Published Betas

A fair number of people these days enjoy board gaming as an alternative to video games.  They’re often a more social activity, gathering a group of friends in the same room to play a game (which is becoming harder to find with modern video games), and there’s just something to be said about the experience of moving around chips and pieces, holding cards, and so forth.  The reason that I mention this is that one of the problem facing video games these days seems to be creeping into board games as well: the dreaded “published beta”.

Admittedly, I’m not that big into video games anymore and don’t really follow big new releases, but from what I’ve seen on forums and other online discussions this is a somewhat common issue:  Games are released in some kind of semi-complete state, requiring patches, bug fixes and other intervention shortly after they come out to get the game to a playable state.  I’d like to say this isn’t the case with board games, but after experiencing three examples this week alone where board games required updates after they were released, I’d say it’s a non-trivial issue for us board gamers as well.

Example 1: A Chaotic Life!

This one happened a while back, but is one of the more prevalent examples of this behavior I could think of.  A Chaotic Life! was a game that was Kickstartered to great success, raising over $42,000 out of a modest initial goal of $2,000.  And for only $10 for what looked like a silly little game, I had no qualms about backing it.  And when it eventually arrived, Amber and I played it and… it just fell flat.  The game seemed to drag on and wasn’t very fun, unfortunately.  This seemed to be such a common issue for backers that the publishers released a Kickstarter update letting backers know that they would revisit the rules to make the game more playable and fun, and to their credit they were able to jump on this issue pretty quickly, within about a week after fulfillment began.  Then, over the course of last fall, backers were able to try out the new rules and provide feedback, eventually leading to the creation of a whole new final set of rules for the game.  While this story has a (moderately) happy ending, it’s unfortunate that it had to happen in the first place — one would think that a reasonable amount of playtesting should’ve caught these issues before the game was published.  However, this issue may be a common one for games funded through Kickstarter and independently published.  The old saying of buyer beware certainly applies here (though since it’s Kickstarter, maybe a more appropriate phrase would be “backer beware”?).

Example 2: Arcadia

Arcadia is a game we picked up at Gen Con 2015, and one Amber was particularly excited about.  A game about building an amusement park?  Yes please!  However, this game was another one where our initial impression of playing it was that it just dragged on — we only played about half of the game before putting it back on the shelf where it’s just been sitting for the past few months.  However, earlier this week I noticed a new Dice Tower video where Tom Vasel (whose initial review of Arcadia was lukewarm) revealed that the early copies of Arcadia, including the one he’d reviewed and those sold at Gen Con, had a bunch of misprinted cards which broke the game in various ways.  And so, after reaching out to the publisher to get replacement cards, I received an e-mail from them that they would be sending them out to us.  So now I’m excited again to give this game a second try, but this situation brings up another big problem with this type of “bug fixes” for board games.  The APE Games post about card replacements was published on August 30, 2015, but I was not aware of it until just this week, and if it wasn’t for me noticing the new Dice Tower video, I may never have known about the replacement cards.  Fortunately this issue only affected a small number of games (the ones that were sent to stores for retail were able to be corrected in time), but the people who got those affected copies would have broken games unless they actively went in search of information as to why the game was such a slog to play.

Example 3: Boss Monster 2

This is another Kickstarter game, and not quite as dramatic an example as the previous two.  Boss Monster 2 is a sequel to Boss Monster (fancy that!) and was another very successful Kickstarter, raising over $335,000 of its $25,000 goal.  And the game was good.  For the most part, it played the same as its predecessor with a few new cards and mechanics.  However, this week, in a Kickstarter update where they announced the upcoming custom card creator, the creators also mentioned that a few of the cards that were included in the game needed corrections and were being released as errata-ed versions.  The plus side is that Kickstarter backers would be able to get credit to receive these cards for free, but anyone else would need to buy the corrected cards through the custom card website.  Really though, this is a fairly minor issue that just affected three cards, and shouldn’t really affect gameplay at all (in fact, I didn’t notice anything amiss when we played the game), but it is another example of a game being fixed or tweaked after it was released.

Example 4: Shakespeare

My final example is another relatively minor one.  Amber and I recently bought Shakespeare and were really excited to get it played right away, so we got it to the table this past weekend, and really enjoyed it.  It’s a highly thematic Euro game, which is nice and refreshing.  And in this case there was nothing about the game itself that needed changing or tweaking, but rather the rulebook.  As I was poking around on the BGG forums this week, I saw a post mentioning that the official English rules have been updated since the game was released.  In particular, the starting position of the players on the scoring track was not mentioned in the original rulebook, which is important because the players’ scores start at 5 (and they can lose points).  In addition to this, there were some other clarifications on rules that needed to be made that we assumed while playing but weren’t explicitly spelled out.  In this case, as I said, the post-release correction wasn’t with the game itself, but just with the rules, and the reason it was needed was because the rules were translated from the original French.  However it is yet again a case where a game (or in this case its rulebook) was updated after being sold to consumers, and those who purchased it wouldn’t necessarily have been aware of the changes unless they actively went looking for them.

 

Final Thoughts

This is not meant to be any sort of comprehensive listing or analysis, nor is it meant to in any way disparage the games I mentioned.  I simply wanted to point out something that I have been noticing with games lately, and that coincidentally came up three times within the past week.  As I mentioned before, this could be a common phenomenon with games funded by Kickstarter — these games aren’t always going through traditional publishing channels, and as such may not have as rigorous testing or editing standards.  The tradeoff or benefit of this, though, is that the game creators have a listing of all the backers and an easy way to contact them via Kickstarter updates or messages, so any problems encountered can be rectified and pushed out to all backers easily.  What’s more challenging is when people purchase games from the publisher or a store.  In that case they may not be aware of changes or corrections made to a game unless they actively go looking for them.  This is unlike when video games require patches or bugfixes, because in that case you usually can’t start the game until you install the requisite fix.  One may wonder how many games they have that have been updated (or had components fixed, rules corrected, etc.) since being released without one’s knowledge.

What do you think?  Have you encountered situations where you’ve bought a board game that felt like a published beta version?

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The Plague of the Unplayed Game

It’s been a year and a half since we seriously started board gaming and it’s been intense to see how fast our little collection has grown.  Before, we had maybe 50 games, all classics (and Ethan’s Hero Quest found in a beautiful bargain find).  Now looking at our board game collections (Ethan has the most up-to-date list, you can check it out here), we have 266 different games, expansions and promotional material.

This large collections comes with a price (let’s not talk about the literal price, that might make our wallets hurt).  We have a “pile of shame.”  This is what we call our unplayed game list.  It didn’t mean to come to this.  We had every intention of playing every single one of our games multiple times.  But then GenCon happened and there are lots of new and shinies there, plus, Kickstarters that I didn’t know were coming in the mail and the “OH YEAH THAT’S BACK IN STUFF ON COOLSTUFF” buys.  It just kind of happened.

This seems to be a problem with many of the gamers I know, there are games in their collections that they haven’t had a chance to play, or have only gotten to play once.  What is there to do about this issue plaguing gamers?  The first solution would be to, obviously, stop buying new games.  But that suggestion is utterly ridiculous and should be highly ignored. (Unless you’re my husband. Ethan, listen to this suggestion.)

What if the problem is that you just don’t have the right player count to play the games?  Then host game night!  We try to bring games we can’t play two players to our game nights, this helps with the pesky problem.  There are also times that the Pegheads host an “Unplayed Game Night” specifically for this problem!

What if there simply seems to be no solution for this problem?  Try as we might, we still have games we haven’t played; on my last count, we have 26.  We bring them to meetups, we try playing them at home, we simply just don’t get to them.  So, we’ve set them aside in a neat little pile right beside our game table.  You practically have to trip over them to walk into the room.  We’ve also said we will not buy anymore games until we get to less than 10 unplayed games (a rule in which I broke today, oops).  We’ll get this problem solved, eventually.  How do you deal with unplayed games?

 

Review: …and then we held hands

Order …and then we held hands on CoolStuffInc for $15.99Overview

…and then we held hands is a 2-player only co-operative game about a couple who must manage their emotions to complete objectives with limited communication.  It debuted as a print-and-play game in early 2014, and was popular enough to see a Kickstarter late last year and saw a published release by LudiCreations with official art by Marie Cardouat (best known for Dixit, among other things).  While the game isn’t available for purchase yet (it’s scheduled for release in February 2016), we have a Kickstarter copy and have gotten a few chances to play it and form our impressions of the game so far.

The theme of …and then we held hands is that of a couple whose relationship is failing, and who must work together and support each other to meet their emotional goals and keep each other in balance.  The unique aspect of the game is that the players are not permitted to communicate at all about the game while playing it.  The rulebook allows for casual conversation about other topics, such as the weather or the players’ daily lives, but forbids any discussion of what’s happening in the game, strategy, etc.  This limited communication adds a unique challenge to …and then we held hands.

 

Gameplay

The gameplay of …and then we held hands is fairly simple.  Each of the players is represented by a stone (either red or blue) on a board made up of nodes of various colors linked in a circular pattern.  The colors of the nodes each correspond to one of the four emotions in the game: Black for sadness, red for anger, blue for calmness, and green for happiness.

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Each player also begins with six emotion cards which have each has one of the four emotions on both the left and right side.

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During the game, these cards will be splayed in front of each player so that only one side (either left or right) is visible at all times.  The directions the cards splay is based on which side of the board the player ends his or her turn on, or if they’re in the middle (as they are at the start of the game), they may choose which direction their cards will go.

Finally, there is a deck of 24 objective cards, each of which depict one of the four colors/emotions in the game.  These cards are shuffled and divided into three stacks of eight, which correspond to the beginning, middle, and end of the game.

On their turn, a player must travel between the nodes on the board by discarding emotion cards from in front of either player that match the nodes they visit.  For example, if a player passes through a red, green, and blue node, they would need to discard cards from either in front of them or their partner with those colors showing.  In addition, each player has an emotional balance scale which ranges from -2 to 2.  Moving through nodes corresponding to “positive” emotions (happiness and calmness) increases your position on the emotional balance scale while the “negative” emotions (anger and sadness) decrease it.  To continue the example from above, moving through a red, green, and blue node would lead to a net of +1 on the emotional balance scale: -1 for the red, and +1 for each of the green and blue.  The importance of the emotional balance scale is that you only draw new emotion cards if you are balanced at the end of your turn.  In other words, if you finish your move with an emotional balance of 0.  Further, you can’t make a move that would push you off the scale.  So, if you’re already at a -2, you can’t move to a black or red node.

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The final aspect of the game are the objective cards which, as aforementioned, each depict one of the emotions in the game.  To complete objectives, a player must end his or her turn on the node corresponding to the current objective.  Further, for the second set of objectives, this node must be on the second (middle) ring of the board and for the third set of objectives it must be on the third (inner) ring.  Once all of the objective cards are complete, players may attempt to move into the center of the board.  If both players can get to the center on subsequent turns with their emotions in balance, they win!

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There are a few conditions that cause the players to lose the game.  If at the beginning of their turn a player isn’t able to make a move (either due to not having the appropriate emotion cards available or being too far out of balance to be able to move to certain colored nodes), both players lose.  In addition, if the deck of emotion cards run out and players don’t have any cards left in front of them, they lose.  Finally, the players lose if they aren’t able to enter the center of the board in emotional balance on subsequent turns.  In other words, once one player has entered the center, on the next player’s turn, they must enter the center to win the game, or else they lose.

 

Amber’s Review

Gameplay/Mechanics: 7
Theme & Integration: 5
Components & Artwork: 8
Scalability: 8
Fun Factor: 7

Overall: 7/10

and then we held hands seemed like such an easy game at first.  Boy, was I wrong.  This small game provided a powerful punch; the rule of not being able to talk was what killed me the most.  However, this two-player co-op provided enough difficulty to be challenging, with changes in game play that allow for replayability, even after you’ve “beaten it.”  For a $16 price point, this is a great pick up if you and someone special in your life needs a game just for the two of you . . . or if you need to secretly work out your emotions.

 

Ethan’s Review

Gameplay/Mechanics: 7
Theme & Integration: 7
Components & Artwork: 7
Scalability: 9
Fun Factor: 7

Overall: 7.4/10

…and then we held hands what I would call a unique game.  There aren’t many co-operative games just for two players that I can think of, and the mechanic that forbids players from discussing the game adds a twist to the gameplay.  If players could talk freely, it would be pretty easy to make optimal moves because you could say things like “Don’t worry about the objective; I’ll get it on my turn”, or “Careful — if you play that card I won’t be able to move on my turn and we’ll lose!”.  But as it is, players must anticipate what their partner will do and adapt accordingly.  In addition, players must ensure that each other will be able to make legal moves and keep their emotions (relatively) in balance.

The components in the game as published by LudiCreations are great, especially the artwork on the cards which is certainly evocative of the emotions they’re meant to convey.  The only complaint that I have is that the markers used to mark the players’ positions and emotional balance seem slightly too large and clunky for the board.  It might’ve been better with just cardboard chits, but that’s a relatively minor issue for such a small, inexpensive game.

Overall, …and then we held hands is a good little game for 2 that takes only about 20 minutes to play and is a pretty good difficulty for couples who like to game together.

 

Order …and then we held hands on CoolStuffInc for $15.99

 Buy . . . and then we held hands on Amazon

On the Brink: Life After Legacy

DISCLAIMER: While this post will try its best not to spoil any information about Pandemic: Legacy, one of our writers (not naming any names [It’s Amber]) has been known to accidentally spill information beyond their control.  Read at your own risk.

One of my most rewarding game playing experiences to date (and will probably remain this way for a very long time) is Pandemic: Legacy. The combination of the game itself, the format of the game, and the people I played it with provided a rewarding and memorable experience. Pandemic: Legacy is a stand alone game in the Pandemic universe with Legacy-style play.  This means that through the sessions of gaming, players will be forced to make changes to the game itself by adding or removing things to the game.  This could be anything from writing on cards, adding marks to the board, destroying pieces of the game, and anything else that might make a gamer squeal in agony.

Much like its predecessor Pandemic, Pandemic: Legacy involves players taking on different scientific roles to try to cure 4 different diseases that are spreading all over the world.  Each role has a different special ability that allows players to do special actions, as well as the actions everyone has access to.  This game is fully cooperative and players work together to strategize how best to cure and eradicate the different diseases.  Unlike the regular base game, however, Pandemic: Legacy plays over 12 months, adding a story to the already thrilling (a nice way of saying stressful) burden of saving the world.

We’ve had three different groups of people in our game group complete their teams’ games of Pandemic: Legacy and I’ve heard similar sentiments from members of all three groups: “I don’t think I can play regular Pandemic after this.”  At the time of this posting, Pandemic has been out for 8 years and remains popular with game groups.  The game has evolved in these 9 years, reformatting the box, adding expansions, developing a dice game and finally creating a Legacy addition.  When Ethan and I began our Legacy adventure, neither of us had played anything besides the base game and The Cure (the Pandemic dice game), so there was still a lot of Pandemic for us to play; it would be unfair to count the game out without actually having played everything there is to offer.

Since finishing Legacy, we’ve acquired the On the Brink and In the Lab expansions to our Pandemic collection.  I believe that even after the mind blowing experience that was Pandemic: Legacy, there is still room for Pandemic in our collection.  Pandemic is a great gateway game for beginners to get into the hobby and the expansions add replayability to the original game.  I think we’ll be holding on to this one a bit longer, at least, until Season 2 comes out.

Ethan here – I agree wholeheartedly with this sentiment.  Even after playing Legacy I still very much enjoy the “vanilla” game of Pandemic.  It was one of the earliest co-operative games, and the impact its had on the genre can be seen in many other games.  It’s an elegant and balanced game of players vs. the game, and it’s easy to see why it’s both a good intro game and one that many people continue to rate highly even after being in the hobby for a while (it was #1 on the Dice Tower People’s Choice Top 100 Games list from last year).  Even with the base game there are ways to change the difficulty by adding or removing Epidemic cards (the ones that periodically cause diseases to spring up in new places and reshuffle the discards so that previously infected cities come up again).

With the expansions there are even more modules you can add, such as Virulent Strain and the Mutation challenge from On the Brink, and the Lab Challenge from In the Lab.  Any of these can be added to the base game, or you could add them all for a really intense challenge.  In addition, there’s a Bio-Terrorist mode where one player plays against all of the rest to cause disease and destruction, and a team game where all players are still working to cure the diseases but also trying to score the most points for their team.  In addition to all this, there’s still the State of Emergency expansion that adds even more different challenges, but which we’ve never experienced, so I can’t comment on it.  With all of these different modules to change up the difficulty, add different goals, or even changing the players’ roles and interactions, I’d argue that Pandemic is still highly playable even after finishing the Legacy campaign.  And besides, there’s always Season 2 of Legacy to look forward to, so hopefully people are only exaggerating when they say they’re burned out on Pandemic after Legacy!

An Introduction

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Or, How We Became Meeples

When we first met, I wouldn’t have called us “Gamers.”  I had experience in high school playing Lunch Money and Euchre, as well as other card games while stuffing myself with food.  In college, I moved onto playing Munchkin between classes and casually playing Magic the Gathering.  I had really moved away from gaming of all kinds until 2013, when Ethan and I were in full swing and we decided to play Risk together (his roommate at the time asked if our plan was to stay together, har har).  I, of course, won. (That’s how I remember it anyway.) [If I recall, we never finished.]

I remember a lot of gaming in my childhood; mostly the old standbys like Trivial Pursuit or Scrabble with family, but the occasional foray into more “gamery” games as well (I fondly recall playing HeroQuest with my older brother when I was probably around 6 or 7.  As the game master he definitely cheated in my favor and let me win more than I should have).  In high school and college, I was more active in tabletop RPGs than board games, having played D&D a few times in high school and running through a campaign of the Star Wars RPG in college.  I did have a few experiences with modern board games at conventions or game nights at work, but never really had anyone to play many games with until I met Amber, and even then we started with a lot of the classics that we found at Goodwill for a few bucks.

That following winter, we attended the UK Expo in Milwaukee, a small convention of just a few hundred people.  Ethan was experienced, having attended Anime Conventions in the past, but for me, this was my first exposure into the more geeky side of things.  Game Rooms were a new concept for me, but this kind group welcomed us with open arms, starting us out with a game of Munchkin, moving us on to Red Dragon Inn and ending our time with Revolution! the board game. [We may have also played Dominion.]

After that weekend, we had an itch that we couldn’t scratch (only in the best and most innocent way, of course), our classic board games and the games for two just couldn’t fulfill us anymore, so we set out to see if there were any board games groups in our area.  One very short Google search later, we found a group called The Janesville Pegheads on Meetup.com. (Shameless plug)  In the year following our first meetup (October 8, 2014), we have gone from about 30 classic games to a collection of almost 300 classic and hobby games and expansions, not to count the experiences and friends we’ve gained along the way.  I personally look forward to our next gaming adventure: writing about games, tournaments, and our experience along the way.

I never would have imagined that we could get so deep into the board gaming hobby so quickly, but it has certainly been a fun and rewarding experience.  We have an awesome community of gamers that can come together with the common goal of playing games, having fun, and making friends (shamelessly paraphrased from the Janesville Pegheads slogan).  Like Amber, I’m looking forward to chronicling our further adventures in gaming, and reviewing the games, events, and anything else that we encounter this year and in the years to come.