Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!

I’m doing some traveling with my wife and daughter for Christmas this year visiting some family members that we don’t get to see that often. Part of this evening’s festivities was playing an ignominious little game that I will refer to only as “LCR”, a non-game “game” that possesses the exact same level of strategy and tactics as Candyland and Bingo (or, the i.e., none).

Although I felt like I was betraying my identity as a tabletop gamer in some way by participating, you make sacrifices for family. And even though LCR isn’t really a game, it was a fun diversion that managed to bridge the gap between young an old and be something that family members spanning four generations could participate in and enjoy together. And in this case, it probably did it better than any board game could.


Oh yeah, my mom ended up winning the pot and decided to split it up equally between her four grandkids. ūüôā


Some Thoughts on the GW-FFG split – Part 2

A little less than a year after it was announced that Fantasy Flight and Games Workshop would be parting ways,¬†WizKids just announced that they’re partnering with Games Workshop to “extend the Warhammer 40,000 universe IP across multiple categories, including, Dice Building Games‚ĄĘ, board games and more… WizKids will create two new board games, along with dice games based in the Warhammer 40,000 universe, with additional plans to republish classic board games¬†Fury of Dracula¬†and¬†Relic.”

So, basically what FFG had been doing up until about a year ago. I think Nicolas Cage’s character in¬†Con Air summed up my assessment of this new situation the best:


In this scene, there’s a ’67 Corvette Sting Ray tethered to the back of a C-123 transport aircraft. While it’s in flight.


Nothing against WizKids (I really wanted to like D&D Attack Wing!), but in terms of board games and miniatures, they’ve always seemed like the store-brand alternative to the more expensive name-brand. I suppose if you’re a Trekkie you’d go for Star Trek Attack Wing over X-Wing Miniatures, but the general consensus is that X-Wing is the better game (both in terms of quality of the components and the game itself), and it’s certainly the more popular one. So for Games Workshop to be partnering with them less than a year after announcing their split with FFG seems like a major step down for them.

I had always assumed that it was GW that wanted to end the arrangement with FFG because I couldn’t see the upside of FFG wanting to break away, but maybe this wasn’t the case. Of course, I’m only speculating without the benefit of insider knowledge, so maybe there’s a perfectly reasonable explanation, similar to how the events of¬†Con Air naturally led to a ’67 Corvette Sting Ray being tethered to the back of a C-123 transport aircraft while it is was flight.

Or hey, it’s 2017. We’ve got a pair of infantile man-children at the helm of two different countries playing chicken with their nations’ nuclear arsenals, the Cubs have a shot at winning the World Series for a second year in a row, and Princess Leia is dead*. Maybe GW partnering with WizKids instead of FFG is just part of the new normal.


*I’m not speculating on Leia’s fate based on the trailer for¬†The Last Jedi that was recently released; I’m referring to Carrie Fisher. Still haven’t gotten over that one.

Some Thoughts on Lords of Waterdeep

At just over five years old, Lords of Waterdeep is a modern classic — which is a polite way of saying that, in boardgame years, it’s kind of old. On the other hand, considering that it’s still being played five years later demonstrates that it’s withstood the test of time thus far; personally, I’ll rarely turn down an opportunity to play it.

We had six guys at our recent game night — slightly more than our usual four or five. Most of the games in our respective collections top out at five or less. Furthermore, Ty was joining us the first time, so we wanted to avoid jumping too far into the deep end right away. These parameters narrowed down our options pretty significantly. Fortunately he did have some prior gaming experience (including playing¬†D&D), so¬†Lords of Waterdeep fit the bill perfectly.

At its core, Lords of Waterdeep is a fairly straightforward worker-placement game. Each player, taking on the role of one of the hidden (as in, secret) lords of the City of Splendors, sends their agents out to various locations around the city to recruit adventurers to go out and complete quests. The rewards for completing quests normally come in the form of influence over the city, represented by victory points, but they can also take the form of gold or even additional adventurers. Taking a page from Ticket to Ride, each player is randomly assigned a lord at the start of the game which gives them bonus points at the end, typically based on types of quests completed, but there are a few exceptions.

There are five basic resources in the game: four types of adventurers (fighters, rogues, clerics, wizards) and gold coins. Each quest requires a specific group of adventurers, and frequently a sum of gold as well. Gold is also used to purchase buildings — other locations around the city where agents can be sent in order to recruit adventurers, earn gold, or gain other types of benefits, ranging from the relatively mundane to the quite powerful. Of course, this being a worker-placement game, there is also a sixth resource, the most precious one of all, hidden in plain sight: the number of actions available to you over the course of the game, represented by the number of agents under your control. Each player has the same number of agents throughout the game, but there are a few ways to do some “sequence breaking” and acquire additional actions.

Everything functions within a fairly tight set of parameters. Although not explicitly stated, there’s a firm exchange rate in place on the relative value of adventurers, which can be seen with a little effort by comparing the number of adventurers required to complete a quest with the rewards that it yields. Essentially, two coins equals one fighter or rogue, and two fighters or rogues (or one of each) is equal to one cleric or wizard. The starting locations also bear this out, as you can recruit fighters and rogues in pairs at their usual hangouts, but only a single cleric or wizard at their respective locations. There’s also a starting location that earns you four coins.

There is a clear effort in the design to balance all of the moving parts and for the benefits of each action to be incremental and sometimes even beneficial for multiple parties. For example, when a player sends an agent to building, that player receives the reward for placing their agent there, but the owner also receives a small bonus as well. Likewise, Intrigue Cards will frequently provide a bonus to multiple players, not just the one who plays it. Even Intrigue Cards that attack other players aren’t terribly punishing.

The board is reasonably sized, but you’ll never have too much space available to play this game.


For those steeped in D&D lore (specifically, the¬†Forgotten Realms campaign setting), the game takes on extra flavor and immersion. The quests themselves are fairly thematic. For example, a mission to break into an ancient crypt is primarily rogues’ work, but a wizard or two may be necessary in order to assist with any magical dangers that may be present.

On the other hand, a common criticism of game is that the theme feels tacked-on. This is a fair assessment, and something that will be felt most acutely by those who are not familiar with the setting. Extrapolating from the name of a quest why a particular group of adventurers is needed requires a little imagination on the parts of the players, and being familiar well-versed with D&D, or fantasy tropes in general at the very least, is definitely helpful in this regard. Making the extra effort to refer to the cubes as the type of adventurers that they represent (not simply by their color) along with reading the little bits of flavor text that are present on the Quest and Intrigue cards will also go a long way for creating a sense of immersion.

The tight design of¬†Lord’s of Waterdeep, whileone of its greatest strengths, is also an easy target for criticism. For all of the flavor present in the quests, there really is no differentiating one type of quest from another. Sure, Piety quests will typically require clerics and Skullduggery will require rogues, but they’re all simply worth points in the end based on a fairly straightforward calculation and they are mechanically identical; the only reason to choose one over another is based on the particular lord you’ve drawn and the types of quests they earn bonus points for.

The burdens that accompany the role of being one of the hidden lords of Waterdeep proved to be too much for Spike.


Lords of Waterdeep has two expansions available (or “modules” as they are referred to within the game, a nod to classic D&D lingo):¬†Undermountain and¬†Skullport. Both come in a single expansion set called¬†Scoundrels of Skullport (a questionable marketing move since by focusing on “Skullport,” the name downplays the fact that there are two expansions present in the package).

Undermountain is basically what¬†Prosperity is to¬†Dominion: no changes to core mechanics or gameplay, just more of it, bigger and better. It adds a new section to the board with several powerful areas where lords can send their agents, along with bigger quests that require larger groups of adventurers going for bigger payoffs, and more expensive buildings that provide greater benefits to their patrons. It adds a new layer of decision-making: is it better to complete several lower-point quests, or go for more difficult but higher-value ones? Worker-placement games are fundamentally about action economy and determining optimal moves. It takes fewer actions to complete a single higher-value quest, but it requires more actions to recruit the requisite number of adventurers, so it’s not always clear which is the better decision.

I’m not sure if there’s a direct¬†Dominion analog for¬†Skullport.¬†Alchemy would probably be the closest because, as with Alchemy, Skullport also adds a new resource type and with it, new mechanics: corruption. “Resource” is actually a misnomer because, while it must be carefully managed, it’s a negative side effect that comes frim sending agents down into Skullport, the seedy (literal) underbelly of Waterdeep, represented by another separate board with new starting locations, or by participating in particularly unsavory actions (new quests and Intrigue Cards). The payoffs for sending your agents to these places is significantly greater than for sending them to the more reputable parts of the city, but they come at a steep price — represented by subtracting victory points for every corruption token that you possess (or does they possess you?) at the end of the game. In a really clever example of game design, the tokens start out on a corruption track and are removed as players earn them, revealing a progressively worse negative value for each token. A small taste of corruption can help an ambitious lord get ahead; too much will easily bury him or her in the end. As with¬†Undermountain,¬†Skullport introduces its own set of new buildings, quests, and Intrigue Cards.

Each expansion adds three new lords to the game, with benefits that are more interesting than the standard “earn 4 victory points for these two types of quests” from the base game. In our gaming group, we have a house rule where we divide the lords according to whether they come from the base game or the expansions. Each player is randomly given one from each group and chooses the one that they wish to play as. My personal favorite is the beholder crime lord of Skullport known as the Xanathar.

In a nearly complete inversion of the corruption mechanic, and one of the rare instances where the mechanics and theme of using a particular lord converge, the Xanathar actually¬†scores 4 VP for each corruption token at the end of the game. The catch is that he still takes the penalty as well. Effective play with the Xanathar comes down to making the most of locations and quests that confer corruption, carving out enough of a lead over the other players during the game in order to still be in the lead even after lords are revealed and bonus points for quest type are awarded. This is decidedly not how it turned out for me during my group’s last game.

I got the Xanathar! Oh, happy day.


We played the full version of the game, using both expansions, and I was thrilled that I drew the Xanathar as one of my lords. However, I ended up struggling to score many points during the game, due to a combination of some sub-optimal choices I made early on, as well as the vissicitudes of the game, particularly which quests came up. There was a relatively low number of the big 40-point quests that showed up, which meant that they were even more valuable when someone was able to score one. Despite having a fairly high number of completed quests none of them were of the coveted 40-point variety, and I finished in fourth place.

My resources and completed quests at the end of the game. Needs more points.


For almost the entire game, it appeared that Nick was going to finish closer to the bottom than the top. Nick has earned the reputation of being our resident game shark, so no matter who wins, it’s always at least a minor victory for everyone else as long as it’s not him. [Just kidding, Nick, you’re awesome! Please don’t take umbrage and destroy me even worse in whatever game we play next!] However, in the last round, he pulled off an impressive combo involving a couple of different Intrigue cards and Quests, rocketing past several other players on the score track, and finishing tied with Joe at a respectable 124 points after bonus points were tallied. Of course, being Nick, he ended the game with more coins in his tavern than Joe, winning the tie-breaker and the game.

Although it wasn’t a very good showing for me, I got to make some fun plays over the course of the game. I drew an “Open Lord” Intrigue Card early on. Playing it meant that I revealed to everyone that I was, in fact, the Xanathar, but it also made me immune to Mandatory Quests and other attacks from the other players for the remainder of the game. I was also able to complete the “Unleash Crime Spree” quest during my final turn, true to form for the Xanathar and a (im)moral victory at least. I may not have won, but I got to tell a fun story with the quests that I completed.

It was an enjoyable game with an exciting and unbelievable ending, and I’m happy to have logged another play with this classic.


My copy of Clank! arrived today


In between dinner and bedtime (our daughter’s, not ours), we sleeved and prepped the game as a family, and my wife and I got in a few rounds of play, with the girl spectating off to the side. Our first impressions of this game are good. It’s always a plus when I find a new game that my wife genuinely enjoys. We would’ve played more, but my daughter protested the idea of missing out on “discovering the game together as a family” (her words) so much that I promised her we’d wait until tomorrow morning so that we could all play it together.

It’s World of (S)laughter: Some Thoughts on Small World

I’m as susceptible to the cult of the new as any other gamer, but once in a while, I reach back into the mists of time and acquire a title that, although being a bit long in the tooth by boardgame standards, is new to me (we have to keep those long tails on board game sales going if we want to see expansions, right?).¬†I received my copy of Small World as a birthday present from my wife and daughter earlier this year. We’ve played it a few times since then, (both one-on-one games with my wife as well as a simplified version with my daughter), but the other night’s five-player game was the first time playing with a larger group.

This past Friday was the regularly-scheduled game night with the guys. However, a bad storm and downed power lines quickly put the kibosh on those plans. Since Nick still had power at his house, my wife and I regrouped and headed over to his house along with our friend Mike for an impromptu sleepover for our daughter with Nick and Heidi’s children, and a game night for the grownups. After getting our daughter settled in, we decided to give¬†Small World¬†a try.


It only took a power outage and a tornado, but not only did Small World hit the table, but two of our wives also got a chance to participate in the game. Bonus points to my wife for drinking a beer that matches her description.


Small World is the 30,000-foot view of the rise and fall of a series of different civilizations playing out at light speed. It’s a fairly light, primarily tactical game that plays at a brisk pace — which is ironic considering the vast amount of time that playing the game represents. Each player chooses a race from a diverse collection of fantasy and fairy-tale (and possibly nightmare) creatures that they guide in their attempts to spread out and conquer the world and the other races, scoring victory points based on the number of regions under their control. It’s an area-control game at its heart, but there are a few twists.

First, not only does each race have its own unique power, but each race is also paired with a special ability that grants an additional power. The race and ability cards are two different physical components that are randomly combined, meaning that any combination is possible. Some combinations are powerful than others, and repeated play will help players distinguish the standouts from the less-than-stellar options. The second twist comes from the tragic reality every one of the races in¬†Small World is destined not for prosperity and happiness, but for downfall and demise. Faced with this realization, it is up to the player to decide when to leave their current race behind in the dustbin of history and choose a new race to lead — until the cycle repeats with this new race. Timing this is crucial, as placing your race in decline comes at a steep price: sacrificing your entire turn. The one saving grace is that your newly “in-decline” race continues to score victory points through the course of the game until they face extinction at the hands of other players, or by you choosing to place a¬†second race in decline.

Small World¬†hits the sweet-spot for what I’m currently looking for in a boardgame: a light to mid-weight game that involves a decent level of strategy and thinking, but which is accessible enough to quickly teach new players and to finish a game in a reasonable amount of time. Conquests are a simple matter of counting how many enemy tokens currently occupy a region and bringing an equal or greater number of your own tokens to bear. Deterministic conquests are an interesting design choice to me given that in real life, vicissitudes of fate often conspire in such a way as to make combat anything¬†but deterministic.¬†¬†However, I think it’s one that fits well with the overall design of the game: core rules that are relatively simple and straightforward, with the real meat of the game being analyzing the various race-special power combos that come up and deciding which ones to choose and how best to use them.


I don’t really have a caption for this photo. I just thought it was a good pic and that it would have been a shame not to use it. ūüôā


For three out of the five payers, this was their first game of Small World.¬†Although there were several errors over the course of the game, everyone had a firm understanding of how to play by the end of the first turn. We cycled through every race and most of the special abilities by the end of the game. The standout combo of the night was the Flying Sorcerers. It’s a powerful combination, to be sure, that increases with player count. There was much wailing and gnashing of teeth from four of the players about how over-powered and game-breaking this particular combo was. We did eventually figure out how to counter it, which really wouldn’t have been difficult to do much earlier, if we had just taken a moment to stop and think about it. But by then it was too late in the game; Heidi emerged as the victor with 114 points, due in no small part to her legion of Flying Sorcerers. As for myself, I came away with a grand total of 60 points… placing me firmly in last place. Most importantly though, everyone thoroughly enjoyed the game, which was peppered with much friendly banter throughout.


Aww man. I wish that¬†I¬†could’ve gotten those Flying Sorcerers.


Small World exemplifies the kind of game that has become Days of Wonder’s trademark: a solid title that is straightforward to learn and play thanks to its uncomplicated rules, but which nevertheless manages to achieve a good level of depth and replayability, accompanied by solid, but not overly flashy or expensive physical components. It is this combination of accessibility and depth that, again, much like several of Days of Wonder’s other titles, makes it both a perfect gateway game as well as something that can hold the attention of veteran gamers.¬†Ticket to Ride¬†may be Days of Wonder’s most well-known game, but¬†Small World is probably their best.

I’m not sure I’m even going to *attempt* a Will save on this one

After much deliberation, I’ve decided that I’m not going to back the Kickstarter for Heroes of Land, Air & Sea. Based on Gamelyn’s record, I’m willing to bet¬†that it’ll be a solid, fun game, despite being a radical departure from their tried and tested “tiny, epic” scope. Furthermore, I think it’s possible that it may even turn out to be a¬†great game. However, $159 (after shipping) is too much coin for me at this point to plunk down for a single board game that hasn’t been critically examined and reviewed yet, especially considering that I currently have a backlog of other boardgames in my collection that I have yet to play, both ones acquired through Kickstarter as well as through traditional means. Not to mention that Games Workshop is going to be getting another chunk of my money very soon when 8th Edition 40K drops next month. I have to at least keep up the¬†appearance of being judicious with how I spend my money.

So naturally, a scant few days after I settled on my decision, the next threat to my wallet and cash reserves emerges:

From the Kickstarter:¬†“Rise of the Necromancers¬†is based on a classic fantasy narrative with character development as well as territorial strategy. The objective of the game is to develop your Necromancer and take control of the lands. Each player starts out as an aspiring Necromancer who can study spells, craft artifacts and eventually graduate from one of four academies. In time, your Necromancer can attract their own apprentice and assemble an undead army of minions to rule the lands.”

This game looks and sounds like it ticks the correct combination of boxes to make it really appealing to me. Evil wizards who specialize in the dark arts, growing in power until they become strong enough to conquer the realm? Good-looking, thematic artwork that’s sufficiently creepy but doesn’t tip over into being gory or disgusting? Gameplay that involves raising an army of undead minions and marching on cities? Horror theme with a touch of humor? Yes, please!

Mechanics-wise, I really like the theme of having lots of options for developing your character — choosing to either specialize in a particular branch¬†of necromancy, or become a jack-of-all-trades. Furthermore, one of the reviewers says that you can even go so far as choosing what aspect of the actual game to focus on — area control, deck-building, or worker placement — which will presumably have a significant impact on your experience of the game.

It’s also reasonably priced at $67, including shipping to the U.S. The more I write about this game, the more excited about it I become. I’m going to do my due diligence and try to find out more about it so I don’t back it impulsively, but I can already feel my will crumbling under the sway of the necromancers’ influence.

Well, it *has* been a few weeks since I backed a Kickstarter

I really don’t need more board games or other things to spend money on at this point. Naturally, just when I’d thought that I’d gotten away from going overboard with Kickstarters, I see this.

Actually, I was aware of it the last time around with the previous KS campaign which was cancelled, but I made my will save to resist backing it then. I’m currently looking at almost an entire month of additional will saves at this point, and I can feel my resolve eroding — I mean, it’s freakin’ Warcraft in boardgame form!