Humpty Dumpty

Humpty Dumpty Santorini

I have played only a handful of games of Santorini, and while I have enjoyed it, I don’t feel any great desire to play it anymore. Having said that, I have only played in the ‘base mode’ without any of the ‘god powers’ included in the game. That is probably equivalent to only playing the tutorial mode in a video game, so I will withhold judgement until I have played with the stabilisers off.

Abstract games have never really been my cup of tea anyway. If I were to list my three most important elements in any game, it would look a little like:

  1. Theme
  2. Mechanics
  3. Theme

So obviously abstract games don’t exactly roll my dice, so to speak. If I had to play an abstract, my preference would be for a less complex game, like Santorini. A simple set of mechanics that provide a nice puzzle or challenge for the player.

If you start to complicate that equation and add more layers and mechanics, I can’t help but question why I am taking actions and moving pieces; not finding any satisfactory answers on the board means that I don’t have a compelling reason to continue to play. If I am just pushing cardboard around a vacuum in order to score more points, you have lost me. Hence, Santorini, and my absolute favourite abstract: Hive.

However good Santorini may turn out to be once the God Powers come into play, I very much doubt it will tower high enough to topple Hive from the top spot. Hive is a boardless, chess-like two-player game. Each player has a set of wonderfully chunky, tactile, hexagonal tiles, which they place to form the ‘hive’. Each hex represents a different insect: beetle, grasshopper, etc., each with a different movement rule, à la chess. You place pieces and slide them around the ever-expanding hive in order to trap your opponent’s queen.

It’s simpler than chess (considerably so), but still has enough depth of play to warrant more than one strategy guide available to purchase. While I have long since given up on chess (like any sane person would), Hive is a game that I feel I am capable of learning and improving with all the time, without ever feeling utterly and completely out of my depth.

But all of the depth of Hive comes from strategy, not mechanics. The rules form a very simple framework, and games only take 10-15 minutes (depending on how quickly I lose).

My initial feeling on Santorini was that the rules framework did not allow for much gameplay depth, and it was simply move and counter-move. But the god powers introduce different win conditions and player abilities, so these should hopefully shake things up enough spike my interest in the game again.

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Push Your Luck

Push Your Luck

The Kickstarter was a huge success, so now Tabletop Cork is only a matter of time, and of finding the right venue. And while they are sourcing good locations, Chris and Emer also have all that Kickstarter money to spend on shiny new board games for the cafe. While we like to think of ourselves as generally being good, honest people, board games are so expensive, and we only have so much furniture, family heirlooms, and clothing we can sell to pay for them.

Chris and Emer, you are probably both reading this, so I would just like to say, we would never do that to you in real life.
But also have you guys seen the Heroes of Land, Sea and Air Kickstarter?

 

In all seriousness though, games becoming more expensive does seem to be a trend. As the hobby grows, and the market becomes ever more crowded and competitive, this would appear to be counter-intuitive. More competition should mean more competitive pricing, and not the reverse. So why are board games bucking the trend?

While it’s impossible to give conclusive answers when dealing with such a large market, there are some definite culprits. Firstly, I think the trend towards miniatures has had a part to play. It’s the big Kickstarter trend in board games, and has been for a while – pack the box with minis and charge accordingly.

This isn’t to say that companies who produce miniature-heavy games are ripping people off. The point here is that it has become ‘normal’ for a board game to cost 100+ Euro/Dollars/Gold Coins/Victory Points. Five years ago, I would have laughed at the idea of a board game that cost that much, but now it’s not that unusual. This trend has allowed for games like Kingdom Death Monster, and Mechs Vs Minions – boxes that cost literally hundreds.

Again, that is not to say that these are not good value games, but rather, as higher pricing becomes the norm, so other manufacturers are more likely to follow suit. To include miniatures in their box, or higher value production and components because that is where the market is trending.

Another culprit here is definitely the huge number of mergers and acquisitions that the hobby has seen in just the past three years. While there might appear to be as many competing publishers as there ever was, the reality is that these publishers are in fewer and fewer hands, and are not actually competing in the same manner that we think they are.

In the past three years, Asmodee has acquired Days of Wonder and Fantasy Flight. Last year it bought F2Z Entertainment, which owns Plaid Hat, Z-Man, and Filosophia. That is a huge number of publishers, brands, and games all under the one roof, and there is no reason for Asmodee to consider reducing its prices.

A company the size of Asmodee can exert such an influence of its market as to distort it – hence the laws against monopolies that exist. Recent reprints from Fantasy Flight Games have shown this. Citadels went from a small box, sub-20 Dollar game to a 30-dollar game in a much larger box (now published by Asmodee). Of course, you get so much more in the box now, in terms of game and components, but it’s still a worrying trend. The same thing can be seen in the shiny, lengthened, hardback new edition of ‘The Extraordinary Adventures of Baron Munchausen.

 

One small positive to be gleaned from this is the also-growing trend for micro games. As an answer to the ever-growing price tag and box size of popular games, some publishers and designers have seen an opportunity to stand out by doing the opposite – tiny boxes with equivalent price tags.

Love Letter is of course the flagship of this movement – containing just sixteen cards and with a price tag well under sixteen dollars/Euros, it presents phenomenal value and great gameplay. Star Realms is our most played two player game. At well under 20 of your local currency, its tiny box is packed with variety and replayability. While it might not technically be a ‘micro game’, it is a cheap game in a tiny box, and that’s good enough for me. I think a reduced size means a game has to be stripped back to its bare minimum – no frills, excesses, or unnecessary complications, and that can turn a good game into a truly great game.


On a final note this week, I want to give a mention to Our Turn Podcast: Women in Gaming, who as of this week are part of the Dice Tower Network. Co-host Sarah Reed is a friend of the comic, and an all-round great person too. The current episode focuses on ‘gaming challenges’ – such as the 10×10 (which we tried last year but failed appallingly), which Sarah was the original architect of.

 

 

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Careful What You Wish For

Writer_smallerKeep on playin’ games

Firstly, for those who care about such things (and I believe our audience numbers a few of you) there is another great value word game on KS right now. This one seems to have an extraordinarily simple rule set, so much so that I was put off a little at first, but it’s possible it is one of those games that works well, not in spite of, but because of, a simple rule set. At only 23 dollars including shipping, it’s quite likely I will find out. And the KS is still live as this comic is posted.

Halloween came and went with little in the way of opportunity for playing seasonal games. We did manage a solitary game of Werewolf (I won, and must say the villagers were delightfully tasty), but Mysterium, or Ghost Stories, or Dead of Winter all failed to haunt our gaming group with their presence.

Still, if Disney movies have taught me anything, it’s that Halloween was, and still is, in our hearts all along, and so can be celebrated right up to Christmas, at which point the carved pumpkins are likely to be no more than orange mushy puddles by your doorstep, and should be removed. The point being, spooky games are good all year round, so we shall try our best to get some in at a later date. In fact, we have been meaning to get back to Fiasco, and there are plenty of appropriately themed scenarios for a night of horror gaming. Our first game was an ordinary crime-themed bloodbath, so now we want to try a bloodbath of a more supernatural nature – zombies, monsters, politicians, accountants etc.

I have an X-Wing tournament this weekend, but after that there is no more competitive X-Wing (at least locally) until the new year, so I will be playing a broader spectrum of games in general. Having said that, it is also looking more and more likely that GW’s Blood Bowl will release this month, which means I will just be swapping an X-Wing obsession for a Blood Bowl obsession … Anyone else as excited about Blood Bowl as I am? (on a scale of 1 to pretty darn excited I would rate myself as being ‘pretty darn excited’)

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Backer Beware

Project Update!

I was just about to do my ‘yoga flame’ as well. It would have been so impressive.

To be clear, this comic is NOT aimed at the ‘Heroes of Normandie’ Kickstarter. I needed a current Kickstarter project for the comic, and this one genuinely piqued my interest. Heroes is a game I’ve always wanted to try, but could never quite figure out how to justify another war game in my collection when the ones I have don’t see enough table time as it is.

The companies and Kickstarters that it is aimed at will remain anonymous, but I am certain that most reading this comic will know exactly what we are talking about. I think even Bob from Marketing would be ashamed at the way in which some companies spam your inbox after you’ve backed their campaign. Sure, if I’ve backed a game that means I’m excited enough to want to hear updates on it, but within reason. A couple of updates about how the project is shaping up, and definitely a shipping notification.

In the handful of Kickstarter projects I have backed, I have seen this handled well, and handled poorly. And worse than that are the companies who take it as permission to add you to a general mailing list/newsletter. That’s infuriating, not to mind legally dubious. A mailing list is a separate opt-in, simple as that. Backing your Kickstarter is not an excuse to email every week long after your project has been delivered. That is not acceptable.

In better Kickstarter news, I backed Moveable Type, a great-looking little card game from an Irish designer. Not only am I supporting local talent, but it means reasonable shipping for once. But I didn’t back it because it was locally produced, I backed it because not only is it a great-looking card game, but it’s a great-looking word-based card game. And we have nowhere near enough word-based games, and I do love words. Unfortunately, by the time the comic is posted, the KS will have ended, but I should have it before Christmas, and if it’s any good you’ll be hearing about it here.

Word games! I am excited.

11 Comments on Backer Beware

Postman (s)Pat

Writer_smallerMail delivery

Haven’t backed Scythe yet. But our postman did recently refer to us as what’s ‘keeping him in business’. We do have a friend in our main gaming group who’s hovering around the idea of backing Scythe. Hoping he takes the plunge so we don’t have to. Getting too close to Christmas to be dropping that amount of money on a game, regardless of how good it looks. But damn if it doesn’t look good. And the game play seems to be an arresting mix of Euro engine building and civ building, with some good ol’ fashioned aggressive area control with some smashy mechs in the mix. What seems like too many elements supposedly blends quite well though, although I’ve yet to see a comprehensive review from a site I really trust.

Doesn’t mean I want it any less.

Right then, with that out of the way, here’s the big question, and no, it’s not too early to ask it: What’s everyone getting for Christmas? I mean, what’s the big deal, the one game that’s top of the list, must have, want want want, can’t wait for Christmas type deal? We might be trying to decide on some present ideas here at Tiny Wooden Towers.

9 Comments on Postman (s)Pat

Buyer beware

Writer_smallerKrazy Kickstarters

To be clear up front, this comic is not a criticism of Kickstarter. It’s more a pointed satire of certain instances of its use. But I’ll get to that. We don’t often use the comic as such an open criticism, and that is deliberate.

Tiny Wooden Pieces is a celebration of board games, card games, playing games: the whole hobby. We love playing games, and want to shout about this to as many people as possible. It creates something of a tension for us that our comic, which we want to use to bring more humour and fun to board gaming, is not as inclusive as it should be. It is necessarily esoteric, often requiring prior knowledge of particular games, game types, rules, news in the industry, etc. But that’s the comic we chose to make, and we do our best to keep it as open as possible. We have no time for that kind of person who thinks board games should be for serious gamers only. That casual game players, newcomers and dilettantes have no place at the table. We love teaching games. That moment during a game of Pandemic when it clicks with someone that games are more than the long session of Monopoly or Game of Life they had to endure growing up. That games can be clever, challenging, funny, and fun. Above all, fun. That games create stories and memories. Jesse Schell refers to board games as being a form of magic, which is a sentiment I wholeheartedly agree with. He talks about how games can transform lumps of mundane plastic and cardboard into something more than the sum of their parts, how this inanimate collection of objects can make people sweat, laugh, shout and argue.

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Capital idea

Writer_smallerCapital idea

The list of exciting new from Gen Con in the comic is only partial, of course. There was a lot.

As time goes on, however, I find I have gotten better at buying games. Or more to the point, not buying them. It’s not that I’ve become more discerning necessarily, more that I can better navigate the tricky waters of board game releases. I can browse, watch videos and read press releases with less chance of getting caught in a vicious undertow of hype and surfacing with a large dent in my credit card sustained while pre-ordering a large box of tiny wooden pieces I won’t get for another 2 months.

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