Tag Archives: Dominion

Episode 45 – Hordes and Awards

While every episode of The Little Metal Dog Show is special, this one has an extra sprinkling of diamonds on top of an already tasty serving. First of all, Jonny Roberts joins me to talk about Organised Play in the World of Warcraft Trading Card Game as well as the forthcoming Nationals tournament. Following on from that, I’m honoured to welcome the Daddy of Deckbuilding, Donald X Vaccarino. Probably best known as the creator of Dominion (amongst so many more games), he’s a two time winner of the coveted Spiel des Jahres, including this year for the rather charming Kingdom Builder. We cover his better known titles – of course – as well as other games like Nefarious and the upcoming Gauntlet of Fools.

This episode’s links:

Direct Download – http://littlemetaldog.podbean.com/mf/web/4m2i2b/LMD_Episode45.mp3

Story Realms on Kickstarter – http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/springboard/story-realms

WoWTCG Official Site – http://wowtcg.cryptozoic.com/

Zapped Giants (UK Community site for WoWTCG) – http://www.zappedgiants.com

Donald X Vaccarino’s BGG page (complete with his Secret Histories of Dominion) – http://boardgamegeek.com/boardgamedesigner/10525/donald-x-vaccarino

Gauntlet of Fools on Kickstarter (get in quick, it ends on September 13th!) – http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/2012515236/gauntlet-of-fools

Continue Magazine (complete with articles by me! A bargain at £1.99 / $2.99) – http://www.continuemag.com/

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Michael vs Game Night Guys – Round Two

For some inexplicable reason, the charming gents over at Game Night Guys asked me on to the latest episode of their fine show. Brian and Mike are always a pleasure to listen to; while it’s ostensibly about games, the conversation often meanders into other worlds and their day to day lives. Give it a listen! It’s well worth your time.

After laying down the gauntlet a few weeks ago, I introduce the boys to the grandaddy of the deck-building genre, Dominion. Of course there’s the small problem of us being on opposite sides of the Atlantic, so we faced off over at the Isotropic site where you can always pick up a game for free. If you see littlemetaldog hanging about, poke me for a game!

Thanks to the Game Night Guys for making me feel so welcome. You can get the show on iTunes or listen to it by clicking on this link right here!

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Tales from the Fireside – CRAP Rules

Campfire Burning has returned with something on his mind. I think you’re going to agree with what he’s got to say.

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I am not a clever man, but I like to think – on the occasions I can think at all – that I am, at least, unlikely to be outwitted by a board game.

Board games are cardboard and plastic and pieces and lumps. They’re inert; they don’t feel pain. I can threaten Magic: The Gathering cards with water, flames and scissors and they’ll never try to remove themselves out of harm’s way.

So why is it that so many of them make so many of us feel utterly, ridiculously stupid?

I’m not talking about playing games here. We all know what it’s like to be beaten so soundly – even at a game we’re pretty good at – it’s as if our opponent’s an advanced extra-terrestrial who’s only come to Earth to teach us how to put together an amazing combo in Dominion. The cards keep on coming. There are buys and plays and plays and buys, and somehow while the rest of the group have hands full of Curses this one visiting ultra-being has scored eight provinces all in a single turn. You feel small. You want to cry. You certainly don’t want to play Dominion again.

“Don’t be a sore loser,” says Zarthrax of Epsilon Sigma Gamma Nine. “Come on, let’s play again. This game is fun!”

Oh, we all know exactly what that’s like, because once in every blue moon we get to be Zarthrax; we get to be condescending and spank our friends at board games like so many naughty vicars in a brothel. We understand both the despair of losing and the thrill of winning – and how wonderful it feels to lose elegantly, when you’ve been so perfectly outmanoeuvred all you can do is put down your pieces, set down your cards and give the winner a well-earned round of applause.

No, I’m not talking about that: I’m talking about rules.

Those inert cards and boards need two further ingredients to be brought to life: players and rules. The players move everything about. They unpack the board and set it up, punch the tokens, shuffle the decks and play the game . . . but they can’t play the game until they’ve read the rules, and it’s here things can get a bit hazy.

And by hazy, I mean the bloody red haze of indignant fury.

There are an awful lot of people who don’t care about rules. They’re not board gamers, of course – they’re not us – but there are lots of people who think of themselves as superior to us rule-abiding idiots. You’ve probably run into a few yourself. Your best mate’s husband comes over and spends the whole game yawning, not caring to understand why he can’t place his pieces wherever he chooses and putting the meeples into sexually compromising positions. He’s the guy who can’t scramble eggs without burning them, who can’t assemble a cabinet without it collapsing whenever the door’s closed. He doesn’t follow rules. He thinks that makes him cool.

You and I know the rules are where the fun is. No matter how nice the game’s components are, it’s the rules you’re paying for. Back before the game was even in prototype the designer played a primitive version of it using pepper pots and Lego men. The rules are the game. You need to understand them in order to play it.

So why – OH GOD WHY – are some rulebooks so difficult to understand?

I have a couple games I haven’t played because every time I try to learn them my brain does a runner. They’ve become so fearsome they’re practically dark fantasy overlords squatting on my game shelves. Every time I approach them I bring with me an army of dwarfs, and together we cower beneath its malignant gaze. I take the box down, open it up and half my warriors – along with half my wits – go AWOL. I’ve gotten as far as setting the game up and taking two tentative turns, but it’s too painful trying to master the number of ways each card can be played, and I look away, casting them back into the box and shutting it tight. It makes a sucking vacuum sound as it closes. I fear it’s devouring my sanity.

Reading poorly written instructions is a horrible experience. In fact you don’t read them: you re-read them, over and over. It’s like when you repeat a word too many times and it starts to sound wrong – not like a word at all but an animalistic noise – only these horrible instructions are nonsensical from the off. The rules talk about three different kinds of points without noting they all have different meanings. Step-by-step walk-throughs skip important phases. More often than not you resort to online guides to try and decipher rules that aren’t clear, whereupon you find forums of players squabbling over what the rule’s supposed to mean – and discover that the rules you thought you understood you misinterpreted as well.

You’d think this would only apply to sprawling monstrosities with a squillion stats to keep track of but no: even simple games miss important rules. Take Ascension: Chronicle of the God-Slayer. It’s a fantastic game. The rulebook is chummy, colourful – and at no point does it explicitly mention that the Cultist card remains in play even after it’s killed. Every other monster in the game can be defeated and placed into the Void but the Cultist stays to one side and is always available. A card so unique should have a section of the rulebook devoted to it so people playing don’t end up on Board Game Geek saying “The Cultist: What’s the deal with that?”

Instead, the only references to it in the instructions are cryptic and throwaway.

It’s a shame, because I otherwise like the Ascension rules. There are lots of pictures – and pictures help. Every rule book should have pictures and session reports illustrating how the game should be played.

Some people claim Monopoly is an easy game: It isn’t, but they’ve grown up playing it and have some idea how it works. They don’t think it’s a difficult game because they already know how to play it and – as with all those wonderful, intimidating games that are so much better than Monopoly – they don’t have to learn it from scratch. Chances are they aren’t playing Monopoly by the original rules, but by house variants passed from generation to generation. If any modern game hopes to compete with that kind of ingrained knowledge, it needs to do it with clear, concise rules that make the game a doddle to play.

The last thing any game needs is for the players to spend half their time flicking through rules saying “Er, I think you do this next.” So let’s put our collective foot down. Let the Campaign for Rules that Actuate Play start here, because if game publishers are content to feed us crap, let us fling our C.R.A.P. back at them.

——————–

The campaign starts here. Show your support – email Campfire Burning at campfire@littlemetaldog.com

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Stormy Weather – Thunderstone review

WARNING: This review will contain instances of the D-word. You have been warned. Seriously.

Every once in a while, a game mechanic just blows up. Perhaps worker placement is your thing or you’re a fan of the rondel but this year? Well, this year, you can’t move for deck-building. Who knows why it’s become so ubiquitous, but there are plenty of games out there that use it – and of course it all started with Dominion. The game that began it all exploded onto the scene, picking up the 2009 Spiel des Jahres (as well as countless other accolades). This, of course, made other designers and publishers sit up and notice – how could they integrate deck building into their new release schedules? There are plenty of other titles out there that use it but the question is… are they any good?

The trick is to make your game different enough so the public can warrant buying it. Will plastering on a new theme be enough, or should new mechanics be introduced at the risk of over-complication? Thankfully, with AEG’s Thunderstone, a bit of thought was put into the game’s development meaning that both can co-exist happily in my collection. Before I explain why though, let’s have a bit of background…

Thunderstone sees between two and five players taking on the role of… well… co-ordinators? Middle managers? Whatever you call yourself, you’re trying to put together a squad of people to enter a dungeon, defeat a whole bunch of beasties and take control of a mystical all-powerful stone. Starting off with a mediocre bunch of cards, you deal yourself a hand and spend the gold marked on them (yes, like in Dominion…). Use the cards, discard them, deal another hand… sound familiar? However, in this game you get to make a few more choices – remember, you’re on the hunt for monsters, so instead of collecting areas of land you need to hire yourself some mercenaries. Thunderstone has a variable set-up, giving you a selection of thugs, brigands and magic users to send against the bad guys. You’ve also got to arm them (with weapons or spells) while considering their strength – no point giving a huge heavy weapon to someone who’s unable to carry the damn thing.

Buying this stuff is all well and good, but eventually you’re going to have to go fight. While setting up the game, you choose the types of monsters you’re going to go up against, shuffling them into what’s called the Dungeon Deck. Take ten cards off the deck, stick the Thunderstone card in there, randomize them and put them at the bottom of the deck – then you’re ready to go. The top three cards are taken off at the start of the game to represent the layers of the dungeon, which introduces another interesting aspect of the game – light. As well as being tooled up enough, you need to be able to see! Some items (and people) give you light bonuses, meaning you can venture further into the dungeon. If you don’t have enough light your warriors will be at a disadvantage, so there’s a lot to think about before you start fighting. Each time a monster is beaten, it goes to your discard pile – the others move closer to the ‘entrance’ and a replacement is flipped into the third position. You also gain XP for beating monsters which can be used to level up your characters – another really interesting touch. You can tell that designer Mike Elliot has played the occasional video game.

The game starts a bit slowly, but as your decks get more and more powerful you’ll find you visit the dungeon regularly, taking down enemies rapidly. When the Thunderstone appears, the game ends (through it being claimed or slipping into position one), victory points are totalled up and whoever has the most is declared the winner. It’s not necessarily going to be the one who gets the stone who always wins – if you’ve wiped enough monsters out, you could well be the victor!

There’s so much going for this game. People comparing it to Dominion are doing it something of a disservice (aside from the obvious link that they both involve building decks) simply because it requires a bit more thinking. You’re not racing for gold and land in Thunderstone, you’re actually putting together a strong enough team to go into battle, giving them the equipment and skills they need that’s effective against a wide range on enemies, and hoping that you get the right bunch of cards each time you draw. Sure, there’s an element of luck involved, but you need to be adaptable enough to deal with whatever you pull off your deck. The theme is strong, the artwork is great and the quality of the cards is high.

Downsides? Well, a couple. First of all, there’s a lot of icons on those cards and it’s not always obvious what they refer to. A crib sheet will invariably be useful for your first few plays until you get used to the layouts. Newbies may find themselves drowning in information, so you’ve got to keep on top of a lot of different things – a few practice games will shake out the cobwebs, but that initial learning curve may prove too much for greener players. There were a few issues with the rules in initial runs of the game, but the current set (version 1.4) are nice and clear – make sure you’re using the correct ones!

Do your best though. Break out that charm! Get them to stick with it, because playing Thunderstone is a rewarding and entertaining experience. If you’re after a quick deck-building fix, bust out Dominion, but if you’re looking for something a little deeper that requires a bit more thought, I’d heartily recommend getting yourself a copy of Thunderstone. All the fun of a dungeon raiding in card form, playable in less than an hour – what’s not to like?

Thunderstone was published in 2009 by AEG, and was designed by Mike Elliot. It handles between two and five players and games take between 30-45 minutes. It’ll cost you between £25 and £30 here in the UK, and if you fancy taking your experience further you can try out the recently released expansion Wrath of the Elements – more monsters, more heroes and, of course, more cards (in a really nicely organised box…). Enjoy!

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News and Stuff: August 13, 2010

Back in the swing of things again! It’s Friday, so that means it’s news time. Now, admittedly, having been on a break for a couple of weeks means that there’s been a lot going on. I’ll do a quick runthrough of some of the big/interesting new releases in a bit, but there’s something a little more important I’d like to cover first…

I’d like to pick up on is a campaign started by a guy called Kevin Schlabach. As well as being responsible for the Seize Your Turn blog (and companion twitter feed) which picks up on some on the best news and reviews in gaming (as well as some of the stuff I write), Kevin has started PiP: Play in Public. While it’s ostensibly aimed at American players, the concept is certainly something that could and should be done here in the UK as well – or indeed anywhere you’re reading this. The idea is simple: we love to play games, but it seems that we’re kind of hiding under the bed. If you mention board gaming to most people, they get the image of kids fighting over Buckaroo, poorly run Christmas Day sessions of Monopoly or forced games of Trivial Pursuit after dinner parties. As gamers, we know that there is so much more, so why not try and promote our hobby? For more specific details on Kevin’s campaign, have a look here and pledge your support!

GenCon has just wrapped up, taking place last weekend (just as I was flying back from the US – brilliant! Next year I’ll time it better an hopefully actually attend). The self-proclaimed “Best Four Days of Gaming” took over the Indiana Convention Center in Indianapolis, playing host to 30,000 gaming fans as well as comic artists, TV stars and – of course – some of the most important people in the industry. Originally founded back in 1967 by D&D creator Gary Gygax, it’s grown into the world’s biggest English language gaming convention. There are plenty of write-ups from various attendees on BoardGameGeek, but highlights included Ascension: Chronicle of the Godslayer (which apparently was everywhere – review coming up on LMD soon!) and the general public getting their first proper look at Dominion: Prosperity. This has – of course – lead to the usual arguments over Dominion being little more than a CCG in big box form, but let’s gloss over them… It’s made me think though about the lack of conventions here though – aside from the UK Games Expo, what else do we have? If you’ve got any local gaming events going on near you, let me know – email littlemetaldog@gmail.com and I’ll put them up on here!

Now, a quick wrap-up on new releases. As is the way for this time of year, the various games companies are beginning to get ready for the holiday season (yes, I know it’s August, but we must be prepared). There’s a fair few decent looking titles making their way to stores over the next few weeks – stuff that interests me includes the previously mentioned Ascension (designed by some of MtG’s greatest players, no less!) and Petroglyph’s Graxia games (Heroes and Guardians). There’s also the retro Voltron game coming out from Privateer Press which I was lucky enough to have a quick go with at Comic Con (as well as a load of new Monsterpocalypse stuff) – if you’re into huge monsters kicking seven shades out of each other, you’re in for a treat! For the more sedate amongst you, the latest in the Catan Histories series is now available: Settlers of America – Trails to Rails is set in the USA of the 1800s and sees you attempt to distribute resources across the whole country. Having not tried one of the Histories games, I’m intrigued to see how differently they actually play – initial reports are good, though. Finally, Asmodee have got the ‘enhanced’ standalone version of the classic party game Werewolf – The Village has a bunch of new roles as well as a curious mechanic involving buildings. Is it taking the simplicity of the original too far? We shall see soon enough…

And that’s your lot! Keep an eye out for the next episode of the podcast – episode 7 is still being finalised, but should be available next week. I’m very excited about the guests coming up over the next few episodes – a lot of the people suggested by you guys for the LMD5000 competition are up for coming on the show, including a few people from the world of podcasting. I shall say no more until the show is all edited together! Have a great weekend and get playing!

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