Over the years, I have played a wide variety of board games and have a lot in my collection. I have pure Euro games and bit dice chucking Amerithrash games. This got me thinking about the different types of gamers that people are and which …
Tag: Lords of Hellas
Continuing on the top 5, we’re going to look at board games that I have played, for the first time in 2020. This is a bit of a more challenging list to do this year. It might seem like that shouldn’t be the case because I have gotten a number of new games this year, but obviously there’s been more limited capacity to play them. Still, I do have a number of new games for me that can make this list. Now, not all of these games, or even most of these games are 2020 releases, but still played them in 2020.
5 – Cross Clues
This was one of the games that I grabbed for digital game nights. Cross Clues, which I saw on The Dice Tower, is a fun game where you get coordinates on a grid, could be something like A2, and in the A column you have a word and the 2 row has another word, you have to come up with a word to get people to guess that intersection, and it’s just going to be one word. It might be something like banana and shoe, what would you give for that clue? I’d probably give the clue “slipper”. That makes a fair amount of sense, but what if in the columns you also have the word “grease” now does slipper mean a banana shoe or a banana grease? And you’re working together as a group, so it’s a cooperative party game. Lots of fun, and with a camera on a table, you can easily play it via Hangouts or Zoom.
4 – TIME Stories: Under the Mask
I have an expansion on this list, but I will say that I think the TIME Stories expansions/modules, almost count as their own game. You do need the base game to play it, but one story/scenario might be very different from another. I enjoyed this one a lot, I thought that it was an interesting story and an interesting challenge. Some of the modules are more puzzles and some have more story, and I felt like this one had a solid amount of both, but had more story than some. I also liked some of the new mechanics it introduced for it, which is another I really like about TIME Stories in general is that you can do some interesting and different things with it that are new for every scenario.
3 – Sonora
Another 2020 game release that made it onto the list, and Sonora is a very unique game in that it’s a flick and write game. So building off of a roll and write or a flip and write, in this one you are flicking discs onto a board and then depending on what section they land on the board, you then fill in specific areas on your board. It’s a clever idea that works well, and it is a bit of a twist on the genre. I also like how combo-tastic the writing part is. It almost feels bad when filling in something in a section just gets you more points and doesn’t allow you to combo into another area. I also think that the components are solid, and I could see some fun expansions or almost new versions of the game to come out with more flicking options.
2 – Lords of Hellas
This seems like ages ago that I played this, which would be accurate, I played it in February before most gaming went away because of Covid. Lords of Hellas is a really intriguing game by Awaken Realms that had caught my eye when it was on Kickstarter but that I hadn’t backed. In this game you take on the role of a hero in a cyberpunk, almost, Ancient Greece setting, where you are building temples, statues of the gods, trying to take over territories, and more. What I love about this game is how it has multiple paths to victory, controlling temples, controlling a tower once it’s built, taking over two areas, and killing three monsters all can cause you to win, and they are all viable. I think that we had 3 of the 5 of us within a turn of winning when the game ended, and the other players weren’t far behind. This is a table hog of a game but it’s so much fun to play.
1 – Marvel Champions
Now, this game I should have played sooner, but I got it just around the end of 2019, and I didn’t get it to the table until 2020. And it is still a game that I need to play more of, because it’s a really good solo game. Marvel Champions is a living card game from Fantasy Flight Games. That means that it has character packs released that you can add to the game over time. Unlike a collectable card game, you know exactly what you are getting. This is nice because that means if you don’t feel like you want Ant-Man, you don’t have to pick up Ant-Man. If you want Black Widow and Doctor Strange but no other heroes besides the base set, you can do that as well. But they are always coming out with more heroes and villains to face off against, and I really need to get this game back to the table sometime soon.
Those are the Top 5 games that I played for the first time in 2020. An honorable mention if you don’t want to include an expansion would be Silver Bullet or Silver Dagger, and also Hues and Cues, another one that I got for streaming. I wish I’d gotten a chance to play more games, as I’m sure everyone does who is reading this, but that wasn’t in the cards. Hopefully 2021 will be a year that I can get a lot more games to the table, and I’m excited for a few games, Star Wars Unlock mainly, that I hope to still play this year.
A little bonus, my most played this year:
Gloomhaven, Dice Throne, Point Salad, Dresden Files Cooperative Card Game, and finally Criss Cross and Marvel Champions tie for fifth most.
There are a lot of videos and thoughts on how to teach a board game well as it can be a hard thing to do. Especially for bigger games, it can take a long time or it can be a lot of information dumped on someone at once to fully understand what’s happening in the game. But you want to run a board game night and you’re the person with all of the games, how do you teach a game well?
First, teach games often. As long as you’re paying attention to what you’re doing and you’re trying to improve upon it, you will get better. The adage practice makes perfect is true, the more you teach games, the better you get at it. You’ll know which things to highlight and which things to skip and bring up in the game.
Second, don’t read from the rule book. If you need it to help you remember, that’s fine, but try to read as little word for word from the rule book. Rule books are not always well written and not always are they meant to teach rules directly from. Fantasy Flight does a good job with a rule book of what you need to know to start playing and then a rules reference that you can dig into for more information, but most rules have all that information in them.
Three, highlight only the important things. I’m going to, after this point, write out how I go try to go through teaching a board game, but this one is pretty easy. There are going to be things that are exceptions to the rule, and unless that exception is important to a strategy, you can gloss over it, for a first game, try and teach the big points and the objectives clearly, smaller details can be filled in as time goes on.
So, what does this look like in practice? When I teach games, I generally try and go about it this way.
- Theme/story of the game
- Win condition
- How a Turn Works
- Actions You can Do On A Turn
- Exceptions/Special Rules
- Any Rules that Depend on Set-up
1 – Why do I start off with theme?
“In Welcome To… you can build your perfect stepford neighborhood.”
That’s basically the pitch that I always use for Welcome To… It works well because it gives people an idea of the white picket fence neighborhood, and even if they don’t know precisely what The Stepford Wives was about, it gives them a vague idea. This line or quick paragraph is how you sell a game and the mood for the game.
2 – Next comes explaining how you win the game, whether it’s cooperative or not and whether I go into every detail or not at this point in time, I explain how you win the game. In Welcome To… I basically as saying that you are trying to build the best most marketable neighborhood to get points by building pools, parks, fencing off neighborhoods and more. Or in Pandemic, the goal is to clear all the diseases before you run out of player cards, disease cubes or have too many outbreaks.
The win condition is just important to talk about up front because it again helps inform the type of game that you’re getting into. If it’s a big point salad sort of game versus a combat focused game. I think that Scythe is a good example of why you do this, Scythe looks like it should be a big area control, dudes on a map, alternate timelines, but it’s a Euro game. So setting that up through talking about how you win is important for expectation setting.
3 – The turn, I’m talking about the big structure of it here. In Welcome To… that is basically that there are going to be three pairs of card options to choose from and you’ll do what the pair you chose to use tells you to do. In Pandemic it’s trickier, you have your turn, you have the drawing of player cards, the infection step and discard step. Now it lays that out nice and clearly on the player aides, but there are still more steps. And it might not just be the turn proper, it could be the round. Sagrada is an example of where a turn is just taking and placing a die, but you need to explain how the draft works in terms of order. We’re not talking about the fine details yet, we’re just looking at the bigger picture.
4 – The actions step is where we get into the details and the longest part of teaching the game. The theme/pitch of the game, and win conditions should be fast, the turn or round information should pretty fast, but this is where it slows down a little bit. Go through all the different actions that people can take, that means explaining the backside of the cards in Welcome To…, walking through the actions in Pandemic, or how to place the dice and how to use special abilities in Sagrada.
With the actions, however, we’re still just going to teach the basic actions. If there’s going to be an exception to one, call out that there will be and come back to it during the exceptions section of your teach. These are going to be the things that everyone is able to do on every turn across the board. This is made much harder by asymmetrical games, but those are unfortunately always going to be a beast to teach.
5 – In the exceptions step, we’re looking to teach the important exceptions in a situation. For Pandemic, that might how the medic cures versus how everyone else does. How the Dispatcher moves people versus the rest of the game. We’re talking about the exceptions or special rules that are big. This is also the point in time where you have already talked that there are special actions in Sagrada, now you can go over what they do.
There are going to be some exceptions that you aren’t going to teach. These are going to be the positive exceptions, not the negative ones. They are going to be the ones that you teach when they happen in the game. So we’re talking about the ones where you get a bonus or get to do something special because of a situation in the game, and as the teacher you’re looking to teach those in the moment in the game instead of getting it bogged down now. However, if it’s a really bad consequence to an exception or special rule, teach that before the moment so it doesn’t feel like a “gotcha” or trap.
6 – Finally, set-up the game, now, for something like Pandemic, you can do this while you go. For something like Welcome To… or Sagrada, probably wait. This is going to allow you to do a few things, in both of them, now you’re teaching the specific scoring for that game. What extra things do you want to consider when drafting or placing dice in Sagrada. What are the three building permits that you’re working to complete in Welcome To…? Now, all the set-up shouldn’t happen now and for some games, Lords of Hellas, for example, you’ll want to have most of the game set-up before people get there. We’re just talking about finishing off those final touches for getting ready to play in that case, so you can explain the specific things for the start of your game.
Now, I know that sounds like a lot. But besides teaching the actions, the main meat of the game, you aren’t going to be spending a ton of time on the other parts. Exceptions and special rules, especially if the game has a long teach in the action part, should go by quickly. Same with set-up, if it’s a big game, Lords of Hellas or even something like Blood Rage, do set-up while you teach. That’s going to give people a really obvious visual example.
That is one thing that I didn’t talk about much, when you are teaching, we are showing as well. When you talk about a phase in a turn or a round, demonstrate it, if you can. When you explain an action, demonstrate it on the board if you can. These are contrived examples, but seeing while hearing is going to help people’s retention of the information and have less questions further down the line. Also, putting things in people’s hands can be helpful as well. If you’ve explained a deck and it needs to be shuffled and placed, hand it off to someone else to shuffle and place it. This might seem like it distracts, but it mainly gives that player a feeling of ownership of helping getting the game up and running smoothly.
With all of this said, finally, remember, you’ll probably never teach a game perfectly for everyone at the table. We’re just trying to present the information as easily or as usefully as possible for the greatest number of people. There are people who need to muddle their way through two turns before they get a game no matter if you’re the best teacher in the world. There are going to be people who think after hearing how the rounds go that they know how to play the game and will checkout at that point no matter what. As the teacher, it’s not about being able to teach it so that everyone is 100% engaged all the time, but to teach it so that most of the people at the table understand most of the game and then you go from there and play and teach in the game.
What tips or tricks have you found for teaching games? Are there anythings that have made teaching some games easier than others?
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I have a lot of mechanics that I like, deck building was an easy list for me to make and while I don’t always love area control, there are some of the games that I love that use it. But variable player powers, that is probably my favorite. For those who aren’t as familiar with the concept, simply, it means that I can do something that you can’t. That can be that I could move a piece for free, or do a more powerful version of an action, but I can do something unique. It’s that feeling of doing something different that gives you the feeling that you are special in the game or that you have a different direction in the game than other players can that is really cool.
10 – Lords of Hellas
You’re playing as a mythological Greek character, of course they are going to have their own powers. They have a couple of things that are unique, first they have something that they get while setting, up, in my case, I was getting a priest/priestess to start the game. And then you have a special ability that only you can do. It kind of helps focus you on what you want to do for a win condition because those are so diversified as well. The game has a lot of unique things that you can do as well, because when temples are built, it might trigger drafting a blessing. And those blessings are unique powers to you a well so you become more unique and diversified as time goes on the further you get into the game.
9 – Dice Throne Season 1 and 2
These characters are completely unique in the game. They roll their own unique dice, they have their own unique decks, and their player board is going to do unique things as well. The game is pretty simple in concept as it uses Yahtzee and King of Tokyo style rolling where you can roll three times and you see what you get, but when you actually dig into what the characters can do, there’s a lot of interesting things that allow you tweak dice or that you can focus on. The Pyromancer plays very different than the Shadow Thief who plays different than the Gunslinger who is different than the Cursed Pirate, so you do need to plan out your strategies and hope that you have the cards to make the dice rolls work. It’s probably the simplest game on the list, but it gives you that feeling of playing a special character without you learning so much that’s new.
8 – Aeon’s End: War Eternal
There are a number of things that make you unique in this deck building game. First, your deck is going to be constructed differently at the start, you are going to have a card in there that is special to you. So that’s a unique power. The set-up of your breaches for casting spells is also unique, but not really a power. Finally, on your player board, you have an ability that you can charge, that ability is probably pretty powerful and it’s unique to you. All of that gives you a unique feel and a unique focus. If you plan it right, you can set-up good synergies between the characters where one character can get a spell cheaper and pass that spell to another player, and that other player can then focus on getting breaches open to cast more spells for better use of the games money.
7 – Mansions of Madness 2nd Edition
Spoilers, this isn’t the only Arkham game on the list. Fantasy Flight does a good job of making all the characters with unique powers. Not only do you have a unique skill set and health and sanity levels. But it’s the character powers and unique character items that really can set you apart. And generally, you’re going to need to use those powers because it’s going to give you something that you can do that is just better than a regular action. Now, they don’t always come into play, but to really optimize your game, you’re probably going to want to use those powers. There’s just a lot to love about this game and the variable player powers is just the icing on the cake.
6 – XenoShyft: Onslaught
Not one that jumped out to me at the start as having variable player powers, but when I thought about it, you do have unique roles that you do. At the start it’s just that every role can buy a certain type of item cheaper. But as you get further into waves, you unlock more special abilities that make your character unique. Plus, in your starting deck, as this is a deck builder, you get unique things. It might be weapon or armor or a soldier, but you are going to have a unique starting deck compared to everyone else. That really drives the game because you need to support each other, and it has the interesting mechanic where you can trade cards or play cards when another person is going in order to help them get through their line up of alien bugs. So while some of the variable power games on the list have you really as your own unique character where you do that thing, this one is set-up so that you can help the other players which is a unique twist.
5 – Arkham Horror: The Card Game
First of two living card games, but all of Fantasy Flight’s Arkham line of products (seeing as this isn’t the first on the list) do a good job with variable player powers. You always are going to have different stats for things like lore, agility, and strength, but you also are going to have a special character power that only you can do, and beyond that, your health and sanity ratios are going to be different as well. Beyond that, each character is going to have a deck that is uniquely built for them. While some of these aren’t technically powers, they are things that make your character feel very unique. And it can help tailor your play style, you’re probably always going to need to be okay at getting clues, but some characters are going to be better at that while others are going to be stronger at attacking. Overall, it’s just a good system and makes any Arkham line of game feel unique.
4 – Marvel Champions
Marvel Champions hits what I want for variable player powers, giving it to me not just because my deck of cards is unique, but because I can do something special as both my super hero side and my alter-ego side. In this game you’re facing off against a villain as a Marvel superhero such as Spider-Man or Captain America. Captain America can do something different as Steve Rogers and as Captain America and those things are different than what Peter Parker can do or Spider-Man. And each character that they release is different. So in a multiplayer game of Marvel Champions, you feel like your hero is that hero and that you can do different things. Then you add in aspects, which are part of the deck building piece, so you might have protection where you are better at defense or aggression that make you even more unique.
3 – T.I.M.E. Stories
This one is a bit trick to talk about because everything is kind of part of the stories in the game. But I’ll give you the premise for the game, you are part of a time agency who is meant to stop time incursions from coming through and messing up the timeline. But it isn’t like you are fully transported back in time, just your conscious is transported. That’s where you get your variable powers from. And the powers your “vessel” as they call them in the game, has, depends on your scenario. Again, I don’t want to go into it too much as it’s fun to determine what a scenario is as you open up the thing, but some of them are fairly obvious at least to the setting with names like Under the Mask and the Egyptian images on the box or The Asylum is probably about an Asylum. I’ve really enjoyed the puzzle nature of the game, and while I think that the player powers sometimes are just okay or won’t be used at all, it is part of the game and you can find some decent combos.
2 – Pandemic Legacy Season 1
This is true for all Pandemic games, so if you don’t want to get the Legacy version of the game, just get basic Pandemic. In the game you take on different roles of people trying to stop a Pandemic. The Medic is able to remove disease cubes easier, the Dispatcher can move players around the board faster, the Scientist can discover a cure with fewer cards. And you can upgrade and improve the characters as you go so that they get more diverse and more variable in what they can do. I won’t go into what those upgrade are as it would be a little bit of a spoiler for some of the stuff that you unlock in the game, but it’s a great experience and the fact that you can customize and streamline your team in hopes of being able to better win games, it’s a ton of fun.
1 – Gloomhaven
It’s my favorite game, of course it has variable player powers. In the game, you play as a character and you have your own unique hand of actions that you can do. Some characters are going to be manipulating elements to perform stronger attacks. Others are going to be supporting with healing or they might be the tank or maybe they’re a ranged attacker. But each character is really different and it makes you feel like you are unique. It can be mechanical in what the character can do, but it really does feel like you can do something else compared to your fellow players. And every time you unlock a new character by retiring your old one, it’s something different. Yes, this game is massive, but if you want something that just has so much diversity in the characters, you can’t go wrong with Gloomhaven.
So, I have so many more that I could put on as well. Literally, all of those games are probably in my top 15-20 of all time (20 as of 2019, minus Lords of Hellas that I hadn’t played yet). I also considered another game in my top 15, Star Wars: Rebellion. Board Game Geek has it listed as variable player power and they definitely are. However, it is so asymmetrical that I feel like I need to put it in it’s own separate category, because everything is so different. Sure, you’re still producing things in a similar way, but it’s more asymmetrical for me. And there are others like Sword & Sorcery and Dead of Winter just missed my list, like I said, I love games with variable player powers.
What are some of your favorite games with variable player powers? What are some that I should checkout?
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I started doing Top 10 Lists last week to talk about my top 10 deck building/deck construction games. This time, I’m continuing that with some area control. I like area control games and I think that there are some good ones out there, but there …