Snakes & Blogs
2013-12 ‹ By Month
Looking for gifts this holiday season, but don't have a lot of money to spend? Our Head Game Curator, Steve Tassie takes a look at games that will appeal to the budget conscious shopper. Find the right one for your needs without breaking the bank!
Check us out on The Dice Tower's Board Game Breakfast!
Welcome to the Curator's Collection #2. People who come to Snakes & Lattes for the first time are usually overwhelmed by the sheer quantity of games they see on our wall (which is really just the tip of the iceberg, with the other two-thirds of the collection being upstairs in the archive).
Just as often, people get blown away by the variety of types of games I list when asking them what sorts of games they like ("What's a dexterity game?" is a common refrain*). Our official categories are Strategy, Light Strategy, Children's, Word, Abstract, Trivia and Party, but those broad categories are just the beginning; theme, mechanic, size, style or level of complexity are all ways to sub classify our collection. What I'm saying is our collection is vast and varied. My own is not. Compared to the average person's collection of games on the top shelf of their closet, mine is pretty amazing, but it lacks the comprehensive variety of the Snakes & Lattes game wall.
One area that readers might be surprised to see is under represented in my home is abstract strategy games. I own a chess set and a couple of cheap backgammon boards and that is pretty much it. I have a few games that pretend to have a theme (Through the Desert and Hey! That's My Fish leap to mind), but no other purely abstract games. And I'm not really sure why that is. There are plenty of abstracts that I think are great. Ingenious, Quoridor, and Kulami are favourites (and all are available to play in the cafe). I recently had the opportunity to play The Duke, which is like chess with variable pieces, and loved it to bits. Yet I don't own any of these wonderful games.
As much as I like these games, I wonder if I'm just prejudiced against buying games that have such plain pieces and seemingly simplistic rules. Most of the titles I own have cool components, beautiful boards and other elements that give the designer the chance to meld the mechanics with the theme, and that just doesn't happen with abstracts. Some chess and backgammon sets are works of art, true, but very few abstracts reach the level of popularity to warrant the creation of gorgeous deluxe versions. Which really is a shame, because many of these games deserve to be played by lots more people.
So that nobody thinks I'm totally superficial when it comes to my game selection, one practical reason for the lack of abstracts in my home library is that the vast majority of abstracts are head to head battles of wits. That doesn't work so well for me as I am very rarely in a position to play two player games. I am usually playing in larger groups because my wife and I don't play games just the two of us (gasp! shock! horror!), so when I'm playing at home it's when we have company over.
I know I'm itching to play The Duke again... and I'm going to buy it just as soon as I can get my hands on a copy. You should, too.
* For those of you asking that question right now, dexterity games are those that rely primarily on some combination of hand-eye co-ordination an/or fast reflexes. Games like Jenga, Riff Raff, Toc Toc Woodman, Hamsterrolle, and Jungle Speed are some prime examples of the genre.
So, I was a big fan of the DC Deck Builder when I first tried it at GenCon 2012. Ya, I know that it has its problems; run away leader, a bit unbalanced, but still. Despite not being a perfect game I still had FUN playing it and at then the end of the day isn't that the important thing? Who doesn't want to take on the role of Batman, Superman or Wonder Woman?
When Lord of the Rings Deck Builder came out I was skeptical. Was this just a re-skinning of the DC Deck Builder? Is there enough there to warrant playing this new game? In a word…YES!
Like DC, LOTR has players managing their hands, playing cards with special powers and buying new cards from a line up to add to their deck. Throughout the game they will come across allies, artifacts, manoeuvres and enemies. Players are trying to avoid taking corruption into their hands and build up enough power in their decks to take on the Arch Enemies.
As each Arch Enemy is defeated a new one is revealed, and with it an Ambush Attack that affects every player. As cards are bought from the line up they must be replaced and that also runs a risk of revealing an enemy with their own form of attack. Buying lots of cards can be good, but it ups the risk of running right into an ambush.
LOTR DB fixes a lot of the problems that players were faced with in the DC DB. Instead of players' hero giving them a super power that they can cash in on every turn of the game, they get a card based on what character they've drawn. That card can be powerful, but it is shuffled into their deck like all the others. Gimli's Axe or The One Ring can only be used when they are dealt out. Players are at the mercy of when it might come up into their hand. When they defeat Arch Enemies in this game they will be shuffled back into their hand, just like the Super Villains in DC DB. The difference is that Arch Enemies give much more modest powers to the players who control them. In DC DB often players who defeat the first Super Villain run away with the game. With LOTR DB this is no longer possible.
In a nut shell LOTR DB solves a lot of the problems with the DC DB and still remains a really fun game. If you're opposed to trying out a licensed deck builder I'd give this one a shot!
Welcome to "The Curator's Collection." One of the most common questions I am asked as a Guru at Snakes & Lattes (aside from "Do you know ALL these games?" and "Do you have any fun games?") is "What's your favourite game?" The answer I give is "It depends on who I am with" which may sound like a cop-out, but it is the truest answer I have.
As curator at Snakes & Lattes I have a collection of 3,000 games to play with and get to know, but I have a private collection at home that contains many of my favourite games of all time. This column will explore where my private and professional collections intersect and, on occasion, where they diverge (believe it or not, my comparatively small private reserve does have titles that won't be found at Snakes & Lattes).
For this first edition, I’m going to talk about two games. First, a game with mass-market appeal that gets a lot of play on our tables, and then a deeper cut from the Wayback Machine.
First up is Ticket to Ride. Designed by Alan R. Moon and published in 2001 by Days of Wonder, Ticket to Ride is the flagship of the Days of Wonder line. Known for games with high quality components, Ticket to Ride is no exception. Nice linen finish cards, molded plastic train pieces, and a turn of the last century aesthetic that makes the game feel older than it is. With over 3,000,000 sold and shelf presence in some of the larger retailers like Toys R Us, Target and others, there is no doubting this game’s broad appeal. Ticket to Ride won the coveted Spiel des Jahres in Germany, where it is known as Zum und Zug, and has spawned a long line of sequels and expansions. This game has legs. The game has fairly simple rules and is fast-paced, so there isn’t a lot of down time between turns. These factors make it very good for the casual gamer. The more serious gamer will enjoy the strategic train placement and set collection opportunities the game provides. It offers numerous choices to make every turn – which of the three possible actions do you want to take? Whatever the answer, each action offers numerous secondary choices to make, too. Ticket to Ride can be enjoyed by itself for years, but as the head of a family of products, it has great growth potential.
And now for a trip into the back catalogue, for a game that I’ve had for a little while in my own collection, that I’ve also managed to recently acquire for the café’s collection as well. You’ll find it in cubby-hole E13, but you’ll have to find it on eBay if you want to own this out of print classic. The year is 1986 and for the past five years Steve Jackson Games has been making bank on its Mad Max-style car racing and fighting game, Car Wars. Enter Milton Bradley, also looking to make some cash off the idea of jerks in cars shooting and ramming each other. With its complex movement and vehicle customization rules, Car Wars is aimed at the niche war gamer market. Milton Bradley wants a piece of the mainstream market. Their solution? Jim Keifer’s Thunder Road! With its patented interlocking two-piece board, Thunder Road gives players an unending stretch of desert road on which to engage in total high speed carnage. Each player has a set of three cars, the Doom Buggy, the Avenger and the Eliminator (or as we lovingly call it, TRUCKMACHINE!), and one gyro-copter. If the Avenger’s striking resemblance to Max Rocketansky’s V8-Interceptor doesn’t clue you in to the fact that they wanted to make “Road Warrior the Board Game,” then the gyro is a dead giveaway (seriously, check Youtube for the original ’86 TV commercial and then tell me that’s not what MB was going for!).
But lack of proper licensing aside, Thunder Road turns out to be a hell of a good time. The goal is as simple as the rules: Out drive and or out shoot everyone else until yours is the only functional car on the road. Thunder Road hails from a decade that didn’t produce a lot of good games, but they did make cool toys with rules for how to play with them. Thankfully Thunder Road turns out to be both of those things.
First, let me premise this by say I love Richard Pryor. If I can describe a game based on one of his films there's a good chance it's going to be a hit…at least with me.
Last Will is the Brewster's Millions of the board game world. Your rich uncle has died (a tear) and he wants to leave behind his vast fortune to the cousin that will enjoy it the most. That means the cousin who can spend money the fastest. You've all been given a token sum and 7 weeks to burn through it. The person who has the least money at the end of 7 rounds or the one who goes bankrupt first will inherit riches beyond their wildest dreams!
So, how are you going to spend your money? Don't worry! There are properties to be bought, old friends to hire and lavish balls to throw. You'll be broke before you know it…and in this game that's a good thing!
Each week starts with a planning session. Players choose a place on the planning chart that will determine turn order, how many cards you receive, how many errand boys will be at your disposal and the number of actions you'll be able to take.
It's in this planning session where the real tough decisions are made. Each of the 4 elements decided by your position in the chart are extraordinarily important. Going earlier in turn order may allow you to pick up a card you really want, but it will result in fewer actions to spend that week.
Cards are categorized into properties, helpers, events and companions. Errand boys allow you to gain more cards, visit the opera and affect the housing market. Actions allow you to buy and sell property and hire some helpers to spend your dough.
In Last Will players will often build a money burning engine through property. Mansions, Manor Houses and Town Houses will all depreciate in value if you don't upkeep them. Farms retain their value, but you can spend a lot of money on them, especially if you have some horses and dogs on there to feed.
The end game has players selling off their properties (you can't go broke while you own property) and throwing parties, attending dinners and going on expensive boat trips. Essentially doing anything they can to get rid of their last few bucks in hopes of winning the big prize.
So, what's so great about Last Will?
I love the idea of a reverse economic game. There is a definite sense of achievement when you're able string together several cards and spend someone else's hard earned money. The game is set in Victorian England and the art, gameplay and theme all work very well together. The image of your Old Friend showing up at your door to help you celebrate your good fortune is pitch perfect (and tell me he's not John Candy pulled directly from Brewster's Millions). This game has a sense of humour with itself and it elevates it above the typical, calculating Euro style game. In the last few turns pulling out all the stops to spend the last of your money is just brilliant fun.
Vladimir Suchy has taken the fun of Brewster's Millions and turned it into an amazing game. It's the best time you'll have losing money.