Hey everybody! This week we’ve got two Live Plays! First up is Good Cop Bad Cop with the upcoming Undercover expansion. Keep in mind we played with a prototype. This will be on Kickstarter on February 16th. Check it out:
Secondly, we recorded a couple of games of Codenames, our 2015 Game of the Year:
Enjoy! We should have some written content next week. Until then!
While Bruno Cathala has been on a tear for the past two years, with huge hits like Five Tribes and Abyss, the other Bruno (Faidutti) of Citadels fame has been on a quiet resurgence of his own, with a very well-selling microgame Mascarade and the recent auction game Warehouse 51. Together, they’ve had a couple of recent reprints – Queen’s Necklace and the excellent Mission: Red Planet – but Raptor is the newest fruit of their long-standing collaboration. An asymmetrical two-player game with variable powers and card-driven play sounds exactly up my alley, but does Raptor live up to these designers’ legacies? Here’s a reminder of my scoring categories:
Components – Does the game look nice? Are the bits worth the money? Do they add to the game? Accessibility – How easy is the game to teach, or to feel like you know what you are doing? Depth – Does the gameplay allow for deeper strategies, or does the game play itself? Theme – Does the game give a sense of immersion? Can you imagine the setting described in the game? Fun – Is the game actually enjoyable? Do you find yourself smiling, laughing, or having some sense of satisfaction when it’s over?
Components: Wow, this game is incredibly impressive. No surprise, since it’s coming from Matagot (Takenoko, Cyclades, Kemet). What impresses me most is how aggressively this game is priced ($35 MSRP) when it comes with around 10 small plastic miniatures, about as many large board tiles, a deck of cards, large and awesome reminder sheets, and some tokens (and even a rulebook!). That’s a lot of material in a small box, and it’s all done very well. The rules did a great job of hitting the easy-to-miss rules and making sure to have them identified in large text, and giving a VERY in-depth player aid to each player. We didn’t screw up a single rule on our first play, which is honestly shocking, since there’s a few minor-but-important ones you could miss if the game wasn’t set up so well. More games need player aids of this size and depth, please! The art is also beautiful, as it always is when Vincent Dutrait is present. I’m very happy here.
Accessibility: At its core, this game simply involves both players simultaneously picking a card numbered 1-9 from their hand of 3 cards, but there’s a unique twist: the lower number gets a special action based on the card, but the higher number gets the differential as a number of action points to take “standard” actions. So if I play a 7 and you play a 3, you do the special thing that 3’s do, while I get 4 action points (but my 7’s special move doesn’t trigger). That’s the core of the gameplay, and everything else is based around this clever mechanic. Actions involve moving on the board, attacking/blocking the other player’s miniatures, or trying to get the baby raptors to escape (or not). The central mechanism is very simple yet brings a lot to think about. The rules get fiddly with what you can and can’t do with your standard actions, but as I said above, the rulebook did an excellent job keeping players in the loop as to those issues. This could easily be a gateway+ game (it’s not as simple as something like Las Vegas or Sushi Go!, but it’s simpler than Dominion or Catan.)
Depth: This game certainly at least appears to have a lot to chew on. However, it seems my games have been frustratingly lucky. I wouldn’t find a pure information game very interesting, so I’m glad that you don’t play with the whole deck at your disposal – on the other hand, sometimes the game can be very frustrating. The worst offense is when you play a card just one higher than your opponent’s – they get their special ability, while you get one measly action point. If this happens several turns in a row, you are most likely toast. I’ve also heard murmurs that the game is skewed towards the scientist player. I don’t know if that’s true, although I think the fact that the mother raptor has to spend one action point for each sleep token before she can even move makes it very difficult for the raptor player to get out of a tight spot. I’ve played the game four times, as both sides, and the scientist has won every game – but that’s not a very large sample size. And it may be one of those games, like Twilight Struggle, where one side is simply harder for newbies to learn to play effectively.
However, the central complaint for me is that those opening turns are very blind as to what you and your opponent have in hand, and a run of bad calls (i.e. playing barely over your opponent) can really ruin you. I’d be very glad to be wrong on this, but I spent many turns as the raptor player, even when I had a lot of action points, staring at the standard actions and just realizing that they were all pretty useless. (Again, this is especially true if the mother raptor has 2-4 sleep tokens.)
Theme: The theme on this game is wonderful. It’s surprisingly unique in the board game world, since it’s so common in pop culture. And it’s done very well – the actions make thematic sense, the board and miniatures are beautiful, and they’ve imbued a ton of theme into a game with a very abstract central mechanism. Color me impressed!
Fun: This game has a lot going for it. It’s inexpensive, it’s beautiful, and it’s highly thematic. Yet, during play I kept finding myself somewhat frustrated and “pinned down”, unable to find anything clever to do – especially as the raptor player. It may just be that the game needs more plays to “open up” for me, but I didn’t have quite enough fun the first eight times to invest more time into it. I wouldn’t hold it against someone for loving it, and I’d gladly play again if asked, but it’s not one I’d go out of my way to play again.
Raptor is -almost- all the things you want in a game – inexpensive, beautiful, thematic through and through – but the gameplay wasn’t quite as deep as I had hoped it would be.
Hope you all had a great Christmas! My wife totally surprised me with a copy of Viticulture Essential Edition! Can’t wait for that to hit the table. In the meantime, expect a written review of Raptor going up the same time as this, and here is this week’s MeepleTown Musings, where I make uneducated guesses at the Dice Tower awards:
Hey everybody! It is time for our 2015 GAME OF THE YEAR, going up at the same time as this article – although we also give a 2nd and 3rd place. I’m very, very happy with our choices and hope you enjoy reading that article. Additionally, there’s another MeepleTown Musings this week, discussing the idea that most games are 7s, a thought further enforced by the fact that I couldn’t come up with 10 “games of the year”:
Other than that, make sure you check out One Night Revolution Live Play and Review if you missed it, and let us know what you think of the video and article formats as we continue to experiment. For now, though, we’re taking a break until January 11, 2015, at which point you should see a slew of new content! Thanks for a great year and enjoy the holiday!
2015 has been an excellent year for board games of all varieties, and it’s also got to be the year where I’ve played the most new material (I think I have reviewed around 50 releases, and played many more). Many of these games will find permanent homes on shelves, some will fade away, but I think there are a few that are timeless, that are bound to become mainstays of the hobby for several years, and strangely enough, none of them are strategy games. Card-combo fests Elysium, 7 Wonders: Duel and Deus represent an amazing year for gamers like me, but the following three games are truly something unique, and represent one of two big paradigm shifts in our hobby. (The other being the advent of the Legacy-style game.) Speaking of Pandemic Legacy, none of us have played it yet though we expect it to be our respective Christmas trees – yet we’re still very confident in our Game of the Year award, for reasons you will see below. Onward!
3rd Place: Mysterium
While I don’t think that Mysterium necessarily represents an evolution of Dixit (still an amazing game in its own right) like others do, it certainly is an entirely new experience that transcends the implicit boundaries of game design. It’s thematic, it feels strategic, yet its mechanisms are really just matching pieces of artwork together. And somehow it feels like a party game, despite all the deliberation and frustration this game can bring. One of the most interesting things about this design is something I don’t hear mentioned often: it is one of the few co-op games out there that, like Hanabi, has no A.I. pitted against you. So, it feels interesting and cerebral, while purely being an exercise in communication among your friends, instead of fighting against a randomized deck of cards. An instant classic, for sure.
2nd Place: Spyfall
I originally didn’t believe the hype behind Spyfall in the eight or so months before it came to the U.S., but when it finally arrived, I took it to a friend’s bachelor party and we found ourselves crying with laughter in under 30 minutes. The concept makes little thematic sense, but it paves the way to an immense amount of hilarity. The entire game is centered around trying to get one particular person to say something idiotic, yet this is a party game that offers an incredible mix of tension, humor, and clever play – and it’s rare that you get all three of those at once. Stinker, for example, is another hilarious party game from this year, but it doesn’t offer chances for cleverness, nor the tightly wound nerves of Spyfall.
I vividly remember some hilarious one-liners, especially spies who got away through ridiculously accurate statements, but I also remember some brilliantly laid traps, like when someone intentionally asked (while at the Bank) “Whatcha doing here on the weekend?,” knowing that the spy would (and did) screw up and blather on about how it “seemed like a good time to come by.” Clever moments like that, combined with the outright hilarity of the accidents that this game creates, make it the funniest game of the year, and one of the most strategic “funny” games I’ve ever played.
MeepleTown’s 2015 Game of the Year: Codenames
Since Gen Con, there’s been no doubt in my mind that Codenames is something uniquely special. Much like Dominion, it feels like something that should have always existed, and you can’t believe it didn’t until recently. This is a game that has potential to transcend boundaries, to move from board gaming to the mass market, to convert families and friends and families of friends to the hobby. I would still call it a party game, but it’s so cerebral, so interesting, so strategic, and yet with such a minimal ruleset. It tests us in ways that games often don’t, forcing us to think carefully and creatively about what a word on the page (or card) really even means. It cuts to the core how we communicate as humans, and in that way brings us together in a deeper, empathetic sense as we find strange and sometimes hilarious ways to (mis)understand each other. In that way, it’s also a teaching tool at many levels, helping children and adults of all ages with literacy, communication, and logic. There are very few classrooms where Codenames wouldn’t make sense – and even fewer game rooms.
The game is infinitely variable and replayable, and aggressively priced to boot – there’s no reason this game shouldn’t be in Targets and Wal-Marts across the United States. I’ve taught this game to at least sixty people in the past four months, and I’ve had a single person dislike the game – everyone else wanted to play again right away. And I will continue to be teaching new players for years to come, even after we’ve ripped apart our copies of Pandemic Legacy and those wonderful memories have faded. Codenames is an enormous blessing upon our hobby, and easily MeepleTown’s Game of the Year.
Hey everybody! As we continue our text-and-also-video experiment, I thought it might help to just make a weekly post letting you know what all new content is out there for you. There will be a written editorial today (been a while!), and we’ve got another MeepleTown Musings, below:
And stay tuned for a video of our Top Games of 2015, coming soon!
1.) The re-implement, reworking, expansion, etc. of old material. There have been tons of expansions this year to top-profile games, as well as re-imaginings like Pandemic Legacy, Mission: Red Planet’s second edition, Timeline Challenge, and so on. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as many of these are great releases and show just how far we’ve come as a hobby, having such a great body of work to draw from.
2.) The trend I’d rather talk about is the fall of the “traditional strategy” game. The hottest games this year have been things like Codenames, which somehow makes a “party” game strategic, and Mysterium, which somehow gives a group/party atmosphere to a “thematic” game. Even Pandemic Legacy has turned the traditional Eurogame model on its head by adding a narrative. Traditional strategy games like Elysium and Orleans are present, but they’re not the top players this year.
This second trend is one of the best things to ever happen to the board game industry. Have you ever had someone refuse to play a board game with you because ‘it made them feel stupid’?
There is another domain where I hear that phrase every single day. I’m a mathematics professor by day, and students everywhere struggle with confidence issues in mathematics. Credit goes to Francis Su, current Mathematical Association of America president, for the following line: “Being a mathematician is like being a pastor. As soon as people find out what you do for a living, they start confessing and apologizing.” And of course, the “top” board games on BoardGameGeek – the Terra Mysticas, the Puerto Ricos, the Twilight Struggles – are very mathematical in nature. Not to say this new crop of games is entirely devoid of mathematics – on the contrary. I personally think we have The Resistance to thank for starting this trend, and that’s a game I use every year in my Discrete Math for Computer Science course.
However, as an educator, it’s part of my job to be familiar with educational theories, and here Howard Gardner’s “Multiple Intelligences” comes to mind. (Here is a wiki listing the different intelligences, here is an article by Gardner himself differentiating his idea from “learning styles”.) This is the idea that people have many different skills or “intelligences” at which they can excel, but in traditional classrooms we’re really only testing one or two. And in the board gaming world, we’re traditionally only testing each other on mathematical/logical skills, and occasionally verbal-linguistic skills in party games.
Although Gardner’s theory is 30 years old and the education world is still playing catch-up, board games are also breaking new ground in this area, and it’s wonderful. I taught a “fitness” course (we focused on mental health) while at Trine University called “Social Board Games,” and one of the class sessions had them playing La Boca, which those engineering students just ate up. After they played, I told them the story of playing the game with my sister-in-law for the first time. She is dyslexic and struggled in school and her self-esteem suffered for it, though she did well in sports. She generally wouldn’t join us for board games, but she did on this occasion and she dominated everybody. It made me look at her in a whole new light and made me realize just how much I had been judging her value as a person based on one mode of intelligence, which is a pretty awful thing, I admit. La Boca is a fine example of a game that tests multiple intelligences: visual-spatial, verbal-linguistic, bodily-kinesthetic, and interpersonal, all at once. This was probably the first time I noticed the intrinsic value of board games that move outside of the traditional “strategy game” context, but with or without me the trend certainly seems to be on the rise in 2015.
I don’t mean to say that we should ditch traditional strategy games – Elysium, for example, is one of my favorites for the year – but if we want to be a more inclusive hobby, it’s not just a matter of welcoming a wider swath of race and genders. It’s also accepting a wider swath of gamers who think, feel, and learn in different ways (and I suspect this would help us eliminate our ethnic and gender biases as well). What we don’t want to do is try and accomplish this artificially with by-the-numbers games like Cranium, but when brilliant games like Codenames and Mysterium come along and inspire us to think in new and different ways, it’s good for everyone.
There are countless threads on BoardGameGeek about how to properly ‘evangelize’ board gaming to family and friends (and especially spouses), and this may be a mark we all miss, or maybe it’s just poorly embedded in saying “Well, what does she/he/they like? Start there.” Instead of thinking about themes or “mechanisms” our friends and family prefer, maybe we should broaden the scope of games we’re considering and think about how these people excel. And, to be frank, these other intelligences are usually best found in the dreaded party game.
Other than the games mentioned here, I would suggest Spyfall, Stinker, Timeline Challenge, Telestrations, and Dixit as other party games that call on intelligences other than logical-mathematical. But I could certainly use other examples – please comment below if you have some! And hopefully this can be the beginning of an important conversation about we really want out of our hobby’s many games of “skill”.
Hey everybody! I’ve got a new camera, and I thought I would try some video reviews. Here is our YouTube channel. This may be a short-lived experiment, or it may be a permanent switch, or maybe it’ll be a hybrid… but PLEASE give us feedback! And have a very Merry Christmas!