The Game That Only You Love...

struggleempiresby Firestone My game group tries to get together one Saturday a month for a full day of board gaming awesomeness. And every time we do we know this is a chance to play some of the longer games on our lists, or try something new, or whatever. So we all come up with lists of games that interest us, and people chime in if something sounds fun.

There's one game that is on my list every. single. month.

Struggle Of Empires.

The brilliant Martin Wallace designed this game, and though it's not better than his masterpiece, Age Of Steam, it's really, really, really good—an underrated gem.

struggletilesIt's a light conquest/war/area-control game where you're building up troops and buying improvement tiles to better your position. You always have more things to do than actions to do them, and that makes for a tense and angst-filled game. But the genius part of the game is the turn order/alliance system: You can pay gold and maneuver things so that you're allied with the person who's your biggest threat. They CAN'T attack you for that entire war (there are three wars in the game). It's so cool.

And no one in my game group likes it.

strugglemapIt's in my Top 10 games, and I can't get anyone in my group to play it! We've played it 2 or 3 times in the last 10 years it's been out. But the last time was nearly 6 years ago, and i REALLY WANT TO PLAY. But for some reason, they don't dig it. Every month it's on my list, and every month people ignore it. I put it there mostly as a joke now, because people expect it to be on the list.

Oh well. Someday...

So what about you? What is the game that only you seem to love? What game would you love to get to the table if only you could convince your friends?

Why We Play Games in My House

photo (29)By Jeremiah It occurred to me just a few nights ago while playing a prototype version of the Kickstarting Pigpen with my family, that some of the more deep and meaningful side benefits of playing games—sitting at a table instead of staring at the TV screen—were coming to fruition in my boys.

Yes, we play games in my house, quite often. We haven't relegated games to a family game night; games come out whenever we have the time, and what we play is determined by that days schedule. My schedule can be erratic at times, so it's often tough to schedule anything on a weekly reoccurring basis. So, what are these side benefits I'm speaking of?

Well, first off, because of the nature of board and card games, we are all excited to sit down, and interact with each other at the game table. It's sad, but many families today don't have time to even sit and have dinner together (which is sometimes the case in our home, although I'm glad to say this is the exception not the rule), but sitting at the game table and playing games together is something that my boys get excited about, and will actually choose over playing Skylanders or watching TV—score!

Secondly, my oldest just turned seven, and my youngest very recently turned five. My oldest is going into 1st grade in just a few weeks (where did summer go?!!?), and at the end of his kindergarten year he tested at an above-3rd-grade level in math! Now, I'd like to attribute some of that sheer genius to his genealogy, and the hard work of his mother and me to keep him on top of his academic journey and growth. But I've noticed as we've played games over the summer that we've reinforced, in a fun way, his math skills, and have seen improvement over the summer instead of him forgetting all that he's learned during the school year. I've also found myself finishing up a game with my boys, and as we are putting it away, I'll look at the box to find that it's recommended for children ages 10, 12, 13 years and up! Again, they're smart because of the gene pool they come from. But I think we can credit some of that development, and sharpening of their strategic and logical sensibilities, to repeatedly being taught, and playing new board games. They've become very well versed in learning rules, player turns/interactions, teamwork (in co-op games), and win conditions. This type of brain exercise can only help them in the future with academics, athletics, and eventually the workplace

photo (28)And finally, and possibly most important, we have seen an impact in the growth of their character. Competitive sportsmanship has slowly but surely begun to sink in and become second nature. My wife and I make it a point to stress that we can have fun playing the game and trying to win, but there has to be one winner, and if it isn't you that's okay, you'll get a chance next time. Certainly there is plenty of excitement as a game draws to a conclusion, especially if it's a close game! But no one runs away in tears if the game doesn't end in their favor.

I'm a very competitive person (it probably has something to do with being a middle child), and I want my children to be competitive and give their all when they are competing, but I truly believe you learn more about a person and their character when they lose than when they win. It's easy in life to be a good winner; it takes character to be a good loser.

The team up - "Here Mr. C. play that saw on this piece of Daddy's fence!"

While we were playing Pigpen a few days ago, it dawned on me as I pulled out a jackhammer card to destroy a portion of my son's pen and potentially set free his pig, I'm not at all worried about his overreacting to my playing this card. We're playing the game, and he completely understands that this is how the game works. Of course they turned into devious little scoundrels and teamed up on me that game, but they both got it. It was a game, and we're going to go back and forth destroying each others' pens, and no one needs to get upset, have a fit, or shed tears over it. When the game ends, we'll put it away and move on. I don't even remember who won that game (I'm pretty sure it wasn't me), but when it ended, we cleaned up the cards, gave each other high fives and said "Good game!" and headed off to bedtime. No sore losers, no snotty faced winners. I was a happy dad.

And that's what happened, at the game table.

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Race For the Galaxy: Alien Artifacts Delayed. Again. (Plus a Bonus Rant!)

AlienBy Firestone I'm starting to think we're going to discover actual alien artifacts before the new Race For the Galaxy expansion is released...

BGG user KissaTalkuri noticed that the Rio Grande Games site now has a release date of 12/1/2013 for the game. You might remember that I wrote about Rio Grande Games telling us December of 2012 that the game's release was imminent. I expressed some doubt about that—given Rio Grande's past issues with release dates.

Sometimes I hate it when I'm right...

Here's what's in the box:

  • ~45 new cards and start worlds to add to the base set, plus a set of action cards and start hand for a fifth player.
  • ~45 cards and Alien tokens used to represent the Alien Orb which players jointly map and explore, gaining tokens of various types that provide powers and VPs. There are also five new Explore action cards used to map the Orb (instead of gaining an additional card or greater card selection).

How in the world can it take so long to print that? Rio Grande Games is becoming a joke. I can't trust anything that comes out of Jay's mouth regarding release dates.

TikalLet's look at just a few examples.

  • Years ago El Grande was out-of-print and it took YEARS for the reprint to show up, despite repeated and then bumped release dates given. And then the game had errors on the action cards!
  • Tikal was also out of print for years. We also got promises and bumps. It finally arrived and it wasn't nearly as great as the others in the Mask series! (Okay, that's not Rio Grande's fault... But it's still true!)
  • Then we have Arctic Scavengers. It took Rio Grande THREE YEARS to get this one out. Way to strike while the iron is hot...

This is no different. Race For the Galaxy is an amazing game, and this expansion is certainly going to be snatched up by all of the fans out there (myself included!). But...I can't remember the last time anyone in our group played RFtG. It's a classic, but not one that's often thought of anymore. The longer you delay the expansion, the less relevant the base game seems.

Jay at Rio Grande doesn't seem to have any problems getting Dominion expansions out the door. Of course, that game is still hot enough that printing a new expansion is like printing money. It would be nice if he put some of the same effort into games that aren't Dominion...

ArcticRio Grande used to sit atop the heap when it came to Euro publishers. That's not the case anymore. Lots of new companies have come risen up to challenge that—and they're winning. There are lots of factors when it comes to why these new publishers have been able to grow and become players in the market, and I'm convinced that one of them is Rio Grande's inability to hold a release date on anything that's not Dominion.

Ask yourself this: If you had a new game design, and Rio Grande was publishing it, would you be excited, or worried that they'd make you wait three years, while the nimble publishers out there are printing game after game every month?

I truly hope Rio Grande turns things around. My earliest games, when I jumped into this hobby nine years ago, were almost all Rio Grande ones. I love what they've done and I love what they do. I just wish they did it better.

Sorry this news piece turned into a rant...but COME ON!

Thanks for reading. And we've got a new giveaway to announce soon! The only heads-up I'm going to tell you now is that you should go subscribe to our YouTube channel. And while you're there, check out our first foray into video reviews: Awesome Level 9000.

Fantasy Flight is KILLING ME!

by Firestone BlackRidersCoverSo...we all know the dangers of CCGs, right? It's not called cardboard crack for nothing, after all...

Then along come LCGs: Living Card Games that release noncollectible, predictable packs every few months. "Oh, this I can handle," I think to myself.

Myself was very, very wrong.

Fantasy Flight Games just announced YET ANOTHER bigger expansion for The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game: The Black Riders.

"A fantastic adventure awaits you! With The Black Riders, you and your friends will accompany Frodo Baggins as he begins his epic journey to destroy the One Ring. Three new scenarios carry you out of the Shire and along the road to Rivendell, but you must be wary. The Nine are abroad, the lure of the Ring is difficult to resist, and your every action has a meaningful consequence…

The Black Riders recreates a selection of dramatic event as told in the first half of J.R.R Tolkien's The Fellowship of the Ring. It is the first of a series of Saga expansions that eventually will allow players to replay Frodo's epic journey from the Shire to Mount Doom, as well the dramatic events experienced by other members of the Fellowship."

BlackRiderCardsI thought I was doing an okay job of keeping up with this game. But I blink and suddenly I'm three Saga Expansions behind—The Hobbit: Over Hill and Under Hill, The Hobbit: On the Doorstep, and The Heirs of Numenor. And now this new one. Plus a new adventure pack—The Steward's Fear—just came out.

How long is this model tenable? I'm a fan and I'm falling behind. I can't have every single gaming dollar go toward this game. What about Netrunner?! And what about the other cool games out there?! If these start going out of print, and I fall behind with no financially feasible hope of catching up, I'll just stop buying altogether.

This has already happened with the Game of Thrones LCG. I'm interested, but so much of it is out of print that there's no way I'm going to bother trying to jump in now. What must it look like to someone coming to LotR: The Card Game brand new? "There's how much stuff for this? Nevermind..."

Do You Let Your Kids Win Games?

mojo the helper monkeyby Firestone This weekend Son The Elder and I were Home Alone. My wife and Son The Younger were in Arizona for the weekend, so we did Guy Stuff: ate at Smashburger, watched Star Wars Episode II (his idea—he hadn't seen it yet), worked in the garage... It's amazing how quickly the house starts to look junky without my wife's vital influence on keeping the slow tide of chaos at bay. I kept imagining that episode of The Simpsons where Homer gets Mojo the helper monkey, and Marge walks in to find Mojo's been changed into a lazy, diaper-wearing sluggard. But I digress...

So we also broke out the DC Comics Deck-Building Game—[sarcasm]what a terrific name![/sarcasm] Despite the awful name, it's really lots of fun—expect a Double-Take Review shortly! It was his first deck-builder, so I was explaining the overarching idea behind those, and helping him by playing the hand open every turn and talking through things. Then on my turn I found myself making a few suboptimal moves—not all the time, but some of the time. If I knew he really wanted to get one of the cards in the display, for instance, I wouldn't buy it. Or I might forgo buying an extra, low-VP card if I had the chance. I was telling myself I was trying to make a better deck, but I think I was also trying to "short myself" a couple of VPs, hoping it would make the difference in him beating me.

Well, combine my play with him getting cards that allowed him to destroy some of the crappy starting cards, and he whooped me—well beyond the "padding" I'd given him. I was fine with that, because he's at an age where losing a game adversely affects his opinion of it. Will I play that way every time? No. But I wanted him to have fun, and winning helps him have fun.

So was I wrong to do that? I know there are people who are MERCILESS when they play their kids. I just kind of ramp up to the MERCILESS...

What about you? Crush them? Let them win? Somewhere in between? Chime in!

When Expansions Go Bad...

MontrealBy Firestone I love expansions. LOVE THEM. Sometimes they can "fix" some of the problems that emerged in a game when it first came out. Sometimes they can just breathe some new life into a game that has grown a little stale. Sometimes they allow more players to play the game (although this is rarely a good thing, IMHO).

Age of Steam is a good example of a game ripe for expansions. Awesome base game, and the expansions are just maps. Maps of new areas—real and imagined—with new and interesting rules and mechanics. Does it always work? No! (cough*Golden Spike*cough). But when it does (Montréal Métro, for instance), it makes me love the base game even more... (Power Grid also benefits from more maps.)

Card games are a natural fit for expansions. Thunderstone, Nightfall, Netrunner, and Lord of the Rings all benefit from just more awesome stuff to add!

Pandemic's On The Brink added some significant gameplay changes—including someone playing as the baddie! Those are the most risky expansions, because they have the potential to be awesome or terrible.

PrincesBut sometimes expansions are just...awful. The first one that springs to mind is the expansion for The Princes of Florence. Now understand: For years and years and years Princes Of Florence was my very favorite game. It was only recently eclipsed by The Resistance, due to the sheer amount of fun I've had with it. So I was excited to play with the expansion that came in the Treasure Chest (one box that had 10 expansions for six games). It. Was. Horrible. Our one and only game using the expansion took 4 hours. 4 HOURS!! Toward the end of that game, the expansion made me hate Princes Of Florence. Any expansion that makes me hate my favorite game is bad, bad, bad.

Another bad one was the Necromancer Island expansion for Small World. This was a freebie giveaway promotion, so I think they felt they could experiment a little. It's lame. It forces the players to cooperate against the Necromancer player—which doesn't really work well in the framework of the game. But beyond that, those who do work to fight the Necromancer are in a worse position that those who don't. Blech. It's going for ~$30 on the secondary market, thanks to completists who didn't get it when it was free and want a copy now. I'll happily part with my copy for that price...

So what are some of your favorite expansions? And what are some that fell flat for you?

Thanks for reading! And make sure you check us out on Twitter, Facebook, and now Instagram!

A Diversion Through Space and Time...

- by Jeremiah tumblr_ml2gx5KGPU1rzswzyo1_500Unless you have exactly zero friends on FaceBook who are the least bit interested in science fiction or more specifically Doctor Who, you are probably aware that today is "Impossible Astronaut Day." A day in which Doctor Who fans are planning on putting tally marks on their arms, legs, faces, wherever, marking how many times they saw "The Silence" and forgot about it.

I'd just like to say to the world of Doctor Who fans who will take part in this national nerdy holiday: "You're welcome." "You're welcome?" you say, Yes, let me explain.

You see there was a time not so long ago, and not so far away, when the mainstream culture of our country frowned upon, nay mocked, the likes of people who knew what a T.A.R.D.I.S. was, who carried air pressure gauges around as if they were Sonic Screwdrivers, and kept terms such as Gallifrey, The Time-Space Continuum, and EXTERMINATE (said in an obnoxious robot voice) in their vocabularies. It was a dark time in our nation's history, when admitting in a public setting that you enjoyed British science-fiction, produced on shabby, wobbly sets, with terrible special effects, and very low production values, was not only met by blank and quizzical stares but also accompanied by ridicule, wedgies, and many other forms of mental and physical abuse, from the "cool" kids.

whousa10Doctor Who was so frowned upon by culture that you had to watch it on PBS, and you couldn't walk into a mall store, or any store for that matter, to pick up any type of merchandise bearing a Doctor Who logo, or a blue police box. The only way to procure such items was through a pledge drive on PBS, or to brave the danger of public shame by going to "Doctor Who U.S.A. Tour" which was a roaming exhibit of props and costumes from the show that toured cities that were home to PBS stations that aired the series.

The Doctor Who U.S.A. Tour trailer, sadly found in a scrap yard about 12 years ago. I went through this trailer in 1986.

Like anything else in the world, adversity tests our devotion and the new generation of Who fans, have countless fans of previous generations to thank for sticking to their guns, facing the laughs and ridicule of peers, and supporting a fun show that they saw as creative, and inspiring. Without the older generations shows like this would have died out and never been reborn, and the pride with which we wear the badge of "nerd,""dork," or "geek" today would still be subject to the frequent wedgies, name calling, and demeaning treatment of those dark days known as the mid to late-80's.

usabrochureSo go ahead, post all the Doctor Who references you want on Twitter, FaceBook and across the internet! Just please don't forget those who have gone before you—in a time when Daleks didn't fly, the Doctor drove a canary yellow roadster named "Bessie," and Sylvester McCoy wasn't known for playing Radagast, so  place an extra tally mark on your arm for your forefathers. And never forget your history, because some moments are fixed points in time and cannot be altered.

Thanks for reading and taking this diversion with me! Check us out on Facebook and Twitter, and now you can find us on Instagram too! Post your tally mark photos on Instagram and tag @TheologyofGames, we'd LOVE to see them!


Grail Games!

BlackRoseI have a list of a few "grail games"—games I really want get, but that are hard-to-find or out-of-print. One of the games on that list is Mississippi Queen: The Black Rose. It's an expansion for Mississippi Queen—itself a hard-to-find game—which is about racing paddle-boats down the legendary river. I've had the base game for years, but I often heard that it was MUCH better with the REALLY hard-to-find expansion. So I never ended up playing it. Well, a few weeks ago I was able to trade for the base game and the expansion. I can't wait to try it out with the family. Now I'm off in search of the next game on my list: The Magic Labyrinth...

What are some of your grail games?

The Weirdness of the Origins Award Nominees

tower By Firestone

On Thursday we were excited to bring you the newly released list of nominees for the Origins Awards. But as I looked over the list, I couldn't help but wonder what in the world they were thinking...

Let's start with Best Board Game. We have understandable nominees, such as Kingdom Builder, Lords of Waterdeep, and Mage Knight. Then there's Hot Rod Creeps from Cryptozoic Entertainment. "That's weird," I thought. "I've never even heard of that game. Maybe it just flew under the radar." So I went to the Geek and saw that it had flown under everyone's radar. The game has only 57 ratings. It's ranked 3656. Why would that game make the short list of best of the year? And speaking of year: Kingdom Builder and Mage Knight are both from 2011. So are these the best games of...recent years?

And then we have Best Gaming Accessory, which includes things like Dungeon Tiles, miniatures, cool dice, and...The Wizard's Tower from Castle Panic? What?! It's not an accessory; it's an expansion. The Tower isn't even a...thing! It's a deck of cards. And it came out in 2011!

And there seem to be an inordinate number of Cryptozoic games. I'm not saying they're not good games, but where are games from some of the other publishers—like Rio Grande and Z-Man and Fantasy Flight? Does Origins only nominate games that were sent to them by the publishers? That seems like a crazy way to determine the best games of the year. Or of recent years...

Move Over Monopoly—Catan in the Classroom

- by Jeremiah image from BGG user kilroy_locke

For years, math, stats, and economics teachers have been trotting out the Monopoly board in their classrooms to help give students some hands-on, applicable life lessons. While the game is horrible, the idea is sound. From the get-go, gaming with my children has been chock full of teachable moments; at their current ages those lessons have been more about sportsmanship, being gracious while winning or losing, and learning to operate within the rules (or NOT cheating). As they grow older you can bet the lessons at the game table will grow with them.

A middle-school history teacher in Franklin, MA, has gone Euro with this concept in his classes. Teaching the struggles of early civilizations, and the conflict that can arise over scarce resources through The Settlers of Catan. A recent article in a local paper featuring the teacher and his students has caught the attention of Mayfair Games, and has gained some traction across the gaming community.

From the article:

“We can’t bring them back to Mesopotamia, Egypt or Greece, but this (Catan) brings it alive,” Brady said. “One student was so frustrated because he was winning at one point, and the other kids froze him out and wouldn’t trade with him. He said flat out, ‘I now understand why people go to war.’ ”

This is yet another step in not only promoting a great hobby, but also in breaking new ground in teaching future generations. So let's have a discussion here about it! What games do you think should end up in the classroom? and Why? We would LOVE to hear your thoughts. And who just might inspire someone to break new ground in their classroom, too!

Thanks for reading, and leave your suggestions in the comments!