John-Michael Gariepy

Archive for the category “Board Game Reviews”

The Cave – Getting Lost in a Good Game

Robert Frost was a sanctimonious idiot.  When ‘two roads diverged in a yellow wood’, Frost took ‘The Road Less Travelled’, and claimed it made all the difference.  I’m sure he felt he was an idealist and an explorer when he decided to follow a road that fewer feet had trod upon, but all he did was opt for an easy way to claim victory and stroke his ego.  If Frost was a real explorer, he would have ignored both roads and walked straight into the treeline that opposed him, forging his own path.

It’s in this spirit that The Cave is set.  You, and a group of fellow speleologists discover a hertofore unknown cavernous masterpiece.  Your mission is to find out what’s inside.  You’re not looking for ancient buried treasure.  You aren’t hacking monsters to pieces that you aren’t running away from.  You’re flipping over tiles, discovering the raw beauty of one of the world’s hidden wonders.

In The Cave, players have five actions per turn to explore new tiles, take pictures of rare sights, explore underwater lakes and plumb cavernous depths.  Careful management of your Read more…

Dominion: Dark Ages – Thriving through The Fall

Good news:  Dominion Dark Ages is a lot of fun.

The design is excellent.  My first impression was that Donald X. Vaccarino created Dark Ages set with a mechanic first – printing a lot of “When you trash this card” abilities – realized that theme worked well with a “Dark Ages” concept, created a list of cards that would work well in The Dark Ages, and designed excellent top down Dominion cards around that.  It sure does look like the expansion formed itself from nothingness with a few strokes of genius.  Reality, though, is not that simple.

In “The Secret History of the Dark Ages”, Mr. Vaccarino mentions that many ideas in the expansion were warped from early Dominion design.  Vaccarino had a good understanding that Dominion would have a long shelf life, and planned multiple expansions from the start.  Dark Ages wasn’t a great idea that came together with ease;  it was an idea for an expansion by the name of “War” which was slated to come out much earlier.  But “War” was shelved because it’s original theme, tons of attack cards, proved too overbearing.

Over the years, “War” dispersed cards into other sets, and absorbed loose cards until it gelled into Dark Ages. Seen from this angle, with many mechanics in Dark Ages pushing on five years old, it’s a piece of amazing that the expansion can feel fresh and modern.  There’s also a certain inevitability, too, that Dark Ages would have this effect, since each expansion taught Dominion’s design and playtest what clicked in their game, and what squawked.  Dark Ages encapsulates the feeling of experimentation that Dominion provided on release four years ago without trailing into embarrassing mechanics that look more fun than they play.  There are attack options, but nothing as egregious as the ‘feel bad for having played it’ card ‘Saboteur’.  There’s some goofiness, but nothing as infuriating as watching a player take fifteen minutes to resolve all of their ‘Possession’ cards.  And while I haven’t played Dark Ages enough to know there aren’t any broken cards in it, at least nothing jumped out at me like Shanty Town did in Intrigue (Though, the value of Shanty Town in Intrigue may have more to do with a low number of cards that provide +2 actions.  A lot of cards in Dark Ages seem to grant plenty enough actions.  Again, this is first impression stuff.  I could be wrong).

What’s really nice about Dark Ages is how it handles many themes, while providing interesting toys to play with.  Here’s a quick rundown of some individual features: Read more…

Session Impressions: Kaiju City


The Myriad Games Podcast posted our review of Kaiju City’s playtest copy back in early July.  At the time, Kaiju City had a few more weeks before it needed to achieve its Kickstarter goal of $10,000 to become a real game.  Kaiju City fell short, receiving a pledge of $4,160.  How unfortunate.

At one point, if you listen to this podcast, Dan asked me if I liked the game.  I stutter, and say “Well… it’s a game.”  That sounds like I secretly didn’t like it, but that isn’t true.  Up until I was asked that question, I hadn’t asked myself “Did I enjoy myself while playing this game?”.  I didn’t do that, because I was having fun playing the game.  So I tripped over myself, and stumbled over words for time.  It was a good game.  I’m still a little miffed on how the board naturally expanded by placing city tiles diagonally away from the corners of the board, taking up as much space as possible on your kitchen table.  But, outside that, I liked the game.

The good news is that on Kaiju City’s Kickstarter Page, Kaiju City’s team told us that “The plot of many Kaiju movies is something like… Monster rises from obscurity… Monster finds a city to love… City rejects Monster… Monster throws a temper tantrum… Monster skulks away sadly… BUT MONSTER ALWAYS COMES BACK.”  It’s good to see that this setback won’t deter Kaiju City’s team.  It’s clear they spent a lot of time and energy making a good game.  They could have released the playtest copy, and it would have looked great.

I’m confident we’ll see this monster lift out of the waters of Tokyo Bay once more to terrorize the city.  While The Western World may not have a long running fascination with giant monsters ripping up cities the way that Japan does, we do have a long running fascination with Japan.  Every ten years or so, the “Giant Monster and the City” theme rears it’s head as a global phenomenon.  Fear of Giant Monsters (Gigatetraphobia?) is often coupled with fear of ‘The Bomb’.  The idea, even when presented as something absurd, is terrifying.  It’s understandable why movies about avatars of destruction can’t maintain a permanent place in Hollywood’s film cycle; gigatetraphobia is exhausting.  Had Kaiju City appeared when monster movies like ‘The Blob’ and ‘Tarantula’ sold out box offices, or when Godzilla was ‘discovered’ by American audiences in the mid-70s, or during the 1998 Hollywood remake of Godzilla, or the 2005 release of Peter Jackson’s King Kong, then hitting its goal would have been a foregone conclusion.  Given another five years, another giant monster movie will spray its atomic breath over us, and we’ll break out with a case of the Kaiju City fever.

In the meantime, you can still enjoy our podcast on Kaiju City.  I’m more than happy to support this game, even if it takes a number of years to flap its leathery wings and take to the air.  When it does, it will a dreadful day, indeed.

Session Impressions: Core Worlds

Rhythm.  When I re-listened to the Myriad Games Podcast on Core Worlds, this word popped out at me.

Many board games can have a great feel despite a complete lack of rhythm.  Monopoly-style games, for example, represent a slow and inevitable arms race.  Monopoly doesn’t have a rhythm so much as it has a tipping point, where the game breaks, and must end.  Magic: the Gathering is built off of an engine which implies rhythm:  You play one land per turn, then, tap those lands for more and more powerful cards as the game continues.  But the point of most Collectible Card Games is to subvert the rhythm of the game.  You want to find ways to ‘cheat’ the rhythm, advancing to stage five while your opponent is stuck on three.  While a Dungeons and Dragons campaign can be built off the tenet of good rhythm, more often it represents a series of individual scenarios that accumulate into an adventure, in the same way that life can be seen as ‘just a bunch of things that happen to you’.  These games are fun, so it’s clear that a game doesn’t need to have a good rhythm to be fun.

If you say, however, that a Deck Building Game has a strong rhythm, it’s a great complement.  DBGs are built with a certain amount of given information (there’s a small selection of cards that will be in a person’s hand, and, presumably, many of those cards will be resources), and the entire genre is built around the idea of making your deck better and better as you move through the game.  Despite these controls, when you play through Dominion or Thunderstone, for example, your game may result in a chain of meaningless turns, due to the players’ inability to overcome a hurdle, or the game might result in a romp, as the players smash through their decks and crush the scenario.  For a genre filled with a limited number of controllable knobs, it’s an odd truism that many DBGs can’t play a more sophisticated tune than ‘More! More! More! More!’.

Core Worlds has a strong rhythm.  What you do on turn three will be different than turn six.  When you get to turn ten, the game is over.  Count up your points.  Each round in the game is meaningful, and the consequences of your actions are tangible.  Early in the podcast, I teased Sara when she explained what Core Worlds is.  She starts off by saying the game is complicated… which is a rough way to sell a game.  When writing this mini review for Core Worlds, I also found this review on Amazon by M.P. Cummings:

“We’re somewhat new to card based tabletop games, so this was a great find. My girls (ages 8 and up) love playing, and since there are defined rounds, it doesn’t drag forever. Great game!”

That’s an excellent summation.  Sara’s right:  Core Worlds is a complicated game.  But that doesn’t mean it’s hard to understand.  That just means the game has breadth.  You can play it many times, and still struggle to wrap your head around ‘the right strategy’.

But, hey, if you aren’t convinced, maybe you’d prefer to listen to the podcast?

Session Impressions: Catan Junior (aka Pirate Catan)

In our recent podcast for Catan Junior, we discover that I can’t really do a pirate accent.  It sounds easy, sure!  Anyone can spit out a “Piece of Eight!  Aaar!!”, but now that you’re acting grizzled and surly for a sentence, it will occur to you that ‘Pirate’ isn’t really an accent. It’s a way of talking.  It’s a speech pattern, with clear defined lingo.  A good pirate accent has another accent sprinkled ontop of its grog-swigging surliness.  This I discovered as I floundered between ‘Russian Space Pirate’ and tipped a bit into ‘Lucky Charms Pirate’.  I wish I could have had more takes to do that right, but we aim for spontaneity, not realism.  Aaarg.

So how is Catan Junior?  The consensus of the group is that we like it, with Brian Tully’s lone dissension of “I’ll never play it again, unless you force me to.  Cruelly.”  So, yes, it’s fun, but I suppose you should be careful who you buy this game for, and who you pull this game out to play with.  We spend a good chunk of the podcast talking about the branding of this game, since the game is a fun way to play a simple game of Catan without getting mired into too many details.  Had this game not been tied to the Catan brand, it wouldn’t need to call itself a game for kiddies, since there’s no reason why adults can’t enjoy it.  It just happens to be simple enough for kids in Junior High ton enjoy as well.

Of course, the devil be in the details.  Beware, scallawags!  If ye dinnae be a clan of sopping landlubbers, and think ye man enough to hornswaggle Ol’ Davie, then straighten yer monkey jacket, ready yer cockswain and click on this link.  But be ye warned!  Ye set sail for Spoooky Island!

Three Dragon Ante: Emperor’s Gambit: When the game I’m reviewing has a colon in it, I get confused what to do with the article title…

This week I’ve spent too much time writing short fiction, and ran out of time to put in a proper article.  I suppose you’ll have to make do with this two year old article pulled forward from my old stomping grounds, Guilt Free Games.  I made a quick check on Amazon, and found that Three Dragon Ante is still selling at, or below, its original retail price of $15.  Spectacular.  I know few other games that retails for so little, yet yields such consistent entertainment.  Though, I admit, Cover Your A$$ets comes very close.  Here’s hoping that Wizards stretches their brains one more time and gives us a third installment of this great game.  That’s bound to take some time, however… I doubt they’d spend time off from designing Fifth Edition to work on evolving a supplementary product.

Want to know a secret? I don’t got a lot of money to throw around.

I know what your thinking: “But, John-Michael, how can that be? You write such awesome articles for Guilt Free Games! Surely, a side effect of all these wonderful game reviews is that you are rich beyond your means!” Alas, this is not true. I’m a poor struggling sop who happens to love games and writing. No, no, it’s okay. You can put your wallet back in your pocket. I’m not looking for a hand out. Most of the time, I’m just looking for an affordable, yet fun and replayable game that I can show my gamer friends, and not look like I’m shirking my duty to add to our mutual collection.

If you don’t count the occasional steal at yard sales and thrift shops, fifteen bucks doesn’t buy a lot of game nowadays. This domain Read more…

Session Impressions: Cover your A$$ets

This game was a pleasant surprise.  Grandpa Beck’s Cover Your A$$ets looks generic as card games go.  I don’t think our group expected much from this game when Dan came back from the GAMA Trade Show with this little number in his hands, and a broad smile on his face.  We popped it open, and poked inside.  It’s clear why Dan had high hopes for the game.  The rules are simple and the gameplay is fast.  The majority of the conversation we had, while playing this game, was about and around the game itself.  The Myriad Games Playgroup plays a lot of games, so we sometimes come off as jaded and picky when about the rule, artwork and choice of mechanics.  When we played Cover Your A$$ets, though, we were just six people who found this great game, and we had an excellent time.

Grandpa Beck also has a game by the name of “Grandpa Beck’s Golf”.  On the podcast, Dan alludes that we’ll have to have another podcast about Golf when we get the group together to play that game… but that may take a while… we have a lot of games to move through.  I did talk to Dan, afterwards, and asked him if he had a chance to play Golf yet.  He has.  He said the game was fine, but it’s clear that Cover Your A$$ets is the superior game.  I’d suggest getting your hands on Cover Your A$$ets first then, even if you’re big on golf, the sport.  I’d hate for someone to play a good game based on something they like, instead of play a great game.

I did some snooping on the internet, because I wanted to find a price point on this game.  It turns out that, not only is the game not sold on, but among the online vendors, this game is selling out fast.  Even Grandpa Beck at has run out of copies.  I guess that makes sense.  The game looks generic… most retailers stocked their shelves with this to get impulse buyers, and won’t consider raising their price when their inventory runs short.  How would they know this is a secret winner?

The game retails at $12.  I would gladly pay $20.  Talk to your local game store owner, and tell him he should get his hands on a few copies if he can.  Offer to fork over more than retail if he says his distributor has hiked the price.  If you like the game, stock up for Christmas; there may not be any copies around by then.  I don’t know what G-pa Beck’s plan is.  I’d love to see him make a second printing of this game, and I’d love to see more games from his coffee table.  In the meantime, why don’t you have a go at our podcast?

Session Impressions – Thunderstone Advance: Towers of Ruin

Hey, Myriad Games podcast review of the new Thunderstone expansion is up!  Well… Towers of Ruin is a relaunch of the Thunderstone core product.  For those of you who love Thunderstone and are freaking out about AEG making a new edition, you can calm down.  Advance works with all previous versions of Thunderstone, cleans up a lot of iconography and adds a few things to the game without taking anything away.

This podcast only has three people on it: Dan, Sara and myself.  So unlike a lot of our cafeteria table-style, scatterbrained, pinballing podcasts, we rammed through every talking point imaginable in the new version.  We ride Thunderstone a lot, it’s true.  But we’re critical of a lot of little things in Thunderstone because the game hovers on the edge of great.  It certainly is the sort of game that I would like to play night, after night, after night, if our game playing scheduling allowed us to do it.  Whenever a new Thunderstone expansion comes up, I’m happy to see it, since that means I’m going to get another chance to play Thunderstone, and I like Thunderstone.  (It’s an interesting phenomenon.  I used to look forward to Dominion expansions, and was hesitant about  Thunderstone expansions.  Now I’m happy to see Thunderstone expansions, and am hesitant toward Dominion expansions.  Hmm…  there’s an article in that.  Think I’ll save that for later.)

But that’s an article for another time.  Right now you want to here a bunch of people get happy-angry about a game they love-hate, right? Click here to Advance to the podcast!

Session Impressions: Toc Toc Woodman

I was not around to record this podcast.  How unfortunate.  Toc Toc Woodman is an excellent game.  I’ve discovered that it takes a special game to tear serious Magic: the Gathering players away from their tournament, and Toc Toc has that in Plains.  The game is such a great distraction, that, shortly into this session impression, the group becomes fascinated with Toc Toc, start to play and cheer, then realize that they have to back up and explain what the heck it is they’re doing.

What they’re doing is taking a plastic axe and slapping it against a plastic tree in an attempt to knock all the bark off the tree’s side.  For each piece of bark you collect, you get a point.  Unfortunately, for each core you smack out of there, you lose five points.  It’s a cross between Jenga and Don’t Break the Ice.

At one point, the Myriad Cast mentions the ‘John-Michael Method’.  For those of you who are wondering, that involves turning the ax head around so that the flat of the ax is facing the tree, and smashing the top of the tree.  The core stays solid, since you’re hitting the tree right in the center, but the edges of the tree vibrate, sending any loose bark to the ground.  Don’t do that too much; players will accuse you of cheating, since there’s little risk involved, and the whole point of playing games like this to mess up and have fun.  Wait until someone is running away with a victory, then try to steal it away with this maneuver.  😉

There isn’t much to talk about when playing Toc Toc except for how much fun you’re having while playing.  This podcast entry is mostly a bunch of people giggling and having a good time.  That’s the rough equivalent of a four star review around here.

The Hunger Games: District 12 – Session Impressions

Hey!  The Hunger Games: District 12 podcast (Psst.  Click the link.) is up!

I do find it funny that our play group spends a fair amount of time comparing this game to the book.  Wasn’t there supposed to be some movie that Wizkids went nuts getting the rights to and publishing a gigantic pile of products over?  Oh well.

So here’s the quick and dirty for those too snooty to listen and laugh along with our podcast.  If you’re going to play one game based upon The Hunger Games, so far, this is your best bet.  I would call District 12 enjoyable.  Many would disagree with me.  There’s a lot of contention over the main mechanic which goes: “As we play the game, whenever a person falls behind, they put a number of ballots into a large glass ball.  At the end of the game, one name is pulled, that person is going to the Hunger Games and loses, and, out of the people who has not yet lost, the person who did the best wins.  By the way, everyone always has one ballot in the glass ball.”  There’s a lot of people who don’t like losing out of left field, and a lot who don’t like people who win by stretching themselves out beyond what should be rational.  Whatever.  The world of the Hunger Games is cruel and capricious, like this raspberry that I’m sharing with all those logic game purists.  Ppffffffttt!

To be fair, though, if you have no interest in The Hunger Games franchise at all, you should probably pick up another game.  This isn’t the most revolutionary thing I’ve ever played, it’s just a good translation for the book/movie.  Everyone else who isn’t completely turned off by this mini review, should probably listen to the podcast to figure out whether you will like the game or not.  To everyone who is completely turned on by this mini review… I’m free on Sunday nights.

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