Friday, February 20, 2015

There's an app for that - Board Game Stats by Eerko Vissering


And now it's time for something completely different...

I've been trying to stay off of BGG lately.  No, I'm not tired of games.  I'm tired of wanting to buy everything.  Keeping myself away eases some of that burden.  Plus, I find myself poring over the endless content looking at all the fun things I'll never play and pining for an opportunity to do so.  It's a bit like being on a diet.  You just don't go to the all-you-can-eat buffet and eat a salad, right? There's one big problem in keeping me from BGG.

I'm a die-hard play logger. I log every game I play. I don't know exactly why I started doing this, but somewhere along the way it became incredibly important to me. BGG provides a really good interface for this which is awesome when you're in front of a computer or tablet. Unfortunately, neither my tablet nor my laptop fit in my pocket. My iPhone does, however. In the past, I've used the Notes app to jot down what I played. That's great, except I eventually have to go on BGG and log it. It's just more of a pain than I wanted. What I wanted was something easy. Some way to do that in one step. What I wanted was Board game Stats.

Eerko Vissering created an app that's almost perfect. For starters, you can link your BGG account to the app. This will allow you to log your plays directly into BGG with just one click of the BGG button. This means that even if you lose your app due to a phone issue, your plays are recorded on there permanently. You can add an unlimited amount of other players and also add their BGG usernames. The app will record stats for every player and provides excellent data such as win percentage and scores. I never used to record who I played with or what the scores were on BGG, but I certainly do on here. You can also record roles for each game so I can keep track of which wrestler is doing best in my plays of Luchador! Mexican Wrestling Dice.  It takes my statistical OCD to new levels.

The app also stores games. The first time you a record a game you need to set it up. You can link it to BGG and pull down the representative image and even go directly to the game's page directly. This makes it incredibly easy to add repeated plays.

Syncing your plays to BGG is incredibly easy. Once you've saved your play, you just tap the small BGG button and it uploads right away. I have BGG set to post to Twitter for me which doesn't get triggered by this. That's one knock against it for those of us that like to brag about what we play.

If you are worried about losing your history, there are two pieces of good news. The first is that the app syncs your plays to BGG as mentioned previously.  Even better, it has an export feature so you can get all your data back should you need to switch phones for any reason.  You can even open the data in Excel (or whatever spreadsheet program you use) and play with the data there.

The designer, Eerko Vissering (username Caesar! on BGG) created a press release post to announce the game. It's sort of turned into the thread for information about the app or to post questions and suggestions. Eerko regularly responds and is quick to offer suggestions or helpful hints. He's also compiling a wishlist of features via this thread so make sure you tell him what you want.

If you are an avid play logger then you need this app.  It makes it incredibly easy to log your plays on the go.  Since most of us have our phones at the table with us, you can now log your play faster than ever.  You can get this awesome app for a scant 99 cents in the iTunes store.  It's one heck of a deal at that price and is bound to keep getting better thanks to the developer's awesome efforts.

The bad news is that it's iOS only so you Droid users are out of luck for now.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Putting boring games in a chokehold with a modern Ameritrash classic

When I was just kid, I remember being completely enthralled with Hulk Hogan.  Yes, I was a little Hulkamaniac.  My best friend and I lived and breathed professional wrestling, watching it at every possible time it was on TV and playing with our toys incessantly.  My dad even took us to see live wrestling once.  Oh, the pomp and circumstance around guys like the Macho Man (all puns intended), Jake "The Snake" Roberts, Ricky Steamboat, and yes, even Hulk Hogan.  We eventually grew out of it but were drawn back in several years ago and it felt like nothing except the names had changed.  It still managed to captivate us and provide us with all the fun of our youth.  I remembered why I loved it then and the nostalgia brought the happiness flooding back.

There have been a few wrestling games to come along throughout the years with some success.  Wrasslin' is often viewed very favorably.  Raw Deal was a huge player in the CCG era, spawning tons of expansions and having actual World Championships for several years.  The newest game to enter the wrestling game genre is Luchador! Mexican Wrestling Dice by Backspindle Games.  Wrestling and dice? They had my attention right away!


Rules

Luchador comes with a bunch of different options to tailor your play experience to your needs.  The rulebook starts you off with the basics so you can jump right in and get playing.  From there, you get presented with the advanced rules which really add flavor to the game.  There's also options for tag-team matches, steel cage matches, and free-for-all matches.  Almost anything you could want from a wrestling game is presented in the rules.

The basic idea is that each wrestler gets 4 Mexican wrestling dice.  These dice have hits, blocks, counters, pins, and misses on their sides.  Each player rolls their 4 dice simultaneously and the results are compared.  Counters reverse hits.  Blocks cancel hits.  Misses mean nothing happens. And Hits inflict damage.  For each unblocked Hit, the player rolls a Hit die which determines the type of hit and how much damage is dealt.  If you have two or more unblocked hits, you can elect to roll the Luchador die instead giving you the possibility of extra damage.  After damage is assigned, any Pin results on the Mexican wrestling dice are applied and if your opponent's health is low enough, you may be able to pin them and win the match!  Matches are played until someone is pinned or if their health gets to 0 and they are knocked out.

The rules teach you the basic game incredibly well.  There's a bit of confusion on the advanced rules, but only because they are explained too well.  They should have been summarized a bit better with less words.  I will say that there was no question I had that couldn't be answered by looking through the rules.  Some of the answers just weren't quite as obvious as I would have hoped.  Still, this is a pretty solid rulebook that's much clearer than a lot of others.  Also, the designer and publisher are very good at answering questions at Boardgamegeek.com so should you come up with an issue, post there and you will likely get an official answer pretty quickly.

I'll dock the game .5 points for the minor confusion in the Advanced rules.  It's not major, but it's not perfect.  The optional rules and matches are a nice bonus so I'll add a little extra for that.  Final score - 4.75 points


Components

Sometimes a game just goes so far above and beyond what is called for that it becomes garish.  Sometimes it's just completely extraneous and drives up the cost of a game without adding anything useful. THIS IS NOT THAT GAME.


Seriously, you get a wrestling ring.  This bad boy is made out of nice thick cardboard and elastic cords you tie into ropes.  How is that not completely awesome looking!  Does this drive up the cost?  Sure it does.  It also adds a ton of theme and fun to an awesome game.  I can't understate how great this is for a game like this.

Want to do a cage match?  Turn it upside down!


HOW AWESOME IS THAT!!!

But hey, if you don't want to play the awesome way you can always just use the board that's got a printed ring on it.  Of course, you can't be my friend if you like that better.

As if that wasn't enough, you get a bunch of awesome cardboard stand-ups that are illustrated beautifully.  Each of the 9 characters gets its own standup and two matching cards, one for the base game and one for the advanced game.  There are also health tracker cards, the turn-order chips for the Free-for-all matches, and wood tokens for tracking your health


Lastly, what's a dice game without dice?  It's one thing to have standard six-siders, but in a game like this where all your dice have custom sides, it's important that they look awesome.  And wow, these sure do!


The dice are all nice weights and feel like good plastic.  There are 4 sets of Mexican wrestling dice so you can have 4 players in free-for-all mode or you can even run two simultaneous tag-team matches.  The black Luchador dice are actually bigger than the other dice which is a nice touch since they are so important.  The printing on these things is top-notch and it seems like it's not likely to rub off.

The only complaint I have is that the dice should have been engraved instead of printed.  It's just a pet-peeve of mine.  I can justify this here because that would have driven the price too high.  It's simple enough to fix with some clear coat spray paint if you need it. 

Despite the printing/engraving issue, this game gets a perfect score on the components.  Seriously, it doesn't get much cooler than this.  Final score - 5 points, plus some bonuses for later on.


Gameplay

Player count - The box says 2-4 players which is accurate.  I think you could stretch it to 6 or by doing 3 vs. 3 or 4 vs. 4 tag matches, but that may be boring.  Although now that I'm thinking about it, you can do a 4-on-4 Survivor Series match which isn't boring at all!  I bet they hadn't thought of that.

Ideally though, 2-4 players is where it's at.  You have enough dice for 4 players simultaneously regardless of configuration.

Game length - It varies, greatly!  Most singles matches last less than 10 minutes.  Sometimes they last less than 3 turns if the dice are feeling fiesty.  Tag matches are much longer, usually about 15 minutes.  There's a lot of variety in these matches and I personally like that. Sometimes you get in there and beat each other up, sometimes its slow and methodical.  Sometimes a wrestler will look to be almost out of it and then will stage a stunning comeback.  You just never know.  That's the beauty of dice.

Characters - Any wrestling fan knows that we get into our favorite characters and their personas as much as we do the actual wrestling. We love to cheer our favorites and boo their enemies. A lot of what makes each wrestler unique is their moveset and their in-ring personality.  Luchador! does a fantastic job of giving each of the wrestlers a unique advantage and disadvantage.  This makes each character feel very different and even perform different.

They even went as far as to write some flavor text for the Luchador dice maneuvers on each wrestler.  I like to read these out loud when they happen to add to the match narrative.  It's an awesome touch that adds depth.

They missed one golden opportunity and that was naming the Killer Combinations for each character.  It's easy enough to do that on my own, but it would have been awesome to have those be official names.

The ring - What's so special about rolling dice?  In this game, you need to roll them in the ring.  That awesome prop is more than just eye candy.  You need to roll your dice in there and any that pop out don't count!  It happens more than you think it would, especially if you roll your dice aggressively at your opponent's dice and you try to knock them out purposely.  It works fairly well albeit at the risk of your own dice.  They don't tell you that in the rulebook. I think it's one of the hidden bits of awesomeness in this box.


Strategy - If it's all just rolling dice, where's the strategy?  For starters, you can hold block dice from round to round if they are not used.  If you are getting beat down, you may want to hold those over.  The downside to this is you don't get as much attacking in.  If it keeps you alive, it may be worth turtling.

You can also hold dice from turn to turn in order to pull off your wrestler's Killer Combo.  Getting a certain dice combo means you get to roll a bunch of extra dice to inflict pain on your opponent.  Usually there are Pin dice in there which means you get to try and pin your opponent first.

Tag teams are where the most strategy comes in.  Every time you successfully tag out, your wrestler recovers one health.  Failing to make your tag-out roll leaves you stunned which can be really bad, so you need to judge when it's best to do it.  Quick, successful tags can leave your team with a lot of health putting you in a great position quickly.

The players are more important than the game - Here's where the gameplay steps out of the box and onto the players.  This game needs to be played loose and fast with an emphasis on fun.  There's a lot of awesome things happening in the game and those things are made better or worse by the people playing the game.  Play this trying to win and being a rules lawyer and you'll suck the fun right out of this one.  Play it to have fun and get into the spirit of pro wrestling and you will have a blast.  Talk trash, read the flavor text, make up your own play-by-play.  Do whatever it takes to get into the spirit of the game and watch your experience elevate from fun game to raucous hooliganism.  It takes the entire experience to the next level.

Some games are great because of brilliant mechanisms.  Others are great because they make the players part of the game.  This is definitely the latter.  To me, it's much harder to do that than it is to create some awe-inspiring new rule system. 

To me, Ameritrash is a kind of game in which the players are more important than the mechanisms in the game.  Any time the players are immersed in theme, it's Ameritrash. When you combine theme with fun mechanisms and can make the players more important than the game, you have an Ameritrash classic.  That's exactly what you have here.

Final Score - 9.8 out of 10.  -.2 points for not naming the finishing moves.  It's definitely a nit-pick, but nothing is perfect.

Overall - Luchador scores a 19.55 out of 20.  I'm willing to add .2 points as a bonus for the amazing components.  Let's call the final score 19.75 out of 20.  On the BGG scale, this is an easy 9.9 out of 10.  I'd play this bad boy anytime you asked me to.  I'll run tournaments at conventions or any game day.  I can't wait to show this to more people.  I think they'll enjoy it every bit as much as I do.


The Wrap Up

Here's the thing about Luchador:  This is not a strategy game. There's no deep decisions here.  You won't burn your brain figuring out how to beat your opponent.  This won't challenge Shanghaien or Ra: The Dice Game for my favorite strategic dice game at all.  When I want strategy, I will play those.

What Luchador brings is a ton of fun.  There's theme dripping off this thing in almost every way.  The game is tied pretty deeply into it's theme and maximizes those tie-ins to create a rich experience.  There's amazing components that add to the entire package, immersing you in the world of Luchador wrestling.  You've got a wide variety of play options to keep things fresh for a quite a while.

This is the second edition of this game.  I couldn't tell you what the first version looked like, but it had enough legs to get a second printing and this game should get even more press.  If you like fun dice games, you'll love it.  If you love pro wrestling, you'll like it even more.  This is a modern Ameritrash classic that will be played by fun-loving gamers everywhere for quite some time.  The price tag is a bit on the high side for the amount of game you get, but it's completely worth it for the immersion into the theme.

If you are looking for a top-notch wrestling game, look no further.  This is the game you want. 

Now, how about we start getting some expansions?



I did receive this game as a review copy from Backspindle Games, although I paid for shipping so it was not entirely free.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Making you an offer you can't refuse - Capo dei Capi



Dice games have a special place in my heart.  I remember being about 13 and finding out about Dungeons & Dragons.  Sure enough, one of my buddies had an older brother and he passed his books down to us.  The first time I saw polyhedrals, I was in love. The awesome shapes, the new numbers that went beyond six, and the endless possibilities drew me in right away.  Dice are everything that’s fun about life in one little package:  The Slings and Arrows of outrageous Fortune”.  Anytime a game uses dice rolling as its main mechanism, it catches my interest. Sure, I like rolling dice in Talisman, but I LOVE rolling dice in Ra: The Dice Game or Shanghaien because it really drives those games.  Such is the focus of Steve Finn’s Capo dei Capi.  In this game, two little six-siders are used in a really clever way to create a drastically underrated dice-rolling experience.

Rules

At the heart, this is a push-your-luck game combined with area majority.  On your turn, you roll the black six-sided die and the white six-sided die until you choose to stop or you bust out.  Stopping voluntarily gives you everything you earned that turn while busting gives you nothing. The colors of the dice are representative of the 2 sides of town comprised of a 1, 2, and 3 in each color.  The dice are going to tell you if you get to place an Influence token on an area card, place a bribe, extort the mayor, or play a Value cube to increase the value of an area card.  The game comes with a wonderful rulebook that outlines all the possible actions.  At first glance, I was a bit worried because the rules seemed thick for a game that advertised 15-20 minutes of length.  However, Dr. Finn did a great job and it’s mostly clear.
Also in the box are 2 player aids for easy reference.  Dr. Finn did an awesome job on those aids because you won’t ever need to reference the rulebook once you’ve read it.  They tell you everything you need to know.
That said, the rules do omit clarification on what to do with the Value cubes taken from the mayor.  It turns out that those are worth victory points and you just collect them.  It’s a pretty big omission because it’s so important to the game

Like a lot of games, one big rule error costs Capo dei Capi a point. Final score – 4 points.

Components
Capo dei Capi comes in a nice small box that is actually too big for what’s in the box.  Here’s what you get:
  • 6 Area Cards
  • 1 Mayor Card
  • 6 Supply Markers
  • 30 Influence Tokens
  • 21 Value Cubes
  • 15 Bribe Tokens
  • 15 Mayor Chips
  • 2 Six-Sided Dice
  • 1 Hit Man Token
  • 1 Pawn
  • 1 Instruction Book
  • 2 Summary Cards
The Area cards are made of a good thickness cardboard and have pretty nice artwork on them as seen here:

             

I like that the mayor tokens have a picture of the mayor on them.  The influence tokens are pretty vanilla, but they do the job.   I do wish the bribe tokens had a bit more pizzazz but they are perfectly functional.  I’ll still deduct just a bit for the lack of any kind of artwork on theses, but only a bit because they do the job.



The cubes are cubes so not much to say there. Same thing with the pawns.
The bottom line is that this game won’t wow anyone visually, but it’s not going to turn them off either. Final score – 4.5 points

Gameplay
 
2-players – This is a 2-player only game.  For me that’s a bonus because most of my gaming is 2-player.  If you don’t get a lot of 2-player opportunities that may hinder your desire to own this one.  I wouldn’t exactly call it confrontational, but there is some direct hindrance of your opponent.  Again, that’s a plus to me.  If you want multiplayer solitaire, look elsewhere.

Push your luck – Ultimately, this game is all about pushing your luck. You can roll the dice as many times as you want as long as you don’t bust.    I’ve seen short turns and really long turns.  If you like the tension of push-your-luck games then this one will deliver.  It’s imperative you push as hard as you can to try and get and edge because falling behind can be deadly.

Length – This is a pretty short game so a lot can happen very quickly.  Depending on how the dice roll, a game can be either drawn out or short. You really don’t know how much time you have so you don’t want to get left behind.  You have some control over this by choosing how hard to push on a turn.  Sure, you might bust but you have ways around that.  Typically, you are looking at 15-20 minutes per game making this ideal for a best 2-out-of-3 match.

Mayor Tokens – Any game with two six-sided dice will always have a lot of 4’s rolled.  Any 4 activates the Mayor card and usually gives you Mayor tokens.  Those tokens allow you to do a bunch of things such as move Influence tokens, put tokens directly on cards, re-roll your dice, or make your opponent re-roll.  It turns out that managing these tokens is absolutely integral to playing well.  Since you have a choice to use these on every roll you have to use them judiciously and know when to spend them.  You don’t want to run out because then you are left to chance.  You also don’t want to have them sitting around because that means you aren’t getting the benefits they give.

Roll again! – One of the best rules surrounding the Mayor tokens is that anytime you spend one, you MUST roll again.  So even if you use them to stave off a potential bust, you still have to roll again and may get bit anyway.  I like that the game gives you options but makes you pay a bit of a price for doing so.  It’s a really nice touch that helps mitigate their strength.

Doubles – The first time you roll doubles, the Hitman comes and visits you.  Roll doubles again, and you bust.  You can pay a mayor token to keep him away which is awesome because rolling doubles goes from good to amazing.  You really do want to be able to roll doubles repeatedly so keep those Mayor tokens handy.

Extortion – Any time you roll a 4, some type of Mayor action happens.  Generally this includes putting Value cubes on the Mayor and moving the Extortion marker up the card.  If you can get it to 5 and end your turn without busting, you get half the cubes on the card.  If you get it to 6, you get all the cubes.  Naturally, this can add up to a lot of victory points so you want to maximize this if possible.  You can spend Mayor tokens to increase the Extortion track to get you closer to those points which is often a great use of the tokens.  But keep in mind, you will have to roll again.

Downtime – There’s really none.  When it’s your opponent’s turn, you will still want to pay attention because you can always backstab your opponent for 1 Mayor token and make them re-roll.  You’ll want to pay attention because timing that re-roll can be of major importance.  At most, each player’s turn will take 2 or 3 minutes.

Value cubes – If there’s one gotcha to this game, it’s the Value cubes.  When placed on the Area cards, they increase the value of that card.  That’s a great thing because you can beef up your score by winning a card with a lot of cubes.  Unfortunately, you can sometimes get stuck putting them in places you don’t want such as when you are losing badly in an Area.  While you can move Influence tokens around, you can’t affect where the Value cubes end up very easily.  If there was a way to change that, I’d have zero complaints at all.

Area Majority – Behind all this dice-rolling and push-your-luck is the main crux of the game.  The whole point of the Influence and Bribe tokens is to win the card.  You do this by having the highest score on each card.  It may seem like dumb luck to get those tokens there, but you can always spend Mayor tokens to either put tokens directly on the card or move them around.  You can even do both to really make sure you get the tokens you want on the cards you want.  This adds even more stress on the Mayor tokens by giving you more options.  This is where those Value cubes can bite you because you can have a card get really built up with no way to get tokens on it.


Learning curve – You might think this game is pretty self-explanatory and I would agree with one exception: the Mayor tokens.  The game really revolves around using these and maximizing what you do with these.  Our first couple games made it seem like these were a waste so we thought we could tighten it up by reducing the starting number.  That forced us to learn how to use them effectively which made them all the more valuable.  Taking it back to the recommended number really opened up a ton of possibilities we hadn’t seen before.  While anyone can roll dice, it’s using the Mayor tokens to massage the game in the direction you want that takes a bit of learning to master.  And since it’s a dice game and every situation will be different, you will be constantly forced to adapt how you use the Mayor tokens from game to game.  This is one of the game’s finest points.

Final Score – 9.5 out of 10.  I’ll knock a bit off for the Value cubes, but only a bit.  It’s definitely not a game-breaker, but it’s the one place you don’t have much control at all.  Otherwise, I love the gameplay.

Overall – This is a great game overall.  A small knock on the components for the lackluster tokens and another on the Value cubes in gameplay takes 1 point.  It loses another for the rules omission about the Value cube scoring, but I am nitpicking just a bit.  That brings the overall score to 18 out of 20.
On the BGG scale I’ll rate it 8 out of 10.  It’s a very good game that I want to play and won’t turn down.

The Wrap Up
It’s no secret that I adore Dr. Finn’s first game, Biblios.  It turns out that I love this one as well.  Truth be told, I did not expect that from my first read-through of the rules.  It seemed much more complex than it turned out to be.  This is really a simple game with a lot of choices and opportunities to alter your fate.  The play time is perfect for the game because it neither outstays its welcome nor ends too quickly. In fact, I’d compare this to Ra: The Dice Game as a great 2-player dice game.  When it runs a bit longer, the strategy gets deeper.  When it’s short, it’s a race.  You have some control over that, but you generally need to react to what’s happening in the pace of the game.

This game has flown under the radar and it shouldn’t.  It’s a real gem in the dice-rolling category that uses a really inventive roll resolution mechanism to provide both choices and some rigidity to the system.  Once again, Dr. Finn has hit a home run although this one hasn’t gotten the attention it deserves.  It’s time that more people get a look so it can get the same recognition as Biblios.  I don’t think it’s quite as good as that masterpiece, but this one is pretty awesome in a different way.  


I highly recommend you check this game out.  Yup, I’m an unapologetic Dr. Finn fanboy.  And totally proud of it.