I have never done a gaming challenge, but the concept intrigues me. I tend to play widely, but not deeply, and that is something that I would like to change in 2017. Not only do I enjoy playing games, but I enjoy improving at them, and that isn't going to happen without some practice.
To encourage myself to get to know a few of my games more deeply, I am going to complete a 10x10 solo game challenge in 2017. That means that I will choose ten games and play each of them ten times over the course of a year. I'm going to give myself a mix of heavier and lighter games to explore so that the challenge is sufficiently challenging, but not overwhelming. I'm also going to reserve the right to switch out games on the list if I'm really not feeling something, because there's no point making myself play something again and again if I'm not enjoying it.
Here are the ten games I'm currently thinking about for my 10x10 this year:
1) Mage Knight
This a long, heavy fantasy game with a ton of rules, and it's also one of the very best. It's time for me to get to know this game more deeply. Mage Knight is my biggest commitment on this challenge list.
2) Runebound (3rd. ed.)
Another fantasy adventure. This game has several different characters that I need to know better. Also, I picked up some of the expansions this year, and I really want to play them.
3) Castles of Burgundy: The Card Game
This game is quick, fun, and very engaging. It's a card game version of the euro game Castles of Burgundy, and you fight to stay ahead of an AI player and build up a superior estate.
4) Legendary: Alien Encounters
I thought about buying the expansion for this, but realized that I don't play the base game nearly often enough. I love deck builders, and Alien Encounters is high-tension and satisfying one that allows you to replay the Alien movies. I'll be happy that I put this on my schedule this year.
5) Race for the Galaxy
Race for the Galaxy is a card game in which you try to establish a superior galactic civilization. An expansion called The Gathering Storm allows you to play the game solo against an AI opponent.
6) Valley of the Kings
This is a small (really small!) deck builder that has seen a couple of interesting expansions. I want to get to know the game better and really feel like I've mastered the art of using the card mechanics effectively to win the solo variant of the game.
7) Agricola (on cardboard, not on the app)
I really enjoy Agricola, a worker placement game. But I don't bring it to the table often enough and don't play it as skillfully as I would like. Now it's on my 10x10 list, so I had better improve!
8) Imperial Settlers
I enjoy both this game and 51st State. Imperial Settlers now has several expansions, but I don't feel right looking at them without mastering the base game. I want to learn the intricacies of each civilization and become a truly formidable player.
9) Sentinels of the Multiverse
This is a cooperative card game in which superheros battle dastardly villains in challenging locations. I have so many different decks to work with, and I don't know any of them well enough. I want to become more familiar with the game's mechanics and come up with novel ways for my heroes to work together.
10) Terraforming Mars (assuming I can get a copy, since a reprint is in the works)
I actually haven't gotten my hands on this game yet, but I love everything I see and hear about it. Word on the street is that more copies will be available in late January or early February, and I will be waiting to pounce. The aim of this game is to make Mars habitable for humankind, and there are a number of paths to victory. The game is clearly one that becomes more enjoyable the deeper into it you go.
Will I successfully complete my 10x10 this year? As I play games repeatedly, will I love them more, or will I feel that they are boring? Only time will tell!
If you're trying a 10x10 this year, I want to hear about it! Leave me a note in the comments and tell me what you're planning to play.
My grandfather, Pops, is the one who taught me to play chess. I still have fond—if slightly traumatizing—memories of him wiping the floor with me at it every night for an entire month during one summer visit. To me, Pops has always been the smartest man in the world. He was the one who knew how to build anything: Throughout my childhood he made me amazing things like night lights, music boxes, and a dollhouse with working electricity. He was also the one who dutifully tutored me in math every day after school for years. I would not have made an A in Calculus without Pops.
This year, Pops made me what might be the best present I have ever received from him or from anyone: A handmade chessboard, lovingly crafted just for me in his garage. He even custom-made the drawers to fit the pieces that he bought while stationed in Europe (Pops is a proud veteran and West Point graduate) and that he has kept for years. In fact, they are the very pieces he taught me to play with when I visited him as a kid.
I am going to treasure my chess board for the rest of my life, and my descendants will probably fight over it when I die. But receiving it also made me sad, because it has come to me at a time when things in our family are changing. My brother and I have grown up, and several members of our family have left San Antonio, or even Texas altogether. I'm starting to have moments when I realize that my grandparents are actually old, and that the days when they host a big family Christmas may be gone. Pops is saying goodbye to the chess pieces that he has enjoyed throughout his life. But he's also saying goodbye to the way things used to be.
Even more upsetting, however, is that when Pops and I broke in my board and played each other for the first time in years, I beat him. The seven-year-old me would have rejoiced at this victory. But thirty-year-old me? Not so much. What are you supposed to do after you defeat your idol? I find myself wishing for the time when Pops was unbeatable, when he knew everything there was to know.
Now I am the proud owner of this chess board, and the new keeper of our family pieces. Who will I teach to play the game? Who will think that I know everything, at least until they grow up?
After a long dry spell, I've found time to play a video game. (Thanks, Winter Break!) I've busted out my PS Vita and finally, finally gotten around to playing Persona 4 Golden. It's one of the PS Vita's most beloved games, and I can see why: I'm a little over halfway through the game, and I'm still deeply engrossed in the story. I love games that are heavy on story, so a good JRPG can hold my interest for quite a while.
Persona 4 Golden is about more than grinding through battle after battle and leveling up enough to face a big boss. To maximize your potential within the game, you need to develop certain personal traits, such as courage, understanding, expression, and knowledge. You also need to strengthen your social bonds with the people around you, especially your friends and family members. Every part of every day in Persona 4 Golden can and should be used in a productive way, whether you choose to study in the library, go on a scooter ride, or chill out with your adorable little cousin.
Trying to maximize the benefits I get out of my "free time" in Persona 4 Golden is fun, but it's also interesting to think about in the context of my actual life. Trying to make sure that I'm using my time in a way that actually benefits me is easy to do in a video game, but shockingly difficult to do in reality. How many hours have I allowed to slip by because I started clicking links on Facebook? How many times have I come home and intended to read or play a board game, but ended up staring off into space instead?
Persona 4 Golden also keeps track of your relationships in a concrete way, which really makes you think about friendships. There are characters in the game that I forget to hang out with because I "see" them all the time, but I later realize that I've done nothing to actually deepen the relationship. How many friends do I see every day at work without bothering to really get to know them? I live with my boyfriend, so I see him all the time, but am I really investing enough in quality couple time?
Obviously, life isn't a video game. Sometimes you just need to veg, and relationships/me-time can't be quantified in real life. (Too bad: Think of all the knowledge points I'd get for all of the reading I do!) But maybe there is a lesson to be learned from the social mechanics of Persona 4 Golden. I love the idea that time spent reading, studying, or bonding with other people has intrinsic value. How differently would we live our lives if we felt that way outside of video games?
After a ridiculously busy couple of weeks, I've finally had a chance to sit down and try Arkham Horror: The Card Game, a new LCG from Fantasy Flight Games. (For those of you who don't know already: An LCG is a "Living Card Game," which means that you buy a base set and then expansion packs that are released over time.) I already enjoy the Lord of the Rings LCG, but Arkham Horror promises something that LotR doesn't: extended campaign play with character decks that can be tweaked over time. After each scenario, your investigator can gain experience points, which you can then "spend" on deck upgrades.
The Core Set box for Arkham Horror: The Card Game includes five investigators, a set of starter cards, and a short campaign that will help you get your feet wet. The game isn't overly difficult to learn, and there is a simple startup guide to get you going before you get overwhelmed by details in the full rulebook. If you've played a Fantasy Flight LCG before, Arkham Horror will feel like a variation on a familiar theme. If you haven't, Arkham Horror is a perfectly good place to start. The contents of the Core Set box are easily manageable, and will support gameplay for 1-2 players. (You need to pick up a second Core Set if you want to play with a group of 3-4 people).
So far, I've played the first campaign with the recommended starting investigator, Roland Banks. I love the flavor text in the campaign guide and on the cards, and I'm starting to see interesting ways to make Roland's cards work better together. After the first three plays, I'm still feeling interested enough to be ambitious: I want to try this again with each of the other investigators.
The main drawback to repeat plays is that the Arkham Horror LCG is story based, meaning that everything is a little bit spoiled for you after you experience it for the first time. You already know what is going to happen, and you have an idea about what decisions you'd like to make in preparation for future scenarios. That doesn't really bother me, though—the game has an adjustable difficulty level, so I can add difficulty to compensate for my unfair advantages.
The only other issue I'm having with the game right now is that there isn't all that much in the box to start with--Arkham Horror immediately demands an expansion. I have plenty of experience that I could use to purchase new cards, but I don't have enough exciting new cards to purchase. Hopefully, future expansions will deliver when it comes to thrilling new possibilities.
If you love deck construction and Lovecraftian horror, or if you love the Lord of the Rings LCG already and you want to try an LCG with some new concepts, I think that Arkham Horror: The Card Game is a very good purchase for you. If are unsure about whether Arkham Horror is your kind of thing, or about whether you should commit to an LCG, I would recommend that you wait for an expansion or two to come out before you make a leap of faith.
It's Christmastime, and I am naturally planning to get myself a little gaming-related present. I'm also an enthusiastic solo gamer. Everyone on the internet seems to be singing the praises of one game: Kingdom Death: Monster. Especially its solo mode. And its Kickstarter campaign looks like it's about to top $8 million. Eight million dollars. It seems like it would be natural for me to treat myself to the base copy of Kingdom Death: Monster 1.5. (At $250, it's already budget-breaking for me, so I'd have to stop there and forego any extras.) If I don't, won't I be missing out on one of the most groundbreaking and intense gaming experiences around?
Part of me still suffers from the fear of missing out, but I've decided not to back KDM.
The main reason is that, no matter how much everyone says the game will be fun, I can't imagine actually enjoying it. I love RPGs, and the idea of building up characters and expanding settlements sounds awesome. I could totally get into a game like that.
Unfortunately, that doesn't actually seem like what KDM is about—if all of your settlers die, you have to go all the way back to the beginning of the campaign and start all over from the earliest stages. Fighting the same beginner monsters. Again, and again, and again. Some people love brutal games. But I know myself, and I know I would rage quit before I got my $250 worth. That, and the paperwork you generate while trying to keep track of the game and everything that happens in it sounds pretty miserable. DnD paperwork doesn't bother me too much, but KDM looks downright excessive.
And of course, this is all stuff that happens after you get all of the finicky miniatures out of the box and put them together, which might be an incredible experience for someone else. But I am inexperienced with miniatures and would probably end up very frustrated, not to mention worried that I had screwed up the components of an extremely expensive game that I couldn't afford to replace.
The truth is that KDM sounds like too much of an investment for me both financially and in terms of the game itself. I am willing to play some pretty heavy board games, but the word to empasize here is play. If a game feels like a slog, I'm not going to continue with it. And I'm not willing to gamble $250 plus shipping that Kingdom Death: Monster is going to rock my world.
Also, even if KDM's fantasy world were more accessible, I'm not sure I would want to inhabit it for very long. The art that I've seen is gratuitously boobtacular, to the point of being gross, and that isn't my thing. I don't want to be constantly annoyed by yet another exposed nipple or female warrior who still needs to scavenge for a sports bra.
I will be honest. Despite all of these potential drawbacks, I'm still really suffering with the desire not to miss out on a potentially great game. Kingdom Death: Monster is obviously a huge deal. People love it, and it's not going to be easy to get ahold of a copy outside of this Kickstarter campaign. I am serious about gaming as a hobby and I want to stay aware of important current gaming experiences.
But this is one of those moments where I have to remind myself: Do I really want to drop hundreds of dollars on a game that my gut tells me I will never extensively play? Ultimately, the answer is no.
I've been so busy the last couple of weeks that it was starting to feel like free time was but a distant memory. This is the first evening I have had to myself in over a week, and it feels amazing. It was starting to feel like I'd never get to play a board game again.
Our society prizes hard work to a degree that is unhealthy. We praise (or secretly resent) those who are first to arrive at the office and last to leave. When we talk to each other about our lives, many of us want to emphasize how productive we are—not how much time we spent "playing."
But for me, board games are a statement I make to myself about what I value in life. I want to have energy at the end of the day for more than a Netflix binge (although I enjoy those as well). There is something that feels radical to me about spending hours pondering a gameboard and devoting my mental energy to something that not everyone views as "productive."
Gaming also does more than provide entertainment—the temporary mental escape that I get from gaming helps me to break out of the rut I settle into during stressful work days. The challenge of solving an interesting problem, combined with the escapism of pretending to be a castaway, a paranormal investigator, or a fantasy hero, allows me to keep my mind engaged while also allowing me to step away from my "real" life and then come back to it with a different perspective.
One of my New Year's resolutions for 2017 is to consistently make time to play board games. My life feels a whole lot better when I do.
Although I vastly prefer board games to video games these days, I am dying to try out Dishonored 2. I loved the first Dishonored, and I also adore any game that allows you to surveil an area, learn the guards' positions, and sneakly disable your opponents before they even realize you're there. My Skyrim character is a Khajiit assassin, and my favorite weapon in Far Cry 3 was obviously a sniper rifle. Reviewers panned it, but I love playing Thief because I enjoy creeping around the levels and feeling invisible.
That is the one feeling that I can't truly get from board games. There are, of course, hidden movement games or social deduction games that require a certain amount of sneakiness and misdirection. Escape From the Aliens in Outer Space looks like it might scratch my stealth itch. But when you play a board game that involves those mechanics, both players are already hyper aware of each other and in a state of conflict. You can't get that feeling of sneaking in while no one expects you and then slipping away before anyone realizes you were there. The increasingly impressive AI in a video game can create that feeling.
But I wonder—now that we have board games such as Mansions of Madness or Descent that can be run using an app, would a stealth board game of that nature be possible? I would be very interested to see it.
I enjoy board games of almost all kinds, but I have a special love for deck builders. While the mechanical challenges of a game like Dominion appeal to me, there are fortunately other deck builders out there that play faster, are more aggressive, and have more theme. One such game is Star Realms.
Star Realms is not a complicated game: It's a fun, quick deck builder for two players, or for one if you purchase a small expansion. You play as space empires trying to expand your intergalactic authority, and your goal is to attack each other until one of the players has gone from 50 authority points to 0. Players buy cards off of a center row that is replenished from the draw pile after each purchase. There are four different factions to choose from when buying cards, and it's highly satisfying to create combinations with them. Your cards are also a combination of bases and ships. Ships generate money or attack power, while bases are permanent cards that sit in your display until they are defeated (while also providing many gameplay benefits). Outposts are particularly useful, because once you have placed one, your opponent cannot directly attack you until they have destroyed it.
In addition to its standard two-player mode, Star Realms offers some solo scenarios. The two that I have played, Pirates of the Dark Star and Nemesis Beast, come from the Gambit expansion pack (N.B.: this is different from another expansion called Cosmic Gambit, so be careful when you buy!). In both cases, you are playing against an AI opponent. After your turn, the "opponent" eliminates the right-most card on the center row. Based on the faction of the card that is drawn to replace it, your AI opponent will perform a different action. I thoroughly enjoy both scolo scenarios, either when I want to experiment with different faction combinations or when I want to relax on a weekday evening.
Star Realms is not necessarily a game for the ages. It's not particularly deep, and the solo scenarios can be challenging but not overly so. But there is something really magical about this game. Star Realms is quick and satisfying, and you will get a lot of plays out of one small box. (It's also inexpensive. I paid about $10 for the game and another $4 or so for the Gambit expansion). While many solo games take a while to set up, I can begin playing Star Realms within minutes and play several rounds at a leisurely pace over the course of an evening. It's also one of the few games my boyfriend will always be in the mood to play, and it's small enough for us to take out to a coffee shop. In fact, I often leave Star Realms in my bag, just in case we have an opportunity to play it.
If you like deck builders, space themes, and fun games to play with a partner, then I definitely recommend Star Realms. You will get a lot out of it for the size and price, and it's probably ended up being one of my most-played games. And there is still more of it for me to explore: I want to acquire the other two official Star Realms solo scenarios, as well as try out some of the homebrew ones that have been posted on Board Game Geek.