Friday, February 25, 2011

Tanks for the Memories: Memoir '44

My wife and I find, by and large, that most of Days of Wonder's games are pretty fantastic. They make quality games with quality components. Their art and design are impeccable. Seriously. Just take a look at Pirate's Cove, Small World, Mystery of the Abbey, Ticket to Ride... these are all beautiful games. Whether or not you like a given one will, of course, depend upon your taste, but I believe any gamer would be hard-pressed to say there wasn't at least one of their games that they just love. Case in point: Memoir '44.

Days of Wonder Memoir, 44'Memoir '44 is solid. Opening the box, a lot of you my age will probably be hit with a little nostalgia to see lots of little green army men (or blue, for the Germans). The basic set includes Infantry, Tanks and Artillery for each side, plus battlefield accessories like sandbags, hedgehogs and bridges. And terrain tiles. Loads of terrain tiles. Hills, forests, hedgerows, rivers... stacks and stacks of hexes to recreate whatever terrain you want. The sheer number of components are impressive, in and of themselves.

Memoir '44 was made by Richard Borg and uses his Command & Colors system. Each player has a hand of command cards, most of which designate a a third of the board (left flank, center, right flank) and a type or number of units. When units attack, special dice are rolled to determine the outcome. If you roll the unit type or a wild, you destroy a model in the unit. Other Command & Color games' dice will be a little different, but in Memoir their six sides are Soldier (x2), Tank, Grenade (wild), Retreat and Star (special). Destroying the last model in a unit garners a victory point, and most basic scenarios end when a victory point total is reached. It is a simple system that is easily accessible, resolves quickly and keeps the game moving.

The game comes with some premade scenarios that are designed to emulate battles of World War II. And this is where it breaks with a lot of board games... the sides are not necessarily evenly matched. I like this, actually... it provides perspective on warfare. None of them are so unbalanced that they are not fun, though. I personally love the historical background on them, and it engages you to try to succeed where your side actually failed, or to try to get history to repeat. There's a lot to learn from this game, and it is no small wonder that this is used in some classrooms to teach the history of WWII.

The game itself is very expandable, as well. My wife and I picked up several of these. There's the Eastern Front, the Mediterranean Theater, the Pacific Theater, the Air Pack, terrain boards, scenarios... I don't think that there are many WWII battles that you absolutely could not approximate with this games. Additionally, there's the Campaign Book, a great supplement that has a couple players play a series of battles, with prior battles influencing future ones. Mostly, that involves troop setup. But sometimes, one side winning or losing a battle will trigger a different next battle. Angie and I played through two different campaigns and had a great time; this is one of our favorite games.

When Angie told me about this game, I was originally a little "meh" about it; more than a little Axis & Allies baggage, likely. I wasn't sure that I would like what would for sure be a extremely long game. But from the first game, we absolutely loved this. I cannot count how many hours we have spent playing this since picking it up shortly after its 2004 release. Oddly enough, my wife likely could. This stands out as the only game she has logged every play of (on the Days of Wonder website). And the play time (usually about an hour) allowed us to quickly switch sides and play out the same scenarios again. Yes, we like it that much. I can remember now how we were so excited that the Air Pack was coming out that we called quite a few stores around the state before locating one an hour away to pick this up at. It's just that excellent.

My verdict on this game is that it is a perfect fusion of a wargame and a boardgame. Borg's Command & Colors system is simple and elegant, allowing turns to progress without bogging down. I love it, my wife loves it. This is a game I am looking forward to introducing my daughter to, as well... the only barrier right now is reading. The cards require a little more reading than Katie is capable of, but I think maybe sometime next year (possibly later this year!) will be the right time to try it out. I've already seen a blog post from someone else whose five year old played another Command & Colors-based game. Exciting!

Wednesday, February 23, 2011


by Katie

Hi blog readers! This is a post I wrote a while back, and we forgot to post it! I love this game so much so I wanted to tell you all about it. The one thing you should know about Elfenland is that it is cool but it is hard but it is fun but also it's enjoyable and sometimes it's frusterating, but I love it. It's all those things, so if you play it just remember that!


How you play: First out you have 8 cards. Now I’ll pretend that these are my 8 cards. The first player gets the card with this guy on it, the first player card. Then you go around taking turns to pick out 4 tokens. The tokens are what you use to put out on the board to show where you can travel. The tokens you pick should match the cards in your hand or you won’t be able to go anywhere. The starting player starts traveling, they move their boot first. How you move your boot is first you pay cards to move along the tokens that you already put out. You pay depending on how many symbols are on the card for where you want to go. It doesn’t matter who put out the token you use to get places. You can use anybody’s token to get places. When you get to a place that has a marker of your color then you get to take it and put it in front of you. If you get the most markers of your color you’re the winner.

What I like best: The thing I like best about the game is getting almost all my markers
What I liked least: The thing that I liked the least is that I didn’t win. Just that
What was hard: The hard part of the game was trying to get a token when you have to draw from the pile and you want it to be a pig but sometimes it is something different.
What was easy: The easy part of the game is picking out a token from the face up pile, even if it’s upside down
How much I like it: 120-190-106. That means I like it almost as much as Zooloretto, the animal game I wrote about before.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Fighting With Style

by Angie
Yomi is a card based fighting game by Sirlin Games that we picked up recently and have been enjoying quite a bit. We got the Complete First Edition, which contains all 10 character decks and some extras that make storing and playing the game easy and pretty. The premise behind the game is that each player takes on the role of a specific character in the Fantasy Strike universe to compete in fighting tournaments, and it’s modeled after classic video  fighting games such as Street Fighter 2. I love it that this designer is creating an Intellectual Property (IP) with his games, and working to expand a world and tell a story throughout several games (Yomi, Puzzle Strike, and Flash Duel). Inventing and representing an IP through board/card games is something that has always intrigued me, and this series seems to have hit the ground running and made quite an impact ‘round the ‘net so far. Since this is a game I was very very excited to get and has been a frequent flyer at our gaming table lately, I figured I might as well chime in and share my thoughts.
Yomi: Complete First Edition

Yomi plays relatively quick, while still providing a good amount of strategic decision making. This is an important consideration for us right now, with game time at a premium. We want to play something that feels satisfying but doesn’t take hours. It seems like Yomi matches take about 15 minutes or so, and a couple matches in a row seems to provide a high level of satisfaction for us. Each character sports a unique deck, and they all play differently. Simplified, the combat consists of round after round of picking a fighting move, revealing it, and comparing the results to deal damage. The goal is to take out all your opponent’s life points. The combat is resolved through a circular mechanic where attacks beat throws, throws beat blocks and dodges, and blocks and dodges beat attacks. The two main elements of gameplay are figuring out what your character does well and how to do it, while also trying to figure out what your opponent is going to do. That’s it, except the game is so much more than that.
The Complete First Edition; 10 decks, 2 play mats, life counters, deluxe rulebook, awesome storage box with good art.

Yomi is a game with STYLE. Through the careful attention to character design and balance, the gorgeous art, and the clever execution of the theme, Yomi hits the sweet spot of what games should be. In his book The Art of Game Design (a personal favorite book of all time, and one you'll likely hear more about from me), author Jesse Schell describes the idea of looking at a game through the “Lens of Essential Experience” and states “As a game designer trying to design an experience, your goal is to figure out the essential elements that really define the experience you want to create, and find ways to make that part of your game design”. It’s brilliant really, rather than trying to recreate the whole of a concept, it is sometimes better to take out those elements that define the experience… the pieces that stick out in your memory as essential… and focus on finding ways to experience those in the game.  It feels like Yomi was designed with this in mind, capturing the essence of its genre. What do you want to do in a fighting game? Power-up and land devastating combos, outmaneuver and outthink your opponent, use your special moves in clever ways, and get cool visuals… and that’s what this game is about. Is it the perfect game for everyone? No way… no game ever will be. But this game does what it does very well.
Combos! Combos are the heart of all fighting games. You can button mash until you are blue in the face, but the skilled player is the one who hits the right buttons in the right sequence at the right time. In Yomi, you can chain moves together with careful planning to create powerful combos, but you’ve always got to be alert for what your opponent is doing. Is it the right time to unleash your powerful combo attack, or will it just be dodged? Each card has two moves on it, and can be rotated to do either one based upon player choice. Additionally each card is numbered and suited like a poker deck. Cards are a finite resource, and you don’t want to waste them on moves that don’t connect. In addition, you can use sets of cards to “power up” and search for your ultimate move cards (Aces). Do you want to use that 7 as a throw or a block, keep it in hopes of a combo, discard it for a character special move, or discard the pair of them to search up an Ace?  Interesting choices are a core part of this game, and how you use your cards matters.
According to the game’s designer, Yomi means “reading” in Japanese, and in this game the concept is applied to “reading” your opponent. Trying to figure out what the other player will chose is a huge consideration when playing and planning your own moves. Each character deck has it’s own strengths and weaknesses which are represented in the frequency, speed, and power of their moves. When playing against a character that is very skilled at throws (lots of throw cards available) it’s more risky to choose block or dodge. Each move has a counter, nothing is “ultimate”, so there’s always a consideration.

Decks can be bought in 2-packs instead of the whole set. See the variety in card pictures, amazing!
As if all that wasn’t enough to consider, characters have unique special moves on their character card that helps define the way the player experiences the world, and several cards in each deck also have character specific powers that you can activate by discarding that card (instead of using it for a fighting move). The characters have been extensively playtested and really seem to be balanced against each other. The imbalance in a game of Yomi will be in player skill, strategy, and comprehension of how to best utilize their available options… with a hint of luck. Luck is a good thing, the random nature of cards provides for an interesting mental puzzle that changes each game. Your options at any given time will be different based upon your cards, so there isn’t that rigid definition of an optimal play that doesn’t change from game to game. In Yomi you’ll be playing very differently as Lum, the Gambling Panda than you would be as Rook, the Stone Guardian. They are designed to feel special and unique, and their individual moves keep things dynamic and interesting. It’s a game where I constantly feel conflicted between trying any given matchup “just one more time” or trying out a new combo of characters.  
Yes, each character has multiple special moves with awesome art like this one!

The final element of this game that just makes it pop is the art and design. Each character has detailed and beautiful art on the card, especially the face cards. Those special moves really feel special, they are beautifully illustrated and capture that artistic style and feel that defines the fighting game genre. The attention to detail in this game is amazing, and “small” things like the unique design for each deck’s card back really enhance the experience of each character and set the tone. Every time I shuffle the cards and deal out a hand I think “Wow, cool”. Video games often reward players with neat animations and special effects when something epic like a finishing move happens, and this is the closest analog I have seen to that experience. My 5 year old daughter is too young to read all the cards in Yomi, but she loves to just play card games like Crazy 8’s or Go Fish with these decks because they have pretty art and “look cooler than our other cards”, plus it’s fun to pick out which character we’ll be playing with each time.
To sum up, Yomi is a game that is simple to learn with depth to grow. It’s an elegant design that captures the essential experience it was designed to deliver. It is beautiful and even more importantly, it’s fun. Yomi is a game with genuine style, and I’m impressed.
Amazingly enough, I could say more... but I won't. Yet. If you have any thoughts or questions, feel free to leave a comment! We love comments, honest!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

The Putting Things Back Together Post

by Katie

The stack of games Katie has been organizing! What a helper!!!
I’ve been organizing games a lot and I’ve been having a lot of fun with it. I’m really good at organizing games! One of them is still out, but I’m working on it because I’m bagging everything up. It has a lot of little pieces. What happened is Jack was dumping games a lot, so I’m trying to reorganize them and fix them up.  First I get a box off the shelf, and if the pieces are all messed up I sort them out.  After I sort them I put the pieces back in their card holders or in the trays if they are chips or whatever. Then I get some baggies, and put all the things of the same type that don’t have anywhere to go in one baggie. I just go through and do that again and again until everything is all sorted and put away nicely. We’re also check the constructions (*instructions!) to see what the game is supposed to have, then we look at the game pieces very carefully and make sure everything is there. If some pieces are missing or lost we look for them or try to find something else to replace it. Like dice or whatever. We get them out of our loose game pieces box. Then I put them all back together.  Then I move on to another game. I’m doing this to help take care of our games and be a big helper for mom and dad. Also it’s fun to look at all the pieces!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Still Gamin'!

Hey, folks! Sorry about the lack of updates. With Angie wrapping up her Master's degree in Education, things have been in a turmoil hereabouts. I thought I would chime in with a quick post on what we've been playing during this time. We have slipped in some time for gaming... can't leave that out!

1. Puzzle Strike: Bag of Chips (Sirlin Games)

Puzzle StrikePuzzle Strike is a real gem of a game- literally! You know those games for consoles or computers that have you breaking gems, like Bejeweled or Puzzle Quest? Puzzle Strike is sort of like an analog version of that.I almost said "board game", but there's no board. It has a Dominion-like "deckbuilding" mechanic... although you're not building a deck, you are instead buying chips that you will draw from a bag. Players each have a gem pile that is growing, and, if left unchecked, will cause you to lose. Every turn, you add another to the pile. You use your chips to perform "fighting combos" that usually result in you breaking gems and sending them to your opponent's pile. What makes it really interesting is that you each play a character. There are ten characters to play, and each has three unique character chips. The game is a blast, and is rapidly becoming one of our favorite games. Angie and I have yet to play it more than two player, but I'm certain that it will translate well to multiplayer.

2. Yomi (Sirlin Games)

Yomi: Complete First EditionYomi is also a fighting game, and uses the same ten characters that Puzzle Strike does. They're both set in the Fantasy Strike universe. Yomi: The Complete First Edition primarily consists of ten 54-card decks. The decks have poker numbers and suits, and can each be used as a standard poker deck, including jokers. Perhaps the first thing you would notice about this game is the art. The art is fantastic, and will remind you somewhat of the Street Fighter franchise. Each deck has about 15 excellent pieces of art, plus a unique card back for each character. The game play is pretty simple. Each player selects a card, that will either be a Throw, Block, Dodge or Attack. You reveal them and compare: Attack beats Throw, Throw beats Block/Dodge, Block/Dodge beats Attack. Sort os a Rock-Paper-Scissors thing. Once you determine the winner of the reveal phase, you can potentially play other cards to combo. You then subtract damage and go to the next round. Okay, there's more than that; I'm simplifying. But as with Puzzle Strike, each of the 10 characters feels different and has their own powers. This game is worth checking out.

3. Summoner Wars: Phoenix Elves vs. Tundra Orcs and Guild Dwarves vs. Cave Goblins (Plaid Hat Games)

Summoner Wars Elves v. OrcsSummoner Wars Dwarves v. GoblinsAnother game we picked up was Summoner Wars. What I like about this game is that when you're done playing, you feel like you've played a strategy game... in 30 minutes. Yes, it's pretty short (at least in our playthroughs). But it feels very wargamey. It is played with decks, each deckj representing a faction. Each box has two factions. We liked the Phoenix Elves vs. Tundra Orcs so much we rushed out and bought the Guild Dwarves vs. Cave Goblins a couple days later. It's played on a grid. Each player has a faction-specific starting setup. You have a main character, your summoner. Your summoner wants to take out their summoner. You use your summoner to bring in units, which move about the board and engage the other summoner's units. It's pretty simple, and each faction plays differently.


4. Ascension: Chronicle of the Godslayer (Gary Games)

Ascension Chronicle of the GodslayerI believe I spoke about this one enough in the last blog post, so I won't go on much more. A great deckbuilding game. And I want to give a shout-out to their customer service: you guys are great! Our copy was missing an Apprentice card, and when mentioned on Board Game Geek, their webmaster contacted me and remedied it. He even included a promo for my troubles! Awesome!

So, that's it. What are you playing? Let us know! And be sure to Like us on Facebook to keep up with our updates, which will be getting more frequent very soon. We promise!

Friday, February 4, 2011

Review of Ascension: Chronicle of the Godslayer

Hello! Tonight, I wanted to share my thoughts on one of the recent games in the
family recently picked this up at a local gamestore. Funds have been tight, so we
actually traded a handful of Magic cards in for store credit. Our daughter thought it
was rad that we traded five cards in for that. She said, "You traded in FIVE cards and
got that game!?! That wasn't smart of them... there's like over a hundred cards in that
box!" But... on to the game.

Ascension Chronicle of the GodslayerAs I mentioned, Ascension is a deckbuilding game. What does that mean? For those of you familiar with Dominion, this is a game using the same basic mechanic. For those of you new to the concept, here's how it goes. You start the game with a deck. A small deck. On your turn, you acquire cards for your deck. Purchased cards typically go into your discard pile, which you shuffle when you get through your deck. This adds purchasing power for better cards and easier acquisition of point cards. You shuffle a lot. The concept started with Dominion, and has been popping up in other games like Thunderstone and Ascension. It's a good mechanic, and it makes games that use it easy to teach since you begin the game with a premade deck of just a couple different kinds of  cards.

Ascension works for 2-4 players. It has a board to organize the cards. There is a deck
of characters and monsters to defeat or purchase, and some spiffy plastic crystals to
track Honor (victory points). Six cards are laid out on the board, and these are either
going to be characters which go in your deck (purchased with Runes),  monsters to defeat
(using Power) or constructs, which are cards that go through your deck that you may play
into your play area and they stay in effect indefinitely. Most characters will provide
Power and/or Runes. Runes are the currency you use to buy cards, and Power is what you
use to defeat enemies. You can buy as many characters or constructs and/or fight as many
enemies as you have the Power and Runes for in your turn.

I like this game quite a bit. It is simple. Ascension is much less of an endeavor to set
up than Dominion is. We own all the released sets for Dominion, and it really seems like
a monumental undertaking to set up. Ascension, on the other hand, just requires you to
grab a starting deck, lay out the board, shuffle the card supply and count out the Honor
crystals. The simplicity of this makes it much more likely to hit the table if just my
wife and I are playing. Additionally, the possibility of buying characters and fighting
enemies in the same turn is nice, especially compared to Thunderstone's clunky dungeon

So... anyone else have thoughts about Ascension? About deckbuilding games? Let us know!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Taking turns

by Angie

Here is a little clip of Jack playing a game with us. I am really proud of two things in this video....

First, isn't Katie the most patient big sister gamer ever? She demonstrates patience even when things look pretty grim ("Then I wont ever get a turn..") She really wants to let him explore the games, learn to love playing together, and have fun gaming. I was so proud she didn't reach over and take the dice from her brother. Go Katie!

Secondly, despite the fact that he didn't want to, Jack shared. He passed the last die over to Katie so she could have a turn... eventually! Good job buddy! We kept playing after this video, and each time around the table he was a little less reluctant to pass the turn along. He's learning, and we're proud of our little ones.

In case you missed it previously, or for more info on our philosophy about playing games with kids you can check out an archived article about it here. We're all learning to play together, and most of all having fun!

Please feel free to share your proud gaming moments with the little ones in your life, let's celebrate their developing generosity, patience, and good sportsmanship!