zwischenzug (ZVI-shen-tsoog) — noun

A chess tactic in which a player, instead of playing the expected move, first interpolates another move, changing the situation to the player's advantage (such as gaining material or avoiding what would otherwise be a strong continuation for the opponent).

Showing posts with label expansions. Show all posts
Showing posts with label expansions. Show all posts

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Happy New Year!

Image by Chris Norwood
Well, the disappointment of Christmas gaming gave way to starting the New Year right.  I played exactly ONE game in December prior to December 31st, but a good friend of ours came over for New Year's Eve and we broke out Pandemic and it's expansion, Pandemic: On the Brink.  This expansion is really several expansions in one, so I will need to play all of the different variants before I review it.  We were able to play standard Pandemic with new roles, and got in one game with the Bio-terrorist role, played against the other players by my son. He won, but in a sense the good guys have to beat two opponents, the Bio-terrorist and,  as usual, the game.  We were beaten more by the game than by the bad guy.  In the end, we won one game out of four, which isn't bad for us.  That makes a total of 42 games of Pandemic for me; this is just one of my favorite games.

And the new petri dishes are awesome!

Happy New Year!

Monday, December 19, 2011

Grandma comes through!

I am glad I waited to buy Star Trek: Expeditions!   This past weekend was Christmas with my wife's family, and my son received it as a gift.  I received the expansion for Pandemic, entitled Pandemic: On the Brink.  I've broken the seal on mine; he hasn't...

The Pandemic expansion adds some neat gameplay, including more special abilities for players to choose from, but it really adds to the Awesomeness Factor.  The expansion includes little Petri dishes to store the disease cubes in.  Totally superfluous, and totally awesome!

Image by Tony Bosca

It's Your Move!

Friday, September 2, 2011


Earlier this week I discussed Rio Grande Games.  At the end, I mentioned Carcassonne, which is a “must have” game for everyone.  Realizing I have never reviewed it, I thought I would correct that problem today.

(Image by Big Woo)
My wife would tell you that Carcassonne and Ticket to Ride are the two games that everyone joining my gaming group should play before playing any deeper games.  They show new players who are generally used to Monopoly, Risk and probably their kids’ roll-and-move games something entirely different; games that have a lot more going on and are incredibly fun.  I am not so exclusive.  However, Carcassonne scratches the strategic itch in a way that many games do not.  There are a lot of reasons why you should by this game.

(Just to clarify – I am not one of those that believes a game must be strategic to be a good game.  Many games, like Bananagrams for example, are primarily tactical, and are very fun.  However, there are times when I want to play something more strategic.  Hmm, maybe I need to talk a little bit about strategy vs. tactics in an upcoming blog.)

The first gotcha for new players is the fact that there is no board, just a blank table and a bag of tiles.  The board is built during the course of the game!  On their turn, each player lays a square tile with several possible terrain features on it: city, monastery, road or field.  Tiles must be place so that they touch a tile already  on the table, and each side must match the features of adjacent tiles.  The player may then place a token (meeple) on the tile just placed to claim it.  Once enough tiles have been place to build a complete road, monastery or city, they score points.  Farms are scored at the end of the game.  As you might guess, with a somewhat abstract theme and both ongoing and end game scoring, this game classifies as a “Euro”, a European style game.

Carcassonne in play  (Image by Aaron Tubb)
 First of all, Carcassonne plays 2-5 people, and six with the Inns and Cathedrals expansion.  Many games claim to do this, but few actually are a good game with the full range of players listed on the box.  I’ve talked about this before, so I won’t dwell on it.  Suffice it to say that Carcassonne works really well for 2-4 players, and is still a good game with 5 or 6.  Regardless of whether it’s two people alone after the kids are in bed, two couples getting together, or a fairly large family, this game will work for any number.

For the amount of strategy in this game, it is accessible to new players.  This game is easy to teach, and is one of those uncommon games that can be taught in stages.   Cover the basics of tile placement in a few minutes, then after a turn or two explain in more detail how scoring is done.  As the game rolls along, the game explainer can show how players interact in the game.  At the same time, there are many experienced hobby gamers that are completely willing to play this – including me!  Once again, it covers the range of players.

Lastly, this game accomplishes all of this in an hour.  With some experience, the games will move quickly.  A few years ago and another job ago, I played at lunch with a couple of others.  Once everyone knew the game, it was not uncommon to get in two games within our hour lunch.  The three of us even managed to play three games in an hour one day!  The game length is just about perfect for any evening.

This is the one expansion to get! (Image: Surya Van Lierde)
Carcassonne has a lot of expansions.  A lot.  Some are very good, and some are downright silly.  Personally, I think there is only one worth getting:  Inns and Cathedrals.  This expansion adds one more player (the sixth player) and several more tiles.  Two tiles have cathedrals on them, and several have inns on them.  Cathedrals make cities high risk, high reward propositions; inns do the same for roads.  They can be played for yourself to increase your score, or played late in the game to foul up your opponents big plan.  Of course, it may not work out as planned!  I would leave the other expansions alone.  While Carcassonne can be bought in a “Big Box” version that includes several expansions, I would save my money (and my shelf space) and just by the base game and Inns and Cathedrals.

I guess the biggest endorsement of this game is that we own 3 copies.  Yes, I said three.  Three copies of Inns and Cathedrals, too.  One set is at home (and it has a few more expansions which largely just sit in the box).  One set is at my wife’s place of work, and one is at her mother’s house out of town.  This is a game that we all enjoy, which can be a trick in our household!  It hasn’t made it to the discount stores yet, but I have seen it at Barnes and Noble as well as game stores. 

It’s Your Move!

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Tuesday, August 9, 2011

The Powerful Magic of the Lord of the Rings: The Card Game

I might as well follow up last week’s post about Fantasy Flight games with a review of one of their new offerings, entitled Lord of the Rings: The Card Game.  As I mentioned before, I had to read the rules a few times to understand how this would work.  My son and I finally managed to play it this weekend, and it is not only a lot of fun but tells a good story.  The components are modular, so the story can change and the game should provide a lot of variety.  A quick rereading of the rules showed that we had done only a few minor things wrong, which would have actually made the game easier, so I can’t wait to play it again.

Image by Surya Van Lierde
Lord of the Rings: The Card Game is a “living card game” (LCG), a concept that has been pioneered by Fantasy Flight recently.  If you have played Magic: The Gathering, or even watched your kids play Yu-Gi-Oh!, you have seen a similar concept that has been around for a while – the collectable card game (CCG).  The difference between the two is in the expansions.  A CCG has expansions, aka “booster packs”, which have a randomized set of cards in them, so the player buying the booster pack has no idea what they will be getting.  Those cards are then used to build a customized deck of a certain number of cards to play with.  Very powerful cards are more rare, so one might have to buy quite a few booster packs to assemble a good deck to play with, particularly if the goal is to play competitively.  Add to this the fact that new cards come out every year, and you will understand while your child has a ton of Yu-Gi-Oh! cards and empty pockets!

In contrast, the booster packs for an LCG have titles, and every deck with the same title will have the exact same cards in it.  The player knows what they are buying beforehand.  This makes it easier to keep away from the arms race a CCG can turn into.  The market is that group of gamers, many of them ex-CCG players, that want the same game play experience but no longer have the means or desire to spend a lot of money.

This particular game has one more unique element to it; it is a cooperative game.  The players all play together to complete quests.  The events happen in Middle Earth, the world of the Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit.  For you Tolkien fans, I will add that the timeframe of the game is those years between the defeat of Smaug and Bilbo’s eleventy-first (111th) birthday.  This allows the game broader artistic license for storytelling.

Lord of the Rings: The Card Game comes in a very oversized large box for what’s inside: 228 cards, two accessories for tracking a player’s “threat level”, some counters and a set of rules.  At first I wasn’t thrilled with this, since my shelf space is at a premium.  Then I realized the boosters will fit in the box too, so in the end it will probably be a good thing.  A breakdown of the cards shows that there are two broad categories: player cards, further broken down into heroes, attachments (weapons and such), events (special actions) and allies; and non-player cards which are quests and encounters.  Quests make up the objective of the game, while encounters are the creatures, places and events that work against the players.  Heroes are placed in front of the players, and each player has a hand of cards that will strengthen the abilities of the heroes to complete the quest.  This is done in a sequence of actions, which include flipping over encounter cards, to see what befalls the heroes in fulfilling the quest.
Gandalf is a major ally, though he doesn't really change up the rules as some other cards do.  Image by Chris Norwood

While this sounds pretty straightforward, it’s not.  First, the game play sequence has seven stages to it, and so is a little involved.  Secondly, one of the characteristics of this type of game is a lot of text on the cards.  This text actually modifies or suspends game rules during the course of the game, so the game play is always in flux.  Lastly, the cards are designed to work in various combinations with each other, so that understand the optimum sequence of card plays takes some experience.  Sorting out the results of conflicting cards takes some getting used to, and actually is benefitted by prior experience with other games.  Anyone can learn it, that is certain, but the amount of time required to be proficient is more than casual.

From the storytelling perspective, the cards were excellently designed.  In a game where you are travelling through the mysterious Mirkwood Forest, there three smaller decks of enemies and locations  that are combined to form the encounter deck.  A few similar small decks stay in the box.  For a different quest, the encounter deck will be created from a different combination of these small decks, and this keep the enemies and locations appropriate to the quest.  The result is excellent, and combined with very good artwork the story really comes through.

All of this combines to make Lord of the Rings: The Card Game a really great game, but one that is not suitable to a casual evening with some friends or a game night with the family.  (If you are thinking, “Maybe, but I bet I would have fun with so-and-so”, I submit that you may be transmogrifying into that creature known as a gamer, and are beginning to fade from the world of casual gaming.)  As a result, while I am really looking forward to exploring this game further, I can already give it a thumbs down for the purposes of this blog.

It's Your Move!

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Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Expending My Thoughts About Expanding My Games…

Image by Antony Hemme
Last week I mentioned punching out the expansions to Zooloretto.  Expansions are crazy things.  Some games will have a million of them; some will have none.  Some expansions are specifically geared to up the number of players involved.  Some tweak the rules to add variety or another layer of strategy.  Some tweak the rules to fix a problem that was discovered after release.  Personally, I have mixed emotions about expansions, and I will tell you the good and bad.

First of all, what is an expansion, and how do they come to be?  An expansion is a set of rules packaged with some new playing pieces, designed to change up the original (base) game.  Typically, expansions require the base game to play it.  They are not stand-alone games.  Games that often have expansions are very popular games:  games which sell a lot of copies.  Lately, a game winning the Spiel des Jahres is almost a guarantee expansions will be produced, though this year’s winner, Qwirkle, might be difficult to expand.  Expansions make good business sense for the publisher, since it capitalizes on a line that people already know and like.

Carcassonne has LOTS of expansions! (Image by Big Woo)
There are a few, very good reasons to specifically buy an expansion.  The biggest reason I mentioned last week:  to change up a game that is played very often.   Around our house a game will see a lot of table time because they are easier to teach and have wide appeal (Carcassonne, Ticket to Ride, and Zooloretto).  When family and friends who only play casually have come to call, these games tend to be played.  A good expansion will add more strategic depth with a minimum of rule changes, and so can be incorporated as soon as your guests say “Let’s go again!”  For the game owner, this keeps the game fresh.  Another good reason to buy an expansion is in those few instances when a game needs a rule “fix”.  While games are play-tested by the designer and again by the publisher, every once in a while a problem surfaces only after the general public has played it repeatedly.  Sometimes, a dominant strategy immerges.  It may there is a turn-order advantage that is overwhelming, or some set of random circumstances that typically determines the winner.  Those can be fixed in an expansion.

What I most dislike about expansions is the cost.  Often, the expansion to a game will be 2/3’s the cost of the base game.  For that expense, I would rather put the money towards a whole new game and get a brand new gaming experience out of it.  I would probably feel more this way if I had a small collection. At well over 200 games, having a couple of expansions isn’t a big deal.

After all of that, which for which games do I have expansions, and why?  Here is a short list:
Image by Dean
  • Carcassonne:  I have several expansions to this, and there are a truckload, but the only one I really need is Inns and CathedralsThis gives me some variation in play, which is great because it is the game I have played the most (other than chess).
  • Zooloretto:  I haven’t played this one much, but I anticipate it will be played in much the same way (and frequency!) as Carcassonne.  I need to teach it to the family first.
  • Ticket to Ride:  We also have several different (stand-alone) versions of this game.  Again, the expansions, like 1910, add variety.  These are my son’s (Daniel’s) games, and he loves expansions, which is the primary reason we have these.
  • Dominion:  This game has a stand-alone game that can be mixed with it (Dominion: Intrigue), making it a kind of hybrid.  Dominion is my son’s; I bought Dominion: Intrigue so I have a copy after he eventually goes away to college.
  • Settlers of Catan:  Again, this is Daniel’s game.  The expansion we have for it is designed to increase the number of players from four to six.  A couple of years ago, I thought this was a great idea.  Now I would say that most expansions that increase the number of players just make the game too long.  I personally would not buy this one.
  • Runebound:  I bought some new adventure decks for this fantasy game, which change the challenges and the end game.  They cost less than $10 USD, so I really couldn’t go wrong.
  • Battleground Fantasy Warfare:   This game is not really a family game.  If you have ever seen wargamers playing with miniatures, you have some idea of how this game works.  Figurines are replaced with cards.  The expansions are different factions (men, elves, orcs, dwarves, etc.) and they have different abilities.
  • Warrior Knights:  The expansion for this game adds some rules and another strategic area, but is also highly recommended as a fix to some issues.  The last reason is why I bought it.  Warrior Knights is a long, complex game, and it hasn’t seen the table yet, so I can’t really say.
Expansions are definitely worth considering.  I recommend the less expensive expansions unless you really love a game.  A reasonable mix of new games and expansions makes sense, though exactly what the mix should be is a matter of personal taste.  It’s your money, and

It’s Your Move!