13 Jan

Board Games: Diving Deep into the Hobby

Castles of Burgundy, by Stefan Feld. A great little game that uses some dice, but the luck can be mitigated with some worker tiles.

Castles of Burgundy, by Stefan Feld. A great little game that uses some dice, but the luck can be mitigated by the use of worker tiles.

 

Before my wife and I were even dating, I used to hang out rather frequently with her and her friends at their house. The house even had a name: the Basileia House. It was a small community of single women who were connected with the local Nazarene church and were actively engaged in various works of mercy. One of the weekly things that they did there was they invited friends and members of the church over on Thursday evenings for “rice and beans night”: there was a light meal of rice, beans, tortillas, and other Mexican food toppings.

Settlers of Catan: where it all began for me, like many others.

Settlers of Catan: where it all began for me, like many others.

 

Often, while I was hanging out with my friends, there would be a game of Settlers of Catan (1995) going on in the next room. I never ended up playing it back then, and never understood what all the fuss was about until a few years later in England when my (now) wife Tiana got me a copy of Settlers of Catan for Christmas in 2009. Around the same time, I had also played Bang! (2002) with some friends in San Diego and then picked up a copy of Carcassonne (2000)—and I was hooked.

Lewis & Clark: The Expedition. I played this with my niece Katie.

Lewis & Clark: The Expedition. I played this with my niece Katie. She won!

 

While in England, I continued to acquire a few of some well-regarded titles through research on YouTube and especially BoardGameGeek, hands down the best resource for people interested in the hobby. I was also introduced to a lot of excellent games by attending my Friendly Local Game Store (FLSG) called Mondo Comico in the city centre of Nottingham. There were weekly gaming nights on Tuesdays and a monthly all-day set of gaming where people could bring out longer games. We played games in larger groups and smaller groups, and it was just brilliant fun. David, the store owner, is a very friendly and welcoming host, and is always up for a game. I have fond memories of him teaching me and my friend Steve the Game of Thrones board game (2003), as well as plenty of great larger group games like Saboteur (2004) and Shadow Hunters (2005). These larger groups games reminded me of playing “Mafia” in college, but with a few more game mechanics. These days, The Resistance (2009) Coup (2012), and One Night Ultimate Werewolf (2014) are currently the most popular style of these games where there are hidden roles and usually a “traitor” mechanic (although I have yet to play any of those, even thought I’ve heard some really good things).

Tzolk'in: The Mayan Calendar. I painted the gears above one week in an effort to make the presentation of the game a bit more spiffy. One of the brushes I used was actually labled "insane detail."

Tzolk’in: The Mayan Calendar. I painted the gears above one week in an effort to make the presentation of the game a bit more spiffy. One of the brushes I used was actually labled “insane detail.”

 

For various reasons I have gravitated toward a certain type of game called European-style (“Euro-style”) or “German-style” games. They often come with a bit of a learning curve in order to nail down the varying degrees of complexity (although they really aren’t that hard to pick up after a few rounds of play). More specifically, I tend to enjoy the worker-placement style of games.

Of the hallmarks of more modern Euro-style board games, the following tends to be the case: “eurogames tend to be accessible games that privilege the role of mechanics over theme in gameplay. They typically facilitate indirect rather than direct conflict, de-emphasize the role of chance, offer predictable playing times, and are usually of a high standard in terms of component quality and presentation” (Stewart Woods, Eurogames: The Design, Culture, and Play of Modern European Board Games, p. 79). Typically as well, there tends to be no player elimination (Woods mentions this earlier with the rise of the “modern board game genre” in general). The above is not to say that Euro-games are theme-less; this is far from the case. The designation is used generally to distinguish these types of games from what is known as “Ameri-trash” or “thematic” games. Below is a picture of Kemet (2012) which somewhat falls within this genre, although, as will often be the case, it is actually an Ameri-trash-Euro hybrid.

Kemet. A mix of "Ameritrash"/"thematic" style with European-style mechanics.

Kemet. A mix of “Ameritrash”/”thematic” style with European-style mechanics. It has some beautifully-produced miniatures in the game. Check out that guy riding the scorpion! :)

 

I’ve still never played Caylus (2005), the grand-daddy of worker-placement style games, but I’m sure that will be rectified soon enough. Santa was generous this year and so I recently received Russian Railroads (2013, pictured below) and Lewis & Clark: The Expedition (2014, pictured above earlier in the post). Both of these games have an aspect of worker-placement where you place workers on spaces to activate certain actions that you can do on your turn, these spaces usually being limited.

Russian Railroads. A Christmas gift from my parents. A brilliant worker-placement style game where you'll probably get between 200-300 points at the end of the game!

Russian Railroads. A Christmas gift from my parents. A brilliant worker-placement style game where you’ll probably get between 200-300 points at the end of the game!

 

For better or for worse, my lovely bride is for the most part, a non-gamer. She’ll play Settlers and some lighter-fair games with me like Morels (2012), but I did get her to play Castles of Burgundy (2011) with me not too long ago—an absolute miracle, and I think she won (she hates Munchkin, ha ha!). In addition to the fact that the original title betrays a delicious pun in German—Die Burgen von Burgund—the game was also an occasion for accidentally allowing our bunny to run around and chew through our Internet cable that evening. Oops!

Tiana and I playing Morels. She won rather decisively, of course!

Tiana and I playing Morels. She won rather decisively, of course!

 

Thankfully, in light of the fact that Tiana doesn’t like to play most of the games we own, one day she told me, “Here, go make some new friends!” while pointing me to a website/app called Meetup. She found that there is a Sacramento Boardgamers meetup group where my fellow geeks gather multiple times throughout the week at various venues (FLGS’s, restaurants). I go every other week or so to one of these gatherings, and it is been a lot of fun getting to meet new fellow gamers and play lots of wonderful games.

In addition to the aforementioned BoardGameGeek website, I also rather religiously stay abreast of industry news, reviews, commentary, and analysis by listening to a handful of board game podcasts. Here are some of my favorites:

  • Ludology. Hosted by Geoff Englestein and Ryan Sturm (although Sturm is leaving around March 2015, sadly), this show analyzes the theory of board games, looking at various board game mechanics and some game theory. There are also interviews with board game designers and other veterans of the industry. I’ve listened to every single episode and I just love this show.
  • How To Play. Although this one is no longer being produced, Ryan Sturm has a good handful of how-to instructional episodes where he walks you through the “hook,” the “meat,” and the “hampster” of how to play some of the best board games from the last couple decades. He also has a special “lettered” series within this same podcast where he takes a closer look at how to teach games or how to explore winning strategies from some of his favorite games (especially, e.g., Age of Steam [2002] and Caylus).
  • The Long View. Hosted by Geof Gambill where he take a more in-depth look at games that have been around for a while. One of the questions he always asks is, “Why does this game continue to have such great staying power?” Just a fantastic, longer-form listen.
  • The Dice Tower. Hosted by Tom Vassel and Eric Summerer. By far the most popular of the gaming podcasts, and in fact, they have a whole network of board game podcasts that fall within their reach; all of the above (and below) podcasts are a part of this network. Tom and Eric primarily cover reviewing new board games, industry news, and board game convention coverage. Eric’s voice is legendary.
  • On Board Games. This is a new one that I’ve been listening to recently as well. Good reviews and convention coverage. Their reviews fall into a three-tiered stoplight system: Green (good, solid, and fun), Yellow (okay, has some issues), and Red (the game is broken).

There are other great board game podcasts that are worth a listen in the Dice Tower Network, but the above are about all I have time for while I am doing my part-time website work throughout the week.

If you ever visit us and are interested in playing any of the games in my collection, I definitely won’t argue with you :)

I think the funniest thing about going off to game nights is when Tiana teases me about setting up my stack of games and walking up to people in a Napoleon Dynamite voice to ask, “Hey, uh, you wanna play me?”

She can’t stop laughing at me. I love her.

CO2, by Vital Lacerda. This is a picture from a game night a couple of months ago at Great Escape Games in Sacramento. I lost pretty badly, despite this currently being my favorite board game.

CO2, by Vital Lacerda. This is a picture from a couple of months ago at a Meetup night at Great Escape Games in Sacramento. I lost pretty badly, despite this currently being my favorite board game.