Player Count

Are there any games that work well outside the recommended number of players? I am thinking of board games, but really any; did LOL Twisted Treeline ever become a thing? The particular thing that comes to mind is games with “variant rules” for more or fewer players, where the game is usually made for 3-4 players with a 2-player (or solitaire) variant and a 5-6 player expansion. That seems really common in board games, but I cannot think of many (any?) where I have seen it done well.

  • Dominion breaks down with 5+ players, particularly if there are attacks. There is not much fun to be had in a game with at least one Torturer per round. Without attacks, you can have a very short game with that many people emptying stacks unimpeded.
  • Starfarers of Catan gets extremely crowded in the early game, leading to a snowball effect where a bad first turn puts you several turns behind everyone else as you need to navigate/colonize around them. I have never tried Settlers of Catan with the 5-6 player expansion, out of a holy respect for the mathematical purity of the base game.
  • 7 Wonders does a great job scaling up or down for 3-7 players, and that is built into the cards to begin with. Well done. The two-player variant is messy and clunky. I am told that 7 Wonders Duel is excellent, intentionally re-designed for two players.
  • I am not sure if Smash Up is bad as a two-player game so much as very different, and the balance shifts massively. Any card that costs you something to hurt an opponent becomes vastly stronger if you have only one opponent, such as most Kittens cards, while factions like Ninjas and Pirates that jump into others’ fights are much weaker in a heads-up game.
  • I should just stop the two-player games, because they play differently and usually pretty badly. Recent examples I have tried include Coup and Havok and Hijinks.

Some games work for two players without rules variations, and they can mostly work. This works better for Eurogames with minimal interaction, such as Dominion. I have played Kingdom Builder mostly with two players, and it becomes a much more strategic game as you limit the number of players.

In my day-to-day life, scaling down is the usual issue, playing with my wife at home. When I go to a game day, scaling up becomes the issue as we try to get more people at the table rather than boxing 3 or 4 people away for a couple of hours. But that often leads to a suboptimal time for several hours.

Thoughts from KTR readers, games that do this well or badly and why?

: Zubon

Pantheon Wars: The Fall of Ra

Tesh, your friend and mine, is planning to launch the game he made next year. It is called Pantheon Wars: The Fall of Ra, and it is “an area placement game based on an alternate Earth history scarred by wars between different deities and demigods.” He has a print and play version online if anyone would like to be a late beta tester before it reaches its final version.

: Zubon

Thanks to AEG Customer Service

Obviously everyone knows I like board games, but one of my favorite things about the hobby has always been how good the industry treats its customers. In a world where most companies are looking to take you for as much as they can, board game companies almost universally have great customer service despite the fact that a lot of times they are not making a lot of money per unit sold. They’ll replace missing pieces, cards, etc, often at no cost because they want you to enjoy their product and continue to enjoy their product.
— Haen, gamer

I picked up a Smash Up box at Gen Con. It was missing a card. I e-mailed AEG customer service, and they sent me the card.

That is not much of a story. It rarely is when things work properly. Customer service worked well, and now I have a full set rather than saying, “Pretend this card is a Collector.”

: Zubon

Balanced Forces

I love and fear asymmetric PvP. It is so hard to balance well and so good when it is done right.

There is something satisfying about being the big monster fighting several of your friends, or being that group of friends taking down a big monster we know to have a capable pilot. About pitting goblins against elves against dragons. About ninja and samurai, pirates and ninja, merchants and pirates. Symmetry is elegant and much easier to balance, but teams with different advantages and disadvantages add so much more color.

But it is so easy to get wrong, and if you mess it up, it may not be fixable. Or maybe the balance really is perfect, but not in your local gaming group, where one person is especially good with one strategy and makes all the other factions look like trash. It is hard to tell whether the im/balance is in your game or your gamers, and imbalanced gamers can lead to runaway differences in-game.

I see the latest thing on Kickstarter or Steam, and my interest is piqued, but it will take many hours of (hopefully someone else’s) play to see whether the game has the chops to make it work. A bit of randomness in the game can hide imbalances for a long time, and really for as many times as I am likely to play a game, “close enough” is probably good enough.

: Zubon

Premium Game

I have previously mentioned the notion of a premium game that charged more for more, rather than a F2P race to the bottom. Monte Cook, bless his heart, is going for it. He is Kickstarting a new RPG called Invisible Sun that costs $197. That is the lowest pledge tier. The other pledge tier is $539, which adds on the stretch goals and a 12-month subscription of sorts. That’s it, those are the two options. The premium and ultra-premium pledge slots were all sold for $42,811. It garnered a quarter-million in about a day, is already funded, and now can start putting the stretch rewards in that $539 box.

I respect the audaciousness of the project. Monte wanted to make a deluxe game, so he went and did it with a bunch of friends, a big box with books and cards and dice and a cloth map and everything you dreamed of doing as a young nerd. Kind of like when Steve Jackson used Kickstarter for his dream deluxe game, only more. Kind of like that $1000 omelet only the omelet itself is both the PR stunt and the product they are really selling.

I do not have a regular gaming group and I cannot see myself buying this, but I am interested in seeing where it goes and what will get added to the game as its pledges rise above a half-million.

: Zubon

Tinker Steampunk Metal Meeples Closing

As a reminder, our friend Tesh’s Kickstarter for metal steampunk meeples has a week left. The number of options has doubled with the addition of a Dame meeple to accompany the Gentleman. By popular demand, this Kickstarter will help pave the way for a future one with a broader range of Tinker steampunk meeples.

I am still in love with the founding idea of Cheapass Games. They started selling white box (or often envelope) versions of what are now their free print & play games. The idea was to sell you just the game, usually a board or cards, and then you could buy yourself a fancy set of peripheral components to use with many games. Get a nice set of pawns, money, etc. and use them for every game, rather than getting a couple pieces of expensive (yet cheap) plastic with every board game. It is an approach that works well when you are pondering efficient storage for tabletop games.

: Zubon

Gen Con and Kickstarter

It felt like Kickstarter usurped the Gen Con vendors this year. I go to Gen Con mostly to see the new games, and it seemed like most of the prominent new games were Kickstarter successes, waiting to fulfill delivery from Kickstarter, about to start a Kickstarter, or on Kickstarter now. The others were delayed and maybe available for a prototype demo. Overall, a disappointing time checking out new games this year. I should have kept a tally of the number of times I heard “only available to backers” as I walked around the exhibits hall.

How about some examples? Friends were very excited about Scythe, and that’s a Kickstarter link. I said I was going to look at the GameFolio system, and that’s a Kickstarter link. I had on my list to see One Deck Dungeon, not yet released, and that’s a Kickstarter link. Okay, I am getting tired of saying that. BetaBotz and Giga-Robo are two current Kickstarter projects that were there, and I cannot give you links to upcoming Kickstarters that were being promoed. As I look back through the BoardGameGekk preview, it was not that severe, but it certainly felt like Kickstarter was taking over the role of pre-release game promos. Certainly there are publishers using Kickstarter heavily to gauge interest and collect pre-orders.

Other differences in the world noted at Gen Con:

  • Geek Chic remains the big name in gaming furniture, but they seem to be staying at the high end while competitors arise at lower price points. Carolina Game Tables was at Gen Con, and I did not see BoardGameTables.com but they recently had a successful Kickstarter. Google tells me there are also a few companies in that space in the UK.
  • On the cosplay front, in one day at Gen Con, I saw only 19 Deadpools and Harley Quinns, which seems like a big drop from previous years. All but one of the female Harley Quinns went with the Suicide Squad style; all but one of the male Harley Quinns went with the classic costume, sometimes a skimpy version.

: Zubon

Tabletop Games: Storage and Mobility

Storage solutions interest me. As you accumulate games, how do you make them conveniently available, visible (or not), and portable? For small collections, stacking up a few boxes in a closet works perfectly. Over time, collections become not-small, and there is no consistency on box size between companies, so you can easily end up playing a cross between Tetris and Jenga every time you take your games out or put them away, and then some games are packed so perfectly you forget you own them for months because you cannot see the box.

So what are we looking for in storage? Size standardization is a great thing, with the notion being that we will take the games out of the original boxes (trash or carefully store in pristine condition, according to your gamer type) and put them in something conveniently modular. The modules need to be of different sizes, because some games are large with lots of bits while others are very small, but most boxes have a lot more air than you need. Boards and rules usually need to be stored separately from game pieces because of sizing issues; indeed, the large boxes are usually because of one large board and a few tallish pieces, so you need large overall dimensions. Game pieces should be able to be stored separately, again needing different sizes of compartments for different games. Transparency and space for labeling are great, because you want to know what is in storage (and find it). I would also want to be able to pull out one game without upsetting the whole apple cart, and for larger collections you want to be able to take some subset of your collection along in mobile storage. Bonuses include if the containers for pieces are also functional during play.

Pausing to note that audience participation is encouraged, please discuss your storage needs and solutions in the comments. Continue reading Tabletop Games: Storage and Mobility

Story via Mechanics

One thing I enjoy in the Pathfinder Adventures story mode is that the rules can be adapted to create good scenes, fluff out of the crunch. One of these is done inelegantly, with a paragraph of text that makes that one a mini-game, but consider:

  • “The Poison Pill” sets you against someone leaving deadly traps around town. The usual henchman mini-bosses are obstacles (poison traps) instead of monsters.
  • “Local Heroes” wants you to network around town and meet people. The henchman mini-bosses are replaced with allies you can recruit, with the goal of closing all the locations instead of defeating a villain. And the scenario reward is more allies.
  • Several scenarios have a special rule that makes the difficulty scale in a way that encourages you to find the villain as quickly as possible and to create the usually desired effect of rising difficulty over time. For example, “Undead Uprising” raises the difficulty to defeat Zombie Minion mini-bosses for each Zombie Minion defeated (and the boss summons more before the final confrontation). “Foul Misgivings” increases the difficulty of everything as Haunt mini-bosses haunt your characters, and the lowest difficulty adds a rising chance for a bonus boss fight as you meet Haunts (the higher difficulties just throw the bonus boss at you). “Them Ogres Ain’t Right” increases the final boss’s difficulty by 2 for each mini-boss defeated. A wildcard mechanic has the same effect of rising difficulty, which could get ugly stacking with the scenario mechanic.
  • Several locations have connections to specific allies who can be used for bonus effects, like the one who can banish the aforementioned Haunts.
  • “Angel in the Tower” requires you to have someone at the Shadow Clock location or else time starts slipping away.
  • “Battle at the Dam” has the most elegant implementation: “The Dam may not be temporarily closed.” For folks who have not played, if you encounted the boss but have not closed all the locations, you can “temporarily close” them to keep the boss from escaping; if you win the fight, the boss flees to any open location. If the Dam cannot be temporarily closed, you MUST fight the boss there, either early (and you spend the rest of the scenario tracking him down) or more likely as the climactic battle (because why risk fighting a mini-boss there when you cannot close it).

: Zubon