Bite Me! Why Jaws (Ravensburger.us, 2019) may be the quintessential Ameritrash #boardgame

Ameritrash is “a catchphrase for ‘American style boardgames.’ In general, this means games that emphasize a highly developed theme, characters, heroes, or factions with individually defined abilities, player to player conflict, and usually feature a moderate to high level of luck.” – BoardGameGeek Glossary

Personally, I never understood the Eurogamer vs Ameritrash divide in boardgaming. OK, I understand it but really don’t care. I usually ignore it too, preferring to rate games as to how much the RockyMountainNavy Boys and myself enjoy them. However, our play of Jaws (Ravensburger.us, 2019) showed me what may be the quintessential Ameritrash title – in all its goodness.

Jaws hits all the elements of an Ameritrash title in a near-perfect manner.

  • Highly Developed Theme – The two-Act game follows the movie very closely
  • Characters with Individually Defined AbilitiesJaws, Chief Brody, Hooper & Quint each are individuals with their own unique set of abilities
  • Player to Player Conflict – In this case Crew versus Shark
  • Moderate to High Level of LuckAct I has the randomness of the Amity Event Cards offset by player strategy but Act II is highly dependent on rolling the right dice at the right time.

A quick comment on that theme. The two-Act game idea is brilliant as it mirrors the major portions of the movie so well. The graphics in Jaws also reinforce the theme.  I see this most clearly in the Crew characters; from the black tableau of Chief Brody with the badge to the green with Quint’s hat and blue with sunglasses for Hooper, the color scheme, graphics, and symbology just fits as it both teaches and reinforces game mechanics and roles. The RMN Boys, born long after the movie was ever in theaters, also pointed out the box cover which uses the classic Jaws movie poster so well.

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Photo credit – self

Jaws is an agonizing game to play. In Act I, which takes place on Amity Island and has the Crew searching for the shark which is feasting on swimmers, the agony is from the deduction game that is being played. The Crew must deduce where the Shark is based on subtle (or not so subtle) clues. There is also a time-pressure element as the more the Shark eats the more Shark Ability cards it will have in Act II. On the other hand, the faster the Crew tags the Shark the more Crew Ability cards will be available in Act II.

Act II is a skirmish game with the Shark attacking and eating away (literally) the boat and Crew. I found a surprising amount of strategy in this Act as the Shark must try to attack where the defenders are weakest while the Crew must set up a defense using a constantly dwindling supply of resources. Act II very much feels ‘on the clock’ as the boat sinks away, the Shark takes wounds, the Crew takes wounds, and Crew Abilities get used up.

Our first game of Jaws pitted the RMN Boys as the Crew against Dad playing the Shark. Act I did not go well for the Boys as the Shark (again, literally) swam circles around them and used a Feeding Frenzy and Speed Burst at optimal moments to feast and evade. As a result, in Act II the Shark had a full hand of 10 Shark Ability cards whereas the Crew only added three Crew Ability cards to their hand. The Shark kept attacking, but here the luck of the dice deserted the Shark with many low rolls. On the other hand, the Crew banded together well and after a few initial missteps started defending the boat smartly. With the Orca more than half-sunk it looked like the Shark would win the war of attrition but two devastating rounds of hits inflicted by the Crew turned the tables on the Shark which then couldn’t outlast the boat. Both RMN Boys cheered and high-fived each other at the same time they breathed heavy sighs of relief when they finally killed the Shark for the win.

Kudos to the Jaws design team of Prospero Hall for finding the right balance of all these elements and making them work together to create real – and I do mean real – tension at the game table. I also appreciate the semi-cooperative game play of the Crew – to be successful the Crew must work together as a team in a game where the rules for working together are implied rather than implicit – meaning its up to the player to form the social contract. From a rules perspective the game practically self-teaches as the tableaus for each player contain virtually all the information needed to play. In many ways Jaws can be a foundation game for new boardgamers as it is both easy to understand the theme and easy to teach – as well as a quick play clocking in at 60 minutes or less.

The RMN Boys have already committed to bringing Jaws to the Neighborhood Gaming Gang’s attention. For ourselves, I expect to quickly play Jaws several more times as each Boy rotates as the Shark. In the long run, Jaws will likely serve as a foundation game we use to introduce others to the goodness of Ameritrash boardgaming.


Feature image courtesy Ravensburger.us

 

#ThriftyTuesday – Recent #boardgame acquisitions at a discount

It’s less than two weeks into February and I have already purchased three boardgames. OK, to be fair I bought them all at bargain prices. One is meh, one is sorta hmm, and the third is Yah! – a winner.

Meh…

 

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Courtesy BGG

DiceAFARI is from Stratus Games was published in 2012. BGG rating of 5.6. It looks like this originally was a late 2011 Kickstarter project that raised $5,130 of $5,000 with 117 backers. I guess it went to retail after that. GeekMarket has a copy for sale at $10; I got mine for only $3.99.

 

I’m glad I didn’t pay more. I mean, the concept of a game board laid out like an animal is cute enough, but the constant die rolling makes it feel like whatever strategy you try and follow is overcome by the luck of the roll. I bought this one as a filler game for Mrs. RockyMountainNavy’s elementary school-age students to use. For that purpose and audience it is probably alright enough. I don’t expect this one to come out on family game night though….

Hmm…

 

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Courtesy BGG

La Isla is a 2014 Stefan Feld design published by Ravensburger. Rated 6.9 on BGG. It can be found on Amazon for $19.82 but I got my copy for $5.99.

 

Yup, it’s a Eurogame. The map setup alone gives it randomness between plays and I like how each card has multiple uses. Alas, like so many Eurogames, this one dissolves into multi-player solitaire. The theme is also not that incredible – more than once I saw it referred to as ‘Pokemon the Eurogame” which is so appropriate!

I bought this one again to use with several of Mrs. RMN’s older students. Some call this title a good gateway foundation game that introduces some advanced gaming concepts in a relatively easy to digest package. In my mind the game occupies a similar space to Queendomino – built upon an obvious simple game but introducing some advanced gaming mechanics. Alas, I think Queendomino pulls it off better than La Isla….

Yah!

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Courtesy BGG

Speaking of a game where theme is great – as in Great White – there is JAWS by Prospero Hall from Ravensburger (again) in 2019. Sporting a strong 7.5 BGG rating, this game is a two-act play reflecting the movie so perfectly. Full retail is $39.99 (!) but it can be found more usually at $23.99. It was on sale for only $11.99 this past weekend making it an oh-so-attractive bargain.

 

Unlike the other games I bought this one expressly for the RMN Boys and myself to play. The Boys are game to play but don’t get into the theme as much as I do. I guess that is the difference in the generations; when I see JAWS I remember standing in line at the movie theater and going in only to come out swearing NEVER to swim in the ocean EVER! By today’s standards the movie is admittedly tame. My bet is many other gamers are having a similar experience; older gamers are enthralled by the theming while younger players indulge their seniors – and get a good game out of it along the way.

Bargain Shelf

Overall, getting all three games for less than the regular price of JAWS is a sure financial bargain. I think even DiceAFARI, the weakest of the three games, still fulfills a purpose on the game shelf. La Isla will get played, occasionally, as an alternative to other Eurogames. JAWS will probably be used extensively this summer. I also suspect theat JAWS could make an appearance in the Neighborhood Gaming Gang rotation as it’s literal ‘eat you’ theming appeals to the emotions that Survive: Escape from Atlantis does.

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Photo by GEORGE DESIPRIS on Pexels.com

“You’re gonna need a bigger boat!” #Boardgame advertisement for Jaws (@RavensburgerNA, 2019)

I have to admit, this is a good ad for the boardgame Jaws (Ravensburger, 2019). It captures the theme of the movie Jaws very well. One doesn’t even have to know much about the game to understand the ad.

After playing Villainous (Wonderforge/@RavensburgerNA, 2018) I keep telling myself that Prospero Hall can’t be trusted. Then along comes a very slick, professional ad like this and all kinds of doubt starts entering my mind.

Must. Resist. I don’t want to be gaming chum!

My #Boardgame Week – Evil times with Villainous: Wicked to the Core (Ravensburger, 2019) & questing with Quarriors! (@wizkidsgames, 2011)

This was a much different week of boardgaming than I imagined when it began.

Courtesy BGG.com

Our weekly boardgame night was moved to Friday to accommodate a family event on Saturday. I pulled out the new Villainous: Wicked to the Core (Ravensburger, 2019) to play. Wicked is a stand-alone version of Villainous with three new villains that is fully compatible with the original game. Youngest RockyMountainNavy Boy took Hades, Middle RMN was the Evil Queen, and I took Dr. Facilier.

I can understand why these villains were not in the original game. All three play with a bit of a more complex mechanic. Hades has to summon and move Titans, Evil Queen must find ingredients and Brew Poison while Dr. Facilier has a Fortune Deck. Not that the new mechanics are overly complex; just different and a bit harder to understand given the short villain guides.

Component-wise, it was Youngest RMN Boy who pointed out the villain “Movers” (oh, how I hate that term!) seemed a bit better quality than the original. The cards are made with the same somewhat flimsy core and the new game does not have the cheap plastic Cauldron for holding the Power Tokens. For only a few dollars less than the full game one gets half the number of villains and less components. Not sure it is really a good bargain.

The game experience was ok. We all need to play these villains again to get a better sense of how to make their decks work. Bottom line is that Villainous will land on the table again, but we are not going to be in a rush to get there.

After Ravensburger won the Toy of the Year Award for Villainous, I expected a bit of some hype to accompany the release of Wicked. The game was released Sunday, March 3 in the states. Late Sunday, I went to the local Target to find the game because it showed in stock when I checked online. I couldn’t find it on the shelves; as a matter of fact, I couldn’t even find a spot on the shelves where it was supposed to be. I asked a clerk about it and he checked the item number then said, “Oh, they’re still in the back.” They hadn’t even moved the stock to the shelves. He brought an unopened box of four out and gladly sold me one. So much for the hype!

Last week, after playing our first game of Quarriors! (WizKids, 2011) in something like eight years, and not really enjoying it, the RockyMountainNavy Boys challenged me to  a rematch the next night…

…and the next night…

…and the next night…

…and the next night…

..and the next. All through the week, as a matter of fact. Youngest RMN Boy even went so far as to declare Quarriors! amongst his new favorite games. So why the total change of heart?

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Courtesy BGG.com

Quarriors! plays fast. We are able to fit a game into a 45 min slot after dinner. The game also plays in a very balanced manner. Youngest RMN is 3-3, Middle RMN 2-4, and I am 1-5. The RMN Boys like the stories the different cards create. Some games have a nice balanced selection of creatures. In one game all the creatures were expensive to summon which really changed the dynamic of the game. Another game it was the spells that made a powerful difference.

Quarriors! has moved to the living room cabinet as a game that can be brought out after dinner for a quick play. Given the card variety, it will be a while before it grows stale. Interestingly, I asked the boys about the other Dice Masters games built around the many superhero themes. They both declined buying a new version as they like the original theming just fine!


Feature image BoardGameGeek.com

#Boardgame goodness with Villainous: The Worst Takes It All (@wonderforge, 2018)

I was very surprised to see that Villainous: The Worst Takes It All (Wonder Forge, 2018) took home the Toy Association 2019 Toy of the Year Award. Given last years winner I was shocked to see a hobby boardgame (though available in mass market channels) actually win.

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

Did he really just say they sold 250,000 copies IN THE LAST QUARTER of 2018? This is an incredible number considering the very popular Ticket To Ride (Days of Wonder, 2004) claims to have sold six million copies…in 15 years. Even the venerable Settlers of Catan (now simply Catan) was credited with 22 million copies sold in 2015…20 years after it was released.

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.

I took Ursula while Youngest RMN Boy played the Queen of Hearts. I was surprised that Middle RMN Boy took Maleficent as he has played Captain Hook in every other game of Villainous. I thought for sure he was going to take Captain Hook because he usually shows less initiative in games given his Autism Spectrum and hesitation when trying something new.

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 Villainous was 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!


Feature image shot by self