Posts filed under ‘Board Game Articles’

Luck in Board Games: How Much Should There Be?

“Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.”

–Seneca

“I’m a great believer in luck, and I find the harder I work, the more I have of it.”

–Thomas Jefferson

Most board games contain a combination of skill and luck, and this is no accident. Without some element of skill, some ability for players to influence the outcome of the game, there would be no need for players at all. The children’s game, Candyland, works exactly the same regardless of who is playing, because the players are irrelevant: They have absolutely no volition or ability to affect the game.

Without some luck, however, many games would lose a lot of their replayability. Even a small element of randomness can change a game from something where there is a single best strategy all the time, into a dynamic game where players must constantly adapt their strategies to the random circumstances of each particular play session.

Naturally, each person has their own sweet spot for combinations of luck and skill in a game. Some gamers dislike luck and randomness because they feel it dilutes the pure match of minds that a luckless strategy game offers. Other gamers don’t like thinking about infinite complex strategies, and enjoy games that offer something random and fun every time. Personally, I tend to feel that the longer a game is, the less randomness I want it to have.

There’s no right answer. The real question to ask is, how much luck do *you* want? Here are some games that span the full luck axis:

No Luck

Generally speaking, abstract strategy games have no luck. This makes them ideal for people who hate the idea of random chance affecting their game, and like to play the same game many times in order to master it. Chess is obviously the best example of this, and has players who have played literally thousands of games.

However, in any multi-player game, such as a four-player game of Blokus, there can be a sense of randomness based on what pieces your opponents place. There’s no real luck involved, since everything is pure strategic choice, but the seeming randomness can keep the game feeling new each time.

Slight Luck

Most eurogames have a slight degree of luck and randomness. Ideally, this should be an amount sufficient to force players to adapt their strategies to each instance of the game, but not so much luck that an obviously inferior strategy can result in victory. A great example of this is Puerto Rico, where the single random element is the stock of available plantations. This is only a tiny part of the game, but players must consider it carefully when planning their strategies.

Medium Luck

Medium luck games often seem to be high luck games, until you realize that the luck always seems to favor the same players. Re-read the quotes at the top of the article – they apply especially to medium-luck games. Kingsburg and BattleLore may both have you rolling dice every turn, but it’s the strategic use of these dice, and positioning before rolling these dice, that often carries the day. Yes, a long series of bad rolls can lose the game for even the best player, but more often than not, a superior strategy will lead to victory. In a medium-luck game, smart play often means setting yourself up so that most rolls would still benefit you.

High Luck

Generally speaking, high luck games tend to be fairly quick. Consequently, they make good fillers when people are too mentally tired to play a low-luck game that requires lots of strategic thinking. Fluxx is a good example of a high luck game, where the random draw of a new goal card can swiftly change which player is likely to win, regardless of strategic play up to that point.

Entirely Luck

No games worth playing are entirely luck. A few kids’ games like Life and Candyland fall in this category, but give your kids some credit and try a game that gives them some volition. They’ll learn more, and probably enjoy it more too.

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July 21, 2009 at 2:10 am 1 comment

Factors of Gaming

Author: J. Alexander (tankexmortis@gmail.com)

Recently I’ve become aware of a sinister subculture of individuals, each one intelligent, tactically-minded, and bent on global domination.

Okay, I’m a liar. They’re not sinister, for one; and they’re not so much after global domination as global acknowledgement. I’m sure they’d take domination if they could get it, though.

I’m speaking of people who, in this modern age of cell phones, internets, and video games so advanced they have entire economies of their own, still play board games. Yes, board games are still being developed, and they’ve been advancing just the same as any other form of entertainment. These boardgamers laugh at such tripe as Monopoly or Risk; those games are ancient in their eyes. Our eyes, I should say, because I’ve fallen into the world of boardgaming as well, and fallen hard.

It started innocently, with a few luck based card games. Soon, I was standing around the local comic shop, browsing their selection of small-print games. I picked one up. Then, another. I discovered the gigantic online community. I discovered the local game groups, and started attending their meetings. I expanded my collection with the help of online stores like Best Dang Games. Then, I expanded it some more. Then, more. I set up my own game group so I could introduce my friends to the games I found myself accumulating. To put it mildly, I was hooked.

So what is it that’s so appealing about board games in a digital age? It’s hard to pin down. There’s the fantasy factor – the same thing that makes Dungeons and Dragons still sell after all these years is part of what makes dungeon-crawling games, like Descent fun. Raiding dungeons for loot and fighting terrifying monsters is escapism at its finest.

There’s also the brain factor. A lot of these games are intellectually stimulating in the extreme. Ask one of the hundreds of people who have dedicated their lives to mastering the ancient Japanese game of Go – there’s a unique joy to exercising and stretching one’s brain in new and exciting ways. Board games offer that in spades.

There’s the social factor. Board games are intrinsically social – sure, you could play against yourself, but you’d always rather have a real opponent. Someone to judge yourself against, someone to congratulate you when you do well, someone to tease you when you do poorly, and someone for you to do the same. For many people, this is the most important factor.

So what is it for me? It’s a mixture of these factors, as I suspect it is for everyone. While everyone enjoys different games for different reasons, we all play, and we all have fun. And that’s the most important factor.

July 21, 2009 at 1:55 am Leave a comment

What Genre Gamer Are You?

You may like action movies, or romances, or documentaries, or comedies, but very few people would say that they don’t enjoy movies at all. Games are the same way; some people enjoy big Ameri-war games with lots of dice rolling like Risk, while others may prefer a party game like Apples to Apples, but most people will enjoy at least one or two genres of game, and often more.

So the question is: What do you like?

I Like Strategy!

Many players come to a board game looking to exercise their minds. If you want to out-plan, out-think, and outwit your opponents with a superior strategy, you’re not alone. While children’s board games tend to have a lot of luck, many of the world’s most popular adult board games minimize randomness and focus on strategic planning and decision-making. If you like strategy, you might be a(n):

Abstract Gamer

Perhaps the purest form of strategic board game, abstract games tend to have little or no theme. They also tend to have little or no luck, which means that they end up as a pure contest of mental powers between you and your opponents. Generally speaking, there are pieces, a board, and you move them around following the rules until you win. Classic games like Chess fall into this category, but newcomers may be hard-pressed to enjoy a game of Chess against someone who has played hundreds of times. There are many newer abstract strategy games such as Blokus which can accommodate 2-4 players, and allow for players to explore the game together.

Euro-Gamer

More complex and themed strategic board games have become more popular in the past few decades, with a huge influx in Euro-style games spawned by the success of Settlers of Catan. Although Settlers itself uses dice, most Euro-style games do not. They tend to have a very small amount of randomness, but like Settlers, offer a wide variety of choices every turn, often with a final goal of accumulating victory points in various ways. Most Euro-games also have multiple mechanics in play at once, such as resource management, worker placement, bidding, tech trees, or role selection. The combination of innovative rules often leads to a wide array of possible strategies and multiple paths to victory, allowing each player to follow her own approach and still have a decent shot at winning. The two top-ranked board games in the world on BoardGameGeek currently both fall into this category: Agricola and Puerto Rico. Both are shining examples of what make this genre great.

I Like Fighting!

Fighting in real life may not be so fun, but in the realm of fantasy, many people find it entertaining. For the same reason that action movies always have combat and young boys often pretend to be in a heroic fight, many players come to their games looking to have their characters go out and win some battles. If this describes you, you might be a(n):

War Gamer

War games are just what they sound like: Two or more players commanding opposing armies attempting to defeat each other, generally by killing enemy soldiers. If this sounds violent, remember that Chess could be described the same way. War games tend to feature a large map, large numbers of army units that move around on this map, and you roll dice to determine successful attacks. A few of the hardcore “war games” are incredibly detailed affairs, with lots of miniatures, 3-D terrain, and measuring lines of sight. But many war games (also known as “Ameri-games”) are much more accessible. Most people are familiar with Risk or Axis and Allies, but newer war games like BattleLore offer a deeper strategy.

Adventure Gamer

Adventure games often play like a fantasy epic. If you don’t mind spending a few hours on a single game, adventure games let you become the hero of your own little story. You’ll likely be exploring a large map, upgrading your character, acquiring items, completing quests, and participating in a grand adventure. Arkham Horror , World of Warcraft, or Descent are popular examples of the genre, with many rules and pieces, but many die-hard fans as well.

I Like Hanging Out!

Not everyone wants to spend a whole evening playing board games. You might view them as a fun way to kill time before the movie, or just an excuse to spend time with your friends. And that’s a fine use for board games! You might be a:

Light Gamer

Light games are great when you want a game to fill the time before your evening’s next big event. Light games should have simple rules, and be playable in less than a half-hour. Some old games like Yahtzee would qualify as a light game. But light games don’t have to mean no strategy; there are plenty of highly-strategic light games that are still simple and fast, such as Lost Cities. If you like light games, look for the estimated play-time.

Party Gamer

Who wins? Who cares! In party games, the point of the game is just to enjoy hanging out with your friends. Charades is probably the most classic party game, and requires no special equipment. If you’re looking for more entertaining games to get your guests laughing without overly heavy competition, you may want party games like Apples to Apples.

May 24, 2009 at 2:40 am Leave a comment

Board Game Night – How Competitive Are You?

One of the main factors in selecting a board game that is appropriate for the people you’re playing with is gauging your group’s competitiveness. Let’s face it; a mismatch in the competitive department can prove disastrous in a group. No matter how much fun Aggressive Al might be having winning big in Settlers of Catan (or even Monopoly for that matter), if Al mercilessly annihilates Peaceable Pam in the process, feelings can be hurt and the evening can be ruined for everyone. (This can be a particularly difficult problem if Al happens to be married to Pam!)

So, what are some practical ideas for choosing games that will be appropriate for a group with an unknown or mixed level of competitiveness? Well, if you’re the game night organizer, you can do much to ease your group into fun games without starting off with a proverbial “knife fight.” Here’s a guide to some games, based on their Competitive Factor.

Take it Easy

With a group of strangers or one of unknown competitiveness, the safest approach is to start off with a game in which it really doesn’t matter who wins, in other words, so-called Party Games that derive their fun from the playing itself. Party Games are generally filled with laughter, and are great ice breakers. Games to consider in this category include Apples to Apples, a classic game of matching descriptions with persons, places or things or Fluxx, where the rules are always changing.

Moving Up

If your group survives the first category with belly laughs instead of angry invectives, you’re probably safe to venture into some games with more strategy, but minimal direct confrontation. Many of these games fall into the “Lighter Eurogame” category. Carcassonne and its many expansions fit this category well, and are relatively easy to explain to new gamers. In Alhambra, you’ll feel more like you’re building your own fortress instead of attacking your opponents, and San Juan and Zooloretto are great alternatives that aren’t directly confrontational, but will still scratch that competitive itch.

Bring it On

For many groups, the lighter Eurogames will hit the sweet spot, for they offer more in the way of strategy than the pure laughter of party games, but won’t likely degenerate into cutthroat competition. However, if your group desires more direct confrontation, many of the heavier Eurogames provide it. The Settlers of Catan is on the lighter side of these more competitive games, but some real nastiness can be done with the Robber option and road blocking, so be careful if you have a “Peaceable Pam” in your group. For those who want more complexity, with opportunities for confrontation, it’s hard to beat Puerto Rico and Power Grid, but none of these should be a first choice with an unknown group of gamers.

Can’t We All Just Get Along?

Finally, you might want to try a game that is intentionally the opposite of a competitive game, one of the so-called Cooperative Games. In Cooperative Games, the players don’t compete against one another, but against the game itself. Either everyone wins or everyone loses. This might be an excellent choice for a group that likes a cerebral challenge, but is essentially noncompetitive, or a group that has had a bad competitive experience and needs a serious change of pace. Arkham Horror, and Battlestar Galactica can rightly be called semi-cooperative in nature (you may have a secret traitor in your midst!), while Pandemic is a purely cooperative masterpiece.

In truth, most of us probably have a bit of a competitive streak and board games can be an enjoyable way to express it. But if you take care to match your choice of games with your group’s personality, you’re much more likely to get ’em coming back for more instead of indelibly etching a bad experience in their memories.

May 12, 2009 at 2:38 am 1 comment

Dominion Card Game – Card By Card Analysis

Author – Cory Duplantis

We are going to go through each of the 25 Kingdom cards in Dominion and explain what the card does and how you can use each in various ways.  We will also go through common combos with each card.

We assume you have played Dominion or understand how the game is played before reading this article. All of these strategies will not work all of the time.  Because each game of Dominion is different, the setup could require tweaking of various strategies.

Adventurer – Reveal cards in your deck until TWO treasure cards are drawn, discard all other cards – 6 cost

This card is a great card to have in a deck where the gold count in the deck is small.  Since you are guaranteed to get two treasure cards from this one card, it doesn’t matter how big your deck is.  The way this card is played best is by eliminating Coppers (and Silvers if possible) from your deck completely.  This can be done with Chapel, Moneylender, or Remodel.

That is the basic combo with Adventurer

  • Make a very small deck with Chapel.
  • Make sure you only have Silver and/or Gold in your deck.

This way, each Adventurer you play is worth at the least 4 Gold or at most 6 Gold.

Bureaucrat – Gain a Silver card.  Each other player must place a Victory Point card from their hand on top of their deck.  If they do not have a Victory Point card, they must reveal their hand – 4 cost

This card is great for a deck where you want to dramatically increase the size of your deck.  This card can also be used in a strict Remodel deck.  You use Bureaucrat to gain silvers, and then Remodel those silvers into 5 G cards (these cards will depend on what is available for that game).  It is also a good opening card if the Militia is not currently in play.  As the card gives you a silver card each time is played, actually buying gold is useless for you now.  You can use the money you have to buy action cards instead of money.

Cellar – +1 Action, Discard X cards, +X cards – 2 cost

Use this card to discard useless cards in your hand in order to gain other cards.  This card prevails in a +Card deck.  Basically you discard everything except your +Action and +Card cards.  This way you maximize your draws you can get.  It is also a good card to use to end the game.  Since this card only costs 2, you can use it to empty a stack of cards if you are wanting to end the game.  One common mistake however is to have too many Cellars.  Too many cellars is useless because each time you use a cellar, you have one less card in your hand, because the cellar itself had a place in your hand.  So chaining Cellars is almost always useless.

Chancellor – +2 money, deck may be put in discard pile – 3 cost

At first, this card doesn’t seem that great, but after playing with it; it is quite useful.  This card shines in a small deck.  The reason for this is because you should know what cards you have in your deck, thus you should know what should be coming up in your deck.  If one turn you played a good bit of your gold or a good bit of your kingdom cards and know that you only have small money and victory point cards left, then this card is played to shuffle everything back together.  Also, since it is only 3 gold, it is a good starting card.  It gives you an early jump in money, and it also gives you the option to shuffle your deck or not, which is a useful option to have.

Chapel – Trash up to 4 cards from your hand – 2 cost

Well, the use of the chapel is obvious, get rid of cards you do not need.  Many new players do not understand the reasoning behind this.  The reason you want to trash cards is to draw other cards more often.  The smaller the deck, the more often cards are drawn, and therefore are played more often.  Basically instead of drawing a lot of copper, you will have a fewer number of silver and gold, but will draw that money more often.  This card is also vital if Witch is in play and Moat is not.  This card gets rid of those pesky Curse cards that no one wants to have.

Council Room – +4 Cards, +1 Buy, others players draw one card – 5 cost

At first, this card is amazing. WOW! 4 cards and a buy.  You must be very careful with these cards.  This card is only good, if other players are also playing with a big deck.  If there are players playing a small deck, then this card will help them more than helping you.  Since their deck is so small, every card they draw is useful.  On the other hand, if everyone is playing with larger decks, this card is also good.  Also, if this is the only way to purchase multiple cards, then it is also useful.  This card is a good card to combo with a Garden deck.  Since this card gives you a lot of cards as well as a buy, the odds of you drawing lots of gold is good.  Thus, you could purchase a Province as well as a smaller card (like a cellar for instance).  If this card is also one of the few +Card cards, then it is also good.  It is also a good starting card if you draw 5 copper on your first or second hands.  The reason for this is that your odds are great that you will draw 3 or 4 copper the next time your deck is shuffled, which almost always becomes an early Gold.

Feast – Gain a card costing up to 5 money, Trash this card – 4 cost

This card is absolutely great.  Early game, it is great to grab a couple of these for various 5 point cards.  In a game where Witch is in play and moat is not, grab a feast to grab a witch very early to put your opponent(s) on the defensive. Or, use the feast to grab more draw cards like Laboratory.  This card is just a great card to have in the early game.  That said, later in the game it is not so great.  You need to gauge when you think your opponent will end the game and how large your deck is.  If you are going to buy this but never  reshuffle your deck, then your money could have been spent on Victory Point cards, rather than this Feast.  In short, buy these early, but try not to buy them in the late game.

Festival -+2 Actions, +1 Buy, +2 Money- 5 cost

Hmm, where to start with Festival.  Festivals are a tricky card.  At first, it seems like festivals should always get priority because of all the stuff they give.  In some games this is the case, but most games it is not.  Festivals should be used with there isn’t Villages in play, or if there aren’t many +Buy cards.  If you are using this card solely for the +money, then you have wasted 5 money.  While yes, you can chain 4 festivals together to get a Province, you could have spent that 20 money on better draw cards.  That said, if there are not many +Card cards in play, then yes, this is a great card to have.  This card is also very useful in a Library deck strategy which I will discuss shortly.  In short, festivals shouldn’t be a deck strategy.  Use a couple festivals, but do not rely strictly upon them.

Laboratory – +2 cards, +1 action – 5 cost

This card is by far one of my favorite cards.  You get two extra cards in your hand, and you get to play something else.  This card is key to a “money only” deck strategy.  Basically you only buy money, in order to buy up to Gold and fill your deck with Gold.  The +action with the Lab will be used with either a Chapel, to get rid of Coppers or Victory point card in your hand, or with a Cellar for the same reason.  Also, Lab is just an overall good card you can use in most any deck.  Drawing cards, and then being able to play more things is just a fantastic ability.  That said, do not buy strictly Laboratories.  It is useless to go through your whole deck and only end up with 5 gold to spend.  That is pointless.  If you already have 3 Lab’s and you get another 5 money in your hand, use it on a Silver or a Mine, if it is in play.  That way, you can bring in gold faster.

Library – Draw until you have 7 cards in hand.  You may set aside any Action cards drawn this way, as you draw them; discard the set aside cards after you finish drawing  – 5 cost

Basically, with the Library, you want to empty your hand until you only have the Library left.  You then play the Library and redraw 7 cards at which point you continue to play cards.  A basic strategy with the Libray is Festival/Library.  This way, you get rid of cards in your hand so you can draw more cards, as well as give yourself actions to use after you have chosen the Library.  And since the very nature of Library is that you may keep action cards or not, you can gauge whether or not to keep certain action cards or to discard them.  Another good strategy with Library is to Chapel all the Estates out of your deck and then Library.  This way, you are guaranteed to draw money.  While this only works in the beginning, it is still a good opening strategy.

Market – +1 Card, +1 Action, +1 Buy, +1 money – 5 cost

WOW what a card!  So much stuff to use on one turn!  I must get every market I can.  WRONG! (most of the time).  This is the mentality many new guys have when starting Dominion.  While in some occasions this card would be great to have 4 or 5 of, this card just isn’t as amazing as people think.  This card is basically a placeholder copper card.  When you draw it, you automatically get one money.  While this is great and all, you can use the card spot for a more viable card with many more uses (like a Laboratory or a Throne room, or heck even a Duchy at this point).  Yes the Market does give a lot of things in one turn, but again, it is merely a place holder.  If you are looking for a deck that get’s lots of  +Buy cards, then maybe this is an option.  For the most part, stay away from trying to buy too many of these.  While a couple (2 or 3 at most) is good, any more is just a burden and remember, the key to Dominion is deck management.

Militia – +2 money, each opponent discards down to THREE cards – 4 cost

Now this card is a great opening card.  Not only does it give you money at the beginning (which is key) it also reduces your opponent’s hand.  This is great because in the beginning, the game is usually a race to see who can get to a couple of the 5 cost cards the fastest.  That being said, this card is also great with Council Room in play.  If you can chain a couple of Council Rooms together and then finish the chain with a Militia, not only do you get the cards and the buys from the Council Room, but your opponent will more than likely have to discard at least one or two cards that would have made this hand great.  Your opponent discards down to only THREE cards, not discard only TWO cards.  This is a common misconception.  That being said, militia is not one of those cards you want to have more than 3 of in a deck, unless you are playing a heavy Festival/Village deck.  Militia’s main purpose is to give you money; the discard element is merely the bow on top of the present.  It is also to note that if Moat is in play, gosh you might as well pass on Militia if you see your opponent gaining a lot of Moats.  Why spend 4 gold on a card that you will only gain half the use of?  Militia is a great opening card, but mid-late game, it just isn’t terribly powerful.

Mine – Trash a treasure card; gain a treasure card TO YOUR HAND of the next highest value – 5 cost

Mine is one of my favorite cards.  This card does great in nearly every deck, because every deck needs to get rid of copper cards.  And, what better way of getting rid of copper card than by replacing every copper with a silver, or every silver with a gold.  Now for the common question… Which is better to do, Copper à Silver or Silver to à Gold? The honest answer is…it depends (yeah, yeah, it’s a generic answer, I know).  BUT 9/10 Silver à is going to be the most worth-while decision.  The only time this wouldn’t be the case is if Thief is in play, and even then it is still usually a good deal. You want to be able to purchase more powerful cards at all cost.  Yeah, you will draw that other copper, but remember Dominion is all about deck management.  Having 1 Gold and 1 Copper is much better than having 2 Silver.  You will draw the Gold which is automatic Silver if you still need it.  Overall, Gold is better to have, end of story.  Mine is an all around good card, and quite possibly could be in almost every deck strategy.

Moat – +2 cards, Show to have the effects of an attack card negated towards you  – 2 cost

Moat is the only reaction card in the first set of Dominion.  This card is a lifesaver in basically one game – a Witch game.  Every other attack card is kind of meh! on the attack, but the Witch is just MEAN!  This card is good when games are low on +card cards (remember the moat does have an ability other than the reaction) or when the Witch is in play.  Those are basically the only times moats are necessary.  You can also use a Moat for an easy end game strategy since they are so cheap.  Other than that, this card is just mediocre for what it is.  It is a reaction card, and basically only that.

Moneylender – Trash a copper to gain 3 money- 4 cost

I could also say this card works good in most any deck, but not as successful as the Mine.  Since the Moneylender only trashes copper and doesn’t guarantee any money cards in return, this card is tricky.  Many people pick up the Moneylender with the intent of using it like a mini-Mine (Trash a Copper to gain a Silver).  Many people have that intent, but get excited when they have more than 3 money.  Many people feel the need to buy a higher powered card than have the money.  Most of the time, the money cards are good to buy when using the Moneylender, UNLESS it is near the end of the game.  At this point, it is time to buy Victory Points.  Also, buying any more than 2 of these guys is basically useless, unless your deck revolves around +buy and regaining a copper every turn, which is a viable strategy.  With this strategy, you need Festivals as well as Moneylenders.  The optimum hand would be Festival, two Moneylenders, and two copper.  This is an automatic Province as well as another copper to refill the one  you used.  Other than that, there is no need to buy more than 1 or 2 of these guys.

Remodel – Trash a card, Gain a card costing up to 2 more than that card – 4 cost

This card is great – in more ways than one.  This card allows one to transform the early Estates into 4 cost cards.  This card allows 5 cost cards to become gold. This card allows Gold to become Provinces.  This is just an all around great card.  A common strategy with the Remodel is you have lots of +actions and you remodel everything in your deck up to gold.  Once your deck is full of gold, then you remodel the gold into Provinces.  Not many other decks can buy 2, 3, and possibly 4 provinces in one turn.  That is HUGE!  The other advantage Remodel has is it can Remodel CURSES.  That’s right, now you have an easy way to not only get rid of curses, but get an Estate from a Curse.  That is an automatic +2 Victory Points than you would have had.  Remodel is a card that is useful in some decks, but other decks – not so much.  This is also a card to watch out for other people using a lot.  It will easily sneak up behind you.

Smithy – +3 cards – 4 cost

Welcome to the shortest ability of the base game of Dominion.  Smithy is a good opening card to draw.  Odds are that it will allow you to gain an early Gold, which is good.  A VERY common strategy with Smithy is to combine this card with a +2 Action card (Village/Festival).  The reason for this is you play the Village first, then the Smithy which draws 3 cards.  You then have one more action left with which to do as you please.  No doubt this strategy will get you a lot of cards.  The only downfall this combo has is that people become too engulfed with that strategy that they forget to buy money cards.  There is no point in drawing 10 cards in your hand when you can only get 4 money out of it.  While this card is great for the combo, be warned not to disregard the key elements of the game (money and Victory Points).

Spy – +1 card/ +1 Action, Each player (including yourself) reveals the top card and either puts it back or discards it, your choice – 4 cost.

This card is also another one of my all around good cards.  This card, when chained with other draw cards, lets you eliminate cards you don’t want to draw, while ensuring cards you don’t want to get drawn do get drawn.  The way you use this card is it should be played first before anything else.  You want to know what is on top of your deck.  Even if you don’t have any +card card in your hand, this is extremely useful.  It allows you to discard your Victory Point cards that aren’t necessary in your hand.  Spy is just an all around great card to have.  I recommend at least picking two of these cards for your deck – if you can.

Thief – Each other player reveals the top two card of their deck.  You may gain one treasure card from each player.  The other cards are discarded – 4 cost

This is the ultimate “take-that” card in Dominion.  It is just a lot of fun for people who like to hurt their opponents.  With this card in play, getting Gold is almost a sin (assuming a moat is not in play).  This card goes AMAZINGLY well in a Spy deck.  You basically have 5 or so Spies in a deck.  You chain at least 3 of these together until you get a Silver or Gold on top of you opponents deck.  You then Thief that silver/gold and viola, instant free money.  That is a very common strategy with both of these cards in play.  If those cards are not in play however, then the thief is a bit weak.  It is based too much on the luck side of the coin.  Unless you know for certain that you will be getting money, then I would not play a Thief.  Also, if you trash some of their copper, you are helping them, because mid-late game, copper is useless most of the time.  While the Thief is good in some occasions, I would only recommend getting one or at most 2 of these bad boys.

Throne Room – Play one Action card from your hand twice – 4 cost

This card is quite powerful in a strong kingdom deck.  This card is not strong in a money heavy deck.  If you are playing with a lot of kingdoms, grab at least one Throne Room.  It WILL go a long way.  If you are playing a chapel deck, don’t grab this card.  Since you only have a couple of kingdom cards, this card MIGHT be drawn with another kingdom card, but usually it won’t.  This card has endless possibilities though.  Throne Room/Witch is a FANTASTIC way to screw over your opponents early on in a game without Moats.  To give your opponents two useless cards and negative 2 points in ONE turn is just amazing!  That is basically the strategy to Throne Room.  Play it when you can.  There is one rule note, however.  If you play two Throne Rooms back to back, you must play two kingdom cards following it.  You cannot play Throne Room/Throne Room/Witch in order for the Witch to be played 4 times.  Since each Throne Room must have its own target, you must play a separate action card for each.  That doesn’t go without saying you can’t play two Witches back to back, but not the other way around.

Village – +1 card, +2 Actions – 3 cost

Ah! the best new player gimmick out there. WOAH! One card, and two more actions, OMG, I must have all ten of these.  I have seen that before with players and they are dead wrong.  One player only needs 2 or 3 of these at most.  The reason is, is when you are done chaining these things together, you have close to 6 actions left over.  That is a signal that you have too many Villages and not enough Kingdom cards in general.  Yes this card gives you Actions.  You don’t need to flood your deck with as many of these as you can.  This is the same argument that goes with the Village/Smithy strategy be sure to grab some money and other kingdom cards and not just these.  Early game, yes go ahead and buy these, but later on, don’t bother.  Your gold is better used for other buys like 5 or 6 cost cards or even Provinces.  In the end, don’t buy more than 2 of these guys.

Witch – +2 cards, each other player gains a Curse card – 5 cost

Having two MAYBE three of these girls in your deck should suffice quite nicely.

Woodcutter – +1 buy, +2 money – 3 cost

This is a great opening card.  To have a card that acts as a Silver is great.  This card is also great for the Garden.  With the Garden, +buy is a necessity and this is the best low cost card for the job.  This card is basically a free Estate in a Garden deck.  Other than that, the Woodcutter is merely an alright card.  After your deck gets above 20 or so cards, more times than not you can Chapel/Remodel the Woodcutter unless you have tons of actions to use.  This is a great finisher to a chain.  Woodcutter allows for a great starting card as well as a great finisher to a long chain of cards.

Workshop – Gain a card costing up to 4 – 3 cost

This card is just a beauty.  It allows you to gain two cards in one turn, without having to have the gold or the +buy to do it.  This card is used to get spies/gardens/smithies/villages/SILVER, the list goes on and on.  This card is just an all around great card.  This card isn’t however a good starting card.  I would get my first two buys out of the way, and then I would buy the Workshop.  The workshop is not good in a Chapel deck.  There is no need for it.  Basically if you are in need of extra cards in one turn, the Workshop is the easiest way to get it.

Garden – Gain 1 victory point for every 10 cards in your deck at the end of the game

I saved the Garden for last because I wanted to tell show you all the other cards needed to make a good garden deck.  The OPTIMUM cards for a garden deck are Festival, Workshop, Bureaucrat, Council Room. While these are the optimum cards, you can mix this strategy to fit almost every possible set up.  Your goal is to gain more than one card every turn, and two cards if possible.  The festival is good for all its actions, +actions, +buy, and +2 gold.  If anything else, this gives you an estate every turn.   The Workshop allows you to gain a Garden every turn.  Bureaucrat allows you to get a silver every turn.  These two cards are good because they allow you to get cards before your actual buy stage.  Council Room finishes your chain buy drawing four more cards and getting yet another buy.  If everything else in your deck is money, then you are golden to use all your buys on useful cards. At your buy phase you then focus on gaining money, money, and more money.  USE ALL OF YOUR BUYS WHENEVER YOU CAN.  You want to get your deck up to 40/50/60 as fast as you can.  Take a copper every turn you can if you have extra buys.

Get your own copy of Dominion and good luck!

May 6, 2009 at 1:59 am 3 comments

Board Game Expansions – A Breath of Fresh Air

Author – Piper Kilpatrick

I have had several of my friends ask me why they should spend money on expansions that are produced for various board and card games. They suggest that if games required expansions then they weren’t that good to begin with. They also complain that expansions are just excuses for the publishers of the game to charge us more money for the same game.

I take the time to suggest to these people that they are incorrect on both accounts.

Remove Strategic Advantages

Firstly, there have been games when played so many times by so many people have exposed certain types of strategy or certain rules that allow for a specific advantage that is not obvious to the casual player who has only played a few times, but is exposed by high level players that have played many times. Expansions solve this issue cheaply by addressing an issue with the games design while at the same time providing a new way of approaching the game in general. Thus both the casual player and the advanced player are both given a benefit. The casual gamer simply has a new way to play while the advanced player is provided an entirely new system to learn.

Breathe New Life Into A Favorite

This is not the reason expansions are produced for the vast majority of games however. Most games are given an expansion as they grow in popularity. Games that have been around for a while and have become favorites with many players and can begin to feel stale. Players generally play most of the time with the same people, so the game frequently begins to feel the same each time it is played. An expansion provides the players a way to breathe fresh life into the game for a small financial demand rather than requiring the players to purchase a totally new game for a new gaming experience.

New Experience – Similar Rules

An expansion also allows the players to gain a new gaming experience without having to take the time to learn a totally new set of rules. Expansions by and large are simply tweaks to the base rule set of the game, thus allowing for players to spend more time playing and less time reading.

Lastly, most expansions are not developed at the initial production of the basic game. Usually collectable games are the only ones where expansions are developed at the same time the base game is.

Expansions are meant to provide gamers with a new gaming experience for an established game. This allows the gamer a cheap way to breathe new life into a game that might be gathering some dust.

For example, my wife and I have played Carcassonne for three years now. The game continues to bring great excitement every time we play it not only because the game is well designed and is the type of game that provides a different experience each time it’s played, but because many expansions have been produced for the game that allow us to change the way the game feels very quickly with very minimal financial requirement. Several expansions retail for just a few dollars, but when added to the game, it changes our strategy completely. If either of us fails to adapt to the new requirements the expansion places on the game then that person is guaranteed a loss. Each expansion only required three to five minutes of rule learning, but added months to the games enjoyment because we were able to bring a game back to the table that had begun to feel the same each time we played because we each have a style of play that comes out when we play.

Cheap and Inexpensive Entertainment is GOOD!

Expansions provide gamers a cheap way to breathe new life into games that are just collecting dust, and in this time of economic upheaval a cheap way to bring joy to your home is always a good thing!

What is your favorite core and expansion set? Let everyone know, so they invest wisely!

Here’s some of the bigger expandable games: Carcassonne, Catan, Zombies!!!, Munchkin, Killer Bunnies, and others….

April 16, 2009 at 2:34 am Leave a comment

Orlando-based D&D Co-Creator Dies at 61

Originally printed on Twincities.com

Dave Arneson — who in 1974 co-created Dungeons & Dragons, the best-known and best-selling role-playing game of all time — molded fantasy in such a way that many lament him as the “unsung hero” of the gaming industry.

After a falling-out with late DD co-creator Gary Gygax and the company that published their work, Arneson went on to other careers: co-founding two other companies, moving to teaching — and finally, after being diagnosed with cancer, returning to St. Paul, where he died Tuesday at the age of 61.

The creative process began in the early 1970s on a ping-pong table in the basement of his parents’ Highland Park home. There, a core group of 10 or so high-school and college-age kids developed their own mental playground, taking board games and first altering the rules, then creating their own.

Arneson was the first to introduce the group to a fantasy setting, telling his friends to imagine that he had disappeared on a flight from Norway to the United States, returning from a family visit. The friends play-acted a scenario where they flew out to search for him. They found a cave in Iceland, entered — and on the other side was the land where Dungeons & Dragons was born.

The group was promptly attacked by a group of trolls.

“We quickly decided that we should retire those (real life-based) characters and start new ones because the game was awful deadly,” said Ross Maker, of St. Paul, one of the gamers in the group.

Another member of the group, Dave Wesely, of St. Paul, remembers returning from the military to find his old friends fiddling with dice in a basement.

“I’m an Army lieutenant and leader of men, and not a college student and I’m trying to take myself seriously. Here they’re playing with elves and dwarves and such … I’m thinking I’m never going to tell anybody I was in this game.”

Arneson’s daughter, Malia Weinhagen, remembered venturing down to the basement on many occasions, drawn by the pretty dice.

“Any house I ever lived in with him always had a basement devoted to gaming. I thought everyone grew up with dragons and fairies. It was quite a shock in elementary school when I found out I was not the norm,” she said.

That first campaign, known as Blackmoor, was one of Dungeons & Dragons’ first fantasy settings. There would be dozens more — and dozens of games like it.

While Gygax is often seen as DD’s rules guru, focusing on such things as tables and dice, Arneson is often credited with creating the “role playing” elements of the game.

“Dice and maps and figures and complicated rule books are a crutch. The game doesn’t need them — but the market does,” Arneson said in 1992.

In an era when dozens of gaming companies were starting and failing, the two teamed up under the auspices of Lake Geneva, Wis.-based Tactical Studies Rules Inc., and after a rocky start, started a product in 1974 that would soon become world-renowned.

“We had no advertising or anything like that,” Arneson said in 1992. “We sold 500 sets in three months, invested the earnings to make 1,000 more, sold them, invested the earnings to make 5,000 more. And so on.”

But a few years later, Arneson was ousted from the company, which had taken on additional investors.

It was a painful time, many note, for Arneson — who sued the company over royalties. They settled out of court.

Gygax and Arneson’s split remains a topic of heated debate in gaming circles.

“We never reconciled,” Arneson told the Pioneer Press when Gygax died last year. “We were polite, but things never came together that way.”

“We had fun,” he added. “A lot of fun.”

In 1978, Arneson joined three partners to establish 4D Interactive Systems, a St. Paul company originally created to design games.

But when the company turned largely to programming — first for games, and then, to make additional money, for medical devices — Arneson left for more creative endeavors. He started his own fantasy company, Adventure Games, fueled by funds from the lawsuit.

The company folded a few years later, and Arneson moved around, finally settling on teaching in the late 1990s. He ended up at Full Sail University in a suburb of Orlando, Fla., teaching a class on game design. In June, diagnosed with cancer, he returned to St. Paul.

April 10, 2009 at 12:17 pm Leave a comment

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