Unplugged

unplugged_TEK2

The “4X” (explore, expand, exploit and exterminate) genre is one more familiar and accessible to PC gamers (e.g., CivilizationStarCraft) than it is to the cardboard crowd. The most well-known 4X board games are usually epic, sprawling affairs like Twilight Imperium, Age of Empires, Eclipse or even Civilization: the Board Game. These games have their devotees, but turn away many with their intensive session times, excessive number of pieces, intricate rules, or any number of other factors.

Combining traditional 4X gameplay with the recent design trend towards “micro-games” — games with minimal components that can be played in under 20 minutes — has resulted in Scott Almes’s Tiny Epic Kingdoms, published by Gamelyn Games (Dungeon Heroes). TEK actually has a play time of about half an hour, but that’s still at least one-eighth the time commitment of a normal 4X so the “micro” label still fits. But can you really condense 4X gameplay into a box the size of about two DVD cases stacked on top of each other? READ MORE

GUpairs2

Pairs is what co-designer James Ernest calls a “new classic pub game.” It’s a dirt-simple game that can be played anywhere at any time, and requires nothing more than a single deck of specialized cards and a knowledge of the very basic rules. And yet it is so much more; more than anything else, Pairs is an illustration of how many different ways a simple design can be used by creative minds. READ MORE

unplugged_kingoftokyo2

One of the more widely-disliked game mechanics available to designers is player elimination. Nobody likes being forced to the sidelines early while the rest of the players continue the game, especially if that game still has a while to go before it finishes. Sitting around and doing nothing while everyone else is occupied is the epitome of “not fun.”

Some games can make player elimination work, though. As a general rule, the shorter the overall run time of a typical game session, the less of a drag being eliminated early has on the experience. The other main way to overcome the elimination factor is for a game to be as fun to spectate as it is to participate. With that criteria in mind, how does a half-hour king-of-the-hill kaiju battle royale sound? READ MORE

unplugged_ageofwar2

Risk is one of the all-time classics and is probably among the first five games the general populace thinks of when they hear the term “board game.” It’s also, to fans of modern board gaming, right up there with Monopoly as a horrible game design that just kills fun. That said, conquering the world with military force is still an attractive theme, so it’s no real surprise that “improved” versions of Risk have cropped up from time to time. READ MORE

unplugged_sorcerers2

Hades has recruited minions of evil in an attempt to obtain Merlin’s magic crystal, which would allow him to take over the Magic Kingdom as his own personal summer home. Merlin can’t fight them off alone, so that’s where you come in. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to intercept these baddies via magic portals and use your spells to thwart them.

This is the narrative behind Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom, an interactive experience that can be found in the Disney theme park in question, first introduced in 2012. Sorcerers is a curious variation on a collectible card game, in that there is no actual purchase to play other than entry into the park itself. Those interested in playing simply need to visit the firehouse in Main Street USA (or the outpost behind one of the shops in Liberty Square) and talk to one of the cast members there. READ MORE

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It’s easy to see why Ancient Rome is a fertile inspiration for many game designers. The Romans’ interest in politics, military tactics, art, architecture and religion all offer different elements that can be mixed together into an interesting whole. Stefan Feld’s 2011 title Trajan mixes six aspects of Roman culture, but ties everything together with a mechanic that is decidedly African instead of European. READ MORE

unplugged_marvelDC1

The Marvel-vs.-DC comic publisher rivalry has played out for decades on the printed page and subsequent adaptations. Movies, animation (both features and series), video games, action figures and even various role-playing game systems have all drawn from the deep rosters of both companies’ history of creativity. In 2012, two deck-building games were released: one Marvel (published by Upper Deck), one DC (published by Cryptozoic). I have only recently been able to play them both, partially thanks to recent expansions, and wanted to compare the two head-to-head as is contractually required of Internet fanboys. READ MORE

trickedouthero1

Last year I talked about Dragon Whisperer, a fine if unremarkable trick-taking game with some beautiful art design but no substance to match it. Playing Dragon Whisperer left me wanting more from the intersection of Hearts-style game play and fantasy adventure. Amazingly, a few months later I stumbled upon the Kickstarter campaign for Tricked-Out Hero from Prolific Games, which appeared to offer just that and decided to give it some support. READ MORE

gu_ascensionRU1

I was disappointed in last year’s Ascension offering, Rise of Vigil. The energy/treasure mechanic made the set too insular when applied to older releases, and getting the most treasures seemed to have a direct correlation to winning more often than not. When its expansion, Darkness Unleashed, was released, my local store had difficulty getting a copy in and yet I made no effort to pick it up elsewhere. I just didn’t care for more of that kind of gameplay, so I let it slide by.

This year’s new set, Realms Unraveled, feels more like the Ascension I’ve come to love, to the point where it almost feels as basic as the original release, Chronicle of the Godslayer. Of course it isn’t quite that simple, thanks to some new tricks I’ll get to in a minute, but a lot of the extra additions from previous sets are nowhere to be found. Unfortunately that includes Trophy Monsters and Events, two changes I enjoyed, but you can’t have everything. READ MORE

unplugged_henry

For the next two weeks, Snackbar Games’ columnists are all mixed up! Serotonin‘s Henry Skey steps in for this installment of Gaming Unplugged.  

I’m not exactly a board game person. Oh sure, I pretended to like Monopoly like everybody else growing up, and we’d roll out some obscure card game at a friend’s house, usually involving multiple languages, ripped cards and missing instruction booklets. The obvious joke of playing a “bored” game came up frequently. I sound like the perfect guest host for a column dedicated to talk about non-electronic games, don’t I?

The truth is, I like board games and card games, but they’re an entirely different kettle of fish from video games. READ MORE