When people tend to think of playing board games, some of the most common first images are table flipping after some roll goes horribly wrong in a four hour game of Monopoly or Risk. So something like Sorry where you just are rolling turn, after […]
Jumping back into another board game list, this time going with another mechanic I like quite well. Area control is a fun mechanic because it really pushes conflict in the game, and the games that do area control well really encourage that conflict to happen. […]
That dreaded moment in the game of Sorry, you are trying to role a two, exactly, so you can end up finally ending the game, and you roll and fail, again, and again, and again.
Or Monopoly when you’re five away from the spot you want to land, and you get a four on the two dice, and now you have to hope no one else lands on it before you get around again, even though you’ll probably not land on it yet again.
In Clue, when you need to get into a new room to find out some information, and the room is six spots away, but it takes you three turns to get into there, so you’re way behind on information as compared to every one else.
Your troops are poised in Risk to take out the single troop, and you have five, but you end up rolling every single time below what the other person rolls and you lose your troops until you’re down to one, and now you’re wide open for the next person’s turn, even though you should have been able to beat the other person on one of those dice rolls.
Those are the classic frustrations that came with dice in board games that people grew up on. Maybe not teens now, but when I was a kid, those were the games we had and man, it sucked. A game that could have been fun, ended up being ruined by a bad roll of the dice. But, there are still dice in games now, how are those games not ruined by the randomness of dice, and are dice always bad in a game?
There are some games that still use what is called the classic roll and move. If that doesn’t make sense, it’s when you’re rolling a die or two to see how far you move. So it might mean, if you’re rolling two six sided dice, and this is especially noticeable in Clue, you roll and you can go two spaces while someone else rolls and they can move twelve. This is generally still considered a really bad thing in a game. Because someone with a bit more luck with the dice might be able to run away with the game.
So what are dice doing in games now that is good?
The first thing that games are doing is making the dice mean something beyond movement, or maybe they can be movement, but they can be other things as well. When dice are used as movement or in a lot of games now, they are rolled in what is known as a dice pool. A great example of this is Dead of Winter where you have a die for each survivor plus one that you roll at the start of the turn. You can then use those dice to perform certain actions. Each character has a search level and killing zombie level that if they can match or beat higher on the dice, means that they can do that action. But what if you roll below? If you roll below that number or even if you don’t need to search or kill a zombie, you have other actions that require a die. So you could use a die to barricade against zombies or clean trash out of your base. But you’re always able to do something useful, but maybe not as useful or not exactly what you had hoped. There are a number of games that do this or something similar, and that keeps you always able to do something.
Dice are still very common in the genre of game known as Roll and Write games. Yahtzee is an example of this where dice are rolled a specific number of times and you’re hoping to get what you need to score the most points. While the point thing is still huge in a lot of these games, a number of done away with the dice mitigation of rolling multiple times that Yahtzee has, we’ll get back to this mechanic in a bit. Instead of looking for something very specific, they pretty often look for where you place a certain number. And depending on where a number is in conjunction to other numbers or things printed on the board it is worth points. These games are generally a bit tricky to explain abstractly without the game being in front of you, but the rules are generally simple. The dice randomness makes the game play differently every time as well.
But let’s hop back to the Yahtzee mechanic, the roll dice, take some dice, roll again, take some more, and roll one final time. This works in two types of situations, one where the game is fairly silly and the other where the game is more serious, but the dice are always useful. Kind of like Dead of Winter, in the last of the two options for the Yahtzee mechanic, it sets you up so that you can do stuff, but you might not be able to do everything you wanted. The Reckoners is a game like this, but along with that, they also tend to give you a large number of dice to roll, so that you can always do something that is very good just by sheer number of dice faces you’ll see. However, silly games are probably more common, and even in those cases you can generally use most of your dice. King of Tokyo is the prime example of this. Monsters fighting in Tokyo, trying to punch each other, get energy to buy more powers, heal up, get points, you are doing a ton of things with dice. Because of this, it keeps the game moving well and generally as compared to a roll and move game the game doesn’t overstay it’s welcome.
Now, there are a number more things that dice are still used for. And a lot of custom dice that come with some of those things. Dice are still used in combat, but now, instead of the Risk mindset of roll and whatever you roll is what you get, you can use cards to boost results, to change results, or to roll again. A game like Star Wars: Rebellion actually adds in some more with that by having different troops roll different dice, which isn’t unique to that game, but it makes there be even more strategy with what troops you are bringing into the battle. This bit of added strategy makes the game feel much less random in combat than Risk does. The larger force of troops should generally win.
Dice are also used to simulate things that are difficult to do. And this is generally tied into your characters ability to do something. Fantasy Flight has a number of great examples of this with their Arkham Horror and Mansions of Madness games. In these games you have different skills like strength, agility, observation, will, and more that you will be tested with at times. Instead of just rolling a die to see if you get it, if you’re a strong character, you’re going to roll more dice on a strength test, but if that character also has a weak will, you are going to roll less dice for a will test. So while you still might not be able to do this impressive strength test because of a poor roll, you’re going to succeed with that more often than you will with a will test. And when you get a tough will test, it feels like you’ve really accomplished something. With this, they also do away with some of the pass or fail die rolling that people expect. A good will test might not stop all the horror from coming through, but you’ll be able to stop some of it. This is pretty common in combat dice as well, where a die roll might give you defense to stop some damage but not all of the damage.
This is getting to be a pretty long post, but you can see some of the ways that dice are being used now that is different than your standards from Sorry, Monopoly, Risk, and Clue. And I hope that while I was negative with dice in those games, you can understand that dice are great in some games when used correctly. It’s when dice are used too simply that they can become an issue. There are a lot more examples of how dice are used well such as in games like Sagrada where they are being drafted or how dice can change throughout the game, such as in Dice Forge.
What games do you think use dice well or how in modern board games do you think dice are used best?
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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 […]
This topic came up recently on a forum that I’m on, football related but in the general random talk section, how to find people to play a game with you. The person has The Thing board game, and wants to get it to the table, but […]
So we’ve kind of done this before with Table Top Picks, our top 7 board games, but since then, I’ve certainly played more games, so my list might have changed. I also tried to avoid looking back at my list so I wasn’t basing it off of what I had previously done. So without further ado, here are my top 5 board games.
5. Dead of Winter
This game isn’t without flaws/weird bits to it; the traitor, if there is one, generally can always tank the game during the last round if they don’t think they are going to win, in order to prevent everyone else from winning. And then everyone has secret objectives, so it kind of makes everyone look a bit like a traitor. I once wrote about how I’d like this to be turned into a legacy game, and I still think this would be one way to improve it. I think another way would be to rework it so that someone who completes their secret objective is the super-winner, even if the group wins the overall game; otherwise, as a non-traitor player in that last round, you might as well try to tank the game, or you’ll look 100% like the traitor.
That said, there are a ton of things I love about this game. The first being the crossroad system — on your turn, another player draws a crossroad card and reads it, and if you do a certain action or move someone to a certain spot that’s specified on the card, this acts as a sort of trigger. The other player then reads out a bit of a story, and you have to make a choice between two options the card gives you (at least most of the time; sometimes there is only one option). In the rules, it says to draw a card per each player’s turn; we draw two, and then if one of them is triggered by a player’s action, that is the one that the player has to deal with. This means that you get these cool story interjection moments. I also really like how gritty this game feels. Yes, it’s about surviving against a horde of zombies, but it’s in many ways more about the survivors themselves, like in The Walking Dead. That puts a different level of stress on you as a player, because you aren’t just worried about mowing down zombies all the time — there’s all kinds of other stuff to worry about. For example, can you feed your people? What do you do if you find more survivors? Is the base getting too messy? Dead of Winter is a fun game and a challenging one, and if you don’t like the hidden traitor aspect, you can certainly play it as a solely cooperative game.
Smallworld is a fun take on the area control concept — in this game, you have a fantasy race and trait that are randomly combined, and you control an army of soldiers bearing that race and trait to take over areas on a board. But whatever number of players you play with, the board is small enough that you’re going to have to take over other players’ areas. This game is meant for that, though, and it’s really hard to have hurt feelings over it (unlike with other area control games), because when you don’t have enough of your current race, you can put them into decline and get a new one and exact your revenge during the next turn. It’s also a ton of fun because you never know what sort of combinations you’re going to get. Maybe you have flying giants or underworld sorcerers or commando pixies. These combinations change every game, too, so it feels different every time you play it (and they have awesome expansions for even more variability). Players’ turns go quickly, and the game has a round limit on it, so it never takes that long to play. The rules are simple, and the fantasy is fun and crazy. This is an area control game that I would pull out to the table anytime, and even people who hate Risk will probably like to play this game.
3. Dresden Files Cooperative Card Game
My first pure cooperative game on the list, Dresden Files is a fun game that is very hard at times. You play through the different books of the Dresden Files series in game form. It is an interesting game mechanically, in that you have action points that you need to use and you have a hand of cards that all cost action points. You have to balance playing cards and discarding cards to get more action points, but sometimes you have to discard a really good card.
This game, while being cooperative, does have some hidden information between players; in most cooperative games, you share openly what information you have on your cards, and often, your hand of cards is right in front of you, but not so in Dresden. You can give general descriptions of your cards, but the details can’t be said. Now, you do develop a sort of a shorthand for that as time goes on, but you never know for sure what other players have. Finally, this game really does feel a lot like playing through the books, which some other games based on books or movies don’t do quite as well. In the books, Harry is always almost losing or getting beat up, and in this game, you feel like that; it basically always comes down to the last little bit and the luck of a die roll to determine if you win or not.
2. Betrayal at House on the Hill
I love love love this game. It has that campy style of a haunted house or a horror movie where you know someone is going to accidentally piss off the zombie rednecks or turn into a ghost or call death to your location, and you’re going to have to deal with it. This is a surprise traitor game where you start out exploring this old haunted house and encountering weird things and finding omens. It’s a bit like Cabin in the Woods, in which the characters are stuck in a horror movie and somehow something horrible is going to happen to them. Depending on what they mess around with, though, they may trigger the omen that sets events in motion.
That is 100% what happens in this game, except one person is the traitor. This game does have one glaring flaw that becomes less of one the more you play the game — when you get to the haunt, the stage during which the traitor is revealed, sometimes the traitor rules or the survivor rules don’t make a ton of sense. The more you play, the more sense they make, but some of them are just weird and take a while to figure out. Like I said, this has the classic horror feel to it, and I love it; I’ll play it every chance I get, and I’m excited for Betrayal at Baldur’s Gate, the D&D version of Betrayal at House on the Hill.
1. Pandemic/Pandemic Legacy
If you follow us on Facebook, you’d probably guess that this was going to be my number one. I am super jazzed for season 2 of Pandemic Legacy. Pandemic is a game where you work together to find cures for diseases while they are spreading all the time; it’s just a blast. It’s a fairly tough cooperative game that the legacy version then turns on its head and makes into something amazing. In that version, there are story elements that come up each “month” you play; you also find out new things as you go, and the rules change slightly as the game progresses. This game is a ton of fun, and I love bringing it to the table. It’s also an accessible cooperative game in that, although there is a fair amount of strategy, it’s easy enough to learn the base game. If you haven’t tried playing this game, definitely give it a whirl, and if it’s too easy, there are things that you can do to make it harder. And if you are looking for a way to change up your basic Pandemic gaming experience, the legacy version of the game is an awesome way to do that. There are a bunch of great expansions for the game as well, but I haven’t played all of those, so I can’t speak to them.
I always have to do some honorable mentions as well, since there are so many games that I’ve played and love, but can’t put on the list. Plus, it’s rare for me to run into a board game that I don’t like. First on my honorable mention list is Star Wars Rebellion; this game feels like the epic space opera that Star Wars is, in a box. I’ve played it a single time, and I want to play it again. Sushi Go! Party is a game that I can play over and over again, and it’s simple, fast, and has fun strategy to it. Arkham Horror/Elder Signs are how I like to get my HP Lovecraft fix, though Mansions of Madness is a game that I want to play even more and which might pass the other two up. Cosmic Encounters is a fun space game that plays pretty quickly and has fun alien race powers. Finally, Hogwarts Battle is a game that I just got to the table a second time last night, and it was a blast; you get to play as the main characters of Harry Potter and defeat villains as you play through the plot of the books.
What are some board games that you like to get to the table?
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