Monthly High Five - July 2019
The 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!
James - 1830
I wrote about 1830 just 2 months ago in the May High Five article, but here it is showing up once again. I’m still in my discovery phase of 18xx but I am 100% hooked (shoutout to a newly discovered podcast "Derailed" that caters to the newer 18xx player and has been a terrific listen.) In July I got the chance to play 1830 two times, under different circumstances. Myself and fellow CBR Patrons and Slack contributors Lorcan, Dan S, and Sanchez got together online for a game of 1830 at rr.18xx.com - my first foray into the online world of 18xx. This was an asynchronous game that had players taking their turns at their leisure when it came around to them. The interface is perhaps a bit dated, but works wonderfully and actually helped clean up quite a few rules for me, as the game will not allow you to proceed with an illegal move. All told the game took us about 10 days, and had all the usual table talk and chatter that I experienced at my first game of 1830. It was a blast, and I look forward to our next game online.
I also got 1830 to the table with my usual weeknight game group. We planned to split it over two sessions, leaving it set up in the vault of my gaming table, and it’s a good thing we did, because we ended up with about a 7 hour play time in our 3 player game. People say this all the time, but it couldn’t be more true - time flies when you’re playing an 18xx. I couldn’t believe when we’d look up at the clock and see that it had been 3 hours already. Play can be methodical, especially running numerous companies in the operating rounds, but it never feels like it’s dragging. This game in particular highlighted some of the things I really appreciate about 18xx - the decisions are meaningful, you can pinpoint where you made a misstep, and can appreciate when a competitor makes a great move against you. More than once in this game, my opponent tokened me out or blocked me out of a route that I just genuinely did not see coming. I love that gameplay, interaction, and savageness that comes along with this game system. I personally made a huge strategic error, buying a late game diesel, replenishing the bank, and then getting tokened out of my diesel run. This led to an extra set of operating rounds where I lost my lead and the game. And I loved that I got to learn that valuable lesson and see exactly where I screwed up.
I’ve now played 1830 at 6 players, 4 players, and 3 players - each game played out wildly different than the other, and each player count requires approaching the puzzle from a different angle. I greatly appreciate that about this game. It keeps me wanting to play it more and more, but I also want to branch out and discover what else the 18xx world has to offer — and I will, I’ve got 1846 on the way via trade.
B.L. - Viticulture
If you had to pick a worker placement game out of a lineup, I don’t think you could do any better than Viticulture. Many might point you toward Agricola, or Lords of Waterdeep, but in terms of capturing the genre, for my money, nothing defines pure worker placement better than Jamey Stegmaier’s 2015 game about making and selling wine in Tuscany.
That doesn’t mean Viticulture is a perfect game by any stretch. Some feel it can run too long for what it is, many feel that the Tuscany expansion modules are necessary for the game to reach its full potential (an opinion I don’t necessarily disagree with), or that it’s a little too dry, too bland.
I get all those arguments. In particular, I think the extended board of Tuscany is essential to a balanced game, and the alternate summer and winter visitor cards of the Visit from the Rhine Valley expansion is also highly recommended to reduce the swinginess/imbalance of the base game cards.
But the simplicity of the design, the tightness of the worker locations, and the game’s little mechanical nuances — like the seasonal wake-up order and the bonuses it can give, the grande worker that must be used wisely and lets you break the rules a little to grab a worker spot that’s already fully occupied, and the way the seasonal worker placement spaces shift in priority as the game wears on — keep Viticulture in its place as the top worker placement title on BGG, a mellow, well-aged romp through the Italian countryside.
Dylan - “It’s the Great Boxmas”
Introducing non-gamers to hobby board games can be one of extreme failure. I’ve had many times where a game flops or family members hesitate when moving on from the classics they know and love. And I think we all have, backed up by when Nick gave examples of times games flopped with his family.
This year, “It’s the Great Boxmas” delivered in that front. Boxmas is a made up holiday that my friends and I celebrate. There is no general month for it. It just happens. I’ve used our fake holiday to make it into an annual game night in a small town in southern Indiana for my friends and family. For this year, I titled it after the famous Peanuts Halloween episode. And you know what? This one stands right up there with some of the best Boxmas celebrations we’ve put on.
It wasn’t because we played epic games of Spector Ops or Millennium Blades. It wasn’t due to numbers. In fact, this one might have been one of our smallest. But what stood out was the sheer amount of participation from everyone of all ages and backgrounds.
Take our game of A Fake Artist Goes to New York. The ages ranged from late-teens to early 60s. That is incredible to see. After the game ended, my mom (who, mind you, is hesitant to play games out of her comfort zone) left the table to go play a game we introduced to her that very day, without myself or my wife or any other gamers there to teach it. She was prepared to take it upon herself to teach the game to another non-gamer.
Now granted, the game was the 2011 Spiel des Jahres winner Qwirkle, so teaching the game isn’t difficult. But man, moments like that are why I love game nights similar to Boxmas.
This isn’t even telling of how many people at Boxmas sat down to play Impact: Battle of Elements. My dad, his wife, and his siblings played a few rounds, even after I had left the room. These two stories enforce that “It’s the Great Boxmas” was indeed a great Boxmas.
Joel - Whitehall Mystery
Whitehall Mystery. A game you should not be surprised to see on the High Five from this group. However, you may be wondering, “I already know you like Whitehall Mystery, why would you tell me more about how you like it?” Well, that is a good question, and it comes down to the people I played it with. I have a few long-time friends who are by no stretch of the imagination, hobby gamers. They have always preferred video games over board games and have rarely come to board game nights when they were invited. They also rarely seemed to enjoy themselves when they did come. This shifted on July 4th.
We were just chilling at their place for the 4th, but one of them told me to bring some games I thought they might enjoy. I did not bring anything too ridiculous, but Whitehall Mystery was probably the heaviest, alongside The Estates. I talked through the games and they decided on Whitehall. Since they were new, I knew I had to play as Jack, even though I know they are good at deduction games and would catch on pretty quick. It was a long game that went all the way to the final night where they caught me at my last discovery location on a miraculous end-game move. They were ecstatic..
I have never seen them so satisfied after playing a board game. I could tell that one of them enjoyed it a bit more, but was still shocked that they enjoyed it at all, particularly with it going a bit longer than I anticipated. Since then they have asked for more board game nights, which I have been happy to oblige. One of the things I noticed was that there was a bit less pressure with just a few of us. It was not our whole group of hobby gamers, just me, so the environment felt more casual. I think this was the difference in their experience. I will still introduce them to heavier games at a slow pace, but I am excited to have another group to game with, not to mention they live within walking distance of me.
Nick - Reef Encounter
This very out of print fifteen year old game has been on my shortlist to play for over a year now. Thankfully I was able to trade for a used copy — the box has seen better days, but the inside components are in good shape. Some believe Reef Encounter to be Richard Breese’s greatest design (designer of the beloved Keyflower). After playing it, I think I agree.
Halfway through the teach, I was incredibly excited to start playing. The game design is unlike anything else I’ve ever played — original, elegant, and deep. In Reef Encounter, players will be competing to build the largest coral in hopes to protect it with their shrimp long enough so that their parrot fish can consume it for end game points before the competition can invade. This game is full of tight decisions and smart play, and it has me wanting to come back for more. Some people even consider this game to be an underwater take on stock investment games.
Perhaps the greatest part of my first play of Reef Encounter was playing with a stranger who stopped by the pub for a beer and decided to join in. Hilariously enough, he has never played a modern board game before and chose to sit down at the heaviest game table during our Keep Gaming Indy event. However, our newfound friend was a good sport and stayed competitive throughout the game!
Scott - Paths of Glory
For the first time in this series of articles I am covering the down low. Paths of Glory is a well loved game that I went into wanting to love, but I can’t say my first play was a good experience. A warning to any first time players using the newest edition, the setup as indicated by the board and by the rulebook are for two different ways of setting up the game, and be sure that units in parentheses are placed at half strength. The rules were a bear to get through and this game has quite a few special rules and exceptions that will have you referring to the rulebook regularly.
We decided for our first game to go with the half game scenario where we play 10 rounds or until someone reaches total war, or the victory point threshold. Even playing the half length scenario the game lasted around 6 hours and was exhausting to complete. This compounded with small rules mistakes and setup blunders to create a negative experience that ate my whole day. This is the kind of game that needs repeated plays and experienced players to shine; but with a game this long and heavy, how feasible is it to achieve that?
All of these negative things being said, I don’t think Paths of Glory is a bad game. It has some real pros to it. It combines a grand sense of scale with the fine attention to historical details that allow this to be played like a simulation of WW1 and not just a strategy game. It makes me feel that this game is better suited to solo play where you leave it on the table all week instead of an evening of gaming with a friend.