Monday, December 22, 2014

Settlers of Catan - 2-Player Variants

As some of you know, Catan is the board game that got my wife and I, and our sons, back into playing board games.  No, not Settlers of Catan, but Catan Junior.  We bought the game for our sons last Christmas when they were 4 and 7 and we all had a blast playing it.  The game was so much fun, in fact, that my wife and I actually played it a few times on our own.  That made me decide to get Settlers of Catan so we could have a bit more complex, adult play.  However Settlers of Catan is for 3-4 players.  So how could we play with 2 players?

So last January I spent quite a few hours scouring the Internet for 2 player variations for Catan.  I kept a document and compiled a list of 10 fan made variants and 1 official variant from Klaus Teuber himself.  I also compiled a list of additional rules variants that I came up with myself, based on my experiences with Catan Junior and some intuition.

When Catan finally arrived my wife and I spent many nights playing a number of variants.  I took some notes and added in a few additional variants that we played that mixed and matched rules from everything I had compiled.  The result is a 21 page document full of all sorts of interesting ways to play Catan for 2 players.  Some of the rules changes could also easily apply to 3+ player games as well.

So here I'm making available the entire PDF of Settlers of Catan 2 Player Variants.  Please note that many of these are not my own rules, but compiled from stuff I've found freely online.  Unfortunately at the time I wasn't planning on making this available to anyone other than myself, so I didn't document who originally posted the original variants.  I'll try to rediscover the original posts and credit the original variant creators, but in the meantime, if you know where the original variant is from (or if it's yours and you would like it removed for any reason) just let me know.

So without further ado, you can download the file from here:

http://georgejaros.com/Files/Catan-for-2-Players.pdf

Friday, December 5, 2014

GJJ Guest Video Review on Edo's Reviews! - Rise! by Crash Games

GJJ Guest Video Review on Edo's Reviews! - Rise! by Crash Games

Hey everyone, Ed Baraf was looking for guest reviewers for his video review channel and chose my video for Rise!  (You can check out my text review here.)  It's my first ever video review, so please be kind =)

And check out Edo's pages here:


Thanks Ed!




Did you like this review?  Show your support by clicking the heart at Board Game Links , liking GJJ Games on Facebook , or following on Twitter .  And be sure to check out my games on  Tabletop Generation.

GJJG Game Reviews are independent, unpaid reviews of games I, George Jaros, have played with my family and friends.  Some of these games I own, some are owned by friends, some are borrowed, and some are print and play versions of games.  Where applicable I will indicate if games have been played with kids or adults or a mix (Family Play).  I won't go into extensive detail about how to play the game (there are plenty of other sources for that information and I'll occasionally link to those other sources), but I will give my impressions of the game and how my friends and family reacted to the game.  First Play Impression reviews will only get a single rating of 1-10 (low-high) based on my first impressions of the game during my first time playing.  Hopefully I'll get more chances to play the game and will be able to give it a full review soon.

Quick Review - Housing Crisis - Kickstarter Preview

Housing Crisis
Designer: Ashley Yeates
Publisher: Rack & Pinion Games
Quick Review - Housing Crisis - Kickstarter Preview
Disclaimer

Rack & Pinion Games, out of the UK, sent me an evaluation copy of Housing Crisis to review before their planned Kickstarter campaign.  I'm not sure when the game's campaign is set to launch (the website says November, but it hasn't launched yet), but when it does launch and I have more info I'll update this review.

UPDATE: I heard back from the designer and the game will hopefully be launching on Kickstarter in the spring (February or March), and with some new updates to add some variety and depth to the game.  I'll update my review (and likely post a new review) when I have more information on the updated game.

Housing Crisis is a quick, little, casual 2 player strategy game that is small enough to be portable and brief enough to get in several games in the span of just a few minutes.  My sons (5 and 8)  both enjoyed the game and it'll go in with our collection of small portable games that we take to play places when we have a few minutes to spare.

In Housing Crisis each player takes on the role of a real estate agent trying to place residents into vacant homes, apartments, and townhomes.  The small game board is divided into several zones that are marked with numbers that indicate the optimum number of people that can live in that area.  Each zone is divided into 1-4 spaces where people can reside.  Each player has a set of 10 tokens that represent the people looking for homes.  The tokens have numbers ranging from 1 to 5.

During the game each player takes turns placing one of the two tokens in his hand onto a space on the board and then drawing a token so his hand remains at 2 tokens (until the last turn when there are no more tokens).  The strategy in the game comes from trying to decide where to place a token.  Once a zone is filled up it is scored immediately. If the sum of the tokens in the zone is equal to the number in that zone (e.g. a zone marked with 8 has 4, 3, and 1 tokens on its 3 spaces) the player who placed the last token gets all the points for filling that zone (8 in this case).  If the player has a monopoly in that zone, i.e. all the tokens are the same color, he scores a bonus 2 points.  If the zone is under-populated the scoring depends on if there is a monopoly in the zone (the player gets points equal to the sum of the tokens) or not (the player loses points equal to how under-populated the zone is).  If the zone is over-populated the player loses points equal to the over-population count.  At the end of the game the player with the most points wins.

The game employs a very simple and basic mechanic for scoring points.  There is a bit of thinking involved to try to determine the best place and time to play certain tokens, but a lot is left up to chance, too.  You might have a 2 and 1 in your hand so you place the 2 in a space for a zone needing 6 people, hoping your opponent doesn't have a 4 and hoping that you'll draw a 4.  The luck is greater at the beginning of the game since it's less apparent what each player might have in his hand, but that can be mitigated somewhat by playing tokens earlier in the game in the larger zones that require 3 or 4 tokens to fill or by playing tokens in the 1 space mansions.  As the game progresses players are able to more easily deduce what tokens remain in both their draw piles and their opponents' draw piles.  Unfortunately by this point in the game there are few options of where tokens can be placed, so even though it's easier to figure out what numbers are going to come into play, playing the tokens you have comes down to deciding what will hurt your point total less, unless you are lucky enough to have the right tokens at the right time.

I enjoyed playing Housing Crisis the first few times I played; however, after playing it a number of times I've realized that, while the strategy is simple and fun, there's very little depth to the game.  The tile drawing results in a pretty random strategy that doesn't always require a whole lot of thought.  The first two times I played it was somewhat interesting, but the end game felt a bit futile, especially for the last person to play since it's known what each player has left.  It usually turns into a matter of just deciding how to best mitigate your losses, unless you are fortunate enough to have just the right tiles at just the right time.

I played with a friend first and later with my wife and then helped my sons play against my wife.  Every time the game was fairly anticlimactic.  We really wanted more player interaction and depth to the strategy than just placing numbers on the board.  The game really needs something more than just playing the tiles in your hand.  Maybe more tiles than spaces on the board, or some way to move another player's tokens or something to mitigate the luck factor, add a bit more uncertainty to what your opponent has and is able to play, and add a way to affect your opponent's game a bit more.

It's really nice that the game is so small.  It's small enough to take almost anywhere.  The board is nice that it is small enough to slip into a purse, book or kindle/tablet case, however it's just a little too big to just slip into a pocket easily.  The game reminded us of Coin Age, however it lacked the depth of choices, decision making, and ability to affect your opponent that Coin Age has.  The games played quickly, just 5 minutes or so per game, so you can get a few rounds finished in a few minutes, perfect to play while waiting for food at a restaurant or something, and that helps mitigate the need for a ton of strategic depth, but it still felt like it lacked something.  I also wish there was a better way to keep score than a pen and paper since that adds an additional component that you need to have with you.  That's minor, but still a concern.

While Housing Crisis is portable, simple, quick, and fun, I also carry Coin Age in my wallet and would pull that out first in most situations, particularly with adults or more strategic minded people.  Housing Crisis will probably get some additional play, but probably mostly with my sons and not with adult gamers.  I feel that the game's simple strategy lends itself to a kids' game.  It'll teach basic strategic thinking, token counting, bluffing, and deduction skills, so it's better than a commercial kids' game (e.g. Trouble, Candyland, etc.) but the depth of strategy is only a bit more than something like Checkers.  The whole real estate agent theme works for the game, however it's not very entertaining for kids.  I think if the game could be rethemed to a more kid-friendly subject it might be more engaging for them.  With a better theme the game could be a great introduction for kids to more strategic games and could be a great gateway to deeper strategy and area control games.  As it is it falls short on depth for gamers and lacks a good theme for kids.  Maybe as a quick gateway game for adults that don't usually play games, but even in that regard there are better gateway games, although few as portable or quick to play.

I'll keep this review updated as more information on the game becomes available.  The components I received are prototype components, so there's always the possibility of changes in the theme or rules that could affect my opinion of the game.

Preliminary Rating: 5/10
This review is of a prototype game.  Components and rules are not final and are subject to change.

About halfway through a game of Housing Crisis.

Only a couple of spaces left so there's not much to decide here.

A finished game.  It's important to keep track of score as you
play because it'll be impossible to tally scores at the end since
you don't know who placed tokens when.

Did you like this review?  Show your support by clicking the heart at Board Game Links , liking GJJ Games on Facebook , or following on Twitter .  And be sure to check out my games on  Tabletop Generation.

GJJG Game Reviews are independent, unpaid reviews of games I, George Jaros, have played with my family and friends.  Some of these games I own, some are owned by friends, some are borrowed, and some are print and play versions of games.  Where applicable I will indicate if games have been played with kids or adults or a mix (Family Play).  I won't go into extensive detail about how to play the game (there are plenty of other sources for that information and I'll occasionally link to those other sources), but I will give my impressions of the game and how my friends and family reacted to the game.  First Play Impression reviews will only get a single rating of 1-10 (low-high) based on my first impressions of the game during my first time playing.  Hopefully I'll get more chances to play the game and will be able to give it a full review soon.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Quick Review - DragonFlame - a Kickstarter Preview

DragonFlame
Designer: Matt Loomis
Publisher: Minion Games
Quick Review - DragonFlame - a Kickstarter Preview
Disclaimer

Last weekend I was fortunate enough to receive a preview copy of DragonFlame from the great folks at Minion Games.  The game launches on Kickstarter tomorrow (November 4th), so look for an update with the link tomorrow.  Unfortunately though, the game arrived while I was up at Protospiel in Madison (where I was actually able to meet James from Minion Games).  Then the following week I got sick, and then had my son's birthday party to plan for.  So I've been sitting on this game for a week now just itching to play.  I had watched a few videos about it and it looked like a ton of fun.  So today I finally had a chance to scratch that itch.  I played a game with my sons (ages 5 and 8) and then another game with a group of adults at a local game store.

UPDATE: The Kickstarter for DragonFlame has launched!  Check it out here: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/miniongames/dragonflame-card-game  You can get a copy of the game for $25 or a signed copy for $35.  Back this project if you can. (I'm quoted in the reviews section - yeah!)

DragonFlame is a card game for 2-5 players in which each player is a dragon looting castles, collecting treasure, capturing princesses, and burning villages, all while trying to avoid knights and curses.  The components consist of 9 village cards, 14 castle cards, 91 main deck cards, and 75 fire tokens.  Depending on the number of players playing there will be varying amounts of each card used in the game.  The artwork on the cards is excellent, and really adds to the game.  The description says the game plays in 45 minutes or less and that's pretty accurate.  The game I played with my sons lasted about an hour, but there was a lot of dragons flying around special effects that lengthened the game a bit.  I also played with a group at a game store in town and that game lasted about 45 minutes, including teaching the rules.

In the game several village cards are laid out in a grid (6 or 9 depending on the number of players).  These are the villages that the dragons work on burning down.  Then the numbered castle cards are laid out (one more than players playing).  Next, each player receives a banner card that indicates the turn order.  Finally each player is dealt a number of cards from the main deck (the number varies depending on the number of players - 3 in most cases).  And now the fun begins.

The game is played in a series of rounds.  Each round consists of two phases.  First, each player, in turn order, takes turns placing one of their cards into a castle.  Depending on the banner each player has some cards are played face-up and some face-down.  In the end each of the castles will have a different number of cards in it, some known to the players and some unknown.  Once all the cards are placed in the castles it is time for the dragons to attack the castles.  Again, following turn order, each player chooses a castle to attack.  The player takes all the cards from that castle into his hand, including the castle itself.  The castle will have a banner on the opposite side indicating the player's new turn order or the next round and the player then flips his current banner to the castle side and returns it to the playing area.  The cards collected get placed into the dragon's hoard, except for DragonFlame cards.  Any DragonFlame cards picked up let the dragon attack and burn villages immediately.

This is the part of the game that my sons liked the best.  The game was filled with swooping cards, dragon sound effects, and lots of animated shouting as the dragons toasted the villages.  As the dragons strafe the villages fire tokens are added to the villages, until the entire village is burned to a crisp.

The game has a set end, which is nice - it won't just go on and on forever.  When the main deck is depleted (there will be one card remaining, regardless of the number of players, assuming the deck was set up correctly) the game ends.  There is no reshuffling of discards or anything like that.  As soon as the game ends any end-of-game relics collected are resolved (there are also some relic cards that can affect the game during play) and then points are added up.  Depending on the different types of treasures that each dragon collected there are different scoring rules.  You also get bonuses for the villages you helped burn and the final banner you chose.  This part of the game got a bit confusing, especially for first time players.  There are benefits to having certain treasures, but penalties if you have too many, or certain combinations of cards.  After one or two plays this shouldn't be an issue, but it is a bit of a downer at the end of the game for new players to try to figure out what the score is.  It also makes it a little challenging for new players to keep track of their score as the game progresses.  But this is a minor quibble and doesn't really detract from the fun of playing the game.

So, what did I think of the game?  I really liked it.  It's a bit long to be a filler game, but not too long (30-45 minutes), and not quite complex enough to be a stand-alone game for serious gamers, but for a casual game or a family it is a blast.  And even though the mechanics and rules are easy enough to learn there is a depth of strategy, bluffing, and deduction to the game to make it a great casual game for gamers, too.  It's nice that the game doesn't go on and on.  You know that when the cards run out the game is over, so game lengths are going to be fairly consistent (assuming players don't take too much time acting out dragon attacks).  Comments from the people I played with at the game store were generally favorable.  One player wanted a bit more of a surprise element when attacking the castles to get stuff for the hoard, which might be achieved by having each player place one more unknown card into the castles (unknown by anyone, including the player who place the card), and that might work for a 3 player game, but it might throw off the numbers for a 4 player game.  Personally, I didn't feel the need to have any more surprise (especially after I ended up with 3 knights in two turns).  My sons absolutely loved the game though.  When I asked them what they thought and how many stars they'd give it (out of 5) they both answered "5 stars!  Definitely!"  However, a few minutes later they amended that.  "I changed my mind, make that 6 stars!  6 out of 5!  I loved that game!"  Needless to say the game is a hit at our house.

I plan on playing a few more times in the coming week with a few different numbers of players, so I'll update this review with more reactions and any details or quirks with different players.  I'll also update the review periodically with details on how the Kickstarter campaign is going.  Be sure to check it out, and if you can, back the game! I recommend backing DragonFlame if you can since it's a game you can get out with both your family and your gamer friends. It's definitely a worthwhile investment!

Preliminary Rating: 7/10
This review is of a prototype game.  Components and rules are not final and are subject to change.

What's that I see swooping in from the sky?

It's a DragonFlame!

The villages are burning!

Beautiful artwork really adds to the game.

Playing at one of the FLGSs in town.

Did you like this review?  Show your support by clicking the heart at Board Game Links , liking GJJ Games on Facebook , or following on Twitter .  And be sure to check out my games on  Tabletop Generation.

GJJG Game Reviews are independent, unpaid reviews of games I, George Jaros, have played with my family and friends.  Some of these games I own, some are owned by friends, some are borrowed, and some are print and play versions of games.  Where applicable I will indicate if games have been played with kids or adults or a mix (Family Play).  I won't go into extensive detail about how to play the game (there are plenty of other sources for that information and I'll occasionally link to those other sources), but I will give my impressions of the game and how my friends and family reacted to the game.  First Play Impression reviews will only get a single rating of 1-10 (low-high) based on my first impressions of the game during my first time playing.  Hopefully I'll get more chances to play the game and will be able to give it a full review soon.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Star Trek Birthday Success

Today we finally had my son's 8th birthday party, only almost a month late due to one delay after another.  He's been waiting patiently since, oh, last October, for his Star Trek themed birthday party.  Over the last month we've planned, prepped, rescheduled, planned some more, prepped some more, and finally had the party today.

I posted a few weeks ago about the Romulan Bird of Prey Piñata that I made, and the other day I posted some pictures of the fondant Spock my wife made.  Well, here are some more pictures of the awesomeness that is an 8 year old's Star Trek party, including the SUPER AWESOME I.S.S. Enterprise cake my wife made (yes, the mirror universe's Enterprise).

And because I know this blog is supposed to be about board games, I will say that my son received the Star Trek Tribbles cad game and Pokémon cards.

First the pictures of the Romulan Bird of Prey getting destroyed by the Federation's finest:

Romulan Bird of Prey uncloaked in the back yard captain!

Spock, I mean the birthday boy, gets the first shot.

Kirk, I mean the birthday boy's brother, takes his shot.

Taking lots of damage!

Even the littlest ones got their shot!
video

The enemy has been destroyed!

Nearly 8 hours of work went into this.  At least it lasted
through 4 rounds of about a dozen kids!
video

And now on to my wife's mad cake decorating skillz.  I helped a bit, with the framework to put the cake on and a bit of the decorating (I have a steadier hand for painting the letters), but this was her baby, including the idea for the lights for the warp engines.






And the fondant Spock next to his Science Officer insignia.


It was total destruction.  Delicious destruction.


My son thanks everyone for the wonderful gifts!  He now has an Enterprise D model to build!



Yes, this blog is about games, see!
Star Trek Tribbles card game and Pokémon!

Friday, October 31, 2014

A Fondant Spock

So you may have seen my post two weeks ago about the Romulan Bird of Prey Piñata that I made for my son's birthday party.  Unfortunately my wife got sick so we had to postpone the party to this weekend.  So now the serious cake decorating has begun.  Tonight my wife finished the first major part of the cake decorations:


Yes, that's an 8" tall Spock made from fondant that will be gracing one of two cakes for my son.  My wife is awesome =)  I'm going to add a post soon with pictures of some of the other awesome cakes, costumes, etc. she's worked on over the years.  They're not board game related, but hey, this is my blog I can put what I want on it!

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Dead Drop has Funded with All Stretch Goals!

Dead Drop by Crash Games - The artwork is awesome!
A few weeks ago I reviewed a quick little deduction microgame called Dead Drop, by Crash Games.  The game has gotten some rave reviews, with people even saying it replaces Love Letter as their microgame of choice.  And while I'm not sure if I agree with those assumptions, it is a pretty good game, even a great game with three players.  However it does have some shortcomings at 2 and 4 players, then again Love Letter is a pretty atrocious game for 2 players, too.  In my review I gave a few variants for 2 players that really make the game a ton better for 2 players.  But for four players what the game really needed is a few additional cards.  Well guess what, I've got some news for you that might make your day if you were on the fence about grabbing this game.

Dead Drop has now funded on Kickstarter!  This means that $12 standard level backers get the base game (spies deck) along with an additional copy (the monsters deck).  So now you can mix and match the decks or even add a couple of extra cards to make the 4 player game more in-depth.  But wait, there's more!

If you were following the Kickstarter campaign for the game at all (https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/crashgames/dead-drop-a-pub-series-game) you probably noticed that it ran into a few snags.  Read the comments and you'll see that there are a number of different things to point fingers at and no one thing that contributed to the rough campaign.  None of this is due to Crash Games's reputation for putting out high quality games though (see my review of their game Rise!), so it was disappointing to see this campaign nearly fail.  But in a very gutsy move, earlier this week Crash Games founder Patrick Nickell decided to unlock ALL of the stretch goals, even though the campaign was only about 50% funded with less than a week to go.  This meant that, if the game funded, $22 deluxe backers would get all 8 art decks!  This proved to be the boost the campaign needed and it has now funded, plus reached the point where several of the stretch goals would have been fulfilled anyway, and there are still more than 24 hours to go!  So congratulations Patrick, Jason (Kotarski, the game designer) and Crash Games!

So if you haven't checked it out yet, get over to the Dead Drop Kickstarter page and get in on the crazy action!  For $12 the game is definitely worth it.  And for only $22 you get 8 copies of the game and can share with a few friends!  I don't know where else you can get that much game for that little.  So head on over to https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/crashgames/dead-drop-a-pub-series-game and show some support.  Maybe the game can hit some of those additional stretch goals naturally and offset some of the risk Patrick took to bring this game to fruition.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

What Is It? - Guess the Photo Contest - Contest Over

CONTEST (over):  I took a break from game stuff for a couple of hours this evening to work on building something for my son's birthday party.  The first person to guess what it is I'm building will get a printed and laminated copy of Coin Age with some extra custom maps (one winner from my previous contest never responded so I have a copy ready to go).  I'll post another picture every few hours of the project more and more complete until someone guesses correctly.  I'm looking for a very specific answer, so check out the pictures and see if you can guess!  (I might drop a few hints along the way if needed.)

CONGRATULATIONS: 
Congrats to Chuck Tewksbury for correctly guessing Romulan Bird of Prey after two pictures were posted!  Thanks to everyone for guessing. The rest of the pictures are below. I still need to add details (it's already filled with candy), but you can see how it's turning out.  I just can't believe I've spent this much time on something that's going to get bashed to pieces. But I love my son and he wanted to destroy a Romulan Bird of Prey, so this is what I spend my evenings doing =)  I couldn't convince him to just do a Borg ship. No, it had to be from TOS since he's dressing as Spock.

Picture 1 - Tell me what this is to win!
Picture 2 - Starting to take shape...

Romulan Bird of Prey from Star Trek: The Original Series.  I still need to add the details, but here it is, flying through my garage.  
It's getting there...

Romulan Bird of Prey finished - the underside

Romulan Bird of Prey finished - the top side