Last year my gaming group got together for a two and half day super gaming weekend event where we did absolutely nothing but play board games taking only short breaks to eat and sleep. It was one of the most memorable and exhausting gaming events I’ve had in a long time. There is absolutely nothing like having 2 full days of freedom, in particular for me as a father and husband, but to spend it with your favorite hobby and gaming buddies is just pure unheard of luxury. When summer rolled around this year, there was no question that we needed a repeat and this weekend, its exactly what we got.
Today I’m going to go over every game we played, doing overviews of the games we played and offering up a few tid-bits of insight of the event and games we played. Enjoy!
Sheriff of Nottingham
Pros: Easy to learn, quick to play, creates lots of tension and funny moments.
Cons: Requires a social group for the interaction to work.
We kicked off the event with Sheriff of Nottingham, a punchy social game of deception that creates great table atmosphere and in the hands of a wacky gaming group of long time friends like mine immediately endears itself, tapping into our natural group dynamic humor. Its really tailor made for friends that love nothing more than pulling one off on each other and Sheriff gets right down to the root of its core without a lot of fluff and unnecessary mechanics and components to get in the way of it. Yeah you might say its less a game and more a social activity, but its clever, fun and keeps you engaged.
Most of the game revolves around the anxiety of trying to smuggle goods past the Sheriff or as a Sheriff, trying to figure out who’s lying to you. Trade Good cards are put into a little sealed bag as players declare to the acting sheriff the goods they are supposedly moving into Nottingham. If the Sheriff checks the bag and you lied, you have to pay for your failure, if he checks and you told the truth he pays you and if he doesn’t check you earn on the contents as well. In short you earn gold for your success, and pay up for your failures, the one with the most gold at the end of the game wins.
This simple mechanism alone might fall flat in some less social and less out going groups, its definitely geared more towards extroverts but I think Its great for families or small dinner parties and certainly for any group of friends who enjoy a bit of confrontation and deception. Great game, its accolades are well deserved. Alcohol is recommended!
Pros: Well balanced, works with various player counts, lots of strategies to explore.
Cons: Can be a bit hostile in a free for all, not everyone will appreciate its cut-throat nature.
This one we as a group picked up right before the event and all but one of us had never played it, it was without question one of the most pleasant surprises of the event. The Star Realms infused fantasy card game seasoned with all of the character expansions was put on the table in a 5 man free for all. This one definitely had some teeth, starting out slow as players built up their decks, it quickly turned into a hostile and very bloody all out war where rivalries formed, alliances were broken, bringing out the games asymmetrical nuances in an almost a Magic The Gathering stylized bash that had everyone sitting upright.
Now I really like Star Realms, but something about a Fantasy Setting using the same mechanic with some Asymmetrical classes with what I think was a cleaner balance over Star Realms really made this take on deck building shine. It had a more refined tracking system for health, more synergies for each color and a bit tighter deck building. More importantly it worked a lot better as a multiplayer game then a duel. In Star Realms games generally were not particularly close, as one player would more often than not run away with it. It felt like with Hero Realms you were better equipped to stay within the same power ranges. I also like the fact that all colors had very strong and viable combos without the need to supplement across different color branches while also functioning well when mixed. In Star Realms for example I always felt like some colors like Yellow just didn’t work on their own. Now grant it we had expansions for Hero Realms where I have only ever played vanilla Star Realms but as a whole I liked this version of the game a lot better. The theme just fired on all pistons for me and my gaming group unanimously agreed.
Great game, another Gamersdungeon.net recommended title for anyone who loves a nice crunchy fast paced card game.
Pros: Lots of politics, alliances and betrayals, plenty of tactics and strategy, well rounded races.
Cons: Mechanics are showing their age, a bit too long for what you get out of it and can end rather anti-climatically.
The Twilight Imperium version of Dune got a mixed reception from the group, a game that once graced my top 10 list, REX is a bit of an enigma. Its a mechanic that is the better part of 40 years old and while Fantasy Flight Games refreshed it quite a bit, its deeply Asymmetrical to the point of confusion. It really rely’s on all players having a really good understanding of all of the components, mechanics and of course racial powers in play or that could come into play. Veteran gamers will pick up on it quickly if the rules are explained well and you go over everything thoroughly but this added time compiles one of the games main problems, the length of the game.
The game had its moments, I wouldn’t say it was a complete dud, among them was the mini game of forming and breaking alliances, betrayals and varied winning conditions which created a lot of atmosphere and even the more reluctant players had to admit that REX created some tense situations and tough choices worthy of table time. It does suffer however from a couple of flaws that some mechanical modernization could probably fix.
More than that though one the key problem with the game is that its definitely too long when it goes to 8 rounds and our game did. Its been my experience that most games don’t normally go to 8 rounds and even when they do their is a big climax at the end, but in this and previous sessions of the game with this group this it just took far too long and ended fairly anti-climatically doing little to sell it to a group who had been disappointed by it before.
I think some groups might find the deception, alliances and betrayals and varied winning conditions very satisfactory, but I think for my group REX had its last chance at the table, in particular given the sheer volume of great strategy games in this genre available as alternatives. My group thrives on social play elements like deceit and betrayal, but REX accomplishes this at a snails pace with a lot of gotcha mechanic overhead which doesn’t sit well with them and I understand that. I still like the game, I don’t think its quite ready to be cut from the collection, but between this last play and the last time it hit the table about 3 years ago its definitely a dust collector. I would probably recommend this one with caution, do your research and make sure that this is the type of game that would appeal to your group.
Exodus: Proxima Centauri (Revised Edition)
Pros: A much better alternative to the bore-fest that is Eclipse.
Cons: Far too long, very fiddly, some overcooked and insufficiently tested mechanics.
I picked this up a while ago on sale and while I had played it a couple of times with some casual gamers, this was the first time I introduced it to my gaming group. Suffice to say the reception was less then stellar ranging from “I fucking hate this game” to “It didn’t suck that bad”.
The sales pitch of this game is that its a shorter Twilight Imperium, much in the way Eclipse was and the truth is that in the 4x genre of board games there is one king and everything else trails so far behind its barely worth mentioning. Eclipse was absolutely, in no way comparable to TI3, in fact, to claim so is just blatant nonsense. While I think Exodus came a hell of a lot closer, I would still say its a lot closer to being an offshoot of Eclipse then it is one of TI3. It had a lot more spark and interaction then Eclipse, but It was nowhere near the experience of TI3.
More importantly the “shorter version” pitch wasn’t really true either. Between setup, explaining the rules and playing the game to completion we were well into 5+ hours and I’m certain I could have clocked a game of TI3 with 5 players at just a tad bit longer then that and it would have been a far worthier use of our precious gaming time.
There was nothing inherently wrong with the mechanics of the game, it certainly tapped into the 4x genre, but I just felt most of the mechanics were lackluster by comparison to TI3 and as such it kind of suffered as a result of trying to fill those shoes, much in the way most attempts at 4x games do for me.
The political element was rather boring and unnecessarily overcooked. The impact of politics ranged from irrelevant to a minor point of interest. The combat system was ok, but typically predictable, results rarely surprised us. I like the concept of the WMD that could be fired to screw people over, but it seemed pointless since it really didn’t help you score. It acted more like a deterrent to action, which had the resulting effect of an action-less game most of the time.
I think the biggest issue with the game was its fiddly nature, in particularly movement which while conceptually cool as it mimicked simultaneous movement was a slow, fiddly, painful experience. In particular given that most of the time simultaneous movement had no real strategic impact or value. It really didn’t matter much until the final rounds of the game and even then it sort of felt like you couldn’t control the board as a result so there was no way to isolate ships and trap them. Ships would slip past fleets and the only way you could catch people would be to guess their movement actions. I suppose that’s an ok way to do it, but it felt like it was less about strategy and more about guessing right.
As a whole the game didn’t thrill us, it wasn’t without its entertaining moments but it was definitely not worth a 5+ hour time slot in our board gaming weekend. This one is a hard pass for me personally and most of the gaming group concurred. I may give it a another shot in the future, but the stink of this last game is going to take some time to wash off before I work up the interest to try it again.
Raise Your Goblets
Pros: Easy to learn, quick to play, creates lots of tension and funny moments.
Cons: Requires a social group for the interaction to work.
This quirky social game is definitely among my favorites to play with my gaming group, less for its “game” elements and more for its inherent ability to setup hilarious table talk and create funny moments. Among a group of close friends, trying to poison each other in a game of wits and memory is a great formula, especially if you add some real cocktails to the mix which we of course did.
By and large this is a filler game, so it certainly doesn’t have that “lets get together and play Raise Your Goblets” energy on which to base a game night, but its quick to play, easy to learn and accommodates a wide range of group sizes which I think fits the bill of a warm up game quite perfectly. I think this would also qualify as a really great family game, so you have that extension of possibilities for it to hit the table.
I love it personally, most of the gaming group concurred, this one is a keeper.
Lords of Waterdeep (with the Skullport expansion)
Pros: Classic worker placement formula done right, very thematic for a Euro designed game.
Cons: Can be a real brain burner, the Skullport expansion is a must.
Lords of Waterdeep is in my mind one of the best worker placement games out there, perhaps trumped only by Empires: Age of Discovery. Its thematic, interactive and deeply strategic not to mention somewhat asymmetrical. Its always been popular in my gaming group and it see’s several plays each year like clockwork going as far back as I can remember. Its appearance at the big gaming weekend was no surprise to me at all and what’s great about this game for us is that we know it so well so everyone is always really competitive. Our game ended up with everyone scoring at least 120 points and the winner was upwards of 150.
Lords of Waterdeep has real longevity in our group, a big part of that reason i think is that we are all avid D&D fans and we know our D&D worlds well. The theme really works for us though I have read many reviews of the game calling it “theme-less” which always sounded ridiculous to me, but I suppose if you aren’t into D&D, it might just come of as a rather generic fantasy layer. For D&D fans however every card is a reminder of RPG games from the past and their are nuances and inside jokes that come to the surface after years of playing for us.
As a whole Lords of Waterdeep is a more thinky, strategic engagement so its not a game that produces a lot of energy. Games are usually quiet and contemplative, with everyone racking their brains for their next big play. Its also got a bit of an edge over most worker placement Euros thanks to the direct “take that” intrigue cards which can create a bit of hostility and rivalries, though this is a fairly light layer in the game, it won’t appeal to everyone. At its core its all about resource management, playing to the strengths of your lord of waterdeep and picking your quests wisely to squeeze the most points out of every situation. The corruption mechanic of the Skullport expansion is an absolute must in my opinion, I would never play this game without it. It creates a far more interesting and diverse risk vs. reward twist to the game that I think otherwise would be a lot more static.
There is a lot of mastery in this game, plenty of tricks, clever tactics and long term strategies to deploy, nuances that you pick up through repeated plays. This makes this a game of exploring new tactics each time you play and while I don’t think it has that “lets play it again” draw, it does have that long lasting classic feel to it that keeps you coming back with breaks in-between.
Definitely Gamersdungeon.net approved!
Dead of Winter
Pros: One of the best games for people who love betrayal mechanics, very challenging co-op.
Cons: Can be hit or miss depending on how events play out in the game.
Dead of Winter was the highlight of last years event producing a very memorable game and actually shifting the game back into my top 10 list for a brief moment in 2016. This time around I ended up being a traitor in the game but unfortunately I botched it really bad and in the scenario we were playing when you are exiled you are removed from play. The colony ended up surviving and accomplishing their mission without my help or interference and everyone won the game except me and one other player who was exiled as I deflected blame on him and managed to confuse the group for a brief moment.
It was an interesting game but in the end it breached some of the issues I have had with it in the past. For me Dead of Winter is kind of a swingy game, sometimes when everything falls into place and the suspicion and tension of the game rises to climaxes its a thrilling experience. Other times it can just kind of land flat for various reasons, most often the fact that their is no traitor in the game and everyone realizes it or the mission is so hard the game ends pre-maturely.
I think its a great game, but whether it succeeds or fails to entertain on any given evening can vary. Sometimes its fantastic, sometimes its just kind of bleh. Win or lose however the game has a great setup to create tension and tough choices between your loyalties to your own mission and the loyalties to the colony. You kind of have to win two games and because everyone has their own agenda there is a tendency to suspect people of being traitors whether their actually is one or not. I think much of the games entertainment value depends on all players having a vested interest in succeeding but pushing the limits to do whatever they can to complete their own end game goals. Of course if there is a traitor, all the better, though the game can often end up being unwinnable as a result so its a bit of a catch 22.
Its not in my top 10 anymore, but its always good for a play or two on any gaming evening, I certainly give it my stamp of approval with the cautionary that it doesn’t always hit on all of its pistons.
Road Rally USA
Pros: Easy to learn, fast to play, very clever with lots of tension.
Cons: None that I saw, its a great filler.
A member of the gaming group picked this up on a sale and we gave it a twirl since its a relatively quick game. Our expectations were quite low but this one actually pleasantly surprised everyone. Its a good quality racing game built around a track and card mechanic to make the cars go.
Players effectively play matching colored cards to move cards around the track trying to stay in the lead in case someone decides to score one of their checkpoint cards. The trick is that you do not refill your hand automatically. There are three colors, green, yellow and red, each with increasing values, but you draw cards only on the lower colored cards. Green gets you two, yellow gets you one and playing matching red cards yields you none. The result is a kind of hand management where you are trying to stack colors and make big moves at the right time to score at different checkpoints.
There was also a great catch up mechanic where at certain points on the track when your last you get to draw additional cards as well as various positions on the track where you could reshuffle your deck (at the gas station) or stack your deck at the mechanic shop. Hence there is a element of timing and trying to land on specific points on the track, all the while trying to stay ahead to score points.
Very smart, simple and fast game that keeps the tension high and the race close. It was a lot of fun, definitely worthy of table time. I expect we’ll see this one hitting table more often in the future at our regular gaming events.
Avalon: The Resistance
Pros: Without question one of the best deception/deduction games on the market today.
Cons: Must have a minimum of 5 players to play and need at least 7 or 8 to use the various special characters that enhance the game.
Without question one of my favorite deception/deduction games, this is more a social activity then a game but its always a hit at our gaming events and it was this time as well. We ended up playing it half a dozen times.
While the concept is quite simple, this game creates a tremendous amount of table talk as players accuse each other of being traitors and trying to figure out who’s on who’s team. Well balanced and always super fun regardless of which character you end up playing.
This was probably the highlight of the event this time around, though in my experience with the game so far it has always hit it out of the park. Easily one of the best filler games in my collection. The only real drawback is that you need a minimum of 5 players to play the game and to use the special characters and optional rules you need about 7 or 8. Hence, its not for your typical gaming nights.
Deception: Murder In Hong Kong
Pros: A deception/deduction game leaning heavier on the deduction aspect, but does it very well, definitely the best in its unique genre.
Cons: Can hit or miss depending on how difficult the clues are.
Another deception/deduction game, this one has you trying to solve a murder based on clues provided by an oddly silent forensic expert who gives you enigmatic one word clues. With limited guesses you must determine which of the players is posing as an investigator, what murder weapon he used to commit the crime and what clue he left behind at the crime scene.
Its really just kind of a fun, silly game, but surprisingly thinky. In our group the forensic expert player typically creates a narrative of the crime at the end of the game to depict his thinking behind the clues he provided, which always creates a laugh as we discover the bizarre way our friends brains work.
Always a fun time, but not always a particularly great game, this one seems to hit the table pretty regularly since I bought it, a bit of a group favorite but sometimes games can be a bit flat depending on the difficulty of the clues.
Personally I think its great, but has diminishing returns. It scored a 4.00 in my Quick review of the game and while I stand by it, I think between Avalon and this, I would choose Avalon. This is mainly because it can miss fire sometimes when the clues are obvious leading us right out of the gate to a solution, or so unrelated and obscure that its physically impossible to figure out. I have actually found that its a much bigger hit among non-gamer or casual gamers than it is among veteran gamers, but still it seems like my group gives it the stamp of approval and so do I.
Assault Of The Giants
Pros: Clever tight mechanics, quick game despite being fairly deep on the strategic scale.
Cons: Asymmetrical missions are so tight it feels like your on rails.
This is one of the few games in the lineup where my opinion and that of my group don’t see eye to eye. Its beloved by many members of my gaming group for its tactically rich, asymmetrical gameplay and I do get that. Its a tight game where each type of giant has a very specific goal and while you attempt to complete your own quests, you have to get in the way of your opponents just enough to keep them off track. In concept its fantastic and normally it would be right up my alley, in particular given its thematic D&D roots, but I find it has a several problems that spoil it for me.
For one, the entire game boils down to 9-12 actions you will take in the entire game. That’s it. More than that of the 9 -12 actions you will take, some amount of them, depending on the game, that are less of a choice and more like “must take”, actions. I understand the goal is to keep the game short and sweet but this feels extremely limiting taking the concept of a tight game to extremes, to a point of feeling like the game is over far too soon but more specifically feeling like its on rails.
This in turn impacts the second problem which is that because you have so few actions to take, between trying to accomplish your own scoring conditions and trying to stop other players, you simply don’t have enough moves to address the majority of threats or opportunities. You will take a path and once chosen your pretty much committed to it for the rest of the game. There is no time to alter plans. In a typical game you will make 1 to 2 moves and 1 to 2 attacks and that’s it. In all games I have played of this certain actions you simply will never take unless you have already lost like recruiting.
Another issue is the concept of targeting a player. If another player decides “I’m going to stop you”, there is not a whole lot you can do about it and you losing the game is almost 100% assured. He might not win, but preventing a player from winning is very easy.
Finally this is a game of king making
In the end you might be able to affect one or two players, or even successfully defend a position somewhere but you are depended on other players to spur into action and contribute to blocking each other. If a player is left alone that you can’t reach, or if someone decides to block you instead of your neighbor your fate is pretty certain. The impact of an all out attack can very much take both players out simultaneously and open the door for a 3rd and this at least with my limited experience with the game is usually how it goes down.
Now I will say that I’m by no stretch of the imagination an expert in the game, so I’m sure there are nuances and deeper strategies that can be employed to improve your chances of winning, I have no doubt about that. To me though, between the tightness of the game, limited available options and dependency on other players to block the people you can’t, I feel like I have too little control over my own fate. I also feel like the missions for the Giants are so linear, that you’re practically on rails in terms of the actions you have to take to score points.
Its not that I don’t like the game, but it just feels just a bit too anti-climatic. Its certainly clever and I completely understand why people like it, but it would not be my first pick. Its not something I would put into my collection, its a lot more fluff then substance in my opinion. On the behalf of my group however I can say that they would give it their highest recommendations, from me I will just say that I don’t mind playing it, but I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone.
While there were some misses we had a fantastic weekend of gaming. The lineup of games this year varied dramatically from the social activity type to the super thinky. We saw some Euro’s, we saw some Amer-trash. We played some new games and some old classics. To me it was a near perfect weekend.
For those of you planning an event like this, I can offer a few pieces of advice based on this weekends experience.
For one, I think when you get your friends together for a 2 day event, that is not a time to test out new games. Not unless you are certain that its up their ally. We played some games where we new certain players were not going to enjoy it whether it was because of the type of game it was, its genre or what have you and I think that was a mistake. I believe that a weekend like this should be all about playing games you know and love, games you know are going to fire on all pistons and everyone at the table will be thrilled to play. That’s one chance for the next event I certainly will put forth.
Another thing I recommend is that you consider having one or two “main event games” and perhaps even consider making a list of games you plan to play in advance. This way players can prepare a bit by reading up on rules and you can find out if a game on a list is something someone doesn’t like so that you can adapt it. A big event like this should be a weekend for everyone, where everyone is fully on-board and psyched for every single game your going to play.
That’s it for this year, hope you enjoyed the article!