51st State – or – Why I Won’t Survive The Apocalypse

51st State is all about building an engine. And like the post-apocalyptic world it represents thematically, building things that you want to build will be difficult and not always work without a little bit of ransacking and raiding.

You see, to create one thing you’ll need to produce another thing, and to get that other thing you’ll need to produce a third thing that can be turned into a fourth thing that can be exchanged for the second thing…It’s a pretty standard engine-building game in that way. Each playable faction will have their own strengths and weaknesses as far as what they can produce. They’ll have a bit of technology leftover from the old world, or they just know how to scavenge for certain items. Sometimes, though, you’ll need to destroy a building in order to get to the salvage you need. Sometimes it’s better to use force to take what you need from another player.

Most of this is happening only within the thematics, of course. Take away the post-apoc pictures and descriptions and it could be a game about matching colored squares or numbers to produce mathematical equations. But the theme of industry after the fall of civilization goes a long way in this one, and every action and outcome is brilliantly matched with visuals and representations that help you transcend a basic engine-building game and really experience the struggle of post-apoc living.

What I’ve found with 51st State is that you may not know what your strategy is until you’re halfway through the game. Items you were trying to produce take a backseat to others because you suddenly discover a little combo that you’d like to exploit. Or perhaps you’ve looked up and realized that you need to go raid your neighbors tableau, and that’s so fun and easy that you decide building your own salvage yards aren’t worth your time. The cards that become available to you will drive new strategies, much like a wanderer in the wasteland making do with only the scraps they can find.

51st State has some of my favorite game pieces of anything I’ve played in recent memory. It’s not the standard wood and stone of most Eurogames. Instead there are guns, and gears, and gas cans. This adds a refreshing new element that helps it stand apart from similar games, and the themes are so realized that they will immediately burrow into your brain. You will be that mutant scavenging for scrap. You will be a post-apoc entrepreneur.

You aren’t going to get the exploration feel of Fallout in this game, and you won’t be simulating combat like in Dust. But for strategy lovers, deck building enthusiasts, and anyone with a taste for the post-apocalyptic, this game is going to have a permanent rotation in your game collection.

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Next Generation

Finally got a chance to introduce my nephews to the glory of tabletop gaming!

I have been feeling that it was time, as they are now 11 and 8. The oldest has been ready for a while, but knowing that I’d never be able to play with him without the younger one joining in, I’ve been putting it off as long as I could.

I let them pick the game, and of course they went after Agricola with its farm theme and colorful pieces. I bought a full aftermarket set of meeples complete with farm animal and resource/produce pieces because they’re a lot more fun than colored discs and paper chits, so they were instantly drawn to it. This worried me; I’ve seen experienced adult gamers recoil at Agricola’s rulebook.

They got it immediately. I couldn’t believe it, even the 8 year old! So much for underestimating the capabilities of a child.

I’m so excited for the next holiday gathering when I can introduce them to some more games, indoctrinating a new generation into the board game lifestyle 😁

Pandemic Legacy

Super stoked to start a campaign of Pandemic Legacy!

If you haven’t played a legacy game, essentially there will be rule changes, special ability upgrades, map location changes, and many other game minutiae effects that carry over from game to game. Think of it as a “campaign” that continues each time your group pulls Pandemic out of the game closet.

We’re playing “Season 2” as the group I play with these days already played season 1 before I moved to town. I’ve played lots of Pandemic in my day, but this is my first legacy game of any kind. I’ve heard friends rave about Risk Legacy for years.

We had a blast playing, enough so that we’re planning a second game night just to devote to it.

The game plays very similar to the original, but sort of in reverse. Instead of traveling to locations to cure their viruses we make sure locations have supplies so that war and famine and disease don’t break out. It’s a new thematic approach, but it feels natural and familiar to veterans.

Pandemic is a cooperative game, which is why it’s one of my favorites. It’s also HARD. That fact hasn’t changed with the Legacy version, and of the two rounds we played last night only one was a success.

Next up we get to explore more of the map, as the game presents a fog-of-war mechanic usually reserved for video games. It’s masterfully done in my opinion, with changes to characters, the game board, and even the rulebook itself completed with stickers or markers, making it a “permanent” change. Each character even has a sort of life bar, hidden behind scratch-ticket silver. You won’t know who can take the most damage until it happens, and character death is permanent.

It took me a while to get on board with the concept of a game being “one use,” but it’s so seamlessly and naturally accomplished that I quickly saw the merit of a permanent option over a recyclable one. You’ll get your money’s worth. Yes, if you want to start a new game with a new group you’ll need a new copy of the game, but it will play so uniquely that it almost doesn’t matter, even to penny-pinchers like myself.

I’ll update as the campaign moves on, but for now my initial review comes with high praise and a strong recommendation to gamers of the genre and even role players and strategy gamers in general.

Solaris / The Red Turtle

I watched two movies last night: First the science fiction film Solaris starring George Clooney and Natascha McElhone, and secondly the moody animated feature The Red Turtle.

Solaris is underrated. Having enjoyed the Lem novel immensely, I was excited to see the film when it first came out. Disappointed, however, was I in the lack of positive reviews by both peers and the media.

As with most adaptations, changes were made and elements were cut from the novel. The overall mood and themes remained intact, however, and it was in these that the film shines. Clooney and McElhone are both fantastic, and behind the camera Soderbergh does what he always does well, which is to match score with visuals and to force actors to produce moments away from the action. Scifi as a genre is intrinsically well suited for themes of morality and decision making, and Solaris is no exception. You will quietly question ethics and human nature without any heavy-handed metaphors or preaching. Clean visuals compliment the experience nicely.

The Red Turtle is a French Studio Ghibli joint that delivers breathtaking visuals, top notch sound and foley work, and all the gut-wrenching minutiae of a successful character study. There is absolutely no dialogue in this animated film, and yet I found myself entranced and emotionally invested. The spiritual tone, whimsical nature, and anthropomorphic animals you come to expect from Studio Ghibli are all present, but it takes a more profound and serious edge. Themes of destiny, family structure, and forgiveness are addressed, and will stir emotions in the watcher, and at least in my case, tears.

Scythe

Fun night of gaming last night playing Scythe by Stonemaier Games.

We played a seven-player version which made for lots of drama and strategy. Even with 7 the turns go quickly and the game never felt like it was even close to dragging, which is very impressive.

The game uses absolutely no dice, which makes for a refreshing change. In fact, it had one of the lowest random chance element of any game I’ve ever played. It’s all planning and decision making, which can be good or bad depending on how clear-headed you are (I had a bit too much whiskey as per usual 😁)

Each player has a unique sect that they play as. Although the actions you can take are the same across the board, each color has a different cost for those actions. There are also a few special actions or variants on those actions that can be unlocked through building mechs.

That’s right, there are mechs! Thematically it’s based in some sort of alternate future (or vaguely steampunk past??) It’s a fun element that shows up not only in the flavor text, but in the game pieces themselves. And there’s a LOT of game pieces. I’m a sucker for any game with cool minis and euro-style machined pieces. Although I can’t think of any other game that uses both at the same time!

Looking forward to playing again!

Shogun

Shogun by Queen Games (not to be confused with the 1986 game of the same name by Milton Bradley) is a resource management / zone control game for 3-5 players.

First, let me say, this game is a lot of fun for someone like me that cut their teeth on Risk and Catan at various times in their board-gaming life. The game board itself will immediately remind you of Risk with its Regions and Provinces and unit allocation. Digging deeper you get elements of Citadels and Kingsburg with turn order and special power selection. You will have to manage rice and gold properly while defending your borders (or expanding them) and erecting buildings that decide your eventual Victory Points. It’s like Risk smashed together with Catan, which is very cool because both of those games with their singular objectives become a bore after too many playthroughs.

This brings us to the most important and interesting part: Combat! A special dice tower is used for your units to “hit”, but instead of throwing dice into the tower you will throw the warring units themselves. The innards of the tower have maze-like paths and shelves with cutouts, making some units stay inside the tower and others find their way through. Your units may just push other units stuck inside the tower out, and on top of it all there are Farmer units that can battle for or against you seeded within the tower. It’s a fully unique and interesting mechanic that adds elements of luck, statistics, and meta-gaming. Most importantly, it takes trust in the hardware and the playtesters that helped develop it.

The theme of feudal Japan is a refreshing change of pace from fantasy and scifi tropes that overwhelm gaming, and although this may only be an aesthetic reskin that holds no true relevance to game play mechanics, it was a welcome element.

The game materials state that it takes about 2.5 hours for a game, but we played 4 hours in a five player game, and we tend to play fast, so add an hour or two for your group if you have slow or methodical players. There are lots of decisions to make and if you aren’t thinking ahead and adjusting strategies as new things crop up on the board you could get stuck in a sluggish drag.

There are 3 and 4 player options for the game, but 5 player seems to be the most balanced and what the developer intended.

Overall a great game, and one that I am super pumped to play again!