#Coronapocalypse #Wargame Month-in-Review (March 15 – April 15, 2020)

HERE IN THE COMMONWEALTH OF VIRGINIA the DECLARATION OF A STATE OF EMERGENCY DUE TO NOVEL CORONAVIRUS (COVID-19) was issued on March 12, 2020. For me the real Coronapocalypse started on March 15, the day before I started my new job. The onboarding was surreal; rushed to get people out soonest, walking into a deserted office, then being told to go home and telework when I don’t even have an office account. Although the teleworking eventually worked out, I still found myself at home more than expected. Looking to fill my time, gaming has been a part of my therapy to avoid going stir-crazy.


In the first 30 days of my Coronapocalypse, I played 19 different games a total of 38 times. Looking at the list, I think many will be surprised to see Elena of Avalor: Flight of the Jaquins (Wonder Forge, 2017) as one of the top-played games. This of course is because we were helping our friends with taking care of their kids while they were working. Fortunately, it is not a bad game – for kids – and was an unexpected discovery (especially given that we purchased our copy for less than $5).

I am very happy that I got in multiple plays of Red Storm: The Air War Over Central Germany, 1987 (GMT Games, 2019). Getting time to do multiple plays allowed me to get deeper into the design and enjoyment. The same can be said about Enemy Coast Ahead: The Doolittle Raid (GMT Games, 2017) which had the bonus of being a dedicated solitaire design that was perfect for Coronapocalypse gaming. This multi-play approach also enabled me to rediscover Squadron Strike: Traveller (Ad Astra, 2018), a game which I had under-appreciated.

Given I am stuck working at home, I tried to find ways to mix my wargaming into “professional training.” So it came to be that Next War: Korea 2nd Editions (GMT Games, 2019) landed on the table. I also ordered a copy of the game poster from C3i Ops Center for my new office but, alas, the California shutdown stopped it from being sent just after the label was created.

As disruptive as the Coronapocalypse is, here in the RockyMountainNavy home we tried to keep some semblance of order. This included our Saturday Boardgaming Night with Azul: Summer Pavilion (Next Move Games, 2019), 878 Vikings (Academy Games, 2017), Enemies of Rome (Worthington Publishing, 2017), and Firefly: The Game (Gale Force Nine, 2013).

This month I also explored a few more solitaire gaming titles in my collection. I continue to insist that AuZtralia (Stronghold Games, 2018) is one of the best ‘waro’ games out there. I also got Mrs. Thatcher’s War: The Falklands, 1982 (White Dog Games, 2017) to the table right around the time the historical conflict started. Late in the month, my copy of Amerika Bomber: Evil Queen of the Skies (Compass Games, 2020) arrived. First impressions will be forthcoming.

Coronapocalypse also gave me the chance to play more one-on-one with the RockyMountainNavy Boys. RockyMountainNavy T continued his punishing win streak by besting me, again, in two plays of Hold the Line: The American Civil War (Worthington Publishing, 2019).

The game of the month was actually the last one I played. I pulled Patchwork (Mayfair Games, 2014) out to play with one of Mrs. RockyMountainNavy’s students. The box was still on the table later that night and I asked Mrs. RMN if she wanted to play. She said yes. You have to understand that Mrs. RMN is a strong advocate of gaming but she rarely plays herself. So we set up an played. She beat me handily (I actually had a negative score). I hope this is a harbinger of future gaming, especially with a title like Azul: Summer Pavilion.

How has your Coronapocalypse lock-down gaming gone?

Feature image courtesy laughingsquid.com

#FamilyFriday – #Coronapocalypse Family Gaming with Elena of Avalor: Flight of the Jaquins (@wonderforge, 2017)

We are fortunate that I am able to telework during the Coronapocalypse but some of our family friends are not so lucky. A few are doubly challenged in that they need to occasionally work AND care for children when school is out and daycares closed. So Mrs. RockyMountainNavy stepped up and is providing daycare for two girls twice a week.

One of the girls is a young kindergartner. As an only child she struggles with social activities. Mrs. RMN believes in the power of boardgames and wants to play more games with her. Our problem is the RMN Navy Boys are, well, boys – and much older. So we have only few children’s games and of the few we have none are, uh, focused on young female players.

This past week Mrs RMN and I stopped by Tuesday Morning and while searching the clearance aisle I found the game Elena of Avalor: Flight of the Jaquins (Wonder Forge, 2017). Looking at the (very) few ratings on BGG I saw a respectable 7.3. The part that really intrigued me was discussion of the three levels of games:

This game offers 3 difficulty levels, each building off of the previous:
Level 1 (Ages 5+): Roll 2 dice and choose your destination. Be the first to collect the 6 different treasures plus 2 additional.
Level 2 (Ages 6+): Be the first to unlock all 4 characters, each of which give you special abilities.
Level 3 (Ages 7+): Earn three different keys by coming treasure, but watch out for Sudden Storm cards that take treasure away from everyone. You can also try to unlock characters, but there are one of each, so get them fast!

What sealed the deal was the price – 40% off of $7.99. We can try almost anything for less than $5, right?

The next time Little Miss A was over I showed her the box. She was immediately intrigued and taken by the box. Of course, she knew who Elena is and the Jaquins. I had no idea about Elena but she proceeded to tell me all about the character. The next time she came over she asked demanded to play. So we set up Level 1 – Elena’s Treasure Hunt.

Level 1 is a very, very simple roll & move and set collection game. One appeal of the game is the colorful game board and 3-D pieces – enticing and tactile for a youngster. There is very little strategy and a definite first-player advantage. But for a 5 year old it is perfect – take your turn with your colorful character piece, roll two dice then make a simple choice of color, and try to fill out your card first by collecting different colorful tokens.

Elena of Avalor: Flight of the Jaquins – Level 1 Set Up

I let Miss A go first in both games and she won. I had to ‘advise’ her at points about strategy (‘You don’t need another green, but you do need an orange, right?’) but by the end of the second game she was ‘getting it.’ She now proudly calls it her game.

Later in the day I sat down with the older girl, Miss C, and played both Level 2 – Four Friends Adventure and Level 3 – Gabe’s Key Quest. Neither are much harder (each level builds on the core mechanic of the previous one) but each adds increasing degrees of decision space to the game. Miss C preferred Level 2- Four Friends Adventure as she made decisions as to which friend – and extra power – to go after first. Level 3 – Gabe’s Key Quest had maybe too much decision space (at least for Miss C) as you must work a sequence of actions (collect tokens then cash them in) while also making a decision whether or not to go after a single character to add to your powers.

From Mrs RMN’s perspective, the game is a winner for several reasons. First, the components and theme are appealing to the younger players – the visual appeal works and draws the players in. Second, and possibly more importantly, the three levels of play allow her to tailor gameplay to the player. In the case of Miss A, the simplicity of Level 1 is key as it reinforces the basics of play – taking your turn and following a simple set of rules. For Miss C, the simple strategy decisions are what she needs to work on – decisions found in Level 2 and Level 3.

Indeed, the three different levels of play is the most important quality of Elena of Avalor: Flight of the Jaquins. The three levels of play allow one to tailor the game to their desired family gaming experience. In the future I expect that Miss A will play Level 1 many times against somebody, but with a little help she could play Level 2 in a 3-player setting with Miss C and another. Miss C in turn will probably play more Level 2 when going head-to-head against another, and Level 3 when she wants to challenge the older RMN Boys.

Mrs. RMN was so taken by the game she asked me to go back and look for additional copies. I was very lucky and found the last one in the store, but now at a 60% discount or $3.20. A real bargain not only in price but for a decent family game too.

Update – The day after I wrote the first draft of this post Miss A was over again. After she finished her reading lessons she came up the stairs to the loft carrying the game box and set it down next to me as I was teleworking. Although she has played many games with me before, never has she “initiated” a game session. The fact that she brought this game to me and asked to play speaks volumes about its appeal to her. 

#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