I am cheering for the Cubs, so the World Series is really depressing me right now. (I inherited a love for the New York Yankees from my dad, but I went to college in Chicago.) In board game fantasy world, however, I can have the World Series anytime I want, thanks to Baseball Highlights: 2045 from Eagle Games.
Baseball Highlights is a deck building game set during the World Series in the year 2045. The premise is that baseball has evolved to include not only natural human players, but cyborgs and robots. As a result, many of your players have special powers that threaten different types of hits at different speeds, while also taking out your opponent's hitters and base runners. Each player begins with a starting team composed of rookies and veterans with slightly different abilities. The base game includes four teams: New York, Boston, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. The starter teams really do feel slightly different from each other, and I'm curious about some of the others that are available as expansions.
Rather than play the same team throughout one long game, you will play several minigames (best of seven wins). During these minigames, you will threaten your own singles, doubles, triples, and home runs, while simultaneously trying to counter your opponent's. This makes for a frenzied and fun experience where you try to play offense and defense at the same time. Between each of the minigames, there is a buy phase that allows you to acquire "free agents" with improved abilities, while sending some of the weaker cards from your starting team to the minor leagues. By paying attention to the card combinations your opponent is creating, as well as to the free agents that they are buying, you can build a competitive, carefully tailored championship team.
Although Baseball Highlights could play up to four players in a round-robin style tournament, the game clearly shines with just one or two. With two players, you get to face off against an opponent who is trying to optimize her deck to counter your every move. With one player, you battle against an AI player whose team is randomly generated from the free agent deck.
You might think that drawing 15 random AI players and playing them one after the other would not make for a challenging game—after all, it's not like the game can actually strategize against you. But solo play works surprisingly well. This is partially because there are only so many mechanics available in the game, so the AI cards can still mess up many of your plans through luck of the draw. Additionally, the free agent cards are naturally more powerful than your starter cards, so the AI starts with a bit of an advantage. To mitigate that advantage, solo players actually need to go through a few buy phases before beginning to play. That's right: some of your rookies will go back to the minor leagues before ever getting to play a game in the World Series. The rulebook recommends two buy phases for a challenging experience, but you can have more if you want an easier game. I'm not sure you can win without going through any buy phases at all.
Solo play in Baseball Highlights: 2045 is only lacking in one way. In a two player game, you are constantly paying attention to what cards the other player has and which free agents they are buying up, so that you can create a team of your own that takes enemy strengths and weaknesses into account. My one complaint is that this particular element is absent from the solo variant because the AI deck is randomly generated. The solo game can be challenging no matter what, but when I want a bit more of a strategic game, I sometimes construct AI teams to make sure that their abilities have a lot of synergy. This also makes thematic sense to me—it's not like baseball rosters are a mystery in real life.
I've had a ton of fun playing this game solo, and am seriously considering ordering some more starter teams (Chicago!). Not only does Baseball Highlights: 2045 offer a fun challenge, but the pacing of the game creates tense, quick rounds that make you want to keep playing. Even if you don't like baseball, the deck building elements that are built into Baseball Highlights give it enough strategic interest to be worth a shot. The minigame structure keeps the game action-packed, and the game as as whole is short enough that it doesn't wear out its welcome. In fact, you might finish one World Series and immediately decide to play another. I highly recommend this one, especially if you want a quick, fun game to play on your own or with a partner.
I am a fan of both solo and deck building board games. I also, like many people, had a childhood obsession with dinosaurs. Apex Theropod, a dinosaur-themed deck building game designed by Herschel Hoffmeyer, was an obvious buy for me. But I bought the game from CoolStuffInc a while back and was never a Kickstarter backer. I'm really glad I did it that way. What has happened to Hoffmeyer is a classic Kickstarter disaster that we are always risking when we back games on the site.
Apparently Hoffmeyer, who took on a HUGE project by handling all aspects of this game on his own (art, game design, printing, shipping, all of it) has struggled to finish what he started. Rather than post an official Kickstarter update, however, he put this statement in the campaign comments thread on October 13:
Thanks Scott for putting out that info, much appreciated (I know you love to put your skills to good use). One thing to note though is I'm closing the company Die-Hard Games and everything will be ran from my own personal bank account. The company has gone bankrupt after what ShipNaked and WinGo pulled on me. I was waiting to bring this up for awhile now but I quoted $15K (during the campaign's run) to cover fulfillment then got hit with a $35K paycheck later down the road (after huge delays from them, remember in November, trying to get the boat to set sail. I kept quiet on it then.). I would highly suggest no one to do business with them. See below for WinGo. Manufacturing alone was over $60K. These payments have already been filed in my taxes last year so they're on record.
As you can see, the future of Apex Theropod is very much in doubt. Hoffmeyer has claimed that he will be contacting all of his remaining backers individually to fulfill their orders, and will be doing so from his personal bank account. He's been getting a ton of flak from backers who want official project updates rather than hard-to-find comments in the comment thread, and frankly, I understand their complaint. Hoffmeyer wants to minimize customer anger and messages flowing into his inbox, but his backers do have a right to real updates on the project they opened their wallets to support.
I hope everyone ends up happy, but this is pretty rough. It's not the sort of thing that would deter me from ever using Kickstarter again. In fact, I backed Godforsaken Scavengers this week. But it does make me think about how much money I'm willing to gamble on a game "company" that isn't a sure thing.
For continuing updates on the status of Apex Theropod, see the Kickstarter comment thread.
I've started a new and exciting project! I am now creating a short segment for The Dice Tower's bi-weekly show, "Throat Punch Lunch." The show focuses on Amerithrash/Ameritrash gaming, and my segment is called "SoloThrash." Shockingly, it's about playing solo games.
This is a real departure for me—it's easier for me to write than to talk to a camera. But a couple of weeks ago, Sam Healey tweeted that he was interested in bringing more reviewers onto his show. I surprised myself and replied... and now here I am, around 26:30:
Wolfgang and Hilde are newlyweds who have struck out on their own. They've decided to begin an exciting life of... farming.
"Oh, Wolfgang, what a fine day it is! We have finally bought our own farm! I can't wait to watch it prosper and to raise a family here!"
"Oh, Hilde, I promise that you will be proud of what our farm has become seven years from now!"
"Seven years? Let's get going now. So... what do we do this season?"
"Let's keep it simple. I will do one thing, and you will do one thing, and then we'll come back and start that process all over again."
"But we need to plow, plant, get some animals, and upgrade our house!"
"Hilde, Hilde, take it slow—like I said, one thing at a time."
"Fine, you plow, and I'll go get some wood to build fences for the animal pens."
"You might want to wait on the wood. There are only two pieces available right now. You can't make an animal pen with that."
"Well go chop some more wood, then, manly man!"
"That's not how it works, honey. I might be able to get a part-time job as a woodcutter, but I'd have to spend this whole season just getting the job. Why don't you go and get some wheat and we'll plant it next season?"
A few hours later...
"Dammit Wolfgang! Somebody else already took the wheat! And there will be no more until next season! How are we supposed to feed ourselves this winter?"
"I'm still plowing here, Hilde. Why don't you go and be a day laborer or something? That will get us some food."
"At the rate you're going, you will NEVER finish plowing that field. Can't we get an ox to help you?"
"Hilde, the only animal you can buy right now is a sheep. Cattle won't be available for several years."
"What the... Wolfgang, I have no idea how you expect to make this farm a success."
"My dear, look on the bright side! We have a lot more opportunities to get things done this year than we normally do. Next year our schedule will be even tighter!"
"I have married an idiot. Was I seriously considering having your children?"
"Well, darling, you'll have to worry about that another year. Family expansion isn't even an option yet. And when it is, you'd better hope one of the neighbors doesn't get there first, because it's not like we can procreate in our own house. Who even does that?"
I have not yet had the pleasure of playing Terraforming Mars, designed by Jacob Fryxelius and published by Stronghold Games. But I have noticed that in addition to looking like a great game, Terraforming Mars seems to have arrived at the right cultural moment.
There are actually several games about Mars out this year. Portal Games has developed First Martians: Adventures on the Red Planet, which is based on Ignacy Trzewiczek's already-successful island survival game, Robinson Crusoe. Martians: A Story of Civilization is another game in which humans/corporations work to develop resources and survive on Mars. Games with less buzz include Mission to Mars 2049 and Project Mars. These games all simulate survival on Mars and/or corporate involvement in making the planet habitable.
Why are we suddenly, collectively obsessed with games about colonizing the Red Planet? One possible explanation is the popularity of Andy Weir's 2011 novel, The Martian, which was turned into an also-popular film starring Matt Damon last year. More recently, Elon Musk's space colonization ideas have been all over news headlines and science blogs. Resource generation and management are already highly developed concepts in hundreds of games not set on Mars, so we may just be seeing a timely union of popular subject matter with popular mechanics.
I haven't played any of this year's Mars-themed games yet, but I also wonder if we're starting to use games about Mars to contemplate deeper issues. Just as talking about zombies makes us wonder what would happen if life as we know it fell apart, games about Mars may push us to think about what we would really want to bring with us if we had to leave home and rebuild. (I saw an image of the "pets" card from Terraforming Mars the other day and thought that it really wouldn't be the same without them!) In a world full of continued pollution, animal extinction, and vicious political battles about climate change, playing games about Mars may be a way for us to confront what really matters here on earth.
As for me, there is no way I am interested in going to space for real. Shots of ships moving through space in sci fi movies make me feel mildly uneasy. Watching Sandra Bullock in Gravity was so stressful that I will never repeat the experience. I'll just keep waiting for Terraforming Mars to come back in stock so I can hang out on Mars from the comfort of my own home.
I was sick yesterday, and stayed home from work. Although I didn't feel great physically, the day was mentally fantastic—between school and the fact that my boyfriend and I have the same work schedule, I am almost never by myself at home. Yesterday, it was just the cats and me, and it was bliss.
Sometimes it seems like people either hate being alone or feel like they need to justify their desire for solitude. While I was scrolling through Facebook between naps yesterday, I noticed that one of my acquaintances had posted a Huffington Post piece called "The Stigma of Doing Things Alone." As it happens, I love to travel alone, eat out alone, go to the movies alone, and generally be alone. This is probably why I also like to blog about playing games... alone. (Well, a lot of the time.) I even wake up early because I love the quiet hours of the morning when no one is awake but me.
One of the things that concerns me most about my students is how much they hate solitude. Even when they are not talking (a rare occasion), they are determined to listen to music and to stay in constant contact with each other through Snapchat, Instagram, and Kik. But if you're always listening to someone else's voice, how do you ever hear your own? How do you tap your inner creativity or decide what kind of person you really are if you are never alone with your thoughts? Can you really be a complete person if you don't have the internal resources to entertain yourself for a while with no outside stimulation?
I love board games in general, but solo games bring their own special joy. Have you ever read a book and enjoyed it so much that you didn't want to talk about it with anyone else? Sometimes, when I play alone, it feels like a game was made just for me, every twist and turn a secret for me to savor.
Gaming alone isn't just something I do because no one else is around to play with me. It's something I carve out time to do because I like it.
The news that Fantasy Flight Games and Games Workshop are ending a long and productive partnership has rocked the gaming world for over a month now. The breakup means that several games will no longer be printed and will soon be unavailable, including all FFG games that are set in the Warhammer universe. Several other games that most people might not have thought of will also be out of print, such as Fury of Dracula.
Now that several well-liked titles are about to disappear from the ecosystem, many of us have been on a bit of a buying spree. My boyfriend and I had been eyeing Fury of Dracula for several months but had never pulled the trigger... then ended up on a waitlist, worrying that we had missed our chance to play the game. Fortunately, my FLGS came through for us, and I bought my copy for less than retail price.
What disturbed me about my Fury of Dracula buying experience, however, was what the game store employee said to me while he was ringing up my new treasure: "You're only buying one? I mean, this game is a great investment buy."
The comment immediately reminded me of my most unpleasant experiences with video games. At a retro gaming store, I once met someone who claimed to buy two copies of every game—one to play, and one to leave in the shrink wrap. More than once, I've had issues getting a game from GameStop because it was considered "rare." And don't even get me started on Nintendo's tendency to release items in limited quantities, starting with Amiibo and continuing through the Pokémon Go wristband and Nintendo classic mini. Are there really people sitting around with multiple mint-condition copies of Fury of Dracula cluttering up the house?
I hope that board gamers never succumb to the temptation to collect games as trophy objects rather than as... well... games. The entire point of buying a board game is to tear off that shrink wrap, sort out all the components, and have a great time playing. It breaks my heart to think of games sitting around unopened, unplayed, because someone bought them as "investments." Not only do I question the financial wisdom of purchasing "investment copies" of board games, but a game in the shrink wrap isn't a game that is living its best life. There is no point in cardboard you can't punch, dice you can't roll, and miniatures you can't paint.
This presidential election is slowly ruining my life. My outlook is gloomier, my temper is shorter, and I generally feel like the world is going to hell in a handbasket all the time. And I'm not the only one—several news outlets have reported that election anxiety is a serious phenomenon this time around, to the point where people are seeing therapists in an attempt to cope with the strain.
But have no fear, board game players—our game collections offer us many avenues for retreat! Here are some board games that will no doubt help you to feel calmer and more at peace in these troubled times.
In this game, the world really is about to end. Deadly diseases are ravaging the entire planet. Can you and your band of germ fighters turn the tide and save humanity? I mean, yeah... sometimes... But in the meantime, you've let millions of people die while you jet around the world, hoping that another outbreak doesn't hit Ho Chi Minh City while you're dealing with the one in San Francisco. If you are playing Pandemic Legacy, your defeat may have even more permanent consequences.
Legendary: Alien Encounters
Don't you love the idea of a relaxing evening at home, playing Legendary: Alien Encounters? This not-at-all tense game will certainly lower your blood pressure as you battle face huggers that will become deadly chest bursters if you don't manage to fight them off before your next turn. If you'd like to feel even more chilled out on game night, you could pair this with Xenoshyft: Onslaught.
It's Halloween season, which makes Ghost Stories a great choice for your election detox gaming session. Make some tea, light some candles, and enjoy the meditative experience of battling an endless stream of ghosts until you are inevitably defeated. At least a face-off with Wu-Feng is far less intimidating than the prospect of living through another presidential debate.
Any Cthulhu game will do, really. Why worry about Syria, the economy, the prospect of nuclear war, or equal rights when you can instead succumb to madness and despair? In his house at R'lyeh, dead Cthulhu waits dreaming... but when he wakes up, we're all doomed anyway. Nothing like a game of Eldritch Horror that ends in abject defeat to remind you of your place in a vast, merciless universe. This entire presidential election thing will be of no consequence whatsoever when all of humanity is unceremoniously devoured.
As November 8 nears, don't forget to take a deep breath, let go of your stress, and kick back with some low key board games. You'll feel better in no time!
When I'm not playing board games, I am usually thinking about them. Not too many people around me are quite as obsessed, so listening to board gaming podcasts is a way for me to feel like part of a deeper discussion about the hobby. Podcasts are great for commutes, and they definitely help pass the time in the gym (which I don't visit as often as I should). So I've compiled a list of some of the podcasts I've been enjoying lately.
I will say up front that my biggest complaint about gaming podcasts in general is that the episodes are too long (90 minutes or more). I know that I can just hit pause and continue the episode later, but I like to listen to a variety of podcasts, and it's a major commitment to give 2–3 hours of time to a single show. I prefer to get my gaming news in thirty-minute bursts. But hey, at least there is a lot of cool stuff to listen to!
I'd say that several podcasts are "standards" for people who listen to gaming podcasts. These are the shows that do big live shows at conventions, get name-checked by other podcasters, etc. I get a lot of my gaming news and general impressions about how games will be received from the following bigger-name podcasts:
The Dice Tower
Pretty much the gaming industry standard. Episodes can run pretty long, though (pushing towards 2 hours). Several other podcasts in my list are part of the "Dice Tower Network," so when you're not listening to the Dice Tower, you still kind of are.
The Secret Cabal
I enjoy listening to this one, but with three-hour episodes, it usually feels too long. All the same, great discussion of games from people who really know what they're talking about. The podcast is super high quality. Sometimes the show focuses on specific current games, while others focus on themes (recently: Building and Conquest).
Podcastle (Shut Up & Sit Down)
SU&SD is reliably hilarious, and I always appreciate the guys' takes on the experience of playing games. If you like their site and their videos, you'll like the podcast. The podcast doesn't air as often, but when it does, it runs for about 60–90 min.
On Board Games
This is a podcast for hobbyists that has several rotating hosts, including Stephanie Straw and Erik Dewey. The hosts and guests cover a pretty wide range of topics, including what they've played recently, reviews of current games, and upcoming games. Recently, they've done some interesting stuff with Thornwatch and the story of its development, including interviews with the designers. The show usually runs for about an hour and a half.
Blue Peg, Pink Peg
Blue Peg, Pink Peg focuses on gaming for families and couples. The games they cover are usually still of general interest, and the show features gaming news and mini-reviews. The hosts are obviously very close to each other and it's fun to listen to them banter and talk about shared gaming experiences. I particularly enjoyed their discussion of Kingdom: Death Monster, which helped me develop a much better understanding of whether I wanted the game or not. Episodes can run pretty long (pushing or passing the two-hour mark).
I particularly like listening to Ludology. This podcast is more analytical, and focuses on topics like game history or particular mechanics in board games. Some of the episodes are very short and focused, but even the long ones are only about an hour long. Both the different focus on gaming and the more convenient length make this one a particular favorite for me.
In addition to the "main" podcasts out here, I am fond of several less-discussed podcasts that focus on solo gaming, for obvious reasons. Thankfully, there are heroic podcasters out there to entertain me:
Table for One
This is a very new podcast about solo board gaming, and there are only a handful of episodes, but I like what I'm hearing so far. I also want to give a massive shoutout to this podcast because the episodes are mercifully short—only about 20–30 minutes!
1 Player Podcast
This is a long-running show for solo gamers. If you're solo-curious, it covers pretty much all of the "classic" solo games that you might be curious about. Episodes are a bit longer than an hour apiece. This podcast is also closely tied to the 1 Player Guild on BoardGameGeek. (Yay!) Episodes vary in length, but the earlier ones are under an hour, while the more recent episodes are longer (although they include some interesting interviews).
Low Player Count
Focuses on 1–2 player games. The show goes beyond discussions of specific games and features more general discussions about themes, mechanics, etc. in games for 1–2 players. I especially like the comments on two-player games when I'm trying to lure my boyfriend into a game with me. Episode lengths vary, but usually they don't run too much longer than an hour.
For teachers, I also recommend Games in Schools and Libraries, which focuses on... games in schools and libraries. It's a great listen if you're interested in introducing your students to RPGs or teaching students about game design. New episodes don't pop up too often, but I'm always delighted when they do.
Are there any other gaming podcasts out there that I ought to be paying attention to? Feel free to leave a comment!
As a teacher, I am often forced to make choices that weigh on me. Did I really give that student the help he or she needed? When a student acted out, did I successfully manage to correct the behavior while maintaining a positive relationship?
As the co-sponsor of a board game club, my job becomes surprisingly difficult. The club is supposed to be fun, and it is. Every Friday afternoon, my classroom is packed with students who are excited to be at school late on a Friday. What is even better is that many of my game clubbers are the "nerds" of the school who are finally in a place where they can be themselves. The students do more than play chess or other games: They argue about comic book characters, try out weird voices at each other, and swap tips for Skyrim quests. One of the female students who attends is so quiet, so much of the time, that I was stunned (and delighted) when she realized I had a PS Vita and gushed to me about Danganronpa for half an hour. For one hour after school on Fridays, my classroom is a place of pure happiness and acceptance.
I am also delighted to say that our club has more young women this year than last, and that many of them are excited to face off against the boys over a chess board. Everywhere I turn, there are more teenage girls playing Wii, joining in a game of Ivanhoe, or just working on our current jigsaw puzzle. It is awesome. Given that nerd culture is widely thought of as female-unfriendly, and that we are now watching our own politicians twist themselves in knots about whether it's okay to talk about "grabbing women by the p***y," it's of extreme importance to create environments where women are not only safe, but welcome and respected.
The integration of young women into my club is also where some of my challenges as a sponsor come from: I occasionally have issues with boys who are comfortably among their friends and who want to talk to each other in sexist ways as part of their nerdy "locker room talk." We've already had conversations about not describing victory or defeat in terms of rape, and about not referring to each other as "b****."
But interventions are not always successful. One kid just got kicked out of my room for a week for saying that a boy he was arguing with was "on his period," then doubling down when I asked him to stop by saying that the other kid "forgot his tampons." He is about to get his ban extended because he keeps coming to me to argue that his comments were not offensive. It's infuriating.
Most of the boys who persistently engage in nerd macho talk are themselves insecure. They are searching for a place where they can feel comfortable in their own identities. As their teacher and mentor, I don't want them to feel rejected or ostracized. But it is also my duty as an educator to protect young women who never deserve to be spoken about in ways that perpetuate the idea that they are inferior to men or that their bodies are up for discussion by men.
For now, my solution is to call out sexist comments when I hear them, and to temporarily ban repeat offenders. (Kids should always have another chance to come back and prove that their behavior has changed.) My male co-sponsor and I have both had meaningful conversations with students about how to treat other people. But I don't always know how to permanently change attitudes, especially among the boys who can't seem to drop the bravado and who are more interested in impressing other boys than in impressing their teacher. Sometimes I feel torn about it, because those boys are often the ones who need acceptance and support the most. But here's the bottom line: I can't grant that acceptance (or let them try to earn it from their peers) at the expense of other students—especially female students who are just starting to embrace their own nerdy identities. Students who trust that my game club is a place where they are always welcome.
Maybe the actions that I take will have an impact a while from now, when I'm not around to see. Or maybe if other teachers, mentors, game group leaders, and friends all send the same message that I'm sending, we can collectively help nerd culture to change. I can't do it all on my own. So if any of you, readers, are in a position to call out sexism (or other prejudice) in your gaming club or group, it's your moral obligation to do so. If you don't, what attitudes and behaviors are you validating?