Monthly High Five - January 2019
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 deliver the “down low” at the end of this piece, covering a poor board gaming experience from the past month. Enjoy!
The High Five
James Geist - I backed Dinogenics on Kickstarter with a bit of trepidation. With a first time publisher in Ninth Haven Games, a first time designer in Richard Keene, and a relatively hefty price tag and ambitious production goals, this felt like a dangerous place to throw my board game budget. But boy am I glad I did. Arriving to backers about 3 months behind schedule, the production inside this big heavy box is just phenomenal. Dual layered player boards, a dual layered tracker board, thick chunky wooden dinos of all shapes and sizes—the wait was worth it.
And fortunately, the gameplay came through as well. I played a 4 player game, and it scratched the exact itch I had hoped it would—like if Uwe Rosenberg made a dino simulator instead of a farming game. The emphasis here is on smartly and safely laying out your park with fences, buildings, and hotels for visitors. Or deciding to push your luck and risk the safety of those paying patrons. But before I go on, let’s just address the T-Rex in the room: Dinosaur Island. Dino Island came first, yes. I didn’t back it on Kickstarter, but I did pick it up retail, and mostly enjoyed my plays of it...before trading it away. It had no soul. No love for the dinos. And several little quirks that just rubbed me the wrong way (and this is without even addressing Pandasaurus Games’ poor handling of their second kickstarter.)
In Dinosaur Island, all of your dinos behave the same—a T-Rex, Allosaurus, and Spinosaurus all have the same points, the same threat level, and the same behavior. It’s just...boring. Add that to the fact that all dinosaurs are represented by cheap plastic Triceratops meeples in the base game, or if you went deluxe, you got some (but not all) of your dinos represented by some unique meeples. Contrast that to Dinogenics, where each dinosaur species is unique and properly represented by a wooden meeple. They have specific penning requirements such as carnivores needing to eat (the T-Rex doubly so), and when they get mad, they react differently and tear up your park in different ways. The mechanics in Dinogenics flow well together, while Dinosaur Island felt like 3 mini-games stacked on top of each other.
I don’t know if Dinogenics will go to retail—I don’t know that Ninth Haven Games has made that decision yet, but if you get a chance to play it, give it a go. This was the dinosaur game I was envisioning when I got giddy about making my own dinosaur park. Thankfully, life uh...found a way.
Hab & Gut
Nick Northcutt - Have you ever played a game so incredibly simple by design that you are amazed to discover it also delivers a cleverly rich gaming experience sure to please even the heavy gamer at your table? No, I’m not talking about my recent obsession, go (although you should totally play that too); I’m talking about Hab & Gut, a fascinating little game centered around buying and selling stock with a couple fun and inventive mechanical twists to boot.
In Hab & Gut, players will be dealt two hands of cards that will sit in card holders on your left and right. Only you and your neighbor on your left can see and use the cards on your left and so on. Each round starting with the first player, people will buy or sell up to three shares following the market value of the corresponding stock(s). During this phase each round, players may also donate a share they own to charity. Once play passes back to the first player, everyone in turn order must play a card from their left card holder and a card from their right card holder. These cards show specific stocks and a values of +/- 2, 4, or 6. When you play your two cards you must declare one at full value and one at half value (e.g. you may play a +4 cotton card at half value moving cotton’s market value up 2 points and a -6 mocha card at full value moving mocha’s market value down 6 points). At the end of the game, players will determine who donated the least to charity; the least charitable person is eliminated from scoring at the end of the game. The remaining players sell their leftover shares and calculate their money. The richest player wins.
Hab & Gut’s shared information and charity mechanics really set the tone for this otherwise very straight forward stock game. Knowing that your shared hand of cards has a -4 cotton, but your neighbor still opts to invest in cotton speaks volumes to what your neighbor may know from their other hand. Do you take the risk and invest in cotton too, or do you play the -4 cotton card at full power to punish your neighbor? What stocks are people investing in from across the table? Can you play negative cards to hurt their investment? Also, don’t forget to donate a share to charity once in awhile, but try not to over do it as it will hurt your financial standings at the end of the game—donate too little and you guarantee coming in dead last. This design is quick to teach, easy to play, and wholly satisfying. I recommend chasing down a copy if you enjoy stock games. This one is straightforward, simple, and clean fun.
Joel Moser - The moment I heard about Leaving Earth, I knew I wanted to play it. First off, it was based on space, but more importantly, it was about space travel. For someone who at one point strongly considered being an aerospace engineer and studying rockets, I knew it would be right up my alley. I placed an order less than a week after hearing about it; however, if you have heard the other stories about Leaving Earth, then you know that it took a few months before I received my game. They print and produce each copy by hand, so it has a bit of a lead time.
Finally, my copy arrived and when I opened it up and saw the rulebook, all my expectations came to fruition. It looked like an engineering manual out of the 1960s. It was glorious. As I flipped through, I saw the all-to-familiar equations involving force and momentum from my days in engineering school, but in a gamified form (no calculus, which I was kind of disappointed about). On the final few pages of the rulebook they outlined some of the successful space missions throughout history, which was a nice thematic touch.
Needless to say, I was itching to play this game. I had a busy few weeks, so I struggled to find time to learn it. Finally, I was able to get it learned and knew that I would be able to solo this game should I desire to do so. This intrigued me. I ended up meeting Nick at a coffee shop on a Sunday morning to play it for the first time; however, time constraints did not allow us to finish the game. I was so excited to play it that I resolved to set it back up when I got home to play solo, which is a rare occurrence for me.
Once I did, it was all the mathy, strategic goodness I could have hoped for. While it really is not as math focused as an 18xx game or heavy economic euros, because you can chart out the math to make it easy, it provides a satisfying experience from start to finish. You get twenty years to try to accomplish some randomly selected missions in space that could take you to the Moon, Mars, Venus, or even Mercury with the expansion. There are even more expansions that add some of the outer planets or space stations. However, you risk failing during the mission if you do not test out your technologies beforehand. Funds are limited, so you have to plan ahead to make sure you have the time and money to test your equipment before heading out into the vastness of space.
I am looking forward to exploring the solo game more, and intrigued with how other players will affect the decision space for determining which missions to go for to win. Do you push your luck, by not testing your landing gear, in hopes of being the first one with a man on Mars? Or maybe you play it safe and just retrieve a sample from the Moon after thoroughly testing your rockets. The choice is yours in Leaving Earth.
Keep Gaming Indy (& Feudum)
Nick Northcutt - Lizzie and Tom from the podcast The Drinking Meeples had a brilliant idea to create a local to Indianapolis group called Keep Gaming Indy (KGI). This group welcomes all gamers located in Indy or surrounding areas to gather once a month at an official event to play board games and win prizes. Not only that, but people use this group to easily find game nights in between official KGI events. The KGI community is also inclusive of all people, making sure everyone feels welcome at the table, which I absolutely adore. Lizzie’s and Tom’s hard work and dedication to KGI has created something beautiful right here in our backyard, and it’s spawned many friendships in the process that sometimes even extend outside of gaming.
Last week I utilized the KGI Facebook group to schedule a session of my favorite 2018 game, Feudum. To my surprise, I had a full group of new faces wanting to try Feudum minutes after posting. When game night arrived, Joel and I were absolutely delighted to meet the two fine folk who signed up to game with us. Feudum was a joy, but meeting friendly new faces over a pint of beer solidified this night as a standout experience this month. To Lizzie, Tom, and all the other wonderful people who help make KGI such a warm and welcoming group, I thank you. And if you ever find yourself in the Indianapolis area, don’t be a stranger—KGI will be your gaming needs fixer.
Sol: Last Days of a Star
B.L. Anderson - Sol: Last Days of a Star is a deceptive game. The board is eye-catching, a yellow and orange sun with tendrils flaring out into the blackness of space; the miniatures are abstract structures, the function of which only become clear once you start playing; the player aids and point trackers are a heavy black, eye-catching in their own way. When we started unpacking the game recently at a Seattle-area board game cafe, the one player in our group who had yet to experience Sol noted that it looked “like a Kickstarter game.”
And it does. Because it is a Kickstarter game, but it’s also so much more. In Sol, players are societies who have spent eons harnessing the power of their sun -- until they’ve asked too much, and brought about its premature death. As a result, these civilizations have built “arks” to house their peoples, to seek a new life beyond their home star. But they must ask just a little more of their sun, and harvest its energy one last time to give their arks the final push into space. And in the process, they’ll cause the whole thing to go supernova.
The result is a game that’s part race, part logistics, part epic space opera, as your motherships orbit the sun, spewing ships toward the dying star and sharing infrastructure with other civilizations to gain the most momentum and be the one to save your civilization. The gameplay is deceptively simple, the shared infrastructure and constant motion of your mothership making deployment of your ships and structures a delightful puzzle.
It’s been my experience that everyone who plays Sol for the first time ends up buying the game, and it held true in this case—the new player ordered the game from Elephant Laboratories that night. The creators have a limited supply of copies left over from their 2015 Kickstarter campaign, and like the dying star in the game, it will eventually be exhausted. It will be a dark day when that happens.
The Down Low
Dylan St. Cair - Some games really aren’t made for certain people or personalities. The game group may be made up of some of your closest friends, but you can tell that a game just doesn’t sit well with one or two people. In the middle of some of January’s worst weather, eight of us huddled together in a plastic igloo at a local winery. We imagined it would be much warmer, but only had a small space heater that barely warmed the closest people. All we could do was warm our bellies with a few glasses of wine.
So as conversations died down, we made the decision to play Spyfall, one of the most popular modern party games, and one I had never personally played. Joel messaged out the link to play Spyfall through our phones, we logged in, and then the first spy was chosen.
As we’re asking questions to keep from providing too much information, I could tell that a couple people were dreading being asked a question. It wasn’t because they were afraid of answering the question with too much or too little information, but rather the pressure of being put on the spot to ask a clever follow-up question to someone else was a turn off to them. I’ve seen similar reactions to Snake Oil, another party game that requires keen improvisation. In both games, there were laughs at the hilarity of answers, reactions, questions, and sales pitches, but a few unhappy participants can sour the experience.
I personally love these style of games due to the creativity that ensues, and I enjoyed getting to play Spyfall, but after watching the reactions of some and hearing that it continues to fall flat with users on Reddit, I have been extra observant of who I’m gaming with on that particular night. It’s never your intention to exclude certain people because the game doesn’t mesh with what they’re looking for in a social experience. I’d hate to make things awkward because someone is showing signs that they hate the game.
Also igloos are cold.