Dice mechanics

We all know classic dice rolling games, like Yahtzee, or games using dice to decide the outcome of battles or events. You may also have heard of, and probably even played, roll and write games, such as Roll to the Top, Avenue, The Castles of Burgundy: The Dice Game and many more. However, more recent games use dice in quite different ways, creating interesting game mechanics that I want to talk about. Read more

Positive negatives

If you like buying tabletop games, you probably have either read or watched reviews or even playthroughs, so you can make a more informed decision about what you want to spend your money on. However, how much information is there actually in reviews – and how much is just opinion? Can we trust some reviews more than others? Are positive reviews more objective than negative ones? So many questions. Read more

Going solo

A lot of games are aimed at three or more players, even though most state a player count of two and up. That makes sense, because there is a large market for games aimed at games groups. Many of us enjoy playing tabletop games with friends, so it is easy to get three or more of you together. However, there is an ever growing number of games at single players – because there is an increasing demand for solo play. Read more

Give me a break

We all prefer different types of tabletop games, but there is now a trend towards games that take longer to play – and we are talking several hours. These games aren’t necessarily heavy or difficult to play, but use simple mechanisms to tell a story that simply takes a long time to explore. Read more

Losing on purpose

If you regularly play tabletop games, you will come across a situation where someone is trying to lose intentionally. However, I’m not talking about a sore loser who just can’t be bothered to try and catch up or continue playing just for the fun of the game. That does happen, but there are more reasons why someone justifiably tries to lose a game – which I want to discuss below. Read more

Get me a lawyer!

All games have some sort of rules – even if they are very basic or very fluid. Rules give a game the structure it needs so all players know what they need to do. Rules allow everyone to know what to expect from a game, even if the game includes a lot of randomness or unpredictability. Rules aim to prevent disagreements among players. Without rules there would probably be chaos – but then sometimes that is what you want from a game. Read more

Legacy games

A relatively recent trend in tabletop games is the idea of creating your own, custom version of a game. You use stickers to add new rules, tear up cards to remove them from the game and write names into boxes to personalize locations or characters, creating your unique game. Read more

Competitive or casual?

People play tabletop games for different reasons. If you are part of different game groups, you probably know how the attitude to playing games can change. Some people are really competitive and do everything they can to win the game. Others are quite casual and often like the social side of playing games. Read more

Charts and tables

If you play in a regular games group, you probably play certain games several times – you may even have one game that is your group’s go-to game. If so, you may have started to record game end totals, so that players can try to beat their own score, or even aim for the group’s high score. You may even start to record more details, such as the factions played, number of rounds or game time. Maybe you also have an end of year awards ceremony, where people in your group with the highest score in each game, or with the most games won overall, get a small prize – or everyone gets a printout of their scores. Read more

Food, drink and sticky fingers

Enjoying a games night doesn’t just consist of playing a game with a group of friends or like minded people – but usually also drinks, snacks and other foodstuff. However, do sticky fingers and spilled drinks go with playing games? I suppose it depends. Read more

Too many choices

Complex games can be great fun. You have to really stretch yourself and think several steps ahead, while having alternative strategies ready to respond to the other player’s actions. You wrack your brain to come up with the best solution on each turn. It takes a lot of thinking and therefore is enjoyable by people who like this sort of puzzle. Read more

Dicey workers

There are so many different games mechanics out there across the various tabletop games available these days. Gone are the days of rolling dice to move your meeple along a track. Even when you look at modern worker placement games, the traditional method of using a pool of meeples and a limited amount of worker slots has been superseded by new methods. Dice worker placement is more common now and introduces an element of chance which can help level the playing field in a game. Read more

A mountain of games

Once you get hooked on tabletop games, you quickly amass a mountain of games. It is so easy to buy yet another game with an exciting theme, new game mechanics, amazing miniatures, realistic coins or resources, or some other reason that justifies the expense – but has the hobby suddenly turned from playing games into collecting them? Will you actually play them all? Read more

Games for everyone

Recent tabletop games are aimed at younger as well as older players, widening the age range. Many traditional games usually only cater for young players, because they are too boring for older players. On the flipside, games aimed at older players are too complicated for younger players. Read more

Family games

The recent launch of Haunt the House and a visit to UK Games Expo where I picked up a copy of Spaghetti made me think about what family games are on the market and what distinguishes them from other tabletop games. Read more

Playtesting

When creating a new tabletop game, a large chunk of time is spent on testing. Even very simple games need to be thoroughly tested to ensure they work. Playtesting helps identify whether a game is fun, balanced or swingy, lasts the right amount of time, works with the intended number of players and if there any issues with the rules. Read more

Unboxing videos

I know, there are dozens upon dozens of unboxing videos out there. So you can see what it feels like to open a game, without ever buying it. People are very proud to be the first to get their unboxing video live and to show off their latest purchase. It really shows how enthusiastic everyone is in the tabletop games industry. Read more

Co-op or competitive?

There seems to be a clear divide among tabletop gamers when it comes to co-operative versus competitive games: some love co-op, others hate it with a passion. Read more

UK Games Expo 2018

If you are interested in any type of tabletop game for pretty much any reason, and you live in the UK, then the UK Games Expo 2018 at the NEC in Birmingham is a must. It’s probably the biggest, and in my opinion best, tabletop games and accessories exhibition in the UK. Read more

Variants and house rules

If you have played a few tabletop games, you will have probably come across some that either don’t quite fit your expectations or are a little ambiguous. That’s where variants and house rules come in.

People tend to have different preferences when it comes to tabletop games. Some really like high player interaction, whereas others prefer a more “solitaire” approach where everyone just does their best to win the game in their own way. Different player groups also often lead to different approaches to games, be it due to player numbers or playing style preference.

That has led to variants being developed, where some game mechanisms are adjusted to make them more compatible with one’s own preferences, without breaking the game. You don’t like the farmers in Carcassonne, so take them out. The game is just as playable and much more accessible.

More often than not, game developers have included variants to the rules to change the difficulty of the game or to reduce the learning curve for a game. These official variants have been play tested, ensuring they will work and don’t break anything.

Sometimes rules need only minor tweaks and are therefore more like house rules than actual variants. House rules are also needed when rules aren’t clear and need clarifying. That little piece of land in Clans of Caledonia – you can house rule whether it divides the loch or not. Even the game designer says that it can be done either way and needs to be house ruled.

What house rules do you apply to games? Are there variants that you really like that have turned an average game into one that’s much more fun? Join the conversation and share your experience with tabletop games.

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Games on the go

It is great fun sitting around a table with friends or family playing a tabletop game. However, when you are out and about, you also want to play games. So you need something that is portable, quick to set up and quite rugged. If you want to play a game in a restaurant, while waiting for food, the game has to be either very quick, or easy to stop at any point. The game also can’t take up too much space during play.

That rules out quite a large number of games. Many games are played on large boards or contain many, large components that make them too big and/or too heave. If you are part of a regular tabletop games group, you will know how important a car suddenly becomes if you want to take those games to a friend’s house.

So what games are there that you can play pretty much anywhere? Card games are the obvious option. Fluxx and its variants are very popular – whether on holiday or for a quick game while waiting for food. Love Letter is another example. Mint Works is even better for taking out, because it comes in a tin box – and it is a worker placement game, making it a bit more interesting.

You might not believe it, but Carcassonne can also become very portable, if you put everything into a smaller box. The game won’t work in a restaurant, because the game uses up too much space during play, but it is still great for taking on holiday.

So what games do you take on holiday with you? Are there any you have played while waiting for food yet? Have you used a portable game to make new friends while away? Share your thoughts by commenting on this conversation. I would love to hear what other games are wonderfully portable games.

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Rule books – the Holy Grail?

Every tabletop game comes with a rule book. Even the simplest game needs a basic set of rules. More complex games need longer rule books of course, but there comes a point at which a rule book becomes too long and turns people away from the game – and this point will be different for different people.

Long rule books aren’t necessarily bad. The use illustrations actually makes a game much easier to learn. Additional explanations, such as frequently asked questions and game variants, add to rule book length, without making the game harder to learn. FAQs are often vital for complex game where edge cases need further explanation.

Of course, ideally you just want to get the game out of the box, set it up and start playing – with minimal reading of rules. Some games have tried to incorporate the rules into the game itself by basically offering players a tutorial setup that is easy to learn and play, while at the same time explaining the finer points of the rules.

Legacy games actually start with a relatively small set of rules, but while you play you add new rules, meaning you learn the game as you play. The extra rules don’t necessarily have to be permanent, and Fluxx is probably the most famous example of a game where the rules constantly change and every game is different.

In general, good rule books have a clear setup guide, with a good photo for reference. They are also concise, with plenty of illustrations to visualize how the game works. A scoring guide will also be critical, whether that’s scoring during the game, or at the end of the game. If the rule book then has an FAQ section and a strategy guide as well, it should cater for everyone.

What do you like about rule books? Do you have examples of games with a good rule book? Can you think of any bad examples? Please post your thoughts in the comments below.

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The long game

If you have played a few tabletop games, you will have noticed how game length varies drastically. Some games are specifically designed to last a very short amount of time. In fact, some games include a timer that explicitly limits the length of the game. Other games stretch over hours – or even days, but these are usually split into separate sessions, where you “save” the game and return to it another day.

Game length can have a huge impact on enjoyment. Long games especially can create situations where a player is too far behind the rest of the group to ever catch up or otherwise stuck in a dead end, and then the game becomes a chore.

Game designers have to carefully consider game length and ensure that all players get equal enjoyment. It can be hard to make a long game exciting for everyone until the end, but one often used mechanism is keeping victory points secret – either completely, or at least to a very large extent. That way nobody knows who is in the lead. Other games use an (often random) event that triggers the end of the game, therefore making it impossible to decide who will win.

What are your thoughts about game length? Do you prefer long or short games? Is there a game you like that ensures that all players enjoy it equally until the end? Please add your thoughts below to carry on the conversation.

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Miniatures – worth the extra money?

A lot of recent game releases have done away with old fashioned, wooden game pieces or cardboard standees and replaced them with miniatures. They are either included as part of the core game, or offered as upgrades – but in most cases these miniatures are highly detailed and add an extra interest to the game, bringing everything to life. These miniatures have attracted new people to tabletop gaming and even created new business for artists who offer to paint miniatures.

Of course, miniatures are nothing new. The Games Workshop has always made miniatures the centre of their games and artists have been painting them for years. However, game designers have now taken miniatures and introduced them to classic strategy board games. One of the first was Scythe, and Rising Sun is the most recent contended taking the use of miniatures in board games to another level, just by the sheer number of figures included.

I think there is no denying that moving a dragon figure around the board is much more satisfying than moving a small, wooden piece or cardboard standee, but the design and manufacture of miniatures is considerable, driving up prices.

So, is the extra cost worth it? How important are miniatures to your game experience? Have you been drawn in by detailed figures? Have miniatures introduced you to tabletop gaming?

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Boxes full of air?

If you have bought a number of tabletop games, you will have noticed how some games fill out every inch of space in the box, while other games are basically a large box of air.

Most card games come in perfectly sized boxes, while board games often waste space to fit in the board, even when there are very few other components. Games with miniatures also often leave space to keep the figures safe. Many games ship with punch out boards that decide the box size, but the actual game parts end up filling less than half of the box they came in. Box sizes are a consideration for display purposes. Larger boxes stand out better among a display of tabletop games – while small boxes often get overlooked and therefore not the attention they deserve.

However, storing your games becomes harder if boxes are basically just air – and shipping costs increase as well. Many people resort to taking everything out of the box and storing it in bags or plastic storage containers, leaving the game board separate. That is far from ideal, because it makes it hard to find the game you want.

So what are your thoughts on boxes? How do you store your games? Is there a particularly good game that makes best use of the box it comes in? Is there a worst offender? Please share you thoughts in the comments below.

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Design your own game – you can do it!

With the advent of crowd funding sites like Kickstarter, it has become easier to fund a new project – and the tabletop games industry has been overrun by games designers launching their own games with the help of people willing to sponsor their ideas. These days literally anyone can design a new game and try and make it a reality.

However, one new game stands out from the rest. It’s a story of a daughter and dad team who were inspired by a Kickstarter game. The daughter wanted to bring tabletop games to an audience of all ages and with the help of her dad they made it a reality – and now it’s published by the company who launched the game that inspired it all.

My Little Scythe is a success story that will help inspire another generation of game designers to keep going and not give up.

To find out more about the game, go to Stonemaier Games’ website at https://stonemaiergames.com/games/my-little-scythe/ and watch the teaser trailer below:

Chance or strategy

All games are a mixture of chance and strategy – Yahtzee is virtually pure chance, while Chess is virtually pure strategy, and there is a whole range in between of course. Chance and strategy affect specific aspects of games.

The more chance there is in a game, the more variable it is – but at the same time it levels the playing field, giving players with varying skill and ability a more equal game experience. Yahtzee is the classic example of a chance game – each turn is completely reliant on the outcome of a dice throw, so every player has an equal chance of winning. There is only a very small amount of decision making involved.

A game with pure strategy means that players’ experience becomes vital. The more you play Chess, the better you get at it – and the more you play with people who are better than you, the more you learn. Strategy games require players of roughly equal experience, or the game becomes very frustrating and boring.

Modern tabletop games usually have a good mixture of chance and strategy. Even strategy heavy games, such as Rising Sun, have an element of chance – the shuffling of Political Mandates for example. Artifacts, Inc. is an example where chance plays a huge role, because you roll dice on each turn, but then there is a lot of strategy when you decide where to place your dice.

What do you prefer in a game? Chance or strategy? Do you have a favourite game which has a nice balance of both? Please reply to this conversation with your thoughts.

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Gateway games

Most of us will have played traditional tabletop games, such as Monopoly, Game of Life, Yahtzee or Risk. However, what if you want to move towards more modern tabletop games? What games are there that introduce you to new game mechanics? What games are you gateway to this new world? There are definitely a number of “classics” that you will return time and again, even when you are a more experienced tabletop game player.

Carcassonne is one of them. It is an amazing, very easy to learn, yet varied tile laying game. Each time you draw and lay a tile, you extend a map with roads, towns, fields and other features. You can claim these features to gain points. There is plenty of randomness in the game to give people of all ages and experience a level playing field – but there is still enough room for some strategic thinking. The game has a number of expansions that will give you many hours of fun.

If you like games of bluffing and deduction, then Love Letter is probably a good fit. It is a card game where you try and finish with the highest card, while not revealing what card you have. Players take turns drawing and playing a card, slowly trading up, while at the same time trying to outmanoeuvre their opponents. It is suitable for players 8 years and up and very easy to transport, so ideal for holidays or even for a quick game in the restaurant while you wait for your food.

If you want to try a co-operative game, have a look at the Forbidden range of games, like Forbidden Island or Forbidden Desert. They are games where all players work together against time to find treasures and escape. The games require everyone to help each other, or everyone will lose. It is great for players 8 years and up and very easy to learn.

There are many more gateway games, but the above are a good starting point. Have you got a good gateway game you want to recommend? Have you tried one of the above games? Let me know your thoughts and get the conversation going.

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How important is theme for tabletop games?

In my view, themes very often make or break a game. Even a game with the most amazing gameplay will be broken by a badly chosen theme. Of course, different people will like different themes. However, irrespective of what people like, blending theme and gameplay is vital to a game’s success – and here is why.

First of all, a good theme makes a game much more accessible. Abstract games like Chess and Go have very little theme at all, and for many people that makes them very hard to learn. Clans of Caledonia’s theme on the other hand makes decision taking feel very natural, because it is very clear what consequences each decision has. Terra Mystica’s theme on the other hand goes against the gameplay, and the game would be better as an abstract strategy game with only a minimal theme.

Secondly, a theme changes how entertaining and enjoyable a game is. Fluxx for example applies the same basic gameplay to different themes. The original Fluxx is great fun, but when you play Oz Fluxx or Pirate Fluxx, it feels like you are playing a completely different game that is more fun to play.

To further strengthen the power of a theme, it needs to be applied to the artwork and design of the game. Scythe’s miniatures for example really add to the theme and take you deeper into the game’s world. Realistic resources are another example, but whatever you do, it is important it doesn’t feel gimmicky.

So how important is theme for your game enjoyment? Do you have a favourite theme? What games do you think benefit from a good theme? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below and get the conversation going.

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A new take on “Choose Your Own Adventure” books

If you’re of a certain age, you’ll probably have had a “Choose Your Own Adventure” book, where you read a description of a situation, and then choose between a number of different options that take you to different sections of the book. If you make the right choices you will eventually get to the end and win – and if you die along the way, you can simply start again.

The most recent incarnation of this idea is “7th Continent”, which dispenses with the book. Instead you build a map as you choose between different actions and go from one place to the next, hopefully not getting injured along the way and making it safely to the end.

The game is a really exciting co-operative game, where you take turns to make decisions. The people in your group can decide to help you, or leave you to try things out yourself each turn. That way nobody is forced to do something they feel is the wrong choice in a given situation.

We played the game for the first time last night and it’s really great fun. The save function allows you to stop the game at pretty much any point and restart it another time, returning you to the same point in the game.

If you were a fan of “Choose Your Own Adventure” books, you will probably love “7th Continent” – but please let me know what you think, if you’ve played the game yourself.

Here is a link to the game’s homepage: https://the7thcontinent.seriouspoulp.com/

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Games nights

Let’s kick off this group with a conversation about games nights. I am part of a four player group that has a private weekly session where we play various modern tabletop games, including Rising Sun, Clans of Caledonia, Near and Far, Star Realms, Hardback and even Fluxx. We’re looking forward to trying out the new 7th Continent soon. So do you have a games nights group yourself? What games do you play?

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