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Gary Beason
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This week, our group played a couple of really excellent short yet deep games.

Roll Player is one of the more unique takes on fantasy board games: Players compete as they build a d20 character using rolled dice that are then placed on the character sheet. Each ability has a nice effect (STR: flip a die to its opposite side, CON: Increase or decrease a die by 1 pip, DEX: Swap 2 dice, etc.). There are many ways to earn Victory Points--moving a square on your Alignment card, collecting armor sets, getting specific colors of dice into particular slots for your background, getting dice of the same color as your class, and buying Trait, Skill, Weapon cards that can earn Victory Points.

It's also a bidding game. The first player rolls 5 dice and places them from low to high on the Initiative cards, though only 2-4 have coins. Cards 1 and 5 have 0 coins. Then, after the Initiative order is set, you can purchase Trait, Skill, Weapon, Armor cards from a 5-card market.

Our game was incredibly close (which I won with my Devoted, Chaotic-Evil Halfling Ranger): 34, 33, 32, and 31 victory points for the four of us.

Great game that can appeal to a range of players. It's actually kind of a euro engine-builder without feeling like it, thanks to the chance dice rolling. Yet there are ways to manipulate the dice at least to a certain extent. We all felt that a little more interaction among players would have been good.

We also played Village of Valeria. It's a resource gathering & building for victory points game with the tension of discarding a nice card for a desirable resource or building. There are a lot of games like this around, like Puerto Rico or Race for the Galaxy. But this game (with a medieval fantasy setting) is fast to play (an hour or less) while still offering players a lot of choices. Do I use this card as a resource or use it as a building? What effects do I want--earn more gold, get more cards, or gain free resources?

I've gotten to where I really like these fast-playing games. They can still offer a lot of strategies and depth, but they're not nearly as much of a time investment. And I can't say that I miss the heft of their bigger, more complex kin. Plus, this game is really easy to teach--I wouldn't hesitate to bring this out with some casual players. But it's not really a filler game. 
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3/21/17
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I didn't realize that he had been fighting cancer. I had the chance to meet him a couple of times in recent years as he came to the Dallas cons. Though he wasn't as outgoing as some, he was certainly nice. About 5 years ago, I introduced the kids to his work and they met him for the first time. They both watched him work all his lines to a great effect.

It was his line work that got me more interested in several older comic artists, like Graham Ingels, and illustrators like Franklin Booth and Edwin Abbey. In the 70s, I couldn't find enough of his art (along with Kaluta's).

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My Kickstarter rewards for Arcadia Quest: Inferno arrived yesterday. Instead of 15 or so heroes in the retail base set, I have 41 heroes. That gives a lot more opportunities to find interesting combinations of heroes, sorry of like in a deck building game. Hopefully the kids and I get in a game today.

I'm definitely going to have to find a way to condense this from 5 boxes to 2. One box is impossible unless it's a different box. It's unfortunate that they didn't design the storage to allow for expansions. 
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3/17/17
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Spent a chunk of a rainy, cool weekend playing Zelda: Breath of the Wild.

To me, it's some much good design. Things seem naturally interesting for one reason or another--a high point, a curious shape, a color. It's not a consistent physical attribute, like the off-pattern walls in Doom. It's something that just catches my eye. It's not even that it's something unusual but just interesting.

I feel like I'm rewarded for my curiosity without markers or the like telling me to go here or there. True, I have a main quest in this quasi tutorial that leads me to a particular place. But it's the cool things that I discover on my own.

For example, I see a human structure, which I check out. Then I see something else and say, "Heck, let me see what that is." Not only do I have a great view, but I end up finding a very powerful item. On another occasion, I cut down a tree and cross a gorge just to explore--because, hey, it seems like a cool idea to build a bridge. Then, I see an interesting part of the hill which I climb up. I drop a bomb and explode to see what might happen. And I'm rewarded with a nice treasure.


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3/6/17
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My son re-discovered our Star Wars miniatures. About 10 years ago, when the kids were 8 and 6, we started collecting and playing. We eventually got away from playing skirmishes with them to using them as a simple RPG with some homegrown rules.

Fortunately, Bloomilk.com is still around, and my collection was intact. We have 230 unique minis (out of 916) and 368 total.

And, yep, we have more from the second trilogy setting than the original. Older fans might have hated the second trilogy, but my kids enjoyed them and the Clone Wars cartoons and comics.

As much as I like X-Wing Miniatures, I think in many respects this is a better game. The rules are simple, simpler than X-Wing. And it's less fussy than X-Wing with its markers and tokens. I also think more of the character comes through than in X-Wing.

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3/6/17
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This week, we played the recent re-release of Mare Nostrum: Empires. There are a lot of games like this--competitive area control civ game with guys on the board. I love Clash of Cultures because of the tech trees. But I think I actually prefer MN:E.

First, it has a great take on resources with its trading. For every territory that you own, if you've built the right structure, you get resources (which might be goods or coins). But what MN:E does differently is the trade: Every round, players have to put up 0-5 resources (not coins) up for trade. Then each player take a good from another player who then takes a resource from someone else.

This in itself became a nice bit of strategy. I thought I was being smart putting up pretty much the same resources each time--iron and sheep, which I produced at least 2-3 of each. But the others came to rely on my consistency. Meanwhile, another player consistently put up a resource that neither of us had. (She ended up winning, partly because of my consistency.)

But you can't keep any resources from one turn to another (though you can keep 2 coins). So players can't easily stockpile resources.

Second, the game tracks everyone's progress in three areas: Trade, Culture, and Military. The person leading in Trade determines how many resources we trade (0-5). The Culture decides the order that players build, and the Military leader picks the order for player movement. Again, a nice bit of strategy. (In fact, as I lead in Military, I arguably cost myself the game by picking myself to go before the eventual winner. If I had let her go, I probably could taken a risk more comfortably and won the game.)

Third, players can build Heroes and Wonders, 5 of which are randomly shown at one time. Each civilization starts both with a unique base Hero. (For example, Caesar gave me +1 when I attacked another territory.) Each Hero and Wonder gives the owner a unique ability, like an extra die roll in combat or being able to keep 2 resources from turn to turn.

The game provides several ways to win: Be the first to have 5 Heroes/Wonders. Be the leader in all 3 tracks (Trade, Culture, Military). Control 4 different cities. Buy the Pyramid Wonder with 12 different resources. (There are only 14 different resources in the game.)

Yet, I think each path to victory requires some conquest of an opponent's territory.

Though the rule book really made us stumble, it's a pretty tight game when you get the rules down. It's possible to play it in less than 3 hours, maybe even 2. 
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Our group recently played Defenders of the Realm with several of the expansions. This was my 3rd time to play the game, and it remains an excellent experience. As one player said, "This is probably the best game I've played."

It captures an epic adventure , that feels expansive across a realm. And it has peaks and valleys in the drama, where we crest on a high and then feel the pain of a new twist to the challenge. In fact, early on, I thought our chances of defeating all 4 dragons were remote, if not dismal.

But then we killed 2 dragons and I felt very optimistic . . . until the Blue Dragon moved to within 1 move of the city and defeating us. In a close fight, we won, leaving only the red dragon whose power forced us to reroll all our dice that hit. I rolled 11 dice, and I can't tell you how good that feels--rolling a big load of dice. Thanks to the dragon's power, I had to reroll the 5 successes . . . but one player had a special card that would allow me to reroll all failures. It was a great ending to the game, very dramatic and satisfying.

The other great experience with the game is that each character felt very, very distinct. And each character's uniqueness contributed to our success. For a game that seems to have much in common with Pandemic, this is a very different game. I'd saw that it's better, for the heroes, if nothing else. But even the dragons and the minions have their own distinct personalities.

Also, Pandemic lends itself to planning out everyone's moves, which can be fun with the right group. In Defenders, that's possible but too much changes from player to player. We'd still have general plans--Okay, I'm going to work on my personal quest and go to this forest and then this one. But something usually happened to interrupt those plans or at least force us to reconsider.

Between games like this and Mansions of Madness, I feel the pull of tabletop RPGs less and less. I thought this one session had more of an epic adventure feel than any of the 5e campaigns I've played recently. I think the fact that it happens in one night rather than over 4--6 months helps a lot with that feel. 
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2/22/17
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Over the holidays, we stopped at Graceland. And as I looked at all of Elvis's jumpsuits, I couldn't help but think of this issue of Detective Comics. 
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2/8/17
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My brother met Hatch a few times and thought he was a very decent, considerate guy. After my brother talked with him at a convention, Hatch spoke a couple of times with his post-apocalyptic literature class. This is a smaller, southern university, not a bigger, more well known school. He seemed sincerely interested in talking with them and didn't require a big stage. 

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For Christmas, my brother made me this wooden shelf. In the interior, the city skyline is raised so that it has a shadow effect. The inside is a mix of word balloons. He was thinking about putting panel art inside, but he thought it would be too distracting from whatever I put inside. On the ends, he added high quality images of Thor and Fantastic Four covers. It's 18"w x 6.5"h x 4.5"d.

Now to find space on the wall. 
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1/7/17
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