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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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: 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: Orléans Edition

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Back in June of 2015, when I was six months into my burgeoning board game obsession/addiction, I learned that a game called Orléans had been nominated for Kennerspiel De Jahres. In gaming parlance, it’s the equivalent of receiving an Oscar nod. Well, sort of. The Spiel de Jahres is actually the award reserved for game of the year, and that award usually goes to something with broad, perhaps family appeal. The Kennerspiel, however, is designated for more intensely gamey games — the titles that are a little more challenging in some way or another. Think of it as the Palm d’Or to the Spiel de Jahres‘s Oscar. This is all an elaborate and unnecessary way for me to say that about six or seven months ago, I heard about Orléans, and I heard it was good.

WELL. I took a gander at some of the early reviews of Orléans, and after seeing the way the game played, I summarily decided that I must have it. The only problem was that the damn thing wasn’t available outside of Europe. I’m a sucker for when people play hard to get, and I guess the same goes for board games because I definitely developed a crush on this bad boy. I waited patiently for months, and then finally, Orléans arrived stateside. In fact, the game’s US distributor, Tasty Minstrel Games, was kind enough to send me a review copy recently. At last I could get my eager paws onto this game; although, full disclosure, my friend Larry bought the game six weeks prior; so, my eager paws had actually pawed about already. But that’s neither here nor there.

Was Orléans worth the wait? Or did my crush merely string me along?

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ADVENTURES IN GAME TIME: ‘Gold West’ Edition

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There aren’t many board games that do double duty as Village People song puns, but Gold West is here to buck the trend. Admittedly, the term “Go West” could also be credited to 19th century author Horace Greeley, but that’s not nearly as fun. I like to think “Gold West’s” designer J. Alex Kevern was making a cheeky reference to classic disco (or maybe even the Pet Shop Boys) when he conceived the name. I know I would.

Nevertheless, I always enjoy a good pun, and there’s no better way to win over my good graces than some light wordplay in a game title. Therefore, I was particularly eager to dive into my new copy of Gold West, generously provided by its publisher, Tasty Minstrel Games. Would the game strike gold? Or would it just be another sad lump of California dirt?

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ADVENTURES IN GAME TIME: ‘Nippon’ Edition

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Is there anything more fun than pretending to be 19th century Japanese industrialists? I don’t think so. Luckily for us, there’s a fantastic new game on shelves that captures the thrill of modernizing Japan, all from the comfort of your dining room table. Finally, the zaibatsu simulation you’ve always wanted.

This madness is called Nippon, and please do not let my snarky tone confuse you: the game is awesome. Players will ascend to great, industrialized heights, thanks to savvy investments in lightbulbs and bento boxes and other exciting goods (paper, anyone?). Factories will rise, infrastructures will grow, and influence will blossom across the island of Japan. Also, your brain may just turn into a pretzel. But what a fun pretzel it will be!

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