Back in the summer, my girlfriend and her brother saw that Norwegian Air was offering direct flights from Las Vegas to Copenhagen, Denmark for relatively cheap (under $400 round-trip). So we bought some tickets, made reservations at a hostel in Copenhagen, and spent our Thanksgiving holiday traveling to Europe and getting some more stamps on our passports. This was only my second trip to Europe and the second set of stamps that I got on my passport.

The flight was pretty grueling. Ten hours in economy seating is not the most comfortable thing in the world. The time-zone difference also meant that the flight effectively wiped an entire day off of our calendar. Ah well. We bought a transit card called the "Copenhagen Card", which gave us free use of the public transit systems for the entire week. It also granted us free admission to some public facilities such as castles, museums, and parks. It was a very handy thing to have!

Scandinavian glogg
Gløgg is a Scandinavian holiday wine.

Apparently, the Danes really like Christmas. One of the things that struck us almost as soon as we got off the plane is that the entire city was decorated for Christmas. Whole buildings were covered in lights, street lights were lined with garlands, and there were multiple Yule Markets (outdoor gift and food stands) lining the streets and squares of the city. Since the Danes don't have Thanksgiving, they apparently don't have any reservations about putting up Christmas decorations in November. We walked through some of these street vendors and Yule Markets and tried our first Danish delicacy: gløgg. Gløgg is a Swedish and Danish drink that mixes hot mulled wine with cinnamon, ginger, cardamom, raisins, and almonds. It's kind of like a sweet hot tea, and it's a very strong drink with a somewhat overwhelming fragrance. It was good in moderation, but its overwhelming sweetness meant that it wore out its welcome for us very quickly...

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Dominion base game
Dominion is a short and simple deck-building card game.

Most of the board games that I like are very long, epic games that take hours to play. Games like Civilization, Battlestar Galactica, and Eclipse can take four or five hours to complete - all of which can still be finished before I'm even done setting up Axis & Allies 1940!. But sometimes, my friends and I don't have hours to burn on a board game, and we need something shorter to play. Fortunately, I have a handful of shorter games as well. And one of the best and shortest games that I play is the deck-building game Dominion.

Dominion is an exceedingly simple game to learn, set up, and play. The basic concept is that each player spends money from his hand to buy kingdom cards to place in your deck. Each kingdom card has special abilities that you can execute when you play it from your hand, and the strategy of the game comes from which cards you buy and how you chain their effects together to maximize your ability to buy victory point cards. Each game will have a group of treasure cards and victory point cards, some of which are distributed to each player to form their starting hands. Each player receives seven "Copper" treasures and three "Estate" victory cards. Shuffle them, and draw five for your starting hand.

Dominion - action card
To play the game, simply follow the
directions printed on each card.

When your turn comes along, you can have an Action Phase and a Buy Phase. During the Action Phase, you play any "Action" cards from your hand and resolve their effects. During the Buy Phase, you play any treasure cards in your hand to purchase new cards to add to your deck. Each card has a cost to buy it, which is printed in the bottom corner. Certain cards will grant you additional actions or buys (i.e. the ability to split your treasure to purchase multiple cards of smaller value), and chaining them together efficiently is the key to victory.

There's very few actual rules to learn, since all the actions in the game are resolved by simply reading the effects from the card. The only things you have to learn are some of the game's basic vocabulary (e.g. "action", "buy", "gain", "discard", "trash", "attack", and so on). Once you know what all those words mean in relation to the game (and most of them are self-explanatory), you are ready to play! The result is a simple and elegant game that can be picked-up and played within a matter of minutes.

But this simple game also hides some serious depth and versatility...

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In between games of Madden 17, I need something to tide me over until the release of Civilization VI consumes my life at the end of October. As such, I did what I usually do in these situations, and I dove into my Steam backlog to look for something that's been sitting around, unplayed, for a couple years. Usually, I try to find some short games like This War of Mine or Papers, Please. I try to avoid the bigger games because they can end up consuming more of my time than I want them to, and if I jump to something else, then I may not go back to such a game to give it a fair chance. Sorry, Master of Orion, Endless Legend, and Endless Space 2, you'll all have to wait until after my upcoming Civ VI bender before I can give any of you a fair chance. That being said, I decided to take a risk and try out a city-builder that I've had sitting around for awhile. I love city-builders, and so this could easily have dragged on for weeks or months, but I hoped that the narrow scope of this game would mean that it wouldn't take as long to get my fill of it.

Banished is a game that offers unforgiving tough love. I feel like this game is the "Oregon Trail" of city-builders, and it's enjoyable as a challenging game of resource management. Unfortunately, it isn't exactly the best at explaining itself, and so it requires a lot of trial and error in order to get going. There's a lot of cycles of cascading success or failure, so you'll likely be restarting your games multiple times before you get anything remotely close to a sizable village. I would also advise that you try to keep multiple save states for your early cities so that if you make a small mistake that starts to spiral into catastrophe, you can reload and fix it without having to restart the entire game.

The tutorial explains a lot of the basic functionality of the buildings, but it never really addresses how to get the most out of these buildings. This results in an unnecessarily high learning curve and bar of entry as you try to stumble upon the optimal placements and uses of buildings. I kept making little mistakes that had big repercussions that forced me into restarting my very first game multiple times - even going so far as to save the random map seed so that I could restart in the same map and try different approaches to some things.

Banished - sub-optimal settlement
I had to iterate through some sub-optimal building placements before stumbling upon a viable city.

An example of a small misstep that crippled a game was that I built a farm that overlapped slightly with a single tree in one corner. Normally, farms are created as soon as you finish zoning them, and you simply have to select which crop to plant and assign workers to work it. But if there are any rocks or trees, then you must first remove them in order for the farm field to be built (like with any other building). So while I waited for some laborers to come chop down the trees (uncertain why nobody was bothering to cut down that one fracking tree!) spring passed and the window for planting closed. So the farm went un-used for the rest of the year, I had no crops saved up, and several adults and children died, leaving my village under-staffed for the following year. So I restarted and placed my farm entirely in an open field, planted during the first spring, and collected a healthy reserve of wheat to keep all my villagers fed through the winter...

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Grid Clock provided by trowaSoft.

A gamer's life...

Welcome to Mega Bears Fan's blog, and thanks for visiting! This blog is mostly dedicated to game reviews, strategies, and analysis of my favorite games. I also talk about my other interests, like football, science and technology, movies, and so on. Feel free to read more about the blog.

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