Category: board games

Board Game Review: Jaws of the Lion (Gloomhaven)

I bought the original Gloomhaven shortly after it was released a few years ago. It’s a mammoth of a game: tons of components with a sprawling storyline, designed for a playgroup to explore the game over many, many sessions. I enjoyed playing it, but I had a hard time really getting a feel for the rules, and it always felt like I was just sort of winging it the whole time. After 5 sessions or so, we just kind of stopped playing. I wanted to play again, but it seemed like too much work to set it all up.

Queue Jaws of the Lion, a standalone Gloomhaven game designed to provide a better introduction to the rules than the original had. (It’s also much, much cheaper.) I read over the description and reviews, and I decided to give it a shot. Tomas and I started playing it just after Christmas. We’ve now played about 16 sessions and are rapidly approaching the end of the storyline (which for all intents and purposes implies the end of the game, though we could go back and play it through with different characters, should we choose. The game comes with 4, and we’ve only played 2 of them.)

It’s a much, much better way to get to learn the game, and I heartily recommend it to anyone who has a core group of gamers they’d like to experience an entire story arc together with. (It can do single player straight on up to 4 players.) We’re planning on going straight from the end of Jaws of the Lion into the actual Gloomhaven set, though I haven’t decided yet what we’ll do about the games we’d already played before. (Should we just start fresh? Get new characters? I don’t know.)

What is the gameplay like? It’s basically a role playing game where the game is the dungeon master, and the players are all discovering what’s going to happen next together. There’s not a whole lot of room for actual role playing (though you could probably get away with some, if you wanted to). You level up your character, playing them from one game to the next to the next, unlocking new cards and abilities as you go. You face off against monsters in a variety of scenarios, using strategy and teamwork to meet the scenario objective.

You build a deck of ability cards and then use that deck to perform actions each turn. The rules remain constant, though your skills will get better as the game goes on. Then again, the monsters get more difficult too. It has felt challenging the whole time. We’ve lost some games (which is a real downer), but we’ve had some really close games we managed to eke out, which felt great.

One session takes around an hour to an hour and a half, though it would probably take more with more players. There are a lot of bits to fiddle with and keep track of. (Though Tomas has 3D printed a great set of organizational tools to make that easier for us.) It’s not an easy game. There’s a lot of rigid strategy involved, but it does such a better job of introducing the rules that I never felt too bewildered.

For $38, I think it’s a pretty solid deal. As I said, we’ve gotten around 30-40 hours of entertainment out of it so far, and we likely have about 10-15 hours to go (as long as we don’t suffer a huge losing streak).

If any of this sounds remotely up your alley, I definitely think you should give it a shot. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it.

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

Board Gaming Online: Board Game Arena

I’ve always loved board games. From the hours I spent playing Monopoly as a kid to the hours I spent playing Risk as a teen to when I was first introduced to Settlers of Catan in college. I still play a fair number of them, and I have a self-confessed hoarding problem when it comes to them. And of course, with the pandemic raging everywhere, one area I thought I would really end up suffering in was in the opportunities I had to play board games with people outside my family.

That’s what happened for the first while at least. But then a friend of mine introduced me to boardgamearena.com a month ago. It’s a web-based platform for playing a wide assortment of games. Carcassonne, 7 Wonders, Puerto Rico, Race for the Galaxy, Through the Ages, Stone Age, Hanabi, Backgammon, Can’t Stop, Hearts, and more. They don’t have literally all games on there, but they have an awful lot. Many of them are available for people to play for free, and all of them are available to play if at least one person in the group has a paid subscription to the service. (That costs about $28/year.)

Once I knew the ropes of the platform, I started using it to play with family members across the country, as well as friends in different states. I plunked down the $28 without hesitation, since I’d spend three times that much on a board game. This lets me play a whole slew of games I’d always meant to try but never got around to, and all of them are included in that one price.

While Zoom isn’t my favorite thing in the world, since I have so many hours spent on it every day, it does do an awfully good job of connecting people regardless of where they are. I have a Zoom room through the university, and I can set up meetings on the fly for as many people as I want. It’s very simple, then, to have everyone in the Zoom room be on boardgamearena, and suddenly you’re gaming almost the same way you were before the pandemic.

In some ways, it’s better. I mean, I’m playing with people I usually can’t game with more than once or twice a year at most. That’s lovely. And the ability to pick something up and learn it is great, since the platform keeps track of all the rules.

In other ways, it falls short. As much as it can be no fun to keep track of all the bits and pieces of a game, it’s also . . . fun to have them in front of you. And the social aspect over Zoom fails to get the same level of connection you get when you can take a break and go grab a bite to eat together. Being in person is just different than being on Zoom. Duh.

But it can get me to a 7/10 experience. Maybe even an 8/10 if it goes just right, and for the middle of the pandemic (or hopefully the end of it), that’s nothing to sniff at.

Anyway. Just wanted to put that out there, in case some of you were in the same boat I was. I can heartily recommend the service, and I’m looking forward to them adding even more games in the future. Anyone else out there already using it?

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

Bringing Board Games to the Library

When I was down at ALA this summer, I attended a session focused on board gaming and libraries. As an academic librarian, I’ve often looked with envy at the fun activities public libraries get to run from time to time. Movie nights. Festivals. Board games. So much of what I do is focused purely on the academic side of reading. Research. Information evaluation, etc. We do a few things more slanted toward fun, but I’d never really considered board games as a good fit for the library.

But while I was at that session, I suddenly found myself questioning that assumption. Why wouldn’t board games fit with the rest of my offerings? We have space where people could play games. College students love games. We do activities from time to time focused on stress relief. What was stopping me? What’s the point in being the director of a library if you can’t bring board games into the fold?

While that thought was still fresh in my head, I went with a friend to a board game cafe. (Thirsty Dice in Philadelphia.) It’s such a great set up. You’ve got all these games waiting to be played, arranged by type of game, number of players, difficulty, length of time to play it, etc. There are “board game baristas” waiting to give game recommendations and teach people how to play if they’re not sure. You can go in and spend hours playing old favorites or learning new ones.

Wouldn’t it be great to bring that to my institution?

I’ve decided to go ahead and give it a shot. There are a couple of issues that I’m not 100% sure won’t cause problems, of course. My plan is to have the games stay in the library (non-circulating), but I’m also planning to just have them out in the general area where people can see them and use them as they wish. I debated putting them back behind the circulation desk, but in the end I thought that would make it less likely that the games get used. Of course, with them out in the open, we run the risk of the games being “permanently borrowed” or of pieces wandering off. I want to believe that won’t be a huge issue, however. It’s been my experience that board gamers want to play games. If they have a game they love, they want to own it. If they want to own it, they want a fresh, pristine game to own, and not one that’s been communally used.

In the end, I decided I’d just try it out and see how it went. I have some games I’m donating to the collection to start things off, and I might buy a few more core games to get the ball rolling. From there . . . we’ll see. See if the games get used. See if the pieces go missing. See what the response is from students. At the very least, it’ll be a fun experiment. In an ideal world, I’ll start to offer some programming around the games. Have game nights. Work with some student clubs to run activities. Foster more gaming events. If things go well, it could be a really fun addition to our offerings.

Wish me luck!

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Like what you’ve read? Please consider supporting me on Patreon. Thanks to all my Patrons who support me! It only takes a minute or two, and then it’s automatic from there on out. I’ve posted the entirety of my book ICHABOD in installments, and I’m now putting up chapters from PAWN OF THE DEAD, another of my unreleased books. Where else are you going to get the undead and muppets all in the same YA package? Check it out.

If you’d rather not sign up for Patreon, you can also support the site by clicking the MEMORY THIEF Amazon link on the right of the page. That will take you to Amazon, where you can buy my books or anything else. During that visit, a portion of your purchase will go to me. It won’t cost you anything extra.

Five Holiday Board Game Recommendations

It’s that time of year. The time when you start to scramble to come up with gift ideas for people. If you’re an avid gamer, I’m probably not going to have any suggestions here that you haven’t already heard. But if you’re more casual, then I’d like to think there might be some things here that are worth your while.

These are games that are great for families. They’re not overly complex. I find myself drawn more and more these days to games that don’t need thick rule books. Nothing you have to keep checking again and again. They’re games I can play with my kids and have a great time.

Note that each link will take you to the Amazon page for the product. If you buy it, I receive a kickback from Amazon, but the games themselves haven’t paid for my endorsement or anything like that. (I wish!)

First up has got to be Splendor. It’s a fantastic board game that takes less than a half hour to play. It’s easy enough to grasp that my nine year old can compete with the rest of us and have a great time. You play the role of a gem trader, trying to leverage your wealth to get fame and fortune. It’s got quality components and basic rules that have enough nuance to give some deep strategy to the game. I would get this for just about anyone. Great stuff.

Hanabi is a cooperative card game where you play with your hand facing away from you. Other people can see what you have, but you can’t. You are all trying to make a fantastic fireworks display. Once again, it’s straightforward, easy to learn, and fun to play. Kids can do well with it too. Better yet, it’s small, so it’s really easy to pack for a trip. You need someplace quiet to play it, but other than that, you’re good to go anywhere.

Seven Wonders has been out for quite some time. It’s more complex than the others. More fiddly bits. It’s a drafting game, which means you’re dealt cards at the beginning of each round. You pick one, then pass the rest on to the next person, who does the same, so you’re making a series of decisions, picking the cards you think will let you build the best empire. Fun, and fairly straightforward once you learn how to play.

Tomas got this during the holidays last year. Sushi Go! looks deceptively cutesy, which is its really only downside. He wasn’t convinced he wanted it at first, but after we’d played a few rounds, he could easily see the appeal. You’re trying to make the best sushi meal you can over three rounds, using the drafting mechanic. Way easy to learn, fast to play, and surprisingly strategic. Plus, it’s cheap.

In Codenames, a bunch of cards are dealt out face up in a grid at the start of the game. Each card has a word or two written on it. You then have to give single word clues to get your team to guess only the cards you want them to. I’ve only played this twice so far, but it falls right in the sweet spot for easy to learn and fun to play.

Board Game Review: Betrayal at House on the Hill

For Christmas, I got the family a few board games. (Yes, even though I already have about 2 closets’ worth. You can never have too many board games, folks. Just don’t ask my wife.) But of course, since we’re all busy, it’s taken some time to actually getting around to playing them. Sunday evening, we corrected that. First up? Betrayal at House on the Hill.

So it’s got a bit of a strange name. It scoffs at things like simple grammar. I bought this one because I’d heard it was a classic in the cooperative/competitive vein: you start out the game all being on the same side, and then at some point, one of you betrays the other, and from then on, it’s everyone vs. the traitor to see who wins. It’s a mechanic I loved in Battlestar Galactica, and this was supposed to be a sleeked down, simpler version of that.

Sign me up.

Our first game was a five player version–TRC, DC, Denisa, me, and a friend. I read over the rules ahead of time, and then of course it took a fair bit of time to teach the rules and learn the game. In total, the first session probably took around 2 hours. DC dropped out as an active player a bit of the way through. It might be a tad long for 8 year olds. But the rest of us soldiered on, and we really enjoyed ourselves.

The game plays out fairly simply, once you get the hang of it. You start out in the entryway of a large haunted house, the door locked behind you. You’re not sure what’s going on with the house, but you know you want to get out. If only you knew how . . . So you start exploring, witnessing creepy events, stumbling over haunted artifacts and weapons, and trying to find an escape. The house grows as you uncover room after room. (Each game, the house is different, ala Settlers of Catan.) At last, something triggers the haunting to manifest fully.

At that point, you find out who the traitor is, and you  play one of 50 different haunting scenarios.

For us, the first game involved a long exploration phase. We’d seen most of the house before the haunting began. In our case, it involved me turning out to be Dorian Gray, essentially. I had an evil painting that was granting me eternal life, and the others found out about it and decided to paint over it to kill me. That couldn’t happen, of course. I couldn’t let them do something like that. It was a mad scramble across the house we’d uncovered, with them searching for materials to destroy the painting and me trying to stop them. In the end, I prevailed, but it was pretty close for a long while.

I loved it. Better yet, TRC and DC loved it too. (DC had hung around, watching it all unfold even if she didn’t want to actually play.) Denisa is typically lukewarm to games the first time through, but she enjoyed it well enough. The best sign of a good game? The kids asked to play it again the next night. And the night after that.

We’ve gone through it three times now, and the other games have been much quicker. Probably about an hour each. The rules are fairly straightforward, and I love the storytelling aspect to the game. Better yet, each haunting we’ve done has given each game a very distinct feel to it which, coupled with the ever changing house, adds loads to the replayability factor, it seems. True, the initially creepiness of the first session is blunted some, since we’ve already seen a lot of what the house has to offer, but it still feels like each session is new and who knows what horrors await?

Hard to give the game a final rating just yet, but I’d say right now it’s an easy 4/5, with the potential for a real 5/5 on my hands. I definitely recommend this to anyone looking for a fun way to spend an evening telling a story as a group. There’s a bit of a learning curve, but in the end it’s easy to get the hang of, and a lot of fun to play out. Give it a shot!

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