of burgundy you have a plot of land where you have to build your kingdom.  The way you build your kingdom is that there are tiles that are out on the main game board that you have to pick up to place them on your own game board.  You accomplish this by rolling two dice and that is how you determine what tiles you can pick up or place on your board.  What makes this game great is the fact that every time you play the game the tiles that come out to the main game board are random.  Also there are several personal game boards for you to choose from so you can change which home board you have.  With all these different variables this game definitely is great.

The Settlers of Catan 

euro board games

This is another great gateway game for people as it is very simple to learn yet it is full of great strategy.  In settlers of catan you play a new civilization that has come to inhabit the island of catan.  Your goal in the game is to achieve 10 victory points before everyone else.  You accomplish this by creating roads, towns and cities. You get the components for these by rolling dice and the numbered squares that match the result of the die produce goods.  You trade in the required cards to create what you need.  The only catch to the dice is that if a seven is rolled the thief is activated by the person that rolled it and gets to move him.  The player moves the thief to a numbered square and from that moment until someone else rolls a seven the square he is on does not produce any goods. Also if there are any players along the boarder of where the theif is the player that moved him can take a card from that other player.  It is a great game to play and even though it may be a gateway game it is still a really fun game to play.

Tzolk’in

euro board games

Now we start to get into the meatier games on the list.  Tzolk’in is a game that came out this past year but has definitely taken the board gaming community by storm.  The game has a unique layout in that it has 6 gears that interconnect with one another.  What is really neat about this game is that when you turn the central big gear it rotates the other gears around the board.  This game is an advanced worker placement game where you place a worker on the lowest spot on the gear and as turns go by the reward that you get when you pick up the player gets greater and greater.  The trick to the game is that on your turn you either have to place or pick up a worker so you have to really plan out your moves so that you are not stuck pulling a worker before you intend to.  The game also does an awesome job in making it where you can’t just go through one spot on the board to score points.  It is definitely a game that everyone should play at least once and that is all it is going to take before you own it.

Power Grid 

euro board games

Now this was the first Euro-game that I played and fell in love with them.  In Power Grid you are trying to build an empire of power plants to power some cities.  The thing that makes power grid great is the fact that the winning condition for the game is not who builds the biggest empire but who can power the most cities at the end of the game.  The thing is that to power your plants you need to have fuel to power them.  The game does this by creating a real like economy for the fuel you have to buy.  Got a coal power plant? That’s great all you have to do is buy coal but wait, coal is going to cost me 7 electro per coal where if I had an oil burning plant it will only cost me 2 electro per barrel.  The game really does a great job in having you think about what power plants you want to buy based on how the market for supplies is.  Oh did I forget to mention that to buy a power plant you have to bid on one and hope that no one else out bids you??  It’s a great game that was one of the games that got me hooked on euros.

Trajan

euro board games

Another game produced by the same game developer that brought us the castles of burgundy is Trajan.  The game is great in how he made a few changes to how castles plays and adds a whole bunch of new things.  In Trajan you are trying to score the most points over a few rounds.  The trick to the game and what makes it so great is the fact that to perform actions in this game you have a player board that has your actions.  But to perform the action you have to move these colored wooden pieces so that the last one you place lands on the action you want to perform.  It is a really interesting mechanic to the game and it really makes you think about what you really want to do as the more of these wooden pieces you move the faster the game ends.  It’s a really tight euro that really makes you think about what you want to do and how fast you want to do it.

Lords of Waterdeep 

euro board games

Now here is a game that I felt was on the fence whether or not it was a euro game or an ameri trash game.  I felt that it was more of a euro game as at its core it is a worker placement game with a dungeons and dragons theme to it.  In lords of waterdeep you are trying to score as many victory points by completing quests.  You complete quests by collecting the right amount of colored cubes to complete it.  The twist to the game is that at the beginning of the game you are assigned a lord of waterdeep card that gives you bonus victory points at the end of the five rounds based on the types of quests that you completed.  It’s a very well made game that gives tons of fun when played.  I loved the fact that the dungeons and dragons theme to this game is very well done and gives the game a really great feel to it.

Pandemic

euro board games

And finally on my list of games comes a great euro cooperative game named pandemic.  In pandemic the players play as different parts of the CDC trying to prevent four viruses from growing into epidemics to the point where it becomes a pandemic.  In the game players get colored cards that they have to collect to create a cure to the diseases.  This game is a really tough game to beat and will definitely give everyone that plays it a great challenge.  Even though it is a great challenge you will find that you and your friends will constantly want to replay it.  The game has several losing conditions to it including if there are more than 8 outbreaks you lose, if you run out of disease cubes to place out you lose, and if you run out of cards that the players draw from you lose.  There is only one win condition for the game and that is that you have to research the cure for all four diseases.  I have played this game several times and have had no problems beating the game on the easiest difficulty as long as we have had the right combination of role cards.  I have not had good success with the medium difficulty and I have yet to try the hardest difficulty.  It is a game that is non-forgiving but it is so much fun to play.

Well guys there you have it I hope that this list has given you guys something to think about and that you will actually try some of these out for yourselves.  I have had a blast introducing these games to my wife and seen the reaction that she has had while playing them, and she is not a gamer.  If you guys have any questions feel free to drop a comment below.  I hope that you guys can do the same and until next time remember go out and play some games will ya.

The Six Million Dollar Man: Bionic Crisis

The Six Million Dollar Man: Bionic Crisis

Growing up in the 70s and watching TV was awesome, with shows like Battlestar GalacticaThe Incredible HulkSpace: 1999Buck Rogers in the 25th CenturyMork & MindyWonder Woman, The Shazam/Isis HourThe Star Wars Holiday Special,Happy DaysThe Bionic Woman, and The Six Million Dollar Man.  Parker Brothers was quick to capitalize on the popularity of many of these shows within their own target demographic by releasing games based on each series.  Some were terrible, the board game equivalent of shovelware, but one in particular was a classic – The Six Million Dollar Man: Bionic Crisis.

The Six Million Dollar Man: Bionic Crisis

The Six Million Dollar Man: Bionic Crisis

Bionic Crisis was a game that contained both elements of chance and deductive reasoning.  To set up, each player took one of the four Console Boxes and inserted a Console Card into it.  The red and yellow board pegs are placed somewhere where everyone can reach them. Then the deck of Bionic Circuit Cards was shuffled, and one was dealt to each player, who kept it hidden from his or her opponents.  Finally, the deck of Number Cards was shuffled, with each player given three cards and the rest placed face down for everyone to draw from during gameplay.  Once set up, the play began.

The Six Million Dollar Man: Bionic Crisis

The object of the game was simple: be the first to use the Number Cards to duplicate the Bionic Circuit of the player on your left.  Each turn a player called out a number from one of the Number Cards.  If number was on his left-hand opponent’s Circuit Card as one of the ten red spaces, he got a red peg.  If the number was adjacent to a red space, a yellow peg was given instead, and if the number completely missed the mark, then the player ended his turn empty-handed. (Yes, I realize you now want to chant, “You sank my battleship!”…but control yourself.)  This process continued until the Bionic Circuit Card was revealed.

The Six Million Dollar Man - Bionic Crisis

A shortcut to winning the game was to simply map out the entire Bionic Circuit Card by making a guess.  If you were correct, you won the game.  However, if you were wrong – even by a single circuit – you were no longer able to win, though you still had to answer questions from your opponent.  This consequence were so severe that guesses were rarely worth the risk.  We had a House Rule that granted up to three guesses to each player, which added more deduction and less random chance to the gameplay.

The Six Million Dollar Man - Bionic Crisis

Parker Brothers labeled the box for ages 7 to 14, which is quite accurate, as Bionic Crisis was clearly not an adult’s strategy game.  However, the game still brings back fond childhood gaming memories, and must be judged for what it was: a child’s game based on a television property.  It was fun then, and if you can bring back your inner child, it can be fun to play even today.  Only the best classic games can do that!

WHOSIT?

WHOSIT

A little known classic board game that’s fun for the whole family is WHOSIT? by Parker Brothers.  Released in 1976, WHOSIT? is a game where players begin by randomly taking one of 20 Character cards, keep it hidden from other players’ eyes, and then try to guess who has which card based upon the questions they draw from the Question Card deck.  Players answer YES or NO depending on the question, such as, “Are you holding something?”, “Do you have glasses?”, “Are you male?”, or “Do you smoke?“ Lucky players can draw a “Ask ANY Question” card, which contains all the questions in the deck on one card.

WHOSIT

The characteristics vary from card to card, such as the Genius (White / Male / Child / Glasses / Tie / Gold Room), the Vampire (White / Female / Adult / Blue Room), or theHero (Black / Male / Adult / Moustache / Smoking / Jewellery / Gold Room).  Players pick up Question cards that give them the opportunity to see who has what feature. But it’s not as easy as you might think, because there are a few curveballs thrown in.  Some characters may not answer truthfully, no matter what the question is, such as the Spy (Always LIES / Oriental / Female / Holding Cigarette / Adult / Hat / Smoking / Glasses / Red Room), the Censor (Always Says NO), or the Director (Says YES or NO / White / Male / Adult / Moustache / Gold Room / Scarf / Holding Riding Crop).

The game board helps in identifying players as it shows each of the characters as they are shown on their Character Cards.  This is darn right necessary when you start trying to remember all the different answers to match up who might be whom. There are no player tokens or dice; the game board is provided just for a place to store the Question cards and as a visual reference.

Once a player is ready to make a guess on the identities of all their opponents, a special box, divided in two (one side for YES and one side for NO), is handed around the room.  If their character card has been identified, then they put their chip into the YES side, if not, into the NO side.  If all the chips are on the YES side when the box is opened, the game is over.

This is a fun family game that can be played in less than an hour.  There is nothing risqué about the characters or the questions, so even the younger members of the household can play (though they will need to be able to read their Character card).  Although as little as two and as many as six players can play WHOSIT?, more players make for a more challenging game.  WHOSIT? is yet another wonderful Parker Brothers classic game.  Highly recommended!

Why everyone should have some eurogames in their tabletop collection

euro board games

The other day I sat and looked at my tabletop collection to see how many of them were Ameri-trash and how many were Euro games and it turns out that I have more of the latter.  Now, some of you may be asking what is the difference between them?  Well, as some of you might remember, in my last article I went on to talk about how there are games that are all about how the game plays (game mechanics) but they don’t have too strong of a theme.  These types of games are called “Euro games” and European developers, mainly Germany, make them reason for which they are sometimes called “German-style board game”.  Some of the games that belong to this category are Power grid, Castles of Burgundy, Agricola, Alhambra and Ticket to Ride.

euro board games

Power grid is an example of a great Euro game that has won several European game awards and even though it was originally published in 2004 it still sells really well and has had many expansions as well as games developed in the genre.  When you look at power grid the theme itself is nothing crazy, you’re an owner of a power company that needs to buy power plants, buy resources to power those plants as well as build said plants in cities across the U.S. or Europe.  When you look at the game it looks bland and you would think that you would not have a good time playing it.  How wrong you would be once you actually play the game. The mechanics are superb, the global economy that the game creates is amazing and after you are done playing it you want to reset the board and play again.  That is what makes a game a great game in my opinion.

euro board games

Now to go and describe Ameri-trash games they are usually games that have an outstanding theme to them but their game mechanics fall a bit behind their euro brethren, not to mention that they involve more of luck instead of strategy. Some of the games that fall in this category are:  Arkham Horror, Stracraft: the board game, Clue, Monopoly and Super Dungeon Explore.

euro board games

One of the best Ameri-trash games I have ever played is called Arkham horror.  This is a phenomenally themed tabletop game set in the Cthulu mythos.  The game does an excellent job in making you feel like you are a paranormal investigator in the roaring 1920’s trying to stop this great evil from destroying the earth.  When you sit down and look at this marvelous game set up on a dining room table you are intimidated into thinking this game is way too complicated for me to play.  When you look through the rulebook it makes the game seem like it is more complex than it actually is.  Trust me!! I read through the book multiple times before looking up a video online on how to play the game.  Once I saw how easy it actually was to play I sat down and gave it a whirl.  Let me tell you the game blew my mind away with how awesome the theme was but when you actually looked at how the game played, especially when compared to a euro game, it didn’t quite stack up to it.  Now I’m not saying that people should not try out Ameri-trash games but if I really had a choice between the two I would definitely pick up a Euro game before I grab an Ameri-trash game.

euro board games

When you look at both these game types it goes without saying that some people when they look for their games they want to get a great experience out of it.  Heck for me as long as I have fun by the end of the game I will try anything.  Now, there are people out there wishing that there is a game that takes the best of both worlds and puts them together.  Well I’m here to tell you that there was once such game.  The game in question is called Twilight Imperium.  It was a game that when it was developed they took the great game mechanics from a euro game and paired it up with the great theme of an Ameri-trash game.  The result was a huge success that sold extremely well and still to this day has had expansions come out for it.  The only thing that I have heard from people who have played it complain about is the fact that you need like eight hours to actually play an entire game of it.  For me that is way too much time to sink in one sitting and, I would love to give that game a try in small chunks.  The only problem I would have is where I could leave the game sitting because I have two cats who would love to jump up on the table and play with the new cat toys.

euro board games

All things said this is the reason why I feel like people should have more euro games in their collection.  For me they have been a great addition to my shelf that my wife and I find ourselves picking up and playing multiple times over and really enjoy playing them.  In my next article I hope to come up with a list of my personal ten euro games that everyone should have in their collection and why I feel that way about them.  Until them guys remember to grab some friends together and play some games.

Ratrace

There are so many good classic board games that it’s sometimes difficult to pick just one to reminisce about, but a few shine out a little brighter than the rest.  One of my all-time favorite board games is Ratrace, by Waddingtons House of Games.  The goal is simple: start from the bottom rung of the social ladder and claw your way up to the upper crust of society and be the first player to retire with $100,000 cash.  How you accomplish that goal is where the fun begins!

Ratrace

The 1970 Version of Ratrace

Players start the game with a business and $200 cash.   The businesses are color-coded: Rose’s Clothes & Furs; Olive’s Jewelry; Black’s Art Gallery; Brown’s Sporting Goods; Green’s Furniture; and Royal’s Car Sales (blue).  Each business gets nine Status Symbol cards to sell to the other players, three each of $100 cards for Working Class, $500 for Middle Class, and $3000 for High Society.   Players need money to make their own purchases, so everyone hopes to see their competing players land on their colored squares.

The game board has three tracks, one each for Working Class, Middle Class, and High Society.  Everyone starts on the Graduation Day square on the Working Class track.  From there opportunities present themselves: can you attend Night School and earn your diploma? Can you make it big (at long odds) at the Racetrack?  Will you be accepted into the Country Club and gain a Membership Card? Can you earn money at the Stock Exchange?  Players move around the track gaining Working Class status symbols, such as a New Car Radio or a 17-Jewel Watch.  Gain any three Status Symbol cards and you’re ready to move up to Middle Class – as long as you have a little cash and either your diploma or club membership.  Of course, you could get lucky and land on a Society Wedding space and move up without all the qualifications everyone needs.

Ratrace

The 1967 version of Ratrace

Middle class brings similar challenges and goals as the Working Class rung did, as players still need to buy Status Symbols (but more expensive!), get a Yacht Club membership or a University degree, and accumulate cash as they move through the game board.   But watch out! At this stage of the game the much-feared Divorce square could send you back to your Working Class roots.  Gaining entry into High Society is exactly the same as before: three Status Symbol cards, either a degree or club membership, and enough cash to afford the lifestyle.  And the pitfalls on this part of the game board or similar to Middle Class, but much more devastating when they happen.

What makes this game even more unique is the element of credit.  Yes, you can get a credit card in Ratrace.  If you don’t have the money to buy your Status Symbol cards – no problem: get it on credit.  The danger, though, comes from the Credit Due spaces on the game board.  If you land on one not only do you have to pay the full amount of your credit account, but you have to add an additional 10% as an interest payment.  So, as in real life, too much credit card spending can lead to your financial ruin!

Ratrace

The 1974 version of Ratrace

There have been several Ratrace games since it was released in 1967.  I know of editions put out in 1970, 1971, 1973, 1974, 1983, and 1994, each of which had some minor modification to the game pieces, but no change in the game mechanics.  Although the player tokens in the shape of actual rats in the 1983 black boxed version are fun, my favorite Ratrace game is the 1973 release in which the Status Symbol, Membership, Diploma, and Credit cards are on heavy card stock, and the game tokens are made of wood.  I enjoy playing a game that feels like its meant to last, and can handle a little family playing time, but I also like the natural material feel of the game pieces.  Other versions use laminated cards and plastic tokens, which, although they will last, just don’t have that same retro feel.  But, it’s a minor quibble, as any of the games still play the same.

Ratrace

The 1973 version of Ratrace

Ratrace is best played with at least three people, but it can be played with as little as two and as many as six.  The game suggests a starting age of 9, but anyone who understands the reasons why people want to “move up” in life will enjoy this game, regardless of age.  Another highly recommended classic board game!

Nightmare

A game that’s a little more recent than some of the others I’ve reviewed in this blog, but that still qualifies as a classic board game, is Nightmare: The VHS Game.  This game struck a real chord when an unknown Australian company called “A Couple of Cowboys” released it in 1991, and the franchise is still going strong today with multiple sequels.  It was released as “Atmosfear” in some markets to avoid confusion with a similarly named game called “Knightmare” (shades of the Sierra Online/Milton Bradley HeroQuest / Hero Quest dispute!), but most North Americans know it as “Nightmare.”

Nightmare

The 1991 Nightmare VHS Game

This is a horror-themed game, and a Halloween favorite.  The Gatekeeper, a pallid looking character, challenges the players to survive his game.  Each player takes the persona of one of his Harbinger thralls: Baron Samedi (zombie), Anne de Chantraine(witch), Helin (poltergeist), Gevaudan (werewolf), Khufu (mummy), and Baroness Elizabeth Bathory (vampire), and wander the game board in a search for six missing keys that will help them escape the Gatekeeper’s clutches.

Prior to starting the game, players have to write down their greatest fear on the back of one of the reusable Nightmare cards, and on a little slip of paper which is put into the well of fears.  (Usually when I receive one of these games to sell there are common fears listed, like spiders or heights, but every so often some goofball writes something like, “Lucy’s stinky feet” as their greatest fear.  You’d be surprised how often similar phrases pop up.  But I digress…).  Once a player has all their keys, they make their way to the center of the game board and draw from the Well.  If they draw the paper with their own fear written on it, they have conquered their greatest fear, defeated the Gatekeeper, and won the game.

Nightmare

1991 Nightmare VHS Game Contents

The VHS tape keeps a running count of the time remaining in the contest, and the Gatekeeper shows up from time to time to both taunt and further challenge the players.  It’s played up, of course, as benefits a tribute to the “B” horror movie genre that this game truly is.  The actor, Wenanty Nosul, knows his job and does it well, providing just the right amount of creepy overacting to make his appearances on the screen memorable.

There have been several sequels to Nightmare: The VHS Game.  We’ve been treated to Nightmare II (starring Baron Samedi), Nightmare III (starring Anne de Chantraine),Nightmare IV (starring Elizabeth Bathory), Atmosfear: The HarbingersAtmosfear: The Soul Rangers, and Atmosfear: The Gatekeeper, just to name a few.  Each one follows a similar game structure (although Atmosfear: The Soul Rangers features new characters, as The Gatekeeper has been imprisoned by a bizarre skeleton dentist named Dr. Mastiff, and all the Harbingers banished from his realm.  No really, I’m not making this up!).

Nightmare: The VHS Game is suggested for ages 12 and up. Although the box states that anywhere from 2 to 6 players can play the game, to make it a memorable gaming experience, at least four players should be sitting at the gaming table.  It’s a perfect game to pull out of the gaming closet for a Halloween party – just don’t write anything about stinky feet as your entry into the Well of Fears!

The MAD Magazine Game

The MAD Magazine Game

If I had to pick a game that was so bizarre and crazy that it was nutty fun, The MAD Magazine Game would be it.  Back in the 70′s MAD Magazine was a serious force on the magazine stand.  I remember reading them and laughing at their fresh and irreverent presentations of everything from spoofing the latest movies and TV shows, to social-political commentary dressed up as jokes, to the Road Runner/Coyote style violence of Spy vs. Spy.   And so when Parker Brothers came out in 1979 with a board game based on the MAD Magazine zeitgeist, it was a must-buy.

The MAD Magazine Game

You know you’re playing a different kind of game right from the start when you learn what your goal is: to lose all your money.  It’s much harder than it sounds, though, with the Card cards making your life difficult with cards like, “If you are a Boy Person, Win $500″ or “Change Chairs With Anyone.”  You can get lucky, and get a Card card that says, “If you are GOOD LOOKING, stand up and imitate your favorite animal, and lose $2,000″ or “Stand up and BOO the person on your left. Also lose $1000.”  As you can see, the game plays a little bit more wacky than your average board game fair.

The MAD Magazine Game

Moving about the table is an integral part of the game, so don’t get too comfortable in your chair.  Between spaces on the game board that move everyone to a new seat, to Card cards that do the same, expect to have to pick up your drink and move to your right or your left.  But you have to leave your money behind, which can be a good thing (if you had more than anyone else) or a bad thing (if you were almost broke!).   This means that there really is no effective strategy to winning the game that can be planned from the start; the random elements send any plan into disarray as quickly as it is formulated.  Perhaps this was Parker Brothers’ version of Chaos Theory in action!

The game board is filled with classic MAD Magazine art and zany humor.  You can see art from Spy vs. Spy, The Lighter Side of…, site gags from Don Martin and Sergio Aragones, and more.  And much like the magazine itself, there are little surprises throughout the game board that you stumble upon as you play.  Some scenes should bring back memories, and perhaps a smile or guffaw or two.  Just make sure your legal name isn’t Alfred E. Neuman, or you’ll have to collect the special $1,329,063 bill included in the game.  Did I mention the game is wacky?

The MAD Magazine Game is yet another timeless family classic, and is recommended for 2 to 4 players ages 8 and up.

Payday

Payday from Parker Brothers

One of my favorite board games growing up was Payday.  Not the later versions (dreck!), but the original Parker Brothers 1974 release, with the green box and little dollar signs for playing pieces, invented by Paul J. Gruen (who also invented other classic games like Bonkers!, as well as games based on TV properties, such as Battlestar Galactica, and The Six Million Dollar Man: Bionic Crisis.

The game is pretty straightforward.  The game board is in the shape of a calendar month. You roll the die and move your token throughout the month.  And just like reality, you’ve got to roll with the punches.  You get Mail – sometimes bills, sometimes junk, and – rarely! – a little bit of cash.  Every so often you get access to a Deal, some which might make you a little extra spending money, some that might make you wealthy – but the deal might go sour, too.  And all the while, you’ve got to manage your money.

Payday from Parker Brothers

It’s a perfect game to play with teens and tweens to help them visualize a typical month of paying bills, collecting a paycheque, and trying to get ahead just a little bit more than the month before.  And it’s all done with a healthy dose of clean, family-friendly humor.  You can play it with as little as two people, and up to six, ages 8 and up.

Payday is a classic board game, and certainly one of the best.  Highly recommended!

Stop Thief

Stop Thief - Parker Brothers

Another one of my all-time favorite board games is Stop Thief!, produced by Parker Brothers in 1979.  This was one of the first electronic board games: players used a handheld device called the Electronic Crime Scanner to hear clues, like the sound of the thief walking across the floor, running down the street, breaking a window, or opening a door. Players move little private detective tokens around the game board, using the Electronic Crime Scanner to check out buildings and search for the thief.  But every turn the thief moves, too, so you have to keep up!

It’s a game of deductive reasoning, meaning random guesses won’t help you.  The Electronic Crime Scanner can replay the clues to aid you in your quest to locate the thief.  Once you think you know where he is, you call the police, and hope to hear the sounds of the thief being taken away to jail.  But if you’re mistaken, you’ll hear the sound of the thief escaping, and a big raspberry for your trouble. That sound still makes me cringe as it represents the same thing today as it did over 20 years ago: the utter failure of my detective skills.  And I still smile when I hear the thief being taken away by the boys in blue, all courtesy of the Electronic Crime Scanner.

Stop Thief - Parker Brothers

The game play is fairly straight-forward: there are 19 possible locations (marked in red on the game board) that the thief may have committed the crime.  Detectives chase down the thief as quickly as possible, trying to arrest the thief first.  There are 10 WANTED cards for a total of ten thieves to be hunted down, and the first player to earn $2,500 in Reward Money wins the game.  Along the way players draw STOP THIEF SLEUTH cards which can send them to different locations on the game board, earn free turns, lose turns, or even get extra clues.  Between the cards and the dice rolls, there is enough random elements to make games fresh each time they are played.

A quick note on the box colors in the images you see above and those you see in the original TV spot below: Stop Thief was sold in Canada and the United States with different box designs.  The Canadian version of the game had to be in both English and French, so the box had to be altered to show this (and there are extra French-only game cards in addition to the English once, also).  The American version was only in English.  Though they have different box covers, they are otherwise the same game with the same game play.

Stop Thief! is yet another classic board game.  It may be older, but it still has what it takes to be hilarious family fun, and is recommended for 2 to 4 players ages 10 and up.

 

Why I agree that we are in the golden age of boardgaming

battlestar-galatica-boardgame

In this day and age it is hard to ignore a great phenomenon that is sweeping across the land and that has evolved from a lonely hobby to a widespread craze, yes my friends, I am talking about board games!! Now, I have considered myself a gamer in all rights because I love to play videogames but, when I think about it I really wasn’t. You see, in my world the only games that existed were videogames; granted I enjoy to throw down a game of monopoly with my friends time to time but that was it, to me, board games were only monopoly, clue, life and dragon and dungeons but what I didn’t know that there was a whole other world out there with board games for me to discover.  Everything started approximately six months ago and it was as follows:

Mr. C: Do you like to game?

Me: What do you mean? Like what type of videogames?

Mr C: No, I mean board games.

Me:  (Chuckles) Oh yeah!! I like to play monopoly and those games.

Mr. C: No, no those types of board games. Haven’t you heard about Dominion, Agricola, Puerto Rico, Is a Small world…. (And he kept naming games)

monopoly

 What he showed me that day was some of the most amazing games that I had ever seen and played.   It opened my eyes to a new world that I never knew existed. That night I went online and started to look up what I could about these games that I was newly introduced to.  What I found blew me away.  I found tons of blogs and websites with reviews and tons of info about all these different games.

One of my favorite blogs that have a phenomenal game reviews is Shut up and Sit down. This blog is written by a group of British guys. A few days ago, one of them wrote an article about how in these days we are living “the golden age of board games” and it was a great read by all means.  In this article he goes on to talk about how many games have come out a few years back compared to the number of ones that were coming out now.  When you actually look at the numbers it’s astonishing.  The actual number of games that have come out has nearly tripled.  Now you may ask why would that be and I looked into that same question.  In the past two years, the number of people that have actually bought and played board games have increased at about the same rate at which the number of games have come out.  It’s simple math if demand goes up for a product companies are going to jump on the bandwagon to get some of that money.

zombicide

There are some great games that have amazing themes to them and they are extremely fun to play. For example, zombicide and super dungeon explore are some that come to mind. To be honest, I thought that North America was where all the big games were coming from but boy how wrong I was!  As it turns out the biggest place where games come out is actually from Germany.  Every year all the major board game companies debut their games at Essen, the largest board gaming convention on the planet.  And yes before you ask that is on my bucket list to go see before I die hehe.

Now when talking about games you have two groups to talk about, euro games and what they call ameritrash.  Euro games are games that will implement some of the best mechanics known to board gaming with very little theme to the actual game.  When playing a euro game you will sit there and look at the game and say wow this game really has no story or theme to it but wow what a great game.  Now when it comes to what they call ameritrash games these are games that have an amazing theme but can definitely use some mechanics to help it along.  When you play one of these games you will love the story or the theme but will with the game played a little bit better.  Now to give you guys some examples of eurogames would b e games like the castles of burgundy.  Castles puts you in the role of a duke that has a bit of land and has to build his land through tiles that you pick up dependant on two dice that you roll.  It is an amazing game based on the mechanics but when you see the actual game and theme you think this can’t possibly be fun.

super dungeon explore

Now when it comes to American based games you have to think about games like starcraft the board game.  Yes, there is a board game based on the starcraft video game.  The game itself looks amazing, has some of the best components however, the actual game play of it is a bit dry when compared to the euro games.

Now to get back on track as to why I agree that this is the golden age of board gaming.  We are in a time when more and more people are actually spending money on board games, and in turn companies are making more and better games.  When you look at it this way, you can go out and spend 60 bucks on a night out with some friend and only get a few hours of entertainment out of it.  You also can spend that same 60 bucks and get yourself a great board game and invite your friends over and have hundreds of hours of great times with them.  Let me tell you, I am not the only one that has looked at this and thought man I would rather get together with my friends and sit and have a great time where we can always think back and say man we had such a great time that night.  Because of this very reason companies that would never have a chance to make a game can throw it up on kickstarter and get their game printed.

I, for one, am a videogamer that has slowly but surely been transformed more and more into a boardgamer and I am proud to be one.  I hope that one day you can give them a chance to try some out.  One piece of advice I can give fellow gamers is that if you are not sure if you would like board gaming or not, I would find a local game shop and check to see if they have gaming nights and swing by and give them a shot.  Although, I have to warn you as once you get bitten by the bug you might never go back.

When Video Games Become Board Games: Part 1

The 1980s saw a sudden increase in board games that were based upon classic video game cartridges or the quarter-devouring arcade machines.  Leading the charge was the powerhouse board game company Milton Bradley with an astounding array of video-to-board game titles, but were soon joined by competing gaming companies such as Ideal, Entex, and Parker Brothers.  It was a glorious time for board game enthusiasts!

This is the first of (hopefully) a series of articles listing and describing the various video game to board game properties that provided hours of family fun for a generation of gamers.  Just a quick note of definition: to be included on this list a game must fulfill a number of requirements: have its origin in a video game property, be for at least two players, and be an actual board or card game (not a handheld or tabletop electronic game).

video game board game

 

Frogger (Milton Bradley, 1981) While the fun of hopping across the road, avoiding certain death from a wide variety of sources was a hit as a video game, the translation – authentic as it was – did not have the same charm as a two-player board game, which, really, should not have been a surprise.   More interesting is that this may have been the very first board game to be based on a video game property!

video game board game

Pac-Man Game. (Milton Bradley, 1981) One of the best conversions of the arcade experience to table top board game play by using a game board in the design of the Pac-Man screen, with marbles taking the place of all the dots (the marbles are held in place by holes in the game board).  Four competing Pac-Man player tokens with the ability to capture and store marbles travel the board, avoiding ghosts and eating their way to success.  A brilliant translation!

video game board game

Defender (Entex, 1982) Entex had introduced electronic handheld versions of several popular video games, including Defender in 1981.  Board games were still a hot market, and so they also experimented with a board game version. Up to four players could attempt to turn back the invasion of various aliens, their directions shifting using a spinner to simulate the mobility of the arcade version. An ambitious, difficult to find game.

video game board game

Donkey Kong Game (Milton Bradley, 1982) Players moved their Mario tokens on a game board reproduction of the classic game screen, dodging barrels and fireballs when necessary, climbing up the girders to defeat Donkey Kong and rescue the “fair maiden.” The game was actually a pretty decent conversion from the video game, and a lot of fun to play.

video game board game

Invader (Entex, 1982) As previously mentioned, Entex produced many electronic handheld games, and some based on video game properties such as Defender and Space Invaders. However, the licencing was a bit of an adventure for this California-based company, and in this case, their agreement did not extend to making a board game based on the Space Invaders video game. Their solution? Rename it “Invader” and remove all mention of the game it was based upon!

video game board game

Ms. Pac-Man Game (Milton Bradley, 1982) Although this game is based on the original arcade game and uses its elements, Milton Bradley ensured that the game play is completely different to prevent Ms. Pac-Man from becoming a duplicate of their original 1981 Pac-Man Game. The game board is divided into four quadrants, and players take turns moving the Ms. Pac-Man token attempting collect as many plastic dots as possible from their quadrant. Each player also controls one Ghost token, which he or she can use to intercept and regain control of Ms. Pac-Man. It may not be completely true to the original, but Ms. Pac-Man is still an enjoyable game to play!

video game board game

Pac-Man Card Game (Milton Bradley, 1982) Pac-Man enters the world of educational card games, albeit with very little of the addictive charm that made the franchise so enduring. The mechanic is a bit labored with players attempting to fill lines of three spaces with Pac-Man cards to complete equations and score points.  To enjoy this game you either have to be a complete math or Pac-Man geek. Not much here for anyone else!

video game board game

Turtles (Entex, 1982) This game for 2 to 4 players was based on the Konami arcade game Turtles by Stern, and was another of Entex’s handheld games to board games series.  Just like the arcade game, players needed to rescue little turtles, and whoever rescued the most, won. Important to note that this game has NOTHING to do with any Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Possibly the most obscure video-to-board game entry on this list.

video game board game

Zaxxon (Milton Bradley, 1982) Translating the faux three-dimensional Zaxxon video game with its altitude-shifting airships into a two-dimensional board game was a challenge that was met in full by Milton Bradley by using a few standard 3-D tokens in conjunction with ingeniously designed fighter tokens that could be raised or lowered on their stands as needed. Game play was very similar to the original Zaxxon game, but with two to four players attempting to reach and shoot Zaxxon with BOTH their fighters and win the game.

A Footnote
It is important to remember that board games are not video games and neither should be expected to match the other’s total gaming experience.  Video games of this era were all about constant motion, quick reflexes and split-second decision-making.  Board games, however, are about measured decisions, random die rolls or card draws, and ever-changing strategies based on the play of your opponents.  In addition, board games often have suggested ages for players. I have read several reviews over the years from adults who were unable to understand that a game meant for children would have limited appeal to adults (and who scored them based on their own experience of playing them as an adult), or from reviewers who also expected a board game to be a video game.  These kinds of reviews do a tremendous disservice to the board game genre and to those who are searching for more information on one of these classic games.  To those game reviewers – and you know who you are – STOP IT! Let the game be judged on its actual merits, not on standards that it was never intended to fulfill.

Open RPG

 

orpglogo

I mean, really, how often have you used a virtual table top? Let alone an online one… Anyway, it seems they can come in quite a bit handy, provided you’re not looking forward to putting your ornate tequila glass on them, but rather using them for some lovely pen & paper RPG gaming with your friends. Online, that is.

You see, them virtual tables provide gaming groups with everything they need to play their RPG of choice without having to physically meet or touch any sort of dice, which might seem quite the antisocial thing to do, but can be very helpful for playing with friends living thousands of kilometers away or for spending some truly productive time at work. Open RPG for example offers players and GMs an integrated environment complete with miniature map, die rollers, chat, data organizer and the ability to run ones own game server, that’s flexible enough to host any game system imaginable.

What’s more, Open RPG is absolutely free to use and you can download it here. A huge variety of plug-ins can be found here, whereas online-gaming maps are available here and quite a few hand-drawn “miniatures” here. Oh, and if you really feel like paying for something you could give Fantasy Grounds a try.

As for us, well, you know, being the happy cheap ass gamers we all are, we could give this online RPG thing a go. The entity behind from the gutter seems to be interested in it already, and rumours have been heard of a Call of Cthulhu session. Anyone interested, please, do leave a comment or drop me a line. Could be fun you know…

RISK, Strategies Explained

risk

Risk (BGG entry), according to sources that prefer to call themselves voices and are not to be taken seriously, is one of the most successful, imitated and thus influential board games ever devised. It also is a particularly enjoyable game, that comes in a variety of flavours ranging from Star Wars to Lord Of The Rings to Classic, with the added bonus of being less prone to shatter friendships than Diplomacy. Also, also, Risk has the dubious honour of being the first truly mainstream wargame.

With wargaming, though, come tactics and strategies. Strategy guides too. Some of the best can apparently be found over at the rather specialized RISK, Strategies Explained… website. It even has a basic beginners guide. An advanced one too, obviously. Try them out in battle (for free), over at netRisk or by downloading the very Risk-esque Dominate Game.

Demonlord

demonlord

Dwarfstar Games, a former division of Heritage USA, that was recently (as in 2003) saved from ultimate financial doom by Reaper Miniatures, was quite the board game creator back in the early 80s. They released solo-games, micro-games, epic-games, goblin-games, strategy-games, even 2-player games (!), with such lovely 80s names as Barbarian Prince, Dragon Rage, Goblin, Demonlord or Star Smuggler. Good news is you can download all these games for free, print them out and play them. Or just browse through their PDF manuals, tokens and maps and have a glimpse at gaming history…

Anyway. Just visit this beautiful and cozy corner of the web for you downloads. Ah, don’t thank me. Thank Mr. Forbeck instead (who actually thanked Mr. Costikyan for first discovering this little treasure).

[UPDATE]: The excellent Vintage Gamer blog has reviews of both Barbarian Prince and Demonlord. Check them out, you really should…

Mutant Chronicles Monopoly

mutant chronicles

Quite straightforward this one, I believe. Save the picture (taken from this excellent site), print it, spend a few hours preparing thematically appropriate game-cards, use your Warzone minis, 2d6 and enjoy a game of Mutant Chronicles Monopoly.

Zombies 2

 zombies2

Zombies!!! 2 is, as should have already been noticed by any bearded board games’ scholar, closely related to the excellent board game Zombies!!! An expansion actually, or to elaborate a bit, a great, tidy, compact and beautifully produced expansion. Assuming those interested in Zombies!!! 2 are already Zombies!!! players (well, they really should be, as the original game is quite required to enjoy the Z!!!2 affair), I’ll get right to the new stuff. Ruleswise you get a slightly tweaked core ruleset, that helps speed the game up and clean up slight problems, a nice FAQ and quite a few brand new rules. Without wanting to spoil the overall fun-of-the-fan I’ll just mention two of them: 1) you get to ride vehicles, 2) tougher (government enhanced) zombies are introduced. Add to the improved rules:

– 15 new map-tiles that will let you fight the undead in a military base
– 30 new event cards (actually 2*15 new ones)
– 6 goofy looking but definitely nice glow-in-the-dark (super) zombies
– some blank replacement cards & tiles
– and (at last) quite a few (around 50) red heart tokens

and you’ll understand why this expansion too, is a no brainer!

That’s an (eight and a half) out of (ten).

Introduction: Pen and Paper RPG’s

PenandPaperrpgs
So, uh, let’s start with a disclaimer, shall we? Lovely. If you are one of the few proper pen & paper RPG gamers frequenting this site, then you really don’t need to read any further. Really. You’ll probably know all there is to it. If, on the other hand, you are video gamer or preferably a video gamer that can appreciate the intricacies of Fallout, the vast worlds of Morrowind, the demented setting of Planescape and truly enjoy your average (or garden) video game RPG, then you might just be interested in finding out a bit more on them pen & paper RPGs, the sources of inspiration behind every CRPG from Ultima to Fallout 3, in which case you should probably read on.

For starters, in an ideal world, nobody in their right mind would ever dream mentioning pen & paper before the RPG bit. The later should be enough, mainly because the vast majority of computer/video game RPGs (CRPGs) lack the actual roleplaying bit, at least in the more traditional sense, which of course you wouldn’t know unless you had already played a real RPG, something rather impossible as you wouldn’t be reading this very article, would you now? Anyway. All a CRPG ever did to earn its role-playing title was borrow some ideas (e.g. character creation), game mechanics (e.g. combat, hit points, to-hit modifiers) and/or setting (e.g. The Forgotten Realms, Shadowrun), but never came close to emulating the true, traditional, wholesome, imaginative, wholly satanic and ridiculously time-consuming RPG experience.

So, what is an RPG? Well, it’s a role playing game, that’s what it is. Players assume roles and act out impromptu parts -following certain rules and in thoroughly defined settings- much like actors in radio theatre. Only, this is interactive theatre. You not only take part in a story but actually help tell it, as you’re absolutely free to do whatever crosses your mind.

How is this achieved? Simple. One of the players assumes the very important role of Game Master, Storyteller, Dungeon Master, Keeper, whatever. Let’s call him -as most RPGers do- the GM. Well, said GM’s job is to act as the other players’ senses, describing everything they see hear and smell, as the general organizer of play, as the narrator of the main plot and as the ultimate rules referee. His or her job, essentially, is to be what a PC or games console is -say- to an Oblivion gamer: the screen, the speakers, the physics engine, the enemy A.I., the voice of Patrick Stewart.

The major difference though is that a GM, unlike even 2 PS3s supported by a Pentium 5, can react and adopt to absolutely anything a player might come up with…Hence the importance of the rest of the players in the storytelling part. They are free to experience, twist, enrich, play through and ultimately shape the GM’s plot, always following some rules, not unlike those a video game would impose on a gamer. Rules, that determine whether a player kills a monster, is stealthy enough to bypass a drowsy guard or even adequately desirable to organise an orgy. What’s more, and just like in the vast majority of CRPGs, players get to create a character, an in-game persona, typically called the PC or Player Character, as opposed to the NPC or Non Player Character, obviously played by the GM.

 

What must absolutely be understood is that the GM is not the adversary of the players. He or she is just an instrumental part of a group of people enjoying a storytelling game. After all, there is no antagonism among players. Nobody can win in the traditional way and the game never really needs to end, as PCs grow older, more experienced and set forth for new adventures (in true MMORPG fashion). RPGs are collaborative, social, storytelling, imaginative affairs, totally unlike board and war games, even though they might share the use of dice -usually to determine the success of an action, be it combat or not.

Now, provided you’re even slightly intrigued, here are some pretty popular games/systems/settings (they usually come in the guise of books, you know, them nice papery things) to get you started. Surely you’ll recognize some of the names… Dungeons and Dragons (the father of the modern RPG, pretty complex, but perfectly balanced rules, huge variety of mostly fantasy settings), Call of Cthulhu (simple rules, fantastic insanity system, spawn of Lovecraft, brilliant and comfortably short scenarios) Vampire / WoD (simple and extremely versatile rules, Gothic feel, excellent prose), Shadowrun (very tactical, smart hacking mechanics, cyberpunk meets fantasy setting), Rolemaster (more complex than an accountant’s spreadsheet, but weirdly enjoyable) and the utterly notorious Aftermath!.

Anything else you care to know? Well, that’s what the comments section is for, you know…

Guillotine

Ladies and Gentlemen,

King Louis the XVI was neither the worst nor the dumbest of the rulers of France during the 17th and the 18th century. Although one could say that he lacked a certain determination – a fact that may be perceived as an indication of cowardice, he cannot be considered as particularly mean or nasty for his era (let us not forget that the competition in that domain was rather fierce…). On the other hand, the publicity given to some “saucy” details regarding the private life of his wife (the fabled Marie Antoinette), definitely affected Louis’ public image, but then again, no one can sanely claim that the scandals of a queen may be the sole cause of a revolution (unless we’re talking about some amazingly humongous, supergalactic, inter-species-erotic scandals)

This card game is not about the scandals of Marie Antoinette. After all, it is called “Guillotine”, not “Scandals”. On the contrary, it focuses on heads: Initially, as parts of the human anatomy; after a moment in time, as contents of baskets or spike ornaments.

Guillotine Card Game

The players (2 to 5) are given the privilege to impersonate for about 30 minutes (the duration of each game) the sensitive souls with the modest hats, those deeply political figures, without the help of which history would not have evolved as rapidly. At last, ‘Guillotine’ pays appropriate homage to the underestimated class of executioners, and portrays them in a time when there services were very much sought after: Revolutionary France.

Gaming purpose focuses on “collecting” the heads of the most famous of nobles, military officials and members of the clergy, or any other rotten supporter of the Ancien Régime. Of course, the value of each collected head is connected to the reputation of the deceased: The executioner who reaps the iconic head of the King is valued much more highly that another, who only manages to behead a puny piss boy, or a court guard.

Game mechanics are wonderfully simple: the noble cards are arranged in a line, each player collecting the head of the noble at the front. Players can alter the arrangement of the line, by playing specific action cards (such as bribing the guards, rescuing a Noble etc.). The player with the most valuable collection of heads wins. It’s that easy. It’s luck you need in this game, not wits.

Still, this simplicity adds to the overall enjoyment. It is not only the hilarious artwork of Christopher Rush, Quinton Hoover and Mike Raabe; Guillotine exudes an aura of lightness (in a “let’s-all-chop-heads-and-sing-till-we-get-tired” kind of way). Chopping and singing. Or to put more eloquently: chopping as entertainment for the masses.

The game keeps a loose connection with historical events. Players can reap the heads of King Louis, Marie Antoinette, Rovespiere (whose decapitation historically marks the end of “la Grande Terreur”, which partially takes place in the game as well), while other action cards make reference to famous punch lines (‘let them eat cake’) or literary figures (the ‘Scarlet Pimpernel’).

Nice game: easy as pie; and funny. “Guaranteed to brake the ice at parties

Brikwars

The Download Munkey had always been a most excellent of blogs, but its recent move to spanking new servers has really made it shine. Brilliant! Visit it @ downloadmunkey.net preferably by following this gamey link, thank Roys for taking the time to please you Internet people and -who knows?- you might also bump into a certain Brikwars post.

brickwarsarmy

Brikwars, should you fail clicking any of the above links, is in its simplest form a freeware wargaming rules system, that let’s use your Lego bricks and figures to ..uh.. play war with your mates. It is thus what some would call a tabletop strategy miniature wargame. Further inspection though, reveals a truly fantastic game that has been evolving for over a decade and is both simple (make that elegant) and deep enough to actually challenge Warhammer. As for the quality of the core rulebook and supplements, the top-notch humor and utterly jaw-dropping artwork, well, you’ll have to visit the Brikwars site and impress yourselves. You wouldn’t believe me otherwise.

War on Terror

 war on terror the board game

I’ll be honest and say I’ve never played The War on Terror board-game and haven’t really been following TerrorBull Games. Apparently that’s been quite a mistake of mine as a) The War on Terror seems like a truly great and impressively illustrated satirical game, and b) as TerrorBull definitely has a taste for the weird, the humorous, the political and the downright odd. In a nutshell? Well, I’ll have to do my research or most probably grab a new board game and let you know what the fuss is all about.

After all, the second edition of The War on Terror will soon be released. And -according to its publishers- it will be great. Spectacularly so. Oh, and yes, you can also get your cute little faces on the game’s money via one, two, three, four, five, six outrageous auctions. It’s all part of the aptly (let alone, cunningly) named Get Your Face on Money craze funded by the ever-popular World Bank of Capitalism. Or -of course- not.

Proletariat

Proletariat-The Uprising-molotov
We’ve already enjoyed Vampire: The Requiem, Werewolf: The Forsaken, Mage: The Awakening, Something: The Something Else, but now the time has come to rise, raise our left fist and salute Proletariat: The Uprising. It’s a vaguely satirical, not particularly funny, yet quite interesting RPG-ish board game. Grab it here. It’s free. Obviously.

RPG Sex

(Disclaimer: This is a naughty post. Not explicit but naughty. If, by any chance, you happen to be a minor, I advise you to not read it. Better click here. Or google words like porn, bouncy and boobs.)

RPGs and sex. They go together like bicycles and fish. Like unwashed teenage boys and 19th century architecture. Like the police and democracy.

Despite this, RPG sex is definitely lacking. The real problem seems to be a distinct lack of sex rules, that would seamlessly integrate the whole carnal experience into the game world. Rules that would intrigue the average Game or Dungeon Master. Rules covering such topics as Inter-Species Fertility, The Wild Thing or Sexual Psionic Powers. Rules that would be free.

Thankfully, another nonexistent problem has been solved. Just download The Complete Guide to Unlawful Carnal Knowledge (a.k.a. the AD&D Book of Sex), retrieve your trusted Advanced Dungeons and Dragons manuals and have a bath. A drink too. (Download link)

OR (and that’s an apparently big or) try the BBSW Roleplaying Game, widely recognized (by me and a few mates) as the premier Hentai RPG. Download it here. Oh, and in case you were wondering, this is a full-fledged stand-alone freeware RPG. And BBSW stands for Big Breasts Small Waist. Quite a shock, that.


Talisman Returns

 TalismanBoardgame

Games Workshop, even if via the deceptively named Black Industries, seems to be returning to a few beloved games of yore, that don’t necessarily fit into the wargames category. It all began (Oh, praise the Dark Gods, cherish the Ruinous Powers, thank LotR!) with the new edition of the excellent Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay RPG, went on to its 40k counterpart and is now maturing with the forthcoming release of Talisman edition 4, bound to happen when the stars are right or sometime during October 2007; whichever comes first, really. Oh, and yes, I did mean Talisman, as in Talisman.

TalismanBoardgame

Why not then hop over to the official announcement? Why not indeed. Just click here, or there for a nice press release. Expect to read something along the lines of: “Talisman is a cult fantasy board game for 2 – 6 people. Players control a myriad of characters from a heroic warrior to a powerful sorcerer. In this perilous adventure, play centres around the journey of these gallant heroes to find and claim the Crown of Command, a magical artifact with the power to destroy all rivals and make the bearer the true ruler of the kingdom.”


Puttanopoly

puttanopoly-

Monopoly. Definitely not a good thing, thoroughly described by Lenin, detested by most, but also one of the landmark board games of the 20th (and apparently 21st) century. And with more than 100 different versions too. Problem is, Monopoly doesn’t have the history we all believed it had… Head over at SnakeOil labs, read everything about Anti-Monopoly, the true story of the game and the obscure Landlord’s Game , thus preparing thyselves for something completely different. The actual point of this humble little post.

Puttanopoly:

puttanopoly

An Italian adaptation of Monopoly, that does to board games, exactly what Pimp: The Backhanding (by none other than the prestigious White Wolf of Vampire fame) did to card games. Unfortunately, it’s only in Italian. Still, the idea is internationally understood. Be a hooker, avoid evil pimps, get to the rich customers, avoid Jack-the-Ripper wannabes and cops and (that’s the Monopoly bit) protect and expand your turf.

If you must know, Puttanopoly derives from the word puttana, a mostly Italian -partly Greek- word that could not mean anything else but whore…

Great stuff. Let’s wait for a translation, right?


Fictional Gaming Reality

 

Video games are definitely a decent way to murder your free time. But why not try other methods too? Like Role Playing Games (the pen and paper ones -doh!), Wargames or miniature painting. If you feel intrigued or are a seasoned gamer take a peek at one of my favorite online pdf magazines. Fictional Reality.

The current issue is full of reviews, news, battle reports, gaming and hobby tips. And there are more than 20 archived issues for your reading/gaming pleasure.

Enjoy this mag by clicking here.

Class Struggle

 class struggle - avalon hill

Yes, this is Karl Marx. Yes, yes, he is indeed armwrestling a Rockefeller and both were the stars of an Avalon Hill board game’s box-art. Not any board game’s of course, but a game’s created by New York University professor Bertell Ollman as a socialist alternative to Monopoly. Obviously in the 70s when such ideas were actually allowed (!). This infamous and nowadays obscure board game was (and still is) called Class Struggle.

(Oh, and since it was released in the 70s and then again in the 80s don’t expect the glossy/ultra-polished feeling of contemporary board games.)

Class Struggle manages to combine marxist theory, excellent humor and sheer fun. Each player is randomly (as in real life) assigned as a class and races towards the center of the board (in a spiraling way) in order to win the final confrontation of the classes. Should the workers or their allies win, it’s socialism. Should the capitalists or their allies win, it’s not. The rules are simple, logical and you can check them out here, on Bertell Ollman’s NYU page.

The one most interesting and enjoyable aspect of Class Struggle is the way in which real life is put inside the game mechanics. Here’s is an example of a worker’s Monopoly-styled chance card: ‘If you haven’t washed the dishes or made supper in the last week, move two spaces back’ (which is in game terms a bad thing). On the equivalent capitalist’s chance card you get told to move two spaces ahead (a good thing). Simple as that. Educating too.

That’s an (eight) out of (ten).

Zombies!!!

zombies!!! board game
Zombies!!! is a game about survival, about destroying zombies and about making sure your opponents (1 to 5 opponents; do the math, that means 2-6 players) are serving as undead snacks. You (the model representing you actually) will be running around a zombie infested town (made of 30 beautifully illustrated cards and infested by 100 -yes 100- miniature zombies ), shooting zombies (a 4+ on a d6 destroys them), collecting health and ammo, searching buildings and playing the exquisitely dark and humorous and with great artwork action cards (there are around 50 of those). Your goal will be to be the first to butcher 25 zombies or the first to leave town using the helicopter. It is such a simple -yet so enjoyable- board game. You will probably even get to laugh.

Also check the game’s website. You’ll find free rules, expansions, the cutesy (freeware) Zombies!!! RPG and info on the other games and products in the Zombies!!! line.

As the blurb on the box says: This one’s a no brainer!

That’s an (eight) out of (ten).

 

Space Hulk 2nd Edition

Space Hulk 2nd edition is apparently the 2nd edition of the 1st edition Space Hulk, which was published by the massive miniature making 500lb gorilla, usually referred to as Games Workshop. Thus, the setting of the game is none other than the dark, sci-fi and quite gothic 41st millennium. A time of war, theocracy, aliens and incomprehensible gods, war, famine, war preparations, battles, war and 80s music. And as war seems to feature quite heavily in the imagined year 40,000, a war inspired game shouldn’’t come as a surprise to anyone. The fact that humanity of the distant future is struggling under the boot of a rotting vegetable-Emperor, is quite irrelevant to Space Hulk 2nd edition being a war-themed board game and not a wargame. The Alien, Aliens etc craze that raged throughout the late 70s and 80s should explain the overall feeling/aesthetics of the board game, that are glorified in the following picture (directly scanned from the rulebook):

 spacehulkbox2nd

Silliness aside, the Warhammer 40000 universe, Space Hulk‘s setting, is a very rich in detail and well-portrayed world. An unholy bastard of a fantasy and sci-fi setting it may be, but also one of the better gaming worlds around. Space Hulk 2nd edition (Space Hulk henceforth) is accordingly one of the better board games around. Perhaps the best I’’ve ever played, and one I can’’t recommend enough. It might be difficult to track, but at least it’s easier to find than the really obscure first edition, and it will not cost you a fortune. When it was released, some 10 years ago, it was actually great value for money. You bought an -almost- huge box that contained:

– a 36 page full-color rulebook
– a 52 page full-color mission book
– 10 Space Marine Terminator plastic miniatures of the usual Games Workshop quality
– 20 Genestealer plastic miniatures
– dozens of high quality counters
– almost 100 beautifully illustrated board sections
– 7 dice

Space Hulk‘’s game mechanics are rather simple, but extremely atmospheric and varied (that’’s what a 52 page long mission book is good for). Each player (in this two-player game) controls either the tough-as-nails and hip as anything from the 80s Space Marine Terminators, or the Giger-esque, fast and numerous Genestealers. After sides are picked, the players battle it out using the missions (and dice and miniatures) provided, over the modular cardboard terrain, that represents the narrow corridors of an ancient and derelict spaceship. The rules are simple, simpler than the first editions’’ (no stopwatch, just actions/time units per turn for example), but really interesting and appropriate. For example: the Terminators player can’’t see the Genestealers models, but only blips on his radar, represented by small counters his opponent places and moves over the board. Each counter can stand for either one, more or even none of the aliens; this of course can only be revealed when the Space Marines establish eye contact with the blip. Pure genius and a prime example of how atmospheric Space Hulk is.

In typical board game review fashion let me also inform you, that each game (match?) lasts for about an hour. In not-so-typical fashion I’’ll let you know a small fact: Space Hulk has been successfully ported to video game format. Take a look here. This video game even had a PC and console FPS sequel. Fancy, that.

Oh, and concerning my grading of Space Hulk, I guess …

that’s a (nine and a half) out of (ten).

Maziacs: The Boardgame

maziacs - the board game

First, there was Mazogs on the Sinclair ZX81. It was a dungeon crawler and it was great. Then, there was Maziacs for the ZX Spectrum. It was a dungeon crawler and it was great. Now, there is Maziacs: The Boardgame. It is a dungeon crawler and it is great. It also is absolutely free, provided of course you have a printer and some dice, and can be played with purely analog means.

The question though is whether Maziacs: The Boardgame, a boardgame based on a rather ancient and definitely simple CRPG, is worth your time, effort and paper. Well, I’m pretty sure it is. The rules are incredibly simple, smart, fun and versatile, and the game can be played both in its standard single-player mode and cooperatively. I’m actually pretty sure it could be run with a Game Master too. As for its aesthetics, simple as they are, they remain true to the original source and evoke a certain retro feel. Definitely worth a try. Download your PDF copies here.