Family game night Pandemic boardgame. First time on Standard difficulty. Medic, Dispatcher, and Operations Specialist. We lost.
In many ways my year of “rediscovered” board gaming with the family has been a trip into the past. For Family Game Night, we have played new games like Scythe or The Expanse Boardgame as well as older games like Nexus Ops. With the many holiday sales in the States, I used a discount offer at Barnes & Noble to score a copy of Pandemic (Z-Man Games, 2013 English Edition). Pandemic was originally published in 2008 and in the past near-decade we somehow missed it. That error has now been corrected!
Since the RockyMountainNavy Family Game Night usually has myself and two of the RMN Boys, finding a 3-player family game is a bit challenging. The RMN Boys were a bit doubtful when I brought out Pandemic; the last “throwback game” we played, Nexus Ops, was enjoyable if a bit pedestrian. I think the Boys expected Pandemic to be the same.
It was snowy day so we actually pulled Pandemic out the first time in the afternoon. We lost our first game, set at Introductory difficulty, as we had only three cures when the Player Card deck ran out. The Boys and myself struggled to understand the different Roles. In our first game, we had a Medic, Dispatcher, and Quarantine Specialist. But the game was still very enjoyable, and Youngest RMN Boy suggested a replay after dinner for our usual Game Night.
In the evening game we played in a highly cooperative manner. Our Roles were the Medic, Quarantine Specialist, and Operations Specialist. As we started understanding the rules better we also started using a bit more strategy. The game ended on the last possible turn (the Player Deck was empty) as Youngest RMN raced to a Research Station with our last cure and gave us the win. We jumped and cheered and gave each other high-fives.
It was at this point I realized that all three of us were standing for the last turn. Pandemic had delivered a very intense game experience. If I had really paid attention to the reviews and rankings this should not surprise me, but all of us (even RMN Mom listening from the other room) were positively overjoyed with the game experience. Pandemic gave us an intense game the demanded we pay attention to our unique abilities and employ strategic thinking in a time-pressure environment. So intense was the game I forgot to take the usual gaming action photo! Winning the game is very satisfying; there is a real feeling that we “saved humanity.”
I am glad we added Pandemic to our game collection. Youngest RMN has pulled the box out several times in the day since the game and is studying it deeply. This game will definitely land on the RMN gaming table again. Youngest RMN has even asked if they can take it to Korea to introduce the cousins to next trip.
After losing out on a few weekend game night chances in November the RockyMountainNavy house jumped into a Overlord-version of Memoir ’44: The Battles of Khalkin-Gol. The Overlord version uses a large six-section map and a different Command Deck. It is well suited for multiple players.
The RockyMountainNavy Boys took the Soviets and I was the Imperial Japanese. We played the first Overlord scenario, the Encirclement at Khalkin-Gol.
I did not realize until we started that the Boys, though huge Memoir ’44 players, had never played an Overlord scenario before. So we started out a bit slow as we learned the system.
The Boys were playing a (slightly) bastardized-version of the Command-in-Chief rules with only the two of them. They both jointly acted as C-in-C and each was also a Field General with half of the game board. There was a bit of analysis paralysis as the Boys dealt with the Soviet Commissar rule that forces the Soviet player to select Command Cards for the next turn.
The battle itself developed slowly, especially since the Boys tried to balance their Orders between the two sides of the battlefield. Eventually, the battle focused on the Japanese right flank and center.
We called the game after 2 1/2 hours. The Soviets were ahead 12 Medals to 11 Medals. Actual units destroyed were fairly even, and of the three Temporary Victory Medals (hilltops) the Soviets had taken one, another was unoccupied but contested, and the third remained in Japanese hands. Though the battle was seemingly even to this point, I am confident that it was not going to end well for the Japanese (i.e., me). I had pretty much lost my artillery to barrages and counter-battery fire and there were many Soviet tanks still coming. After using my Anti-tank Guns to good effect, the Boys had gotten smart and killed them off using artillery before bringing their tanks into lethal range.
Playing the Overlord-version of Memoir ’44 for the first time was enjoyable. The scope and breadth of the battles feel more sweeping and less myopically-focused like a regular Memoir ’44 scenario. It certainly takes longer to play, if for no other reason than the number of units and the Victory Conditions. Not to mention the Command rules.
November proved to be a weird gaming month. Due to family visiting I actually lost out on two (2!) weekends worth of gaming!
The obvious hit game of the month was Ghostbusters: Protect the Barrier Game which we played with our visitors. We still have not beaten this game, though we came close in a full-up four player session. I personally played a pick-up game of Bananagramsagainst the niece. Not shown her are the several Ticket to Ride games the RockyMountainNavy Boys played with the niece and her friend. As usual, TtR served as a excellent gateway game to introduce tabletop boardgaming to a new player.
The RockyMountainNavy Boys and myself got in good games of The Expanse Board Game and Terraforming Mars. We have seen online where some players have substituted small painted miniature ships for the token in The Expanse Board Game. We might look into that as a small winter project. I also pulled out Battlestar Galactica: The Board Game and think this may make a good Game Night event in the near-future, even with just three players.
I didn’t get nearly enough wargaming in during the month, but did get the American Revolution Tri-Pack to the table and am waiting for a chance to bring it out on Game Night.
Looking ahead to December, I have a sneaky feeling that after Christmas Day there may just be a few new games to play.
The RockyMountainNavy household is a bit busy this holiday with family visiting. Unfortunately, this means the last weekend Game Night was cancelled due to travel. However, this week (and especially thanksgiving Day) saw some games landing on the table. For some reason, the Red Planet Mars seemed to be our theme….
Thanksgiving Eve the RMNBoys and myself played a 3-player game of The Expanse Board Game. The game was slow with some analysis paralysis as the boys tried to get their heads wrapped around the game. The game ended a bit early when the sixth Scoring Card came out before the fourth or fifth had been played. At the end of the game I was a bit worried because Middle RMN Boy (on the Autism Spectrum) reacted a bit negatively to the ruthless play of his brother. I (belatedly) realized that The Expanse Board Game is a bit more on the “ruthless” side of gaming and not like other games we have played recently. The contrast was all-the-more apparent since the previous games Middle RMN Boy had played were the cooperative Ghostbusters: Protect the Barrier Game or the very family-friendly Ticket to Ride. To further exacerbate his loss, he had played the OPA which probably has the most “indirect” asymmetry of the three factions. Maybe I should have encouraged him to take the more militant MCR or the diplomatic UN. Thus, it was with some trepidation that I agreed to another play of The Expanse Board Game on Thanksgiving Day. Middle RMN insisted that he play the OPA again and I did not get in his way.
After the first game, we had talked about how the game encouraged being ruthless and how it was not his brother being mean, but the design of the game. I was hoping he understood. After the game it was very apparent that I had little to worry about for he was just as ruthless as his brother. In the end, Little RMN ran away with a victory but Middle RMN and myself were in a virtual tie. The boys both want to play again, and I too am more comfortable playing with them as Middle RMN Boy now seems to “understand” the game and not take it personally.
Thanksgiving Night ended with a full game of Terraforming Mars. Little RMN again proved to be ruthless and gave us no mercy with another runaway win. This was the second full-play of Terraforming Mars using the regular Corporations and the boys are exploring various strategies and getting better at playing Action Cards. As we were putting away the game, we looked at the Corporate Era cards. The rule book states that using the Corporate Era cards will result in an extended game; elsewhere I have read using these cards results in a more “confrontational” game. For that reason I was not planning on introducing these cards until after a few more plays. However, after The Expanse Board Game the RMN Boys are in a bit of a “confrontational” gaming mood and want to play the Corporate Era variant.
Although our Thanksgiving games ended well enough, it reminded me that playing with Autism Spectrum must always be in the back of my mind. When introducing a new game, I need to ensure that the tone of the game is presented up front to avoid negative emotions. I am happy to do this because – at the end of the day – I get to game with two of my greatest gaming partners.
(Featured image courtesy stellasplace1.com)
My first impressions of The Expanse Board Game (WizKids, 2017) were less-than-favorable. In the few weeks since I have been able to sit back and reappraise my feelings towards the game. I now see that I focused too much on theme and not enough on game play. If I remove many of my feelings about the theme, the game that emerges is a good influence-placement game using the theme of the The Expanse TV series.
I will be the first to admit I am not a hardcore fanboy of The Expanse, but I do like the TV series (Seasons 1 & 2) and have enjoyed the first few books. I came to the franchise backwards, seeing the TV series before I started reading the books. In several ways my perception of theme is colored by the TV series. The Expanse Board Game draws almost exclusively from the TV series, so in my first impressions I inevitably compared the two. In my first impressions I didn’t like the game because I kept trying to see the game as a replay (or version of) the TV series. The Expanse Board Game, though based on the TV series, is actually a very different look at the franchise. I should have paid more attention to the front matter in the rule book:
The Expanse is a game of politics, conquest, and intrigue for two to four players. Players spread their influence through the solar system onto important Bases using characters and events in the Expanse Universe, and must make clever use of their special faction abilities to gain an edge.
But even this summary is a bit misleading as I believe there is little “politics,” no real “conquest,” and very limited “intrigue” in the game. What The Expanse Board Game does deliver is a (sorta) asymmetrical influence-placement game based on The Expanse Universe.
Politics – When I see a political game I expect negotiation or a focus on indirect warfare (the Diplomatic, Intelligence, or Economic factors). The Expanse Board Game has no real negotiation element, a bare nod to diplomatic (i.e. the UN Diplomat cubes) and only a limited nod to economic (each factions key resources).
Conquest – Unless one conflates the definitions of conquest and influence there is no real conquest in The Expanse Board Game. Even when there is “confrontation” the result is limited to removal of fleets or influence cubes. Sure, fleets must be rebuilt but the relatively non-violent nature of the confrontation does not make it feel like a conquest to me.
Intrigue – Intrigue to me comes across as some form of secret plans or the like. Certainly, there is an element of secrecy in The Expanse Board Game but even that element is minimized as the game has almost no hidden information. Indeed, the game is mostly open information with cards on the Action Track visible to all and Kept Events remaining face-up in front of the players.
Asymmetrical Abilities – What The Expanse Board Game does well is using theme in the asymmetric abilities of the factions. From the UN being able to use superior planning to take the second card on the Action Track at no cost to the Martian battleships and the like, the use of theme to differentiate the factions is the most successful part of the game. This trend continues to a degree in the Faction Special Tech Cards that enter after different scoring rounds. These special abilities all are keyed to the placement – or
removal – of influence.
Influence – What The Expanse Board Game comes down to is influence. The game
is actually very simple; have the most influence at the right time for Scoring. Influence has two elements – orbital control and bases. Given the somewhat secret element of Bonus Sector selection, the players are challenged to have the right influence at the right times in the game. Players may find they need to “shift” influence around during the game as they try to guess (or manipulate) where the next Bonus Sector will be scored.
Rocinante – The Rocinante was actually the part of the theme I had the most trouble wrapping my head around. In the TV series the Rocinante and crew are the focus; the narrative element through which the story is told. In The Expanse Board Game the Rocinante has a far different role. With control of Rocinante going to the faction with the lowest Control Points, the ship becomes more of a pawn than a true protagonist. It is a bit disconcerting (disconnected from theme?) to see the ship only be used as a fleet (albeit one that can’t be removed) with special abilities that only come into play during Scoring. The special abilities also still very limited. Of the four, I actually find the Amos Burton ability the most powerful (“Remove 1 opposing fleet in the Rocinante Orbital for each friendly fleet there (including the Rocinante)”) which, to me, again doesn’t quite square with the TV Series where James Holden (special ability – “Place 1 influence anywhere”) comes across as the central character. I also have a bit of thematic dissonance when the Rocinante is controlled by the Protogen faction. So great is this dissonance that I have to rationalize the situation by telling myself that the Rocinante was not really being “controlled” by Protogen but more properly is being “manipulated” by the corporation.
Reappraising The Expanse Board Game
By reducing my expectations of theme, my respect for The Expanse Board Game has actually grown. The game is about placing influence – and little else. It uses the theme of The Expanse Universe to derive the asymmetric abilities of the factions. The Rocinante – a ship and crew with a key role in the TV series and books – has a lesser role in this game. In the end, The Expanse Board Game delivers what it promises – an Expanse-themed influence-placement game playable in around 60 minutes.
Here in the RockyMountainNavy household games are usually serious matters. We play #wargames for the strategy and history, #boardgames for the wonder and learning, and #RPGs for the adventure. I admit that sometimes we lose track of the fact that games should also be fun. Ghostbusters: Protect the Barrier Game (Mattel Games, 2016) reminded us that games can – and should be – fun!
I wrote before how I found this game at Tuesday Morning and was intrigued by its provenance, having originated in a 2014 Kinderspiel-des Jahres winner. We missed our usual Saturday night gaming (hey, after a long all-day home improvement project we were all wiped out) and instead pulled G:PtB out on Sunday afternoon. Feeling a bit sadistic, we using the Advanced Rules with the exception of removing the Paranormal Energy Devices (PED) in numerical order.
We lost our first game quickly but reset for a second game. The second game went longer and looked better with seven of eight PED out and a race to get the last one. Unfortunately, a series of Rowan events triggered the last Haunting and we (barely) lost. Resetting for a third go, we tried again. This time we changed strategy and had two hunters (er, Ghostbusters) removing PEDs while a third tried to beat back ghosts.
Middle RockyMountainNavy Boy entered a room with two ghosts and tried to fight them. For three rounds he fought, and missed. Eventually the room was haunted and he was joined by his younger brother. Again they fought, and again they missed. It took too many precious rounds to knock back the haunting.
As we raced to get several PEDs out, the Middle RMN Boy tried to stop by and join me to fight back a haunting. He was almost at the door when his brother pulled Green Doors Locked and cut off his path. No problem. Just go around the other way. But as he reached the other door his brother pulled out Blue Doors Locked and cut him off. Turing around, he went back the other way only to see his brother pull another card which said…you guessed it…Green Doors Locked!
At this point we were all laughing out loud. Youngest RMN Boy could only say, “Damn!” Middle RMN couldn’t take it any more and tackled his younger brother. As we all laughed and the boys wrestled even Mrs. RMN joined in by shouting, “What’s happening?!”
We lost the game, going 0-3 for the afternoon. We played all three games in about 40 minutes total. Ghostbusters: Protect the Barrier Game gets the RockyMountainNavy family seal of approval as a good family filler game. The RMN Boys want to dial-back the advanced rules and see if they can win at the Basic Game. They want to refine their strategy first before trying the uber-advanced variant. They want to make all this effort because…
…the game is fun. Belly-aching, laugh-out-loud fun.
Ignore the theme and play the game. It’s just a plain good, clean, silly family fun game.