Let me tell you a tale of longships and woe – A #boardgame story from 878: Vikings – Invasions of England (@Academy_Games, 2017)

The ships. I remember the ships.

The first sign of the Invasion was when the longships filled with helmeted warriors sailed up to Winchester. After they came ashore it was barbaric as they pillaged the land. It was not long before most of the south of Wessex, including Exeter and Canterbury were to fall to the invading hordes.

We English tried to fight. We struck back where able. Led by Housecarl and stiffened by the Thegn we fought – and died. Many a Fryd-man suffered but it didn’t turn back the Norsemand tide.

London and Thetford and most of the Kingdom of Guthrie fell. There were few rebellions; most were brutally put down. Even attempts to turn the Vikings warriors from their pagan beliefs failed. Then another wave arrived and Manchester fell. Only English and Danish Merica held.

Desperately seeking a new leader, we raised an army for King Alfred. He fought well, but not well enough. When he fell in battle, it was clear to all that the Treaty of Wedmore was the only answer.


This past Saturday Night Game Night in the RockyMountainHouse saw a return of an old friend and the joining of a newer one. The new friend was Gavin, best buddy of RockyMountainNavy Jr., who joined us for Game Night. The old friend was 878: Vikings – Invasions of England, the very family-friendly, area control, team lite wargame from Academy Games (2017).

Being bestest buds, RMN Jr. and Gavin took the Norseman and Berserkers, respectively. RockyMountainNavy T and myself took the English with T playing Housecarl and myself playing Thegn.

Teaching 878 or any of the Birth of America/Europe series games is easy. The fact that a new player plays on a team makes it even easier with experienced teammates. Gavin had no problem learning the rules and the few questions he had during gameplay mostly related to understanding Event Cards and their unique effects. That, and the fact the Vikings started out with a very aggressive move that cost the English dearly from the beginning didn’t hurt them either.

The aggressive move was to play Card 12 – Viking Ships (Norseman) on the first turn. The card reads:

The Norsemen may play this Event during their Movement Phase to move an Army from one Coastal Shire to any other Shire located on the same sea coast if they have a Unit participating in the move. This sea move costs the Army or Leader one Move, the same as if it had moved into an adjacent Shire. The Army may continue moving if it has any moves remaining.

Norseman Card 12 – Viking Ships

Normally, the first Viking invaders must enter from the North Sea. RMN Jr. landed at Canterbury and then pointed to the fact the shire adjoins both the North Sea and English Channel. After easily defeating the defenders of Canterbury in the first Battle Round, the Viking proceeded to Winchester as their second move using the Viking Ships card. We debated the interpretation of the card but in an attempt not not derail the game out of the gate we ended up allowing it. The result was a very uphill game for the English who lost their best reinforcement cities right out of the gate. This made massing of forces difficult for defense of the realm.

[The next day I searched the BGG forums for any comments and noted a very similar move was played at the 2018 WBC tournament – so it appears legal.]

The Vikings actually played both Treaty of Wedmore cards in Round IV but we had to play through Round V and the arrival of King Alfred before the game end. Going into Round V the Vikings held 12 Shires (three more than necessary for the win). After back-to-back activations of Norseman and Berserkers to start Round V they held 14 Shires. The English used the arrival of King Alfred to take back two shires but it was not enough and he fell in the last battle of the game. With 12 shires held at the Treaty the Vikings won.

This was Gavin’s first “wargame” that he has played (“other than Risk“). He liked it and was curious about the other titles in the Birth of America series. As much as we want to play more wargames with him, RockyMountainNavy Jr. also realizes Gavin is more of a mass-market gamer. That said, he does have experience in some hobby games like Ticket to Ride (Days of Wonder, 2004), Kingdomino (Blue Orange Games, 2016) and Here to Slay (Unstable Games, 2020). With that thought in mind, Jr. asked that we consider other games, like maybe starting with the deck-builder Trains (AEG, 2012) for another game night.

Most importantly, we also reaffirmed in the RMN Home that Weekend Games Nights are ESSENTIAL. In the past six weeks we have let Game Night slide in a combination of apathy and depression from the social situations surrounding COVID-19. We all enjoyed Game Night and we realized it is an essential part of our mental happiness. We agreed that we MUST get back to regular play – and we will!


Feature image courtesy ancientpages.com

Light Sting #Boardgame with Scorpius Freighter (@alderac, 2018)

BLUF – A lightly-themed optimization boardgame that combines several different game mechanics into an easy-to-learn, fast-playing, somewhat satisfying race for points.

As a long-time Traveller RPG player and a fan of the TV series Firefly and movie Serenity, I have a soft spot in my heart for the Space Western. So it was a pretty easy sell when @tabletopbellhop posted a secret deals update and pointed me to Scorpius Freighter (Alderac Entertainment Group, 2018) for a nice bargain. Judging from the ad copy on the box back, it’s the perfect space western:

It’s been almost 100 years since the Scorpius system was settled. Over the decades, the Government has taken control of everything. Tens of billions of Sentients live in Scorpius with no hope of advancement, no hope of escape.

Except that not everyone in the Government toes the line; some still believe in freedom. A few bold freighter captains use the system against itself, handling their sanctioned job duties… as well as a lot of extracuricular activities like smuggling restricted medicines, passing censored information, and facilitating transactions below the Government radar. They are fueling the revolution.

And the Revolution is coming.

RECRUIT CREW – From the back alley brute to the elite educated, they are the best at what they do.

CUSTOMIZE SHIPS – Outfit your standard sanctioned freighter with hidden holds and an upgraded cockpit.

SMUGGLE GOODS – Conduct illegal transactions while dodging the authorities.

Sounds awesome, eh? Reality is Scorpius Freighter is a boardgame with a thin theme that drives component art and provides the barest of framework to hang several different game mechanisms off of.

Yet somehow it still works.

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Courtesy AEG via BGG

Contrary to my initial impression (desire?), Scorpius Freighter is not a pick-up and deliver game. Instead, on our turn you advance the Government freighter around one of three planets (rondels) and take the action of the space you land on. Usually this means taking a new compartment (card drafting) and placing it on your ship (tile placement). Depending on how those tiles are arranged and the skills of your crew (variable player powers) actions can be made more powerful (engine building). Your objective is simply to get the most points through placement of cargo (cubes) and finishing Side Jobs and Contracts (set collection). You win by gaining the most fame and fortune (points).

Reading that last paragraph closely you might note that I describe Scorpius Freighter in terms of very generic game mechanisms. That’s because there is no real theme used in play.

  • Recruit Crew – In the basic game rules, one chooses a crew by taking picking a crew based on a homeworld. I guess this is done to ensure your crew is balanced in needed skills. You then place the crew into one four crew slots (Pilot, Co-Pilot, Navigator, Bodyguard) but it doesn’t matter at all where you place them. In-game you can pay for an upgrade. There is a optional rule to allow drafting your crew cards – the closest the game gets to recruiting.
  • Customize Ships – Your ship is a 4×4 grid. As you draft tiles you place them on the grid. Placing certain tiles in proximity to others is advantageous. I guess if placement of tiles is considered customizing then it matches the hype. There is a piece of artwork in the corner showing your ship and name – the closest you get to seeing what the ship is.
  • Smuggle Goods – On your turn, you can take certain actions to Pick Up Cargo. Then you can take other actions to Make a Side Deal or Fulfill a Contract. Nowhere does this invoke the idea of smuggling. The cargo cubes are colored not based on their type of cargo, but rather based on the Storage Tiles they can be played on. So what makes one orange cube different from another? Of the three tag lines this is the one that absolutely doesn’t resonate with me in game play.

If Scorpius Freighter has a saving grace it’s the components. Top quality. Thick tiles, a double-sided board with a nice recessed grid for placing your tiles. Cards with artwork that at least looks like somebody tried to base it off a common theme. Three Government ships with ‘confiscated cargo’ compartments make really nice countdown timers.

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I really want to compare Scorpius Freighter to Firefly: The Game (Gale Force 9, 2013). I was hoping Scorpius Freighter would be a faster playing, smaller footprint, just as exciting skirt-the-law boardgame as Firefly. Alas, aside from the theme, there is really no relationship between the two titles. So I really have to look at Scorpius Freighter for what it is.

Optimization. Optimization is the best way to describe Scorpius Freighter. You are trying to optimize your movement around the planets. You are trying to optimize the placement of tiles on your ship. You are trying to optimize the collection of sets. You are trying to optimize your game engine to generate points.

Both RockyMountainNavy Jr. and myself went into our first play of Scorpius Freighter expecting to be a smuggler. We expected to misbehave. On the other hand, RockyMountainNavy T went into the game with no preset expectations. Which is probably why he won so easily. He was the first of us to see the game for what it is, not what we thought it was. He was the first to realize he needed to optimize his actions. He was the first to solve the optimization puzzle.

He finished in first place.

Yet, even with lack of theme in gameplay, Scorpius Freighter is oddly satisfying. Once you see the puzzle you also realize that the designers have cleverly put together several game mechanisms that can be leveraged in interesting ways. Although one is trying to optimize their actions, there is no one clearly optimal way of doing so.

If I have one worry in Scorpius Freighter it’s the end game trigger. The game ends when one of the Government ships has gone around their planet a number of times dependent on player count. When that occurs there is one last round of play. In our game, RockyMountainNavy T was far enough ahead he forced the end game. He won although the final score was a bit closer than he expected. I wonder if with more play the end game trigger will remain an enticing lure or will it fade away as experienced players all compete to optimize at a relatively equal pace.

If you want a great space western game that oozes with theme from the box to the components to play then pass on Scorpius Freighter. But if you are looking for a 45-60 minute, fairly low-complexity, engine-building boardgame that cleverly combines multiple gaming mechanisms supported by nice to handle components and a thin theme doesn’t bother you, then Scorpius Freighter could be your thing.

 

Sending in a winner with Letters to Santa (@Alderac, 2014) #boardgames #cardgames

Although the RockyMountainNavy home is usually a wargame house, we do occasionally play other hobby boardgames. This week a holiday favorite, Letters to Santa (Alderac Entertainment Group, 2014)** came back out and reminded us how family gaming can deliver the greatest pleasures.

As I’ve mentioned before, Mrs. RockyMountainNavy tutors children at our home. One of her newest students is a sixth-grade girl, Ms. A. Ms. A is artistically gifted (her drawings are incredible) but she lacks a strong desire to learn. She has an older sister (high school senior) who is drowning under a schedule with five AP classes. Consequently, the older sister is very mean and doesn’t encourage younger Ms. A. Indeed, her sister’s meanness actually discourages Ms. A from wanting to learn.

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Courtesy Blue Orange Games

The first time Ms. A came over she was rightly skeptical. After all, she was being pushed by her Korean Tiger Mom! That day we finished up her lessons with a four-player game of Kingdomino (Blue Orange Games, 2017). She caught onto the game immediately and quickly went on to win (I think all that spatial awareness she has in her art helps her immensely). She also genuinely enjoyed playing in the larger group. It is obvious she enjoys the social aspects of boardgaming. Mrs. RMN likes to use games to help teach kids as they learn so much more about working with others and discovering how games work. It’s all good for learning!

This week, in keeping with the holiday spirit, we pulled Letters to Santa out for the after-lesson game. She absolutely enjoyed the game, often going after RockyMountainNavy Jr. (whom she really likes in an older brother way). She caught onto the cards right away but was missing some of the strategy. That changed when RockyMountainNavy T played Gingerbread Man (Compare hands; lower hand is out) against me and lost with Mrs. Claus (7).  Ms. A then had her chance and played Krampus (Guess a player’s hand) and correctly guessed that I had Santa Claus (8) in my hand thus giving her the win. The look of pure joy on her face as she put it all together and won was priceless.

May all your holidays be filled with that much joy. Merry Christmas!


** In 2018 Z-Man Games acquired the rights to the Love Letter license from AEG. Unfortunately, it does not appear that the Letters to Santa version also conveyed as I cannot find a copy anywhere these days!

#FamilyFriday – 2019 Golden Geek & Origins Awards #Boardgame Challenge – Love Letter (@alderac, 2012)

IN A HOUSE FULL OF BOYS, IT IS A BIT AMAZING THAT ONE of the more popular filler games on our shelf is all about romance.

Not really.

Love Letter (AEG, 2012) is thematically about delivering letters to a princess and wooing her; the reality is this game makes Game of Thrones look like a children’s nursery. Back-stabbing and double-crossing others is the norm. The game is not about love, it’s about using your power nakedly to eliminate opponents and win the prize.

It’s delicious.

The simple 16-card game of Love Letter won the 2013 Golden Geek Award for Best Family Game / Best Party Game / Best Card Game/ Most Innovative Game. I certainly agree with the last two categories. Love Letter was the first 16-card game we played and the innovative nature astounded us. I will agree that it is a good party game…with adults. I am not so sure about the family game aspects because it is very easy for the game to devolve into a bloody power contest. Some younger players may not fully understand what is happening and get hurt.

I also appreciate that Love Letter has been rethemed. RockyMountainNavy Jr. always takes Letters to Santa to school during the holidays for a quick play around the lunch table; it’s so much fun even high schoolers can get into the game. Indeed, for my challenge I actually played a game of Love Letter: Batman with Middle RMN Boy. It’s the same mechanics of Love Letter, except with villains.

Even love can be evil…and so much fun!


Feature image courtesy AEG via BoardGameGeek

#FridayFamily #Boardgame Thoughts – Cooperative Games

WITHIN THE ROCKYMOUTAINNAVY GAMING COLLECTION, cooperative games have 11 places on the shelf. As part of my 2019 Gold Geek Awards Challenge I recently pulled out Pandemic (Z-Man Games, 2008) to replay. A lot has been written about Pandemic and I have nothing really new to add. That said, recent events in the neighborhood have got me thinking about cooperative games in general.

Pandemic was not the first cooperative game in the RMN gaming collection. I think that honor goes to Battlestar Galactica: The Board Game (FFG, 2008) although that game sat on the Shelf of Shame unplayed for many years. The first cooperative game the RMN family played that I expressly recognized as cooperative was Forbidden Island (Gamewright, 2010). Other cooperative games played include:

Pandemic, however, occupies a special place in the heart of myself and the RockyMountainNavy Boys. It has this special place based on two particular games we played. The first loved game is the first time we beat the game. We were literally down to the last card and all of us were standing around the table. When we cured the last disease and won we all jumped and high-fived each other. It was maybe the most satisfying moment of family board gaming ever. The second special game was where Middle RMN Boy, my Autism Spectrum angel, awed us beyond belief when he laid out the path to victory that none of us saw. Pandemic literally has brought us together as a gaming family.

During the Memorial Day weekend we were invited to a neighbors house for a barbecue. I had heard from my Boys that this family was getting into modern board gaming. My Boys had played Survive: Escape from Atlantis! (Stronghold, 2012) with the other boys and they had purchased the game. When talking to the parents, they steered the conversation to board gaming. They were curious about what games we played. Then they mentioned they had purchased Pandemic and all but invited us to play together in the near future.

I’m worried.

It’s already established that I love Pandemic, but I am not sure this is actually a good game for that family. Their boys are very competitive; I doubt they can cooperate enough for Pandemic. A “take-that” game like Survive is much more up their alley.

Thinking ahead to a board game night with the neighbors, I’m struggling to come up with a good group game. Something like Happy Salmon (Northstar Games, 2016) is good for a few minutes of laughter but I need something that lasts longer.

Looking through my collection, I came across Abandon Ship (AEG, 2008). Although not listed in BGG by this mechanic, I term the game a semi-coop. From the publisher’s blurb:

Abandon Ship is a game in which you play to move your group of rats off the ship before the rising water drowns them. The S.S. Nvrsnks is also loaded with valuable points-earning cheese, but don’t let desire for that lovely food send your rats to the watery depths. Your opponents may also share some of the rats in your group; they may want to move the rats in a different manner from you.

Abandon Ship plays up to seven players; perfect for a larger game night. It also covers both areas the other family wants (although they may not know it). For Mom & Dad they get their coop; for the boys they get their take-that.

So, here is to hoping that Neversinks floats the neighbor’s boat (ok, that was a bad pun but you gotta just live with it).


Feature image TheBoardGameFamily on BGG

Quartifact Questing with Qladiators: Expanding on Quarriors! (@wizkidsgames, 2011) #Boardgame #GameNight

THE RockyMountainNavy Boys are absolutely in love with the deck-building dice game Quarriors! (WizKids, 2011). They love it so much they dug into their own pockets and paid for several expansions. The expansions arrived this week so it was inevitable that Quarriors! land on the gaming table for Family Game Night.

There are several major expansions for Quarriors! and looking at BoardGameGeek we sorta “rolled the dice” (heh heh) and picked two:

The publisher’s blurb for Qladiator led us to believe there would be some sort of arena combat mode but, alas, the only new rule introduced is the Lock Die. Interesting in action, but low on theme. Although it would make more thematic sense in Quest of the Qladiator, it is Quartifacts that introduces Quests. To be honest, I spent a bit too much time just unwrapping my brain around the preconceived notions the titles gave me and get past the cognitive disconnect from theme the titles created.

Once the game got to the table all was good. The new rules are seamlessly integrated into the game and easy to pick up. There were a few wrinkles, like a quartifact effect that is dependent upon an expansion we don’t own (yet, obviously).

Youngest RMN Boy is really into the game with all the different dice. Middle RMN Boy, a collector of Magic: The Gathering cards, loves the artwork. Even with the new rules the game played relatively quickly and can still be a weeknight/after dinner game. Deck-building games have only a few places in our game collection with Trains (AEG, 2012) being the only other. I don’t think Quarriors! is going to kickoff a new game buying trend but it’s good to see the RMN Boys get into a game so seriously.


Feature image WizKids via BGG

Railing for #Trains (@alderac, 2012)

Here in the RockyMountainNavy house, deck building games are not a preferred format. However, in the case of Trains (Alderac Entertainment Group – AEG, 2012) we make the exception. Trains stays in the game collection because Youngest RockyMountainNavy Boy still likes trains. So on the basis of theme it stays. After tonight’s game, I too am happy to keep it in the collection as it plays better than I remember.

h2a5y5jrrho2wjxyegtfraOur Saturday Game Night was a classic three-way affair. We used the Northeastern USA maps so we were playing close to home. I took Blue and started off in Toronto. Middle RMN Boy was Yellow and started in the Buffalo while Youngest RMN as Green started all by himself in Washington DC.

The game took a bit longer than the rated time partially because we started off playing slowly. It took a while to build our decks and get our game engines going. Once we became more comfortable with the game it clicked right along. In the end, Youngest RMN Boy won with 61 points. Middle RMN was second and I a further behind third.

Playing Trains satisfies one entry in my new 2019 RockyMountainNavy Origins Challenge. Like my 2019 Wargame Challenge – The Charles S. Roberts Award and my 2019 Golden Geek Challenge, I combed my collection looking for Origins Awards winners and committed to playing each at least once this year. Trains was the 2014 Origins Awards Best Board Game winner. With Trains now played, I have completed 1 of 16 games in my Origins Challenge. 

And it was better than I expected.

Holiday Cheer with #LetterstoSanta (Alderac Entertainment Group – AEG, 2015)

Although Saturday nights are usually the RockMountainNavy Game Night, this weekend I dialed it back a bit as I am starting an extended holiday vacation. In anticipation of getting gaming in with the RMN Boys over the next week, we decided to take it easy on the regular game night. Since the Boys wanted to watch a new series on Netflix, we went with a (very) short game.

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Courtesy AEG

Letters to Santa is the holiday version of Love Letter.  This is a simple 16-card micro game. Thematically, the players are trying to be the last player left and for winning they get to deliver their letter to Santa. The first player to deliver enough letters wins.

We decided the first player to four letters delivered would be the winner. I got trounced 4-2-1. I forgot that both Boys regularly play Love Letter against each other. I forgot that the Youngest RMN Boy likes taking this game to school during the holiday season to play at lunch with friends. I forgot to watch the board state (played cards) closer than I did.

Even after forgetting so much, I was reminded about what makes Letters to Santa a great game. As we played we were all smiles. As we played their was great friendly banter across the table. As we played we felt the holiday cheer.

Although it was a short game, Letters to Santa delivered one of the greatest presents a game brings – happy family time.