Monthly High Five - November 2018

WHAT IS CARDBOARD REALITY’S HIGH FIVE?

The High Five is a monthly piece where we talk about five of our board gaming highlights from the past month. Then one member of Cardboard Reality will then deliver the “down low” at the end of this piece, covering a poor board gaming experience from the past month. Enjoy!

The High Five

Black Orchestra

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B.L. Anderson - Black Orchestra is, in theory, a historical game. But it’s the kind of history you see in Hollywood blockbusters, the kind that plays fast and loose with the facts to sweep you up in the setting. And sometimes, that’s the best kind of history.

In Black Orchestra, you’re a member of a cabal of conspirators hoping to kill Hitler amid the buildup and blitzkrieg of WWII. You and your fellow players travel around war-torn Europe on a map that fluctuates with the surges and shrinkage of the German war effort, developing plots and dodging Hitler’s deputies while exchanging information and gathering items (like poison, guns, or explosives) to help you carry out your scheme.

Our first game in particular hewed close to history, as Claus Von Stauffenberg carried out the suitcase-bomb plot (featured in the Tom Cruise vehicle Valkyrie), which failed in the real world but was carried off masterfully in-game.

There’s a real sense of desperation as you try to keep the Gestapo’s suspicions in check and execute your plan. Executing a plot comes down to a dice roll, with killing Hitler on one end and going to prison on the other, but it’s a calculated risk. But Hitler is always just a moment away from slipping through your grasp, so there’s a real “now or never” feeling once you accumulate the necessary elements and have Hitler right where you want him. There’s a story arc to every game of Black Orchestra, and it won’t always have that Hollywood ending. But when the plan comes together, it’s as rewarding as any game out there.

Lisboa

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James Geist - I had the pleasure and privilege of learning, teaching, and playing my first game of Vital Lacerda’s 2017 hit Lisboa. If Uwe Rosenberg was my first love in board games, and he was, then Vital Lacera is my new daddy. A friend introduce me to Vinhos: Deluxe earlier in 2018. I was instantly in love and sought out and purchased The Gallerist, which I adored; it’s perfect blend of theme, gameplay, and art really hooked me. It wasn’t long before Lisboa came calling as well, and I had completed my trio of masterpieces from Lacerda, Ian O’Toole, and Eagle-Gryphon Games.

In Lisboa you and your opponents are rebuilding the recently destroyed capital city of Portugal that endured a massive earthquake, tsunami, and fires in 1755. Vital Lacerda has a way of intertwining mechanics and theme in a way that make every action you take actually make sense, and Lisboa is perhaps his crowning achievement in this respect. The game just pours history out at you - teaching the game is akin to hosting a lecture on Lisbon and the disasters that struck it. You can’t teach the mechanics without explaining why they’re happening and when you’re moving a cube across a table and suddenly it means something, the experience of sitting at the table and enjoying this heavy eurogame is just lifted to another level.

I’ll save a full review for another day, or you can check out Review Episode 7 of the podcast to hear Nick & Joel’s thoughts on the game, but everything here just works. Multi-use cards, layered steps to achieve your goals, player interaction and sniping, variable end game conditions. And the art! Ian O’Toole is my favorite artist working in board games today and he creates literal works of art on the table while somehow still incorporating plenty of iconography to assist you in actually playing the game. Lisboa was my highlight of November, and I expect it will be the highlight of many months to come when I’m able to get it to the table again.

Century: Golem Edition

Dylan St. Clair- This is a game that I’ve mentioned prior, most recently in my Top 30, but getting it played three times in a week gets Century: Golem Edition back in my mind. It’s not just the production quality that gets me wanting to play, even though Plan B knocked it out of the park in all fronts. The simplicity of Matsuuchi’s design makes it such an easy game to teach and play, furthered by the 2-page rulebook.

I got a chance to play this with my wife and her brothers, and they all enjoyed the pace. One of them got an early lead and held on until the end. The other brother built the engine perfect to his liking, but seemed to forget to score, finishing in fourth. And my wife got off to a slow start, but focused in on the high-value golems to sit comfortably in second.

Jump ahead a few days and my mom asks to game. I’m surprised, but I know that bringing Century was a good idea. It’s one she’s played before, so I just had to gloss over the rules again. We got going and we were having some laugh out loud moments, one where I was ready to cash in for a golem to end the game. I mentally chuckled and looked over at mom’s caravan, where she had the gems ready to buy her final golem that triggered the game’s end. And when the first game was all said and done, Mom asked to play one more time so she could brag to Marianne that she beat me. She didn’t.

Overall, a great time playing one of my favorite gateway games. I will continue to recommend Century: Golem Edition (or Spice Road, they’re really the same game).


Go

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Nick Northcutt - Go, the great abstract game of territory where players attempt to surround their opponent’s stones for capture, has been around for more than 2,500 years and has remained one of the most beloved board games of all time.  And this is for good reason. Go possesses a simpler ruleset than chess while managing to also offer a higher ceiling of strategy and tactics than its western brother. In fact, some believe that ceiling is unreachable by mankind.  I find that thought incredibly fascinating--a game so deep that I can continue to learn from it over my entire lifetime. Sure, that sounds overwhelming, but you definitely do not have to dedicate that kind of time to receive enjoyment from this game.

My fellow Cardboard Reality podcast host, Dylan, was kind enough to gift me his copy of go that had been collecting dust on his shelf.  My wife and I fumbled our way through a learning game and then watched two documentaries on the game via Netflix called AlphaGo and The Surrounding Game.  After finishing both documentaries, we were hooked.  I purchased a book titled: Go for Beginners that we have commenced reading in hopes to learn basic tactics and strategy to improve our amateur game.  I’ve never wanted to study a game at this level before; there’s so much to explore from such a simple rule set that I’m honestly floored.  At this point, Amanda and I have played four games together, and I’ve played an upwards of 60 9x9 games against an AI opponent. I fully expect this ancient classic to remain in steady rotation for quite some time and I’m sorry I didn’t start playing it sooner.


A New Face

Joel Moser - November was a fantastic month of gaming for me, but one night really stood out.  It was a Friday night at our favorite local meetup spot, Books & Brews. I met a friend, Ross, there after work to play some games.  Some of the other usuals were busy, so it was just the two of us. He had brought a few games, but we only ended up playing two of them.  Boy were those of the two big ones. First, we dove right into Food Chain Magnate from Splotter Spellen.  I had never played it at two players, so I knew I was in for some interesting gameplay.  However, what followed was something I could have never imagined. Only a few rounds in, it was clear that Ross really knew what he was doing, having played it quite a few times with his wife at two players.  By the time we broke the initial bank and revealed the reserve cards, both being 300, I was set to make zero money on every turn to follow. Ross had just set up a fantastic strategy getting the only Guru and just taking off from there.  I had no chance of coming back. I thereby conceded so we could get in another game that evening.

We decided to move on to Through the Ages: A New Story of Civilization.  Having played this only once before with some of the hosts, who did not have great experiences, I was excited to play this again.  It started out a bit slow at first as I struggled to remember some of the idiosyncrasies of the game. However, that didn’t last long and then we were churning through turns fairly quickly.  That did not keep the game from going long though, since it is just a longer game. It was competitive at the beginning, but by the end of the first age, I could see that Ross was slowly building a slightly better engine that would outpace me in due time.  I tried to figure out a strategy that would keep me in it, but it was too late. His engine was churning away and he ended up eclipsing me in points by about 100 or more.

One might think that getting beat as badly as I did in these two games would have meant that it was a bad night, but that was not remotely the case.  It was really nice to be able to just sit and chat with Ross, who is a newer friend, but is becoming a great one. We enjoy many of the same games, which made for a good night of gaming, regardless of the outcomes of the games.  The fine folks at Books & Brews even let us stay late to finish Through the Ages, which was really kind of them.  I am definitely looking forward to playing more games with Ross, and hoping he starts coming to more of our game nights.

DOWN LOW

Pandemic Legacy: Season 2

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James Geist - Everything that follows is Spoiler Free.

My modern board game fandom really began to bloom in late 2016 when my wife and I decided we’d had enough Netflix, wanted a new form of entertainment, and picked up the recently raved about Pandemic Legacy: Season 1. It hooked us. We were all in, playing constantly, every single night. I think we finished the game in about 10 days, which included 18 or 19 playthroughs. Enter Christmas 2017, and my wife surprises me under the tree with Pandemic Legacy: Season 2.

11 months later, 15 play sessions later, HOURS of setup and tear down later...and we’ve begrudgingly finished it. We have other games we’d like to play together, but felt an obligation to finish off this sequel first, so we sat down over a few days in November and banged out the last few games. Pandemic Legacy: Season 2 has so many problems I’m not sure where to start.

It did a cute little 180 on the usual Pandemic formula which at first felt fun but then...it just never went anywhere interesting. The setup of the game was such a chore. Everything out of the box, permanent things onto the board, check the legacy deck, sort out your cards, add events, set up your epidemic stacks (the worst part of regular Pandemic anyway, here amplified by 3 or 4) and then start the game. Which usually took about 15 minutes thanks to the incredibly fast timer Season 2 puts on you. Add in a ridiculous and unfun final twist, and the game frankly was...just a dud. As of right now I’m a hard no on picking up the inevitable Season 3, and I’m just glad this game is out of our lives.

Nick NorthcuttComment