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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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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ADVENTURES IN GAME TIME: Klask

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Contrary to what I’ve written about recently, not every game I play is some brain-burning, strategic monster that takes two hours to play. Sometimes it can be just as rewarding to learn four basic rules and get to playing. Such is the case with Klask, an award-winning Danish dexterity game by Mikkel Bertelsen that exists somewhere between foosball and air hockey — but with magnets.

The good people behind Klask were kind enough to send me a review copy, and I’m happy to report that not only did I greatly enjoy the game, but my game-averse boyfriend declared that he “loved” it. This is a major breakthrough.

Some pics and gameplay explanation after the jump…

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ADVENTURES IN GAME TIME: City Hall Edition

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Back in January, when the temperatures here in Los Angeles were hitting a frigid 64 degrees, I found myself staving off the Arctic winds by holing up with my laptop and engaging in some warmth-inducing retail therapy. One of my purchases was the humble game City Hall, designed by Michael Keller and published by Tasty Minstrel Games. I had previously read some encouraging things about this game — enough to make my frostbitten finger use its last sensation to tap the One-Click-Purchase button. It also helped that the game had been marked down to about $15. For the price of a stiff Bloody Mary, I had nabbed myself a brand new board game. The future was mine.

But why was City Hall so cheap? For starters, the game is ugly. Like, really ugly. We’re talking a color scheme that mixes forest green with copper with champagne. And don’t get me started with the blocky fonts on the board. It’s as if “Chicago” and “Charcoal” had a bastard love child. If pretty hurts, City Hall definitely has never experienced pain.

The unfortunately reality is that people generally stay away from ugly games, especially if they’re ugly AND about city bureaucracy. Out of the gate, poor City Hall had two strikes against its marketability. And then came the death knell: a lackluster review from one of an influential board game critic, who most likely turned off wide swaths of the purchasing audience. Mix those factors together, and it’s no surprise that this $60 game had been marked down to less than a twenty-dollar bill.

This leads to the inevitable question: is City Hall an ugly duckling? Or should it be voted out of office? (Yes, I mixed metaphors). Continue reading

ADVENTURES IN GAME TIME: Wings for the Baron Edition

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When it comes to depictions of World Wars, Germans have not fared so well. Therefore, it’s a bit surprising that there’s a board game out there casting the Germans as protagonists during WWI. How could this possibly be??? Allies are, like, THE BEST. Well, don’t get yourself worked up into too much of a tizzy. The morality of WWI is hardly a factor in the entertaining, historical game Wings for the Baron (even though at times you will find yourself actively rooting against ‘Murica).

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ADVENTURES IN GAME TIME: Karuba Edition

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I have a special place in my heart for jungle adventures, mostly based on my love for the seminal ’80s movie Romancing the Stone. The exotic mix of hidden treasure, treacherous terrain, and general humidity is a big draw for me. Plus, let’s not overlook the khaki splendor that is Kathleen Turner.

These days, my jungle adventures seem limited to watching Survivor and occasionally ambling through a local nursery. It’s just not the same. Luckily, there’s a new game out called Karuba that yearns to scratch that jungle itch. Does it? No, of course not. How could an adorable game compare to Michael Douglas, Danny DeVito, and Kathleen Turner? But the good news is that Karuba is super fun, and there’s no threat of death by crocodile. Continue reading

ADVENTURES IN GAME TIME: Iki Edition

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I may be an unabashed board game nerd these days, but it’s only because there are so many fun games out there. Truly — it’s a problem. An embarrassment of riches. Just when I think I can ebb the purchasing, another great one comes down the pike, the latest being Iki — a Japanese “game of Edo artisans.” Well, if that’s not a selling point, I don’t know what is.

I first learned about Iki during a particularly fruitful span of procrastination that had me exploring the depths of boardgamegeek.com. First, I came upon a glowing review of the game, and since it sounded interesting, I dug deeper until I found a playthrough on YouTube. After watching a few rounds of Iki, I went to the mirror and saw that I had giant hearts in my eyes. Oh dear. Time to make more room in my Ikea shelving system.

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