It’s a Space Race Ameritrash #Boardgame – First Impressions of Tranquility Base (@worth2004, 2018)

I’LL ADMIT IT, I LOVE SPACE. As a historian, I also love the history of the US Space Program. So when I saw the ad copy for Tranquility Base (History in Action / Worthington Publishing, 2018) on Kickstarter I had to pledge my support. I am very happy I did because Tranquility Base is pure Ameritrash gaming awesomeness!

Now, I am using the phrase Ameritrash in the most favorable way here. Tranquility Base hits all the best parts of Ameritrash:

  • Theme – It’s the US Space Race
  • Player-to-Player Conflict – A bit of “take that” to prevent multiplayer solitaire
  • Moderate to High Levels of Luck – You need the right cards at the right time; no drawing from a river of cards just cycle the deck! But there’s no dice….
Courtesy Worthington Publishing

Turns out Tranquility Base is an update to the 1997 & 2006 title Moonshot the Game (History in Action). I never saw the earlier version, so Tranquility Base is my first exposure to the game. I’ll admit I got this game in large part because of RockyMountainNavy Jr., my aspiring aerospace engineer. He loves all thing aerospace right now and the game will help him learn the history of the US Space Program.

Courtesy Worthington Publishing

In terms of game mechanics, Tranquility Base is at heart a set collection racing game. Each turn players spend Fuel (the game currency) to Assemble Missions, Launch Missions, Move, rearrange equipment, or even Scrub Missions. History cards provide bonuses while Wild and Instant cards are often used to slow down an opponent. I wasn’t really expecting this “take that” element of the game but upon play immediately see how it is necessary to interfere in your opponents plans. In many ways it is no different than the Fate Decks in Villainous. Most importantly, it prevents the game from devolving into multiplayer solitaire.

The RockyMountainNavy Boys and I played our first game of Tranquility Base for our Family Game Night this weekend. True to the box, our first play at 3-players took about 90 minutes. We all caught onto the game mechanics quickly, though it did take until about mid-game to internalize some of the more subtle aspects. Future games will be faster; maybe not fast enough to make Tranquility Base a filler game but fast enough to make this a good candidate for a 1-hour-or-less time block. I won the game by completing my six missions and already had relaunched a mission which I used to get to the Moon first. RockyMountainNavy T was next in turn order and he would have completed his last two missions and been able to land on the Moon in his turn. RockMountainNavy Jr. had four missions completed and was probably two turns away from winning. It really was a close race!

Soviet Moon inside the box with the upgraded metal landers

Tranquility Base has an in-box solo mode. The game is also packaged with the new Soviet Moon Expansion which can be used as an extra non-player for the regular game or as a timer in the solo game. I have reviewed the rules for the expansion and look forward to using it in the game as it not only imparts more history but also adds more “Space Race” flavor to the game.

Tranquility Base will definitely relaunch and find its way back to the RMN gaming table, and soon. Excitedly, RMN Jr. said he wants to take the game to school for his aerospace class. I can also see this box rocketing about the block with the Neighborhood Gaming Gang. The rich theming, educational appeal, and simple mechanics of Tranquility Base also make it a good “gateway game” for non-gamers to launch into the hobby.

In a year where my two purchases of a non-wargame family strategy game have turned out to be less-than-stellar (Villainous: Wicked to Core and Star Wars: Outer Rim) I am really pleased with how the simple Ameritrash awesomeness of Tranquility Base is a success. It’s a well-themed, mechanically simple game with a high enjoyment factor that also happens to be highly educational – in other words a perfect family game.


Feature image by self.

@Mountain_Navy 2019 half-year #wargame #boardgame stats check-in

Almost a month late, but here are my wargame/boardgame stats for Jan 01 thru June 30, 2019. Compiled thanks to BoardGameGeek and BGGStats.

So, does this make me a better gamer than you? NO! I am just gaming in my own way and enjoying it. I’m not looking to compare myself to others but rather share with all of you the joy gaming has brought to myself and my family. It’s not important if you play one game a month or 100; the important part is to enjoy the hobby!

“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!

After #SpringBreak Di$ney it’s time to get back to #wargames

I have not played a wargame or boardgame in over a week now. Not because I have stopped playing; instead I have been off playing with the RockyMountainNavy Family at DisneyWorld. Now fully recharged I am ready to get back to the gaming table!

ZQXOtLiRS4yH9j7lKgkrigBefore Spring Break, I had several opportunities to play @HBuchanan2‘s Campaigns of 1777. These days I am becoming a sucker for the chit-pull mechanic in games as they make the game very solo-friendly even without a dedicated solitaire version. I am also a sucker for wargames the American Revolution era. After driving from Virginia to Florida and passing by several Revolutionary War sites, I really hope he goes ahead with southern campaign version too!

sru0+D2iRSaTaHyp5osoWwAround the same time Campaigns of 1777 arrived I also too delivery of my GMT Games P500 order of @tdraicer‘s The Dark Valley Deluxe Edition. This is in many ways a modern monster game covering the complete Eastern Front campaign in World War II. I bought into the game based (once again) on the chit-pull mechanism that I enjoyed in the previous Ted Racier/GMT Games title, The Dark Sands. I have to admit that I want to get this one to the table soon; as I was inspecting the game and had the board laid out Youngest RMN and I started looking at the geography and talking in general terms about Operation Barbarossa and Eastern Front. Historically I have avoided anything above tactical-level games about the Eastern Front; looking to change that with The Dark Valley!

Y0BIfKqBQvWvDsPxZeosHgFinally, on the day before we travelled, a relatively new publisher, Canvas Temple Publishing, delivered their Kickstarter for WW2 Deluxe. This is supposed to be a game where one can play the European Theater (or Western Front) in World War II in an evening. First pass through the rulebook and components looks promising!

We actually took a few boardgames with us on vacation but were lucky and had not bad weather days so the games remained unplayed. The RMN Boys did play a few games of Ticket to Ride or Battlelore or 1775: Rebellion on the iPad but I didn’t get to play (something about driving and playing at the same time just doesn’t work!). We had considered taking Villainous with us but thought that would be too much Disney. So, with vacation behind me and now emotionally recharged, it’s time to get back to wargaming and boardgaming.

 

March #Wargame & #Boardgame Madness – but not really.

March was a bit of a slow gaming month here at Casa RockyMountainNavy.

IMG_0221The numbers are a bit deceptive; 23 plays of 12 different games but if you throw out the 11 plays of Quarriors (WizKids, 2011) than that is a single play of most other games. Quarriors dominated the family gaming time this month with many games played in the short time after evening chores and bed time. Great family filler game!

After flirting with Villainous, I picked up the expansion. It kinda fell flat. There is not anything necessarily wrong with the game, it just didn’t grab us. Same goes for Illuminati; mechanically the game doesn’t know when to end and my older version has political and social references lost on the younger generation (to their detriment).

Four of the wargames played this month, Great War at Sea: 1904-1905, The Russo-Japanese War, Great War at Sea: U.S. Navy Plan Orange, Plan Orange: Pacific War 1930-1935, and World in Flames (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3), are larger games requiring more time to play. In terms of gaming hours each individual play takes up more time than a quick scenario of something like Commands & Colors Tricorne: The American Revolution. Unfair accounting?

Speaking of Commands & Colors, there are some interesting developments in the series. I always understood that the main designer is Richard Berg, but didn’t realize until this month how the game license is divided up amongst publishers by era. GMT Games has Ancients, Medieval, Samurai, and Napoleonics; Compass Games has The American Revolution; Fantasy Flight Games has fantasy; PSC Games has World War I and space; and Days of Wonder does World War II. The question becomes who is going to do the American Civil War or the French & Indian War? This is important for my gaming budget!

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

 

RockyMountainNavy #Boardgame of the Year for 2018

This is the first in my series of 2018 “of the Year” posts. This one will cover boardgames, a second will look at wargames, the third will be expansions, and the last is my Game of the Year. Candidate games are taken from those published and which I acquired in 2018.

For my 2018 Boardgame of the Year the candidates are:

…and my winner is…

box-hero
Courtesy Stronghold Games

As I recorded in my First Impressions post, I was a bit cool to AuZtralia at first. After playing it a few more times (and especially after solo play) I have really warmed up to this title. What I initially called “schizophrenic” in the game I now see as a well-accomplished blending of sometime disparate game mechanisms into a complete game playable in about 2 hours.

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Photo by self

At the time I wrote this post, AuZtralia has nearly 900 ratings on BoardGameGeek with a rating of 7.7. It was also ranked 197th in the Thematic Game category. I personally think the Geek Rating is a bit low and the game should get more respect than it seems to be garnering. I have heard some people criticize the randomness in the game (“this game has way to much randomness, the scoring sucks”) while others don’t like the blending of mechanism, especially when the game devolves into a wargame (oh the horror!). I think designer Scott Muldoon (sdiberar on BGG) says it best, “I don’t think the work is a stroke of genius, but it’s a solid game that has staked out some new territory (“Rails to Cthulhu, Now With More Combat”).”

Other Candidates

Let me also say that Pandemic: Fall of Rome (BGG rated at 7.9) and Ticket to Ride: New York (BGG rated at 7.1) are also excellent games. My opinion of Fall of Rome may change as the RockyMountainNavy Boys and myself play it more. Ticket to Ride: New York makes an excellent gateway game or filler game. As far as Villainous; let’s just say the less said the better.

An august August – @Mountain_Navy games played in August 2018

August was a very good month for gaming in the RockyMountainNavy household. I managed to play 45 games this month (actually 40 games with five expansion plays thrown in). A bit incredible considering the school year has restarted and the my gaming cohort, the RockyMountainNavy Boys, are theoretically less available.

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45 total games for the month (40 w/o expansions)

There are two major reasons so many games were played this month. First, we played many smaller, lighter games like Ticket to Ride: New York, Tiny Epic Galaxies, or Villainous. Secondly, I set up a game table in the loft and got larger games like Root or other wargames to the table more often.

These days, we keep a strategically-located collection of smaller games in the family room. This makes it easier to bring these games out and play. This is how Ticket to Ride: New York got played so often. Occasionally it served as a filler game before dinner. Once it even was a filler while waiting for the school bus!

Having a “dedicated” game table in the loft also allowed me to get my wargames out more often. Thus, I was able to explore Root: A Game of Woodland Might and Right more thoroughly as well as get in multiple plays of Wing Leader: Victories 1940-1942. I also was able to explore South China Sea along with new Pentagon reports.

The RockyMountainNavy Boys took a particular liking to Tiny Epic Galaxies. We also played the new Disney Villainous, with mixed reactions.

We also tried something new – a game night at the local The Games Tavern (@thegamestavern on Twitter) where we played Enemies of Rome. We may make this a more regular family event given they host Board Game and Hobby Nights (for plastic model-building) throughout the month too.

I do expect September to slow down as the RockyMountainNavy Boys get deeper into school and they have less free time. For myself I may try to restart my Game of the Week where I focus on one game each week and try to explore it more deeply with a thorough rules review and multiple plays.

New Games this Month

Upcoming Kickstarter or Other Expected (or Overdue) Deliveries

  • Agents of Mayhem: Pride of Babylon (Academy Games – Kickstarter August/September delivery?)
  • Hold the Line: The American Civil War (Worthington Publishing – Kickstarter August/September delivery?)
  • Squadron Strike: Traveller (Ad Astra Games – Kickstarter July 2016>OVERDUE…BackerKit paid for…last update 31 May…need lawyer)
  • Conflict of Heroes: Storms of Steel! – Kursk 1943 Second Edition (Academy Games – Late 2017 release>OVERDUE…new rules v4.5 sent to Command Post members August 22)
  • Cortex Prime: A Multi-Genre Modular Roleplaying Game (Cam Banks/ Magic Vacuum – Kickstarter April 2018>OVERDUE…BackerKit paid for…promised before Dec 2018)

#FirstImpressions of #Villainous (@wonderforge, 2018)

Let’s get this straight first; Disney Villainous: The Worst Takes it All (Wonderforge Games, 2018) is NOT a family game. Although it sports the Disney brand name and is rated for ages 10+, this asymmetric powers, hand-management, and (being a bit evil) take that game is not for youngsters. Villainous is actually a good game for adult gamers but may wear out its welcome a bit earlier than one may like.

disney-villainous
Courtesy wonderforge.com

Out of the Box Impressions

When I first walked the aisle in Target to find the game, I thought I had found an opened copy. Villainous does not come shrink-wrapped but is sealed using four tape tabs. The one copy on the shelf already had some scuffs on the matte finish box. I still bought it, but wonder just how much “shelf life” was lost even before my purchase.

The artwork in Villainous is very impressive as one expects from Disney. The color palette is a bit muted for my taste but is in keeping with the “darker” theme of the game. Appropriate quotes and card art goes a long way towards building the atmosphere of the game; a bit sinister but not horror.

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Hook rocks back….

My initial impression of component quality is less-than-impressive. The player boards seem a bit thin while the Villain Movers (pawns) are chunky with some unsightly flash. In my game Captain Hook seems unbalanced and is always falling over backwards. The cards in the Villain and Fate Decks seem ok with great art but I worry that the finish might not last; is sleeving necessary? The Tokens seem about the right weight but the Cauldron is a thinner plastic than I expected. I really worry about the folded Villain Guides because they seem so fragile being printed on glossy paper not cardstock; not sure how long they really will last.

Gameplay

Villainous is in many ways a set of solo mini-games with shared game mechanics and just a few chances for player interaction thrown in. Every turn you move your Villain Mover (geez, just call it a pawn!) to a new Location in your Realm (player Board). Then one executes as many of the Actions at that Location that you can pay for with Power Tokens or Villain Cards. Sometimes, your opposing players will draw from your Fate Deck and reveal Heroes to hinder your progress. If one pays close attention to the Villain Cards in their hand there may also be opportunities to play Villain Cards during another player’s turn.

While each Villain will generally use the same shared game mechanics, each has a unique Objective they must accomplish to win the game. This means players must discover the right strategy and play-style for each Villain; what works for Prince John may not work for the Queen of Hearts. In our first game, I played Jafar and failed to carefully read my Villain Guide as I was too busy trying to teach the game to the RockyMountainNavy Boys. As a result, I did not optimally sequence my strategy and failed to even come close to accomplishing my Objective before the Middle RockyMountainNavy Boy won as Captain Hook.

What Others Say

As of the date of writing this post, there are five reviews of Villainous in the BoardGameGeek.com forums for this game. I read some of the comments there with amusement:

  • Loophus continually points out how much trouble kids may have with this game. (HINT – Just because it’s Disney does not mean it is a kids game! Accept that Villainous is an “adult” game by Disney!)
  • LonoXIII believes the game lacks replayability – “One complaint, however, is that the game only comes with six villains; each villain only ever has one goal, and once you’ve beaten the game with them, there’s little replay with that character. Once a player has won with all six villains, the replayability drops notably, and I could see the game ending up shelved after a while.” (Since when does winning a game once make it “solved?” The random shuffle of the Villain and Fate Decks alone will ensure that no two games are identical. Sure, once you learn the necessary strategy it becomes easier (faster?) to execute play but by no means is it “solved.”)
  • TheHumanTim points out – “The only part of the physical game production that felt poorly designed was the box insert.” (Yeah, the insert doesn’t hold its shape well but at least they tried….)
  • Dismas gets the theme – “The theme comes through very well in this game. Yes, what it boils down to is your gathering power to play certain cards to win the game, but it feels like so much more. It feels like you are actually trying to rewrite the script to the movie. I think that is what I like best about this game. It would have been so easy (and lazy) to make this a game about “misunderstood” villains who aren’t actually evil. No, this game you are evil and you are trying to succeed in your plot.” (As the box back states, “Be a Villain…Defeat the Heroes…Enact Your Evil Scheme!”)
  • mattlowder also gets it – “I have to begin the review by saying this is not a light game. Do not be fooled. This is a richly complex games that will not click with you immediately. Strategy blooms in this one as each character you play has different goals, despite the mechanisms of triggering actions and movement being mostly identical for each player. They feel different, have asymmetrical powers, and the experience wholly satisfying if you are willing to grasp it and understand that this is not a light and fluffy game.” (“Richly complex may be overstating it but agree it is not a light and fluffy game.)

RockyMountainNavy Verdict

While I am not thrilled with the component quality of Villainous, I am generally pleased and greatly impressed with how well the theme integrates with art and play. Then again, for the $35 price-point the game is actually a bargain; just how many $35 games have this great art and chunky pawns to go with a better-than-average game mechanic?

Like LonoXIII, I too worry about replayability but not for the same reasons. To me, it is not the number of Villains but the strategy for each that limits replayability. A cursory look at each Villain Guide reveals an “optimal” strategy. Once this strategy is “known” the only difference in each game becomes how well the cards allow you to execute that strategy. If Villainous is played too often this could make the game challenge seem stale.

Finally, games like Villainous are not necessarily in the RockyMountainNavy Boy’s wheelhouse (preference being to lite wargames). Nonetheless, the combination of theme and game play makes Villainous enjoyable on the table and will get played. After all, we all want to misbehave once in a while!