Category: board games

Board Game Review: Wingspan

It’s not too often I actually play a new game in real life these days. I’ve played more than a few on Board Game Arena, but the opportunities to get together with friends and learn a wholly new game have been limited to say the least. Usually it’s been more about playing old familiar games that we haven’t played in a while. Yesterday a friend from high school came by (yay vaccines!) and introduced me to a game he’s been hyping for the last while: Wingspan. I’m pleased to report it lived up to the hype.

At its heart, Wingspan is a card and resource management game, similar in ways to Race for the Galaxy. You work on getting cards and using the resources on those cards to get more cards and resources and (ultimately) points to win the game. It’s very well executed, but what sets it apart from other games is the way the theme really shines through the entire game.

Sometimes board game themes can be pretty tenuous, providing nothing more than a thin veneer to explain why you’re trying to do what you need to do to win. But when a theme is really popping, then it makes everything else makes sense. A common example of this would be Battleship. At its heart, all it is is a guessing game with some light strategy. But when you think about it in terms of trying to send torpedoes around to blow up different military ships, it becomes that much more engaging.

For Wingspan, you’re in the role of a team of bird enthusiasts, and your goal is to get as many different kinds of birds to come to your wildlife preserve. I know, that can seem pretty . . . strange at first. I mean, we’re down to birding as a theme? What’s next? But in this case, everything about the game clicks around that birding conceit. There’s a dice tower that’s a bird house. There are eggs as tokens. There are tons of beautifully illustrated cards depicting a huge variety of birds. The tokens are all high quality. No skimping with flimsy cardboard or paper in this case.

Playing the game, I was reminded just what a contrast playing with actual pieces is compared to playing a game online. There’s a real draw to having actual bits and pieces to fiddle with and examine, beyond the obvious plus of having real friends in a real room to play with. Board games are really designed to be tactile, and when you reduce them to just random number generators and graphics, something’s lost.

In any case, I had a great time with my first play through, and I’d definitely consider buying the game. How complex is it? Well, to get going in the first place, it takes a bit of description, but the actual gameplay (once you know what’s going on) isn’t that bad, it didn’t feel like. Boardgamegeek gives it a 2.42/5 in complexity, which is pretty accurate. So while it may put off casual players at first, I think it’s a game that would eventually feel right at home next to Ticket to Ride or Catan. And in the meantime, casual players can just have fun reading up on different birds as they play.

If you haven’t tried it already, this is definitely a game to add to your wishlist.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

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 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.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

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?

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

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!

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

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.

%d bloggers like this: