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Month: November 2016

(Not) Home for the Holidays

(Not) Home for the Holidays

I know this is a board game blog. Primarily, that’s what I write about, but I started writing this week and this is what came out. Not really about board games, but I like it. That’s why I still posted it. And if you only want to read about the board game side of things, I’ll get back to that nearer the bottom.

While traveling around the country for work has its perks, it also has its downsides. One of the biggest bummers that my wife and I experience is when we are unable to celebrate holidays with family. We’ve been fortunate, up to this point, to be able to celebrate the major holidays with family and friends. This year changes that. We are currently living in Northern California and when we started looking at the cost of flights home around both Thanksgiving and Christmas, we realized that they don’t fit in the budget. Thanksgiving was the first major holiday that I haven’t spent with my family. This will be the first Christmas that I don’t spend in Michigan. It’s been pretty difficult so far. My wife and I both called home on Thanksgiving and got to talk to our families, and we’ll do the same for Christmas, but it doesn’t do the job.

Another aspect that makes it difficult is social media. A majority of posts and tweets on Thanksgiving Day were of families celebrating. Pictures of full tables of food, crowded living rooms and tables with board games being played. Commercials don’t help. Everyone on TV has been making it home for the holidays. It also seems that the Christmas radio stations have been teaming up on us. I think every third song we’ve heard has either been Home for the Holidays or I’ll be home for Christmas.

While it has been tough, it has been good for us. It makes us realize just how excited we are to someday settle down. And it helps us to empathize with those who don’t get to go home. We get to spend time with just the two of us thinking and dreaming about what those future holidays look like. For us, that will have to include lots of family and friends. We both love the times when the people we care most about are all brought together.

That’s why we love board games so much. It gives us an opportunity to gather a group of people together and enjoy being with one another. Whether that’s divided up into a huge game of Codenames with people dropping in and out, playing a simple and light trick taking game like Little Devils, or trying to figure out what my wife is trying to communicate to the rest of us as the ghost in Mysterium. It’s not just spending the time together, but interacting and creating memories that we get to carry with us. I can’t tell you how many family Christmases I had growing up where we didn’t have at least 2 or 3 groups of people playing cribbage and I always looked forward to that time after we got done eating and the cards would come out.

That’s the beauty of this hobby. It gives us the opportunity to interact in a world where interaction is slowly turning digital. We get to put down the devices and spend time face to face with those we care about. I can’t wait until we get to instill those values and memories into our own children.

I hope everyone had a great thanksgiving and that the rest of the holiday season is awesome as well!

Game on!

Mansions of Madness 2nd Edition Review

Mansions of Madness 2nd Edition Review

A big debate in the board gaming world revolves around the use of digital media to supplement a gaming experience. Should a game have an app that may be used, but isn’t necessary, or an app that is required to play the game? Should there be no apps required for board games at all? Today’s game is the first I’ve played that requires an app to play the game.

Mansions of Madness 2nd Editionmom2-box

Designer: Nikki Valens

Player Count: 1-5 Players

Play Time: 120-180 minutes

Mansions of Madness is a cooperative mystery/exploration game published by Fantasy Flight where you play as a group of investigators trying to solve a mystery in a Lovecraftian horror story. The game requires a companion app to play and it can be downloaded for free on phones, tablets, or through Steam. When you start the game, you pick a scenario on the app and select your characters and then the app takes over. It randomizes which items you start with, and which tile you start on. It then instructs you where to place search tokens, explore tokens, and other pieces on the tiles.


Example Set-Up

Once the set-up is complete, you begin the player turns. Each character will get to activate once per round. You can move around the environment, explore new tiles, interact with search tokens, and attack monsters, amongst other things. Almost every time you perform an action, whether you explore a new room or interact with a search token, you select that icon on the app and then the app will give you a story moment that will give you options on how to proceed. You make your decisions and then the app will tell you if you were successful or not, or which tiles to add to the game board. After every player has taken their turn, the Mythos phase begins and the app again takes over. It will instruct you through a random event, monster movement and attacks, and a horror phase where the investigators have to confront the madness surrounding them. After the Mythos phase is completed, play returns to the investigators and continues in this pattern until the game is won or lost. While the app directs the game, it doesn’t know where your characters are or where the monsters are. You still have to have the physical board for this. The app essentially functions as a dungeon master, but you still have to move all the pieces. You will also find new items or take wounds, which are represented by cards. The app directs gameplay, but it still feels like a board game.


Player Area

Things I like:

  • Total Immersion. This is one of the most immersive games I’ve ever played. It takes all the best story telling games and randomizes all of it for you, so you actually feel like you’re solving a mystery. You never know what’s behind a door until you open it. You also may not know what you need to do to succeed until you try something. It really feels like an exploration game and it pulls you into the theme.
  • The Mystery. When you start a scenario, it gives you a brief overview of what you’re trying to accomplish, but that’s it. It doesn’t tell you any specifics. You are simply dropped into the scenario and you need to figure out what you’re trying to do as you go along. This is another part of the immersive experience.
  • Randomization. I’ve played the first scenario 4 times at this point, and every single time the house that has been built around us has changed completely. Sometimes it will start to look similar, and then you open a door and there’s a completely different series of rooms.
  • The app. For my first experience with a game that requires an app, I love it. The app takes so much bookkeeping out of the game and allows you to just have fun. The app also makes it incredibly easy to teach new players the game. You can spend the first round as a tutorial and everyone is up to speed almost instantly. It makes for a really seamless experience. The app also provides background music and sound effects which, again, adds to the immersive experience.


Further into the game

Something I really liked, that may not be for everyone:

  • The story. One of the times we played this with a new player, the new guy wasn’t interested in the story. An interaction would occur and he would immediately look to the bottom of the paragraph and look at the outcomes and then start discussing what to do next. This game requires you to read the story and the flavor text. There are certain clues that will be given, and effects that will happen all throughout the encounters. You can’t just skip the story and plow through the game. You will miss things. It can probably be done without too many ill effects, but you really should try to take your time and enjoy the experience.

Things I don’t like:

  • The price. Normally I don’t make a big deal on the price of games, but this one feels justified. This is a $100 game. You get a lot of minis, cards, and cardboard for that price, but that’s not my grievance. The biggest problem I have with the cost is my next point.
  • The scenarios. I mentioned above that the game comes with preloaded scenarios. I love this. The problem I have with it is that there are only 4 scenarios in the base set. They all have different difficulties, which I like, but they also have different play times. The first scenario says it will take 60-90 minutes. They get longer from there. The longest scenario claims to take 4-6 hours. This isn’t realistic for most people. My wife and I, who love this game, may never get to play 1 of the 4 scenarios based on how long it takes. For 100 dollars, I really would have liked to see more scenarios included. At this point, each scenario is 25 bucks a pop. Yes, the scenarios are randomized every time you play, but the story doesn’t change all that much. The environment is different, but interacting with the different items throughout the scenario will yield similar results game to game. And I mentioned that I like the mystery. That element is also gone after playing a scenario a couple times. You now know what you need to do.
  • The minis. I really like the minis in this game, but I don’t like the bases. The enemy minis don’t have attached bases. Instead they have pegs on the bottom that press into large black plastic bases which contain a little information about the monsters.The bases are black and opaque and cover all the tile art when they’re in a room.


A couple example of how big the bases are

Additionally, minis don’t stay in the base very well, and every time I open the game I have to try to find the matching bases for the monsters.


That tiny peg in the bottom left is all that holds the mini to the base

It gets annoying. In an industry where miniature production is getting better all the time, and from a company that makes as many miniatures as Fantasy Flight, I feel like this was a poor design choice.


To make sure I wasn’t being too hard on this game, I asked my wife what she did and didn’t like about it. We matched up on almost everything. The specific negatives she pointed out were the lack of replayability and the length of the scenarios. In my wife’s words, “I’m not afraid of long games, they just aren’t very manageable. Instead of having a 6-hour scenario, I wish there would have been a couple more 2 hour scenarios.”

Don’t get me wrong, this is an incredibly fun game. After my first play through, I was super impressed, but on concurrent plays, it seems to be losing its luster. I would still recommend playing this game to anyone, but I’m hesitant to recommend purchasing it. Fantasy Flight has announced that they will be adding scenarios to the game for $2.99 in the future, and there are already expansions out that provide 1 new scenario each. I just expected a little bit more from a company like Fantasy Flight. With that big upfront price tag, you’ll have to make the decision for yourself if it’s worth it. And I’m even going to rate this one a little differently than normal to reflect that.

GLG Rating to Play: 9/10

GLG Rating to Buy: 5/10


Some more of the monsters

Check it out on Fantasy Flight’s Page here:

Story-based Campaigns

Story-based Campaigns

One of the things my wife and I are looking forward to diving into is storytelling/campaign games. I love immersive games. I want to feel like I’m a part of the world in the game. I want my decisions to feel like they have more of an effect than just moving a cube from here to there. I want characters that evolve and change over the course of the game. That is going to be one of our next steps for 2 player gaming. We’ll still play other games, but we are excited for campaigns. The two games that we are planning on playing are Mice and Mystics and Star Wars: Imperial Assault.

We’ve played through the entire base set of Mice and Mystics with some friends back in Michigan, and are really excited to give it another run through to rediscover the story and characters. In Mice and Mystics, you take on the role of a group of mice that were previously humans, as they progress through an epic story to try and take their castle and kingdom back. The great thing about Mice and Mystics is the story elements. As you play through the different chapters of the story book, you uncover new introductions and epilogues with pieces of story, as well as in game triggers that will further the narrative. This is a fully cooperative game where my wife and I will play together against minions and baddies as we advance the story.

The other game I mentioned is Star Wars: Imperial Assault. Imperial Assault (IA) takes place in the Star Wars universe between episodes 4 and 5. With IA, I’ll be playing the Imperials against my wife, who will play the part of the rebel forces. This game features much more strategic gameplay as we will be actively playing against each other. Between missions, each of us will be able to upgrade our forces as we unlock new weapons and abilities. This game still features the story aspects, but they are second fiddle to the actual gameplay. This game forces or allows (depending on your take) you to make your own story as you go. It gives you basic plot points, but rarely does it give you more than a few sentences of story.

What we love about campaign style storytelling games is that it’s a continuous experience. It isn’t a one and done type game. The decisions you make in one sitting will have an effect in future games. It almost gives you the feel of actually being inside a book or a movie. You control the characters and how they change and evolve. Additionally, I’ve mentioned before that I’m not an inherently creative person. I would never be able to write about or create a world, but I love that the frame work is already laid out for me, and I can fill in the blanks however I see fit.

I fully plan on doing full reviews of these games at some point, but I want to wait until I’ve gotten through their campaigns. I’ve played each of them a decent amount, but I want to be able to talk about them once I’ve rounded out their stories. What campaign style games do you play and why do you love them? I’d love to hear your recommendations for immersive storytelling games!