This weekends gaming selection at the RockyMountainNavy home was out of this world as two galactic titles landed on the gaming table. As far out as the game subjects were, they both did their job of making home an enjoyable place to be.
The RockyMountainNavy Boys wanted to play our traditional Saturday night boardgame but asked for something a bit shorter. So Tiny Epic Galaxies (Gamelyn Games, 2015) landed on the table. We had not played this game in nearly a yearTWO YEARS (!) so it took a round to relearn the rules. That’s didn’t stop the RMN Boys; they both ended the game on the same turn with the needed 21 points. It fell to RMN Jr’s Secret Mission – Trader to give him two bonus points and the win. Awesome first play of 2020!
Afterwards, I pulled out my recently acquired Traveller: The Customizable Card Game Two-Player Starter Set (Horizon Games, 2017) and turned the rest of the evening into a learning session for myself. Generally speaking, over the decades I have stayed away from the collectible or living or customizable card genre of hobby gaming. Long ago the RMN Boys collected Pokemon cards, and RMN T still collects Magic: The Gathering cards, but we don’t play the games. So for myself, learning how to play a card game like Traveller: CCG is a whole new challenge.
Traveller: CCG also comes with a solo play mode. After stepping thru the rule book I set up a solo game and played it out. I took the classic Beowulf Free Trader and tried to make my way in the galaxy. The first contract I took, Bulk Hauling, ended up with a Buccaneer hazard attached. The call-back to the original Little Black Books of the Traveller RPG that I first got during Christmas 1979 with the iconic, “Mayday. Mayday” on the cover of the boxes set made me so giddy with joy I actually giggled out loud.
I ended my first game of Traveller: CCG bankrupt (i.e. I lost), but gained much gameplay experience. Most importantly, I immediately wanted to play again.
Much to my surprise, the Traveller: CCG feels incredibly thematic. I was just a little tramp freighter trying to make my way in the big galaxy, reaching for a job here and there, always living on the edge of losing it all. It was fun. I want to play it again. I want to get the expansion sets (I don’t think I’ll go for the play mats but instead use my Star Wars: X-Wing play mat).
It seems you can teach an old Grognard new tricks.
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!
This Black Friday 2020 proved a winner for the RockyMountainNavy household. After the main part of our holiday shopping was completed, RMN T and myself paid a visit to our FLGS, Huzzah Hobbies in Ashburn, Virginia. Unbeknownst to me, they had 15% off everything and two deep discount areas of 50% and 75%. So I browsed and found a few games.
One game I picked up wasNMBR 9 (Z-Man Games, 2017). I’ve actually had my eye on this title for a few years now but just never made the purchase until today. I was attracted to the game because, as a Tetris puzzler, I thought it might appeal to Mrs. RMN (because Tetris puzzlers are her thing). The box was slightly damaged but at 75% off I couldn’t pass it up this time.
I was right. I was wrong.
I was right because she really does enjoy NMBR 9. She actually played against me (and won, of course). I was then informed that I was wrong to have waited so long to get the game.
Not only does Mrs. RMN like NMBR 9 for herself, she also thinks it makes a good game for her older elementary and middle school students. The logical challenges of spatial orientation and trying to maximize points is a good combination for that age group. She even likes the scoring with simple addition and multiplication. NMBR 9 is easy to teach, plays fast, and is colorful on the table.
The RockyMountainNavy Boys also like NMBR 9. RMN T (my Autism Spectrum champion) really took a liking to it as he loves spatial puzzlers, maybe even more so than Mom does.
Abstract games form a small part of the RockyMountainNavy Family Game Collection but NMBR 9 is a very welcome addition. I think this game will be getting many more plays. Although Mrs. RMN has tried Azul: Summer Pavilion (Next Move Games, 2019) ranked the #2 Abstract on BoardGameGeek as well as Patchwork (Mayfair Games, 2014) which is ranked #4, NMBR 9 ranked at 47 will most likely be the one to end up on her gaming table.
SINCE forever the dining table in the RockyMountainNavy home has served as the play area for our Family Game Night. As much as I would like a true gaming table it doesn’t fit our lifestyle. Instead, we recently bought a new traditonal dining table and I wanted to do something to protect the tabletop finish. I looked around at some places and finally decided to buy the BBO Poker World Traveler Portable Poker and Game Mat for 8 Players.
Wow, does the World Traveler design look nice on the table! It’s hard to describe (and my photos are not professional by any measure) but we all agree it looks much better in person than in the photos. I think it has to do with the subtlety of the map; in the photos the map is very recognizable but in person it is much more subdued.
I am also very pleased with the BBO Poker construction; think of this game mat as an extra large mouse pad for it’s nice and thick. If (for some forsaken reason) I was rolling those heavy metal dice on this mat the table below would be just fine.
At 70″x35″ our BBO Poker World Traveler it is plenty big for us to play games on. Our old dining table was a bit small. Setting up a full game of Scythe (Stonemaier Games, 2016) or Terraforming Mars (Stronghold Games, 2016) was edge to edge (and then some). Since this game mat is oval it doesn’t go edge to edge on the table but it still has lots of real estate for gaming. Mrs. RMN also approves of the design; it doesn’t look like a poker mat.
I am very pleased with the quality and price. Highly recommended!
Long ago, in a beautiful Eastern kingdom, a queen and her people pleased their Gods by building a mystical pagoda. The pagoda housed the four Gods and towered strong over the magnificent kingdom. As time passed, the queen fell ill and she summoned her people to compete for her crown. The crown would be passed on to the person who could build the most pristine garden around the pagoda. The heir would be chosen by the four Gods themselves.
Introduction, Four Gardens, Korea Board Games, 2020
Three contestants came forward, the first was the village elder who had much experience. The second was a son who was renowned for his ability to see patterns in the wilderness. The third was the youngest but had fought in many battles often emerging victorious.
The contest started slowly as the three worked to learn the rules of the Gods. It’s not that the rules were difficult, for they were not, but the mystical pagoda that they could manipulate to appeal to the Gods for materials to build their gardens was an always-moving puzzle that took time to consider.
The elder was the first to complete a panorama, but the youngest warrior quickly followed. As the contestants mastered the simple rules of the contest they started building faster. The elder almost won, but a small mistake stopped him short of victory. The second son noticed the patterns and announced the warrior was going to win. Sure enough, the battle soon ended. As the Gods judged the contest, the second son and warrior were surprised to discover that the Gods favored them equally. It fell to counting who had the most panoramas, and here the warrior was ahead, and thus he emerged victorious yet again.
The three held council and discussed their contest. All three agreed the Gods had favored them all with such a beautiful Pagoda and a simple contest that created such beautiful Gardens. They agreed that this Four Gardens contest was worthy of repeated attempts, vowing to compete again and further to share the contest with others.
So went our first play of Four Gardens (Korea Board Games, 2020). Our copy arrived courtesy of my favorite niece in Korea for the game is not yet available in the US. I was drawn to the game for several reasons, amongst them the fact it is published in Korea and it has a beautiful table presence thanks the the four-story, rotating pagoda. The game includes instructions in both Korean and English so there is no language barrier!
From the moment you look at the box of Four Gardens, you know that this is a game of beautiful components. From the incredible box cover to the pagoda to the two-sided cards with watercolor landscapes to nice little wooden resources, this is a game that will look beautiful on any game table.
In Four Gardens, players work to convert cards from Groundwork into Landscapes. These Landscapes in turn build Panoramas to score points. Each turn, players can take three Actions. They can play a card Groundwork side up from their hand to their Garden (tableau). Some cards can be discarded from their hand to Take a Wild resource and play it to their Planning Tile (storage) or directly onto a Groundwork card. The players can also discard a Handcart to Reallocate Resources, moving their resources from the Planning Tile to a Groundwork card. Finally, they can discard a card to Rotate & Collect which rotates a floor of the pagoda after which they collect resources as directed. When all the necessary resources on a Groundwork card are collected, the resources are returned to the supply and the card turned Landscape side up to become part of a Panorama, scoring points for the player. The first player to complete a number of Landscapes based on the number of players triggers the end game after which points are totaled. Highest score is the winner!
With few exceptions, the paragraph above pretty much covers all the basic rules of Four Gardens. The game rules are dead simple. The challenge is in determining what order to play your cards and collecting and moving resources.
The pagoda in Four Gardens itself creates a nice spatial puzzle. Each of the four floors is one resource and the sides are 0-1-2-3 of each. When players Rotate & Collect, the card tells the player which level can be rotated 90 degrees either way and then which order (top to bottom or bottom to top) resources are collected. At first figuring out what was happening when the pagoda moved was a challenge, but very quickly we figured out how it all works. By the end of the game I was actually able to visualize the movement of the pagoda and there was much less analysis paralysis. Our first game took about 90 minutes, double the game box play time, but we all agree that future games will go quicker because we now understand the core mechanics.
Game nights in the RockyMountainNavy household tend to run to wargames or strategy games with lots of conflict. Four Gardens is a welcome change from our norm, in no small part because it just looks so dang beautiful on the table. The pagoda rightly serves as the centerpiece of the game and the puzzle it delivers is challenging but not overbearing. The fact that the pagoda can be stacked differently each game means every game will be different, if for no other reason than the shuffle of the cards and the different stack of the pagoda.
I am very pleased that Four Gardens has joined the RockyMountainNavy game collection. It is an excellent family game with beautiful components and relatively simple game play. I wouldn’t use it as a gateway boardgames, but it certainly can be the “next step” amongst family and friends who want to step up from something like Catan or Ticket to Ride. I am confident that Four Gardens will make many more appearances during out Saturday Family Game Nights.
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.
There were plenty of new wargame/boardgame arrivals this week in the RockyMountainNavy house. Almost makes me think I am becoming a “heavy” gamer!
Two boxes came in on Friday weighing a whopping 24 lbs combined weight. That immediately signaled to me that this was going to be a gaming-while-learning weekend.
The smaller box, weighing in at “only” 7 lbs, held the newly released Tank Duel: Enemy in the Crosshairs from GMT Games (2019). This “fast action card game of WWII tank battles” focuses on the Eastern Front and has players playing individual tank commanders. There is no mapboard; the battle is fought abstractly.
Since Tank Duel plays up to eight players I wanted to try and get this to the table for our “Saturday Night Fight” but alas, after running through the rules and playing solo once, I was still learning and was not confident enough to teach it to the RockyMountainNavy Boys. Maybe next week….
The box was actually my Kickstarter fulfillment meaning I got not only the base game but four expansions (I backed at the Early Bird Special – Fortune’s Big Score level). Now, I’m no video game fan. I supported this game mostly because I really like Academy Games and, as I wrote before, I heard (on a podcast interview?) that Agents of Mayhem is based on a Battle of Fallujah game that Academy Games developed for the USMC. The buildable/destructible nature of the game is an intriguing aspect that I know the RockyMountainNavy Boys and myself will enjoy. Heck, I may even get the oldest RockyMountainNavy Boy to play (once he comes off his 60 hours-a-week shifts).
Since I wasn’t quite ready to teach either of these games to the RockyMountainNavy Boys for our Saturday Night Fight we fell back on an older classic game. The boys also wanted a shorter game because everybody was feeling a bit under the weather and the cold medicine was kicking in. So an old standby, 1775 – Rebellion: The American Revolution (Academy Games, 2013), landed on the table.
The RMN Boys, playing the American Continentals and Patriots, wanted a shorter game so they wasted no time in punishing me. Their first card play was a French invasion of Savannah. As the British player, I was forced into a Middle Colony Strategy as I held New York City, New Jersey, and Delaware. The boys played swiftly, and both of their Treaty cards were out in Round 3 meaning Round 4 was end-game. All I had to do was hold for a tie.
Not so fast.
After playing this game for something like 3 years the RockyMountainNavy Boys “discovered” a rule that has been staring us in the face all along. All this time, we totally missed that Quebec is connected to the Atlantic and therefore a legitimate invasion target using water movement. Never one to miss a trick, the RMN Boys proceeded to invade Quebec and contest control of that province. In Round 4, I went from a close 5-4 deficit to a 7-2 loss.
There still is Sunday and the holiday Monday to play games this weekend. Sometimes “in with the new” means “out with the old” but as I realized this weekend new and old can mix well. A good winter of gaming is ahead.
It was not until later that I realized we had not played Queendomino since December 2018. It really felt like it because we all played with much more hesitancy than I remember. I mean, we agonized over our moves. Whether it was deciding where to place the territory tile, or if it was the right time to Tax, which building to build, or which tile to chose next, each decision was sloooow.
Once the game ended and the points were counted, it was RockyMountainNavy Jr. with the win. By one point. He set the new Top Score for the game (after 11 recorded plays). RockyMountainNavy T now holds the Top Losing Score. On any other day his score would have won by some distance but today it was not enough. Oh yeah, how about RockyMountainNavyDad? My score was just above the Average Score for our recorded plays but today it was a distant third place. (Hat tip to the Board Game Stats app for helping track this).
Several scenarios in Storms of Steel support four players. Each side (Soviet or German) is divided into two forces. We can just as easily play these scenarios 3-player by giving both forces to one player.
Thus, it was last week that I found myself partnered with my Youngest as we split the Soviet forces. Middle RMN Boy took the Germans. The scenario generally worked. One reason we like the Conflict of Heroes system is the little down time. Take an Action – next player!
Next time though, we are going to need a player aide. Since initiative can change, it would be helpful for us to have some sort of track that shows the present order, where we are in that order, and if a force has Passed. Easy to make – will have to work on a prototype and get it ready for next time. that’s because there will be a next time to play Storms of Steel!
ROCKYMOUNTAINNAVY Juniors new favorite boardgame, Tranquility Base (Worthington Publishing, 2018) hit the table again for the weekly family game night. Except this time we added Soviet Moon, the in-the-box expansion. When playing with Soviet Moon the Soviets are a non-player that the American players race against. We found the multi-player experience fair. This is not to say the expansion is not worth it; where Soviet Moon shines brightest is as an opponent in solo play.
The Soviet Moon expansion board sits next to the regular player board and is used to track milestones. A set of twelve Soviet Moon cards get shuffled into the play deck and when they come out they move the Soviet lander up or down the track. Several of the cards also are Milestones roughly comparable to the US Milestones in the game. If a Soviet milestone come out before its US counterpart, the Soviet lunar track can be “locked” which prevents the lander from moving backwards (or “setback”) at certain points. The Soviet lander is also automatically advanced one space for every complete round of play by all players.
We used Soviet Moon in a 3-player game and found it lacking. Maybe it was because the cards were poorly shuffled into the deck (my fault) and too many of them came out too close together (like five in a row together, ugh!). Thematically, playing Milestones to beat the Soviets did not seem as important as playing Milestones to race against the other players. In the end, the Soviets “won” the Space Race to the moon…and we just played on to see which of us was going to win. The Soviet win really didn’t matter.
The multiplayer experience differed greatly from a solo play I had using Soviet Moon. Here, the Soviets are the “timer” against who you are racing. It’s all highly thematic and a very good use of the Soviet Moon mechanics.
I don’t foresee Soviet Moon being used in any of our 3- or 4-player game nights. There is enough thematic tension of racing against your fellow players that the non-player Soviet AI is not needed. Soviet Moon could possibly be used in a 2-player game to add the extra cooperative play element in and avoid the game from being a straight-up fight between the two players. The absolute best use of the Soviet Moon Expansion is in solo play; I don’t think I will every play Tranquility Base solo again without it.