The review of the game-cation continues with more wonderful games we played.

Level X 61r1VVgh1WL._AA160_

This pleasant EasyPlay game got played once on Friendcation and it’s a favorite opening filler. I actually have four EasyPlay and Schmidt titles in a Ligretto Dice box (adding Finito, Level X, Numeri) that I always bring on holiday with me. Level X is a winner with a fair amount of luck but there are definitely some good choices and strategies. As it happens, this is the first game I’ve played with no bonus tiles awarded in probably 15-20 plays. Sadly, I think it’s out of print now – even Amazon.de has it for about 45 euro. It’s good but that’s quite a chunk of change for a twenty-minute filler.

Loopin’ Louie x10 A1cDZGmhpqL._SL1500_

It’s a kid’s game, you say. Sure it is. But I can tell you that most of the smartest gamer designers I know also have a great time playing this hilariously fun and silly game.

During my game-cation, we played two tournaments with the family, neither of which I won despite them happening on my birthday (Louie was not kind). Tournament play means you must win with a single chicken disc left – if you win with more, you play the next and remaining rounds with one fewer disc each time until you win with only one or the others catch up and win instead.

looping-chewie-2-teaser_largeI’m glad to hear that the US is getting Loopin Chewie later this year and I kind of love that they’re making it three-player only. That keeps the original Louie to four (and Barn Buzzin’ Goofy as the woeful two-player version that could get tedious). Yeah, I know there was this ‘bee’ version but it’s said to be awful on pure physics. Loopin’ Louie is available in the US currently, but that could change quickly so order now.

Love Letter – Batman619McEzHqhL

Despite the bone-headed marketing fail of promoting “LOVE LETTER” on a game themed to Batman, at least this version adds an extra rule (gain a token when capturing a ‘bad guy’) which is most of the cards. Enjoyed by the pool quickly and I could see enjoying it again. That rule could easily be applied to the other editions of the game, moving it along even quicker. Still a small wonder of a design.

Lowendynastiepic202855_t

This wacky Adlungspiele trick-taker didn’t go over super well (its marriage tricks a unique idea) but I was glad to play this quirky little item again during Friendcation. The marriage tricks let you add a second trick to a round by matching an ‘opposite sex’ card when it is your turn to play (sorry, folks – the lion world of Lowendynastie doesn’t have same-sex marriage yet – although it’s an idea for a variant!), which can also resolve the round. A terrific little game for which I just increased my rating.

The Majority 81tLjhSPr+L._SL1500_

A small press pass-draft game with some interesting elements. It was played while we transitioned from gaming in our room to a pool while on Friendcation but I still found more to like in it. Ninja Star Games did a good job with this one, featuring distinctive art and clever game play that I’m still finding intriguing (and I haven’t even touched the many expansions). Essentially, you partner with another player with four (where it shines) and try to garner second place in each of three suits through careful play that includes a variety of special cards. The game feels familiar but also new. You can find it on Amazon.

Numeripic586429_t

The only other EasyPlay game we broke out during the Friendcation, Numeri ended up showing its potential for randomness ruining the day but, to be fair, the most experienced player who knew the strategy won so…

Palastgeflusterpic260102_t

A minor item for the Adlungspiele world, PG is an okay set collector that feels a little like Guildhall. Alas, it’s more of the same kind of collect cards and use their abilities to manipulate how you collect them. Guildhall is a bit more interesting (also more expensive and there are more pieces) and I think PG is going to hit the trail pile. The art is nice, though. 

Pass-Ack Words 2Q==x3

We played this once on Friendcation and twice with the kids at home. A simple twist on Password (with you giving the ‘worst’ clues to your opposing team), we had a lot of fun with it and are still playing it with the kids now the following week. It’s on Amazon – get it!

pic249632_lgPool Position

An older FX Schmidt game I picked up specifically for Friendcation, Pool Position has the trappings of its time: some random elements that can frustrate despite their balance, not a lot of choices, etc. Still, it was amusing to play while we were fighting for pool spots in real life. Not sure we need it but it may earn a place on the ‘seasonal games’ shelf.

Red Dragon Inn91PV9W4v5jL._SL1500_ (1 & 2)

As always, this game was amusing but longer than expected. Might need to house rule it down to 30-40 minutes so it doesn’t overstay its welcome. As a take-that, goofy-themed, and decidedly American-style game where (horrors!) you draw cards at THE BEGINNING of your turn, this shouldn’t work for me. But I like it – maybe mostly because it’s a natural drinking game since the object of the game is actually to, um, drink your friends under the table. Sadly, despite playing on Friendcation, we played without booze! The whole series is available on Amazon.

Red781wbjYrCXjL._SL1500_ x3

Received this welcome gift and then played it twice while celebrating birthdays, then again at Duck Club. Simple and it takes 5-10 minutes but it’s a clever one where you need to be winning at the end of your turn (during which you can play up to two cards – one to your tableau and one to potentially change the rules). Remember how I lamented the set collection/do something with the cards thing on Palastgefluster up above? Scratch that here. Red7 is a delight. BUY IT NOW ON AMAZON.

Roll For The Galaxy81LLUVpgb0L._SL1500_

After years of play testing it, Roll finally came out and Wei-Hua did a great job shoring it up. As the last game of our birthday celebration, we enjoyed the nice components, simple rules (especially for Race players), and a quick play-time suggests this could replace Race For the Galaxy in my heart (maybe).

In a way, Roll to Race feels a bit like Steam to Age of Steam. My take is that it’s a bit more flexible, less punishing for mistakes, and even though the luck of the roll may seem harsh, I find ways to manage it pretty well. Of course, I love Race and I’ve played it hundreds of times so it may partially be the newness factor (I’ve only played Roll a dozen times, perhaps) but it certainly feels like a winner. Available now on Amazon.

Solitaire for Two9k=-1

Silly title but this six-suited version of Solitaire works with groups up to four. I liked it, but mainly for the chunky, Mahjong-y tiles and since I played it mostly solo (my son was looking on and making suggestions), I’ll need to check and see how the cooperative version works. Also, did I mention those smooth, wonderful tiles? #componentlove

It’s quite reasonably priced on Amazon.

July and December are my favorite months because I take a break from work during these months. I mean, a real break from email, side projects, and the long hours I put in at the office. Don’t get me wrong – I actually love my job. But sometimes you need to unwind and board games are always part of that for me.

The beginning of July has marked our Friendcation for the last six years. This is an opportunity to go spend a few days with friends at a resort so we can dine, hang out, and play some games. This year was no exception and I played a ton of games both while away and during a couple of other sessions I was able to get together. I’m posting a few different updates with my capsule comments on games both new-to-me and old favorites that I wanted to briefly ruminate on in this extended session report.

81H3dpSEROL._SL1472_Podcast? Oh, there might just be a couple on the way…

Bang: The Walking Dead – Just Bang with the Walking Dead theme (comic version). Eh. We love the Walking Dead but Bang is a game whose time has passed (at least for me). I now see that they have a Walking Dead version of Bang: The Dice Game, which I find a bit more appealing. But how many times do I need to buy this game. It’s available on Amazon or see my trade list and get mine!

Blue Moon City – I still love this 2007 Reiner Knizia title, one of the last of his that was universally respected, with semi-51oXWtcQPSL._SY450_cooperative elements. Played at Duck Club in Irvine on a copy that I’m happy to have acquired for the Strategicon library. Play it at Gamex 2015! A wonderful game but too expensive on Amazon.

Caffeine Rush51uenX5wwNL – Real-time game of drawing and placing cards on ‘orders between you and another player. This one will work well with a party crowd or casual gamers (it plays up to 6). My wife, the only one at the table with actual barista experience, won the game – and that annoyed the heck out of her. Cute but likely a trade pile item purely on her sensitivity. You find it reasonably priced on Amazon or, again, trade with me (locals, please).

Castles of Mad King Ludwig Castles-Cover-1000x1000– Another play of this fine game that I still fear will be awful with an AP player. Thankfully, we didn’t have that when we played while on Friendcation but we had more completed Sleeping Rooms (which extends the game) than I’ve ever seen.

There is much said about the similarity to Suburbia (hey, game designer and YouTube star Dave Arnott calls it “SirBurbia”) but I find them sufficiently different that it’s worth owning both. I think Suburbia can overwhelm some casual players (although, in fairness there, my own wife was a playtester on it and she enjoyed it a great deal) so I break out Castles of Mad King Ludwig more often. I’m looking forward to the Secrets expansion later this year (bummed to have missed it at the Gathering of Friends due to new players at our table the one time I played it there). Buy it on Amazon because I wouldn’t dare trade my copy – it’s too much fun.

Dead Man’s Draw – A simple press-your-luck game with a pirate theme, DMD was pleasant enough to play a couple of times but I don’t need to own it. Fun for Talk Like A Pirate Day. Amazon has it and you can also buy the International Tabletop Day Edition, apparently.

Dead of Winter (played x2 during game-cation) 61t3z0Oak1L._SX425_– Once on Friendcation, once at the July Birthday event. We managed a betrayal-free win in the former but Bernie revealed late in the game on the latter, foiling our victory because we took an extra requirement from a Crossroads card. A darn good game, even if it’s outside my usual game type. Amazon has it, although it’s cheaper elsewhere.

Deep Sea Adventure x4 51VN++3Y2WL._SL1000_– Twice on Friendcation, Duck Club, and once at the July Birthday party. I never win this game of treasure diving but I still will always play it. I adore the visual design of the Oink Games titles and even though I didn’t like Maskmen, I kind of want all of their titles just to enjoy the art. The games are good, too. DSA is now on Amazon!

Diabolo 511KnPWULML._AA160_– A Michael Schacht item I believe I’ve only played once so I forgot how it played. One of classic games with minimal rules but interesting tactical choices. The US edition from Playroom is called In Limbo and it’s on Amazon.

Dungeon of Mandomdom_image03The Oink edition matches their aesthetic so I needed to have it. A press-your-luck, trash-talking delight, Mandom is getting better with each play. Now available as Welcome to the Dungeon from iELLO, who make some lovely games so I’m sure their version is great.

The Gamepic2405167_md – Still trying to figure out how this hard-to-find on BGG game got an SDJ nomination (other than wanting to give the publisher exposure). It’s an okay version of collaborative 23 that goes up to (and down from) 100 with ugly, unfriendly death & skulls artwork in red and black. This is an ideal family game? I think it’s maybe more fun as a solo game but we played it by the pool with a 6 Nimmt deck since I sold off my official copy. Pandasaurus Games is, however, bringing it to the US in all its ugly glory. 

Glass Road91XFnVT6aIL._SL1500_A terrific game that I’m glad to play anytime. We opened Friendcation with it. This is light Uwe Rosenberg by modern standards (remember, this talented designer also did Bohnanza, Mamma Mia, and Klunker!) but I love it for the quick play time coupled with interesting decisions. Pick up this winner on Amazon.

Greed x261WuR-JsA2L._SX425_ – Twice we played this “Gamer Sushi Go” from Donald X Vaccarino of Dominion and Kingdom Builder fame while celebrating birthdays. The mechanisms are nothing new – a pass-draft and simultaneous reveal. 7 Wonders comparisons abound but the real touchstone is Fairy Tale (which pre-dates the others for this mechanism), which had this kind of card interaction. That said, Greed is more direct than FT and it was enjoyed by all – at least two of our players said it was an instant buy and you can do that, too, on Amazon.

Letters from Whitechapel 51v+aH3WzjL._SY450_– After being disappointed by Specter Ops, I was glad this hidden movement game was much more interesting and satisfying. While our game ran a bit long due to learning and some slow play, I’m very happy to own this one and will play it again soon. I think the different tracks for Jack and the victims versus the investigators is a key part of what makes it intriguing. Amazon has it and it’s a great game for this genre.

That’s it for now. More to come (second half of the alphabet) later this week. Until then, remember – it’s only a game.

xlogoFirst, congratulations to all the nominees and recommended titles. I’m glad the Spiel Des Jahres continues to be a source of promotion for the hobby, even if it rarely is considered the ultimate arbiter of quality by serious gamers. The inclusion of the Kennerspiel (Complex Game) category is certainly welcome but even there, serious gamers have had some issues with the jury’s definition of ‘complex.’

But let’s get to our story – like many of you, I was watching closely for reports of the Spiel Des Jahres 2015 nominees last week and was excited to see that two of the nominees were games on my radar that I’d pegged as likely nominees. Conveniently enough, I have played all three games and I’ve acquired them so I can play them with my old group of friends who take a game holiday in early July. We love to get our own comparison going and then see what the Spiel Des Jahres jury decides. So, what are the nominees?

Colt Express

This amusing train robbery game has 2-6 players battling out to be the most successful Colt Express Board Gamethief on a 3-D train you construct. Players program cards from a fixed personal deck into a central deck (like one of my favorites – Mamma Mia and other similar games) that is then resolved in order, with players hoping that whatever they programmed goes off as expected – which is often not the case due to the action of the others. Players steal gems from the various trains, shoot each other to place space-filling bullets into the decks, and try to lure the Marshall over to hit their opponents.

Colt Express gets some criticism for a lack of control but gamers will want to immediately graduate to the ‘advanced rules’ which let you cycle through your cards rather than having a completely random draw each turn (making it possible for players to have almost no turn at all). I think the designer made a mistake in not calling this the normal game. While the basic rules are easier, I can see how people could be hugely frustrated by it.

On components alone, Colt Express would have a good shot. But based on the fun of the game, its approachability (we played it with a third-grader and he almost won), and the seeming interest in this theme lately, I feel like Colt Express is the front-runner. It’s available now through Amazon.

The Game

This title from the same designer of Qwixx was the surprise on the short-list for me. While, like the Oscars, the same designers seem to get an increased shot at the big awards if they previously missed them, I thought Qwixx was a fun game but didn’t expect it to earn the designer, Steffan Benndorf, another go at the big time. But here it is.pic2405167_md

The Game is funny to me in that the comparisons to Hanabi make me think maybe he decided to build his own version of the game that edged him out of his big moment. Could be – there are some elements of similarity for sure; player collaboratively discard/play cards to stacks. But the closer comparison is probably 23, a pleasant little game which plays quicker and competitively. Players discard cards (ranked 2 to 99) to one of four stacks, two of which are ascending from 1 and two of which are descending from 100. Play one per turn from a hand and the twist is that if you get a card exactly 10 higher/lower than the top card on a stack, you can play it going the opposite way (i.e., play 49 on 59 for an ascending stack). That’s about it. Also, the art is grim/dark and feels kind of odd for such a light family-style game (which should have probably kept it out of the running for the SDJ).

With those in mind, I find The Game to be only okay and I think it’s a long-shot at best to win (unless the politics of giving the award to a smaller, independent publisher win out. The Game is kind of hard to get (and to find on BGG…just search for “The Game” and “Kannst”) at the moment but I got my own copy from TimeWellSpent Games.

Machi Koro

This little dice-rolling, city-builder is the one I have had for the longest. I’ve played it many times and have also invested in the Harbor expansion, which many gamers insist is necessary to properly enjoy the game. While I agree that the basic game grows old quickly, even the Harbor expansion has its own problems. But if you play with the Harbor expansion and a variant that gives you one row of 1-6 cards and a second one of Machi Koro Spiel Des Jahres7+ (also limiting the often annoying ‘6’ cards to one per player), Machi Koro is a lot of fun. As you can see, even our cat gets into it.

Machi Koro‘s chances are solid but I think Colt Express will likely take the prize on pure component fun. Some have suggested that awarding Machi Koro makes sense because it would acknowledge the wonderful microgame revolution coming out of Japan right now. I think the way to award that would have been tossing it to Love Letter but Machi is more the style of the Spiel Des Jahres.

Still, Machi is a bunch of cards and a couple of dice. Colt Express has freaking 3-D trains and Banditeeeples. It’s going to be tough to beat. You can buy Machi Koro on Amazon right now. Also, I strongly recommend the Harbor expansion – also available on Amazon immediately.

Recommended61qsOu8xr7L

What do I think belonged in that spot for The Game?

Cacao from Sushi Go designer Phil Walker-Harding seems like the most obvious choice. It’s a pleasant gateway game with a nice theme, good components (though nothing eye-popping like Colt’s 3-D train or last year’s winner Camel Up with it’s dice-pooping pyramid), and family-friendly theme and feel.

I would have loved to have seen Bezier Games’ One Night Ultimate Werewolf in there, too. Although this version of the perennial party game Werewolf plays in 5 minutes, it would be a nice
addition to the game collections of families that just buy the Spiel Des Jahres winner each year. We’ve played it a bunch of times and it definitely has both that ‘let’s play again!’ feel and serious replay value with all of the characters included (and there’s more in the excellent expansion).

I need to try the rest of the list and will. Only Patchwork was on my ‘must-try’ list but now they all are.

Other Awards from the SDJ Jury

I’d note that I had no idea on the Kinderspiel at all and I had far too long a list of Kennerspiel possibilities but I will be back when I have finished playing all of them later this summer.

I haven’t played any of them Broom Service is based on Witch’s Brew, which I think it terrific. I’m also quite keen to play Elysium, having enjoyed previous games from Brett Gilbert (Divinare is an underrated gem), and Orleans has so much positive hype that I almost want to ask people to start lowering my expectations! When I get a chance to try them all, I’ll be back to report on them.

IMG_9143Yes, it’s been a pretty quiet patch of time here at Boardgame Babylon. I’ve been quite busy for…well…the last couple of years. When I changed jobs a couple of years back, I took on a role that consumes more time but in a good way because it’s an exciting company, the podcast took a hit. Furthemore, I’ve been focusing on my non-gaming gaming time being devoted to completion of various board game designs that I have in the works. Again, the podcast took a hit.

Late last year, however, I had a decision that my deep involvement with Strategicon Conventions here in Southern California would take the next hit. It has – I’m now just an advisor to the Strategicon Library and I found a good fellow to take over running that part of the show (after also shedding my roles as the head of the Board Games CEvp7rRUUAAguvV.jpg-largedepartment, the Special Guests Director, and a few other things). This has given me back some family time and freed me up for potentially more conventions at a distance where I can take my game designs for more exposure. I only went to about half of The Gathering of Friends this year due to some work issues but I got some opportunities to play test there and got some good feedback for continuing with our two main games in development, Theme Park and Cosplay Contest (formerly Cosplay Grab).

What does that mean for the podcast? I wish I could say it means I will do them more often. I have at least a half dozen that are just sitting around and waiting on an edit. I have a handful of new ideas for shows (although I gave a list away to a podcasting buddy, too – that’s okay, ideas are not a problem for me) and the inclination will come back at some point. I do love podcasting but I’m also reminded that when I started nearly a decade ago, it was in response to a callout from Mark Johnson’s Boardgames To Go for more podcasts on the hobby. I answered that call at a time when there weren’t many (Mark’s, Geekspeak, Dice Tower, a couple more). Now, the board game podcasts are legion and so I’m not feeling any obligation to be part of the media, even though I still love to talk about the hobby.

For now, I’m writing the occasional blog post (one from The Gathering is coming and another from TableTop Day at Geek & Sundry) when the mood strikes and I’m still updating Facebook and Twitter rather a lot, if you live in those spaces. The formats suit my too-busy lifestyle since the short-form is often the only form I have time to fill in these days.CFGhO3tUgAEEB7D.jpg-large

However, I’m also saving up material for a book on hobby gaming. It’s a ways off and won’t be properly compiled until Theme Park, Cosplay Contest, and at least one other game in the works get out there. But it’s coming – already half a dozen chapters are written in formats that were too long for the blog. Stay tuned.

In the meantime, if you’re in SoCal for Gamex 2015 this weekend, I will be there for Friday night and pretty late. But then I’ll spend the rest of the long holiday weekend with family and in my secret lab, tweaking Theme Park tiles and forcing my closest cohorts to play it again and again.

 

RPG-2009-Berlin-2

In a way, I’m surprised I bothered to read this book.

I haven’t really played role-playing games since the 80’s, when I was in high school. But in the last year, my teenage son had expressed an interest in playing them just to give it a try. So, we tried a 4th Edition D&D game with a friend and, despite the earnest effort on the part of our awesome DM, it wasn’t for my son or me. A long time and little action. Yawn-tastic. Later, at the urging of the same trusted and great friend, I played an ‘indie RPG’ and it was also not at all for me. We have, however, had fun playing Descent (well, the one time) and have actually had a really enjoyable time playing Mice & Mystics from Plaid Hat Games with our friend and his elementary school age son. Since my son thinks of our friend’s son as a kind of little brother, he’s having fun spending time with him even if the M&M game is more geared to the younger crowd.

All this RPG-like activity led me to pick up Ewalt’s book, Of Dice and Men: The Story of Dungeons & Dragons and The People Who Play It, and I’d hoped for a good history of the game’s origin, which I knew little about. I knew Gary Gygax was the man and then he wasn’t the man so much, that Wizards of the Coast swallowed up TSR when they were in dire straits, only to sell the whole shebang to Hasbro a couple of years later. But that’s about it.

The book, which is ridiculously cheap on Amazon.com.

The book, which is ridiculously cheap on Amazon.com.

Unfortunately, Ewalt’s book is decidedly gonzo (I shouldn’t say this in a negative way since I tend towards the same) and is much more about him than about the game. Sure, you get a serviceable account of the early days of TSR/D&D that worked well enough when it stayed on point. Sadly, the book is dominated more by Ewalt’s geek-guilt, professions of love for the game, and tiresome ‘fantasy interludes’ written in italics that document the D&D game he’s playing in. I think there’s an ancient joke about how much fun it is to hear about another person’s RPG games and reading about them is even worse. Tracy Hickman he is not and when I read the title of the book, I did not expect so much of it to be devoted to this doofus and his adventures in desperately finding D&D games when he travels, his brief exploration of LARPs, and his eventual attempt to DM a game himself.

When the book sticks to the history and the fun encounters the author has when he makes a few pilgrimages to D&D’s historical locations (Lake Geneva, Gary Con, and some other things I can’t recall), it’s good and pretty breezy. But I had to push hard to get through the chapters when he went on and on about his game, his goofy obsession with it, and shame over being such a dork. It’s 2015, dude, D&D dorks are everywhere. Your geek guilt just seems silly now.

In the end, I found myself skipping over the hard-to-read italicized adventures and stuck to the history. I’d advise readers interested in learning about the history of the game to do the same. Helpfully, Ewalt suggests some more on-point books at the end of the tome and I’m toying with the idea of reading one of those but not right now. I think I’ve had enough D&D for the time being and it’s back to the board game table with me.

Launching As A Kickstarter Project – Featuring As Many As 100 Plastic Miniatures

New Jersey, USA – January 19, 2015 

Stronghold Games is proud to announce Space Cadets: Away Missions, the third standalone game in the Space Cadets franchise of cooperative and team space-themed games.

Space Cadets: Away Missions is a cooperative, scenario-based, tactical action game set in the Goldenunnamed-6 Age of science fiction, making it a thematic prequel to the first two Space Cadets games. In this game, players take on the roles of adventurous human spacemen (“Rocketeers”) who explore UFOs, acquire alien technology and fight hordes of hostile extraterrestrials.

Each turn, Rocketeers spend action points on activities such as firing atomic rifles, analyzing exotic equipment, or subduing the malicious Brain-in-a-Jar. When the Rocketeers are finished, the Aliens take their turns by following simple movement and combat protocols. Seven types of hostile Aliens threaten the Rocketeers, from the repulsive Mind Leeches to the rampaging titanic Sentinels.

Space Cadets: Away Missions has scenarios linked in a campaign story arc. These “Away Missions” are set at various locations, feature different combinations of Aliens, and have diverse objectives for the Rocketeers to achieve. Hexagonal map tiles are arranged to form the locations, such as flying saucers, rocket ships, and space stations. Cooperation, tactical planning and a bit of luck are essential if the Rocketeers are to overcome the relentless horde of little green men.

In a departure from its previous publications, Stronghold Games will launch a Kickstarter campaign for this game, which is the most ambitious project in its 5+ years in the hobby game industry. By utilizing Kickstarter for this publication, Space Cadets: Away Missions will contain as many as 100 detailed, professionally-sculpted plastic miniatures to represent the heroic Rocketeers and the rampaging Aliens.  Stronghold Games will print this impressive project at Ludofact Germany, the leading printer of hobby games in the world, where the best-selling miniatures board games in the world also have been printed.

As an added bonus, free worldwide shipping will be offered to the Early Adopter Pledge Levels of the Kickstarter campaign for Space Cadets: Away Missions.  The project is scheduled to deliver to Kickstarter backers in August 2015.  The game will be available in retail venues at a date after it ships to all backers.

The Kickstarter for Space Cadets: Away Missions will begin within days of this announcement.

“We wanted to publish a game in our Space Cadets franchise, which not only has incredible gameplay, but also is beautiful to behold on the table”, said Stephen Buonocore, President of Stronghold Games. “With as many as 100 plastic miniatures, Space Cadets: Away Missions moves us into an entirely new market. To ensure that this market does exist for us, we are employing Kickstarter for this project only. We are using Kickstarter in the same manner as much larger companies than us have done in the past when they reached into new markets.”

About Stronghold Games LLC:

Stronghold Games LLC is a publisher of high-quality board and card games in the hobby game industry. Since 2009, Stronghold Games has released many highly-regarded games, including the best-selling “Survive: Escape From Atlantis!”, the most innovative deck-building game, “Core Worlds”, the smash-hit game line of “Space Cadets”, and its latest copublished game line “Among The Stars”.  Stronghold Games publishes great game designs developed both in-house and in partnership with European publishers. Stronghold Games LLC is a Limited Liability Company formed in the State of Delaware, USA.

In a way, I find it difficult to write review of these films about the board game industry. Having spentOne_Man_s_Quest_large most of my life in the hobby, I know it well so I can speak from an informed point of view. I certainly know some of the people involved and have attended events where they are filmed (our own Strategicon conventions here in Southern California, BGG.con, the Gathering of Friends, Spiel in Essen, etc.) so there’s an odd little connection to the subjects at hand. Plus, some of them don’t seem to be aimed at me; they are more introductory or targeted to an audience who is new to the hobby or just trying to get some insight into what our little world is like. Those documentaries serve a good purpose and I’m glad they exist.

In general, the documentary films (these geek culture ones are sometimes called ‘geekumentaries’) that appeal to me the most are those that don’t tell the story of a world in a reverential way. I like them, as they say, ‘warts and all.’ I want the films to be real in their depiction of the world inside a hobby or subculture even when it means we’ll laugh at the people a bit.

Maybe the inspiration comes from Trekkies, the geekumentary done in 1997 by Roger Nygard. I love the film so much because it is funny and it wasn’t afraid to show its participants in the direct light. I’m not a Trekkie and never was but this film gave me insight into the cult, made me laugh, and also told some stories that affected me. The film is so entertaining, I’m pretty sure I’ve seen it thrice (not common for me). Not so the sequel, which seems to have been made by someone else (it wasn’t) who wanted to dignify the subculture rather than telling real stories. I saw a similarly respectful geekumentary about Lord of the Rings fans that made it sound like these folks were leading incredibly fulfilling and worthwhile lives because they spent all this time thinking about fantasy worlds and dressing up like hobbits. I fell asleep watching it (and it wasn’t very late that night).

Maybe some people want to watch these films to get reassurance that their subculture/hobby/cult is the best, justifies their lack of success in other aspects of life or whatever but that’s not why I watch them. As I expect of any kind of art, I want to be educated in a way that isn’t just factual. I’m seeking an experience to learn more about the human condition. That’s what I love about great books, art, film, popular music, and television.

imagesThere are other good examples. The Dungeon Masters was successful in this way; the lives of the subjects were laid bare. Their hobby took a toll on what else they could do in life and yet they allowed the filmmakers to tell their stories. The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters is a rare geekumentary that achieves nirvana through a real-life plot, villains and heroes, and wonderful performances of the cast being their own crazy selves. Some of the same people have appeared in other documentaries on the subject that fell short because the filmmakers just didn’t find the human drama in the story that Seth Gordon did. The Monopoly film from a few years back did a pretty good job of this, too, although my friend Ken Koury will tell you that he is NOT the villain of the story; he’s the hero. Either way, it’s a solid yarn that draws you in. UnknownA quick mention of Monster Camp is in order as well. While LARPing has a generally high laugh-at-the-freaks factor, the film depicts the challenges these folks experience in a real way.

It’s with this high standard (and 600-word introduction) that I finally come to the film I watched last night, The Next Great American Game. Created by Douglas Morse, TNGAG tells the story of a Graphic Design professor, Randall Hoyt, trying to get his board game published. Now, I know dozens and dozens of budding designers as a result of being part of play testing groups and conventions and I thought I was sitting down to watch the struggle that I hear about all the time. I know so many talented designers who were longtime experts at games, started building games in their spare time, and eventually began the hunt for a publisher, working all the angles they could based on their long experience in the hobby.

TNGAG is not about one of those people. Instead, it’s about a guy from New Hampshire who just made a game about something that apparently interested him (um, driving in traffic) and played it with his small group of friends for about five years before packing up and heading to the biggest game convention in the US (GenCon) to pitch it to publishers. He keeps saying he’s not a designer and even expresses frustration playing eurogames (“too much thinking!”). As I watched, I could only giggle at how he did just about everything a novice game designer isn’t supposed to do: refused good feedback, failed to know his market, and showed clearly to everyone he encountered that he was waytooclose to his game (which sounds pretty lousy from a eurogamer’s perspective, despite a gorgeous prototype). Some of the publishers he seeks out are nice to him, some of them are more forthright. This part of his odyssey is perhaps funnier to me because he’s turning down advice from people that I know personally and can confirm that he should be taking notes instead of having these wacky freakouts about how they just don’t get him and the fact that he’s clearly created “The Next Great American Game” (he keeps saying that, generating a bigger laugh each time). Keep in mind that, for him, that’s a description of another Monopoly, not another Ticket to Ride or Qwirkle or Kingdom Builder. He’s thinking mass-market, $5-a-box on Black Friday stuff, not a euro that gaming snobs like me would respect (and play).

As the film progresses, you learn more about our hero, including some details about his personal life that temper the chuckles a bit. We also learn about another successful game-like product he’s created that shows a bit of why he has such confidence in his obviously under-developed game. The journey he takes as the film progresses is enjoyable to watch as he accepts more of what people suggest and starts to learn what it is going to take to actually sell his game. I won’t spoil the full progress and details of the film but I was thoroughly engrossed in his journey and recommend it for people who want to see a depiction of a human being struggling to get something done that he thinks will be easy because he worked so hard at it, only to find out the world isn’t so simple. There many times when Morse captures poignant moments that look to be spontaneous and I hope they really were. There’s some snarky fun for those who know the industry a bit. Mostly, though, it’s just a satisfying human story that I was happy to take in.

Oddly and perhaps pointing to my suspicion that Morse set out to make a different movie, the extras have Screen Shot 2015-01-17 at 6.23.37 PMa bunch of interviews with terrific game designers. Who in our hobby wouldn’t enjoy listening to Reiner Knizia, Klaus Teuber, and Alan Moon talk about games? You have something wrong with you if you don’t get drawn into Matt Leacock and Eric Lang (two of the nicest designers I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting) sheepishly interviewing each other and then finding gold in each other’s comments. I couldn’t stop smiling while watching the snippet on Antoine Bauza, another masterful designer who is an interesting interview because he’s such an expressive, smart, and interesting guy. The extras are a terrific bonus even if they feel like they are leftovers from another project. Honestly, I didn’t follow the campaign for the Kickstarter on “Adventures on the Tabletop” much. If your Kickstarter has long updates, I rarely read them unless I’m wondering where the $&#*$ my game has gone missing (a lot of that right now with the Port of Los Angeles shipping issues). Yes, I realize the hypocrisy of noting that almost 1,500 words into my rather gonzo review of The Next Great American Game. Regardless, I’m unclear as to whether a separate film called Adventures on the Tabletop that is more like those survey kind of films will be showing up in an update at some point with insight into actual game design techniques and not whatever Randall has been doing for five years. The extras (juicy and watchable Screen Shot 2015-01-17 at 6.23.25 PMas they are) suggest to me that the answer is no since Morse seems to have focused on this quirkier, more intriguing story. Thank goodness he did because TNGAG is a small wonder.

The Next Great American Game is available from the BGG store and I recommend you pick it up. Watch the preview below and then go buy it, buddy.