I'm going to show you the people behind the glittering green curtain today. Perhaps ruining your perception of just how perfect and time defying you FLGS can be :)
You say, "Sam you run 2 shops with new products coming out every week, how do you stay on top of what to stock and what to recommend to customers". Well, wonderful person who shops locally, I'm happy to tell you my "secrets".
I'm a Youtube junkie. One of the great things about games vs. books is there is a wealth of video reviews and playthroughs, so I can watch and work at the same time. (in fact I have one on now while I'm typing this exact sentence!). There are 2 basic videos- reviews and run/play throughs.
For reviews, there is one channel in particular which dominates the scene in sheer volume of videos released- The Dice Tower. The DT team is three men in Florida who not only do daily reviews, but also a series of "top ten" lists each week. The channel also has 3 variety shows a week, where other contributors talk about games that fit that week's theme (eg. co-operative, for 2 players, cards etc). It really is a wealth of reviews, if you have any questions about a game it's the first video channel to look at. I will serve the caveat that while the men running it are great and know their stuff, they are men with very certain tastes. Thankfully their team of contributors do offer diverse voices.
The second review site is one I CAN NOT get enough- Shut Up & Sit Down. First of all it is British, complete with the British humor and sensibility I go gaga for. Quinns, Paul, and Matt are all professional writers, so each review is scripted and shot as a mini-movie of sorts. Plot and all. They also have a great website with weekly news, podcasts, written game reviews, and a pretty troll-less forum. They also occasionally do play throughs of games they had previously reviewed. Most video game reviews on other sites are one person sitting or standing in front of their wall-o-games.... SU&SD is anything BUT that... and well worth taking a look at, even if you aren't a board-gamer.
Playthroughs are a step up from general reviews. Not only do you get to hear an opinion about the game, but you see it played in real time. There are 3 that are played on my TV almost anytime I'm alone in the family room.
Rahdo Runs Through is the most well known. He does a 2 player run through of lots of Euro-style games. He's really thorough and talks through every move, using his wife Jen as his playing partner (although she's rarely on camera, and most times not actually playing so he talks through each player's strategy). He's been doing this for years and has a good back catalogue of games. He also does a podcast, and some "best of lists".
Game Night is run by the BoardGameGeek site (THE online resource for board gamers). Each week (or 2) 4 friends play through a new game and then discuss what they thought of it. Some of it can a be a little long and dry, but it definitely gives you a good feel for how a game is played.
My new favorite is AntLab Games. Anthony and Frances play a variety of games (ones that are good for 2 players). After the play through they give a really good and detailed review of the game, judginng it on 5-6 critera (theme, replayability, components, level of difficult, etc). They have also just started doing a podcast. I really like listening/watching them. They are not uber game geeks, and you can really tell they enjoy not only playing the games and thinking outloud, but also playing with each other.
The one thing missing on a lot of game review and play throughs are the ladies! There is a nice new series, Girls Game Shelf (that hopefully will continue in 2017!) that features 2-6 friends playing one game per episode. Mixed in during the game play is each player summarizing what has happened and how they feel about it. A nice change from the static camera run through followed by long review. It also is nice to see a whole gaggle of nerdy ladies rocking at board games.
I use each of these every week to look at games to carry in the store, ones that I want for our demo shelves (and to play ourselves), and to just know about new games in case someone asks.
The beauty of a Local Game Shop is we can steer you in the right direction (much better than an algorithm)... and never fear if we don't have a game in stock we can order it in for you! Much like indie bookshops, FLGS have knowledgable staff who want you to have a great gaming experience. Now you know a little dirty secret about how I know so much with so little time to play all the games!
We all (hopefully) know about the Bechdel test for movies & TV. Just incase here it is-
I raise this because there has been lots of talk about the recent CONAN game and it's express lack of women except for the nekkid "help me I can't save myself" lone female. And while that fit the historic CONAN series, does it reflect 21st century? (nope, not even close). It also leaves lots of women not wanting play a game some are claiming to be one of the best of the year. I myself have little interest in playing it because I'm not a minis on a board fighting each other type of game player.... but knowing about it's distict sexism I'm definitely not going to play it should I choose to play a minis game. So what would constitue a non-sexist game? Thus I propse this new test
Cavaet- There are humanoids depicted in the game in some form... be it on the board/cards/game elements, characters to play, or general artwork of the theme.
1) there is a female character ON THE BOX, and she is wearing clothes (if historical, it's historically accurate.. eg. if she's a "knight" she's wearing armor that covers more than just the nipples and pelvis)
2) If humanoids are depicted in the game elements, do women reprsent at least 30% of the artwork (baby steps here, even though we are 51% of the general population)
3) If humanoids are characters you can play, are there at least 30% female characters (again, baby steps).
4) Are any women that are depicted in any form, done so fully clothed and of equal ability as the males depicted? (Eg, there are woman depicted on the minis, but are only used for the male figures to "rescue").
So let's test this out with some "classic" games, and a few from 2016.
Ticket to Ride- technical PASS; all games but the Nordic & Africa expansions have fully clothed women depicted, usually as part of the traveling family. No humanoid play pieces or cards to judge
Dominion (original edition)- FAIL; one woman featgured on side of box- The Witch; of the human featured cards, 3 had women (The witch, part of the festival scene, and a long haired adventurer that could be male). While it is technically set in a medieval realm time frame, women were working along side their husbands, so there is no reason why one couldn't be featured on cards such as "Smithy". The ONE female centered card is a negative one- with an old ugly crone.
Settlers of Catan- FAIL (technical), There is one woman featured on box cover, 3 of the 20 total cards have a woman on them... usually background on market card. I pose this as a technical fail, as a majority of the cards are the "knights"... BUT women can be knights too, these days.
Power Grid, The Card Game- FAIL; so much fail on the box cover, 3 engineers and none are women, not to mention all white. Of the 16 cards with humans 4 are women
Quadropolis- PASS (with flying feminist colors)' of the six people pictured on the front and back of the box, 4 are women; for the player turn pointers (what are those dohickies called???) of the 4 each player gets, 2 are women... some even wearing hard hats.
Those are the few games I had at arms reach today, but I've got a slew more and will continue this little project. Feel free to join in and leave a comment of some other games that clearly pass or fail the FeMeeple (????) test!
The last few years have seen a great games explosion... with something for everyone. It looks that 2017 is not going to be any different. Here are a few that we can't wait to play and share.
Pyramids is a game for 2 to 5 players that sends you back in time to Ancient Egypt. Help your dynasty become resplendent and endure through the ages. Honor the great Gods to obtain the most beautiful stones and construct the most dazzling necropolis. Which Egyptian dynasty will be the most glorious? Pray to the Gods to construct edifices in their honor and ensure your dynasty has a millennia-long posterity. Your necropolis, a place of eternal sleep, luxury, and glory, will be made up of Pyramids, Obelisks, and Tombs. Select the best combination of stones in the quarry, optimize their layout, and make your necropolis the most famous in all of Egypt!
In Castles of Caladale, players lay tiles to construct beautiful castles, rebuilding the kingdom. Working towards building the most complete and largest castle will earn players glory throughout the land! In a forgotten time, when magic could move mountains, the Kingdom of Caladale was home to people of all kinds, living in castles of unimaginable beauty. Yet, on one fateful night, an ancient spell of great power was cast by one unable to control it. By daybreak all of the castles were destroyed – their walls and towers torn apart, twisted together and scattered across the land. The people of Caladale must now rebuild, competing for walls and towers from the broken and twisted remains of each other’s homes to rebuild their castles and reclaim the glory of Caladale!
The jump core is offline! We can’t keep taking this kind of abuse on the shields or we’re done for! We have boarders in the cargo hold and engineering! And… THE CAPTAIN IS DEAD!!!
The Captain is Dead puts you and up to 6 friends onto your own starship, under attack from hostile aliens and systems going down left and right. Worst of all, your heroic leader, the Captain, lies dead. It’s up to you and the various skills you bring to the table, to repair the ship enough to escape while also holding off the alien onslaught. From the Chief Engineer to the Janitor, you never know which combination of survivors you may have, making each game a unique challenge!
Mine the caves of the rocky highlands and forge the materials you find into glorious jewelry to please the Dwarf King. Mine All Mines puts you in control of a clan of dwarves who you'll send deep into the mountain to mine for precious minerals. Each round you'll go deeper into the mines to reap bigger rewards, benefiting off the work of the players who've gone before you. Will you choose to keep the game friendly or will you profit by picking their pockets instead?
Honshu is a map-building card game set in feudal Japan. Players are lords and ladies of noble houses seeking new lands and opportunities for fame and fortune. One game of Honshu lasts twelve rounds, and each round is divided into two phases. First, map cards are played in a trick, and the player who played the highest valued card gets to pick first from those cards played. Then the players use the map cards picked to expand their personal maps. Each player must expand their personal maps to maximize their scoring possibilities. Manipulating your position in the player order is crucial for mastering Honshu.
Unlock! is a series of escape adventures for up to six players. With one hour on the clock, players work through a deck of sixty cards as a team, searching for clues, combining objects, and solving puzzles. The free Unlock! companion app runs the timer while also providing clues, offering hints, and confirming successes. Once the team has reached a solution and entered the correct code into the app, they will escape and win the game!
Luckily I've had some days off in the last week, so I've played MORE games (overall goal for 2017!) and I have 3 to add to my list of favorite games of 2016
Carcassonne Amazonas is a great new take on the classic gateway game. I'm a horrible Carcassonne player, but with Amazonas there is the added boat race to help the scoring impaired folks like me. I mean I still lose, only now I'm not completely lapped on the scoring board. In Amazonas you aren't building roads and cities- it's river tribuatiries and native villages. There are also river tiles and the ability to move your boat downriver rather than laying a meeple onto your tiles. Scoring is done not only by counting tiles, but also fruits and animals on the tiles.
Kanagawa was a game I knew I would enjoy when I got around to playing it and I was 100% right! What lured me in was the gorgeousness of the game tiles, what won me over was the game play. You are students of the great master and are learning to make your own masterpiece. Each round is started by the decision to "stay in school" to see more cards or take what you need when it laid down on the mat (Iello scores extra pointer here for a bamboo mat that looks like sushi roller). Once you select the tiles you either add them to your paininting trying to go for diplomas in figures, trees, and buildings for points, or add the pain to your studio to give you more options of things to paint in the next round. It's a quick game that doesn't look strategy heavy, but early on you need to plan which diplomas you are aiming for and see what your fellow students are working on so you are not trying to draw (pun intended!) the same cards from the lessons.
Ulm may be my new favorite "worker placement" game. I love the mechanic of tile activation- you draw a tile and then you slide it into the full tableau, pushing out an inactive tile, thus the three including the one you added into the row are the 3 actions of your turn. Added difficulty is once a row is pushed it can't be pushed again until that extra tile is removed AND the spaces around the edges can be claimed so if you push a tile into an opponents space it becomes theirs. And that's just the action activation portion of the game. You are essentially buying influence over areas of medieval Ulm (known for at one time having the tallest cathedral in Europe), moving your prestige boat down the Danube, and getting favors from the nobles (in the form of cards with added bonuses). This game appears heavy, but I'd grade it medium. The hardest mechanism is the tile activation... and once you see it done it's easy to get. I'd say this is the next step for a new gamer after Catan.
I’ll start this by saying I didn’t get to play nearly as many new games as I wanted; and I didn’t play many of the ones that folks are raving about on the rest of the interwebs. But of the ones I did play, here are my top NEW 2016 games (in no real order)
Dastardly Dirigibles– I love this set collecting game with a twist… your set is the parts of a dirigible you are building on a mat in front of the other players. The fun challenge/twist is that anytime a player lays down a piece EVERYONE has to laydown that same part, whether it matches their set or not.
Quadropolis– We just got this one and I’ve only played the classic side once, but I think this could easily join the ranks of Splendor and the above game as my favorite “go to” for fun. Each player is “buying” town parts from a grid on the venter of hte table, when one player takes a part the next player can not take one from the same row or column. Your goal is to meet certain scoring criteria in your own mini-city. there are a few other elements that add to this challenge- the spaces are marked by grid numbers and you can only build in a grid number that matches the spot you just pulled a tile from. And each piece has a meeple or energy reward, and a cost to “activate” it with only activated squares counting in VP totals.
Fabled Fruit- another card set collecting game, but this one with a new game mechanic, were the card grid changes and gets harder each time you play. You are going around collecting fruits to make smoothies (sound like a kids game, but it’s not just for littler gamers). The cards you land on have special abilities (like give a banana to another player and he/she has to give you some of their cards). Each time you play the game you pull the cards you played with before, bag them and pull the next 6 off the top (the card sets are numbers 1-53). Most games we play stay at the store, but I think this one we’ll have to get for ourselves to keep playing along.
Inis- This is one of the ones lots of folks are raving about. It’s a fun area control game where the board grows each round. You play each round with the same basic cards that represent the moves you can make. You start the round by drafting the cards, so you know if you don’t have a certain move, you know someone else does! Your ultimate goal is to control 6 lands and/or have control over 6 or more of your opponents clans.
Mystic Vale- A new type of card BUILDING game. Each card is sleeved and you add in nearly clear element to make the card stronger. The theme is that you are a druid trying to keep the land alive and fertile. Some cards include elements where the land dries up, so you need to build strong enough cards to counter balance that effect. The game has 1 planned expansion that can only make it better.
Burger Up- Goal: build the ultimate burger before your opponent builds the same order at the burger stand. You start with a bottom bun, and a row of “orders” which are the top buns. You draw cheeses, meats, veggies, condiments until to can create a masterpiece of a burger. This is a good gateway game for new players and easy for kids.
Some “honorable mentions”
Codename Pictures– A new version of last year’s HOT game, this time with pictures rather than words. In concept it’s good, but I’m just not as thrilled with it as the original one.
Monarch- This is technically a 2015 game from Kickstarter, but in 2016 is was sold in stores. I LOVE this game. You are competing with your sister princesses to build a royal court and take control of the crown. You do so by taxing the commoners or farming the lands for currency to buy goods and courtiers.