This Saturday after Thanksgiving turned into a boardgame family night at the RockyMountainNavy hacienda. Actually, the entire day had gaming moments for the family. Here are a few of the highlights.
RockyMountainNavy Jr. pulled NMBR 9 (Z-Man Games, 2017) out as he was eating breakfast and played a solo game with one hand as he munched away with the other; he didn’t score well but he did comment that it was an enjoyable pairing.
Late afternoon RMN Jr. asked if we could host a boardgame night with his best buddy, Gavin. Then it was for Gavin and his brother Skylar. Then it was for Gavin, Skylar, and Gavin’s Dad. No problem!
As we waited after dinner NMBR 9 made another appearance. After four plays I finally won! The scores for all were fairly low showing the difficult draws that this particular game produced.
Going into the evening we had a few choices ready for Game Night. Six players is a much larger player count than usual for us so we had to curate a selection. Gaming candidates included:
Abandon Ship (AEG, 2008) – Semi-cooperative game of saving your rats while sacrificing others as the ship sinks (bonus – one of the best game boards ever!); supports up to seven player.
Since I am usually the Boardgame Teacher I spent a little bit of the afternoon going through the rules for the games one more time to quickly refamiliarize myself. Good thing I did because when the night started Castle Panic was the first to land on the table.
We played Castle Panic in full cooperative mode with open hands. We had to explain to Gavin’s Dad what a cooperative game was. He quickly bought into the game and he and his boys caught onto the rules fast. We were able to win after a fun 80-minute battle. That’s a bit longer than the 30-60 minutes advertised play time but that included a quick teach and some slow first rounds as they felt out the game. Verdict – FUN, willing to play again.
Interestingly, of my two boys it was RMN T, my Autism Spectrum hero, that recalled the rules and flow of the game best. I was surprised as he was fully aware during the game about the Boss Monsters and the danger they represent. We haven’t played Castle Panic in a while and if I had not reread the rule book earlier I would have not thought about it that way at all. I don’t think we give him enough credit because, once again, when it comes to gaming he showed he really is ‘on the ball’; perhaps more so than anyone else in the family.
The second game of the night was Abandon Ship. Gavin’s Dad immediately bought into the theme of the game – first for the awesome board and second when I explained that the first rat to the top deck scores no points because it gets trampled to death. He literally laughed out loud at that. Unlike the full cooperative play of Castle Panic, Abandon Ship is played in a semi-cooperative manner. At the end of the night RMN Jr. won but all the others were close behind in scoring. Verdict – DEFINITE HIT; must play again.
Tonight was also the full debut of the my BBO Poker World Traveler Game Mat. This is a VERY important piece of gaming kit in the RMN Home given Mrs. RMN just got a new dining room table and it is important we keep it looking good. Again, it was Gavin’s Dad who was the most complimentary of the game mat. He’s absolutely right; it looks really good on the table!
Although I have owned Root (Leder Games, 2018) since I was a late backer, until this weekend I have only played the game solo or against my alter gaming ego, Mr. Solo. With a notice in my inbox announcing that my Kickstarter fulfillment of the latest expansion,Root: The Underworld Expansion, was shipping, I finally decided to bite the bullet and bring this game to the RockyMountainNavy Boys. For our first full-up play it had some rough points but overall the game shined.
To help introduce the game we set up the walkthrough. We found it not very helpful. I think as moderately experienced gamers it actually slowed us down. I think that with moderately experienced or more gamers can be given an explanation of the rules with an emphasis on what is the same across all factions (movement, combat, Crafting) and then a walkthrough of each board (Birdsong, Daylight, Evening) is sufficient at the start of play. Being able to describe the different root game mechanics (no pun) of each faction (engine building, programed action, deck building) also helped us understand how faction plays differently within the shared game environment.
We played a three-player game with the Marquis de Cat (RockyMountainNavy T), the Woodland Alliance (RockyMountainNavy Jr), and the Eyrie (myself) seated around the game table in that order.
Early in the game, the Fox Dominance card came out. Both RockyMountainNavy Boys became fixated on the card and very curious about what it represented. At the time it appeared, both the Marquis and the Woodland Alliance each ruled two fox clearings. So tempting was the card that both RMN Boys lost focus on their basic VP generation path. More experienced players know that going for a Dominance win in Root is difficult; newbie players don’t have the benefit of that experience. It therefore came as little surprise that one of the Boys (Jr – Woodland Alliance) grabbed up the showing Fox Dominance card as soon as he could. Nor was it surprising that very soon after the Fox Dominance was picked up that RMN T (Marquis) played the Bird Dominance card he had in his hand.
Not only did the playing of the Dominance cards totally change the character of the game, but the subsequent play (fully legal) of RMN Jr. almost derailed the entire night. Our general inexperience with the game allowed the Woodland Alliance to spread much Sympathy and accumulate way too many Supporters. RMN Jr used brought the hammer down and staged multiple Revolts with, alas, the main target of most of the Revolts being the Marquis. Thus, RMN T saw several clearings get wiped out. This was a major “take that” moment of the game, much more powerful than any of us expected. Now, RMN T is my Autism Spectrum boy that has challenges dealing with major changes in his environment. The multiple Revolts, all aimed at him, and the major reduction of his position on the board almost unhinged him. He was very angry – almost to the point I was ready to end the game. The only thing that kept hi in was that he recognized that the Woodland Alliance was now very near their dominance win condition and he swore vengeance. The next few turns there was a major ‘catfight’ with clearings bouncing back and forth between the Alliance and Marquis. Both came very close to their win condition only to be knocked back at the last moment by the other.
Meanwhile, my Eyrie kept plodding along. I went through several leaders as I repeatedly fell into Turmoil as I was unable to fulfill my Decree. Gradually, the Marquis and Woodland Alliance recognized that they had left me alone for too long. They both then turned their attention to me – and it was brutal. Fortunately, I had just enough Roosts out and a useful Leader with a good Decree that even as they knocked me back I still was able to satisfy my Decree and generate enough VP to reach the victory.
My winning was probably the best outcome on several levels. First, if RMN Jr had won after what he did to his older brother, I don’t think the older one would ever play Root again. Likewise, if RMN T had won his younger brother would likely never play again because he would feel ‘punished’ by this brother after what he did to him. Next, the fact that both lost when playing a Dominance card showed them that maybe they need to stay focused on their basic win conditions like the Eyrie did. Additionally, we all learned the lesson that you have to keep an eye on the other and understand their way of play to keep them in check. This is perhaps the hardest element of playing Root for not only do you have to ‘know thyself’ but you have to ‘know thy enemy’ too. In Root the fact that every faction plays differently creates a learning challenge that can only really be overcome by multiple plays with multiple exposures to the different factions. As it is, this first game of Root was rough and although I feel it will land on the gaming table again I will have to be careful about how the new factions are introduced.
On the very positive side, all of us agreed the art in Root is incredible. RMN Jr wants to explore the game and play different factions. RMN T is less positive, but will likely play again if done right. That’s my Root challenge.
I want to thank all of you who took the time to make my post RockyMountainNavy’s influential #wargame from the 2010’s my most-read article this year. Sensing a good thing and wanting to keep try and keep the bandwagon going, I now will regal you with my fifteen most influential boardgames that I own or played that were published between 2010 and 2019.
Like I said in my wargames of influence post, I ‘rediscovered’ the hobby boardgame industry in late 2016. Sure, I had some hobby boardgames, but I had not seriously tried to get the family into gaming. In late 2016 we started playing more games and by late 2017 we had instituted a Family Game Night on Saturdays.
As a grognard wargamer, moving from wargames to boardgames was a bit jarring. I mean, you often times play with more than one opponent? Although they were not new to me, I really came to understand the Ameritrash vs Eurogamer battle and started looking at games from both a thematic and mechanical perspective. Along the way, I never gave up on wargaming and introduced the RockyMountainNavy Boys to the wargame niche. The challenge was finding good multiplayer wargames that could be played in an evening.
Here comes the Waro
I needn’t have worried, for in late 2017 a new ‘genre’ of boardgames was starting to be talked about. Here came the waro, or wargame-Eurogame. There is no single definition of what a waro is, but to me it is a wargame that incorporates elements, be it mechanical or component-wise, of Eurogames. In 2019 Brian Train used the term, “militarized Eurogame” which I find both very simple and highly descriptive. So the list you are about to see has more than a few waro games on it. That is because as a wargamer these titles often speak to me and have brought gaming joy tot he RockyMountainNavy household.
Unlike my previous list which was presented in order of year of publication, this one will be a vain attempt by me to rank them. Please don’t ask me to define my criteria; this is really a ‘gut feel’ of how I rank these games. Like before, the list is light on pre-2016 games because it was then that I turned hard into the hobby. I am sure some real gems from earlier in the decade deserve to be here; I either don’t own them or simply missed them as I took in the later-half of the decade.
The ‘dungeon crawl’ is a very popular boardgame format. In the RockyMountainNavy house we tend to stay away from fantasy but the RMN Boys are Star Wars fans so we own and played Star Wars: Imperial Assault after it came out. I recognize that the game is very popular (currently #37 overall on BoardGameGeek) but as big fans as the Boys were the game never really clicked. Indeed, the entire dungeon crawl gaming genre (as well as man-to-man scale skirmish games in general) seemed kinda lost on the Boys and myself. That is, until I played Agents of Mayhem: Pride of Babylon.
Maybe its the 3D terrain. Maybe its the fact I am not familiar with the setting and therefore more open minded. Maybe I am more accepting of modern superpowers vice always fighting Star Wars ‘canon.’ Whatever the reason, I really enjoy the game. I really like the character and unit tableaus and how they enable handling them in a very easy manner. There is no need to lookup a table or chart; its’ all really in front of you.
Agents of Mayhem: Pride of Babylon makes my influential list because it shows me how a skirmish / dungeon crawl-like game can be made fast, fun and furious (to steal another RPGs tagline).
According to BGG and Stronghold Games, AuZtralia is an “adventure/exploration game.” To me, I think they forgot “wargame.” To me, AuZtralia is a waro but in a slightly different sense of the word. In the first part of the game, AuZtralia is a Eurogame of building railroads and seeking resources. At some point, however, it switches over to a wargame where your armed forces (supported by certain individuals) are fighting the Old Ones. I like this schizophrenic design approach. It is certainly one way to approach a waro; in this case one I really enjoy.
AuZtralia is influential because it shows the very direct marriage of a Eurogame and wargame.
I think Cataclysm has an identity crisis. Thematically, the game covers the Second World War periods. Published by GMT Games, it just must be a wargame since that is what GMT publishes, right? To all of you I say, wrong! To me Cataclysm is not a wargame of military conflict, but a game of politics where military action is one possible tool in your kit. Yes, I declare that Cataclysm is a political game. Like the ad copy says, “This is not your father’s panzer pusher.”
Cataclysm is influential because it forced me to stretch my definition of wargame and give serious consideration to the politics of conflict, not just the military confrontation.
The RockyMountainNavy Boys and myself are not really into cooperative games. That said, we always have fun playing the original Pandemic and have used it to introduce hobby boardgaming to others. That said, we are not huge fans so have not sought out other Pandemic titles. That is, until Pandemic: Fall of Rome came out. At first I bought the game because I had dreams of enticing the oldest RMN Boy (the non-tabletop gamer) to play because he loves ancients. That didn’t work, but I discovered a new Pandemic, one that included ‘battles.’ Like AuZtralia, I categorize Pandemic: Fall of Rome as a waro because it very successfully mixes both Eurogame and wargame.
Pandemic: Fall of Rome is influential because it demonstrates the power of mixing a very cooperative ‘stop the spread’ Eurogame with key wargame (battle) mechanics.
As I really discovered hobby boardgaming (and wargaming for that matter) in late 2016 I heard about this thing called the COIN-series. At first I was not interested because professionally I tend to pay more attention to rogue nations and peer competitors and never really got into the counterterrorism or counterinsurgency areas. At the same time I also had moved to the East Coast of the US and was studying more Revolutionary history. I passed on COIN until I saw GMT Games getting ready for a second reprint of Liberty or Death. The approach of the game was intriguing; framing the American Revolution as an insurgency? I bought it and was confused at first. This is a complex game! But I persevered and eventually, after several plays, it started to click.
Liberty or Death is influential because this game showed me that games can be used to teach and explore very serious political topics.
Brian Train, co-designer of Nights of Fire: Battle of Budapest, writes in the designer’s notes how this title is a “militarized Eurogame.” I adit I bought this game at first because it is a Brian Train design and I like how he sheds light on smaller or less known conflicts in history. The topic of Nights of Fire is very niche, the Soviet invasion of Budapest in 1956. Nights of Fire, however, uses a very Eurogame-approach to model this battle with cards and area control and blocks and tokens. This is really a card game with hand/action management and block wargame put together. I also respect the designers that were able to make the same game play competitive, cooperative, or solo.
Nights of Fire: Battle of Budapest is influential because I consider it the best example of the ‘bleeding edge’ of waro design.
Root is a wargame, right? Look at BoardGameGeek where as I write this it is the 19th-ranked wargame (as well as the #33 Strategy Game and #39 overall). With all the battling in the game it must be a wargame, right? As much as I want to agree, I see two games here, but neither of them are truly a wargame. On the mechanical level, I am in awe of the design of Root that incorporates so many different game mechanisms into a well integrated package. Every faction plays differently, be it set collection or action-selection or hand management. I am totally amazed that Cole Wehrle makes this all work together. But none of those mechanisms are ‘wargame.’
On the second level, I see Root as a political game. Each faction has a different way to victory and battling is just one lever of power a faction can wield. Once again, you can play Root as a ‘wargame’ but, like Cataclysm before, this is really a political battle where fighting is a tool that can be chosen.
Root is influential because it shows me how one integrates many different game engines into a political game that is vicious despite the cute and fuzzy animals. Truly a wild kingdom!
Spoiler Alert – you’re going to see Kingdomino a bit later in this list. As much as we like that game, the RockyMountainNavy Boys and myself also really enjoy Queendomino. That is because we view Queendomino as the ‘gamers version’ of Kingdomino. We really enjoy how the designers took the simplicity of Kingdomino and added jus the right amount of new mechanisms to make the game vastly more interesting yet still simple to play.
Influential because Queendomino demonstrates how to take a great simple game, add a bit of complexity, but still keep it easy and fun to to play.
Finally, you say! A game from before 2016! I think I actually bought this game in 2011 from Petrie’s Family Games when I lived in Colorado Springs. I seem to remember the owner, Cameron, giving me a strong recommendation and, seeking a game to play with the RockyMountainNavy Boys, I purchased it. Then life got in the way and I moved to the East Coast for a job while the RMN Family stayed in Colorado. It was not until 2013 that we were all back together again, but then I was concerned that all the reading on the cards and how to put a strategy together would be too much for my middle boy who is on the Autism Spectrum. As a result, we really didn’t get this game to the table until 2017.
Suffice it to say I was stupid. The RMN Boys can handle this game quite well. They love it so much they both put their own money forth to buy expansions.
Quarriors! is influential because it is one of the most-played games in the RockyMountainNavy collection and often used by the Boys to beat up on old Dad because they are much faster at building synergistic dice pools than I am.
A yellow- box game from HABA is for kids only, right? Sure, the box says for ages 5-99 but we all just know its really a kids game. WRONG! I cannot even start to count all the hours (and I mean hours) of fun play this game has occupied int he RockyMountainNavy house. Not only hours of fun for the RMN Family, but Rhino Hero is a title we use to introduce others to hobby gaming.
Rhino Hero is influential because it has opened the eyes of many non-gamer friends to a different type of family game and shown them good family fun.
When I pulled Kingdomino out the first time the RockyMountainNavy Boys were dubious. After all, how hard could it be to place dominos on a 5×5 grid? Years later this game is often the go-to when we need a quick filler game before dinner. Or when we want to introduce somebody to gaming. It is very easy to teach. I also enjoy watching a new player as they play their first game; you can literally see the lightbulb go on in their head as they realize what they can do when selecting a tile. You can see their eyes dart between the tiles and their kingdom, and eventually the other players, as the strategy develops in their head.
Kingdomino is influential because not only do we enjoy every play, it is our gateway game of choice to introduce others to hobby boardgaming.
Somewhere I think I heard that Terraforming Mars was a good science lesson. Wanting to encourage the youngest RMN Boy to pursue the sciences I purchased this game. At first I was doubtful as the sheer number of cards seemed overwhelming. I also was concerned (again) whether my middle boy could handle all the reading and assemble a strategy. Well, the youngest was taken by the game (“See Mom, it teaches me!”) while the middle boy caught on (maybe faster than I did). Once we added the Prelude expansion that jump-starts your Corporations we find ourselves playing this game even more often than we did before. Now our neighbors have the game, making a inter-family game night a real possibility.
Terraforming Mars is influential because it showed that we all can enjoy a good middle-weight Eurogame and are not limited to simpler titles or wargames.
(Yes, another pre-2016 title!) Alas, I did not discover this game until I had a conversation with Uwe Eickert of Academy Games at the wargaming conference CONNECTIONS 2017. While discussing his excellent Conflict of Heroes: Awakening the Bear second edition (Academy Games, 2012) I mentioned I was always looking for a good family wargame. Uwe immediately sold me on his Birth of America series so we soon had 1775: Rebellion on the table. We now own the entire Birth of America and Birth of Europe series and we will surely buy any new game in the future.
1775: Rebellion is influential because showed us that a lite family strategy/wargame does not have to be Risk; indeed, there is much better out there that not only is fun to play but also teaches good history.
The lite family strategy/wargames of the Birth of America series (Academy Games) were such a big hit in the RockyMountainNavy house I went looking for more. Given the oldest RMN Boy’s interest in Ancients I chose Enemies of Rome as a good candidate game. Little did I realize how much the other Boys (especially the youngest) would be taken with the game. Enemies of Rome is one of the most-played games in the RMN collection and there is no sign the Boys are going to lose interest. Heck, even I will probably not lose interest because every play has been different. Just last week, I started out in Syria and halted my expansion across Africa because I was sure that card that brings hoards of ‘Enemies of Rome’ out across North Africa was going to come out next. It never did because it was one of the cards removed at setup. But I was so sure it was going to come I I followed a strategy that defended against a non-existent threat. Now the RMN Boys are looking to use this game for the Neighborhood Gaming Gang since it plays up to five.
Enemies of Rome is influential because it is our most-played lite family strategy/wargame that is simple to learn yet offers deep play time and time again.
Another recommendation from Uwe Eickert at CONNECTIONS 2017. I had never played a Eurogame of this sort before and my first reading of the rules were daunting. I played it solo a few times then tried to teach it to the RMN Boys.
Second is the game mechanics. Middle-Heavy Eurogames are not in our usual wheelhouse. Scythe was so different than anything we played before. But the asymmetric powers of the factions and economies makes no two games alike. The expansions are clean and add good flavor; the campaign is an incredible journey.
Scythe is influential because it opened our eyes to a whole new type of boardgame and it keeps us coming back with innovative expansions and endless replayability. I think we will still be playing this game in 20 years.
MY MIDDLE BOY IS ON THE AUTISM SPECTRUM. As a gamer, this means that some games are harder for him to process and connect with than others. Through the years he has had success, and challenges, with different games. Recently, I introduced him to Hold the Line: The American Revolution (Worthington Publishing, 2018). The game immediately captured his attention, so much he asked for a different version of family game night where he played against his brother (first-time HtL player) while I “umpired” the game. The boys played the Battle of Champion Hill, part of the Vicksburg Campaign. After a hard fought battle taking all 20 of the allotted turns, Middle RMN Boy playing the Confederates took the win 7VP to 6VP. This was his third win in a row and he wants to play even more. So why is it that Hold the Line: The American Civil War has so totally captured his interest?
Hold the Line: The American Civil War captures his interest because of two factors: tactile components and extreme ease of play. It also uses very few Zones of Play.
Tactile Components: Middle RMN Boy loves the blocks in HtL: ACW. Not only are the blocks easy to distinguish, he can arrange, and rearrange, the blocks in many different ways. Sometimes he puts all the infantry in a column; other times he arranges them in a 2×2 formation. Sometimes he faces them towards a hexside in a manner that makes his opponent feel surrounded like they are turning a flank. But it’s not just the blocks on the map, the blocks used to track the Action Points (AP) on the Player Aid Card also give him that tactile interaction with the game.
Extreme Ease of Play: HtL: ACW is very rules-lite. More importantly, a player’s turn is a short, easy to understand (and remember) sequence of Roll Bonus AP, Spend AP, and Reset. Within each phase there are very few rules to remember and the most important information can be found on the Player Aid Card. Bonus AP? Roll 1d6 and get 1-3 AP. Actions? Movement comes in only three flavors. Combat is resolved using a set number of dice using a table on the Player Aid Card. The Morale Die can be tricky but it really is only used in two ways. All told there are something like 24 rules that must be remembered, and most actually can be found on the Player Aid Card so it’s not memory of details, but grasping of a process that must be mastered.
Given the short, easy to remember Sequence of Play and many rules found on the Player Aid Card means that Middle RMN can focus on playing the game, not executing the processes. With Hold the Line: The American Civil War he can feel like a General and fight a battle, not an administrator trying to follow a detailed methodology.
In HtL, Middle RMN only needs to use his Hands (Zone 1 or 2) to move items. The Player Aid Card with the the AP Track is his Tableau (Zone 3), which also doubles as an easy-to-reference rulebook virtually eliminating the need to search the Rule Book in Zone 6. The Board (Zone 4) is small enough to reach across and easy to understand. In a Memoir ’44 game, he uses many more zones; his Dominant Hand (Zone 1) to hold his cards, his Non-Dominant Hand (Zone 2) to move, his Tableau (Zone 3) to show played cards, the Board (Zone 4) to fight on, a Sideboard-extension (Zone 5) of his Tableau to hold Special Rules and Reference Cards, and the Rule Book (Zone 6) to reference often for the many items not on the Sideboard. Taken together, Commands & Colors occupies more Zones and is actually much more complex. HtL, on the other hand (no pun intended), occupies fewer Zones of Play and within each zone the rules are easy to understand and remember and the components attractive and tactilely fulfilling.
Getting HtL to the table with both boys may be a bit difficult. Younger RMN found the game easy to play but struggled to find the right tactical approach to fighting his brother. Middle RMN found the game exciting, especially since he won. I am sure that he and I will fight many more battles when his younger brother is unavailable. As an old grognard, a game like Hold the Line should be considered too easy and not detailed enough to play seriously. But looking at how much my middle boy enjoys the game makes replaying HtL not only inevitable, but something I look forward to because when he is “in the zone” the game is secondary to our enjoyment.
I wrote in my First Impressions post how I quickly had doubts about the game. From the too small text to the long playtime to the less-than-satisfying game ending. After four plays it’s not getting any better.
This past weekend I tried. Once again we pulled out Outer Rim for the Weekend Family Game Night; a rare repeat performance after playing just last week. This time we mixed up the turn order. This time we arranged the board on the table differently. This time we were more careful picking our characters.
I still can’t read the cards. The game still took nearly 2 hours. The end was still (even more?) unsatisfying.
Junior played Lando. He went whole-hog into the thematics of being a Smuggler by purchasing the Millennium Falcon, Extravagant Wardrobe, and taking Lobot for crew. Putting all that together he built a powerful, near unstoppable game engine. He won easily.
Middle RMN Boy was IG-88. He never found enough droid crew to get that bonus ability for Bounty Hunting. Not getting helpful crew meant he was more dependent on luck than skill; and Lady Luck was a b*tch to him that night. He upgraded to an Aggressor but never got his game engine really going. He ended the game far behind.
I took Kenso Onyo. I don’t know anything about the character. After playing hte character I still don’t. In Outer Rim not having sufficient metagame knowledge is a major disadvantage because you have to figure out if you are going to use a Smuggler or Bounty Hunter or Mercenary/Marauder-first strategy. Lando is a Smuggler; IG-88 a Bounty Hunter. What is Kenso?* I adopted a Bounty Hunter strategy that nearly paid off (I had 8 fame at end game) but the early struggles with figuring out what engine to go with put me just enough behind to lose.
There was certainly much more player-to-player interaction in this game. Several combats were fought against fellow players, or there was gambling on whatever-the-casino-planet-named. There were some great thematic moments, like when Lando cheated at Sabacc (taking IG-88’s money in the process).
In addition to my First Impression thoughts, here are a few others that crossed my mind during our last play:
Three players is good for this game. Less makes it multi-player solitaire; more will have too much downtime.
Some suggested passing the Market Cards amongst players during their in-between turns to read. Something has to be done because the cards are too hard to read on the table.
The only real variety in set up is in the location of Character Encounter tokens. The Encounter Decks are not very deep and after even our few games I feel they are too predictable. The same goes for the Market Deck. Character encounters are invariable. There is actually little variety from game-to-game making replay attraction diminish very quickly.
The end game is so unsatisfying. “I got 10 fame, yeah! Now let’s pack up the game…” Some good enterprising fan fiction writers need to write a collection of short, paragraph-long coda, each based on the Character + Ship + Reputation standings (ok, that’s around 1000 paragraphs so we need several of those Star Wars fanatics). Of course, this can never happen because Di$ney certainly won’t allow anything to be published that might be mistaken for canon. Not unless they can monetize it…like charging players several dollars on an app they overpaid for to download the possible ending….
During and after the game I could see that Middle RMN, my Autism Angle, was getting frustrated. That great thematic moment with Lando cheating at Sabacc was not enjoyable; it was simply another roll of the dice that punished rather than rewarded. More than anything else, his body language convinced me that Outer Rim was not fun. Thinking back, I have to say that about half-way through the game I was already looking at the clock and thinking about the after-game. Although there are moments of fun, the overall experience of playing Outer Rim is not very enjoyable for either of us.
RMN Jr. was responsible for set-up this last time so I think he wants to play Outer Rim with the Neighborhood Gaming Gang. He seemingly loves the game, as evidenced by the highly thematic game play he brings to the table. Maybe his play style is the key; I am trying to play a game about Star Wars in a sandbox universe rather than know and follow canon and divine the official Di$ney strategy.
No thanks, you rats.
*Sure, I know I can google it. But should I? I mean, do I really need to goggle a character in Outer Rim to effectively play the game. If the answer is “yes” the game is flawed. FULL STOP.
I FREELY ADMIT THAT I HAVE A LOVE/HATE RELATIONSHIP with the Star Wars franchise. I love the first two movies and the Thrawn Trilogy, and I hate the newest trilogy and the dumbing-down of Star Wars over the years to a ‘tweener comedic farce. Oh yeah, and Han Shot first! So when Fantasy Flight Games published their newest Star Wars licensed game, Star Wars: Outer Rim – A Game of Bounty Hunters, Mercenaries, and Smugglers I was hesitant to buy. Unfortunately, I did not account for the RockyMountainNavy Boys who are both Star Wars fans, especially RMN Jr. I was also tempted by several commentators/reviewers/fans who claim Outer Rim is good for three players – our usual gaming gang composition. So Outer Rim made its way across the galaxy and landed on the RMN gaming table this weekend for our first introductory game. This Pick-up and Deliver* game is faithfully thematic to the Star Wars Universe and mechanically streamlined but the language-dependency of the many cards can dramatically slow down the game.
“Why, you stuck up, half -witted, scruffy-looking nerf herder!” – characters in Outer Rim
In Star Wars: Outer Rim each player is a character from the “official” Star Wars universe that is trying to be the first to earn 10 “fame.” Possible jobs are legitimate – or illegal – cargo, hunting bounties, or other jobs on behalf of four factions. One’s reputation with a faction goes a long way towards determining how they react to you.
I was surprised by the selection of a few of the characters in the base set of Outer Rim. I didn’t recognize at least one of them. The RMN Boys did, which goes to show you how out of touch I am with the Star Wars franchise after Disney took control. The character design decision that really surprised me is in the Contacts. Here, the designers really took to heart the sidekick concept, relegating even major Star Wars characters like Chewbacca to a minor role in the game with no real expectation of ever becoming a major character in an expansion.
“…a wretched hive of scum and VILLAINY.” – Components in Outer Rim
Like many Fantasy Flight Games products, the components in Outer Rim help make the game the deep thematic experience it is. It starts with the crescent-shaped board (literally the Outer Rim) and is carried through by the art on the cards and the text. Being an officially licensed product has its advantages and it shows. From Characters to Contacts to Ships to Jobs or Cargo this is Star Wars…at least Star Wars according to the Disney movie canon.
A major component complaint I have is the text used on the cards. I freely admit I am an old grognard who has to wear bifocal glasses but even with my strong prescription I was unable to easily read many of the cards. Being able to read the cards on the table is important for the speed of play (more on that later). One also needs to be really strong in the Force if they are seated on the “opposite” side of the game table and trying to read the small text upside-down!
“Don’t worry, she’ll hold together…You hear me, baby? Hold together!” – Game Mechanics in Outer Rim
Mechanically, Outer Rim is a very easy game. The rules can basically be taught from the Reference Card. I don’t mind the two rule books, the Learn to Play and the Rules Reference. The Plan-Action-Encounter sequence is easy to catch onto and where in a turn you can do things is pretty straight-forward…at first.
That said, the mechanics of the game, when combined with the components, can slow the game down. Outer Rim is heavily language dependent – the text on the cards really matter and there is alot of text! During your turn there is much reading required, be it a delivering a Cargo or completing a Bounty or Job or executing an Encounter or Databank Card. More importantly, there is much reading required when it is not your turn. If the game is to keep moving, a player needs to be constantly scanning the board state and choosing best routes as well as understanding all the impacts that Characters, Gear, or Mods have on play. They need to be looking at the Market Cards available before their turn starts. Here is where all those highly thematic components actually don’t help.
Understanding the text on the cards in Outer Rim can also be problematic. The iconography is small, and to really understand the cards one must really understand key concepts like Reputation and how the card fits into – or breaks – the Plan-Action-Encounter sequence. Although the rules recommend not reading ahead on a card too much, to make a decision about a card one needs to read it fully and carefully. All this takes time and slows the game down. Our 3-player intro game to the recommended 8-fame (instead of the standard 10) took almost three hours, or nearly 60 minutes per player. Maybe this is a trademark of designer Corey Konieczka and FFG. Another Konieczka design in my collection, Battle Galactica: The Board Game (FFG, 2008), is for 3-6 players and plays in 120-300 minutes, or 40-50 minutes per player once they are familiar with the game. I shudder at the thought of playing an “epic” game to 12 points of fame like mentioned in the rules. Outer Rim is an OK game…but I cannot see playing an epic 4-player game to 12-fame for over four hours!
All the text likely contributes to the fact that Outer Rim is recommended for ages 14+. This makes Outer Rim nearly an “adult” game. In the RMN house, Middle RMN Boy is on the Autism Spectrum and understanding all the text and the implications is right about what he can handle. We all understand that text slows him down; in Outer Rim that effect is multiplied by the sheer amount of text and sometimes subtle interactions the cards are describing.
“Rebellions are built on hope.” – Final Thoughts on Outer Rim
This has all been a very first impression reaction of Outer Rim, based on one solo play using the AI and one introductory learning game. It’s obvious that the game will play faster with more familiarity but the density of text employed means even that speed-up will have limits. Strategy-wise, I can also see that certain combinations are better and it plants seeds of doubt as to just how open-ended the game is. For instance, RMN Jr. started out with Han Solo and made it his goal to get the Millennium Falcon for his ship and Chewbacca as crew. This personal decision happened to meld well with in-game effects; that combination of Character, Ship, and Contact/Crew together that made for a powerful game engine. For myself, focusing more on teaching the game, I had Lando and and the Shadow Hawk, a ship more suitable to a bounty hunter whereas Lando is more a smuggler. Lando needs a ship with speed and cargo; he’s very weak in Ground Combat and really shouldn’t be fighting Contacts for Bounty. In retrospect, Lando’s strategy is “obvious;” that is, if one is really familiar with either the theme or the small text on the components.
Looking beyond the small RMN household universe, I sense that the need for thematic and mechanical familiarity will make Outer Rim less friendly for a pick-up game by newbies. Sitting down at the table cold with either little theme background or lack of rules knowledge can make Outer Rim challenging – dare I say less enjoyable – to play and potentially relegating it to a niche game within an already niche hobby.
Which brings me back to the beginning. Star Wars: Outer Rim truly is a mechanically streamlined game that is very rich thematically. However, the language-dependency and abundance of text on cards is also its own unshielded exhaust port-weakness. This game will get played by the RMN Boys and myself, I just hope that we get to the point it plays faster.
*According to BGG, in a Pick-up and Deliver game, “Players must pick up an item at one location on the playing board and bring it to another location on the playing board. Initial placement of the item can be either predetermined or random. The delivery of the item usually gives the player resources to do more actions with. In most cases, there is a game rule or another mechanic that determines where the item needs to go.
What shocked me even more were comments from the Ravensburger CEO after the win (as reported by Dice Tower News):
“The positive response from Disney fans and strategy board game enthusiasts for the growing Disney Villainous franchise has been overwhelming. In the last quarter of 2018, Ravensburger sold more than a quarter of a million copies globally of Disney Villainous: The Worst Takes It All, and it rose to Top 5 of Amazon’s Most Wished for Board Games. Even before it hit shelves last summer, we knew we had a winner and had already begun working on the next in the franchise, Wicked to the Core.” -Filip Francke, CEO of Ravensburger North America
In some ways the sale of Villainous also show a disconnect in the hobby boardgame market segment. BoardGameGeek only shows a bit over 5000 copies “owned” and the game is ranked as the 237th most popular Family Game.
I think Ravensburger is really happy about the public reaction to Villainous: The Worst Takes It All. Having released the title under the Wonder Forge line with a pen-named designer has all the hallmarks of trying to reduce risk from exposure to a flop. I guess this fear is no more given press about a forthcoming new expansion, Villainous: Wicked to the Core.
[I wonder if Wonder Forge is going away. Contrary to the words of Mr. Francke, Wonder Forge has acted nothing like a company with a “winner.” The last Tweet on @wonderforge was in September 2018 and the website http://www.wonderforge.com looks like it was last updated Spring/Summer 2018. Even at Ravensburger USA it shows Villainous: The Worst Takes It All as “Coming Soon” with no further link provided. For a game that appears to be making bank for the company it sure ain’t getting much online love from them. Maybe that will change after the TOTY award.]
Here at the RockyMountainNavy house Villainous: The Worst Takes It All initially got a mixed reception. After hearing about the new expansion we decided to bring the first game out again and give it another shot.
Learning our lesson from before, we took time before the game started to study our Villain Guides and strategize before the first round. We went round and round slowly at first as we relearned the rules. Middle RMN Boy and myself constantly played Fate Cards on the Queen of Hearts but we didn’t seem to be able to find very powerful ones at the right time. For myself, Ursula had the Crown at Ursula’s Lair and I was ready to play a Binding Contract on King Triton and get the Trident. After that I figured it would be one more turn to get the Trident to my Lair. It was looking to be not a moment too soon as Maleficent had three Curses out and probably had a fourth ready. To our surprise, the Queen of Hearts played then immediately turned her last Card Guard into a Wicket and then Took the Shot…and made it!
We all agreed that this play of Villainouswas much more satisfying then the first time. The key appears to be taking the time to study the Villain Guide ahead of starting play. After the first few less-than-satisfying plays Villainous: The Worst Takes It All had sat on the shelf of shame for several months. I think it is back now, for better not worse!
Scythe(Stonemaier Games, 2016) continues to amaze the RockyMountainNavy gaming family. We bought the game in 2017 and played it three times that year. We didn’t play it al all in 2018. So far in the first month of 2019 we have already played it twice! This weekend, we also added in the Invaders from Afarexpansion with Youngest RMN Boy playing Clan Albion. Best of all, we played a complete game in just about 90 minutes. This is the fastest game of Scythe we have ever played.
The last time we played with Invaders from Afar, the Middle RMN Boy (the one with ASD) had a hard time. I think that subconsciously we shied away from the expansion after that. This weekend, the Youngest RMN Boy wanted to play “the hawg faction,” or Clan Albion, so we bent the rules and openly picked factions while randomly drawing player mats. While this certainly made for a fun game, at the same time I noticed Middle RMN Boy went “back to the well” with the Nordic Faction. He won with it last time finishing 25 points ahead of everyone else. This time he absolutely wiped the floor with us again, gaining 100 coins and ending 22 coins ahead of everyone else. It could of been worse; he actually could of ended the game three rounds earlier than it happened but kept playing to build up more points. Even then, at the end of the game my Saxony faction attacked his Nordic in the Factory to knock Nordic back and rob them of three territories (and the money/victory points associated with that).
I think the faster play tonight resulted partially from all of us being more comfortable with not only Scythe, but different game mechanics in general. In many ways, the RMN Boys have become real “gamers” in the past two years. I am still the one who actually reads the rules and teaches it to them, but the RMN Boys absorb (and process the rules quickly.
That said, Youngest RMN did make a mistake in this game and it may have cost him. The Clan Albion special faction ability is Exalt. With Exalt, the Albion character (Conner and Max) can place up to four flags on territories after they move. Territories with flags count as two territories when it comes to scoring. If he had remembered to place his flags he could of gained 16 extra coins finishing with 95 coins total and placing just 5 coins behind his brother. I get the feeling he won’t forget his special faction ability next time!
The RMN Boys want to get Scytheto the table again. I feel that the game may become our “evergreen” title of 2019 like Enemies of Rome (Worthington Publishing, 2017) was for 2018 when it was played 10 times over the course of the year. As far as expansions go, after reading multiple reviews I am not sold on the airships in Scythe: The Wind Gambit Expansion though at around $20 it may be worth the investment.
More vexing is the Rise of Fenris Expansion. I am not sure that we really want to play an eight-game campaign (with different rules?) just to unlock 11 interchangeable modules. With the price hovering in the $40-$50 range, I am not sure if this is the best use of my gaming budget.
Oh, who am I kidding. With the current popularity of Scythe in the RMN hacienda I have a feeling both Wind Gambit and Fenris will make appearances this year.
Saturday morning is not the usual time a wargame hits the table in the RockyMountainNavy house. This past Saturday was a bit different as the Youngest RockyMountainNavy was studying for a math quiz and the Middle RockyMountainNavy Boy was a bit bored waiting for his brother to finish. So I challenged him to a game of Table Battles (Hollandspiele, 2017).
This was Middle RMN Boy’s first time playing. We set up The Battle of White Mountain (Thirty Years War, 1620) and he took the Imperial & Catholic League. Game play proceeded a bit slowly as I had to be patient as he absorbed the game rules. My Middle RMN Boy is on the Autism Spectrum and he sometimes struggles with multi-step rules or too many choices. It’s not that he suffers from Analysis Paralysis (AP) while gaming, he just takes a bit longer to process his thoughts. Table Battles turned out to be a good game for him; simple enough rules and procedures with just enough depth of to create a challenging (but not insurmountable) array of choices.
In Table Battles,Special Formations are usually the most powerful, and therefore the hardest to “ready.” Middle RMN had The Twelve Apostles (historically the twelve biggest cannons) as his Special Formation and to “ready” it takes a “Straight 4;” rolling a sequence of four consecutive numbers on the dice. As the Special Formation card is harder to load, it also can be easy to miss when rolling.
Me – “OK, go ahead and roll.”
RMN Boy – [Rolls five dice as one formation already has a die placed]
Me – “Well, you could….”
RMN Boy – “I rolled a 2, 3, 4, 5. I can load this card, right?”
Me – “Uh, sure….”
RMN Boy – [Smiling & laughing evilly as he adds a cube to the Special Formation]
That pretty much describes the battle. The end came down to two last formations, each almost reduced and ready to Rout. After I rolled and failed to get the needed Triplet to ready my formation I thought I would have another chance as his formation was totally unready with no dice placed.
Me – “OK, roll your dice.”
RMN Boy – “I really need a triple to load my card.” [Rolls dice – 2, 3, 3, 3, 4, 6]
Me – [Deep sigh]
RMN Boy – “So I move these here. Dad, you sure you don’t want to surrender now?”
Even though I lost it was a great game. While the Youngest RMN Boy has proclaimed Table Battles as a “favorite game” I think it is Middle RMN Boy who will enjoy this game more. Kudos to designer Tom Russell (@tomandmary) for making a simple, yet deep wargame that I can enjoy with all my boys.
Featured image – Battle of White Mountain, oil on canvas by Pieter Snayers (courtesy wikipedia). You can practically see the Table Battles formation cards in the scene….
I have said before that Enemies of Rome is not the game it appears to be. What looks like an area control game is actually a Battle Royale. Glory Points are scored by winning battles which means one must think very offensively. Although the RockyMountainNavy Boys and myself have played Enemies of Rometen times now, and even discussed the victory demands, it has yet to fully sink in to the Middle RMN Boy. In tonights game, like the last one, he “turtled” early and fell far behind in points as he built up his forces without attacking any of the enemies of Rome. Unfortunately, the enemies of Rome also were building up their forces right in his neighborhood. It also did not help that the Youngest RMN Boy chose to lash out at his brothers outposts and seized several provinces. As a result, Middle RMN fell far behind in points and was very sullen and not fully into the game.
It would be very easy for me to blame this on his Autism Spectrum condition but that’s too easy. Tonight was a good reminder that, no matter how familiar one is with a game, it behooves players to review some of the basic rules and mechanics of a game. In this case, a gentle reminder to all that Glory Points are earned by attacking is only part of it. A review of the die odds is also helpful. If one waits for overwhelming odds in their favor they will fall behind. I know that I often gamble with 2:1 or 3:2 attacks because I recognize the need to generate Glory Points. I save the 3:1 or 4:1 attacks for battles against other Legions because the penalty for losing those battles is loss of Glory Points.
I think Enemies of Romewill sit on the shelf for a bit and cool off. This doesn’t mean we will be hurting for games; indeed, it clears the way (and maybe even creates a demand) to get the semi-cooperative AuZtralia to the table. All the RMN Boys are also excited that the cooperative Pandemic: Fall of Rome(Z-Man Games, 2018) has been shipped. As a family, we really enjoy Pandemicand the Middle RMN Boy has proven to be a bit of a whiz at playing. I hope that these games in particular bring joy to the gaming table.
In the same vein, this weekends events have forced me to reconsider introducing Root(Leder Games, 2018) to the RMN Boys. The asymmetric nature of the different player factions in Rootdemands that each player play a bit differently. For the Middle RMN Boy this may be challenging. I remember the first time we played with the Invaders from Afar Expansion to Scythe (Stonemaier Games, 2016) and the Middle RMN Boy got a whole new faction. He struggled mightily to figure out how the faction worked. When he tried to watch his brother and I play our factions it was of little help because every faction plays differently. Rootmay work if I can convince him to play the first time the using the Marquis de Cat as I think that faction is mechanically the most straight forward.
As a wargamer, a game with a “take that” mechanic doesn’t offend me. However, events like this weekend’s game reminds me that not all players are like me. I don’t think I will ever fully turn into a Eurogamer with their “let’s just all get along and make a farm” attitude but bringing out more games with less “take that” for the Family Game Night probably won’t hurt.