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The Slytherin Dungeons
Cody Lewis

Today I Played...

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This one requires brief backstory. Every single time that I played Splendor with my brother, he has won. He always brags that he is still undefeated in Splendor.

Yesterday, my mom invited me over to celebrate the 4th of July. She wanted to play mahjong, but only three people wanted to play and you need four. So, I suggested that we could play Splendor because you can play Splendor with three people. It was the least complicated of the board games that I brought with me. My mom isn't the most strategic person, but she picked up how to play Splendor in a few games. In fact, she won a game! Yes, that means my brother is no longer undefeated in Splendor! After dinner, we also got my dad to play. My mom won another game because I reserved the card that my brother was going after. For the next game, my brother switched seats with my dad so that I didn't go before him anymore. None of my strategies panned out, but it was a fun time. 

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Yesterday I went ten miles south to a park on the river for a picnic with some of my friends from trivia, where we could watch the fireworks in the evening.  But before the fireworks we had the chance to play three games!

 

First we played two rounds of Secret Hitler, a Mafia-esque game set in Weimar Republic-era Germany.  The objective for the majority of the players is to get enough "liberal" policies passed to maintain a liberal government... but a handful of players secretly are working to establish fascist policies and put the "Hitler" player in power instead!  Of course, the identity of the "Hitler" player is secret - so that player may try to advance liberal policies for a while to alleviate suspicion!  I enjoyed that game because of the pace and intrigue (though it's not fun when everyone keeps on voting "Nein!"/"No!" on the idea of you holding power ;))

Then we played two rounds of Codenames, exactly as it has been played on IRC except this time with physical cards.  The second round, I was my team's Spymaster... but sadly, without the stand for the card, I had initially thought the orientation for the card was 90 degrees different from what it actually was.  Fortunately, my opponent went first in giving clues, not me - allowing me to clue up the proper words when it got to my turn!  My team ended up winning, when we finally realized - on our second chance - that my clue for "gym" referred to "track" and "tag" (and thankfully not "nut", which was the insta-lose word).

Finally we played a round of 7 Wonders, which was the first time I played that game.  There were a few other new players as well, who essentially had their more experienced friends - nominally their opponents - moving for them!  I mostly caught on fairly quickly (though I actually avoided building any stage of the wonder) and had fun with one small exception... the game can really drag on when one or two players regularly take several minutes to choose which card to play!  And I finished right in the middle:  tied for 4th out of 7.

 

 

 

 

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I got to play Scythe for the first time last weekend. Even though it was designed by the same guy behind Viticulture (which is one of my favourite games), I’d been reluctant to give it a try due to the area control mechanic. Fortunately though, it’s a more minor mechanic (although this does depend on who you play with) — in the 2+ hours we played, I only clashed with an opponent 3 times. There was a lot of careful planning involved as each player had a predefined order of actions (you could choose your first action, but then you’d have to cycle through the remaining actions on your player board before you could take that action again). I didn’t optimise my turns early on, as I was still getting the hang of the game — but in spite of that, I was the first player to put down a star (you need 6 to win) and eventually ended up tying for second place.

We had 8 players so we were able to play several rounds of Captain Sonar. While it can be played at smaller player counts, it’s always best playing with the maximum player count as that way all the roles get filled and it makes for a much more interesting game.

We played Junk Art soon afterwards. It’s a fairly simple game at first glance, but the actual act of stacking the various pieces on top of each other without having the structure topple over can be a challenge. We had a lot of laughs throughout the game.

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I was able to attend a boardgames meetup while I was away and got to try out two new games.

We played Letters to Whitechapel, which I've always been curious about. While I'm not overly a fan of hidden movement games, it's refreshing to play them every now and then. It took us roughly 3 hours to play 3 (out of 4) rounds. There was a lot of debating in my group as to where each person should move next, as just about everyone had a different idea.

Just as the second round ended, by chance we discovered Jack's hideout was in a completely different direction to where we first thought. Most of our team were grouped around a particular area as we were all but convinced Jack's location was near there. The police chief of that round had instructed one of our team members to make their way in the opposite direction in preparation for the following round, and on her way there, she was able to find one of the spots where Jack had been. We were able to narrow down his location during the third round, but he was still able to slip past us.

He indicated that he'd be able to win the fourth round automatically, as his intended starting location for that round was only two spots away from his hideout, and none of us would be able to reach him in time. Overall it was an intriguing game. There were times towards the end especially, where I just wanted to get on with it, while the others were debating.

We ended off the evening with several rounds of Good Cop Bad Cop. It was a bluffing game with some elements of social deduction and hidden roles (although people's possible affiliation were revealed throughout the course of the game). What I really liked about this game is that everyone had an opportunity to influence the game through the use of equipment cards — rather than only the most vocal players. I'm considering trying to get hold of it as it could be a good fit for my regular boardgaming group (almost every week we play Secret Voldemort without fail — and occasionally Bang! The Dice Game too).

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I had the opportunity to play Azul recently, and it's easy to see why this game won the 2018 Spiel des Jahres (Game of the Year) award. I'd been wary of the game, because I'd often seen it compared to Sagrada, which is after Santorini, is my favourite abstract game. It took a while to get the hang of optimising one's moves to maximise scoring, but I really enjoyed it. Unlike Sagrada, Azul has more of a 'take that' mechanic, which I do tend to like when it doesn't form the basis of the game.

I also had the chance to play Hanabi. It's probably my favourite cooperative game to date as everyone works together, rather than only one person calling the shots and others going along with it. It was tense, but a lot of fun. We managed to get a score of 18, which meant we had an "excellent" fireworks display.

I've been curious about Hardback ever since I first heard about it (and its predecessor Paperback) as it's a word game combined with dec-building as well as push-your-luck elements. I tended to play rather cautiously, only drawing 1-3 extra cards on a turn whenever I had ink bottles to spend -- whereas someone else in our group would draw as many as 5 extra cards. In his case it really paid off as he won with roughly 30 points to spare. I really enjoyed it and I'm tempted to get a copy of it (in spite of already owning several deck-builders).

I played the 2016 version of Citadels for the first time. Back when I first joined this boardgames group, we played the original game quite often, so it was interesting to see how the two versions compared. While the core mechanics were the same, the roles were quite different. Unfortunately, my role got eliminated in the first round (thanks to the Assassin) and all my gold stolen in the second (thanks to the Spy) so I had a hard time catching up to everyone else, but I really enjoyed it.

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This past week, I've been playing Terraforming Mars. It's a game that gets a lot of play at our local game shop, so Scarlet and I finally gave it a try. After stumbling through that first game, I wasn't sure what to make of it. Scarlet, on the other hand, was sold, and ordered a copy right away.

After getting trounced in our first two 1v1's, Scarlet challenged me to play a solo game. I lost again! But in the process, I discovered 'Corporate Era', which I think makes things a little more challenging. We played again last night using 'Corporate Era', and I was finally able to win by accumulating 17 heat production, then using Insulation to convert all of it into money production. Scarlet had a pretty cool Energy engine going as well, and I think we both enjoy how much variety is available in the game in terms of strategy. Looking forward to it taking up our dining room table for the next few weeks or so!

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I've been pretty bad at writing "Today I Played"s, so here is a "Recently I Played!"

For my birthday, my siblings got me two board games. The first one is Azul, which has been on my radar for many months now (and not just because it is my favorite color in Spanish!). Luckily the price has dropped substantially since I first had my eye on it. As Amy mentioned, Azul won the 2018 Game of the Year award. Like other abstract games, Azul is easy to learn, set up, and play. The tiles are gorgeous. Even though the board is basically the same for every game, each game still feels entirely different and it can get rather competitive when you force your opponents to take tiles that are worth negative points.

Splendor gets to the table a lot now, especially since my mom convinced my dad to learn how to play. So, I also received the Cities of Splendor expansion. Cities of Splendor comes with components for four separate expansions to add more variation to the game. Cities replaces the noble tiles and now the game ends only after one of the city tiles is satisfied. Trading Posts speeds the game up by giving special bonuses. The Orient adds more cards to the mix. Strongholds allow players to claim cards by placing towers on them. I like that the expansions try to push you to go for some of the more expensive cards. We haven't played all of them enough yet for me to form full opinions about each expansion, but I have learned that I do much better in 2-player games than 4-player games.

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Today I played another round of Terraforming Mars with Scarlet and her brother. Starting as Phoblog, I was lucky enough to draw Security Fleet to start the second generation. Around mid-game, it became apparent that I wasn't going to make it to any Milestones, so I invested heavily into Awards. I bumped up to seven plant production heading into late game, and after connecting a trio of cities with greenery tiles, I was able to secure the victory!

After putting our game away, we played a new addition to our collection: Boss Monster. Scarletbro had played it before, so he explained it to us. The premise is that you're the final boss of a video game, and you're trying to build a dungeon that will attract different types of Heroes. You earn points if the Heroes are slain by your dungeon, but if they survive, you gain wounds. You have to find the right balance between attracting a lot of Heroes and making sure your dungeon's rooms are strong enough to wipe them out. Overall, a very fun game for how light it is.

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Although we have yet to play more games of the Clank! In! Space! expansion, Cody and I have decided to stay on Earth for now and try out the new Clank! Expeditions: Gold and Silk.

Today we entered the Spider Queen's Lair for the Silk Expedition. Some of the items required extra resources to acquire, since the castle's passageways and certain rooms are covered in cobwebs. Having a sword in hand was very important! The exceptionally skilled were able to take items straight from the Spider Queen's web.

Yesterday for the Gold Expedition, we ventured to a mine abandoned by the Ruin Dwarven Mining Company. Treasure was aplenty! The meeple that plundered the most was also the one that received the bonus for mining the most gold. 

We also added a few card games to our collection. I recently won my first games of Skip-Bo, a fairly easy game that involves getting rid of cards sequentially, and Boss Monster

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I played Hyperborea earlier today. It was my first time playing a "bag-builder". I liked that there were other mechanics such as area control/influence, but without it being the crux of the game. We played the 'short' version of the game, which lasted at least an hour or two with the full 6-player complement. Towards the end though, it felt like there wasn't enough time to properly implement the strategies one had been building up to. Overall, I enjoyed it and I would be keen to give it another go.

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Thanksgiving means family time... and board games! After a delicious meal, we played a few games of Azul including all of our first game on the side without the given pattern. It was a bit more challenging and amusing when people realize they messed up their tile patterns. Then, my sister wanted to play Boss Monster. It turned out to the the longest game of Boss Monster ever! We took over an hour to play a game that is only supposed to take 30 minutes. She took an early lead by attracting thieves to her dungeon. Cody's dungeon claimed the souls of clerics and I had a strong dungeon for defeating fighters. In the end, we couldn't compete with all the spell cards that my sister's fiance collected throughout the game.

The next day, my brother wanted to give Terraforming Mars another try. This time, everything worked out really well for him. He played as Saturn Systems and managed to get a lot of Jupiter cards. That never happens for me... It ended up being a game where we didn't have much on the map. There were only three cities and a handful of plants.

Some friends hosted a post-Thanksgiving hang out. It was a larger crowd, so we got to play party games. The first one was Exploding Kittens! Cody likes this game, probably because it plays a lot like Quodpot. Basically, everyone draws cards until they get knocked out of the game by an Exploding Kitten. There are other cards in the mix including Reverse, Skip, Draw from the Bottom, See the Future, Alter the Future, and general cat cards. Unlike most games of Quodpot, I made it almost to the end with a lucky hand of mainly Nope cards. I drew an extra Defuse card early in the game and stole two more from other players. We also played a couple rounds of Catch Phrase, which involved trying to get your team to guess the word or phrase on the device.

Currently on our table is 7 Wonders Duel with the Pantheon expansion. It has definitely added more to our favorite 2-player game. Deciding whether or not to activate a Pantheon card changes the flow of the game. The first two times that we played with the Pantheon, we didn't even get to finish the third age. Cody won our first game with a science victory with the aid of the Mesopotamian gods. The Roman god of war, Mars, helped me to a military victory our second game. Most of the games after that have been true battles, but I ironically do have to thank Hades for keeping me alive in one of them!

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I had the opportunity  to play Near and Far this morning. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect going in, and didn’t utilise my early moves as well as I could have, but in spite of that I really enjoyed it — and got narrowly edged out of first place. I liked the idea of going on an adventure, and a number of the mechanics supported this aspect, though I felt some were under-utilised.

The part I enjoyed most was going on quests, where scenarios would be read out, and you’d be able to choose between two possible responses and subsequently rolling a dice (and adding modifiers, if applicable) to meet that requirement. If you’re able to meet (and exceed) that requirement you’ll get a reward, or, in some cases, a setback. While my fellow players were gathering resources in town (effectively blocking those spots unless you opted to duel them), I took the opportunity to fight several threats (namely bandits initially), which went a long way in garnering victory points (although each threat is typically worth just a few VP, they add up quite quickly).

We ended up playing it over roughly two hours. I found it challenging trying to shore up resources, but in some respects, this got easier as you enlisted additional companions, though I did find myself needing to spending a significant number of turns in town. Movement was also tricky, as one tended to use up morale fairly quickly in setting down tents (to gain resources/VP among other benefits), modifying dice rolls and movement itself.

I probably do see myself playing the game again (and I’d also be curious to compare the prequel, Above and Below). I like that there’s several different modes of gameplay, which helps with replayability — though as much as the campaign mode intrigues me, I’m not sure others in my gaming group would be as keen to commit to as many games as that.

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I got to play Tiny Epic Empires (a civilization/empire themed reskin of Tiny Epic Galaxies) last night, and really enjoyed it. One thing I liked about the game was that there were multiple ways of earning. The other 3 players were able to upgrade their empires early on, whereas I lagged behind (by game end I was sitting at level 3 and the others were somewhere between 4 and 6). This was largely due to opting to traverse otherwise unoccupied maps (planets in the original) so as not to compete for acquiring them (as my secret mission was to have the most maps by the end of the game). The downside of this was that I hadn't paid attention to the resource type initially, so I was unable to shore up enough Influence (or Culture) to follow others' dice rolls during their turn. However, focusing on acquiring the maps paid off in the end, as I was able to use some neat abilities (each map/planet has a different one, which all players can 'freely' use prior to acquisition; thereafter only that player can use it) and garner enough points to snag a victory. Tiny Epic Galaxies also has a solo mode, which I'm curious to try out. Something I really like about the titles in the Tiny Epic range is that they take up little storage space but still make for an engaging game.

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Last month, I purchased The Castles of Burgundy when the price dropped during one of the many holiday sales. Each player gets to perform two actions based on their dice rolls, ultimately trying to get the most points through tile placements and selling goods. I like most games that involve dice and there are many different ways to earn points. The maps aren't all the same, so some games aren't as balanced as others. Overall, I've enjoyed it. 

My youngest brother backed a Kickstarter card game of a video game that he plays - The Binding of Isaac. The card game is called The Binding of Isaac: Four Souls. The goal is to be the first player to collect four souls. Most souls were found on the Monster Cards. Successful dice rolls were required to defeat monsters, but everyone died a lot. We played a game with six people and it took very long. I ended up with three souls, but my other brother won by defeating Satan.

My sister got me two of the Terraforming Mars expansions for Secret Santa. The Prelude expansion basically gives players production and resources at the beginning of the game. Rather than starting with nothing, each player gets to pick two out of four Prelude cards. For my first Prelude game, I chose all the cards that allowed me to gain as many cards as possible. I got the Planner milestone for the first time, but didn't plan so well for the rest of the game. The Colonies expansion allows players to build colonies on various moons. It is also possible to trade with the colonies by sending trade fleets. The colonies added another potential action, which was interesting. Several of the Colonies cards had "floaters" that were introduced in the Venus Next expansion. In a Terraforming Mars game with both the Prelude and Colonies expansions, my brother and I ended up with the same TR. But he won the tiebreaker by having 3 more credits than me :(

I also received Codenames Duet. The rules are the same as regular Codenames, where each person gives one word clues. This version is cooperative and all players are working together to find 15 agents within a set number of turns. It's fun, but can be rather challenging to connect the words.

To pass the time on New Year's Eve, I played Splendor with my siblings. (Cody got to try Mario Kart on the Nintendo Switch my nephews brought over.) I have one brother who never really wants to play board games with us, but he dominated that game of Splendor.

We welcomed the new year with a classic - The Settlers of Catan! We played the six player expansion, which allows a Special Building Phase between each turn. I was doing pretty well and got to eight points thanks to my sheep port, but we all lost to the same brother who won Splendor.  

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Yesterday, I went to my friend's housewarming party. She requested that I bring Dice Forge, which we played together once at my parents' house. As the host, she didn't get to sit down and play the entire game, but she did play a round for someone.

It was an interesting experience for me to teach Dice Forge to people with varying interest in board games. One guy saw the box and asked us to find him when we started playing. He had been researching the game and was debating if he wanted to get it. Dice Forge has many components - cards and dice pieces - so it looks overwhelming as you set it up. Luckily, there aren't too many rules and everyone seemed to get the hang of it after the first of nine rounds.

I ended up in second place, behind a former volleyball teammate who was skeptical about playing at first. He said he usually doesn't like games that involve luck. But, when you win any game, you're bound to like it, right? Overall, a positive reception and I discovered some other board game fans!

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