Sunday 26 February 2012

our top 10 lists

To spice things up a little here, and also for my own interest, I decided to do a top ten list comparison among my most regular gaming buddies. I asked both Han and Allen to share with me their top 10 games and do write-ups about the kinds of games they like. We did our lists in simultaneous selection fashion, not knowing what others were going to put in their lists. I will start with Han's write-up, then move on to Allen's, and finally end with my own. This was an interesting exercise for me, and I hope you will find it entertaining too.

Han says...

Top ten games:

  1. Here I Stand
  2. Twilight Struggle
  3. War of the Ring
  4. Through the Ages
  5. Mage Knight
  6. Risk Legacy
  7. Nightfall
  8. Innovation
  9. Britannia
  10. A Few Acres of Snow

Here I Stand.

Honorable mentions:

  1. Chaos in the Old World
  2. Battlestar Galactica
  3. Maria
  4. Successors
  5. Arkham Horror
  6. Hammer of the Scots

Types of games I like:

Dudes on a map:
  • The dudes-on-a-map type of game is my first love. The best thing in life is “to crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentation of their women”, said one famous Cimmerian.
  • Risk Legacy is one of the most innovative designs in 2011. I started playing this game on 1 Jan 2012. It’s a joy every time we reveal another pack, tear up a card or apply a sticker. We now only have the World Capitol pack and the last pack unopened. WHAT IS DONE CANNOT BE UNDONE. So what if you'll only play the game 15 times (game components will not be modified anymore after 15 games)? How many games can boast 15 plays anyway?
  • I have 3 other Risk variations in my collection - Lord of the Rings, 2210 AD and Star Wars. I will rank Star Wars the highest among these, but it’s mostly a 3-players game, with cool powers and different strategies for each faction.
  • Axis & Allies is another prominent franchise in this genre. Hiew is a diehard fan. I only have the Anniversary edition. We have only ever done online games, but those 2 sessions that we played were exciting.
Horror games:
  • I am a horror fan, both movies and books, especially the subgenre of zombies, even before zombies became the "in" thing nowadays. Unfortunately, horror-themed games are difficult to do well. You can’t put cheap scares or gore or convoluted plot twists in a boardgame. It is difficult to create a scary atmosphere using just a few lines of description and flavor text.
  • For me, Arkham Horror is probably the best horror game (I only have the base game and have yet to try Mansion of Madness). Last Night On Earth can be fun but is not very deep. Zombie State: Diplomacy of the Dead is mostly solitaire stuff. Where did the tagline come from anyway? Diplomacy with the dead? What diplomacy?
  • Zombie movies are the poor man's horror movies because the special effects are simple. Video and mobile gaming is flooded with zombie-themed games, and there are many print-and-play zombie-themed boardgames too. Strange coincidence, right?
  • Let me explain my fascination with zombies. It’s the ultimate symbol of human mindlessness and extreme materialism turned cannibalism. In any horror film, no human can hope to overcome the monster, be it vampire, werewolf, alien, demon, etc. But in a zombie apocalypse, you can always fight back or outrun the zombie, but the future is bleak with hordes of undead roaming the world and you cannot run forever. The great novels / comics / movies about zombies are always about how the humans survive in this undead apocalypse; about the best and worst in human nature coming out when society collapses, and all those Lord of the Flies stuff.
  • There are some other interesting upcoming releases like Dark, Darker, Darkest; I am also waiting for the iOS release of Victory Point Games' Dawn of the Zed.
  • Cave Evil deserves a mention for disturbing artwork.
Historical wargames:
  • Military history is also one of my interests, although I am not a grognard by any means. I haven’t really tried any hex-and-counter, CRT-loaded wargames. All the wargames I enjoy are either CDG's (card-driven games), block games or hybrid wargames.
  • I like epic grand strategy history games, to see empires wax and wane and cities fall and rise, huge armies rampaging and clashing. Britannia is a good example here, I have played all 4 colours at least once.
  • CDG's put a lot of events into play without bloating the rules. I particularly like the Twilight Struggle system where an opponent's event will occur even if you are the one playing it for operation points. It creates more angst and more difficult decisions as opposed to just playing enemy events as points.
Fantasy / dungeon crawlers:
  • Lord of the Rings brought elves, dwarves and orcs to the world, and I can still remember the first few times I played War of the Ring. It was intoxicating, like the book coming alive, an epic 6 hours for my first game; I do hope I can play this game more.
  • Dungeon crawling is also the hallmark of geekhood / nerdism. I once read an article describing why RPG's (role-playing games) appeal to social misfits such as geeks. We imagine ourselves as fearless barbarians, noble knights, powerful wizards and such, going forth and battling dragons which represent everything wicked in our lives: bullies at school, social awkwardness … and this also explains why sports games don’t appeal to geeks.

War of the Ring - fantasy and dudes-on-a-map.

  • Civilization building is yet another love of many gamers. The holy grail of civ building games is forever a topic of contention, but for me, Through the Ages comes close to claiming that. Despite an abstracted military and a total removal of the map, it manages to capture the spirit of Sid Meier’s PC game very well. The FFG version is more a race than an epic game.
  • Innovation surprises me with its wild and whacky powers especially at the later ages.
  • I tried Twilight Imperium 3 once, although I didn't complete the game. I can see the appeal but that game is difficult to bring to the table due to game length. I haven’t tried the newer Eclipse yet.

I guess it’s fairly obvious I am AT (Ameritrash) guy. I will play any cube-pushing Euro, no problem, just that I am less likely to buy them, that’s all.

I put Here I Stand as my number one because of all the effort involved in doing a full game (3-players), the reading of rules by everyone beforehand, time allocation (9-hour session for 3 busy adults who have wives and children), the discussion afterwards. It’s pure joy! I can still remember the game vividly. It’s not only about the game; it’s also about the players whom you play with. Good gaming, everyone.

Allen says...

I was requested by Hiew to provide a write-up on my top 10 games of all time. I have a hard time remembering games that I’ve played. In fact I can barely remember what had happened after my gaming sessions. I have to take my hats off to all the guys who can write long and interesting session reports with all the minor details in them.

I have played many different games with my group and most have been played only once or twice. There are some games that I really like after the first play but I’m not sure if I’ll still like them after repeated plays. With that being said, there are some games that really stood out after a few plays and I can vividly remember the enjoyable time I had playing them. So here is the list of my top 10 games of all time (with more than 3 plays).

Top ten games:

  1. Innovation
  2. Sid Meier's Civilization: The Board Game
  3. Maria
  4. Acquire
  5. Le Havre
  6. Automobile
  7. Troyes - Mostly played online, I was once in the top 3 at
  8. Dominant Species
  9. Samurai
  10. Struggle of Empires



Most of the games in my top 10 were first played in 2011, but there is one game that has a special place in my heart - Acquire. It is the first game that got me hooked into the world of gaming and I like it so much that I’ve acquired 5 copies of different versions of the game (1962, 1972, 1995, 1999 and 2008). Although I hardly play this game nowadays, I will gladly bring it out to teach new gamers if I get the chance to do so.

Honorable mentions:

  1. Mage Knight (1 play)
  2. Here I Stand (1 play)
  3. Successors (2 plays)
  4. After the Flood (3 plays)
  5. Liberte (1 play)
  6. Merchants & Marauders (3 plays)
  7. Sekigahara (1 play)
  8. Glory to Rome (>3 plays)
  9. Agricola (>3 plays)
  10. 7 Wonders (>1000+ plays, mostly playing with AI's)

On dice, cards, randomness and luck:

  • I used to hate too much luck and randomness in games. The Settlers of Catan was the first Euro game that I bought and it was also the very first game that I traded away because I felt that it was too random.
  • It is quite ironic because my favorite game of all time is Innovation, which some complained of being a very random game. I guess my tastes have shifted after all these years.
  • Another element in games that I like is the dice and cards. In fact The Settlers of Catan has it all (dice, cards, randomness and luck), but I don’t know why I can’t bring myself to play that game again.
  • Glory to Rome is also one of the games that I really like that is very random.

Martin Wallace:

  • I’m a big fan of his designs, in fact I’ll even play any crappy game that he designs.
  • I guess me and his designs really click. So far I own 9 games by him and will continue to hunt for some of his older games (After The Flood and God’s Playground).

Automobile, by Martin Wallace.

Historical wargames:

  • I used to hate war themed games. Twilight Struggle is one of the games that I traded away after one play. CDG is a mechanic that I despised in the past but this year (2011) after playing Here I Stand and Successors, I began to appreciate its beauty.
  • My interest in historical wargames began this year, thanks to my gaming buddies who are willing to invest their time to play.
  • Maria is one of my favorite games of 2011 even though I have never won a single game.

I’m not really sure how to classify myself as a gamer (AT or Euro) because I will play any type of game and I’ll most likely enjoy myself. I guess I can be classified as a ‘game taster’ because I like to ‘taste’ different types of games, although there are some games that I won't add to my collection (Risk Legacy for example).

If I were to choose a single game to play for the rest of my life, I would certainly choose Innovation. This shows how much I love this game. I will always request it if we have some time to spare and if I’m asked to suggest a game. I hope they will release it on iOS so that I can play it all the time.

Hiew says...

Top ten games:

  1. Through the Ages - My ideal civ game. There is long-term planning and long-term strategy. You need to keep tabs on every aspect of your civilisation and not let any part fall behind and drag you down. You need to keep upgrading your civilisation to remain competitive.
  2. Race for the Galaxy - Compact, decision-packed card game.
  3. Le Havre - I like the long-term planning aspect. The game telling the story of a developing port city is a bonus.
  4. Automobile - Few actions but much thought required to fully utilise every action. Tight game.
  5. Axis & Allies: Anniversary Edition - The Axis & Allies series is special to me because I liked Axis & Allies (1984 version) long before I became a boardgame hobbyist. I still think it is a great game now that I am exposed to many more games.
  6. Innovation - Many possibilities, lots of potential for twists of fate.
  7. China - Succinct, clever game. Fulfilling despite being a quick game.
  8. Mystery Rummy: Jack the Ripper - Excellent when played as a two-player game. Gambling on Ripper escaping is fun. Hard to pull off, but exhilarating when you do.
  9. Lord of the Rings - Cooperative game. Difficult to learn by yourself, which is unusual, given that this is a Reiner Knizia game. The tile draws and die rolls are exciting, but despite these elements, there is much planning to do and many tough decisions to make.
  10. Axis & Allies: Guadalcanal - I have only played this once, but I really really enjoyed that game. It may drop off the top 10 list after my second play, but for now it belongs here because of that one great game.

Through the Ages

Axis & Allies: Guadalcanal

Honourable mentions:

  1. Die Macher
  2. Age of Steam
  3. Hammer of the Scots
  4. Merchants & Marauders
  5. Carcassonne - Many many plays, and I still think it's a great game.
  6. Brass
  7. Ticket to Ride: Switzerland - My favourite among the Ticket to Ride games. I get a kind of perverted joy when I draw tickets that are already completed, which happens more often in this version.
  8. Here I Stand (1 play) - That one play made me realise how I actually don't mind luck in games as much as I had thought I did, as long as a game delivers a good story and an immersive experience.
  9. A Few Acres of Snow - I have played this 5 times now, and I have enjoyed myself a lot. Still keen to play more.
  10. Antiquity (1 play) - Need. To. Get. A. Copy.

Some of these honourable mentions are not in the top 10 simply because I have not played them enough or I have not played them frequently enough, so I don't feel I have a solid opinion of them yet.

Heavy Eurogames, mostly

  • I have always thought of myself as primarily a heavy Eurogames guy, so one sub-topic is probably sufficient for me. I like challenging games, games that require you to plan, to consider various possibilities, to strategise. I generally like the Euro design approach, which generally means low luck, and streamlined - the "Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler" mentality. Low luck means your decisions and actions matter. Rules being streamlined means you are spending less effort on "maintenance" and "overhead" and more effort on actually playing and strategising. A good game should be lean and concise, but that does not necessarily mean it is has to be simple or short. China is very lean and compact, and I'd say Automobile is too, despite the different game lengths. Through the Ages is a little fiddly because of the tiny wooden markers you need to shift around, but compared to other civ games that try to achieve the scope and width of human civilisation, it brings out that civ feeling very successfully in a pretty compact time.
  • The fantasy theme, space theme, horror theme, medieval trading (heh heh) don't particularly interest me, but I don't dislike them either. The civ theme, history and warfare interest me somewhat, but in the end it is the game mechanism that must be interesting and must work for me to like a game.
  • I have always thought of myself as anti-luck and anti-randomness, but two games threw that theory out the window - Innovation and Here I Stand. Innovation has wild swings. In Here I Stand, sometimes even one die roll can be very critical. I think the reason I still like these games is at the macro level I always feel there are things I can do to improve my situation. I still feel that my decisions matter, or at least they had mattered earlier in the game, i.e. I was the one responsible for getting myself stuck in an irrecoverable situation.


If I compare all three lists, Innovation is the only game that appears 3 times. Through the Ages, Le Havre and Automobile appear twice. If I consider the honourable mentions, Maria, Hammer of the Scots, Successors, Here I Stand, Mage Knight, Merchants & Marauders and A Few Acres of Snow all have more than one appearance.

1Here I StandInnovationThrough the Ages
2Twilight StruggleSid Meier's Civilization: The Board GameRace for the Galaxy
3War of the RingMariaLe Havre
4Through the AgesAcquireAutomobile
5Mage KnightLe HavreAxis & Allies: Anniversary Edition
6Risk LegacyAutomobileInnovation
8InnovationDominant SpeciesMystery Rummy: Jack the Ripper
9BritanniaSamuraiLord of the Rings
10A Few Acres of SnowStruggle of EmpiresAxis & Allies: Guadalcanal

In our group, Han tends to be the one buying the more complex wargames and AT games. Allen buys all sorts of games and (at least from past record) is the most trigger-happy. Well, he started boardgaming later than Han and I, so it's understandable that one's game collection grows rapidly during the formation years right? I'm the only one who tries to self-enforce a quota. I realise that a significant portion of games that I buy are either games that I can play with my children, or games I can play with my wife. That's because between Han, Allen and I we have more than enough games to pick from for our regular sessions. In fact, we always have a backlog of unplayed games to "work on".

We rarely coordinate our game purchases, and yet usually end up buying different games. Because of our different buying habits, we get to try many games that we would not have been able to try otherwise. I certainly had a number of interesting discoveries, like Famiglia (via Allen) and Successors (via Han).

Successors (3rd edition)


I realise after all that rambling there is not much to conclude about. But it was an interesting exercise for me because despite playing together regularly, we've never discussed our top tens. In fact, I haven't seriously thought about my own top ten before. Have you thought about your top ten, and what your favourite types of games are?

18 Feb 2012. Left to right: Han, me, Allen's son Ethan, and Allen. I didn't ask Ethan to write a top ten list because I think he still needs to complete his first ten list.

Han is now away from Kuala Lumpur on a one-year overseas assignment, and Allen and I will miss him dearly, especially the lamentations of his women.

Sunday 19 February 2012

Mage Knight

Plays: 3Px2, 2Px2 (including a cooperative variant).

The Game

Mage Knight is a dungeon crawl game by Vlaada Chvatil. The theme is nothing new. You start the game as a character with more or less the same abilities as other player characters. You explore the map to defeat enemies, kill monsters, conquer castles, recruit units, and as you gain fame, you level up, gaining new abilities, learning magic spells, improving your armour, increasing your team size etc. What is interesting about the game is how all these are implemented - using the deck-building mechanism. Every turn, what you can do is mostly determined by your cards in hand. On your turn you play cards to do things, and then at the end of your turn you draw back up to your hand size. Units you lead and special power tiles you have gained can let you do extra stuff, but mostly you are limited by your hand. To move and explore, to fight (which includes attacking and blocking), to heal injury, to recruit units, all require card plays. Your starting deck is fixed, so you have some idea about the distribution of the card abilities. As you level up, you gain more (and better) cards and your deck becomes more powerful and also more different from others' decks. You only play through your deck a handful of times. The game is usually played over 4 to 6 rounds, with day rounds and night rounds alternating. One round means one play-through of your deck. So at the start of every round, you know roughly what cards you have and how much you can achieve within that round. You need to plan accordingly.

Battles are deterministic and involve no dice. The main uncertainty is sometimes you don't know what you are attacking (e.g. you enter a dark dungeon). However there are different classes of enemies and a lookup chart showing every enemy in every class. You will know the enemy class, so you have a rough idea of what you may be up against. In some cases the enemy is known, and the only thing stopping you from determining whether you will able to beat it (or them) is it can be time-consuming to work out how to best use your cards. Often I just go ahead with the attack based on gut feel and work things out as I go. Combat is mostly straight-forward. You try to range attack your enemy first, if you can't kill it, it will then melee attack you and you can try to block, unsuccessful blocks resulting in injury (useless wound cards clogging your hand and your deck), and finally you can melee attack it.

One of the characters, an elf. The miniatures are nice and are pre-painted. The round token is an enemy. The various types of enemies you can fight are represented by these round tokens.

Each game starts with three terrain tiles. Each tile has 7 hexes. As players move towards the uncharted area, more terrain tiles can be revealed. The game board will grow in the shape of a pizza slice, with the starting tile being the tip.

These are the various types of in-game characters you will encounter and can choose to fight. The different classes of characters have different strengths and characteristics, and even within the same class there can be significant differences. Generally dragons (reddish brown) are the strongest, and orcs (light green) the weakest. Naturally the more powerful enemies are worth more Fame.

There are dice in the game, but they are mainly used to determine the mana available to the players every turn. Mana is important. Every card has two powers, the more powerful one requiring mana of a specific colour to activate. Every turn you can get one mana for free from the pool, and after you use it, you roll that mana die and put it back to the pool. Other dice in the pool are not rerolled, so your opponents can still plan ahead somewhat. Some cards allow you to gain or store mana in crystal form, which is handy, because normally mana dissolves at the end of your turn. Storing lots of crystals allows you to make a big move later, activating the more powerful abilities of many cards.

A small board indicating the movement costs of various terrain types. It is double sided, this side being the day round side, and the other being the night round side. Movement costs of forests and desserts differ depending on whether it is day or night. Forests are easier to move through in daylight but harder after nightfall. This board is also used as the mana pool - where you place the mana dice.

The basic cards. Each card has two parts. To use the more powerful ability, you need to spend mana of the appropriate colour. E.g. the more powerful ability of the Swiftness card is Range Attack of value 3, and requires a white mana to trigger.

You move and fight, recruit, level up, learn new tricks. Fame that you gain during the game are victory points. When the game ends, you do scoring for all your feats - castles conquered, dungeons explored, cities conquered, units under your banner, spells and abilities learned etc. You also lose points for wounds not healed. For each scoring criteria, there is also a bonus for being best in category (and a penalty for the most wounded category). The scoring is like quite a number of other Vlaada Chvatil games, where everything that you do well is rewarded.

There are a number of scenarios that come with the game, even cooperative ones. There are ultra competitive ones which encourage direct conflict between players. For normal games, it is probably not so worthwhile to fight other players because you don't gain that much from it. It is better to fight monsters and other game characters. You get more good stuff. There are rules for building your own scenarios, so the game is like a toolbox. You can adjust the difficulty level to your liking.

Cities are toughest to conquer, because they have multiple defenders, and they give additional abilities to their defenders. You can adjust the difficulty of the game by modifying the city level (which can range from 1 to 11).

Two dragons right next to each other. If you move from a space next to a dragon to another space next to it, it will get annoyed and will attack you.

The game comes with four player characters. Each starting deck only has one card which is unique for the character, but whenever the character levels up, he will gain a unique special power tile from his own pool. So the characters have unique aspects, and players can also develop these characters to their liking.

The various player- / character-specific components. Top left is draw deck. Top right is discard deck. Middle left is my only unit at this moment. As you level up, you will be able to lead more and more units. Centre is my character card. Mana crystals are kept here (I have none at the moment). Middle right is a reference card for this character's unique special ability tiles. The tokens at the bottom are: my current armour strength and hand size, which is based on my current level (Level 1 and 2 characters have an armour value of 2 and a hand size of 5); one special ability tile which I now have; markers for marking my achievements on the board, e.g. towers conquered, monasteries burnt, tombs explored; special ability tiles which I have yet to obtain (the backs showing).

The Play

On my first play, I wasn't impressed. It felt like just another dungeon crawl, going about killing monsters and leveling up, and I don't have any particular interest in fantasy role-playing games. I felt very restricted by my cards. I couldn't move when I wanted to move, I couldn't fight when I wanted to fight. However as I played more, I began to understand the rhythm of the game and how to make better use of my cards, sometimes holding some cards for a better moment to use them, sometimes adjusting my plans based on the cards I had. Leveling up was quite fun, much more interesting than just increasing numbers and stats to roll dice against. Many new abilities come in the form of new cards in the deck - advanced action cards, magic spells and artifacts - and it is fun to use them to make powerful plays. As I leveled up, I became more specialised in certain areas, and I planned my moves accordingly.

I'm a lousy boss. All my employees get injured at work. They have no medical or personal injury insurance. I often hire new (and healthy) employees so that I have an excuse for firing these older and, um, non-performing employees. Due to the need for cost-cutting measures, it is important to save on medical expenses whenever possible.

The five silver-coloured shield tokens mark my journey.

The gameboard near the end of a game.

It is usually bad to roll black mana at day time, because these dice become locked, and they rarely get used and rarely get rerolled. Black mana is usually only used for magic spells. Five black mana means noone is getting the daily free dose of mana, until someone can cause a reroll.

I defeated two dragons at one go using magic spells. Magic spells require at least one mana, and to use the more powerful ability of the spell, you need an additional black mana. Later we discovered we had played the rules wrong. I should not have been able to kill the dragons so easily with these spells. I need to block their attacks first before I cast spells.

The game is a little solitairish, because most of the time you are doing your own thing. I guess it is up to the players how much they want to do player-to-player combat, but in my opinion it is not very beneficial (you may gain a little fame, rob an artifact or shove the guy away), especially in 3- or 4-player games when other players not involved in the fight can make better use of their limited actions to fight monsters and level up. There is a race element in trying to reach certain locations before others, recruit certain units, claim certain skills etc, but other than these, most of the time you are focusing on how to make the best use of your cards. There can be much downtime because working out how to best execute your turn can take some time, especially when you have leveled up and have more cards, more special ability tiles, and more units. It is best that you plan your turn beforehand. It'll save much time, but the game will still take quite long, 2 - 3 hours.

Most scenarios have some overall objective, e.g. exploring all dungeons, conquering a twin city, so the game builds towards a climax. You need to level up as much as you can, and then plan for that ultimate battle before the game ends.

Han and I did one cooperative scenario, in which we needed to conquer a twin city. We played with Level 7 cities. Each had 4 guardians, which meant we needed to fight 8 guardians at once. It was intimidating.

This was when we first discovered the location of the twin city.

The time was right, and we came knocking at the gates. It turned out that defeating 8 guardians was not as bad as we thought. Han had a card that cancelled fortification effects of all enemies, a card that made all his attacks siege attacks, and a card that boosted the attack values of all his units. These combined with other special abilities and cards he had already allowed him to kill most of enemies. I ended up being a minor contributor, and all my units just relaxed under a tree sipping tea and enjoying the show.

The Thoughts

I quite like Mage Knight. Although I have never been a fantasy fan, I quite enjoyed the character development in the game. It is deck-building put into good use, perhaps not as thematically fitting as A Few Acres of Snow, but still a very good implementation. The game is long, but I don't find it particularly complex. There are many rules, but in most cases you can just refer to the handy reference cards that come with the game. Every turn you just move and then do something at your destination. That's all there is to it. Making good combos of your cards can be complex, since the cards give you many possibilities. This is not a game for casual gamers. Building up towards powerful combos is very satisfying. Throughout the game as you gain new abilities, you build up towards an ultimate showdown. It is like trying to get all the stars aligned. When you achieve it, it is exhilarating.

These reference cards and indisposable. They tell you what to do with each type of location that appears on the board.

I really admire how the fantasy dungeon crawl is implemented in Mage Knight. This Vlaada Chvatil fellow is a very smart guy. Despite all the familiar elements of the genre, the implementation feels fresh. Luck in dice rolling is replaced with luck in card draws and tile draws, but the latter is much less because of how much more deterministic combat is. The deck-building has a purpose to it and is not just chasing meaningless victory points.

Buy from Noble Knight Games. Status: restocking (at time of this post).

Saturday 18 February 2012

guest post from Allen: 2011 in review

Another guest post. I also asked Allen to write about his 2011.

2011 was a great year for gaming, I think I must have played around 30+ new games this year and bought more games than I had time to play. This year was also the year of Kickstarter. I have supported more than 11 games on Kickstarter. I think I have bought about 50 games this year excluding the ones that I’ve kickstarted.

Below are some of my top 10 games that I've played in 2011. Most of the games played here were with my gaming buddies Han & Hiew. Unlike my gaming buddies, I can hardly remember the details of our gaming sessions but I can certainly remember I had a great time playing. You can read the reviews on this blog on all the games listed and our gaming sessions, so I'll just keep it simple here.

  1. Maria - A great Euro-wargame... Another game that I simply don't know how to win and I just love it.


  2. Sid Meier's Civilization: The Board Game - I really like this game a lot and the best part is I've never won a single game. We must have played 4-5 times and each time I find it more interesting. Only until recently thanks to my Secret Santa I owned a copy of this game. I have the expansion now and I think this will see more plays in 2012.

    Sid Meier's Civilization: The Board Game (Fantasy Flight Games)

  3. Innovation + Expansion - This must be the most requested game by me, every time we can't think of anything short to play I'll definitely suggest this.
  4. Dominant Species - Chaotic but it's really fun. Well, you either hate it or love it. I think it is one of the best 3 hour games I've played.
  5. Troyes - Another game that I've played mostly online. At one time I was in the world top 3. Played about 100+ games and I still find it interesting. Played face-to-face only twice. Not a favourite among my gaming group so this will just sit on the shelves.
  6. Merchants & Marauders - This game is kinda like a filler to us because we can complete a game in less than an hour. A game that I won't mind playing over and over again.
  7. 7 Wonders - Enough good things have been said about this game. I think I must have played over 1000 games on the PC since each game only lasts about 2 mins. The problem is that I lose every time I play against humans.
  8. Navegador - A great rondel game which I've enjoyed.
  9. Omen: Reign of War - A simple 2 player card game which I enjoyed a lot. Played just once with Han’s copy and I liked it a lot. Now it's on Kickstarter, and I’ve ordered a copy.
  10. Tammany Hall - An area majority game with a bidding element added. It is a great game with such simple rules. This is one of the very few games that I can actually teach.

    Tammany Hall

Honourable mentions:

  1. Here I Stand - Finally had the chance to play this beast. It is really satisfying. Time flies by and by the time we ended the game it was already like 9 hours. A great epic game that I wish I could play more often.
  2. Successors - Another GMT war game with a nice story behind the game.
  3. Sekigahara - One of the best 2P war games I've ever played, even better than Twilight Struggle.

Games that I’ve Kickstarted in 2011:

  1. Omen: Reign of War

    Omen: Reign of War has great artwork.

  2. Flash Point: Fire Rescue (received)
  3. Glory to Rome
  4. Carnival (received)
  5. Get Bit! (received)
  6. Startup Fever (received)
  7. Kings of Air and Steam
  8. Sunrise City
  9. Empires of the Void
  10. D-Day Dice
  11. Forceball: Futurisitic Hockey Card Game (received)

Personal observations in 2011:

  1. Games I like tend to be the games that I do not own. I don’t understand why this is happening, at some point this year I would like to get a copy of these games.
  2. I like games that I can’t win. I don’t understand why this is happening either. Maria, Sid Meier's Civilization: The Board Game, Here I Stand and Successors are the games that I truly enjoy but I just can’t win.
  3. I like playing games with 3 players. I can truly understand this. Playing with Han and Hiew is enjoyable even when we’re playing a game that sucks. I guess it is the company that matters. Sadly, Han will be leaving for Australia this year. We will have a hard time finding a replacement.
  4. I like playing games with dice and luck. I used to be a euro-centric gamer and I used to hate games that involve dice, but this year after playing so many games, my tastes have certainly changed. I really enjoy dice rolling and games with a bit of luck involved. Games like Puerto Rico and Power Grid which I enjoyed in the past have been sitting on the shelves for quite some time and I’m less likely to suggest them when we have our gaming nights.
  5. I like games from GMT. I have been gaming since 2007 and only in year 2011 that I began buying games produced by GMT. Some of the games that they produced are the ones that I truly enjoyed.

My aims for 2012:

  1. Play more buy less. Try to do more research when buying.
  2. Try to read the rules of the new games I bought. At least it will ease the burden of our only "official rules reader" in the group.

Friday 17 February 2012

boardgaming in photos

12 Jan 2012. Han, Allen and I played Successors (3rd edition) again, this time each starting with 3 generals so that there was less luck in who drew more generals from the card deck. In this particular game I was quite timid and I saw threats everywhere. The others all seemed to be stronger than I was. I was last in both victory points and prestige points throughout the game. I tried to avoid battles as much as I could. However battles could not be completely avoided in a wargame. Here in this photo we were all poised to fight, Han was yellow, Allen red, I blue.

Han (yellow) was the most aggressive, as he often is. However he ended up with all four of his generals in the dispersed box. Whenever defeated in battle, an army usually loses many troops (all mercenaries and elephants, plus some regular troops), and the general goes to the dispersed box together with the survivors, and they only come out to play next round. Suddenly I felt I was not that weak afterall. With his armies much weakened, I could go on the offensive. I approached Babylon, where Alexander was buried (making Babylon worth legitimacy points), to position myself to attack in the next round (Round 4). However, this happened...

As his last card play of Round 3, Han used Treachery to steal Alexander's son Heracles from me. I had no more cards to play and could not fight to get him back. So at the start of Round 4, because Heracles came of age, and Han was the player with the highest total of victory points and legitimacy points, he won the game by being regent to Heracles who ascended to the throne. What a twist! He had been luring my army to approach Babylon so that he could play this card. Sneaky!

This was the situation at game end. Han was yellow and had the most control markers. However losing a number of battles meant he was now militarily weaker. Allen was red and was strong in the western half of the board. I was blue and was surrounded by Han's territories.

20 Jan 2012. By now I have played 5 games of A Few Acres of Snow. This was the third game where Han played the British (red) and I played the French (blue). This was one siege battle that we committed many many cards to. I attacked one of his settlements. A siege can become a very long tug of war, tying up many cards. However it can be useful in a way, by thinning your draw deck.

Some of the French cards. Cards available to the two sides are different and I find them very flavourful, reflecting history. One strange thing is we often find that in our games the French are filthy rich while the British are poor. Historically it was the other way round, the British was willing to spend resources in this theatre which was part of a wider war, while the French wasn't.

I lost quite a number of settlements to Han, I think mostly from raids. Even Port Royal was lost to him (leftmost red cube). The game ended via expansion, and the settlements I lost made a big difference. I lost by a mile.

1 Feb 2012. I taught Chee Seng to play Innovation and he enjoyed it a lot. Innovation really clicks with me, and sometimes I wonder why it doesn't feel random to me, when there are so many crazy card powers. Maybe it's because there are very many possibilities and I always feel I can try to do something or find some combination that will improve my position. I don't feel completely helpless. Even when I'm behind, I know it is still possible to catch up.

5 Feb 2012. Dungeon Petz is adorable. I managed to convince Michelle to play it with me. Although she lost by a big margin in her first game, she is happy to play again. Must be the cute pet thing...

Or maybe the poop jokes... Even my children (6 and 5) were amused by them. They find the statement "brown cubes are poop" funny.

In contrast to Dungeon Lords, when playing Dungeon Petz with two players, the changes to the rules and to the feel of the gameplay are much less, in my opinion. Here you just get some spaces blocked out, and different spaces will be blocked out every round. We used yellow imps to block out unavailable spaces.

10 Feb 2012. Boston fell to the French.

In the first three games that Han and I played, the games ended via expansion (i.e. one side using up either village or town pieces) and the British won all three of them. In the subsequent two games, the games ended via conquest of a capital, and the French won both games. In Game 4, I was the British. I fell behind in military strength, and decided to switch to focus on raiding using Indians. I neglected military strength too much, and could not defend my capital when it came under attack. In hindsight I should not have let the French strength outstrip mine by so much. In Game 5, I was the French. I attacked first, and in that first siege both of us had most of our cards tied up. However this turned out to be a boon for me because as the French I could use Trader and fur locations (which had no military value and thus remained in my draw deck) to earn a lot of money. In hindsight Han probably should have conceded defeat earlier so that I wouldn't have been able to make so much money and further increase my overall military strength.

I think we are starting to get a grasp of the strategies, and the game seems to be getting more and more enjoyable. Also we are now playing with the 4 rules changes by the designer Martin Wallace, which overall help the French a little. I wonder whether that's why the French has been winning, or we're getting better at playing the French, which felt very tough to play initially.

Wednesday 15 February 2012

The Bottle Imp

Plays: 3Px2.

The Game

The Bottle Imp is widely regarded as the best 3-player trick-taking card game. It is played over a number of hands, and a complete game ends when one player reaches a pre-determined score. Every hand one player will score negative points while the others will score positive points, so players are always trying to avoid becoming the negative scorer, or if you know you are likely going to be stuck being the negative scorer, you will want to minimise the damage by not letting your opponents score too many points.

At the start of a hand, all 36 cards numbered from 1 to 37 (number 19 not included) are distributed to all players. Each card belongs to one of three colours, and the distribution is uneven, red cards mostly having big numbers, yellow mostly small, and blue more evenly distributed. Card number 19 starts at the centre of the table as the bottle value. When a player starts a trick, all others must follow suit if possible. You can play a card of a different colour only if you don't have cards in the leading colour. If all cards played are higher than the bottle value, the highest card wins the trick and the player who played it claims the trick. If one or more cards played are lower than the bottle value, then the comparison is only done among these cards to determine which card wins the trick. Also, in this case the winning card becomes the new bottle value (i.e. the bottle value will only decrease), and the bottle goes to the player who has just won the trick. Winning tricks is usually good, because every card is worth points, but if you are the one stuck with the bottle at the end of a hand, you don't score the tricks you have won. Instead, you score negative points for some cards set aside at the start of the hand. So the game is a tricky balance between winning tricks and making sure you don't get stuck with the bottle at the end of the hand.

The coin icons along the sides of the cards are the point values.

The card in the foreground is the reference card, showing the distribution of the card colours. It is very important and very useful especially if you are new to the game. The card in the background is the bottle card, which is valued at 19 at the start of a hand.

After cards are dealt and before a hand starts, players pass 1 card each to their left and right neighbours, which means you will have a little information about what cards your opponents are holding. Usually you give them small cards, i.e. the tough ones to get rid of, so this information is often useful. Also before a hand starts, every player contributes one card face-down to the imp's pile, which is the negative score for whoever holds the bottle at the end of the hand. This means not all cards will appear during the hand. Each player knows a little information that others don't. You can decide whether to put a high-score card or a low-score card into the imp pile depending on whether you think you will be the bottle guy.

The Play

I have only played two games, both as 3-player games, but one was a single-hand learning game, and the other was a short one with a fixed 3 hands. I find that by the time you see your hand of cards, you already need to roughly plan how you should play out the current hand - how to get rid of the low cards, which colour to rid yourself of first, when and whether to get the bottle, etc. When the hand starts, you switch to a more tactical mode and adjust your plans according to your opponents' card plays. I find that sometimes even after the first few tricks, you can already guess that you are the one who will be stuck with the bottle, because you are holding a small card which will likely sooner-or-later get you the bottle. In this sense every hand is quite strategic. You need to plan up front for the end-game (of each hand).

Card counting helps, if you prefer to play in a competitive way. The reference cards that come with the game help a lot.

The Thoughts

I find The Bottle Imp to be quite a clever game. It's trick-taking, and thus has all the elements of such games, plus some more - don't get stuck with the bottle! This is a game that rewards repeated plays, as you hone your skills and learn the tactics, much like many other traditional card games. There is much skill involved. It reminds me of Sticheln, an interesting trick-taking game that I quite like and is probably best for four or more.

Buy from Noble Knight Games. Status: in stock (at time of this post).

Sunday 12 February 2012

guest post from Han: Rant for 2011

Something a little different, a guest post from my long-time gaming buddy Han. The last time he posted something here was... (trying to count...) a very long time ago.

2011 was a tough year, I sat for my last professional exam and frankly I am getting too old; struggling between working, studying and family. The good news is I still managed to get in a fair amount of gaming and it certainly helped to maintain my sanity and kept me going; a moment of joy amidst all the strenuous work and obligations.

Memorable games of 2011:
  • New games:
    1. Merchants & Marauders (1-hour game for us, this shows how fast we are playing)
    2. Sid Meier’s Civilization (another 1 hour game, it’s like a filler game for us)
    3. Dominant Species (takes 3 hours however fast we played)
    4. Nightfall (got both expansions)
    5. Omen: Reign of War (beautiful art work, hope to play more)
    6. Labyrinth: War on Terror (1 play, incomplete)
    7. Sekigahara (1 play)
    8. Washington’s War (1 play, incomplete)

    Merchants & Marauders

  • Older games only played this year:
    1. Maria (cool 3-players wargame, I preferred this over Friedrich)
    2. Liberte (another Martin Wallace classic)
    3. Here I Stand (highlight of our gaming last year, refer to Hiew’s session report)
    4. Successors (3rd Edition, interesting game where political struggle with marriage, legitimacy, assassination, betrayal and even Alexander’s corpse will influence the military struggle)


    Here I Stand

  • Unimpressed new games:
    1. 51st State (sold it to Hiew after 1 play, too dry for me)
    2. The Adventurers (components are cool though)
    3. War of the Roses: Lancaster vs Yorks (didn’t like the double guessing stuff)
    4. Irondale (definitely not as impressive as Omen)
  • Unplayed games - There are of course loads of unplayed games, but my 2 grails are:
    1. Magic Realm (tinkering a bit on Realmspeak, comfortable with rules up to magic, natives, multiple combat)
    2. 7 Ages (have not completed 1 game yet, someone should make an iPad version)
My gaming group:

The core members are Hiew, Allen and I. I am fortunate to have them as gaming buddies because we play fast, I mean, we will try to do simultaneous play whenever possible (even making moves in advance sometimes before our turn) and will tease and label each other AP (analysis paralysis) if he’s even slightly slower. We are not rules lawyers, we allow re-dos and take-back moves if someone misses something unintentionally; no one is a sore loser.

Sadly, I will be leaving them in 2012 as I will be going for overseas training for the whole year.

iOS boardgames:

I have an iPad 2 and it’s a great time for boardgaming on the iOS platform.

I get to try older games that I seldom play anymore (Puerto Rico, Caylus), long games that I am unlikely to play face to face (Titan), games that I have never tried before (Loot and Scoot). My favourite is Ascension, Chronicles of the Godslayer.

But because of the announcement of games having an iOS version, there are games that I will not be getting the hard copy such as Yggdrasil, Summoner’s Wars, Thunderstone, Le Havre, all the Victory Point games. Can’t wait for Through the Ages to come out.

Kids games:

I will try to play more games now with my kids; they usually enjoy playing with the game pieces. The games they can make their own decisions are Rat-a-tat-cat and Angry Bird the Card Game.

Games that they have played with assistance include:

  1. Space Crusade
  2. Talisman
  3. Tales of the Arabian Nights
  4. Monsters Menace America
  5. Battleball
  6. Awful Green Things from Outer Space
  7. Castle Keep

Tales of the Arabian Nights


Looking at my collection, I realise that I will not miss half of them if they were gone; unfortunately Malaysia does not have an active trade market. By the way, I am the number 1 trader in Malaysia according to BGG with the grand total of 8 trades. I do get a lot of trade requests but most of them think I am in the US as the Malaysian flag is very similar to the US flag if you are not looking carefully.

Most gamers are nice folk but I got a bad apple this year. Some dude from Canada asking me whether I am willing to sell/trade my copy of Nightmare before Christmas TCG (starters plus a few booster packs). Looking over his profile, his group only plays horror-themed games, which is intriguing as I am a horror fan myself. I offered to give him the game for free asking only for the cost of international shipping. In short, he got the game but I never heard from him again, well, I am just disappointed, naïve me.

Saturday 11 February 2012


Plays: 3Px1.

The Game

The objective of the game is to be first to complete 4 out of 5 possible rides. Each ride needs four different parts. This basically corresponds to cards in 5 suits numbered 1 to 4. On your turn you roll three dice and use two of them to perform actions. Every die result has a specific use, e.g. allowing you to draw a card from the draw deck, from an opponent's hand, or from an opponent's play area. In some cases you must give a card in return, and this is sometimes good, because sometimes you want to get rid of unwanted cards in order to be able to draw free cards.

Everyone starts with a joker, which is handy, but rides completed using jokers are not protected, unlike those completed with the exact cards which are flipped facedown and cannot be stolen. There are special ticket tokens which can be used to re-roll, to adjust your die rolls, or to cancel an opponent's die roll. You only have a few of these, so use them wisely.

In a nutshell, you roll dice to see what ways you can gain cards, and you use cards gained to complete four sets as quickly as possible.

There are 5 types of rides you can build, and you need to complete 4 to win. The card at the bottom left is the wild card. Everyone starts with one.

The game board at the top is just a reference board about what each side of a die does, and a reminder that you normally can only use two dice. The reference card at the bottom right reminds you what each side of a die does too. Ticket tokens are at the bottom left.

The Play

I did a 3-player game with Allen and Han. The game is quick and straight-forward. There is luck in getting the right cards to complete your sets. You need to watch which sets your opponents are making, because you may be able to steal their cards, or they may do the same to you. You constantly try to find the fastest way to complete four sets, preferably making protected sets so that there is less chance of being sabotaged.

I have completed the ride in the second column. I did not use wild cards for it, so the ride card is flipped over to indicate that it is protected. The card back show a ticket, which means I also get an extra ticket.

The Thoughts

Carnival is very well produced. It is funded via Kickstarter but the component quality is better than some professionally produced games. I found the game too light for my tastes. Even if I'm looking for a filler I'd prefer something a bit more meaty. It is more suitable for casual gamers and for those who like lighter games.