Stonehenge board game
Souvenir board game!!!

During a holiday in Europe, I procured a few souvenir board games to add to my collection.

I didn't have room in my luggage for the larger Stonehenge Anthology Game or the Ring of Stones game. So instead of buying them in the Stonehenge gift shop, I ordered them online and had them shipped to my house. They were both waiting for me when I returned home from the trip! The Ring of Stones game was purchased directly from the English Heritage online shop's Stonehenge gifts section. The Anthology game had to come from Amazon because it isn't available from the English Heritage online shop, but I got a really good deal on it!

There was also some Stonehenge Monopoly and playing cards, but I'm not into those sorts of novelty variations that I can get anywhere. It was the unique games that caught my eye.

The third game that I brought back from Europe is a medieval Viking game called "Hnefatafl". I had seen it in the Viking Ship Museum gift shop when I was there last November, but I didn't buy it at the time because I wasn't sure if its rules were written in English or Danish. I didn't want to buy a game that I'd never be able to play because I couldn't read the rules. So when I saw the same game in the British Museum's gift shop this summer, I decided to go ahead and get it.

Board games from Europe
My European souvenir board games include 2 Stonehenge-themed games and a traditional Viking game.

I'm going to talk specifically about the Ring of Stones game right now. I'll also be reviewing the Stonehenge anthology game and the Viking Game Hnefatafl in the following posts in the coming days.

Stonehenge "Ring of Stones"

I'll go ahead and start with the simplest game of the bunch: the Stonehenge Ring of Stones game. This is a 2-player dice-rolling game in which the first player attempts to build a stone circle by placing standing stones and covering them with cap stones, while the second player attempts to tear the circle down. The number rolled by the die tells the given player what kind of move he or she is allowed to make. If the first player successfully places all the stones on the board, he or she wins. The second player wins by removing all the pieces from the board.

Sounds pretty simple. And it is.

The box advertises the game as a "quick-thinking game of strategy". That label is being a bit generous. Most of the game really comes down to the luck of the die roll.

Strategy consists entirely of taking advantage of lucky rolls to prevent your opponent from making a legal move.
[LEFT] Rolled 3, but no legal position to place capstone; [RIGHT] Rolled 5, but can't legally remove standing stone.

If the first player rolls a three, but there are no legal positions to place a capstone, then that player must forfeit that turn. Conversely, if the second player rolls a five, but can't legally remove any standing stones because they're all covered by capstones, then that player loses the turn. So the strategy for player one is simply to try to cover every stone with at least one capstone, so that in the 1-in-6 likelihood that player two rolls a five, he or she must miss the turn. Player two's strategy, therefore is to try to remove standing stones so that in the 1-in-6 likelihood that player one rolls a three, he or she has no two adjacent standing stones on which to place a capstone and must miss his or her turn...

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Civilization A New Dawn - title

Sid Meier's Civilization computer game seems ripe for conversion into a board game. The PC game is, after all, basically just a computerized board game that plays out on a grander scale. Sid himself was inspired by many classic board games, including Risk and Axis & Allies. Fantasy Flight has already taken a stab at trying to distill the core mechanics of Civ down into a digestible board game when they released Sid Meier's Civilization: the Board Game back in 2010. I really like that game, even though it is a bit bloated and unwieldy. Attempting to directly translate Civ's mechanics down into board game form unsurprisingly results in a fairly complicated game that takes a very long time to learn and play.

Fantasy Flight's approach this time around seems to be to develop an elegant board game, and then apply the Civilization license onto it. The result is a board game that feels much more distant from the computer game, but which plays much more smoothly as a board game.

Civilization, streamlined

Perhaps the biggest problem with the older Civilization board game is the game length and amount of downtime. Games could run for over five hours, and the fact that each player resolved their entire turn phase (city management or army movement) before moving onto the next player meant that you could end up sitting for 20 to 40 minutes, twiddling your thumbs and waiting for other players to resolve their turns. That is one of my biggest peeves with a lot of epic games: too much downtime.

Civilization: A New Dawn -
A New Dawn is a very elegant game.

A New Dawn addresses that problem by having each player take only a single action in each of their turns. There are no phases; just take an action from your focus bar and then move on to the next player. Turns, therefore, are very quick, turnaround time is very short, and the game moves along at a rapid pace. This, ironically, serves to better maintain the "one more turn" addictive nature of the computer game. You might find yourself neglecting bathroom breaks for several turns because things are moving along so swiftly. Your turn is generally quick enough that you want to finish it before you step away or take a break, and other players' turns are so quick that you don't want to step away because you know it'll be back around to your turn in a few minutes.

Longer games with longer turns and more downtime can also often result in players outright forgetting what they were planning on doing by the time the turn gets back around to them. Either that, or the large amounts of moves and actions that the other players take changes the game state so much that, when your turn comes around, the thing you were planning on doing is no longer ideal -- if it's even possible.

That's rarely a problem in A New Dawn because each player does one thing on their turn, so the state of the board isn't radically changing between your turns. It's much more of a gradual change. That doesn't mean that other players can't disrupt your plans; they certainly can, especially when combat between players starts happening. It just means that you aren't going to be sitting there bouncing up and down in your chair waiting to pull off a spectacular move, only to have another player blow up all your plans at the last minute and leave you spending far too long wondering "What the heck do I do now?" when your turn starts...

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Internet service providers have a reputation for being some of the worst, most un-ethically-run companies in the country. I hadn't imagined that a company could be worse than Cox Communications. As a child, pretty much every time my dad had to call them for any problems, they refused to take any responsibility for their poor service, and always blamed the issues on his hardware or on his computer having viruses -- which was only sometimes true. Basically, they would blame his hardware as an excuse to upsell him new hardware that would also only barely work.

When I moved into my own place, I wasn't happy with having to purchase Cox as my internet and television provider. But to their credit, they gave me an affordable price, and the service was pretty reliable. At least, up until a few years ago.

CenturyLink van
Don't do it! It's a trap!

My internet started failing intermittently. It would go out almost every night for minutes or hours at a time. Sometimes resetting the router and/or modem would fix the problem, but only temporarily. I had multiple technicians come out to the house to troubleshoot the problems. They would aknowledge the problem, but would be unable to find the cause. To my surprise, they even told me that it was almost certainly not a problem with my local network set-up. I had thought for sure that they would blame my hardware or network in an attempt to upsell me more hardware. They even ran a new line from the street out to my house. I had my own, dedicated DSL line going into my house! That would be pretty sweet, if it would work. Cox even reimbursed my bill for the disruptions.

Sadly, none of Cox's efforts worked. My internet still failed consistently. My girlfriend was dependent on our internet to do online classes related to her job, and so this was inexcusable.

CenturyLink

Like a predatory evangelist waiting to swoop in and take advantage of a tragedy to sell a grieving person on the "comfort" of Jesus, an opportunistic CenturyLink salesman showed up at our door. He was claiming that CenturyLink had just laid fiber optic lines in our neighborhood and was offering a sweet deal to switch. I had been thinking about switching to CenturyLink, if only to be able to have a reliable service again.

My frustrations with CenturyLink, and my feelings of having been scammed started as soon as the service was set up in my home. The service that was installed was not the service that I thought I had signed up for.

When the sales rep had come to my door, he had specifically asked me what services I was receiving from Cox. I told him that I was getting HDDVR, a second cable receiver, and high-speed broadband internet for about $150 per month (a price that had been locked-in for life). The sales rep told me that I could get all of that for $75 per month. I should have recognized that this was too good to be true, but I made the mistake of signing on the dotted line. When the technician came to install the hardware the following week, I realized that the sales rep had flat-out lied to me. I had fallen victim to a bait-and-switch scam, which is apparently CenturyLink's modus operandi...

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Kingdom Come: Deliverance - title

I tried. I really did. I wanted to give Kingdom Come: Deliverance a chance. I wanted to give it the benefit of the doubt.

I had been passively watching this game for a while, and was looking forward to its release. I didn't realize that it was a Kickstarter project. I thought it was just an independent developer self-publishing a game, like Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice, which was friggin' awesome! So I didn't contribute towards the Kickstarter. But I did pay $60 for PS4 digital download of the game, and I deeply regret the decision.

If you're gonna charge the same retail price as a polished, publisher-backed game, then I expect the game to show something approaching that level of polish. Kingdom Come is just too wonky and unstable right now. Maybe in six or twelve months I might be able to pick it back up and enjoy it. As of now, however, I consider the game borderline unplayable.

Kingdom Come has ambitions to be Skyrim or The Witcher III, but it lacks the polish.

Scummy saves

The nail in the coffin is the game's restrictive and punitive save system. I'm a fan of diagetic save systems, and this particular save system could probably work really well if the game were just in a more stable and robust condition. I want to emphasize that this worked brilliantly in Resident Evil (and in survival horror in general) because the challenge and difficulty of survival horror came from having to manage a slowly dwindling supply of resources and health. Very few (if any) encounters outside of boss fights were even capable of bringing you from full health to dead, and even the boss fights were clearly telegraphed so that you had plenty of warning to go back, restock your supplies, and save. When to save (and whether or not to overwrite your previous save) became a part of strategy, especially in the case of Resident Evil with its limited, inventory-space-consuming Ink Ribbons.

Reloading from savior schnapps makes you drunk.

Basically, Kingdom Come only auto-saves at the start of a major new quest. You can trigger a manual save by sleeping or by drinking a special type of rare and expensive alcoholic consumable. If you re-load after using the savior schnapps, the character is also inebriated. This seems, to me, to be an attempt to punish players for save-scumming. It also means that if you get tired or have to step away for whatever reason, and you didn't just complete a quest and are not in a convenient position to save (either lacking access to a bed, unable to risk being drunk when you reload, or simply don't have savior schapps), then you are just screwed.

Until this game gets to a more playable state, this save system needs to be relaxed immensely, or relegated to a "hard core" or "ironman" mode. Because the game is so bad at tutorializing mechanics and at presenting information to the player or warning you that what you're about to try to do won't work, save-scumming is almost necessary just to figure out how basic mechanics work in the limited opportunities that the game gives you to practice them. Tutorials drop walls of text on you without actually giving you an opportunity to practice the thing being tutorialized, so that you aren't given a chance to reinforce the concepts in your mind before the game moves on to something else.

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Star Wars: X-Wing - Imperial Raider

This past couple years, my girlfriend and I have been getting very into the Star Wars: X-Wing miniatures game. We've also been converting some of our friends into avid players as well. After sitting on my shelf for several years with only a couple play sessions under its belt, the set has been getting played every few weeks with regularity. As such, we've also been investing more and more into additional expansions beyond the set that I initially bought. Late in 2016, my local board game store put its Corellian Corvette expansion on sale, so I went ahead and snatched up a copy of that huge, epic expansion ship. The following year, I went on to pick up the Imperial Raider huge expansion (also on sale)..

It took a while for these two ships to get much play though (seriously, they were sitting around for years), since they don't slot into the X-Wing core rules as easily as other expansions do. Playing with the huge ships requires increasing the scale of the X-Wing game considerably. The huge ships, by themselves, cost well over 100 fleet points. As such, the basic 100-point fleets go out the window for the epic-scale matches. Instead, 300 fleet-building points are recommended if any epic ships are in play. In addition, a larger play area is needed for most epic scenarios. If you bought a play mat for X-Wing, you might need to invest in a second mat as well (and they ain't cheap).

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A gamer's thoughts

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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