The time has come! The movers were here today and my board games are on a truck bound for Georgia. And now that I'll be starting fresh in a new apartment, I want to optimize my space in a way that will enable me to play more board games on more suitable surfaces. Although I don't have all the money in the world, I do have enough for an epic IKEA run, so here's my plan:
My current kitchen table is fairly small and round. I'm going to put it in our new sunroom so that we can drink lemonade and play light card games in there. Perfection.
The Dining Area
It's time to get a real dining table. I'm thinking the IKEA Bjursta. It seats four people normally, but it comes with leaves that allow you to expand it to an eight-person table. Honey, we're eating dinner in the sunroom tonight, because I'm leaving out my Mage Knight setup!
My office doubles as a guest room, so one of the things that has to go in there is a sleeper sofa. I'll also need a shelf for my printer and the professional books I keep at home (mostly nerdy dead language stuff). Aside from that, though... I am going to make my office into a gamer-friendly zone! I want a solo play area where I can also film YouTube videos. I plan to get two pieces of new furniture for my office: 1) A gateleg table that is expandable when I'm playing games and can be placed out of the way when I have guests. 2) The holy grail of board game shelves, the Kallax 5x5!
Do you ever want to have the experience of a tabletop RPG without doing any of the work behind the scenes? If so, you should seriously consider Expedition: The Roleplaying Card Game. It's a short, light RPG for 1–6 players, and it's good fun.
Expedition runs by using very simple cards in conjunction with a free app. Each player picks a character/class and creates an action deck based on the character they chose. Character options include your standard soldier, mage, and ranger, but you can also play as the "hungry chef" or the "alcoholic diplomat." Cards in your deck fall into the standard RPG categories of ranged, melee, magic, and music. Each card tells you what die roll is required for your action to succeed, as well as the consequences of a critical success or failure. While Expedition has no art to speak of, it does have cool iconography and very clear instructions. That's really all you need. An RPG is all about imagination, anyway.
Your adventure and combat sequences are run using the app, which I found to be very well integrated with the analog components. The printed rules for Expedition are super short because all of the most important information is introduced clearly and concisely within the app. Everything you need is explained right when you need to know it, and you don't have to do a ton of setup to start playing. The app also manages Expedition's unique combat system. You have a very limited amount of time to choose the ability you want to use on a given turn, and the app manages both your timing and the enemies' actions. This keeps the adventure going at a nice clip.
While the app is very good at what it does, it is also my biggest concern for the future of Expedition. While you could theoretically use the cards to create your own simplified pen-and-paper tabletop adventures, the app is what makes this game shine. The adventures published so far are relatively short and shallow, but also highly entertaining. The writing is good enough that you can enjoy the adventure either alone or with your friends, and the current scenarios offer some fun choices for players to make.
Unfortunately, however, there isn't that much "official" material readily available in the app. I've already blown through the starter scenarios, both alone and with friends. That leaves me with material written by the community. While allowing players to create and share their own adventures is a fantastic idea, there are also bound to be problems with quality control. As of this review, are only six homebrew scenarios available for solo play, and I noticed glaring typos in two of the descriptions. (More options are available for larger player counts, but the quest pool is still pretty limited.)
The other thing to keep in mind if you acquire a retail copy of Expedition (PnP available here) is that you really should sleeve the cards. While you play, you track stats by placing clips along the sides of some cards. Within moments, my cards were getting shredded. I have only ever sleeved Lord of the Rings LCG and Mage Knight cards before, but for this game it was crucial.
Expedition is a blast to play as long as you want the experience it offers you: A light, fun RPG without deep combat strategy or character development. I can see some good story-driven campaigns emerging from this game system, especially if more people get into writing content for it. I can also imagine some fun and easy dungeon crawls to try when you want to hang with your friends as much as you want to play a game. But Expedition is still running on potential. I am very much hoping to see it grow. (Hey, maybe I'll write up a campaign myself!)
It is a truth universally acknowledged that Nintendo is evil. It is even worse when Nintendo joins forces with Hasbro. Recently, their demon lovechild hit the shelves at Gamestop, and I was powerless to resist.
That's right, I bought a copy of Monopoly this week. And I am not the only one. The BGG Facebook group has been blowing up with images of and posts about Monopoly Gamer, an updated version of Monopoly that features Super Mario characters, plastic coins, and boss battles.
Needless to say, the online board gaming community is collectively losing its mind over this. Supporters are out there defending their choice to purchase Monopoly Gamer because it's "not like regular Monopoly." Haters are unable to get past the fact that "real" gamers went out and bought any version of Monopoly.
I will tell you right now that I unabashedly bought Monopoly Gamer and also the ridiculous character packs. The game is good fun, and I'm not too proud to play any game as long as I'm having a good time. A "real gamer" is someone who plays games, period.
What I do dislike about Monopoly Gamer is that it represents everything I hate about video game culture, but in board game form. The game itself was hard to find, and Gamestop totally sold out of character packs almost immediately. (My local store only has Luigi left.) There are scalpers on eBay hawking "rare" Wario and Tanooki Mario pieces at a 400% markup. Even worse, when you open the base game box, there are empty spaces for those extra characters, as if to constantly remind you that you missed out on an exclusive item.
Nintendo is the worst offender when it comes to creating scarcity in order to boost demand for their products. I'm not even going to bother going for a Super NES Classic, because I already know it would be a herculean task to acquire one. The Amiibo craze left a very sour taste in my mouth. And while I am one of the lucky few who have a Nintendo Switch, I am painfully aware that it's still tough to buy one.
Selling a board game that doesn't come with all of its pieces, then producing those missing pieces in limited amounts, is not a business model I like to see. (As any gamer knows, it's rude to sell DLC on launch day.) I don't like Kickstarter exclusives, either, because it pains me to think about owning a game I can never fully experience. Monopoly Gamer is good fun, especially for a Nintendo-loving family like mine. But true to the spirit of Monopoly, it's also a cash grab—one that I hope against hope is a one-time thing.
I have adored South Park for years. During its early days of popularity, I wasn't allowed to watch it, but I admired the students whose Cartman t-shirts were banned from my middle school. (Many a young rebel was forced to turn his "I WANT CHEESY POOFS!" shirt inside out for the day.) in late high school/early college, I caught up on every episode of the series and watched it religiously for years.
When The Stick of Truth came out, I was delighted. The game was horrible in the best of ways: fart magic, abortion mini-games, an impossible version of Simon Says involving an alien probe... what wasn't to love? And when The Fractured But Whole, a new South Park RPG, became available for pre-order about a year ago, I pounced on it. I've been eagerly awaiting this game for months.
But then IGN released gameplay footage, and I had to back out. The new game is super gross—items I saw included "jizz" and a "soiled wet wipe." When you interact with a toilet, you have to let out a monster fart to end the interaction. And the gameplay sample took place in a strip club. None of this bothered me. Much to my boyfriend's embarrassment, I love fart jokes. I figured I was pretty much down for anything.
But then the lap dance mini-game happened. To get information about a missing cat, you have to infiltrate a local strip club and interrogate one of the dancers: a hilarious premise. But to get your information, you have to give lap dances to drunken adult men. You do get to fart in their faces while you do it... but honestly, I can't get past the child molestation aspect of this. A lap dance mini-game might be hilarious to me if my character were an adult, but South Park is a show where schoolchildren are front and center, and the "humor" went past funny and into "I'm embarrassed at the idea of playing this." Even worse, it felt like the scene would never end. No joke should drag on too long, but this is especially true when the joke is that little kids are giving lap dances at a strip club.
South Park is known for its gross humor and willingness to go unapologetically where very few others will go. I've always loved that about Matt Stone and Trey Parker, and I don't dispute their right to do and say whatever they want in their own game. But I need to reassess whether I really want to play The Fractured But Whole after more reviews and footage are out.
I usually buy board games based on word of mouth from social media and podcasts. Rarely do I see a fantastic "commercial" for one. That is why the Kickstarter for Escape the Dark Castle feels so refreshing.
This video is truly hilarious. I love it. Kickstarter campaigns usually have videos to showcase their games, but this one is uniquely tailored to the game's theme in a way I would like to see more often. Even better, it was a great way to catch my boyfriend's interest. While Escape the Dark Castle is technically playable by 1–4 people, I did not back this Kickstarter for solo play. Escape the Dark Castle is clearly an "experience game" where the fun is in the interactions you have with your friends. Fortunately, it shouldn't be too hard to get people to play this one!
If you're interested in Escape the Dark Castle—and why wouldn't you be after such a delightful video?—there are three days left to back it on Kickstarter.
This summer is a time of transition for me as I prepare to move to a new city and teach at a new school. But the students I work with are always in a state of flux as they evolve into their best selves. I am lucky because I get to watch the process for a while, at least until they graduate.
One of my favorite seniors this year, Aquilah, was a student I have known and taught for three years. It's been a privilege to watch her grow. As this school year came to an end, we had plenty of stuff to reminisce about: "Dr. D, do you remember the time I ate all of that candy back in Math I and I went soooo crazy?" (Yes, yes I do.) But what amazed me most was how many of our memories are anchored by board games.
Aquilah was not one of my game club regulars. I taught her how to play Jaipur during finals week a couple of years ago because she was done testing and had gotten bored. I figured we would play a few rounds, but then she'd move on once testing was over and she could use her phone again. Instead, she surprised me: The following year, when we had lunch at the same time, she would drop by for another round of "our game." I had never thought of Jaipur that way before, but then I realized that she was right. Of all of the games of Jaipur I have played, the majority of them have been with Aquilah.
During her last finals week of high school, Aquilah showed up even after she was finished with her classes and didn't technically have to be there. Why? So she could play Jaipur with me. So we played... and played, and played. Even better, she killed me in our final game, and I couldn't have been prouder.
Board games may be "just for fun," but they have the power to create and deepen relationships. No matter who plays it with me in the future, Jaipur will always have a special place in my heart as "our game." It will always be able to transport me to another time and place, to when I was a new teacher navigating my first job and becoming attached to my first batch of students. I hope that the games we played conjure happy memories for my students, as well.
Aquilah has since moved to another state, where she'll be starting college in the fall. But I did manage to get her new mailing address, and I'll be heading to the post office later today. What am I sending her? I'll give you three guesses. ;)
Yesterday on Twitter, Suzanne Sheldon (@425suzanne) tweeted that her search for "Forbidden Island" pulled up a lot of romance novels. That got me thinking. These proposed board game romance novels are the unfortunate result. (But hey, if Colonel Sanders can have his own romance novel, anyone can!)
1. Love Sick
Aide Perez is close to getting her Ph.D. in virology, but she doesn't leave her work in the lab--Pandemic is her favorite board game, and she can't wait to play the first season of Pandemic: Legacy. That is, until Zack Steele injects himself into her campaign with his big biceps and bigger ego. He's the CEO of a large company, and it shows. She's never seen more of an alpha player in her life! Yet Aide's mind is contaminated by thoughts of sweeping those disease cubes off of the table and having her way with Zack. What is wrong with her, and can she cure it before there's an outbreak?
Zack admires Aide for her brilliance and ambition, but sometimes, she needs to let someone else play the role of scientist. Their Pandemic: Legacy campaign would be a lot more fun if she would just relax and enjoy the game—and Zack knows just how to show a lady a good time. But if he lets Aide infect his life away from the gaming table, will he ever eradicate the feverish dreams he's been having about what she's wearing under her lab coat? Will he even want to?
2. Ticket to... Ride
By day, Colt Branson is a train mechanic. By night, he's a full-on railroad tycoon. During his game group's weekly round of Ticket to Ride, he speeds past his competition whether he's building an empire in Europe, Asia, or the Heart of Africa. At least, he was... until Winnie Cooper caused him to hit the brakes. She's witty, pretty, and a hell of a strategist. Colt is more than ready to board the love train.
Colt Branson isn't Winnie's type. After her ex-fiancē tied her heart to the tracks and ran right over it, no man is. But she sure enjoys a game of Ticket to Ride with him. He'd be an even better opponent if he'd stop making eyes at her across the game board—could it have been more obvious that he was building a line from Portland to Nashville? At the same time, Winnie does like a man who combines brawn with brains. Can Colt claim the route to her heart?
3. Through the Heart: A Diplomacy Story
Alexis Johnson didn't know what to expect when she signed up to play an online game of Diplomacy—but it certainly wasn't Ben Wu. In their first game, she made an early (and somewhat flirtations) deal with him, only to be heartlessly betrayed. With Austria. But she's learned from her mistakes. Now, Alexis is ruthless, conniving, and headed to the World Diplomacy Convention... where she'll be playing to win.
Ben thought that Alexis was a Diplomacy dilettante who would play a game or two and then quit. Charming as she was to negotiate with, he just couldn't take her seriously. Now he realizes that he couldn't have been more wrong. Not only has Alex turned into a cutthroat Diplomacy player, but she's the most alluring woman he's ever met at or away from the gaming table. Can he earn her forgiveness... and negotiate a more permanent alliance?
I had so much ambition at the beginning of 2017. I was going to play so many solo games, so many times each. But alas, we are halfway through the year and I have made very little progress on my original list.
Here are the original ten games I wanted to play for my 10x10 this year:
Runebound (3rd ed.)
Castles of Burgundy: The Card Game
Legendary: Alien Encounters
Race for the Galaxy
Valley of the Kings
Sentinels of the Multiverse
In reality, I am about halfway to a 10x10 for the year... I just haven't been playing the games I thought I would. Here are the games I have played ten or more times so far in 2017:
1. Race for the Galaxy
I actually did it! I added Race for the Galaxy to my 10x10 this year because I wanted to learn to play it. Race is one of those games that everyone says is great, but that seems to have a high cost of entry. FINALLY I can play this one (with the Gathering Storm expansion for solo play) and it brings me so much joy. Success.
2. Castles of Burgundy: The Card Game
This game has been in my backpack all year, so I pull it out to play when I have a moment. I'm still not amazing at it, but it's a satisfying card game experience when I have a reasonably-sized table and a chunk of time to kill.
This solo game is just so easy to pull out and set up. Its footprint isn't that big, either (unlike Castles of Burgundy: The Card Game). My appreciation for Onirim only increases with time. Although I typically prefer to play physical copies of board games, I have also been enjoying it on the app!
I know! It's not a solo game! But my students adore it, which means that I play it at least once per week during the school year. Something about the jewel-encrusted theme and the satisfying clink of the poker chips attracts kids to Splendor. Plus I can teach the rules in less than five minutes—ideal for students who are always hearing the call of the Snapchat.
I have definitely played this game 30+ times since January. My students like Splendor, but they LOVE Ivanhoe. It is ridiculous how long they will play this game if you let them. (This especially becomes apparent right before long holidays and during finals week when kids are at school but have already taken all of their final exams.) I'm super burnt out on Ivanhoe right now, but I suspect I will catch a second wind in time to teach it to a new group of students at my new job in August.
I did not expect to play so much Jaipur this year, but I ended up playing it a lot with one of my recently-graduated seniors. She refers to Jaipur as "our game," and she's totally right—she is my primary Jaipur playing partner, and I'm going to miss her. In fact, I just got her college address so I can sent her a copy to play with her new friends! Jaipur is quick to teach and quick to play, which makes it a fantastic gateway game for students who are interested in branching out into card games that aren't UNO.
Now that I look back over my year in gaming so far, I have played a lot more games than I thought. I just haven't been playing too many games at home on my own time, and I haven't been playing the games I planned to play. There is still time to change that, though. Summer has just begun, and I deliberately haven't packed Runebound or Mage Knight yet... We'll see where I'm at next time I check in!
My board games are my treasures, and the ones I keep in my house are treated with great care. I have some boxes with dinged-up corners and some cards that are well-shuffled, but I don't see any of that as problematic.
The games I keep in my classroom, though? MY GOD. These trusty soldiers are battle-tested, and in a couple of cases, they have earned the board game Purple Heart. My Castle Panic cards are looking pretty bad—and to my eternal rage, someone stuck gum between two of them a couple of weeks ago while I was out and had a sub. A couple of students and I did our best to clean them up, but they're still a bit sticky... and now scratched up from the gum removal. My Splendor set is still usable, but you can tell those cards have been shuffled a few hundred times and a lot of them are getting frayed at the edges. Jenga, Connect Four, and UNO are irredeemably destroyed, but that doesn't matter so much to me. I didn't buy those games for myself.
So here's my question: At what point do you replace well-loved board games? Is there a rule of thumb for this? Generally, if a game is still usable, I don't see any issue with wearing it all the way into the ground. But I think that Castle Panic and Splendor might need replacing. They are so beaten up that I would feel weird bringing them out to play with other adults. Is there a point of no return for you, after which you want to replace a game?
Also, let's get real: Games are expensive, and new ones are coming out all the time. At what point is it financially a good idea to buy games a second time?
Castle Panic and Splendor might be worth it, though. Not only do I enjoy both, but my students love them best of all my "non-traditional" board games. The reason they are so beat up is because they see extensive amounts of play. Even though I will no longer be at my school next year to play with my students, I like the thought of them being able to break out their favorites and continue the gaming tradition after I have gone. I know there are other teachers who would be happy to adopt my veteran board games and give them the love and care they need.
Have any of you made decisions like this before? Let me know your thoughts in the comments!
I am going to say this outright: I LOVE to play Magic: The Gathering. One of my grad school buddies and I used to unwind by playing round after round of it, trying out different decks and admiring each other's chosen strategies. I also appreciate Magic for the role that it plays in gaming culture. Game stores might sell a lot of board games, but Friday night Magic and regular set releases almost certainly keep the money coming in.
Now that I'm about to move, though, I think the time has come to offload most of my Magic cards. The sad fact is that I can't keep up with the game financially, especially since I have other, stronger gaming interests. I also love to invest in games that I can play solo. Magic sets are now rotating more quickly than ever before, meaning that cards quickly become outdated. There are always new cards and mechanics to focus on, especially if you want to walk into a game store and play with other people. The problem with a CCG (collectible card game) is that you have to really commit to it if you want to be at the top of your game.
If I actually work up the nerve to sell my Magic cards, I am going to miss them. They don't hit the table very often anymore, but I have strong positive memories attached to MtG. There is something very special about meeting up with your friends to test out your own unique deck, the one you built yourself. (I don't love duel decks because the fun of MtG for me is concocting my own.) I can get a little bit of that feeling from LCGs (living card games) like Lord of the Rings, and if I want to duel it out with cards, I can play Ashes or Summoner Wars. But it won't be quite the same.
Although I love my MtG cards, I want to be realistic about my actual gaming habits. I haven't played Magic regularly in a long time, and I don't foresee myself starting up again. So aside from a few choice decks, I think my MtG collection will stay behind when I move this summer.
Ave atque vale, MtG.
My name is Liz, and I play a lot of games. By day, I am a teacher. By night, I am an avid gamer.