ADVENTURES IN GAME TIME: Ponzi Scheme

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With the colossal implosion of Fyre Fest and the premiere of HBO’s new Bernie Madoff biopic, fraudulent behavior seems very top of mind. And for good reason: we love when our white collar criminals trip up. After all, there’s something exhilarating about watching a con take off soaringly, only to come crashing into the ground under the weight of its own hubris. Yes, it’s a pure joy to witness — at least as long as our money isn’t tied up in the mess (sorry, Kevin Bacon).

We all love the tried and true tropes of a long con gone awry: authorities closing in, criminals turning on each other, people committing acts of desperation. It can be great entertainment, but is it something any of us would want to live through? Probably not. Well, guess what folks: thanks to Tasty Minstrel Games, we can all enjoy the thrills of a Ponzi scheme without any of that inconvenient “illegality” stuff.

Enter Ponzi Scheme, a fascinating economic game by designer Jesse Li that simulates the delightful stress of SOUL-CRUSHING DEBT.

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ADVENTURES IN GAME TIME: Orléans Invasion Edition

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Life is a mixed bag — or so the expression goes. I think. Is it an expression? Someone has surely said it. Either way, very few board games literalize the idea of a mixed bag like Orléans, a nifty title from 2015 that has players actually pulling tokens from a soft pouch in the hopes of garnering influence and prestige in Medieval France. Rumor has it this is an accurate representation of how Charlemagne himself ruled Gaul.

Anyhoo, I wrote a warm review of Orléans last year, extolling the game’s use of the “bag-building” mechanic. The whole experience was like a fresh croissant: delicate, flakey, and full of butter. Actually, no. That’s just a description of a croissant. BUT, much like a fresh croissant, Orléans eventually grew a bit stale for me. Don’t get me wrong: I continue to play it (and yes, I would still eat a stale croissant too), but the magic has faded. I blame part of this on my friend Guy — who’s French, incidentally — because he loves Orléans so much that we wound up playing it, like, 1,000 times in one week. I’m afraid one can only eat so many croissants.

What I came to realize about Orléans was that the decisions weren’t always terribly interesting to me after a while. Even with some of the variants proposed in the game and online, I found myself wafting towards the same strategies over and over again, and while I concede that this is a Ben problem, not a game problem, I would also like to concede that it’s sort of a game problem too. Orléans, while pleasant, is sort of a “samey” experience for me. It lacks some of the tense choices that a potentially “samey” game like Concordia or Railways of the World offer. Sure, there are rounds where you pull a bunch of crappy tokens out of the bag, and you have to figure out a way to make the most of what you’ve got, but there’s rarely a sense of urgency in Orléans. If you don’t do something this round, you’ll just do it some other time. And if you don’t do it, then, well, that’s usually okay too. A “beneficial deeds” board sometimes creates a bottleneck of opportunities, and game events gently needle players with annoyances, but Orléans never puts its players’ feet to the fire. More like a space heater turned on low.

With its flaws exposed, could I ever truly embrace Orléans again? Perhaps. A new, kind-of-huge expansion called Orléans: Invasion promises to breathe new life into the game, and thankfully the good people of Tasty Minstrel Games sent me a copy to review. This, of course, begs an immediate question: should people drop the extra $$ on this expansion? And does it reinvigorate, or even improve, Orléans? Answers after the jump.

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A Bunch More Games You Should Play

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Last year, I breathlessly compiled some of my favorite games from my collection and presented them to the blogosphere in a post I uncreatively titled, “A Bunch of Board Games You Should Play.” Well, my gaming obsession has continued to grow (to put it mildly), and now I’m back with another avalanche of games to try, buy, or at least consider. With Black Friday around the corner, this is the least I can do to assist those most in need of retail therapy.

Now, to be fair, this is not a definitive list of the best games of all time. Rather, it’s a casual stroll through my collection — like the nerd version of Cribz. All that’s missing is Mariah Carey luxuriating in a bubble bath somewhere. Nevertheless, I wouldn’t be a good blogger if I didn’t pontificate about the things I’m most passionate about, and for now, that means babbling about games. Check out the list, and be sure to weigh in with your opinions…

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FINDING PRINCE CHARMING PHOTOCAP: Eat, Gay, Love

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In a shocking development for Finding Prince Charming, calories were ingested! Yes, this week’s installment of Fi-Pri-Char saw Robert taking three different men out to eat — a ghastly turn of events that has NO PLACE on a gay dating show. It was an overdue moment of redemption for the three contenders: Robby, Eric, and Brendon — none of whom have had one-on-one time with their would-be lovah.

The bacchanalia started with Robby, who surely did not enjoy hearing Robert call him “funny.” The Friend Zone seemed imminent, and in an effort to turn around his fortunes, Robby went in for a kiss — not even waiting for Robert to pull off his trademark whisper of “C’mere…” Such a privilege was instead given to Chad, Brandon, and maybe Eric, but to be honest, I really don’t remember anything about Eric’s date except that he hates open relationships, his dad kisses his mom, and his hair looked nice.

Of course, as this is a peek into the gay lifestyle, no embrace of food can be complete without a rigorous workout routine to follow. Robert took the remaining men to a bootcamp experience, and within moment Paul was panting, sweating, and bemoaning the lack of cold towels — the kind his very considerate trainer offers him on a regular basis, apparently. Paul had surprisingly taken over the lead coming into this episode, but this morning exercise fully undid him. Not only did he not smile when being tasked with hideous cardio routines (the horror!), but he refused to sit on the ground (okay, that’s weird) and professed a lack of experience with sit-ups (apparently, a huge turn off for Robert). All of this was a pure disaster for him — after all, the gym is Robert’s church, and anyone who deigns to disrespect it has no place in his life. If he were capable of registering emotion, I’m sure Robert would have been truly outraged.

And so Paul was sent home where he could hopefully enjoy a fine restaurant meal at last. Now there’s only one person left from the Nice Guys volleyball team. You better watch out, Chad…

Photocap after the jump…

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FINDING PRINCE CHARMING PHOTOCAP: Lovers Spat

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I have to admit that I wasn’t planning on photocapping the latest Finding Prince Charming, but then I received a sign from the heavens that changed my plans — nay, my life. This morning I spotted none other than Robert Sepulveda Jr. himself lingering around the hot deli bar of my local Ralph’s supermarket. That’s right: I FOUND PRINCE CHARMING. If that’s not an omen, I don’t know what is. Unfortunately I didn’t take a picture of this spectral being because a) my hands were full of Starbucks and supermarket sushi, and b) there really couldn’t be anything more humiliating than snapping a pic of a Logo star at Ralph’s. I decided I would mentally thank him for being vulnerable to the deli section, go home, and write this photocap. And here we are.

This week, the show reached new levels of lunacy as Sam flipped his lid and excoriated Dillon for being a canary, a shit-stirrer, and essentially the source of all evil in this world. It was a fabulous flameout that resulted in Sam sauntering out of the house of his own volition while Justin nonsensically cried. Meanwhile, Robert suddenly decided he liked Paul and was so aroused by the tragic story of his ex that he stood up and planted a big, sloppy kiss on his face. It was not for the fainthearted. It was not for anyone, really.

Here’s the photocap:

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FINDING PRINCE CHARMING PHOTOCAP: Hanging Chad

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This week on Finding Prince Charming, a line was drawn in the sand. Literally. During a listeless volleyball challenge in the name of romance, the hottest guys in the house gathered as a team, leaving everyone else in a basket of disposables sadly named “The Nice Guys.” Naturally, chaos ensued.

Most of the drama centered around Chad, who allegedly made a vulgar, scrotum-centric overture at Eric. It didn’t seem like a major ish at first, but then Eric happily reported the incident to Robert, who in turn questioned Chad, who in turn had a meltdown. Ultimately, the whole drama resulted in Chad butchering some canary metaphors and threatening to go home. It was highly fulfilling. Also of note: drunk Sam yelling at half the house like Kim Richards on game night.

Great work all around.

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FINDING PRINCE CHARMING PHOTOCAP: Fit for a Prince

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Last week, Logo premiered Finding Prince Charming, a reality competition colloquially referred to as the “gay Bachelor.” And that’s what it is. The show sees host Lance Bass guiding the handsome, robotic Robert Sepulveda Jr. through a gaggle of would-be suitors, all in the name of televised love. Our usual tropes are here: romantic music, catty brinksmanship, and the occasional declaration of personal tragedy. Some contestants play coy — Brodney amusingly struggles with “opening up” at a pool party, stating that it’s not the venue for such tender moments (and yet appearing on a TV is somehow less impersonal). Others swarm around Robert like tweens at a Bieber concert. It’s all pretty amazing and hilarious.

The biggest laughs, however, come from Robert himself, whose enviable torso often stands in for personality. He presents himself as a romantic soul with deep, empathetic thoughts — and yet he nearly rejects Paul for liking short men and gives the boot to Nick, whose sweating is seen as a roadblock to connection. Meanwhile, upon learning that the aforementioned Brodney is a trainer from his current home of Atlanta, Robert senses they might be a perfect match — you know, because they live in the same city and like to work out. It’s gloriously superficial, and I want to drag Robert over the coals for it, but unfortunately, I can’t act like I’m not a shallow gay man too; so hey, Robert — you go and get yourself a hot guy. I support you fully!

Full disclosure: my friend Brandon is amongst the suitors; so I am incredibly biased in his favor. Go Brandon!

Photocap after the jump…

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ADVENTURES IN GAME TIME: Railways of the World Edition

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As I’ve tumbled down the slippery slope of the gaming hobby, I’ve encountered, resisted, and ultimately succumbed to a phenomenon called “The Cult of the New.” It’s a terrible, terrible affliction that has gamers flocking like zombies to the new and exciting titles rolling off the assembly lines. However, this comes at the expense of older, equally impressive options, which can be overlooked in the mad scramble for fresh, new playthings.

Thankfully, to help separate the wheat from the chaff, there are tons of gaming podcasts out there, and one of them, The Secret Cabal Gaming Podcast, recently profiled a groovy game from the mid-Aughts called Railways of the World by Martin Wallace. Their enthusiasm was unbridled, to put it mildly. Here was a game that promised excellent strategy, interaction, components, and variety — one of their favorites of all time.

Could it be that good? I had to try it for myself.

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ADVENTURES IN GAME TIME: Bring Your Own Book

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The Apples to Apples model of party games has turned into a tried and true format, going dirty with Cards Against Humanity and performative with Funemployed, among others. Even Dixit owes a little bit of its whimsical DNA to the now iconic game.

For the uninitiated, Apples to Apples has players offering up a word that best exemplifies an adjective, with the winning choice selected by the round leader. The results are generally hilarious, but after a while, the thrill can fade as the same options pop up time and time again. This is most apparent in Cards Against Humanity, whose titillating offensiveness transitions into stale joke within two sessions.

Variety is what ultimately kills these games — or at least removes some of their luster — but a new entry in the genre seems to have found an ingenious workaround. The game is called Bring Your Own Book, and it breathes hilarious, intelligent new life into the party game scene.

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ADVENTURES IN GAMING: Scoville Labs Edition

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I love me some spicy food. Whether it’s an elaborate Thai meal from legendary Los Angeles institution Jitlada or an afternoon of jalapeño cocktails and bites, I’m into it — no matter how many napkins and tissues I may destroy in the process. Naturally, a game about spiciness — or, more specifically, chiles — would certainly pique my curiosity.

For the uninitiated, spiciness is measured in Scoville units, with the Carolina Reaper maintaining the record for hottest chili EVAR. Scoville units are also the inspiration behind the adorably cutthroat game Scoville and its expansion, Scoville Labs, both by Ed Marriott. In the base game, players plant peppers, harvest crossbreeds, and use their bounties to earn accolades at the local chili contest, among other things. It’s a delightful game, but at high player counts, the competition for limited resources can get downright vicious, causing frustration for some as their Scotch Bonnet dreams go down in flames.

Luckily, Scoville Labs aims to let some of the pressure out of the cooker. Tasty Minstrel Games was kind enough to send me a review copy. Does Labs improve the recipe like a smart dash of cayenne? Or does it annihilate the tastebuds like a habanero smoothie? Thoughts after the jump…

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