Game Night Recap – 5/12/16

Hi, Ethan here with another solo gaming session report.  It feels like a while since we’ve done one of these, and in fact it’s been almost a month since we last headed to Kryptonite Kollectibles for a regularly scheduled Meetup — our NMA gaming weekend was at the end of last month, and we needed a few weeks’ beak afterwards.  Nevertheless, this Thursday, I was really jonesing for some gaming, so fortunately I got to play a few good games with a good group of people.  So, enough with the introductions, let’s get to the games!


I may have mentioned this previously, but one of my favorite parts of game night is getting to play heavy or involved games with a lot of bright people.  A lot of times, games don’t play as well (or at all) with two, so just Amber and I can’t play them at home, and sometimes we don’t want to just go at each other in the heavy competitive games anyway.  So it’s always nice to get a chance to play a thinky game with a full complement of four people.  And Shipyard is a great game to scratch that euro itch, and to play with a full four people at game night.

Shipyard is, as you may imagine, a game that centers around building ships.  Over the course of the game, players buy ship pieces, parts to add to their ships (smokestacks, propellers, cannons, etc.), passengers for the ship (captains/officers, businessmen, and soldiers), and waterways to navigate.  Players can also buy employees that give them special powers or extra actions, and can buy and sell train cars full of resources (coal, iron, and grain) for money or ship components.  Every player has government contracts they’re working on as secret goals that will give bonus points at the end of the game, and they also earn points from taking the ships they build throughout the game on shakedown cruises, which are the shipyard’s version of test runs.

Three out of the four of us playing (Rob, Paul, and me) had played this game before, while the fourth, Brock, was new to this game.  And since it had been a few months since the rest of us had played, it took a while for a rules explanation/refresher.  Shipyard has a lot of moving parts, with about 8 different actions and rondels associated with most of them that all required a thorough explanation and understanding.  In addition, there is a bit of complexity to the midgame scoring coming from shakedown cruises and symbology on the end-game government contract secret goal cards, so it was important that everyone knew what they were working towards and what would earn them points.  By about 6:00, we were ready to start!

With the action selection mechanic of Shipyard, each turn a player puts their marker on one of the available actions, which leaves it unavailable for the other players.  Then, on subsequent turns, you must move your marker to any of the actions besides the one you just did and those occupied by other players.  Because of this mechanic, there were a few turns where there were no available actions that I particularly wanted or needed to do, so I had to improvise as best as I could.  The game also allows you to pay 6 guilders (the currency of the game) to take any extra action on your turn, so there is a possibility for mitigation, albeit a pricey one.  I did take advantage of the extra action a few times over the course of the game, as did my three competitors, but we often didn’t have enough money to do so, or our money was better spent elsewhere.

Overall, my strategy centered around one of my government contract cards, which gave me points for launching ships made up of exactly six pieces, up to 17 points for three such ships.  This worked out nicely, since when building ship parts, you’re able to buy up to three each time.  So I typically bought the three cheapest (or free) components to try to launch six length ships as quickly as I could.  And in fact I was the first one to send a ship out for a shakedown cruise, but because I didn’t bother adding any propellers, smokestacks, or sails, it only had a speed of 1 and did not score me very many points.  Meanwhile, the other three players, who took their time building their ships, earned a lot more points test driving their ships.  However, by the end of the game I managed to launch my three six-length ships, and on the last one scored a lot of points for soldiers and cannons (which tied in with my second secret goal), so wasn’t too far behind before end-game scoring.  Then, after successfully earning lots of points with my secret goals, I pulled out a narrow win with 86 points, with Paul and Rob scoring 82 and 80 points, respectively, and first-timer Brock coming in with a very respectable 67.

I really like Shipyard, and had been wanting to play it again after trying it for the first time last year.  After this second play, I can definitely say that Shipyard is a game where strategy is heavily dependent on your secret government contract cards which are used for end game scoring and can contribute almost half of your score.  The way I played this game was definitely different from the last, where I had completely different goals to work towards, and I imagine if I play again it’ll be different still based on my goals and what my opponents do.  So it’s certainly a game that rewards repeated play and adaptability, so I’m very glad to have had the opportunity to try it out again.



After all the brain-burning of Shipyard, and because there were only 45 minutes left in the Meetup, I decided to finish the night off with something a bit lighter, and wandered over to another table to join a game of Dixit that was just getting started.  Dixit is a family-weight game where all of the players submit cards featuring strange and surreal artwork based on a clue given by one player.  Then, all other players try to find the card that player submitted based on their clue and what they know about that person.  The clue-giver only earns points if some people correctly guess their card, but not all, so it’s to their advantage to give somewhat vague clues or ones that they know only some people at the table will understand.  This is definitely a game that’s best played with people you know fairly well.

I’m usually pretty good at Dixit.  I can often give clues that are just vague enough so that only some of the other players can get them — this is where it’s good to play with Amber because I can give clues that only she will get for sure.  On the flip side, I’m usually good at picking up on a wide variety of pop culture references, which are often good candidates for Dixit clues.  However, for whatever reason I was really off my game this night.

On my first turn of the game, I knew right away which card I wanted to submit, as I’d been eyeing it ever since it entered my hand.  It was a card depicting a white raven amongst a bevy of black ones.  I laid down the card and gave the clue “Citadel”, a reference to the Song of Ice and Fire series (aka Game of Thrones), where white ravens are sent from the maesters at the Citadel to herald the changing of the seasons.  I was really hoping that the one other person at the table I knew had read all of the books would get the reference, but when all the cards were revealed and he looked as lost as everyone else I knew I was in trouble.  I guess the clue was a bit too vague.  Then, as everyone else took their turns, I was missing out on clues left and right.  “Geppetto”, “Guilty”, and others were all misinterpreted by me.

In the end we weren’t able to play a full game with the time allotted, but I insisted on taking my last turn since I wanted to redeem myself.  I played a card featuring a dragon with some paper lanterns, and gave the very specific clue “1988”.  I waited with bated breath as everyone submitted their own cards and then pored over the results, wondering what to pick.  In the end, only one person got it right, as I’d hoped — the one person at the table who had been born in 1988, the year of the dragon on the Chinese calendar.  So I was able to have my moment of redemption, even though I still came in dead last with 10 points, while the leader when we finished had 20, and everyone else was somewhere in between.  I’ll chalk it up to playing with two couples and not having Amber there to balance things out, but it was still a ton of fun.  I can’t wait for the next game night!

Gaming Challenges, or How to “Game” Gaming

We’re now about a quarter of the way through the year, so I think it’s as good a time as any to introduce some of the gaming challenges this year and check in on my progress so far.  These are all challenges found on BoardGameGeek, and most of them allow you to join in at any time, so if any of these interest you, feel free to check them out!  This is my first year doing a lot of these types of challenges, having only completed a 5×5 (playing 5 different games 5 times each), so trying to complete all of these will certainly present a new… challenge.

Continue reading “Gaming Challenges, or How to “Game” Gaming”

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?