Saturday, December 26, 2009

Print 'N Play Games. - Half the fun is in the crafting of the game but now-a-days the games are pretty cool too!

Way back when...I couldn't really tell you how long ago, I discovered the idea of Print 'N Play board game. Even back then I knew about PnP RPG's and living rule books things along those line but the idea of a board or card game in this format didn't occur to me. Yet I found some, a precious few amongst the slew of online RPGs...mostly I found war games but a few games that actually interested me showed up.

Notice I say a few because it seemed to me that back then (we are talking about 5 or 6 years ago) sucked ass. Not all mind you but most at any rate. Seems like someone would spew out some half baked idea for a game throw together some shitty clip art they got on a free CDROM with their Gateway, spice it with a neato wing ding font and then try and sell if for 6 to 8 bucks. Yeah I too the bite a couple times then stopped when I found out the games, as I said sucked ass. I found a couple that were cool and the best ones were typically being offered as free.

So I decided to shy away from these as they just were not paying off at all. I focused instead on building my game collection with professionally made board games. I got a decent sized collection under my belt and the further focused on trading games...get rid of the riff raff that I don't play in favor of something I would enjoy. While I've still got quite a few games I don't play I've managed to move a lot of them along the road to happy homes where they live hopefully getting played.

Yet that's not what this post is about, as is evident by my ever so cleaver title to the post. (For those who expected my return to this blog to be something biting and creative I apologize I've been under a quite a bit of pressure lately and well my creative side feels tapped out.)

I guess it's been the past couple of year that I've began to really focus on PnP games though. They have certainly been brought to the light of day with enthusiasm than previously and that's largely to do with the fact that the games have really improved in quality. Both the playability and the look of the games themselves.

This past Christmas season I even joined the Print 'n Play Secret Santa list on BGG and it was a truly rewarding experience for me. You can really tell everyone involved put their best pair of scissors forward and tried their best to craft the best possible game for the SS target. I had so much fun both in crafting the games I sent my target and in getting my package and pouring over the goodies I got. It didn't end there either, no not at all. We've been reading all month long as each person gets their package and posts what games they received and posts pictures of them. Part of the charm in this was getting to see different methods of crafting the games first hand.

See that's part of the experience in PnP games...the crafting of the game. It's a good bit of fun to print 'em out and make 'em. Find unique ways to package them and make them feel as much of a real part of your game collection as anything else you may have from Rio Grande or Z-Man Games. There then becomes a new level of pride in these games as you break them out on game night and everyone's ohhhing and ahhhhning over a game they can't just go out and BUY a copy of...but could print for free.

Now I know what most of you who are reading this might be thinking. (...and that very probably is just you Tony!) You are thinking that you just don't have the skills and equipment to do PnP games even if they are good. "Well wrong buddy." (without hearing me imitate the voice of The Cat from the show Red Dwarf that quote just wouldn't make any sense as all unless I tell you it was a quote of a line delivered by The Cat from the show Red Dwarf. It actually comes from the episode "Legion" if you really wanted to know. So there.)

I personally own a Kodak ESP3 ink jet printer. It's a pretty cheap printer I got at Wal-Mart. The color cartridge is $15.99 and the B/W is $11.99 when I need to replace them or I could buy in bulk online and save but typically I'm a dork and don't. Now a long time I bought a page laminator at K-Mart (I'm a fan of the Marts...but my favorite is X-Mart...but that's t totally different blog entry.) Wait got side tracked. Anyway K-Mart has this laminator for about $35 that I bought some time back and now find it exceedingly useful for my PnP projects but it's NOT necessary. Hell one of the games I received was blued to the back of cereal boxes! Simple spray adhesive that can be purchased just about anywhere I'm finding will adhere boards to nearly all types of material.

Bottom line is you would be surprised how much you can get done with very little "extras" and craft yourself a pretty cool game. One of my games was a tile laying game and the tiles were stuck onto the back of those self adhesive floor tiles! This made them thick, chunky and super sturdy. I was really impressed with this idea. Others will buy crappy games at thrift stores and cannibalize the bits and even the boards to make their own games...I must admit I've been cannibalizing thrift store games for years now. The best are the really old copies of risk with the wooden cubes in 6 colors and even those funny oblong triangular pieces that represent the 10 units pieces.

Alright so I've said the bulk of what I wanted to say and firmly made my stance about how anyone can easily come into the fold of PnPer's. Now it's up to you dear reader. Get off your lazy ass and find a game. There's hundreds of them these days. Just search "Print and Play" on Board Game Geek (best done under geeklists and forums) and you'll be flooded with responses.

Have fun.


Thursday, May 28, 2009

Why I Like - Agricola Through the Seasons

"All good things are wild, and free." Henry David Thoreau

• As with my recent quick and dirty little review of Agricola X-Deck I'm going to start off by saying first and foremost that Through the Seasons is FREE and as you can see that's the criteria for being a "Good thing." Thank you Mr. Thoreau.

• As with my recent quick and dirty little review of Agricola X-Deck I'm going to also state that it's an expansion for Agricola! So what's not to like there right?

• As with my recent quick and dirty little review of Agricola X-Deck I'm going to also state that I've got over 100 games of face to face Agricola challenges in and it's nice to shake things up a bit.

• As with my recent quick and dirty little review of Agricola X-Deck I'm going to ask again...did I mention it's an Agricola expansion...and it's free?!?!

I admit that tactic I used there was a cheap shot (Or maybe it was a quick and dirty) as getting my review going but hey I also have to admit that I'm willing to take them sometimes! Hell if I were to be totally honest with you I'd be telling you right here and now that those bullet points were my intention from the get go I just didn't get around to writing this review as quickly as I suspected I would...but that's usually the case with me anyway.

Here we are half way done with the review and I've not really started talking about Through the Seasons yet. Maybe I should get to that. So the genesis of this thing was a post card job that got sent out to whoever or however, I don't really know or care as I wasn't one who got one of the post cards! No it's one of those frustrating deals where if you aren't "in" the right circle somewhere or signed up to the right there here you just aren't suppose to be graced with the presence of an addition to your favorite game. (Well one of my top favorites anyway.) Fortunately for the rest of poor schleps out there you can find high resolution images and files of said rarer and wondrous post card game board in the entry for the expansion. Woooooooooo Hoooooooooo. As I consider myself a print-n-play junkie anyway throwing this one down was a no brainer. I simply printed the sucker out on regular paper and ran it through the ole laminator and bam I'm now. I could have used card stock but didn't figure it was totally necessary as this was a board not a card set. I've had absolutely zero problems with this creation method so far.

Now you know what TtS is but what does it do? Well as I said it shakes the game up just a tad by adding variable board effects to the game each and every round as well as giving you 4 new action spaces to land on. Well not a total of 4 but a total of 4. Was that confusing? See there's 4 spaces but only 1 (the active season) is available every round. Probably the coolest part of the expansion is you are suppose to start in the season that it currently is for you. This means every 3 months you start off in a seasons. Now you might think that's not that big of a deal (and it's not) but it is cool.

The first thing TtS does is impact the resources. Each turn 2 of the 4 main resources (Wood, Clay, Reed and Stone) are either added to or subtracted from. This impacts only the resource locations that build from round to round. In other words let's take Spring for example. Spring is set to -1 Wood and +1 Stone. This would mean when loading the board any action spaced that would get wood (like the 3 wood space) would get 1 fewer wood pieces while the stone action spaces would receive one extra stone. It's fully balanced to all 4 resources gain one and lose one over the course of 4 rounds.

In addition to resource adjustment each season brings some universal impacts to the entire board/game as well. Winter is cold and the ground is hard so to plow a field costs 1 food during this time and you can no use the fishing location at all until after round 11 in winter. Spring is the time to get things done, so if you build fences during this time you get 2 free. Summer comes and things are goind well if you build rooms you get a free stable for each you build. Furthermore spring sees an extra food token on the fishing hole and a grain token added to day laborer. Fall makes all major improvements construction cost one resource less.

Finally this tiny little postcard expansion gives us 4 new action spaces with one available each turn. Winter acts almost like the lover. You can exchange 2 wood and 3 food to family grow without room. Spring gives an instant animal breeding phase and/or sow. Summer is time to take a holiday. When you place your family member here you recieve a bonus point for that member and all members played before it. Summer allows an instant field phase and/or take 1 veggie.

I simply love this little expansion and won't play Agricola anymore without it. It adds some serious goodness to the game and unlike X-Deck is well within the theme of the game. It's easy to understand and if you have people who are new to it, just remind them at the beginning of the turn what the effects of the current season are. I would highly suggest any owners of Agricola go print this out and throw it in you box. You will be happy you did.

Why I Like - Agricola X-Deck

• First off it's an Agricola expansion

• Next it's a FREE Acgricola expansion

• After over 100 games of Agricola face to face this really shakes things up.

• Did I mention it's an Agricola expansion...and it's free?

OK so seriously, there are lots of reasons I love this little deck of cards. I'd say that since printing it up it gets played 85-90% of the time Agricola comes out. It's a simple little addition that when played according to the rules adds flavor to the game without mixing things up too drastically.

What is the X Deck you ask? It simply put is the aliens having arrived and taken over the first stone quarry that comes out in Stage 2. Every time you take stone from this spot you pull an X Deck card and good, bad or ugly you have to do what the card demands. Alright I know in my disclaimer I said I'd not include how the game is played but it's my review so I figured I would with this one. Leave me alone.

The brilliance behind the X Deck is the fact that every card in the deck relates to something from Sci-Fi lore that we are all familiar with. Take the invasion of the Space Woozles which in the picture appear to be small fuzzy balls with eyes. As they are constantly breeding each harvest and needing to be fed you can feel the frustration Kirk had in the original Star Trek Episode "The Trouble With Tribbles." Several Star Wars reference appear including being Frozen in Carbonite and having a family member go off to fight for the Rebels, who is pictured with a couple of very familiar looking droids I might add. Need a free family growth? Try pulling the "Earth Girls Are Easy" card. Or maybe you want some bonus points? Try following around a little extra terrestrial creature who is dropping candy bits all over the board. The aliens are not all fun and games though and all at the table should beware of the terror of the Tripods, they just down right suck! Crop circles, and controlling the transporter for all the other players, from transmogrifiers to replicators, the power of alien poop to building your own home made space rocket the X Deck has all this and more.

I suppose for purist this kind of randomness is unacceptable in gaming. Alright so if that's your model of game play cool I can dig that. Though if you are like me and are willing to play a game, have some fun and take some chances which may help you win the game or may lose the game outwardly or even have little impact on the game simply because it's "all in the cards" then you need to do yourself a favor and get the X Deck.

Now you are asking yourself "Did he say free?" Yes I did. In the files section here on the geek there is a file called the X Deck player aid. Rschumucker made it and included small (typical euro sized) card scans of every card in the deck! BRILLIANT! Another reason I love the X deck. Honestly I'm not a fan of small cards in general. However let's face it when spread out with 4 or 5 players Agricola is a big game and takes up a bit of room. Last thing you need is another deck of full sized cards sitting there taking up room! So in comes the player aid cards. I even asked Rschumucker to do backs for the cards and he gladly did! So what I did was print the cards out on card stock, then print the backs, laminated them and cut them out. This made for a very sturdy deck of cards that sits nicely next to the board and as mentioned does not take up too much room either. The perfect combination for a silly little expansion that adds a ton of flavor to the game.

Bottom line this takes 2 sheets of crd stock and a little time. I'd suggest if you have the slightest interest in the X Deck after having read this little review then head over the files section and get to it. I say it's worth your while.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Why I Like - Himalaya

“I've been staying at their lodge in the Himalayas for years, ... They have this beautiful lodge. You look out and there's Ama Dablam. Oh man, it's like heaven.” --Pete Shelley of Buzzcocks

You know it's always funny to me that some games get released and whether great games or not they get a huge amount of recognition. People buy them up and a few months later or maybe a year or so the game is in over abundance of copies and they are selling for under 20 bucks or being traded away as sweetners. Then other games can be released with relative obscurity and not much fanfare so the game doesn't get republished and goes out of print. Once this happens the gaming community starts scrambling to gather up their copies because now it's out of print and so everyone has to have a copy of the 'rare' game. When I purchased my copy of Himalaya it was readily available and very affordable. I simply put in an order to my favorite (at that time) online retailer and got my copy and have never looked back. Now visiting the game's page it's $90-$100 US . . .Why? There are (again at the time of this writing) 209 people wanting a copy of this game and only 861 owners of which 11 are offering it for trade. Had the populace embraced this game with this sort of fervour upon release surely Tilsit would have been inclined to reprint it. SIGH OK I'm gonna get off my soapbox now because hey I got my copy!

So let's get to the "Why I like" it part of this review. First off it's one of the handful of games out there that I thoroughly enjoy teaching. I teach a LOT of games as most of us do I would assume and I really like to teach games but once in awhile it's just a sheer enjoyment to explain certain games and this game is one of them. I like talking about the beautiful people of the Himalayan mountains and how they so warmly welcome visitors to their villages and will gladly offer up their goods for free to those who ask (once per turn of course.) I further explain that these gentle spirited people are not to be taken advantage of though and therefore you are obliged to take only their lowest valued resource when they offer it. Letting people know that these recently acquired goods are desperately needed in villages elsewhere and that they can take their loaded yak to those villages and trade with them in exchange for favors is very satisfying...and so on. It's just a very enjoyable experience for me to explain this game and embrace it's theme so dramatically, I my approach also helps not only with an understanding of the game but also with immersing the new players in the theme which just adds to their enjoyment of the game.

I further like this game because it's a programming game. I really enjoy the programming mechanic in the few games that have it. This game however is a nice little euro game with programming and that (to me) seems highly unusual. Seems to me the typical programming game is one that has combat (Wings of War) or chaos (Robo Rally.) Being able to function in this manner in this type of pick up/deliver game is simply a lot of fun to me.

I had already ordered my copy of Himalaya but it had not yet arrived when one day I was in a flea market and for $0.25 I found a stand up figure of the abominable snowman from the Monsters Inc. movie. Knowing it was on it's way I snatched him up. At that time I had no idea the role the yeti played in the game but I figured worse case scenario I'd have him in the box and put him out simply as decoration and thematic purposes. Then when I saw that the "yeti" in the game was merely a small round chip with footprints on it that was suppose to deter travelers from taking said path...yeah right! Now my copy has a much more intimidating guy to put in the path! Sure if more than 1 person plays the yeti on the same turn only the first get's to use him but that actually is part of the fun too!

I love the elimination process of this game. It forces players to be aggressive about stupa placement and creates a lot of tension. Yes I talk the talk of a tranquil journey through the montains but it really does create a fantastic struggle for area control and yak collecting. All in a relatively quick game, something you don't find very often but is yet another thing I like about Himalaya.

Finally I like that this game transcends people. I've thrown this one down with hard core gamers and they enjoy themselves. I've brought it out with total nongamers and they've enjoyed themselves. Males and females alike seem to have an appreciation for the game as well as it appealing to both an young and older audience. I don't know what to attribute this to but there's something here that make this a very palatable to such a large cross section of people.

At this point I would normally be suggesting you go out there and get yourself a copy of this game but as mentioend earlier that's not so easily accomplished now-a-days. So maybe what you should do is to contact Tilsit and request they reprint this baby. It'd be well worth it for them if they did.

Why I Like - Fire & Axe, A Viking's Saga


Well at least it seemed that about a year ago there was a strong influx of games themed around the maraudering exploits of sea going Scandinavians who were out there pillaging and plundering cities. The Vikings had arrived in gaming full force and the games were appearing to be aplenty. I assumed that trend would continue and the popularity of the pirate theme would wane. Though as it turns out the tide of these games ebbed and the pirate theme remained strong and popular amongst the gamer community. So perhaps I should rethink my battle cry above.


...and that's how we like it anyway! Leave those other pansy, Johnny Depp wanna-be's to their silly stumbling about's and let's get to the business of violence! Though as it turns out a lot of these games tend to (as so many games do) not have a lot of the violent tendencies that we know and love (cause it's human to romanticize the curelty once some centuries have passed) of these violent peoples. (Not to mention I'm a huge pirate game fan count me in those numbers I just ridiculed as well.)

Which brings me squarely to my favorite Viking game Fire and Axe!

So I know this a remake of an older game that I never got to play (though it was one that I had in my wants list for a long long time) and I'm good with that. I'm a real fan of Asmodee and was happy to see they of all game companies, had picked it up. Although I was highly curious about the game I have to admit I did have some reservations too. So I was hoping to play it before buying it but just seemed like no one I knew was willing to take the chance on it either. I finally found a gently used and in immaculate condition used copy at a gaming convention and the owner said he'd be more than willing to throw it down and teach me the game right then and there...SOLD! I should say it's never been even a small inkling of regret having purchased this game.

I like this game for several reason but the first and foremost is I see this as a game that marries the American and Euro games so very nicely. I've wanted a hybrid game for a long time and this game does just that. It's got the rip roaring theme and beautiful plastic ships and crewman of a American game. Then you start to teach the game. What's this? We are vying for victory points and attempting to complete the current saga cards that are on the table and there is no such thing as ship to ship combat? How Euro like is that? Wait a second our success however is based on dice rolling and saga's can come out that are already completed so they get that feels very American. Yet someone can look like they are a strong contender for victory until the end game scoring comes along and snatches it away (Settlements do feel like farm scoring to me in Carcassonne) very Euro indeed. BUT there is no score track it's just the piles of treasure you amassed that wins you the game AMERICAN! Damn I love this game. It is if you ask me the perfect blend I've been looking for. I think perhaps that is why some people are so strongly against it though. They wanted either a stronger American game or a more precise Eruo focus and it didn't work for those types of gamers.

I love the detail put into the look of this game. The ships are beautiful resting on the waves of the oceans. The axe held in the crewman's hands is not raised but held at their waist readied for whatever may come. The board looks like a torn and tattered map unfolded onto the table. The rune cards depictions are all fantastic.

I like the core mechanics of the game. Simple to explain to new players and very quickly picked up. I love the ability to let someone work on a saga card for a turn or two and then sneak in behind them and finish it for them taking full credit with the nation for yourself. Granted they still get the points for the work they did but they card goes to you and that can be big...or not just depends on the particulars of the game at that time.

I actually like the run time on this one. Even with new players it doesn't drag as after a turn or two most players are able to know exactly what they want to accomplish on their turn and will take their actions quickly.

I love the rune cards. I'm a big action card fan in games and these cards are superbly developed for this game. Shakes things up and is well rounded...don't be fooled you must take rune cards even though it costs you actions. At the same time with the hand maximum of 3 no one can be so overly powerful to unbalance things.

Fire and Axe is simply put a great game. It's an honor to have it in my collection.

Been a long time

I never said I'd be consistent and consistency I've not had! I did promise that this would get old and I'd let it slide, a promise I certainly kept with more vigor than any Obama promise will ever be kept with...if at all but that's politics and we aren't talking politics because we are not liars, frauds and charlatans like all politicians are.

So anyway I've written some more "Why I Like" reviews and will put them up. I'm considering writing a "History of THoiA's Gaming Life" like anyone out there gives a donkey's pile of excrement about that but I'm thinking about it anyway.

That's the ideas anyway.