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Res Arcana - first Impressions

Alexandre Santos
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At the time of writing (the day after the official release), I have played Res Arcana exactly once at 3 players, so this is a simple first impressions report, that I plan to complement later as the number of plays increase. The purpose is to let interested readers know a bit more about the game from a gamer perspective, not an exhaustive essay on the game.

Res Arcana is the first game published by Sand Castle Games, and is designed by Thomas Lehmann. The theme is centered on Alchemy, each player being a magician that tries to achieve supremacy through excellence in the Art. In more pedestrian terms it's an engine builder that plays as a race for points much in the vein of Race for the Galaxy. Compared to RFTG, the hook of Res Arcana is that it's a much more strategic experience compared to the tactical nature of Race.

Play overview

In Res Arcana, you are dealt a minute 8 card deck of artifacts, which is all you'll have during the entire game, and that you can peruse at the start.


Artifacts, the meat and potatoes of the game. Credit - DrNo


From this mini-deck you draw a hand of 3 cards, which will help you to pick one of the 2 mages you randomly drew at the beginning.


Credit - DrNo


The first player gets a first player token which also stands for a victory point at the end of the game. In inverse player order players will pick a magic item, a one time use tile that is returned to the magic item pool each round.


Magic items have all kinds of powers, and work like boosters in Gaia Project or Terra Mystica, providing a tactical element to a more strategic game. Credit - DrNo


Another important element are Monuments, which can be bought by 4 gold and provide victory points and help power up various types of engines

Finally there are 5 places of power, randomly chosen expensive tiles that provide points and offer strategic paths to victory.


credit - DrNo


Each round players will start by collecting essences that fuel artifacts and are turned into victory points by places of power.



Then turn by turn players will place artifacts, buy monuments or places of power and activate them. First player to pass receives the first player token and its victory point, discards their magic item and chooses another one among those available. Choosing when to pass becomes important in order to pick a specific magic item or to prevent another player to get it.

The player who passes also gets to pick one card (yep, ONE card), so in this game players have a mini-deck and a minuscule hand.

Once every player has passed, there is an end game trigger check : if any player accumulated 10 VPs or more, the game ends, with the winner being the player with most points, ties being broken by gold.

Components

Art is subjective, but the illustrations are exquisite and drew positive comments from players. The mages are diverse in gender and ethnicity, which is great, specially when the player has a clear avatar during play.

Essences are represented by nice wooden tokens which vary in color but also in shape (hopefully helping with color blindness issues). A nice covered tray is provided to hold the tokens during play which is really a nice feature, but care must be taken to open it, the lid is tight.

The tiles are thick, while the cards are a bit thin and there have been some complaints on the cutting leaving marked edges. I must admit I have no opinion on this issue, as a compulsive card sleever.

Speaking of sleeves, the insert is well thought, and allows enough leeway for sleeved cards to be stored.

I must say that the components go above and beyond what I would expect for this kind of game, and specially the modest price tag.

Gameplay

The whole game is about identifying good combos from your mini-deck in order to create the most efficient VP engine. Contrary to race for the galaxy where there is "exploration of the deck" by drawing lots of cards, in Res Arcana you know what you have from the start, and you'll have to make do with that. The only source of unknown are Monuments, which are expensive, so you won't get many of those, but they can be critical to support a given strategy, adding a more tactical layer to the game.

Interaction is present in the game via competition for places of power and monuments. There is also some "take that" in the form of essence destruction. It's not player targeted (all opponents suffer it), and it can be countered by protections.

The game is pretty fast, and should be over in 30-45 minutes, which is a length I enjoy for engine builder races. Because each player can only do one action during their turn, downtime is minimal and play feels snappy.

Replayability is of course unknown for me at this point, but clearly many different strategies seem to be available despite the small artifact deck (40 cards), so I'm optimistic. Also, there are "advanced" variants based on drafting the mini-deck, but I have not tried them.

Conclusions

The game feels like a cross between Race for the Galaxy and Gaia Project, in the sense that it's a card game with a much more strategic focus.

The game itself is very approachable, being easily picked up by new players, and hopefully offers a large room for skill progression.

The theme and mechanics are not very original, but the main draw of the game is the quality of the game play, and so far it has not disappointed. Looking forward to write a new report with more plays under my belt !
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Sat Mar 16, 2019 6:17 pm
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New to me - February 2019

Alexandre Santos
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A pretty good month. Although I played much less than in January, I got to try a couple of interesting games.

New games

Hab & Gut - 1 play - 8
First Published 2008


A very simple game of shares speculation and investment. You know part of the information on the likely evolution of stocks, but the rest is unknown to you and you'll have to deduce it from the behavior of players who have access to that information.

Part of your investment must go into charity, as the stingier player will be eliminated at the end of the game. But how much to invest in philanthropic works will depend on the players, which is absolutely great.

Again it's one of those simple games of shared incentives, bluff and deduction, where most of the game is in the player heads. Compared to a classic like Chicago Express the main downsides are increased downtime, made worse by increasing player count, and the luck factor which is absent in Chicago Express.

A great game that I'll replay any time!

Mission: Red Planet (Second Edition) - 1 play - 8
First Published 2015


This is an area control game crossed with role selection. It's quite chaotic, so it must not be taken very seriously, specially at higher player counts. This being said I managed to carry out my initial strategy, so perhaps there's some method within the madness.

In enjoyed this game much more than Citadels, which seemed much slower, plodding and subject to kingmaking.

A fun game with some great components (cute astronauts and nice boards), that asks you to enjoy the joy ride

Lowlands - 1 play - 7.5
First Published 2018


Very interesting farming euro where the final scoring is determined by the players' actions (building the dike or not). I really enjoyed it, with the small caveat that it lasted a bit longer than what I expected for its weight. Probably this will improve with repeated plays, which hopefully will also lead to more vicious scoring manipulation.

Dual Powers: Revolution 1917 - 1 play - 7.5
First Published 2018


Very tight 2p area control game, which forces you to take into account many different factors (timing, turn order, management of units, etc). It was longer than what I expected, will see if this improves with repeated plays. An excellent surprise, looking forward to more plays of this.

Struggle of Empires - 1 play - 7
First Published 2004


A very good "epic" game of empire building, with area majority, investment in techs and the usual loan shenanigans of Wallace's games. The hook of the game is the alliance mechanic. The game is made of a succession of three Wars. At the start of a War you bid for turn order, but also for the composition of the two Alliances that will fight. You don't bid only for your faction, but for all of them. This auction really makes the game and elevates it to something special. So much to consider : "I need to be allied with this faction, to prevent it from shredding my empire, while avoiding ending up on a weak Alliance, or being the weaker player in an Alliance and targeted by the other alliance for points, or falling back to much on turn order, etc..." delighfully excruciating!

Great game, but it takes a long time to play (5 hours at 5 players in our play).

Werewolf - 3 plays - 6.5
First Published 1986


Not my first play, but the first I logged. The classic of social deduction, which suffers from needing a Referee and for the extended time out of eliminated players. Still, great fun!

Paper Tales - 1 play - 6.5
First Published 2017


Pure drafting game with an interesting aging mechanic. On the first turn of our first play one player got the Relic, which can't die and provides points for aging. The player ended up winning the game, and the card seemed overpowered, but we'll see how this turns out with further plays. The game itself is fast and seems to offer variable strategies. It seems promising, if we manage to counter the Relic.

Elysium - 1 play - 6
First Published 2015


This is a game that I wanted to try a long time ago, so was happy to play it. It's a card engine building game with some interesting peculiarities, you can only draft cards if you have certain colored columns, that you must discard to get cards, limiting your successive actions, and the classical dilemma between building an engine and destroying it to score points.

A very technical game that I found a bit dry and longer than I wished, but it might get more appreciation with repeated plays.

Ganymede - 1 play - 6
First Published 2018


Another very fast card engine building game, that did not really catch my attention. It seemed a bit too plain in gameplay, despite the nice illustrations. I'd gladly play it if suggested, but won't request it.

Gravity Superstar - 1 play - 5.5
First Published 2018


Nifty game where you try to collect sets and power tokes in a board with changing gravity and portals, while knocking out competitors and avoiding being knocked out. But it's not something that retained my attention to motivate repeat plays. I wonder if this game would be popular with kids, it's fast playing and easy to understand.

BANG! - 1 play - 5.5
First Published 2002


A party game mixing player elimination with social deduction. I must admit that it was quite fun and I would play it if suggested, but I won't request to play it, too much randomness.

Expansion

Oh My Goods!: Longsdale in Revolt - 7
First Published 2016


Got to try this expansion which really elevates the base game. The campaign is basically a big tutorial which teaches you to better appreciate the possible strategies in the game, and the new buildings enrich the good transformation chains, making some of them actually viable (brick).

Great expansion, mandatory I daresay.
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Fri Mar 1, 2019 9:20 pm
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Playing circles - part 4 : game meetings

Alexandre Santos
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After discussing couple/family and friends as playing circles (see part 1, part 2 and part 3 of this series), I'd like to have a look at gaming groups or game meetings, so named because their existence is based on gaming. According to the poll on part 1, 40% of the readers participate in such groups.

Gaming society

Board games are often called "jeux de société" in French or "gezelschapsspellen" in Dutch, and nowhere is this "society" aspect more present than at game meetings, where you meet a much broader range of the society.

Such meetings often gather 10 to 20 participants, and generally offer gender parity. Many participants are relatively new to gaming, which often requires attention and care to accommodate them.

Sometimes player's inexperience also forces you to become more educational, like with the player that strongly bends the cards to "keep them secret", so that you need to explain that these aren't cheap playing cards and that one should fan cards straight.

Some new players also "run out of batteries" during a game, simply because they have to deal with a lot of new information, and because they can't estimate correctly how much effort a given game will require from them.

All this being said these are very minor things, and I'm always glad to get someone new into the hobby.

Because game meetings are centered on gaming, we get to play several successive plays, unlike with family or friends. This does not prevent us from chatting, specially between games or as the gaming night is winding down. I have had some interesting exchanges on those occasions with people I would otherwise not meet, making these occasions unexpectedly enriching.

Game meetings organization

In Brussels I have known various types of game meetings :

- highly structured, with a president, dozens of participants and a support team to teach rules to new comers on special "beginner's game nights". They often have deals with gaming cafés to host their events, and are present on meetup.com or similar platforms.

- very local game meetings with limited number of places and a membership fee, usually used to pay for drinks/snacks and ancillary expenses.

- game meetings organized by game cafés or game restaurants, where gaming tables will be organized with new games, but where you can also show up with your own games if you want.

- completely informal game meetings organized through social networks and hosted in private addresses.

All of these have pros and cons, with highly structured game meetings you have a better chance of playing something that interests you, but you are often more limited in your gaming time. In more informal groups it's the opposite, you have less time restrictions but more often waste time:

- players are out of sync and wait for others to finish their games

- people suggest to play games which they don't fully master, or even worse are still shrink-wrapped, which would be a complete no-go for me among friends, and which I try to avoid during game meets. Among gaming friends we always choose the game in advance, and expect the game owner to not only know the rules but also to be capable of explaining them in an articulate manner.

- less experience in estimating paly times: at my last game meet someone suggested to play Seasons at four players, despite me trying to convince this would take too long. Fortunately I could avoid that play, which is possible because at these game meets there are usually enough players to setup several concurrent gaming tables.

Games at game meets

All kinds of games are played during these game meets, ranging from fillers to the 3-4h heavy game. This being said game meets are good places to get to try new or unusual games, because often editors or distributors are present and want to test a game that they may wish to commercialize in the country, or players bring games from Essen, etc. That is for instance how I got to play The Last Spike and Slapshot, or Empires of the Void II.

Game meets are also very interesting to play higher player-count games, as these are the games I have the biggest difficulty playing in my more private gaming circles. That is how I got to play for instance Spyfall or When I Dream. In the future I'd like to get to try games like The Resistance etc.

Another aspect of these game meetings is serendipity, where I have made some interesting unplanned discoveries, like Decrypto

Outlook

All in all I have enjoyed all game meets I have attended. I have discovered many games, and met lots of friendly people, which is also very pleasant.

Nevertheless there is one expectation I had for game meets which did not pan out, and that is to find dedicated players ready to play more demanding or niche games, which will be the topic of the next post.

And how about you, why do you attends game meets, or why not? How do such meets tend to work, and what are your thoughts about them?
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Thu Feb 7, 2019 9:38 pm
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Playing circles - part 3 : friends

Alexandre Santos
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Continuing the series on gaming circles (part 1, part 2) I would like to discuss play with friends, which according to the poll on part 1 is the most common form of gaming.

Contrary to family, friends are those people which you have chosen to build a relationship with, and as such they will tend to share common interests, gaming being sometimes one of them. Nevertheless meeting with friends will be mostly about spending time together, gaming often being a secondary consideration.

Friends as gaming partners

Friends are a very diverse group in terms of gaming, some of them have absolutely zero interest in gaming and are mind boggled when they see my games for the first time. others on the contrary are avid gamers. Among gaming friends I have :

- the friend who seldom comes, and will only play games with simple rules but interesting gameplay, much like the relatives profile. Games like Azul, Chicago Express or even The Mind work well.
- the friend who does not research games, and thus navigates by theme rather than mechanics, needing help to grapple the game acquired. This happened with The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game, or De Vulgari Eloquentia.
- the accommodating friend who will play anything under 90 minutes.
- the curmudgeon who always expresses disappointment about any game that is played.
- the theme/storytelling aficionado who hates dry euros and won't play anything older than two years.
- the kickstarter enthusiast who buys huge games that will never be played on working days, and is too busy with other activities to play them on week-ends.
- the friend who actually designs games.
- the non-gaming friend who when exceptionally coaxed into playing trounces you.


Gaming together

Friends' interest in gaming waxes an wanes in time, and people that played often may develop other hobbies, get new jobs or have a family change that gets in the way of gaming. Even for those that remain interested, changing schedules is a hurdle to overcome. I admire people who have regular gaming nights, but for me this was never really an option, so usually what we do is to use a collaboration platform such as trello to announce a potential gaming night, and check out who will be available. Depending on player count and the mix of people, a couple of games will be suggested online, and a choice is made before gaming night.

Because everybody is busy, and time is short, this allows the game master to pre-read the rules, and make sure we start without wasting time. We tend to play on working days, so games tend to be middle weight and can't go over the 90 minute range, specially because we like to spend time chatting and keeping up with everyone. We never play more than one game, and usually the evening is spent 50% gaming, 50% chatting.

Occasionally we organize half-day or even whole day game sessions, and will then get a heavier game played, or a series of games. Sometimes we even organized a gaming retreat, where we'll play a lot, but also hike, have BBQ, etc. That is how we got to play Pax Renaissance or Greenland, but also Eclipse and 1989: Dawn of Freedom.


Campaign/Legacy games

The absence of a regular gamenight means that legacy or campaign games are really a difficult proposition. We did manage to complete Pandemic Legacy: Season 1 in 16 plays, although it took us 2 years. We also played 9 scenarios out of 10 of Star Wars: Imperial Assault before dropping out. Against all wisdom we did start Pandemic Legacy: Season 2 which is dormant since the game owner developed an interest for jewel making

Because often legacy/campaign games require the same people to meet repeatedly, they are very hard to organize and prevent us from playing other games that are honestly often more interesting. So I don't think I'll be starting another campaign game anytime soon, unless it accommodates variable players and sticks to the 1 hour time limit. Fireteam Zero does look like an interesting candidate, but we have decided to try it at two players before perhaps committing more people to this game.


Duds and hits

I believe that my friends gaming circle is less euro-oriented than me, which means that some favorites of mine have never gained traction. Among my regrets:
- Race for the Galaxy : My favorite game, but nobody seemed to care. As some form of compensation the accommodating friend did buy Jump Drive, so we play that instead. Another one will playRoll for the Galaxy, but it's just not the same for me.
- Orléans : lot's of meh, another brownish euro, too passé.
- Concordia : they fell asleep before I even opened the box.
- Shadowrun: Crossfire : you can't keep your deck from one scenario to the next? forget it. This lead me to become interested in Gloomhaven, but it's too long, see above about legacy/campaign games.
- Citadels : they were very bored. I hope Mission: Red Planet (Second Edition) fares better.

Games that worked well:
- Troyes : I think there is enough meanness in the game to keep people interested.
- Dead of Winter: A Crossroads Game : pretty thematic, even though it overstays its welcome.
- Tragedy Looper : very quirky and tense deduction and chess-like game, we even managed repeated plays.
- Cyclades : a dudes on a map that fits on a working game-night,everybody was riveted.


In conclusion

Overall I enjoy a lot my friends gaming circle, we play very diverse games and spend a great time together. We tend to play once a week, but it requires some juggling of dates. In the end, friends plays amount to 37% my total recorded plays.

One thing I would like to try is playing repeatedly the same game to evolve our game level over time. Basically a campaign mode for non campaign games. But considering the difficulties with true campaign games and various tastes among players, I think this will ultimately be a pipe dream.

How about you, how is your gaming among friends ? How is it structured, how often do you play, how do you organize ?
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Wed Feb 6, 2019 9:27 pm
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Playing circles - part 2 : couple/family

Alexandre Santos
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Yesterday I discussed playing circles, and organized them into several categories according to the importance of gaming in the relationship. Today I'd like to discuss the first category, couple and family gaming, which according to the poll is a gaming circle for 80% of the readers.

Couple

Unless you met your significant other at a game meeting, games within a couple will be a lottery. For some your partner won't be interested at all in gaming, for others the passion will be shared. For most it will probably be something in between.

That is my case, my wife is willing to play when I suggest it, but without me she probably would never play, as she has other interests. As it turns out she will play on average once a week with me, usually a single play of a game within the 30-60 minutes range, 1.5-3 in weight, like Hanabi,Pandemic, Race for the Galaxy or Shadowrun: Crossfire.

In time I have better understood her gaming profile : she prefers coops or engine building games with low aggression or screwage opportunities. She has a pronounced distaste for having someone messing up what she builds.

She is quite competitive and regularly beats me with games like Azul or deck-builders like Valley of the Kings. Trick-tacking games, or dueling games on the other hand are really not her cup of tea, like The Fox in the Forest or Blue Moon.

Despite generally liking one hour games, she is not averse to play heavier and longer games once in a while. She has for instance enjoyed The Voyages of Marco Polo and even tried and requested Gloomhaven.

Despite being relatively casual about gaming, it turns out that she amounts to 26% of my plays during these last 4 years, which is a surprising higher fraction than I expected, indicating that I tend to underestimate the amount of gaming I have with her.

Kids

My kids are 10, 5 and 3 years old currently, and vary a lot in their appreciation for board gaming, with the elder one being rather uninterested, and the middle one very enthusiastic. Usually they have started playing a cooperative game such as the Orchard, where they learn turn structure and dice mechanics. Kids love dice, and Rory's Story Cubes have also been very entertaining for them, although they are not really a game. Another early favorite are memory games like Chicken Cha Cha Cha, or a race game like Monza.

In any case the most popular game ever among kids at my house has been PitchCar Mini, a race flicking game that they can play on and on.

Another interesting finding is that a yatzhee-like game such as King's Gold has been very effective to bring kids of various ages to the table. I wasn't very enthusiastic about this game at the beginning, but it proved to be very entertaining among a bunch of kids, and it's portability is also a plus.

As kids aged they have branched out to other games. Chess has been a surprise hit, the success of which is probably due to the fact that you don't need to know how to read to play it, and the piece capture mechanic is very satisfying even for beginners.

Another game that has been consistently played is the cooperative game Whoowasit?. Although the game seems very corny, it was actually a bit too scary for some of the kids, who did not want their pawn to be caught up by the ghost. Once this fear was overcome they have regularly played this game where you try to find the thief of the King's ring among a list of 10 suspects, and for which you must feed and ask animals for leads. The tension of having to complete the investigation before six o'clock keeps them on the edge of their seat.

Kids are my most frequent gaming partners, and account for about 28% of my plays

Relatives

My relatives do not really have a gaming tradition, besides some traditional gaming cards played once in a blue moon. So I have cautiously tried to introduce some games to them.

Games that have worked are for instance Bohnanza, which allows kids and adults to easily play together, the trading aspect providing lively discussion and rubber-banding everyone in terms of points.

A minority of relatives do actually like games, but usually playing a game will only involve a secondary part of the evening. This is a pretty demanding public, who wants 1h games with very simple rules but with interesting gameplay, such as Kingdom Builder, Taluva,Azul,Hanabi, Barony or even Chicago Express.

Wrap up
Playing with kids is a universe in itself, which I won't discuss here. Besides kids, playing with family, people with whom you have strong ties but which are not necessarily that interested in gaming can nevertheless provide high quality gaming time, if you find engaging games which are fast but not simplistic.

Another observation is that such players are usually more mechanics rather than theme centered. Although nice components are a plus, they are not really interested in a game dripping with theme and storytelling, instead preferring something simple and elegant that they can start to play right away.

As for playing with your significant other, this is something that should not be underestimated. Even if you have moderate levels of play it still adds up to some considerable gaming. All in all, gaming within the couple and family represents about 55% of my total plays.

One interesting element to note is the evolution of people as they play regularly. Although there is little place in my wife's life for >1 hour games, the weight of games she plays has increased with continued gaming. I remember trying to introduce her to RFTG without much success a couple years ago. A few years later, and with a detour through deck-builders, the game became much more approachable, and it's now a go-to game for us.

Another factor that should not be underestimated is the impact of inertia on gaming. During a normal weekday, when energy levels are low, games such as Hanabi or Azul are quite interesting, as they involve zero setup time and quickly develop interesting gameplay.

How about you, what have been your experiences with playing with your SO, and relatives?
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Wed Feb 6, 2019 12:41 am
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Playing circles - part 1

Alexandre Santos
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Most of the conversation here on the Geek is centered on games. We talk about new games or classic ones, often record our collection and analyze play experiences.


Much less spoken about is who do we play those games with, which is paradoxical, as most of our gaming will be determined by our gaming partners: what are they ready to play, how often, and which games do they bring to the table.

This being said such a bias is natural, as games are a standardized commodity and as such easy to talk about. We may or may not like Pandemic, but we will mostly be playing with the same rules and components across the world, which gives common ground for an exchange.

Gaming partners are a much more varied and complex topic to discuss,This being said people do talk about players in team sports, so why not have a go at it?

As I started recording my collection and logging my plays, I have come to realize that gaming partners are basically a "second collection", a resource that also has specific constraints. Games have labels such as "2-4 players, 60-120 min age 8+". Although unwritten, playing partners also have a range of play such as "plays once a week games of 30-90 min, 1.5-2.5 weight, requires nice components and strong theme".



A person's game collection is basically a gaming program. Considering that you buy games to play them, having a game in your collection most likely means you want to play it with a given frequency. A "collection" of gaming partners - your gaming circles - should ideally cover the same program, both "collections" should be compatible. In reality, your gaming circles are much more important in enabling your program than your own collection, as most likely gaming partners have more games on their own than you will ever be able to play, to the exclusion of solo/family gaming.

In order to discuss gaming circles, I think it's interesting to order them along the importance of gaming in the relationship :

- family/couple : these include kids, significant other, relatives. These relationships exist independently of gaming.

- friends : people you relate with independently of gaming. Some of them may like to play games.

- gaming groups: these are people who meet to play games. Gaming is the first reason to meet, but the social aspect of the gathering is also important.

- hardcore gamers: these are people who meet to play specific, often niche games.

Over the next few days I'll discuss how my gaming is distributed across those categories. Checking my records I was amazed that for instance in 2018 I played with 64 different players. Who are they, and what kind of gaming do they enable?

How about you, how is your gaming distributed?
Poll
Which type of gaming circles do you play in ?
  Your Answer   Vote Percent Vote Count
solo
63.6% 21
couple/family
81.8% 27
friends
78.8% 26
game meetings
42.4% 14
hardcore gamers
39.4% 13
conventions
24.2% 8
online
33.3% 11
other (comment)
0.0% 0
Voters 33
This poll is now closed.   33 answers
Poll created by AlexFS
Closes: Mon Feb 18, 2019 6:00 am
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Mon Feb 4, 2019 9:10 pm
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Loopy Tales

Alexandre Santos
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FOSDEM day 2 (see day 1) : a talk on solutions to decentralize the web by restoring user control on data and segmenting the app and storage marketplaces.


~~


Tales from the Loop

From 1995 to 2015 I played almost exclusively RPGs, but by early 2015 our RPG group was basically inactive due to half of the players being busy with infants and toddlers. At that time I started to become interested in board games, which have a much more standardized play length, and require no preparation. It's hard to concentrate on the next RPG session when you are interrupted every 15 minutes by attention-seeking kids and associated chores.

Although I came to boardgaming for the ready made aspect, I was surprised by how much the game mechanics had progressed, specially compared to RPGs. So while I fell the board gaming rabbit hole my RPGing became dormant.

Still the years passed and we are slowly getting out of the neonatal winter period, with longer stretches of time to concentrate on any given interest, like this blog for instance. So I naturally resumed roleplaying with old and new players. Because some of them are new to RPGs, and nobody really has the time for long play sessions anymore, I chose Tales from the Loop to start a new campaign.


credit to trystero11


In tales from the loop there is very little baggage a new player must take in. No weird magic, medieval culture and jargon, etc. You play a child not that much different from yourself, and the setting is as immediate as it gets, if you watched a couple of films from the eighties or Strange Things.

The idea of the game is that you are playing a bunch of kids living near a particle accelerator in an alternative '80s where a bunch of weird science is real.


the original setting on swedish islands - credit to trystero11


To increase the nostalgia factor I set my custom campaign on Brussels in 1982, with two key differences :

- There is a gigantic Loop
- There is also a vast lake surrounded by the Sonian forest.


can you spot the 2 subtle differences ?


Using Brussels as a custom setting helps bringing players together. Those native to the city can bring up interesting elements to play, and those that grew up elsewhere do live today in Brussels, so they can still relate to places while drawing stuff from their own childhood memories.

The oversized Genval lake allows things to become sufficiently different from the actual past to avoid slavish historicism, and brings this homebrew setting closer to those used in the base game, which is useful to easily adapt scenarii from the commerce.

Yesterday we finished the first scenario suggested in the book, which I won't describe to avoid spoiling. Much fun and laughs were had, as the kids unleashed chaos and mayhem in the usually slow moving summer holidays.

From now on I'll start to deviate into my own campaign, for which I have already sketched the main arc.

Thank you for reading!
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Sun Feb 3, 2019 9:20 pm
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New to me - January 2019

Alexandre Santos
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FOSDEM, an open-access event to discuss free/libre/open-source software and digital rights.


My take away was a preoccupation for shrinking freedom caused by centralization of personal data storage in a couple of private companies, the development of tools to protect whistle-blowers and independent investigative journalism, and how self-hosted solutions might become the backbone of decentralized social networks.


~~


New to me games of January 2019

18MEX -  8.5 

This was my first foray into 18XX games. It was great to learn the game directly with more experienced players, who obviously crushed me, but it was great fun.

The parameter space of this game is huge, starting from the initial private auctions, network building and stock manipulation. There is a lot to explore!

One of my favorite games is Chicago Express, a very elegant game of network building and shared incentives. As such 18xx games interest me more on the share manipulation aspect than the "engineering" side. For me the network is mostly there to create interesting configurations on which to play the financial game.

The peculiarity of 18mex in relation to 1830 is the introduction in the middle of the game of the National Mexican Railways which can nationalize many of the privately owned companies. Managing this nationalization is key to winning the game.

I really enjoyed this particular game, and would gladly play it again. Like most 18xx games, the end-game does tend to get unwieldy and repetitive. We agreed to skip the last rounds once no further network changes were expected, and just calculated successive revenues until breaking the bank.

Northern Pacific - 7.5

Northern Pacific is the exact opposite of 18xx games: the bare-bones distillation of network building and shared incentives. Another crucial aspect of 18xx, Chicago Express and Northern Pacific is turn order, i.e. timing.

It's amazing how Northern Pacific boils down these elements to a couple of cubes and plays in 20 minutes, while still retaining agonizing choices and mind-games.


Summoner Wars: Phoenix Elves vs Tundra Orcs -  8.5 

I got to play Summoner Wars with my five year old. Although he needed help to play (he can't read yet), he really enjoyed, and the similarities to chess really helped. Since then he has been requesting the "game with the blue and red people".


Sprawlopolis -  7.5 

Great city-building microgame that plays very well solo. The heart of the game are the three scoring cards that are drawn for each play. There are 18 of them, and it can be very challenging to find a strategy that optimizes and mitigates conflicting scoring goals, a bit like real urban planning must manage conflicting interest groups.


Unlock! Mystery Adventures -  7 

We played the three mysteries in this box, which was my first "escape" kind of game. I generally enjoyed the game, but one just needs to forget about theme and go for the puzzle solving aspect, as quite a few riddles break the fourth wall.


Fireteam Zero -  7 

I was quite disappointed with the fiddlyness of Star Wars: Imperial Assault, after 9 plays we were still checking the rulebook for Line Of Sight questions, so it was a real pleasure to try Fireteam Zero, which not only does not have LOS at all, but is very playable in a working day game-night. We'll probably get to play it again.


Our first mission did not end well...




Citrus -  6.5 

Very interesting game of tile placement that with very simple placement rules can produce very interesting cascading effects. It did seem a bit too long (we played 4p), but perhaps this was only because it was the first play. I'd gladly play it again, but I'm not yet sure this would keep me captivated for many repeated plays.



The Game -  6.5 

I recently realized that one could easily play The Game solo, so I gave it a try. I failed badly on my first try, and can see how this could become an interesting puzzle. I'm not yet convinced on replayability, but time will tell.




Mystic ScROLLS -  6 

A real-time dice Yahtzee-style game, where you try to achieve sets of dice to throw spells in a wizard fight. I think the mechanic does give the vibe of a frenetic magic duel, and the spell acquisition mechanic adds interesting choices for such a short game, but this is not the game that can keep my interest for very long, unless it caught the fancy of the kids. But since I don't own the game, I don't expect to play it any time soon.




Shadows: Amsterdam -  6 

This game has mysterium-like image based leads together with a codenames vibe, where you race across Amsterdam neighborhoods to find leads and avoid the cops. The game is fine, although the pictures are a bit small, but I was not really interested by the game. Could play it but wouldn't really suggest it, unless repeat plays do pick up my interest.




Palm Island -  6 

I was intrigued by this micro engine building game that can be played without a table, so I made a print and play copy. The game does deliver on what it promises, but I need to play again to see how one can devise interesting strategies. The fact that you can look at the initial card order does promise some depth of strategies, but I need to check it further.




Democracy under Siege -  6 

This card-driven conflict game has a very interesting premise (simulating the pre-WWII political and weapon's build up until the start of the war. I also liked the alignment system , which allows each major power (Democraciy, Axis and Communism) to jockey for dominance in the various nations.

What I definitely did not like was the length of the game, which seemed to overstay its welcome, and the impact of luck which can waste entire turns. Of course these are first impressions, so probably luck can be better mitigated with skillful play, but for such a long game it felt too much. I played the Axis and had the feeling that "Axis under Siege" would be a better name for the game.

I don't think I'll be interested in playing it again, but I do think there is potential.


Dancing Eggs -  4 

The kids asked to play this dexterity game where you have to quickly grab eggs, while having to hold them in unwieldy postures. But they area bit too young, and as a result it was boring, frustrating and repetitive. I need to try it again with older kids, and hope that they are still interested in playing these kind of games when they are actually capable of playing them.
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Sun Feb 3, 2019 12:16 am
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2019 Challenges - January update

Alexandre Santos
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winterscape

~~


For an introduction to these challenges, see 1, 2, 3 and 4.

10x10 challenge

1 - Race for the Galaxy
2 - Azul
3 - PitchCar Mini
4 - Valley of the Kings
5 - Hanabi
6 - Elfenland
7 - Patchwork
8 - My Little Scythe
9 - Shadowrun Crossfire
10 - Hanamikoji

1x100 challenge

Race for the Galaxy

01 mbmbmbmbmbmbmbmbmbmb 10

11 mbmbmb>2019> 13

No new games this month.

Limes

01 mbmb>2019>mbmbmb 05

Current high-score : 52 (mb)

Sprawlopolis

01 >2019>mbmbmb 03


Key

Victory : mb

Defeat : mb


Magic number

The Magic Number stayed stable at 52, as I played what I acquired (Sprawlopolis).

Mindful spending

2019 gaming budget left : 82%
corncorncorncorncorncorncorncornsugarsugar

Received :
- Love Letter
- Sprawlopolis
- Mr. Jack extension
- Paper Tales : Beyond the Gates

On their way :
- 1830 : Railways & Robber Barons
- Oh my goods! Escape to Canyon Brook
- Patchwork Automa

Monthly game challenges

Nothing started yet shake

Outlook

January was a slow month for challenges, mainly because I spent time setting them up and starting the blog. But now everything is ready, and hopefully things will pick up in the following months. My main regret is that I did not get to start the Monthly game challenges, so we'll see what February brings.
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Fri Feb 1, 2019 9:10 pm
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New year challenges part 4 - Thematic oriented challenges

Alexandre Santos
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frost and sheep in an urban farm

~~


It is fitting to finish this series on gaming challenges on the last day of January (see part 1, part 2 and part 3). In this final installment I will discuss my projects in terms of thematically oriented challenges, i.e. challenges that focus on given themes, and are often not time-bounded.

Unpossible challenges

Unpossible challenges are interesting, because they add an exciting goal that could be achieved any time we play the game. Playing x times a game is a methodical, plodding activity, but trying to achieve a hard milestone is like breaking a sport's record. Any sportive event where a new world record is or might be achieved is very exciting, and gives a meaning to the hard preparation that athletes undergo. An unpossible challenge provides a bit of the same dramatic arc.

Because of the slightly obsessive nature of these challenges, I think I will only try them with solo games, not coops. I can't imagine any of my gaming partners getting on board with such a crazy adventure.

I don't have any formal unpossible challenge at the moment, simply because I don't have the feeling I know any given game enough to decide on what is a barely feasible challenge that I could aim for. So I guess the next best option is to start with the solo games for which I set up a 1x100 challenge.

Limes - my interest in Limes started precisely because of Morten's challenge of achieving 60 points. As I progress along the 1x100 Limes challenge, I will see how close can I get to that goal. At the moment my high-score is 52 points, but I have the feeling I am only doing a reconnaissance of the game's main scoring constraints.

Sprawlopolis - For this game a possible goal would be try to complete the full list of achievements listed in the game:



Perhaps among them there are a couple which are truly unpossible. One of difficulties with this game is that the scoring rules are randomized, so perhaps that part would have to be tweaked.

Monthly game challenges

New challenges are regularly announced in the 2019 solo challenge geeklist. Among those the one I'm more interested in is the monthly Glass Road challenge, where people have to maximize their scoring from a given combination of starting buildings.

Another option that interests me is the Flamme Rouge Grand Tour competition, where people assemble teams and go for the full tour.

Unfortunately January was a miss for me in regards to these challenges, so I'll see if I can get on board starting from February. The draw from such challenges is underlined by the 1PG motto, "Alone we play together", as they allow friendly emulation instead of a pure solo experience.


Thematic monthly plays

Inspired by
Russ Williams
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, the idea is that during one month you play a series of games linked by a communality, which may be based on theme, mechanics, etc. I think that in time this could be an alternative to a 10x10 challenge, as it combines the depth enabled by repeated play with the exploration of diversity. But at this time I don't have a gaming partner which could sustain that level of gaming.

Nevertheless I have started to think about possible thematic links between games in my collection that could feature in this type of practice. As discussed previously and like for 10x10 challenges, such a challenge should take into account the logistical aspects (having light and heavier games), and be discussed with your gaming partners to boost engagement. These types of challenges are basically a celebration of the gaming circle that practices them.

How about you, have you set up any thematic challenge ? With themes did you pick up ? Did your past experiences provide some interesting insight?
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Thu Jan 31, 2019 10:27 pm
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