So, this was a question that I posed on The Dice Tower Facebook group, Board Game Geek forums, and Board Game Geek Facebook group, what are games that are campaign style that would play well through Zoom? The reason for this is that we’re about …
Continuing on my series of board game mechanics, we’re going to be looking at Engine Building games. This has nothing to do with motor vehicles but it is building together pieces to make it work. Engine building games can be fun because they are games …
Recently I did an article talking about the different types of games, and one that I mentioned was campaign games. These are games that tell a story throughout as you play them and you are playing scenarios that tie together over time and create one big narrative. Campaign games can be Legacy games but don’t need to be destructive or changing in nature, it can just be a grand story that is told throughout.
Let’s get to the list:
10 – Sword & Sorcery
This is a big dice chucking ameritrash campaign game where you take your group of heroes of old who have been brought back in the nations time of need. You get to level up, get new skills and attacks and generally be pretty awesome as you chuck dice and go through a pretty simple story. The game really gives you a lot of dice to chuck and a lot of cool abilities to use. Just in the base game there are plenty of characters to checkout and you can get a whole lot more in small character expansions or in the bigger box story expansions. This is probably one of the most classic in terms of story that you’ll find for a campaign. It is a bit fiddly, but the upkeep and monster actions are fairly simple and the story is small enough that you don’t feel like you’re spending all your time adjusting the board and looking up story elements in the book, but the initial set-up can be pretty slow.
9 – Risk Legacy
Probably the campaign that has the least amount of story in it. However, the board changes in a legacy style as you play and you can unlock things as new things happen in the game to create even more weird challenges. The story of this game really comes from the players as you face off against each other over and over again for points in this Risk based game that allows you to win not from taking over but by getting victory points for taking out your enemies bases and completing missions. Each game goes pretty fast, which is enjoyable, and you feel like you’ve gotten that Risk dice chucking combat done, but without it overstaying it’s welcome. Plus, unless an odd situation happens, you’re always going to be able to hope back into the game and possibly mess someone up and get back into contention, versus being eliminated. Not a ton of depth to this campaign, but a fun time.
8 – Star Wars: Imperial Assault
The Star Wars dungeon crawl, Imperial Assault offers you two ways to play. First, you can do it with someone running the empire and working within the game to create scenarios and a story that you play through. Or you can be completely cooperative and play through the game using an app that helps you with your book keeping as to everything the empire needs to do. This was the precursor to Lord of the Rings: Journeys in Middle Earth in what it was doing with the app. The story is fun, and what I really like about this story is that it’s adjacent to the original trilogy story, at least out of the core box. So you don’t play as Luke, Leia, or Han, and you can’t kill of Darth Vader or the Emperor, but they might show up in your story as someone to help you or someone to run away from. It’s fun to see how they can weave that together and create a fun experience of a campaign.
7 – Harry Potter: Hogwarts Battle
Another not that story driven one, Harry Potter: Hogwarts Battle, has you play through a campaign of the books, getting new threats that you’re raising to finish and new bad guys you’re trying to beat. This is a deck building game that builds on itself as you play more and more games of it, there are seven total games to play out of the base box, one for each book, and you gain new abilities and new cards to build you deck in each one. It starts out simple, but eventually has you focusing more into what you can do really well. You get to play the main characters the base box has Neville, Ron, Hermione, and Harry, and take them through their times at Hogwarts. A downside is that while the game is simple, the longer you go, the more bad guys you have to beat.
6 – Detective: A Modern Crime Board Game
One that I just got into recently but this game has so many things that I love. First, there is a digital component, not that that makes the game so amazing, but because it makes it more immersive as you’re trying to “solve” the case put in front of you. Then with that, you’re also using your own deduction skills, I really like using deduction and puzzling through things, even if I’m not great at figuring out the puzzle all the time, right away. There is so much going on in this game, story wise, that you feel like you’re in it trying to actually solve this case. It reminds me a bit of procedural crime TV shows, but you get to be the main characters. And while I’m not a huge fan of those shows, being a character in that show is fascinating. And while we were investigating, we were getting cards and things to be added into future cases because of what we’d studied before so out of the base box, with five cases, you develop a whole story as these cases tie together.
5 – Arkham Horror: The Card Game
Arkham Horror is an interesting one to put on the list, because as a Living Card game it’s getting new campaigns and parts to old campaigns pretty often. Out of the base box, you have a three part story where you do the first scenario and what you do in that causes changes for future scenarios. There is a lot that I love out of this game, first you get to play through a surprisingly immersive story for something that is done just with cards. You have interesting and different characters as well in the story. And even with just cards, they do wildly different things at times. Add in that you can do some deck building in this game, not during the game but before or between, you can develop the strategy that you want to take into a case, it might be a strategy of more fighting or more investigating, or blending and balancing the two depending on your style, and unlike some of these campaigns where eventually you’ll have played through it, this one is still getting new content all the time.
4 – TIME Stories
This one has less of a through story than a lot of the campaign games, but there are certain elements that tie it together. You are always worried about another time agency that is trying to mess with time and multiverse in it, and thus far, I’ve really enjoyed every scenario. I feel like they’ve managed to change them up a bit, and while you often have combat or things that are just rolling dice and hoping to get lucky, it does work very well. Each scenario has very strong story elements to it as well as you are trying to figure out a puzzle and an optimal path through the game to win, but with that, you’re exploring and uncovering elements of the story as well. I really like the fact that you are put into “vessels” and that’s how you time travel in the game, and sometimes, you don’t do well enough and your “vessel” dies, but jumping back into the past, you can join the game again and do another run to try and solve the puzzle. It can get a bit repetitive for some, but I haven’t found that to be an issue.
3 – Pandemic Legacy Season 1
Second Legacy game on the list, and I will toss in Season 2 as kind of continuation of this if you want more content. Pandemic is a great cooperative game where you are trying to cure diseases. Pandemic Legacy offers much of the same with that, but story and a changing and expanding rule set as time goes on. The game never feels too complex, but it is more challenging than the regular game. I really like how they manage losing in the game, you continue on if you lost twice in a month, and help you balance that out by getting more useful cards back in your deck that allow you to bend the rules. And the story, while not complex is good, and it has a nice twist to it. I don’t think that the twist was all that surprising, but definitely changes up the game.
2 – Tainted Grail: Fall of Avalon
This game just screams epic campaign game. You get to level up and improve your character and you get to explore a massive story as you travel through the lands of Avalon. There are some things I really enjoy about the game, first is the story element. You get to delve into so much of a massive exploration journal and find out so much about the world. This is a dark world as well, and I really appreciate that the storytelling is set in that and that there is a survival element to the game as well. This can be a punishing game that makes you travel around places and do the same things multiple times, but that’s kind of the point of the game as you are traveling through this grim dark Avalon facing off against monstes, trying to hold the Wyrdness at bay by keeping Menhir lit, and struggling to find food. It’s played out over several chapters and you definitely don’t see everything in the game, so it’s a campaign you can come back to again and explore more to see if you can do better.
1 – Gloomhaven
My #1 game of all time, no surprise it’s at the top of the list. Gloomhaven just is a wonderfully massive game. It tells a good story, I wouldn’t say as good as Tainted Grail, but beyond that, the mechanics are amazing, I love the card combat and movement that you have in each scenario as you try and puzzle out what is going to be the best and what the enemies might do. And there’s just so much content in the game, not just scenarios, but also monsters to fight and characters to play as. I love that you have to retire characters at certain points, and that then gives you a new character that feels different from other characters, there’s just so much interesting things going on in the game and there are apps to help make it faster to get to the table that are great. I’ve talked about this a lot, so I’ll stop there, but it’s amazing.
One thing I’ll point out about this list, with the exception of Risk Legacy, all the games on the list are cooperative. It’s fairly rare for there to be competitive campaign games, that I’ve seen, though there are some out there with the likes of Charterstone, which is fun, and Seafall, which is long. But most are going to lean cooperative, so think about that, if you don’t love cooperative games and you want to play a campaign game. And I have a lot more to play and coming than I’ve already played. I really want to get the likes of Betrayal Legacy, Clank Legacy! and Aeon’s End Legacy to the table as well sooner rather than later, because all of those are campaigns based off of games that I already love. Also, I left Dungeons and Dragons off the list, because, I want to keep it board games versus adding in RPG’s which are great but different experiences.
What are some of your favorite campaign games? What are some that I should checkout?
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So, I thought that with my Dominion review, and Dominion being an extremely popular game, I thought I should write a bit about what sort of games I like, what I don’t like, and what I’m looking for.
To start out with, there is one thing that I really look for in a game, though not every game, but Theme is extremely important to me. Theme helps me get immersed in the game, and while I really can lean into tactics of the game and the strategy, without a good theme, though, I’m less likely to pick up again, and if the theme doesn’t come through, I’m not that likely to continue playing a game. If it’s just a puzzle, once I’ve figured out the puzzle, even if that puzzle is variable, I’m less interested in playing it again. That’s a lot of the reason that I don’t like Dominion. You are just finding the puzzle in the collection of random cards you’re going with, and that’s it. The theme could be about trading coins and it wouldn’t make a difference for the game.
And within theme, there are certain things that I’m apt to be more interested in. I’m a huge fan of Fantasy, Horror, and Sci-Fi. Thankfully, there are a ton of games with those themes. Now, let me say, I’m not a fan of Medieval games with a light fantasy sprinkling on it, but really you’re trading cubes. I want fantasy, and I like a slightly darker fantasy. Things like Gloomhaven and Sword and Sorcery, yes, they are epic fantasy, but they have some odd things going on that don’t just make it the standard heroes rushing in and smashing everything. I’m excited to get games like Apocrypha to the table, because it’s a dark urban fantasy setting. And with horror, while I don’t mind something like zombie horror, I prefer that Lovecraftian style of horror or campy horror. Which, isn’t always the best, because Kristen claims I don’t need 8 different Lovecraft horror games, I suspect that’s wrong, but I also don’t get all of them to the table that often. With Sci-Fi, I don’t know that I have any subset that I love more than others, I think that I have a harder time finding Sci-Fi games that really excite me because a lot of them can end up being cube pushers, and I’m really looking for that theme or that continuing story.
That’s another big thing that I really like, I like Story Based games. Now, that can fall into a few different categories. There are games where you are playing a one off story/scenario where you have an objective that you’re trying to complete. I find that sort of game okay. It’s definitely not my preferred type, but if the scenario is strong, I’m cool with that. I prefer campaign or legacy style games. Now, not all legacy games are story based but they often still keep the pretense. Charterstone which is a fun game theoretically has a story, but in reality, it’s the loosest of threads holding it together. And I’m going to say that I prefer campaign games where you don’t end up destroying stuff, because I have a couple of copies of Pandemic Legacy Season 1 that I had a blast playing and I’m not sure I want to get rid of, but what am I going to do with them? I should just harvest them for parts. Thankfully, there are a ton of campaign games out there, and now there are more legacy games that once you’re done with them, you can continue playing them. Charterstone is a great example of this, but there’s also games like Betrayal Legacy, Aeon’s End Legacy, and Clank! Legacy that allow you to continue playing them. And while I’m less likely to play them once the main story is done, it’s nice that it’s not just a one time investment.
Now, I mention that Charterstone doesn’t have much story to it, and I don’t think it really has much theme to it, but if the theme is light, there are ways to make it feel like more than it actually is. The biggest way to do that, and another thing that makes me interested in a game is Great Artwork/Bits and Charterstone has both of these. The art is consistent and nice and you feel the lightness of the world that Stonemaier Games created through the artwork is great. And the coins in there are amazing, and the little tuck boxes and magnetic boxes are nice in the game. So those aesthetic pieces are very important. Or there are games like Clank! In! Space! where there are some nice pieces, but the cards don’t have the best artwork, but I like it because the art references something and sometimes you just want to figure out what the joke is that is on the card. Another example of a game that has great pieces but not a great story/theme is Century: Golem Edition where it’s a good engine building game, but there’s no theme. The art is just amazing and the pieces, the coins and gems and gem cases are great. That game just looks good on the table.
When a game is that more abstract style, I can enjoy heavy strategy games, but I tend not to be great at thinking five turns ahead or twenty to the end of the game, so I don’t always do the best, I might think two turns ahead, So for those more abstract games, I prefer Family Weight games. And I have a lot of family weight games in my collection, some that are more introductory games like Catan, Ticket to Ride and Carcassone, but there are some very abstracted ones like Photosynthesis and Century: Golem Edition that I have as well. Now, Photosynthesis is probably heavier than family weight, but go back to that aesthetic paragraph, that’s where it belongs. But Century: Golem Edition is a great example of a game that is a family weight strategy game that looks amazing and is very abstracted away from the looks. Like, why does it matter that you’re getting gems to trade gems, but the strategy is still simple enough that it’s fun and I can pull it out with any group. Sagrada is another game like that. And there are reasons why I have Azul over Sagrada and that’s because the theme, while not there, is easier to sell than Azul, even to myself.
I haven’t even touched on mechanics, and really I’m cool with a lot of mechanics. I like Area Control, Cooperative, Deck Building, Action Points, Engine Building, Drafting and so many more I’m sure. But if I were to pick one that stands out above the others that I love, that would be Variable Player Powers. I love it when I have a character that does something slightly different than other people. Some of the reason that I like it so much is that it allows me to be slightly different and unique than everyone else in the game. And it means that I have to think about my strategy in a slightly different way than everyone else. That means that every time that I play the game the game is going to feel different or could feel different. I enjoy it when it’s fully asymmetric like Root or Cry Havoc, but those are harder to teach because they can be completely different as to how you play. So games like Small World where you have different races and powers that get put together, that’s great because you feel unique multiple times during the game. Though, that makes the game very light in Small World, so games where you have one that you’re playing with throughout the game is great, that’s one thing I love in Xenoshyft: Onslaught, because I have a unique starting deck and unique powers throughout the game.
Now, that’s a lot of information, but I wanted to write this because of my TableTopTakes for Dominion yesterday and just thinking about some of the responses from Board Game Geek that I got when posting it there. Some very good ones and some that basically just said, “You’re wrong in every sentence” without providing any reasoning for saying that. When I do a review and give my ratings, I try and think about the game as to why someone might like it as well, and while a grade will suffer if I don’t like it, I try to base it on more than just that. And really, I do like most games, there are just some that I’m going to gravitate towards and overlook flaws in the game because it’s my type of game. Plus, there are some games that I’ll read a 30 page rule book for because it’s my type of game and if it’s not my type of game, I’m less apt to get it.
Hopefully that helps clear up some of why I don’t like Dominion or why I love some games that might be less popular, Xenoshyft: Onslaught for example. Obviously, everyone is going to have their preferences and I hope that I can somewhat divorce myself from mine when I look at a game, but that’s certainly not possible to fully do. But beyond that, I’m curious to know what other people look for when they look to buy a game or what intrigues you about a game to get you to pick it up?
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I’ve done these battles a number of times now, but we’re going to talk about Legacy (if you’re a WWE fan, you might have a few legacy jokes going through your head). If not, we’re going to be battling it out between the four legacy games that I’ve played thus far. Yes, I said four, and technically I’ve played five different legacy games, but we’ve already had a battle between Pandemic Legacy Season 1 and Pandemic Legacy Season 2, and I think they are close enough in feel and tie in that they are going to go into a single entry.
As I have talked about it before, it’s the first to enter the ring for the board game throw down. Pandemic Legacy is a strong contender as it works in a great story line with nice cooperative play. Season 1 is very similar to regular Pandemic where each person takes on the role of a CDC member and you are fighting various outbreaks. However, soon after you’ve started, you get a lot of twists and turns. The second season is much the same continuing after the first game by a little ways and able to be played without having played the first, but you’ll appreciate it more if you have played the first season.
Now, I’ve written about this game as well, and I will say that I haven’t played through whole game, and likely never will. SeaFall is an exploring sea faring game where you take on different tribes and try and expand explore the unknown. There is a story running through the game, though, it can be a bit tricky to find all of the story in the correct order or to feel like there is a ton of story to it.
This variation on classic Risk takes you to an alien planet, that somehow looks exactly like Earth, except that all the borders are made up of short straight lines. At that start of every game you pick your group of people and where you want to start, but instead of it being a slog to total world domination, it’s a race to see who can be the first to the victory point total. This move cuts the game time down a long long ways and makes the game much easier to get to the table than regular risk.
The final game in the battle is a worker placement game where you are competing against others to win the favor of the king as you work and build up a town for him. You build buildings, use what comes out of them to build more buildings, and you can explore crates which open up more opportunities to build and develop your section of the town into something unique. The game board evolves as the buildings you place are stickers, so everyone’s game is going to be unique.
Let’s talk about the tale of the tape with these games:
Time: Seafall games are by far the longest of any of these games. I don’t think that any others come close, in fact, Risk Legacy, the next longest game time, is probably about half the length of a single game of Seafall. Charterstone and Pandemic Legacy both generally clock in at under an hour, and Risk Legacy is just over an hour, whereas Seafall is probably three hours per game.
Story: Only in one of these legacy games would I say that there is a ton of story. Pandemic Legacy is full of story and twists and turns. I might get some disagreement, but Seafall has the next most story. While the story isn’t told the best, and you can get story out of order, there is definitely story in Seafall, it just isn’t presented or paced all that well. Risk Legacy and Charterstone basically have no story. Charterstone has a story slapped on the game, but the game wouldn’t play any different without the story, so I consider it completely optional, though it does pace out better than Seafalls, seeing as the story doesn’t really make a difference, it goes lower on the tape.
Ease of Play: Risk Legacy is probably the easiest out of all of them to play because it is just Risk with victory points. There’s plenty of familiarity with Risk out there in the world, and while not everyone might like it, they can probably pick it up easily. Charterstone is the next easiest as the mechanics of the game, while they do grow more complicated, still basically always remain, place a worker, or pick your workers up, so turns go by quickly. Pandemic Legacy is next, while at the start of the game it might be easier to grasp than Charterstone, Pandemic Legacy quickly adds in a lot of rules that you have to remember. Finally, Seafall, to no surprise, is a beast when ti comes to play, you have a lot of hard decisions to make every turn, and there is a decent amount of luck involved. Add in a poorly written rule book, and Seafall is not a game to pull out with beginners.
Now, I think that all of these games can be okay games. I have plenty of issues with Seafall, mainly a horrible rule book, and a poorly paced story, there are some solid mechanics behind it, and a lot of interesting and tough choices to make. However, it’s also the only one that is prone to a ton of analysis paralysis. So it’s the first out of the match, which is a shame, because I had high expectations for the game, which is some of the problem, because the game didn’t align with those expectations at all. Next out of the match is actually a double count out, so we’re getting to the winner which is Pandemic Legacy. No surprise there, but Pandemic Legacy has the story element and thematic ties that I look for in games. I will say this, though, about Charterstone and Risk Legacy, if your group is going to play a couple of games of it every other month, they are going to be better games to play, because you aren’t going to add in rules that vastly change the game between plays. However, the speed of play of Pandemic Legacy, the cooperative nature, and the great story telling makes it the winner.
On the horizon I’m hoping to play Rise of Queensdale and Betrayal Legacy. And I have yet again massive expectations for a Legacy game with Betrayal Legacy.
How many legacy games have you played, are there some that you haven’t that look interesting to you?
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I mentioned the topic in the Kickstarter FOMO post, but I wanted to talk more about different game mechanics that you might here people talk about when it comes to describing a board game, this will be a bit more focused definitions than the Jargon …