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!

Royal gaming -or- why Queendomino (@BlueOrangeGames, 2017) still reigns

I WASN”T FEELING THE GREATEST so instead of a “heavier” boardgame or wargame for the Family Game Night we chose some lighter fare. At the suggestion of RockyMountainNavy Jr., we played Queendomino (Blue Orange Games, 2017). Queendomino is an abstract, tile-placement puzzle game where one tries to build their kingdom using domino-style territory tiles. Unlike its predecessor Kingdomino, which exclusively uses the territory tiles, Queendomino introduces Knights for Taxing your territories and Towers to attract the Queen (and pay less for buildings). Oh yeah, don’t forget about a Dragon to burn down buildings you don’t like!

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).

Most importantly, we all thoroughly enjoyed the game. For a game that is so simple in concept it was mentally grueling in play. Not in a bad way, mind you. The decision space in Queendomino is near-perfect for a lighter family game playable is less than an hour. It was heartening to play a family boardgame that we all enjoy after my less-than-stellar recent luck with games like Cowboy Bebop: Boardgame Boogie (Jasco Games, 2019) or Star Wars: Outer Rim (Fantasy Flight Games, 2019).

In this age of FOMO or CotN* it’s great to rediscover great games. On BoardGameGeek, Queendomino is ranked #400 Overall and #71 in the Family Games category. That’s very respectable! This play of Queendomino reminds me that I already have some great games in my collection; buying one more is not what I need – I just need to play the great ones I have.


Feature image Blue Orange Games

*FOMO – Fear of Missing Out; CotN – Cult of the New

RockyMountainNavy #Boardgame #Wargame Expansion of the Year for 2018

This is the third in my series of 2018 “of the Year” posts. This one covers boardgame & wargame expansions, the first looked at boardgames, the second was wargames, and the last is my Game of the Year. Candidate expansions are taken from those published and which I acquired in 2018.

My candidates for the RockyMountainNavy Boardgame/Wargame Expansion of the Year in 2018 are:

…and the winner is…

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Courtesy Stronghold Games

I absolutely cannot imagine ever playing Terraforming Mars without the Prelude expansion. The Prelude Cards jumpstart your corporate engine and gets the game going faster in the early turns. It doesn’t really shorten the game, but it does make it alot more fun!

Other Games

Several of the other expansions are also great but for each the base game can be enjoyed without them, unlike Prelude which has made itself an essential part of the game. That said, The French and More! is more like a bonus box then an expansion and is practically inseparable from the base game. Both MBT: BAOR and MBT:FRG add new “factions” and optional rules that make the overall game more interesting but can easily be ignored if desired.

Kingdomino: Age of Giants occupies an interesting spot in my game collection. Although ostensibly an expansion for Kingdomino, the RockyMountainNavy Boys and myself feel that it doesn’t really fit that game because it adds a bit too much of a “take that” element that spoils the feeling. On the other hand, adding it to Queendomino, which has more “take that” mechanics than Kingdomino, feels much more organic.

October ends with a Silver Bayonet charge from @gmtgames & Dad is the real King(domino) (@BlueOrangeGames)

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October 2018

My October gaming featured 20 plays of 11 different games. Actually, I played 19 times with 10 games and one expansion. Or two expansions? Confusing. The ability to tie an expansion to a game is a needed upgrade to BoardGameStats to avoid this very confusion.

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GMT Games

The top game of the month was Silver Bayonet: The First Team in Vietnam, 1965 (25th Anniversary Edition) (GMT Games, 2016). I played this game six times in the one week it was in the house this month making it currently tied for my second-most played wargame of 2018. I like the game so much I wrote about my out-of-the-box impressions, theme, and game mechanics.

DFILK233QhiVw9QZAigEhAThere was one special game this month, Kingdomino (Blue Orange Games, 2017). My father, aged 88 years and a veteran of the Korean War, visited our area as part of an Honor Flight group. After dinner one night the RockyMountainNavy Boys got to sit down and play a single game of Kingdomino with him. When we lived closer to him we played many games togther. I remember one early game where he sat down and played Blokus with the kids. As the kids racked up the points Dad sat there pondering the board until he finally asked, “How do you win?” To him a game is always a puzzle to be solved; it was supposed to have a “key” to unlock it. He never did figure out the key to Blokus, though over the years he did play several games of Ticket to Ride with the kids (and often held his own). Given my dad’s age and general health, and the fact he lives on the opposite side of the country, this very well could be the last game the RockyMountainNavy Boys play with him. Thanks to boardgaming we have several good memories of times with him.

How’d it suddenly get so dusty in here?

 

Stomping out a hit – Kingdomino Expansion Age of Giants (@BlueOrangeGames, 2018)

Kingdomino (Blue Orange Games, 2016) designed by Bruno Cathala was the 2017 Spiel des Jahres (Game of the Year) winner. The game has also been a winner in the RockyMountainNavy house. We love this simple domino-like tile-laying game, so much so we also invested in Queendomino (Blue Orange Games, 2017). Of the two, we tend to prefer playing Queendomino as it is more a “gamer’s game” whereas we use Kingdomino as a gateway or filler game. This summer when Mrs. RMN and the Boys visited family in Korea they took an extra copy of Kingdomino to play and leave with the niece. It was very popular. So when I saw an expansion coming on sale I was interested.

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Courtesy Blue Orange Games

In Kingdomino Expansion Age of Giants the major change is the addition of Giant meeples. Thematically, certain tiles bring the Giants to your kingdom, and others chase them away into another player’s kingdom. Mechanically, Giants cover up scoring crowns and take away VP. The expansion also features a neat Domino Dispenser (tower) that makes dealing the tiles that much easier. With the additional tiles a fifth player can also be added.

 

I really liked the Giant meeple idea so that alone was enough to sell me on the game. To be honest, as much as we like Kingdomino it was dropping in popularity in part because the RMN Boys and myself had “solved” the game. We had reached the point that every game we play ends up with the scoring bonus for Middle Kingdom (bonus points for having your Castle centered in your grid) and Harmony (complete grid with no gaps). It is the very rare occasion that we don’t get the full 15 point bonus. The Giant meeple mechanic looked to be a great way to reinvigorate the game.

In looking at the publisher’s blurb for Kingdomino Expansion Age of Giants I totally glossed over this part:

End of game bonuses are eliminated, instead, before the start of each game, players must draw 2 challenge tiles. These provide additional ways to get points. For example, get 5 bonus points for each lake tile that surrounds your castle, and get 20 bonus points if your castle is located in one of the 4 corners of your kingdom.

This, my friends, it the true hidden gem of Age of Giants and the real reason Kingdomino will be back on the table with a vengeance. The game includes 17 Challenge Tiles, each with a different bonus scoring condition. Middle Kingdom and Harmony are just two of the possible bonus scoring means; there are 15 others.

Upon getting Age of Giants we immediately played several games. In our first game we all fell back on our “solved” approach – and failed to actually score many points. Midway through my second game I realized I had to “unlearn” what I “know” about Kingdomino and state with a new strategy to fit the scoring bonus. Rather than playing Kingdomino by reflex, I really had to think!

Bottom Line: The Challenge Tiles make Kingdomino really fun again.

Designer Bruno Cathala deserves great respect for what he has done with the Kingdomino line. From the “basic” Kingdomino to the “gamer’s” Queendomino to the renewed challenges in Kingdomino Expansion Age of Giants, a game for every skill level of gamer is present. This entire series of games are deservedly core members of the RMN gaming collection.

Featured image courtesy Blue Orange Games.

 

July Gaming Festivities – or – A Good Month of #Wargaming but Better to Have Family Back After Travel

This past July should not have been a good gaming month.

My “regular gaming group” (aka the RockyMountainNavy Boys) were on international travel the entire month. Before they left, we played one game, Queendomino (Blue Orange Games, 2017) together.We didn’t play another game together until they got back and Tiny Epic Galaxies (Gamelyn Games, 2015) launched.

Yet somehow in between I played 23 other games. Better yet, 20 plays were of WARGAMES! Yet even better, and uncounted in my BGG Played log, the RockyMountainNavy Boys shared games with the family in Korea and made some lasting memories along the way.

fullsizeoutput_609The top played wargame of the month was Cataclysm: A Second World War (GMT Games, 2018). I call Cataclysm a wargame though I actually see it as a strategy game of politics. When I tried to play Cataclysm as a wargame it was disappointing; as a strategy game I love it!

Another notable play of the month was the first full scenario run of Battle Hymn Vol. 1: Gettysburg and Pea Ridge (Compass Games, 2018). The chit-pull activation mechanic makes this game very interesting by showing the friction of war. Additionally, it can’t be the Fourth of July without Liberty or Death: The American Insurrection (GMT Games, 2016) making a rebellious appearance on the table. GMT Games also offered a Fourth of July Holiday Sale where I picked up Washington’s War (GMT Games, 2015 reprint). I am lucky I did so because it is now out-of-stock.

It was on travel this month that I picked up Tiny Epic Galaxies. Played it solo a few times in the hotel. As much fun as it is in the solo mode I enjoy it even more when playing against the RockyMountainNavy Boys.

Alas, July 2018 was also a month of wargaming disappointments. I was supposed to go to the CONNECTIONS 2018 wargaming conference but was pulled off at the last minute by work. I was supposed to go to the World Boardgaming Championships (WBC) but waved off after traveling on official business and getting home late the night before I was supposed to drive. I sorta owe an apology to Alexander and Grant of The Player’s Aid (@playersaidblog on Twitter) because I had planned to meet them. From the looks of it they certainly didn’t miss me as they tweeted and blogged about all the great talks and games at WBC!

When the RockyMountainNavy Boys returned home they brought lots of good stories about playing games with the family in Korea. They took along (and left behind) copies of:

  • Kingdomino (Blue Orange Games, 2017) – Very popular with cousins
  • Quartto Mini (Gigamic Edition, 2017) – Good brain game for older family and especially an Uncle who is suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease
  • Chicken Cha Cha Cha (Rio Grande Games Edition, 2011) – Mrs. RockyMountainNavy wanted to get this great game for her nephew’s daughter; she is a bit too young right now but the game will be there when she is ready!
  • Rhino Hero (Haba, 2011) – What is marketed as a kid’s game was the most popular game amongst the adults; so popular the RockyMountainNavy Boys surrendered their copy to their cousin so she could take it to play with her friends (all mid-late 20’s)
  • Happy Salmon (North Star Games, 2016) – I keep hearing stories of an epic night there all the adults stood around and played a game of Happy Salmon; the youngest RMN Boy tells me everyone – players and observers alike – were laughing so hard he couldn’t even record the game.

Though I was able to get alot of good wargaming in by myself this past month, I really and glad the RockyMountainNavy Boys are back. They want to play a game every day in August until school starts.

I like that idea; will keep you posted!

Epic 7×7 #Kingdomino + #Queendomino Battle (@BlueOrangeGames)

Our Family Game Night has changed a bit in character recently. Finding ourselves short on time with RockyMountainNavy Mom working weekends now, the last few weeks have seen shorter game nights with smaller, more family-oriented games vice larger grognardy titles. This weekend, Youngest RMN suggested playing multiple rounds of Kingdomino (Blue Orange Games, 2016). He then asked if we could do try the multi-player 7×7 version using the tiles from Queendomino (Blue Orange Games, 2017). Both Middle RMN Boy and myself agreed to three rounds.

We only played one. It was epic.

I have played 7×7 Kingdomino before but only in a 2-player game. Playing a three-way battle was much more challenging. Quickly I started concentrating solely on my board and virtually ignored the others. This is a dangerous strategy for in Kingdomino one must think offensively (selecting tiles you need or can use) and defensively (checking the game state of the other players and possibly selecting a suboptimal, but useful, tile for oneself while preventing the other player from selecting it).

Early in the game I selected a tile that Middle RMN Boy really needed. He needed it because it was the only playable tile left and my selection meant he was left with an unplayable tile. I admitted that I was not even watching their boards because I was struggling with mine. I jokingly said that we all were going to probably lose to Middle RMN because he has the best spatial awareness of any of us.

Fifty minutes after we started the game ended. The game was a bit longer than we expected not because of major analysis paralysis but because we were all trying to be careful.

Both Youngest RMN and myself had completed 7×7 boards with Middle Kingdoms (castle in exact middle). Middle RMN had Middle Kingdom but an incomplete 7×7. We then scored our boards.

After scoring the 7×7 and Middle Kingdom bonuses, I only had one territory of any real value at 88 points. The rest was not very valuable. Final score – 136 points.

Youngest RMN got the 7×7 and Middle Kingdom bonuses and had a huge Ocean that gave him 90 points. Total score – 140 points.

Middle RMN did not score the 7×7 bonus but had one territory – Mines – with 16 crowns on 8 territories. That’s 128 points right there. When he finished adding up his score he had an incredible 217 points.

Total runaway victory. All the more sweet because Middle RMN is my Autism Spectrum son. His brothers (and even myself) underestimate him at times. Once again we are reminded that he can be a shark at games. Youngest RMN is demanding a rematch on Sunday.

It’s nights like this that make me a proud gaming parent. Can’t wait for next weekend!

March Gaming Madness – Month in Review for March 2018

fullsizeoutput_5b1Comparing raw numbers, I played 40% less games in March 2018 (26 plays) than compared to February (45 plays). The major reason is a drop off of the very lite children’s games since my schedule meant that I was not around as often with my wife’s students to catch a few quick pick-up games. That said, lighter games, be it children’s or family filler games, still accounted for half of the game plays in the month. Previously, we kept all the games in the basement, but this month we moved several lighter titles to the family room. Rhino Hero or Kingdomino are now “at the ready” and can be brought out for the quick filler game. Perfect for that 20 minutes before dinner or as the evening winds down!

Aside from the Weekly Family Night (4 games –  Air Force, 1754, Battlelore, and Pandemic) a third of my plays this month were associated with my new Game of the Week. I got to play a few old grognard-y titles like Air Force, Battle Stations, and 7th Fleet. The Game of the Week is having several positive spin-off effects; it keeps me off social media, fosters more reading, and engages the RockyMountainNavy Boys as they look over the games and we discuss what they are simulating.

Happy Salmon was the only new game purchased this month and that was in the last two days. Party games are not the RockyMountainNavy style, but Happy Salmon is just so silly and appealing. The first four-player game with all the RMN Boys and myself took place around the dining room table, and it was a riot as we all shouted louder and louder. Mrs. RMN looked on in mild shock, shaking her head and muttering about “those crazy boys.” Checking in on her later she admitted it was hilarious watching and listening to us as we shouted and jumped and threw cards. She is looking forward to seeing how we do against her students!

A RockyMountainNavy Royal Wedding – Variant play of #Queendomino (@BlueOrangeGames)

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Courtesy BlueOrangeGames.com

OK, I admit it, Queendomino is growing on me over time. My first impression was maybe less than stellar, but I can see how I was expecting something different and not quite accepting (at the time) what I got. Today I admit that Queendomino is a popular game in the RockyMountainNavy household and shows no signs of going away soon. This weekend, we played the Royal Wedding variant and experienced yet another way the game is challenging and fun.

In the Royal Wedding variant, 3-4 players use the entire domino set from both Queendomino and Kingdomino to create 7×7 territories. The variant is very simple using only the tiles but none of the extra rules in Queendomino, making it a ‘larger version” of Kingdomino. Sounds easy, yes? A no-new-rules, simple build-a-grid version of Kingdomino.

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Kingdomino 2-player 7×7. Close to what we were doing (BGG.com)

After playing our first Royal Wedding game (3-player) we all found our heads hurting. Hurting because we spent nearly 45 minutes thinking, and thinking very hard! As simple as it sounds, creating a 7×7 grid is a real challenge. Placing your current tile, planning ahead for the next one, and hoping to create a grid that can take whatever the future throws at you sounds easy but can also easily lead to Analysis Paralysis.

But the journey is worth it. The game result is huge territories, large scores and extreme satisfaction. Far from being a royal pain, Queendomino Royal Wedding is royal fun!

#FirstImpressions of #Queendomino (@BlueOrangeGames, 2017)

On of the big gaming hits of last year in the RockyMountainNavy family was the arrival of Kingdomino. The 2017 Spiel des Jahres (Game of the Year) winner is also a winner in this house as it is a lite, filler game that also serves as an excellent gateway game. Indeed, Mrs. RMN uses Kingdonimo to introduce her students to boardgaming.

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Courtesy Blue Orange Games LLC

So popular was Kingdomino that Youngest RMN was just itching to get Queendomino. So, using some of his Christmas Cash he purchased the game. We broke it out immediately after getting home and played.

The first game was a letdown.

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Courtesy Blue Orange Games LLC

Sure, the core mechanic (placing the “domino” and selecting a new one for next turn) remains the same as Kingdomino but the addition of Knights and Buildings and Towers and Taxes and the Dragon sorta fell flat. Maybe its because we didn’t fully understand the rules and didn’t utilize the new components as best we could. Maybe it was the very confused scoring round (I mean, you need a custom notepad?). The result was a kinda blah gaming experience.

Maybe we should of not gone into the game with such high expectations. The RMN Boys and I talked about our clash of expectations and reality and decided that Kingdomino and Queendomino, though being similar in name and core mechanic, are actually two very different games. Kingdomino is the “simple” version and as such it rightly meets the gateway game requirement. Queendomino, on the other hand, is more a “gamers game” with more advanced mechanics added in making it a much different game. With this new viewpoint we reassessed our feelings on Queendomino and agreed that it is a good, fun, lite-middleweight game that takes the Kingdomino core mechanic to a new level.

There is an episode of Miami Dice (with Tom Vasel) out there where they talk about Queendomino. Tom, who is not a fan of Kingdomino, likes Queendomino but constantly reminds the viewers that Queendomino is the game that (he believes) Kingdomino should of always been. He even casually dismisses the Spiel des Jahres win. When I first watched this episode I bristled at Tom’s attitude because I think he misses the point that we only really discovered after our first play; these are two games aimed at different segments of gamers. I got a little bit miffed at Tom (and Zee) in this video because they showed me an elitist attitude that I abhor. Not every game is a Heavy Cardboard candidate nor is every game a new Carcassonne. Many games have their niche and in the case of the RockyMountainNavy family Kingdomino filled one nicely. Queendonimo is not a bad game but it is taking a bit for us to warm to it because it is just so different then we expected. Tom and Zee, well-known spokesmen for the gaming hobby, seems to have forgotten that not everyone has their taste – or needs – in games. Their casual dismissal of Kingdomino is laziness at best and negligence towards their gaming audience at worst.

Queendomino will get played by the RMN Family but it will not replace Kingdomino. The two games compliment each other more than Queendomino “expands” Kingdomino. Two games for different gaming needs.

Featured image courtesy Blue Orange Games LLC