Playing Catch-Up! (mini reports for 14 different games!)

Once again, I’m way behind.  Between having some extracurricular gaming outside my normal game night and then being out of town (with a sub-optimal computer and connection), I’ve got a lot of games to talk about.  Rather than break it all up and get even further behind, I’m going to throw this sucker into high gear and blow through all of my backlog as efficiently as I can.  I’ll still give the stats that I have from the last game night, but then I’ll just talk some about everything else I played…

*** Game Night – 2/28/2012 ***

Garden Dice [BGG]

Garden Dice is an upcoming game from Doug Bass, a semi-local designer from the Winston-Salem area.  It’s about rolling dice and planting a garden.  And based on this first play, it’s pretty fun too! 

Basically, the garden is a 6×6 grid, and after rolling your four dice each turn, you can use the values you roll to buy seed (it takes a die value equal or higher then the value of the seed to buy it), plant seed (using two dice as coordinates on the board), water seed (seed value or higher, flipping them over from their seed side to their vegetable side), and harvest vegetables (vegetable value or higher).  Since the seeds/veggies are valued only 1-5, you can then use 6’s to either buy/water/harvest anything or to use some of the special tiles that give you even more options.  You score both when harvesting veggies and at the end of the game for building sets of like veggies and complete sets of all 5 veggies.  


It’s nicely balanced because while higher-value vegetables will score you more points, it’s more reliable and probably quicker to invest in more of the smaller-value veggies.  And the game actually encourages you to spread out your investment due to a really cool mechanic that lets you water and harvest multiple tiles at a time as long as it flows “downhill” from larger-value veggies to smaller-value ones (even to or from opponents’ tiles), which opens up some nice options to build chains or to play opportunistically. 

I plan on writing a full review of Garden Dice after a few more plays, but as of now, I’m pretty pleased with it.  There’s a lot going on for the overall weight and length of the game, and its theme and appearance (with nice Josh Cappel artwork) is very appealing.  The only slight negative I have for it right now is really the same issue that I have with most other dice-placement games, which is that since you don’t roll your dice until your turn, there is always a little bit of extra analysis time involved as you decide how to best use your roll.  It’s not a big deal, but with 4 players at least, it makes the game drag just a little.

Doug is planning a Kickstarter campaign sometime soon, so keep your eyes open for more information about it!  

Time: 67 minutes
Score: John 106, Doug 93, Norton* 88, Keith* 67
Ratings: Norton 7.5

Popular Front [BGG]

I talked a lot about Popular Front last week, and since this play actually happened before writing all that, there’s not a lot more to add.  We actually did find one rule that we didn’t have quite right that made a notable difference in strengthening the supply element of the game (which I already thought was pretty cool), but overall it was once again a really fun game.

It’s not necessarily good or bad per say, but with board position being so incredibly important, the setup portion of the game becomes even more pivotal.  I could easily see that poor placement of your initial forces (especially between players of varying skill) could basically decide the game before it really even began.  But as long as you’re relatively equal in experience or some consideration is given by the veteran player to ensure some level of balance, I think it just adds to whole experience.  


Time: 91 minutes
Score: Republic [Chip (Communists) & Keith (Socialists)] – Win (+0); Nationalists [Kenny (Carlists) & Norton (Falange)] – Lose (-6)
Ratings: Chip 8.5, Keith 8, Kenny 8.5, Norton 8

For Sale [BGG]

And then we finished the evening with a quick game of For Sale.  It’s just so good.  I really don’t know why I don’t play it more, or why I don’t introduce it to more people… 

Time: 13 minutes
Score: Norton $75k, Keith $69k, Kenny $62k
Ratings: Norton 8, Keith 8, Kenny 8

* First play for that Person

*** VivaJava Success Party! – 3/3/2012 *** 

Chris and Cherilyn Kirkman invited Gwen and me over to participate in the big party celebrating VivaJava’s Kickstarter success, so we headed over to Durham a couple of weekends ago and joined a number of veritable gaming luminaries in playing some really interesting games.

Kingdom Builder [BGG]
A number of the dudes were already playing the prototype version of Fleet, which is currently up on Kickstarter.  Gwen and I sort of watched for a few minutes, but then jumped into a game of Kingdom Builder with Cherilyn.  I can’t remember too well, but I believe that both girls beat the crap out of me, with Gwen edging Cherilyn out for the win.

I don’t really need to say anything more about Kingdom Builder, since I wrote such a spiffy review of it… 

7 Wonders: Cities [BGG]
I hadn’t played 7 Wonders is a long time (faaaaar too long, actually), but jumped at the chance of playing it with the upcoming Cities expansion included (having the Eric Martin at the table has some advantages, you know).  From what I gathered, Cities includes a new color of card (black) that mostly seems to do things that other cards do, either earlier or more powerfully, but at a greater cost.  It also includes a team variant, but since we had 5 players, we didn’t get into that.  I’ve probably already said too much about it already, and there’s still some level of tweaking left for it before publication, but overall it was pretty neat.  I don’t know that I’ll run out and buy it when it’s released, but that has more to do with my not playing much 7 Wonders these days than it does with the actual benefit to the game from the expansion.   

Masters of Commerce [BGG]
The next thing that Eric pulled from his bag o’ goodies was Masters of Commerce.  I vaguely remember hearing some about this game right after Essen, but then it sort of disappeared off my radar.  We went for it mostly because it was able to handle all 8 of us present at the time.

If you don’t know anything about it, it’s basically a real-time bidding/negotiation game that divides the players into two groups, Merchants and Landlords.  It actually has 2 winners, one from each group, and the goal is just to collect the most money.  On each of the 5 turns, the Merchants run around to the Landlords and try to rent their properties.  The value of the rent is negotiated between the two, and either side can cancel or renegotiate (perhaps if they had a better offer) at any time before the 2-minute timer expires. 

Payout for the Merchants is based on a simple market table that is modified each turn by the roll of some dice.  Properties actually have different levels of risk based on the table and the dice used to modify it.  Blue are the most stable, then Green, Yellow, and Red are the riskiest.  So while it’s pretty simple to determine a reasonable rent for Blue (which will only move 1 spot either direction at most), Red can be pretty much a shot in the dark (since it can vary from it’s highest to its lowest in one die roll).


I was a Merchant and did pretty well until Chris (Dice Hate Me Chris, that is) went bankrupt and wasn’t able to pay me.  I guess that’s what happens when you have less-desirables renting your properties; it was like a “sub-prime” market, I guess.

As far as the game goes, we all had a really good time playing it.  I’d sort of classify it as Pit for people who play modern boardgames (and I really like Pit a lot).  But while I had fun with it, in retrospect, there really was a crapload of luck in the game.  So much, in fact, that it could pretty much invalidate most of the real decisions that you could make.  And I also think it’d have to be a pretty niche game that you’d have to have at least 6 or more players to really enjoy and make it work out right.  I’d play it again, but I have no real interest in picking it up.

Grisbi [BGG]
Gwen loves real-time games, so she was happy when Eric then pulled out Grisbi, a real-time, pattern-matching team game.  The players divide into two teams, one of which are the Cops and the other are the Robbers.  Teams have their own deck of cards, and each card contains a number of pictures used for the pattern-matching element of the game. 

Basically, every card has pictures/symbols on either end that are keys for both teams.  In real time, players try to play cards on top of the stack where the large, central picture matches one of the smaller pictures on the last card played.  In addition, all the cards have either diamonds (for the robbers) or stars (for the cops), and when a team thinks that they’ve played enough of their points (based on the number of players on the team), they can stop play with an appropriate stop card.

Then, the stack is flipped over and evaluated to make sure that cards were played appropriately (matching pictures to pictures from one card to the next), and if the team that stopped play gets enough diamonds/stars, they win the round.  If they were wrong, the other team gets the win.

I didn’t really like Grisbi.  I don’t mind real-time games, really, but this one is so visual and the cards are so busy that I just couldn’t ever seem to get a handle on what I was doing.  It’s quick and chaotic, though, and Gwen and a number of others had a pretty good time with it.   

Some of the attendees included Gwen (my wife), Graham, Cherilyn, Eric, Todd, and T.C. (the designer of VivaJava).  I also played games with Chris (Dice Hate Me mastermind), Daniel, and Megan (Daniel’s wife). 

By and large, Anomia was the big winner of the evening for me.  I’ve known about it for a long time, and it’s been on my wishlist for a couple of years probably, but having never seen it in person, I never actually made the effort to step out on a limb and order it.  That was a terrible mistake, however, because Anomia is frickin fantastic!

Play involves flipping over a card on each of your turns that contains both a category and a symbol.  If the symbol matches a card currently face-up in front of another player, you have a quick showdown.  To win the showdown, you have to say a word matching the category on the card in front of the other player, which sounds easy to do (especially when the category is something like “Planet”), but it’s a lot harder when you’ve got to do it in a hurry (such as when Daniel Solis named “Europe!” in response to the above category). 

If you’ll look it up, the definition of Anomia is the “inability to name objects or to recognize written or spoken names of objects”, and this game is named so freaking perfectly!  What can you do when you look at the Category “Flavor of Donut” and all you can do is blurt out “Donut!” at the top of your lungs?  There’s just no fixing whatever’s gone wrong in your head at that point, and that’s why Anomia is abso-freaking-lutely hillarious and brilliant!  I must own a copy!

We really wish that we could have stuck around a little longer and, you know, actually played the game of the hour (VivaJava, of course) or any number of other games with the cool Durham people, but we had to relieve my parents and put two little girls to bed…

*** Nashville Gaming (mostly with A.J. Porfirio) – 3/5/2012 (and following) *** 

And then last week, I headed out to Nashville for a work-related conference.  After putting some feelers out on BGG and Twitter seeking any sort of local gaming, A.J. Porfirio sent me a message offering to get together sometime during the week.  So on Monday evening, we enjoyed a nice dinner and followed it up mostly by playing our own game designs…

Organized Chaos [BGG]
We actually started and ended the night by playing games of Organized Chaos, A.J.’s first design.  It’s a really quick and simple little in-yer-face card game where you try to burn through your opponent’s deck before they do the same to you.  It’s full of randomness and, as advertised, chaos, but for the weight and the time investment, I really had a good time with it.  There’s a lot of choices to make and some pretty nifty little shenanigans you can pull off, and I’d actually love to see it get republished in a deluxe format sometime.

If I’m Going Down… [BGG]
The main thing I wanted to play with A.J. was his upcoming zombie-themed “dying card game”, If I’m Going Down.  I actually backed this on Kickstarter, so it was really great to have the designer teach it to me and give me a sneak preview of what I’ll be getting.  IIGD is basically a 1-2 player game and comes with a few different scenarios, but in all cases, the main conceit is that there is no escape from the zombie horde, so the whole point is to take as many of those shambling undead monsters with you when you do finally buy a farm.

We played the “Shack” scenario, and the game just seemed to spew zombies at us turn after turn until all of our brains were eaten.  But on the way, I found it to be a game filled with some really nice tactical decisions about how to manage your actions and equipment.  It’s very video-gamey, and since it’s basically a solo/coop game, I think this works well for it.  The hopelessness of the theme sets the tone well to make you feel from the very beginning that it’s going to get tight and force you to make really tough decisions.

We scored 40 points, which A.J. thought was pretty good.  I had a really good time with it, and I’m very glad that I’m already in on getting a copy from Kickstarter.  If you have any interest in solo or 2-player coops, or just really like nice zombie games, you may want to look into finding a copy when it comes out.

 The zombies were pressing in… and eventually even I became infected and then eaten.

Acute Care
From there, A.J. let me teach him Acute Care.  Since I’d tweaked the difficulty some from my last round of playtesting, we got absolutely destroyed in our first play.  He wanted to play again, so I tried to dial it back just a touch, and we won pretty easily.  I think that he saw some nice potential in it, but I’m beginning to see that getting the balance right in the game is going to be a real booger.  I also think that I need to work more on the endgame a little and change the last time-based events to put more pressure on the players (maybe even by adding in extra patients or something like that), because at this point, it seems like if you can survive the morning, the game gets way too easy.

But I can certainly talk more about this later…

A grainy picture of A.J. and my Acute Care prototype

Kingdom of Solomon 
A.J. had copy of Kingdom of Solomon but had never played, so I took the opportunity to teach it to him and play through a 2-player game.  I won pretty easily (with the help of a huge-frickin’ resource region and stealing High Priest away from him), but it was a learning game for him and we both had fun anyway.  Afterwards, I mentioned some of the variants I’ve proposed, and he agreed that they would probably improve the 2-player experience, but was glad to have played it the “right” way at least once.

Again, I love this game, and you can read my review for lot more information!  

By the time we finished, I had been up for about 22 hours straight (since I flew in that morning and had the extra thrown in for the time zone change), so I was pretty beat.  But I really appreciate A.J. making the effort to connect with me and play some games, and it was really cool to get to meet him in person!
Zulus on the Ramparts [BGG]
The conference I attended was a pretty serious one, which even included some evening activities on two of the other 3 nights I was in Nashville, so I really only had the chance on one other night to get out some solo games and play with myself (if you know what I mean). 

Zulus on the Ramparts is actually a game that I’ve been keeping at work to play over lunch from time to time, and I’ve had a lot of fun with it.  At this point, I’m pretty much always playing with the expansion and all the optional cards, so it’s a lot harder than the base game.  And in both games last week, things didn’t turn out so well for the brave British soldiers.

A great die roll took out one Zulu faction, bute then another took its place and advanced into victory

There’s a lot of randomness in Zulus, but for a solo game, it works really well for me both in terms of length and gameplay.  You’re always in the position of wanting to do more than you have the actions and/or cards to do, and especially with the expansion kit, there are always a lot of tough decisions to make.  My experience with some other solo games is that I tend to overthink them and get sort of bogged down, which makes them drag on a lot, but this game is short enough and has just enough randomness in it to keep me moving. 

I really want to try out some of the other States of Seige solo games from Victory Point games, and can’t wait until some of them hit the iOS platform (LevĂ©e en Masse and Dawn of the Zeds are already in the works).

Onirim [BGG]
And finally, I also played a couple of games of Onirim.  This is a very quick and simple little card game, and to this point, I’m not totally convinced that you can win it.  I suppose that you can, of course, but I have yet to do Photobucketso myself.  Onirim feels like it has a lot of choices to make, but I’m afraid that due to all the randomness of the card draw, any real player agency is just an illusion.  Still, though, it’s really short and very hard, so it’s able to keep my attention, and the box is small enough to fit easily into my shoulder bag, so there’s no reason for me not to keep it around “just in case” I had a strong need for gaming and a spare 10 minutes.

And who knows, maybe as I play it more, I’ll discover more about it and my opinion will even change…


  1. Hi Chris-

    Thanks so much for the positive feedback on Garden Dice – I really appreciate the time you and Keith took to play it, and then writing this!

    I’m glad you liked the game and think your insight about the importance of investing in lower point tiles is a very good one. The higher value tiles certainly are nice when you can get them, especially on a multiplier space, but sometimes it can be a risk.

    I think your comment about the die rolling is fair; hopefully it wasn’t too much of a detractor.

    I’m trying to get everything squared away for the Kickstarter, just got a revised quote back and Josh is finishing up the rules, player aids, and box. I think he’s done an excellent job! I’ll definitelly keep you posted.

    Take care,

  2. Chris Norwood

    Hey Doug!  Like it said, my issue was a very minor one, and for the most part, it’s endemic in the whole style of games which involve rolling dice at the beginning of your turn.  I really need to find time to play it with Gwen at home, though, because that’s where I think it will really shine!

  3. Chris Ingersoll

    I’ve beaten (basic) Onirim a few times. The key is… well, keys. Using them for the “Prophecy” action is your best bet, and having one handy to discard to an un-prophecised Nightmare is MUCH better than the other two options.

    The other useful strategy that I’ve discovered is to throw out red sun cards whenever convenient, since there’s a TON of them. There are barely any brown cards in the deck, so value them highly.

    Even then… still kind of a crapshoot. It’s better than most variants of Solitaire, but barely.

  4. This was a fun post. I’m interested in playing a couple of the games mentioned.
    For Sale is the next game on the Buy list so I’m excited that you like it so much. You’ve been talking about Kingdom of Solomon a lot so I need to play it soon. I’m glad you mentioned Anomia. I played it with Chris and Daniel recently and really liked it. It’s cool that you got to play some game with AJ. He’s a cool guy. I’m glad you liked If I’m…. I playtested it and enjoyed it. It certainly gives you a sense of doom. And it looks like you played an updated version from what I played. I’m very interested in picking up some Victory Point Games games. Legions of Darkness and Hero of Weekawken as well as The Alamo game all look fun.
    Thanks for the update.

  5. Chris Norwood

    Yeah, it was cool playing games with all these people and all.

    You know who else I’d like to play some games with sometime?  You!  Where the heck have you been?

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