#FirstImpressions – 878 Vikings: Invasions of England (@AcademyGames, 2017)

This Christmas was a very merry Academy Games Christmas in the RockyMountainNavy household. Our Birth of America collection was completed with 1754 Conquest: The French & Indian War and 1812: The Invasion of Canada. The first of the Birth of Europe titles, 878 Vikings: Invasion of England also landed under the tree. This weekend, 878 Vikings found it way to the RMN Game Night in a full 4-player scenario. 878 Vikings delivers a fun family game that strikes a nice balance between playability and teaching.

Academy Games calls the Birth-series “light grand tactical play.” In reality, these games are light strategic play with little “tactical” elements. In 878 Vikings, two factions of Viking invaders are trying to conquer England which is defended by the Housecarl and Thegn. Each turn, a new Viking leader will invade and try to conquer shires while the English try to hold back the Viking hordes.

It is actually a bit rare for all three RMN Boys to play on a game night. This is usually because the oldest RMN Boy, a die-hard video gamer, often chooses to pass on boardgames. However, in this case it was he who wanted the game because he absolutely LOVES Vikings. Thus, the teams were Oldest RMN Boy – Viking Beserkers, Youngest RMN Boy – Viking Norsemen, Middle RMN Boy – Housecarl, and myself as Thegn.

As we were setting up the game it became very apparent that the game had struck a cord with the oldest RMN Boy. Without reference to any materials he was talking about the history of various Viking Leaders. Youngest RMN Boy had pulled out his Guts & Glory: The Vikings book and was trying to keep up with his older brother. You have to understand something about these two; the Youngest RMN considers himself the smartest and was not prepared for his older brother to be so far ahead of him in Viking knowledge.

This “conflict” between the two of them continued as play began. Youngest RMN considers himself a bit of a tactician and usually leads his middle brother in plan development when they play against me. This time, it was literally like watching two Viking factions arguing amongst themselves.

The initial Viking invasion went well but was stopped in the south. Aggressive Thegn play (by me) and a Reinforcement rather than another full invasion slowed the Viking advance and allowed the English to take advantage of Viking overreach. The first invasion was eventually defeated (the leader eliminated) but at the cost of many Thegn which weakened further defenses. A lucky Saxon Navy card play forced the next Viking invasion to land in a less-than-optimal location and gave time for the English defense to stabilize. When the next Viking invasion arrived, an absolutely heroic stand on the beach (with Middle RMN rolling 5 hits on 6 dice) gave the invaders pause and made them adopt a less aggressive strategy. One feature that (happily) surprised us was the many Event Cards that feature some sort of betrayal. Both Viking Treaty of Wedmore cards were out by the end of Round IV, meaning Round V would be decisive. This was also the turn of Alfred the Greats arrival and when Housecarl went first they took back two Viking controlled shires. At the end of Round V, the Vikings only controlled 8 shires, short of necessary victory.

All the RMN Boys have played 1775 Rebellion: The American Revolution which is the first of the Birth of America series featuring the least complicated rules. Although the basic game mechanics are similar in 878 Vikings, all agreed that the Leader rules and invasions makes 878 Vikings play very differently. In this case the difference is welcomed as 878 Vikings plays very thematically appropriate. The rules overhead is very light but delivers a powerful gaming experience. As an added bonus, the Viking knowledge that Oldest RMN Boy possesses has challenged Youngest RMN to go back and carefully reread his Viking book and dig into the historical notes in 878 Vikings. In this way, 878 Vikings has achieved a goal that Mrs. RMN and I both strive for in gaming; teach the Boys.

So as 2017 comes to a close I have to give a big shout-out to Academy Games for delivering not only a fun game, but one that makes my boys hungry to learn more. Such is the power of gaming. Here is looking forward to many more learning chances from gaming in 2018.

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#FamilyFriday – King Me! with #Kingdomino from @BlueOrangeGames

Although I am a wargaming grognard at heart, in the course of the Family Game Nights this past year I now recognize that wargames are often a 2-player event.  This year, given that I usually game with two of the RockyMountainNavy Boys, finding a 3-player game has been a bit challenging. In place of wargames, we have turned to tabletop boardgames, like Scythe or Terraforming Mars. These games are a bit on the “heavier” side, sometime taking up to 3 hours to play! In looking for a lighter, maybe “filler” game, for the gaming shelf, I selected Kingdomino from Blue Orange Games

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Courtesy Blue Orange Games

At the time of this writing Kingdomino is ranked #21 in Family Games on BoardGameGeek and #198 of all boardgames. It is also the 2017 Spiel des Jahres Winner. With these sorts of references it was sort of a no-brainer to purchase.

When the game arrived, I became a bit worried. Kingdomino is recommended for ages 6+ and the playtime is a very short 15 minutes? I asked myself, “could a game this simple really be that good?” I read the rulebook, watched a how-to video, and then sat down with my usual RockyMountainNavy Boy gaming partners. I started out playing each of them individually to teach them the game before we played a 3-player contest.

….and we played.

….and played.

…and played some more.

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Courtesy Blue Orange Games

The first night we I played a total of seven games (five as a group) and we all loved it. Kingdominio is a simple game, but the easy mechanics mask challenging decisions. The challenge of placing your property then selecting your next one is simple and genius. This simple mechanic makes for sometimes agonizing decisions. One could easily play a game of Kingdomino in 10 minutes, but those folks are missing out on the agony that happens when you realize that property you placed three rounds ago is not going to work out and you will not make that 5×5 grid and your castle will not be in the middle. The short play time is not a drawback; if you realize your grid is horrible no worries for the game will end soon and you can quickly try again.

In the past two days I have personally played Kingdomino ten times already making it the most-played game of my year. The RMN Boys “appropriated” the box and have played uncounted-many more times. The RMN Boys and I play the Dynasty variant which is three games in-a-row with the highest cumulative score the winner. We enjoy the game so much that Mrs. RMN “recommended” we buy another copy to take to Korea to give to our niece next summer.

Although my grognard heart really wants to wargame, the family/parent side of me absolutely enjoys playing games with my boys. Wargames don’t always make it to the table, but with games like Kingdomino we all get great pleasure in gaming together and having fun.

And that’s the real goal; having fun. Kingdomino delivers royal fun and I am happy to add it to my gaming collection.

 

#GameNight – Getting infected by #Pandemic #Boardgame

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Courtesy boardgamegeek.com

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.

Busting Out Laughing with #GhostbustersProtecttheBarrierGame

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.

#FamilyGameNight – Further Thoughts on #Scythe (and #AutismSpectrum)

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Courtesy Stonemaier Games

Scythe (Stonemaier Games, 2016) has quickly become the game-of-choice for Little RMN. We have played it three of the last six Saturday Family Game Nights. This weekend we added in the Invaders from Afar expansion. We played another 3-player game where I won using Rusviet/Agricultural with 91 points against Nordic/Mechanical (71 pts) and Togawa/Mechanical (26 pts.)

Some reviewers and critics accuse Scythe of starting out as a series of solo games, or of feeling to “samey” ever time. After the second game I was starting to feel the same way. However, when I got the Invaders from Afar expansion, it reminded me to look at each factions special abilities. These asymmetric abilities are what sets each faction apart and to win one must take advantage of these differences.

Most importantly, each faction has a different movement advantage. In our game, the Rusviet can go from any Village to/from the Factory. The Nordic workers can swim across rivers, and the Togawa can jump to Traps. In our early games we didn’t pay too much attention to the special movement and thus our first mechs invariably were for Riverwalk.

Secondly, each faction has a special ability or characteristic. For Rusviet it is “Relentless” which allows the player to pick the same area of the production mat each turn. For Togawa it is placing/arming Traps. These asymmetric (overused word) abilities again distinguish each faction. Proper use can assist in the run to victory.

Recognition of these differences, and how to use them, is key to the game. Unfortunately, in last night games the Middle RMN Boy drew Togawa. You have to understand that the Middle RMN Boy is on the Autism Spectrum and his ability to rapidly process information is challenged. Drawing Togawa from our newly purchased expansion he had no real time to study his faction and figure out how to take advantage of his faction’s abilities; especially the new Trap rule which is a key special ability. More than anything else I feel this contributed to his low scoring.

All of which serves as a reminder that games are for fun. I am going to sit down with him (not his brothers – help him feel important) and we will discuss each faction. I think if we do this, it will help him “see” what makes Scythe an impressive game. In the end, I hope it will keep the game “fun” for him instead of making him feel left behind. After all, we are a family and need to remember that gaming together is more important than just winning.

#FamilyGameNight – First play of #Scythe (@stonemaiergames)

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Courtesy BGG

After several weeks of rules review and study, finally got Scythe (Stonemaier Games, 2016) to the table for Family Game Night. To summarize the night, it was a great hit!

IMG_1901We played a three-player setup. After random draws of Factions and Player mats, Little I was Polania-Patriotic, T was Saxony-Engineering, and I was Khanate-Agricultural. Play started off a bit slow as  I was teaching the boys how to play. I was actually getting worried when one hour into the game only one Achievement Star had been placed. Up to this point the boys and myself had been learning more than playing.

I need not have worried; Little I quickly understood the special faction power for Polania (“Meander”) and took advantage of it to the greatest degree possible. T also started understanding the in-and-outs of the engine-building game mechanics and started optimizing his actions. Both T and myself got a fire lit under out collective a$$es when Little I completed an Objective Card at the same time he placed two other Achievement Stars for a clear 4-star to 1-star/0-star advantage. The last 90 minutes of the game (we took about 150 minutes  total – longer than advertised but we were -slowly – learning) turned a bit frantic as the action passed around the table rather quickly. A misplay on my part handed the final star to Little I who was able to complete his achievements. Final Score – Little I- 74, T- 38, Dad- 37.

I was a bit worried that Scythe would be too complex and challenging for the RMN Boys to quickly learn. After all, there are four Top-Row Actions, four Botton-Row Actions, and four Mech Abilities as well as a special faction ability for a total of 13 Actions/Abilites that need to be understood to play. And that’s before one could add a Factory Card (two more Actions), and the Structure Bonus (a scoring consideration).

I need not have worried for the outstanding graphical design of the player tableaus made all that easy. It took the first hour for all of us to become comfortable interpreting the symbology on the boards, but once it all (and I mean ALL) clicked then the real game was on. For such a heavy, thinky, complex game it was amazingly easy to teach – and learn – the game mechanics and get over the “learning curve” and start playing (i.e. strategizing) the game.

Little I has especially taken to Scythe. He has always liked puzzles and the multiple combinations of Faction-Player mats intrigues him. The two boys generated enough buzz about the game that even the oldest RMN Boy, a bit of a none-boardgamer (hey, I keep trying) who sat out the night is interested.

Our plan for Family Game Night (Saturday nights in our house) was to play a rotation of games. Maybe a wargame one week, a family tabletop game the next, and throw in a RPG campaign session too. Little I loves Scythe so much right now he has asked to preempt the kick-off of the next RPG campaign and repeat Scythe. We will have to see; Compass Games’ Command & Colors Tricorne: The American Revolution is supposedly enroute.* I also want to play around with the Automa (solo variant) to see how it works as well as the experimental rules for playing a mix of Automa and different player-counts.

Scythe has won many awards, but most importantly it has won the RockyMountainNavy family’s admiration and respect for the enjoyment we all have playing the game. Even Mrs. RMN appreciates how Scythe has captured the intense interest of Little I. The RMNBoys are already pooling their money to purchase expansions though, to be honest, Dad will probably spring for it because, well, he wants to!


* </RANT ON> I am a bit disappointed with Compass Games. I backed C&C Tricorne on Kickstarter and now hear that it was on sale at WBC in late-July. It is being sold on-line at Compass Games since August 17, but I have not seen any shipping notice that my copy is on the way (nor have I received my game). There are some customers indicating they received their order already but is is unclear if they were KS-backers or just ordered from the site once it went on sale. Perception is reality, and my perception is that the KS-backers are being ignored. Overall, not a very positive experience. </RANT OFF>