Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Buds, Blooms, and Thorns review of Wooly Whammoth by Smirk & Dagger Games

Buds, Blooms, and Thorns Review of Wooly Whammoth by Smirk & Dagger Games
Disclaimer Support me on Patreon!
Vitals:
Title: Wooly Whammoth
Designed by: Nicholas Cravotta, Rebecca Bleau
Publisher: Smirk & Dagger Games
MSRP: $40
2-4p | 20-30 min | 8+

Introduction:
If you were a member of a prehistoric tribe, you'd need to eat.  And what better to eat than big, yummy, mammoths?  They're big though, so hunting them is difficult... Unless you can drive them off a cliff and let gravity do the work for you!  The problem is, mammoths are often unpredictable and dangerous.  Sometimes they'll charge, sometimes they'll even take you off the cliff with them!

In Wooly Whammoth all players are controlling their own tribe, trying to drive a mammoth off a cliff in order to feed their tribe.  Simultaneously, everyone will play a card that says what will happen that round, either movement cards or charge cards.  The catch is that everyone's cards are combined to decide what happens!  So if too many people play movement cards you may end up running off the cliff with the mammoth!  Or if someone plays a Charge card you may end up getting trampled!  Whoever manages to collect enough food at the end of the game, without losing their entire tribe, is the winner!

Blooms:
Blooms are the game's highlights and features.  Elements that are exceptional.
  • Excellent components!  The artwork is fun and whimsical, the double layered, sliding tracks for each player are nice and thick, and all the tokens and cards are top notch quality.
Buds:
Buds are interesting parts of the game I would like to explore more. 
  • This needs to be played with the right group of people.  If everyone plays conservatively it'll be a boring game, but when people take chances it can cause some crazy fun.
  • Light, quick play and a whimsical theme make for a good filler.
Thorns:
Thorns are a game's shortcomings and any issues I feel are noteworthy.
  • Gameplay is very light and casual.  It feels like a mismatch with the $40 price tag.
  • If you don't play with people that like a little chaos the game will be pretty boring.  In my first game I played with a group that was very calculating (they mostly play euro strategy games).  Because of this everyone calculated what the best moves would be and everyone ended up in pretty much the same place for much of the game.  You really need either a completely random element, or someone who loves instigating chaos to make the game exciting.
  • This is a game that really focuses on take-that mechanics.  There is bluffing and a bit of deduction, but it all revolves around trying to get your opponents to either fall off the cliff or get trampled.  If you aren't into a game built around this goal, as most of my game group isn't, then this game isn't for you.
Final Thoughts:
This is a game that I thought would be more fun than it was.  Part of that is because it's not the right game for my gaming group though.  Wooly Whammoth is really all about trying to see if you can get your opponents to destroy themselves.  A lot of Smirk & Dagger games have strong take-that elements to them and Wooly Whammoth is no exception. 

There are some interesting bluffing opportunities and mechanic interactions in the game though.  You do have to think about, and then second guess, what you think your opponents are going to play in order to keep yourself both on the cliff and avoid being trampled.  Each tribe has a unique ability that can help them in the game, and there are some cards that let you do things other than move that add some interesting options.  However, after all was said and done, I didn't feel like much really happened in the game.  There were no overly exciting moments, no sense of danger or thrill of the hunt.  I'd love to see more "last minute" save types of occasions in the game to bring forward the sense of hunting a dangerous prey.  I think part of the issue is that cards are resolved sequentially rather than simultaneously.  So you are able to move and drive a mammoth off the cliff before a Charge card takes effect.  If you've already driven your mammoth off the cliff it can't charge.  Because of this, we felt that the Charge cards were less effective than we'd have liked.  They were potentially mean, but in actuality, didn't seem mean enough.  Simultaneously charging and moving would probably result in more casualties in the game, so tribes may have to be bigger, but I think it would also add more excitement.

Wooly Whammoth reminded me a lot of Get Bit, but much less elegant.  The experience in Get Bit is very similar - players are trying to avoid getting eaten by a shark by playing numerical cards that determine their sequence in line, but it's also simpler.  I think Get Bit works much better for the experience the games are trying to instill, plus Get Bit is a fraction of the cost.

Anyway, I gave Wooly Whammoth a Thorn rating because it really wasn't right for my group, and I think it fell short of the experience it tried to present.  If you like simple bluffing and take-that games you may get more mileage from the game.  Thematically it's wonderful and would make a great family game, but mechanically I felt it left a bit to be desired.

Buds, Blooms, and Thorns Rating:
Thorn!  I can't quite recommend this game,
although you may enjoy it if you like games
like this.  I feel this game has some flaws and
there are areas that it could improve in the
experience it provides.

Pictures:






Did you like this review?  Show your support: Support me on Patreon! Also, click the heart at Board Game Links , like GJJ Games on Facebook , or follow on Twitter .  And be sure to check out my games on  Tabletop Generation.


GJJ Games 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 were provided by a publisher or designer for my honest feedback and evaluation.  I make every attempt to be both honest and constructively critical in my reviews, and they are all my opinions.  There are four types of reviews on GJJ Games: Full Reviews feature critical reviews based on a rubric and games receive a rating from 0 to 100.  Quick Reviews and Kickstarter Previews are either shorter reviews of published games or detailed preview reviews of crowdfunding games that will receive a rating from 0 to 10 based on my impressions of the game.  Buds, Blooms,and Thorns reviews are shorter reviews of either published or upcoming games that highlight three aspects of a game: Buds are parts of a game I look forward to exploring more, Blooms are outstanding features of a game, and Thorns are shortcomings of a game.  Each BBT review game will receive an overall rating of Thorn, Bud, or Bloom.

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

People Behind the Meeples - Episode 211: Dave Dobson

Welcome to People Behind the Meeples, a series of interviews with indie game designers.  Here you'll find out more than you ever wanted to know about the people who make the best games that you may or may not have heard of before.  If you'd like to be featured, head over to http://gjjgames.blogspot.com/p/game-designer-interview-questionnaire.html and fill out the questionnaire! You can find all the interviews here: People Behind the Meeples. Support me on Patreon!


Name:Dave Dobson
Email: dave@planktongames.com
Location:North Carolina, USA
Day Job:I teach geology, environmental studies, and computing at Guilford College in Greensboro, NC. I also write novels and perform improv comedy, neither of which could be considered a day job. Yet. Dammit.
Designing:Over ten years!
Webpage:http://planktongames.com
Blog:https://planktongames.blogspot.com
BGG:dobnarr
Facebook:Dave Dobson
Twitter:@GCDaveDobson
Other:http://davedobsonbooks.com
Find my games at:Amazon, PlanktonGames.com, TheGameCrafter
Today's Interview is with:

Dave Dobson
Interviewed on: 8/21/2019

This week's interview is with Dave Dobson an author, board game designer, video game designer, and more. He's been designing games of one sort or another for over 40 years! He may have even designed some games you've played! Read on to learn more about Dave and his current projects.

Some Basics
Tell me a bit about yourself.

How long have you been designing tabletop games?
Over ten years!

Why did you start designing tabletop games?
I've loved designing games since I was a kid. I love the process of design, balance, creativity, and paper and glue. One of my earliest games, circa 1979, was a roll-and-move called the Roy Rogers game, based on the TV show. It had an unfortunate spot on the board where if you didn't roll two specific numbers on consecutive rolls, you got sent back to the ranch, i.e. start. My family gave up on it after about twenty minutes, but I learned a valuable lesson about broken designs.

What game or games are you currently working on?
I'm working on the third Doctor Esker's Notebook game, which is about 80% done. I'm also working on a game called The Treasure of Mag Mell, a card collection game where you are competing against other factions in a college of magic to gain enough control over the school to be awarded magical artifacts. I've done a lot of playtesting, and I'm working through the art and publishing parts of it now. I also have a game called Wrath about a doomed island nation trying to curry favor with vengeful gods so as to avoid being destroyed. Still in the design phase on that one. And I have a roll-and-write that I kind of like based on asteroid mining, called 97 Klotho.

Have you designed any games that have been published?
Diggity, a mining game, has been available on TheGameCrafter since 2009, and it's also been published by SugarDice games in Israel. I've also published (through my company, PlanktonGames) a game called Doctor Esker's Notebook, a puzzle card game that's been well reviewed, and a sequel called Son of Doctor Esker's Notebook. A while back, I wrote some pretty popular computer games, including Snood, Centaurian, Snood Towers, Chowder, and Snoodoku.

What is your day job?
I teach geology, environmental studies, and computing at Guilford College in Greensboro, NC. I also write novels and perform improv comedy, neither of which could be considered a day job. Yet. Dammit.

Your Gaming Tastes
My readers would like to know more about you as a gamer.

Where do you prefer to play games?
At home, my favorite place is the kitchen table. It has good light, lots of seating, and is close to snacks and drinks. I have a semi-regular get-together with friends where we play either at people's houses or at work, and that's a lot of fun too.

Who do you normally game with?
Family, friends from work, sometimes friends from the comedy club where I perform.

If you were to invite a few friends together for game night tonight, what games would you play?
Usually I put out a stack and let people choose. I'm happy playing nearly anything. I love it when people are willing to try out my designs, but I also enjoy lots of other kinds of games. Recent faves include Scythe, Bloodrage, Twilight Struggle, Splendor.

And what snacks would you eat?
I have a weakness for salty stuff, but most of it gums up game components. At our regular game meetings, I usually go for grapes, Reese's Miniatures, and wheat thins and pimento cheese, a southern specialty which this Iowa boy has grown to love.

Do you like to have music playing while you play games? If so, what kind?
Not usually - I find it gets in the way of conversation.

What’s your favorite FLGS?
My favorite was The Games People Play in Cambridge, MA, where I shopped from my college days through a couple years ago. Sadly, it's closed now.

What is your current favorite game? Least favorite that you still enjoy? Worst game you ever played?
Lifetime favorite is the Lord of the Rings Adventure Game (1978). I've played that literally hundreds of times. Seven Wonders I can always come back to. Really great game, particularly for larger groups. I also really like Race For The Galaxy. Least favorite that I still enjoy is probably Munchkin. I don't really know why it has such legs. Worst game I ever played - that's a tough one. So many of my early designs were bad - probably that Roy Rogers one I mentioned earlier.

What is your favorite game mechanic? How about your least favorite?
I really like games where you have to choose a small number of a broad set of actions, as in worker placement games. Least favorite is hidden traitor, like Werewolf. Just doesn't do anything for me, and I don't like lying to people.

What’s your favorite game that you just can’t ever seem to get to the table?
Not a lot of people around here interested in Agricola, but I enjoy it a lot.

What styles of games do you play?
I like to play Board Games, Card Games, Miniatures Games, RPG Games, Video Games

Do you design different styles of games than what you play?
I like to design Board Games, Card Games, RPG Games, Video Games

OK, here's a pretty polarizing game. Do you like and play Cards Against Humanity?
Had a good time with friends with it when it first came out, despite it being ethically problematic and a kind of rip-off of Apples to Apples. Haven't played in years, and no real desire to return.

You as a Designer
OK, now the bit that sets you apart from the typical gamer. Let's find out about you as a game designer.

When you design games, do you come up with a theme first and build the mechanics around that? Or do you come up with mechanics and then add a theme? Or something else?
It's almost always mechanics first, then theme. I am a better engineer than storyteller in games. But I've also had those two parts trade off during the design process - e.g. in my Wrath game, I had the idea of sucking up to angry gods first, and then built mechanics around that, and then saw that there could be another story component I could add that boosted the mechanics (a mysterious trickster being that gave out silly quests).

Have you ever entered or won a game design competition?
Entered a number of them, won few, although I did win one on BGDF one time.

Do you have a current favorite game designer or idol?
Antoine Bauza, Tom Jolly (for Wiz War, one of my favorites of all time)

Where or when or how do you get your inspiration or come up with your best ideas?
A lot of my game ideas have started as scribbles in the margins of my notebook while at tedious meetings.

How do you go about playtesting your games?
Inflicting them on family and friends, primarily.

Do you like to work alone or as part of a team? Co-designers, artists, etc.?
Nearly always alone. If I feel a game concept is worth pursuing, I'll often invest in some better art than I can produce on my own and see where that goes.

What do you feel is your biggest challenge as a game designer?
Opportunities for iterative and thorough playtesting. I don't always have as many opportunities to test as I'd like.

If you could design a game within any IP, what would it be?
That's a tough one. I usually find games with big IP ties aren't so great as games. Something based on the Barsoom books, maybe? I loved those as a kid.

What do you wish someone had told you a long time ago about designing games?
You'll be worse at it than you think you are for a long time, until eventually you'll realize how bad you were and still are.

What advice would you like to share about designing games?
It's a lot harder to come up with something really new and different than it is to borrow mechanics and ideas from other games. Both paths can produce good games that are fun to play, but the former path can be a lot more rewarding.

Would you like to tell my readers what games you're working on and how far along they are?
Published games, I have: Diggity, Doctor Esker's Notebook
Games that will soon be published are: Son of Doctor Esker's Notebook
I'm planning to crowdfund: The Treasure of Mag Mell
Games that I'm playtesting are: Wrath, Return of Doctor Esker's Notebook

Are you a member of any Facebook or other design groups? (Game Maker’s Lab, Card and Board Game Developers Guild, etc.)
I've been active on BGDF in the past, not so much now. I'm in a number of Facebook groups.

And the oddly personal, but harmless stuff…
OK, enough of the game stuff, let's find out what really makes you tick! These are the questions that I’m sure are on everyone’s minds!

Star Trek or Star Wars? Coke or Pepsi? VHS or Betamax?
Both ST & SW - they feed different hungers. Trek's always been richer and deeper for me, though. Diet Mountain Dew. Nobody really used Betamax.

What hobbies do you have besides tabletop games?
Improv comedy, writing, tuba playing.

What is something you learned in the last week?
They're making a Matrix IV. That shouldn't be allowed after Matrix III.

Favorite type of music? Books? Movies?
Movie scores. Fantasy and sci fi, plus thrillers, for both books and movies.

What was the last book you read?
Binti, by Nnedi Okorafor

Do you play any musical instruments?
The tuba, pretty well. The piano, badly.

Tell us something about yourself that you think might surprise people.
I've played the biggest tuba in the world in concert (back in 1991). I wrote Snood, a shareware game that was pretty popular back in 1998-2005.

Tell us about something crazy that you once did.
Lost my wallet while changing clothes to defend my Ph.D. in Ann Arbor, MI, in 1997. Got a call from Boston Logan airport police in 2005 saying they'd found that same wallet inside a wall in the airport (in MA) during demolition for remodeling. They sent me back a picture of my daughter that had been in it. Super, super weird.

Biggest accident that turned out awesome?
Said no when my kids wanted to adopt a third cat. Caved when my son accepted my decision, but then I heard him softly crying in his room and I felt like a grade-A schmuck. Now, it's my absolute favorite cat, and the kids have left for college.

Who is your idol?
That is a strong word. Not many folks are worthy of that level of worship. I greatly admire folks who stand up for the oppressed or stand up for their culture, including many in the civil rights movement and the Native American community.

What would you do if you had a time machine?
Visit medieval Europe and the Roman Empire for my own kicks, then head to the future to find us some clean cheap energy.

Are you an extrovert or introvert?
Introvert mostly, but one who sometimes does extroverty stuff.

If you could be any superhero, which one would you be?
The Tick (the animated one - he's the best version)

Have any pets?
Two cats and a dog.

When the next asteroid hits Earth, causing the Yellowstone caldera to explode, California to fall into the ocean, the sea levels to rise, and the next ice age to set in, what current games or other pastimes do you think (or hope) will survive into the next era of human civilization? What do you hope is underneath that asteroid to be wiped out of the human consciousness forever?
As a geologist, I find the scenario you describe not to be very plausible. To keep: art, music, poetry, computers, the web, clean energy, medicine. To lose: income inequality, racism, bigotry, poverty, and pineapple on pizza.

Just a Bit More
Thanks for answering all my crazy questions! Is there anything else you'd like to tell my readers?

Even if you think my games suck, please have a look at my novel, Flames Over Frosthelm, a comedic yet heroic fantasy adventure, kind of CSI meets Princess Bride. Also, be excellent to each other.

And...

The original Conan the Barbarian movie with Schwarzenegger is an under-appreciated masterpiece.




Thank you for reading this People Behind the Meeples indie game designer interview! You can find all the interviews here: People Behind the Meeples and if you'd like to be featured yourself, you can fill out the questionnaire here: http://gjjgames.blogspot.com/p/game-designer-interview-questionnaire.html

Did you like this interview?  Please show your support: Support me on Patreon! Or click the heart at Board Game Links , like GJJ Games on Facebook , or follow on Twitter .  And be sure to check out my games on  Tabletop Generation.

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Buds, Blooms, and Thorns Review of Pluto Attacks! by JTP Games

Buds, Blooms, and Thorns Review of Pluto Attacks! by JTP Games
Disclaimer Support me on Patreon!
Vitals:
Title: Pluto Attacks
Designed by: Troy Pichelman
Publisher: JTP Games / The Game Crafter
MSRP: $25
1-6p | 30-45 min | 12+

Introduction:
What's better than a black and white, 1950's b-level sci-fi movie?  Well, lots of things, but they are fun to watch.  Pluto Attacks! lets you play through a classic sci-fi movie where aliens from Pluto are attacking a small town in 1954.  As is the case in these situations, all the adults have been incapacitated so it falls to a group of teens to save the day.

Pluto Attacks! is a cooperative dice game for 1-6 players.  You'll get to take on the role of a teenager in the small town working with your teammates to defeat the aliens before the end of the movie.  The game plays through four acts with a new scene appearing every turn.  Using skills and abilities you'll have to roll dice to match requirements for each scene to secure the location.  Securing the location gives you certain abilities, but may also be required to resolve the final obstacles.

Blooms:
Blooms are the game's highlights and features.  Elements that are exceptional.
  • Light, fast play is great to pull out as a filler or when you need a casual game.
  • Theme is dripping from the game.  All the artwork, mechanics, and flavor really hits the spot with the b-movie theme.
  • The game has a great story arc.  It's not a story game, but the way the game escalates through three acts to the final conflict is great.  I've won most of the games I've played, but every one has come down to the wire and ended in a pretty tense finale.
Buds:
Buds are interesting parts of the game I would like to explore more. 
  • There are a ton of different combinations for Scenes, Plot Twists, and Big Reveals so every game will tell a different story.
  • There's an optional playmat that looks great and really helps with the game layout and theme immersion.
Thorns:
Thorns are a game's shortcomings and any issues I feel are noteworthy.
  • The game does have a very high amount of luck.  In addition to the dice rolling, having the cards you need to complete the win condition stated in the Big Reveal relies on the luck of the shuffled scene cards.  If the cards you need to win are further down in the deck it'll be harder to survive long enough to win.
  • There's not much you can do to mitigate poor dice rolls, especially earlier in the game.  Having some way for characters to "level up" and gain skills would be great.  Maybe when a Plot Twist card is removed it could give players a certain skill. like "reroll 1s" or "decrease one die by 1 to increase another die by 1".  Some of these could even be specific to the type of card they are, like "reroll all dice once when resolving a science location".  Other aspects of the difficulty may have to be increased because I think the balance is good as it is, but a feeling of a little more control would help feel like your characters were growing along with the story.
  • Sometimes it feels like each turn is solo and there's not much cooperation, especially before you know what the win requirements are for the Big Reveal.  Until then you really won't want to discard any cards to help out others or even yourself just in case those cards are needed at the end.  I wish there was a better sense of cooperation and way to mitigate dice rolls earlier in the game.
Final Thoughts:
I first played Pluto Attacks! at Protospiel Chicago in 2016 and again at Protospiel Milwaukee in 2017.  It's made the rounds to quire a few other Protospiel events as well.  I've since played my copy a few times, too, and have enjoyed every game I've played.  Over the years the game has gotten better since my first play, too, with more cooperation opportunities available, improved artwork, and some refined mechanics.  I do wish the cooperation aspect was pushed a bit more and that there was a little more control and luck mitigation, but the game as it currently plays is fast, fun, and easy to explain.  It's a great game to pull out as a filler or with more casual gamers.  I really like the sense of progression through the story like you'd have in a movie.  The players are confronted with a series of setbacks, while they try to just survive and the town slowly falls to the invaders.  Then they figure out what they need to do to defeat the aliens and get down to work trying to save the last remaining pieces of the town while collecting what they need to fight off the attack once and for all.

Every game I've played has come right down to the wire, so the balance seems great - no small feat for a game that relies so heavily on lucky dice rolls.  Played right, you'll reach the game's conclusion with enough options for mitigating bad luck in those final dice rolls, hopefully.  When you lose though it's easy to blame bad luck with the dice and cards that happened to come out.  I wish there was something that gave you a little more control, or at least sense of control, especially as the game ramps up.  As a dice game there's no escaping the luck factor, but giving the players a few more possible tools for mitigating the dice would be fun.

Overall though, I really like Pluto Attacks! for a light, casual game.  The theme is fun, the mechanics reflect the theme wonderfully, and it's always a fun time with an exciting end.  This isn't a collection essential, but if you like the idea of this you won't be disappointed.

Buds, Blooms, and Thorns Rating:
Bud!  This game definitely has some
great moments.  It's good for several plays
and should appeal to most gamers, especially
if you enjoy other games like this.
Pictures:











Did you like this review?  Show your support: Support me on Patreon! Also, click the heart at Board Game Links , like GJJ Games on Facebook , or follow on Twitter .  And be sure to check out my games on  Tabletop Generation.


GJJ Games 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 were provided by a publisher or designer for my honest feedback and evaluation.  I make every attempt to be both honest and constructively critical in my reviews, and they are all my opinions.  There are four types of reviews on GJJ Games: Full Reviews feature critical reviews based on a rubric and games receive a rating from 0 to 100.  Quick Reviews and Kickstarter Previews are either shorter reviews of published games or detailed preview reviews of crowdfunding games that will receive a rating from 0 to 10 based on my impressions of the game.  Buds, Blooms,and Thorns reviews are shorter reviews of either published or upcoming games that highlight three aspects of a game: Buds are parts of a game I look forward to exploring more, Blooms are outstanding features of a game, and Thorns are shortcomings of a game.  Each BBT review game will receive an overall rating of Thorn, Bud, or Bloom.

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

People Behind the Meeples - Episode 210: Emma Larkins

Welcome to People Behind the Meeples, a series of interviews with indie game designers.  Here you'll find out more than you ever wanted to know about the people who make the best games that you may or may not have heard of before.  If you'd like to be featured, head over to http://gjjgames.blogspot.com/p/game-designer-interview-questionnaire.html and fill out the questionnaire! You can find all the interviews here: People Behind the Meeples. Support me on Patreon!


Name:Emma Larkins
Location:Seattle, WA
Day Job:board game designer/board game media
Designing:Two to five years.
Webpage:emmalarkins.com
BGG:emmalarkins
Twitter:@emmalarkins
YouTube:Emma Larkins
Instagram:@emmalarkins/
Other:https://www.twitch.tv/emmalarkins
Find my games at:BGG
Today's Interview is with:

Emma Larkins
Interviewed on: 8/20/2019

This week's interview is with Seattle designer, Emma Larkins. Emma has a few published designs to her name and has just been added to Gamewright's catalog! Abandon All Artichokes will be coming from Gamewright this year! Emma runs a weekly designer meetup in Seattle, so if you're in the area head on out to say hi! Read on to learn more about Emma and her projects.

Some Basics
Tell me a bit about yourself.

How long have you been designing tabletop games?
Two to five years.

Why did you start designing tabletop games?
made my first board game as a Valentine's Day present for my then boyfriend/now husband

What game or games are you currently working on?
Abandon All Artichokes (simplified deckbuilder), Split the Loot (card-swapping tableau-builder), What to Eat After the Apocalypse, Have You Had Enough Cheese? Comeuppance (using a see-saw to simulate reaping what you sow)

Have you designed any games that have been published?
Heartcatchers, ...and then we died

What is your day job?
board game designer/board game media

Your Gaming Tastes
My readers would like to know more about you as a gamer.

Where do you prefer to play games?
At a friend's house

Who do you normally game with?
local Seattle Tabletop Game Designers, friends from Mox Boarding House

If you were to invite a few friends together for game night tonight, what games would you play?
Anything new!

And what snacks would you eat?
Cheese. Lots of cheese.

Do you like to have music playing while you play games? If so, what kind?
Sometimes - instrumental electronic music.

What’s your favorite FLGS?
Mox Boarding House (I used to work there!)

What is your current favorite game? Least favorite that you still enjoy? Worst game you ever played?
Current favorite: Fantasy Realms.

What is your favorite game mechanic? How about your least favorite?
Current favorite game mechanic: deckbuilding.

What’s your favorite game that you just can’t ever seem to get to the table?
Keyforge.

What styles of games do you play?
I like to play Board Games, Card Games, Miniatures Games, RPG Games, Video Games

Do you design different styles of games than what you play?
I like to design Board Games, Card Games, RPG Games

OK, here's a pretty polarizing game. Do you like and play Cards Against Humanity?
it has its uses.

You as a Designer
OK, now the bit that sets you apart from the typical gamer. Let's find out about you as a game designer.

When you design games, do you come up with a theme first and build the mechanics around that? Or do you come up with mechanics and then add a theme? Or something else?
Whatever works. What to Eat After the Apocalypse - theme first. ...and then we died - mechanics first. Abandon All Artichokes - name first.

Have you ever entered or won a game design competition?
Entered and won selection to the Indie Megabooth.

Do you have a current favorite game designer or idol?
Elizabeth Hargrave.

Where or when or how do you get your inspiration or come up with your best ideas?
Everywhere. All the time. In my dreams, on the bus, while talking with friends...

How do you go about playtesting your games?
I run a weekly playtest event - Seattle Tabletop Game Designers.

Do you like to work alone or as part of a team? Co-designers, artists, etc.?
I like to work with a team.

What do you feel is your biggest challenge as a game designer?
Getting that first prototype to the table. Ideation and development are easier.

If you could design a game within any IP, what would it be?
Steven Universe.

What do you wish someone had told you a long time ago about designing games?
It's okay to make weird stuff.

What advice would you like to share about designing games?
The earlier you can get your design in front of people, the better.

Would you like to tell my readers what games you're working on and how far along they are?
Published games, I have: Heartcatchers, ...and then we died.
Games that will soon be published are: Abandon All Artichokes
Games that I'm playtesting are: Split the Loot
Games that are in the early stages of development and beta testing are: Sofas for Sale, What to Eat After the Apocalypse, Merge Game
And games that are still in the very early idea phase are: Untitled Space Botany Game, Have You Had Enough Cheese? Comeuppance, Portmanteau

And the oddly personal, but harmless stuff…
OK, enough of the game stuff, let's find out what really makes you tick! These are the questions that I’m sure are on everyone’s minds!

Star Trek or Star Wars? Coke or Pepsi? VHS or Betamax?
Yes. Coke. VHS.

What hobbies do you have besides tabletop games?
Playing video games, hiking, watching movies, traveling, karaoke

What is something you learned in the last week?
RPGs are an incredibly powerful tool to help with therapy and reintroducing previously incarcerated people back into mainstream society.

Favorite type of music? Books? Movies?
Anything catchy. Science fiction. Action/adventure.

What was the last book you read?
The Martian.

Do you play any musical instruments?
Electric guitar.

Tell us something about yourself that you think might surprise people.
I wrote and self-published a science fiction novel called Mechalarum.

Tell us about something crazy that you once did.
Road trip from Texas to California.

Biggest accident that turned out awesome?
Accidentally moving to New York City.

Who is your idol?
Amy Poehler.

What would you do if you had a time machine?
Tell myself that everything's going to turn out great.

Are you an extrovert or introvert?
Both, depending on the time of day.

If you could be any superhero, which one would you be?
Imperator Furiosa.

Have any pets?
Two cats - Inigo and Fezzik. They're brothers.

When the next asteroid hits Earth, causing the Yellowstone caldera to explode, California to fall into the ocean, the sea levels to rise, and the next ice age to set in, what current games or other pastimes do you think (or hope) will survive into the next era of human civilization? What do you hope is underneath that asteroid to be wiped out of the human consciousness forever?
I hope the concept of using play and design thinking to improve all areas of human life survives.

If you’d like to send a shout out to anyone, anyone at all, here’s your chance (I can’t guarantee they’ll read this though):
Hello Seattle Designers! You rock!

Just a Bit More
Thanks for answering all my crazy questions! Is there anything else you'd like to tell my readers?

Thanks for reading!




Thank you for reading this People Behind the Meeples indie game designer interview! You can find all the interviews here: People Behind the Meeples and if you'd like to be featured yourself, you can fill out the questionnaire here: http://gjjgames.blogspot.com/p/game-designer-interview-questionnaire.html

Did you like this interview?  Please show your support: Support me on Patreon! Or click the heart at Board Game Links , like GJJ Games on Facebook , or follow on Twitter .  And be sure to check out my games on  Tabletop Generation.

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

Buds, Blooms, and Thorns Review of La Viña by Devir Games

Buds, Blooms, and Thorns Review of La Viña by Devir Games
Disclaimer Support me on Patreon!
Vitals:
Title: La Viña
Designed by: Jose Ramón Palacios
Publisher: Devir Games
MSRP: $25
2-5p | 30-45 min | 8+

Introduction:
A very old viticulturist has passed on to a better place. When his heirs meet at his house, the question of who will become the new owner of the vineyard is brought up. The jewel of all the old man’s property is this small plot of vines, producing grapes of the highest quality, which has sadly fallen into neglect. The various types of grapevines have overgrown the area without any care or supervision. The deceased owner left a will stating that he wanted the vineyard to be brought back to its former glory. In order to avoid splitting up the plot, he declared that the vineyard would be granted to whomever is able to obtain the best yield from it. The grape harvest has just started, and there are many wineries that have offered a good price for the grapes they need.

Taking turns, each player will move his grape picker down the aisle between the vines on the trellises. The player looks at the grape cards and chooses which one he wants to collect, then puts it into one of his baskets. When he comes out of the vineyard at the end of the aisle, the grape picker can deliver the grapes in his baskets to the wineries, so long as he has collected the minimum quantity they require. He then receives the reward that the wineries offer. When a player carries out his last delivery, the game ends. The rest of the players continue to play until they come to the end of the aisle for the last time. The one who has obtained the most prestige is then declared the winner.

—description from the publisher

Blooms:
Blooms are the game's highlights and features.  Elements that are exceptional.
  • Outstanding presentation, artwork, and component quality.  I especially love the prestige tokens.
  • I love the mechanic that allows you to move as far forward along the path as you like, but the person at the back moves first.
  • Great balance between gaining resources (grapes) and racing to the end in order to sell for points.
  • I like how the barrels are used to count down to the end of the game, with the last player to sell at a particular winery gaining a bonus and the game ending once someone places their last barrel. It's a nice blend of racing to end the game and timing your sales for maximum benefit.
Buds:
Buds are interesting parts of the game I would like to explore more. 
  • A lot of different Grape and Winery cards mean there will be a different mix every game, making each game play differently.
  • The game scales great from 2 to 5 players, with some minor changes for 2 players (each player controls two workers).
Thorns:
Thorns are a game's shortcomings and any issues I feel are noteworthy.
  • The rulebook is pretty poorly translated.  There are a few areas where the description of gameplay is not as clear as it could be and a few other areas where things are missing or just left unexplained.  It took watching the gameplay video and reading forum comments to make sure we had all the rules correct.
  • The basket upgrades felt very unbalanced.  I thought it was a translation error at first, so my second game we played a little different, but then later I learned that the unbalanced feeling rule is correct.
  • Not much gameplay arc.  There's no sense of growth in the game; what you do in the first round is pretty much what you do in the last round, and it feels like it takes too long to get to the end because of this.
Final Thoughts:
There are some things that La Viña does great - incorporating the theme, balancing resource gathering versus racing to sell, etc.  However, there are some areas where La Viña just doesn't quite hit the mark.  The rulebook leaves a lot unclear, and there's not much game arc, however the biggest issue is that the basket upgrades feels very unbalanced. 

There are always fewer upgrades available than players and there's no rule against upgrading from a small bucket to the large bin, skipping over the medium basket.  The first time I played we thought this was wrong, so the second time we said you could only upgrade one step at a time.  So you couldn't upgrade your starting 2 card bucket straight to a 4 card bin.  You'd first have to upgrade it to a 3 card basket.  You could upgrade your 3 card basket at the start to a 4 card bin, but then risk getting stuck with a 2 card bucket that can't be upgraded because all the 3 card baskets are taken.  That change felt a lot more balanced.  But then, after watching a gameplay video with the publisher, I saw that it was allowed to upgrade directly from the small basket to the large bin.  It seems like an obvious move to shoot for in the first round, which isn't too hard since the difference is only 7 prestige, and that means the player(s) finishing last have no shot at getting that upgrade.  That feels wrong and unbalanced, but I guess that's correct.

La Viña is very close to being a Bloom game for me.  I think for what it does though, Parks from Keymaster Games scratches the same itch and does it a bit better.  If I hadn't played Parks, I probably would have enjoyed La Viña more.  But the unbalanced feel of the basket upgrades, the poorly translated rulebook, and lack of any game arc are enough to knock it down to a Bud.  It is quite a bit cheaper than Parks though, so if you want this style of game, La Viña is a great affordable alternative.  For me though, since I have both games, I'd choose to play Parks over La Viña pretty much every time.

Buds, Blooms, and Thorns Rating:
Bud!  This game definitely has some
great moments.  It's good for several plays
and should appeal to most gamers, especially
if you enjoy other games like this.
Pictures:













Did you like this review?  Show your support: Support me on Patreon! Also, click the heart at Board Game Links , like GJJ Games on Facebook , or follow on Twitter .  And be sure to check out my games on  Tabletop Generation.


GJJ Games 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 were provided by a publisher or designer for my honest feedback and evaluation.  I make every attempt to be both honest and constructively critical in my reviews, and they are all my opinions.  There are four types of reviews on GJJ Games: Full Reviews feature critical reviews based on a rubric and games receive a rating from 0 to 100.  Quick Reviews and Kickstarter Previews are either shorter reviews of published games or detailed preview reviews of crowdfunding games that will receive a rating from 0 to 10 based on my impressions of the game.  Buds, Blooms,and Thorns reviews are shorter reviews of either published or upcoming games that highlight three aspects of a game: Buds are parts of a game I look forward to exploring more, Blooms are outstanding features of a game, and Thorns are shortcomings of a game.  Each BBT review game will receive an overall rating of Thorn, Bud, or Bloom.

Tuesday, February 4, 2020

People Behind the Meeples - Episode 209: Alex Wolf


Welcome to People Behind the Meeples, a series of interviews with indie game designers.  Here you'll find out more than you ever wanted to know about the people who make the best games that you may or may not have heard of before.  If you'd like to be featured, head over to http://gjjgames.blogspot.com/p/game-designer-interview-questionnaire.html and fill out the questionnaire! You can find all the interviews here: People Behind the Meeples. Support me on Patreon!

Name:Alex Wolf
Email:alex@spielcraftgames.com
Location:Omaha, Nebraska, USA
Day Job:I am a data analyst at an insurance company.
Designing:Two to five years.
Webpage:Spielcraftgames.com
BGG:Spielcraft Games
Facebook:Spielcraft Games
Twitter:@spielcraftgames
Other:For Glory on Kickstarter
Find my games at:On Kickstarter
Today's Interview is with:

Alex Wolf
Interviewed on: 8/13/2019

Last summer at Gen Con I got together with a few other game designers for a few hours to chat and play a few games. One of the games I played was For Glory by Alex Wolf. This was a fun deckbuilding and arena combat style game that blended some interesting combat mechanics with very unique deckbuilding elements that seemed to blend elements from many other deckbuilding games into its own interesting combination. Be sure to check out For Glory on Kickstarter today!

Some Basics
Tell me a bit about yourself.

How long have you been designing tabletop games?
Two to five years.
Why did you start designing tabletop games?
I started designing tabletop games without a particular reason. I just started having ideas and started doing the work to get them out of my head and into the world.
What game or games are you currently working on?
I am about to launch a Kickstarter campaign for what will be my first published game, called For Glory. It's a 2-player game about building a gladiator school, sending gladiators to different arenas, and fighting arena battles in Ancient Rome. The focus is on the arena combat system. Players use a deck-building mechanic to build a network of patrons, recruit gladiators and train them in various tactics in preparation for the arena battles.
Have you designed any games that have been published?
Not yet.
What is your day job?
I am a data analyst at an insurance company.

Your Gaming Tastes
My readers would like to know more about you as a gamer.

Where do you prefer to play games?
Literally anywhere.
Who do you normally game with?
I play a lot with my wife, Bobo. There is also an awesome gaming community here in Omaha, and I play with loads of friends that I've met over the years at various local game stores and board game cafes.
If you were to invite a few friends together for game night tonight, what games would you play?
I usually go for medium-heavy games, in terms of strategic depth (as opposed to complexity).
And what snacks would you eat?
Salisbury steak
Do you like to have music playing while you play games? If so, what kind?
Sometimes. All kinds.
What’s your favorite FLGS?
All of the FLGSs around Omaha are awesome.
What is your current favorite game? Least favorite that you still enjoy? Worst game you ever played?
My current favorite is Imperial by Mac Gerdts.
What is your favorite game mechanic? How about your least favorite?
I think all mechanics can potentially be used effectively. I don't have a favorite. When a mechanic works in a game, it just works.
What’s your favorite game that you just can’t ever seem to get to the table?
Diplomacy. The mind games in Diplomacy are some of the most fun interactions I've had as a gamer, but it's an event if it ever gets played.
What styles of games do you play?
I like to play Board Games, Card Games, Miniatures Games
Do you design different styles of games than what you play?
I like to design Board Games, Card Games, Miniatures Games

You as a Designer
OK, now the bit that sets you apart from the typical gamer. Let's find out about you as a game designer.

When you design games, do you come up with a theme first and build the mechanics around that? Or do you come up with mechanics and then add a theme? Or something else?
I basically always have the idea faucet turned on, and sometimes an idea pops out. The theme and mechanics are pretty intertwined usually.
Where or when or how do you get your inspiration or come up with your best ideas?
When I am not being inundated with information from the internet, ideas flow pretty freely.
How do you go about playtesting your games?
My wife is my number one playtester. I also constantly invite friends to play, and I am a member of the Spielmasons, a group of game designers that help each other develop games here in Omaha.
Do you like to work alone or as part of a team? Co-designers, artists, etc.?
I like to work alone, because I need to spend a lot of time just thinking.
What do you feel is your biggest challenge as a game designer?
There are a lot of challenges, but the biggest one is probably sticking with a game for the time that it takes to develop it (well over a year for me), and not getting discouraged when a play test uncovers a big problem with the mechanics.
If you could design a game within any IP, what would it be?
Rick and Morty. Actual history is a pretty sweet IP though, and the license is free.
What advice would you like to share about designing games?
Have an idea? Make a prototype and play test now! Literally right now.
Would you like to tell my readers what games you're working on and how far along they are?
This is what I have currently crowdfunding: For Glory on Kickstarter
Games that are in the early stages of development and beta testing are: Too many
And games that are still in the very early idea phase are: Way too many
Are you a member of any Facebook or other design groups? (Game Maker’s Lab, Card and Board Game Developers Guild, etc.)
All of the ones that I know about

And the oddly personal, but harmless stuff…
OK, enough of the game stuff, let's find out what really makes you tick! These are the questions that I’m sure are on everyone’s minds!

Star Trek or Star Wars? Coke or Pepsi? VHS or Betamax?
Starship Troopers. Diet Pepsi. VHS.
What hobbies do you have besides tabletop games?
What do you mean, besides tabletop games?
What is something you learned in the last week?
Theseus was the dude who defeated the minotaur.
Favorite type of music? Books? Movies?
All, Sci Fi, Sci Fi
What was the last book you read?
The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle
Do you play any musical instruments?
I dabble in synth and guitar.
Tell us about something crazy that you once did.
I once ordered a thin-crust pizza from Papa John's.
What would you do if you had a time machine?
Visit past and future civilizations, just to look, but I would get sucked into some plot that would end up ruining the present and whatnot. I mean, I'd like to think that I could resist changing stuff, but I know myself well enough.
Are you an extrovert or introvert?
Both.
If you could be any superhero, which one would you be?
Superman. Perhaps not as exciting as others, but I'd want to be ridiculously overpowered. Lol.
Have any pets?
Not at the moment.
If you’d like to send a shout out to anyone, anyone at all, here’s your chance (I can’t guarantee they’ll read this though):
Shout out to all of the play testers out there. You are the real heroes.

Just a Bit More
Thanks for answering all my crazy questions! Is there anything else you'd like to tell my readers?

Be sure to check out For Glory on Kickstarter right now!



Thank you for reading this People Behind the Meeples indie game designer interview! You can find all the interviews here: People Behind the Meeples and if you'd like to be featured yourself, you can fill out the questionnaire here: http://gjjgames.blogspot.com/p/game-designer-interview-questionnaire.html

Did you like this interview?  Please show your support: Support me on Patreon! Or click the heart at Board Game Links , like GJJ Games on Facebook , or follow on Twitter .  And be sure to check out my games on  Tabletop Generation.