RockyMountainNavy #Boardgame #Wargame Expansion of the Year for 2018

This is the third in my series of 2018 “of the Year” posts. This one covers boardgame & wargame expansions, the first looked at boardgames, the second was wargames, and the last is my Game of the Year. Candidate expansions are taken from those published and which I acquired in 2018.

My candidates for the RockyMountainNavy Boardgame/Wargame Expansion of the Year in 2018 are:

…and the winner is…

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Courtesy Stronghold Games

I absolutely cannot imagine ever playing Terraforming Mars without the Prelude expansion. The Prelude Cards jumpstart your corporate engine and gets the game going faster in the early turns. It doesn’t really shorten the game, but it does make it alot more fun!

Other Games

Several of the other expansions are also great but for each the base game can be enjoyed without them, unlike Prelude which has made itself an essential part of the game. That said, The French and More! is more like a bonus box then an expansion and is practically inseparable from the base game. Both MBT: BAOR and MBT:FRG add new “factions” and optional rules that make the overall game more interesting but can easily be ignored if desired.

Kingdomino: Age of Giants occupies an interesting spot in my game collection. Although ostensibly an expansion for Kingdomino, the RockyMountainNavy Boys and myself feel that it doesn’t really fit that game because it adds a bit too much of a “take that” element that spoils the feeling. On the other hand, adding it to Queendomino, which has more “take that” mechanics than Kingdomino, feels much more organic.

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The Fall of Empire – Terraforming Mars: Colonies (FryxGames/Stronghold Games, 2018)

Terraforming Mars (FryxGames/Stronghold Games, 2016) is probably the RockyMountainNavy family’s favorite Eurogame. That said, I had shied away from larger expansions like Terraforming Mars: Venus Next (2017) because of time issues. We liked the 2018 Prelude expansion as it solved a (minor) issue we had with the game; game length. After the real success of Prelude, I ordered the most recent expansion, Colonies (2018), in a hope that it could find a sweet spot between Venus Next and Prelude. Our weekly Game Night found Terraforming Mars using the Corporate Era variant and Prelude and Colonies expansions on the table this week…

…and it was dissatisfying.

One of the reasons the RockyMountainNavy Boys and myself like Terraforming Mars is the narrative it builds during play. The game shows how different Corporations, each with a different way to build their empire (game engine), use them to bring a lifeless planet to life. The added bonus for us is the ability to play out this drama in less than three hours.

Our game this weekend took 3 hours 15 minutes to play (setup/breakdown was extra) – by far the longest Terraforming Mars game we have ever played. I see two major factors in this slow down; a bit of Analysis Paralysis as new Project Cards were encountered and a very slow engine build for all of us, even with the Prelude “jumpstart.”

Some people like “heavy” games with their longer playtimes. Games like Twilight Imperium (4th Edition) with a playtime rated up to 8 hours! Heck, even one of my favorite wargames, Fifth Frontier War (GDW, 1981), is rated at 6 hours. But for the RockyMountainNavy Game Night we prefer to keep game time in the 90-150 minute range so that with setup/breakdown we go no longer than 3 hours.

The second disappointment was the lack of game narrative. I just don’t feel that the Colonies expansion with its combination of new Corporations, Colony Tiles, and Project Cards, added meaningful dramatic narrative to the game. In other games I feel like my Corporation is my own littel empire I can build; in our game this weekend my Project Cards really felt more like “luck of the draw” rather than “building my empire.” The Youngest RockyMountainNavy Boy pointed out that the many Project Cards actually seems overwhelming – too many cards leading to too many choices which actually threatens the gaming narrative.

Now, it is very possible that we simply got a bad draw of random Colony Tiles and Project Cards and failed to make the best of what we got. I personally was trying to maximize my Actions and was running away on the Terraforming Rating as I tried to terraform. Maybe my problem is I actually “played” Terraforming Mars for the first time rather than “experience” the game.

By far the largest change Colonies brings to the RockyMountainNavy Gaming Family is a change in how we think about Terraforming Mars. I feel like Colonies may be the last expansion we buy for the game. If the game is played in the future, I think it may be the Corporate Era variant with the Prelude expansion; what we think about as the best fit in narrative and time.

Empires rise and fall. Terraforming Mars has a solid, respected reputation in the RockyMountainNavy household and has deservedly earned a lofty spot our pantheon of games. Unfortunately, Colonies highlighted one of the major reasons some games don’t fully earn our greatest accolades.

Featured image courtesy Stronghold Games.

Prelude to Corporate – The Full Experience of #TerraformingMars (@StrongholdGames / @FryxGames)

Terraforming Mars (designer Jacob Fryxelius at Fryx Games, publisher Stronghold Games, 2016) will likely become an “evergreen” game in the RockyMountainNavy collection. We love the theme and every game is new and interesting. This weekend was no exception.

My preorder for Terraforming Mars: Prelude arrived in the past few weeks and we decided to get this expansion to the table. At the same time, I realized we had not played the Corporate Era (extended game) version in the base set. More than a few of the comments in the BoardGameGeek Forums for Prelude mentioned that it shortens the game by “jumpstarting” the corporations. On balance it sounded like a good deal; shorter the extended Corporate Era game by using Prelude.

It worked. Really well. So well this will likely be our default game play mode from here on out.

Prelude jumpstarts your corporations by adding Prelude Cards and a new set-up step. Each player is dealt four Prelude Cards at the same time they are choosing corporations and project cards. After corporations are chosen and project cards paid for, each player plays two of their four Prelude Cards. According to the box back, each Prelude Card will either “jumpstart the terraforming process or boost your corporation engine.” This is a good counterbalance to the Corporate Era (extended game) which “focuses on economy and technology…projects that do not contribute directly to the terraforming, but make the corporations stronger, adding new strategic choices to the game.”

We didn’t take any photos but I remember the starting corporations. I took Inventrix, Middle RMN Boy was Interplanetary Cinematics, and Little RMN took Ecoline. From that point out the game developed in really unexpected ways.

Both RMN Boys ended up building fierce economic engines. By the end of game both had over 30 MCr income production. Interplanetary Cinematics also played several cards that reduced the cost of new projects, and Ecoline ended up going heavy into space (Jovian Tags) . For myself, Inventrix started out with many project cards but could not get a good income going meaning I was unable to purchase enough cards or play more valuable cards.

Seeing how we had not played Terraforming Mars in a while (since February…toooo loooong!) we were a bit slow. Even with the Prelude jumpstart our game lasted a bit over 2 hours. I don’t see this as a negative; without Prelude we could of gone at least 2 1/2 hours or more.

I don’t really have anything negative to say about Prelude except I wish that one major ruling had been explicitly stated in the rule book. It concerns the effect of Prelude Cards on the terraform rating (TR), specifically, an explicit ruling that a Prelude Card that adds an Ocean or affects Oxygen or Temperature moves the players TR. Fortunately, the question was quickly (son officially?) answered in the BGG forums. Everything else seems pretty straight-forward.

Indeed, the straight-forward nature of the two Terraforming Mars expansions I own, Terraforming Mars: Prelude and Terraforming Mars: Hellas & Elysium make incorporating these expansions into the base game quite simple. Both can be added to the game with very minimal rules explanation needed. The RMN Boys and myself don’t really feel the need to add Terraforming Mars: Venus Next and are concerned about added playtime. A two-hour Terraforming Mars game is about perfect for us.

Featured image courtesy Stronghold Games.

When #TerraformingMars, you gotta remember to Terraform….

This weekend, Terraforming Mars (Stronghold Games, 2017) landed on the table for the RockyMountainNavy Game Night. Surprisingly, we had not played this game since November last year. Even with the long hiatus, we found gameplay to be quick and satisfying.

In January, I was able to pick up the expansion, Terraforming Mars: Hellas & Elysium from CoolStuffInc.com for a bargain. Tonight, we played on the Elysium map:

Elysium takes players almost to the opposite side of Mars’ equator, with vast lowlands for oceans in the north and a dry, mineral-rich south. Place a tile on Olympus Mons, the highest peak in the solar system, to gain three free cards! [Stronghold Games]

We played a three-player game. For corporations I had Thorgate, Middle RMN Boy Interplanetary Cinematics, and Little RMN Boy took Ecoline. I started out strong, using my corporations power advantage to build power production that I was able to convert to Steel and oxygen using the Steelworks and Ironworks projects. As such, I was able to build a moderate lead in the Terraform Rating (TR). Meanwhile, Interplanetary Cinematics built a few cities, and Ecoline focused on greenery.

The game session played fast as we all rapidly developed our game engines and pushed the Global Parameters (Oxygen, Temperature, and Oceans) ahead quickly. We probably pushed ahead too fast, because we ended in Generation 11. While conducting the final scoring, I became painfully aware that I had no cities and no greenery tiles laid. As a result, my moderate lead quickly disappeared and I came in a very distant second place.

Overall, this is the fifth time we played Terraforming Mars since I acquired the game in September 2017. Playing time is advertised at 120 minutes but all of our previous games played at 150-180 minutes. This time was different with game time coming in at almost exactly 120 minutes. That is, 120 minutes to set up, play, and pack away the game! The quick play did not mean the play experience was less satisfying; on the contrary, the shorter playtime made for a more intense game. It is also amazing that after five plays this the first time I can remember that we actually made it through the Project Card deck and had to reshuffle. Little RMN repeatedly exclaimed, “I haven’t ever seen this card before!”

If I remember correctly, some time ago I was listening to the Ludology podcast with designer Geoff Englestein and he mentioned that he was happy if someone played his game five times. I too am surprised that since my boardgame renaissance started in late 2017 that Terraforming Mars has entered into my BGG Five and Dimes category (i.e. games played at least five or ten times). Putting aside children’s games, fillers, and other “lite” games, Terraforming Mars joins Conflict of Heroes: Awakening the Bear and The Expanse Board Game as “fives” in that time. Given the excellent game play and enjoyment of Terraforming Mars, I feel confident in saying it will reach Dime status before too long.

Hot #Boardgames in Winter

In preparation for the arrival of a few new games this Christmas, I was updating my BoardGameGeek collection pages and noticed my profile page. There are two lists given, one is my Top 10 and the other my Hot 10. Looking at the two lists, I realized I had a methodology for creating the Top 10 list (based on my personal BGG rating) but I did not have a system for the Hot 10. Giving it a bit of some thought, I decided to use my Logged Plays as a guide. The resulting list is actually a good reflection of my year in gaming.

My logged plays games are a bit unbalanced. From January to July it featured one or two wargames a month. Beginning in August, the RockyMountainNavy family started family game nights every weekend. In the last five months of the year my gaming changed from wargames to more family boardgames. The pace of gaming also accelerated; so far in December I have already played more games that all of January to July put together. So here is my Hot 10:

#10 – Agricola: Master of Britain

As much as I play wargames solo it is actually rare that I play solo games. Agricola: Master of Britain is an easy-to-learn yet hard-to-master game that uses interesting cup mechanics to reflect shifting allegiances of tribes. I also like the escalating victory conditions that constantly force you to achieve more – sometimes more than is possible.

#9 – 1775: Rebellion

A “lite” wargame that plays well with 2-4 players. In many ways 1775: Rebellion showed me that a “family wargame” should be.

#8 – Scythe

Scythe marked the real birth of family board gaming in the RockyMountainNavy this year. One of the heavier games we played this year, we have not played in a while and need to get this one back to the table soon.

#7 – Pandemic

An older game that we “discovered” this year, I am always amazed at the narrative power this game delivers.

#6 – Plan Orange: Pacific War 1930-1935

Probably the only “real” wargame in my Hot 10. At first I was a bit surprised this was in my Hot 10 but then I thought about it; I really enjoy this CDG-design and the shorter play time means it can land on the gaming table more often.

#5 – The Expanse Board Game

At first I was a bit negative on The Expanse Board Game but I have warmed to it. I want it to land on the table a bit more but in the last game Youngest RockyMountainNavy Boy was ruthless on his brother who swore revenge. So far he hasn’t had a chance, but when it comes I’m sure it will be glorious to watch.

#4 – Terraforming Mars

Another game that exemplifies the arrival of family board gaming in the RMN family. This will be played many more times and there may even be a few expansions purchased.

#3 – Conflict of Heroes: Awakening the Bear (second edition)

If there is a wargame that connected my grognard past with my boys it is Conflict of Heroes. The Firefight Generator has led to several memorable games so far.

#2 – Ghostbusters: Protect the Barrier Game

A lucky thrift-store find, I posted earlier how this is actually a reskinning of the Kinderspiel des Jarhres-winning Ghost Fighting’ Treasure Hunters. A fun cooperative game, it probably will be superseded in a future Hot 10 by Pandemic and demoted to the kids collection for Mrs RMN to use in her teaching.

#1 – Kingdomino

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Courtesy Blue Orange Games

Given the short play time and our usual Dynasty play where we play three games in a sitting one could argue that this game is artificially high in my Hot 10. I disagree; Kingdomino fully deserves to be the Hot 10 leader not only because of my logged plays, but it is landing on the table with the RMN Boys even without me. Even the video-gaming oldest RMN Boy will join in!

So there is my Hot 10. This list helps me recognize what I have sensed all year; as much as I am a wargaming grognard this year I became more of a family gamer. This has resulted in many positive changes in the family. Not only do we spend more time socializing together, we also use games to guide our learning. The boys have learned so much more about the American Revolution and space exploration thanks to gaming. Even Mrs. RMN,  a non-gamer, is touting the value of board gaming to the parents of her students.

#GamesPlayed November 2017

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From BoardGameGeek

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.

No Turkeys on Mars – #TurkeyGameDay17

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….

IMG_2055Thanksgiving 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.

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Courtesy BGG

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)