Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Captain Sonar

Captain Sonar is, ideally, an 8-player realtime board game where two teams of four take command of a submarine each and try to blow the other team out of the water. The four crew of each submarine are:

The Captain, who calls out directional orders for her boat and watches in dispair as her and her crew spiral into an inescapable, crushing darkness.

The Radio Operator, who listens to the increasingly uncertain commands of the enemy captain and attempts to discover the location of the opposing vessel, mostly through a haze of frustrated head-scratching and sudden clarity, akin to solving a 1,000 piece jigsaw puzzle.

The First Mate, who is tasked with making ready the various systems on the submersible, and then politely informing the captain she can't use them because everything is broken and/or on fire.

The Engineer, who breaks things constantly, much like some sort of traitorous gremlin.

By working as a team, or at least a horribly faded facsimile of one, you hope to inflict four points of damage to the enemy first, crushing them within their steel sarcophagus under tonnes of seawater.

Played in realtime with a full player count, Captain Sonar, by Matagot, runs at about 30 minutes, the first 25 of which see both teams travelling the frigid depths, oblivious to their opponents true location, before ending in a burst of adrenaline and excitement as everything suddenly clicks into place on both sides of the table. It is crazy, chaotic, frustrating and utterly, absolutely, insanely genius.

The first time I played Captain Sonar was with six players, one of whom was probably too young for the game. This resulted in a 3 versus 2.5[1] player game. It ran longer than hoped, mostly because I was teaching and learning how best to teach it along the way. The second and third had eight players, but also ran well over 30 minutes each, for a few reasons, none of which were the games fault[2].

Games four through nine however were much more how I imagined the game would play from reviews I had seen. Games four, five and six were all fast, frantic and unbelievably hilarious, with everyone howling with laugher whether they were on the winning boat or not. This, despite those games being played in a noisy convention hall among 200-odd other gamers. Games seven, eight and nine were equally fast, in a room with just the eight players present, but ended with some tension, not due to the game, but to the mix of personalities present.

Captain Sonar is a fun party game and should absolutely be treated like that. Don't over-think actions, or get annoyed when someone on the other team makes a mistake. Laugh and congratulate your opponents, win or lose, and then challenge them to a rematch. Don't worry if you're feeling lost in your first game at the start. You're supposed to feel like that. Trust me, the other team feels the same way.

If there is a fatal flaw to Captain Sonar it is the player count. Dispite the box proclaiming it to be for 2-8 players, you really do need eight players to have the most fun[3], which is fine as long as you treat it like a party game, only played when you have lots of people around. And play it in realtime. There is a turn-based varient, but use that to run through a few sample rounds before pushing into realtime as soon as possible.

The artwork is beautiful where there is artwork, the roles are hilarious, the player interaction is chaotic and the game has become a huge favourite in my collection, after a short rocky start almost beached it. I've only owned it since Christmas, and with nine games played already, I don't have any other game that I've played that much in that short a time since, probably BattleStar Galactica The Board Game was released. And if that isn't a huge endosement, I don't know what is!!

Amazing YouTube board game review (mostly) channel No Time For Games has a wonderful short on Captain Sonar. Watch it below, then go and watch everything he's made (there's not that many and they're all short[4]) and then subscribe, because this guy deserves more fans.

[1] Maybe even 3vrs2, because one of the players on that team was splitting his time between his own station and watching and correcting her station, diminishing his role effectiveness in the process too.
[2] Missed rules and language barriers mostly, though also hard-core gamers over thinking things a bit.
[3] I weep at the thought of playing it as a 2-player game.
[4] I highly recommend his Inis video.

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Board Game Review Master List


Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Pack It Up

I put together a video of me packing my shiny new Game Canopy with some of my favourite games! The orginal version had a piano cover of a licensed track, but this one has license-free music thanks to

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The Game Canopy
ChromaCast Cajon Bag
Battle Of The Board Game Bags

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Battle Of The Board Game Bags

I now own both an expensive and cheap option for carrying my board games. I've seen lots of people online asking about if it's worth spending the money on an expensive bag, or is the cheap option just as good. Let's compare them both.

The Game Canopy is designed from the start to carry the weight of several games at once. It is stitched with that purpose in mind, as the handle straps are actually one long piece, going all the way around the base of the bag, stitched in several places, distributing the load across the whole length. The ChromaCast bag is designed to carry a cajon, a square drum that is much lighter than a stack of board games. It is lightly stitched, with the top handles are only stitched to the top of the bag. Because of this, although the capacity of the ChromaCast bag is greater than that of the Canopy, the Canopy has a higher carry load limit. My ChromaCast has already ripped where the handle meets the bag, even though I avoid filling it fully.

There are two stitched on thin shoulder straps on the ChromaCast, with a very minimal rubber pad on each or your shoulders that effectively does nothing while carrying games in my experience. If they were replaceable, I'd invest in better ones seperately, but they're not. This is a pity, as, given the weakness in the top handles, this is how I mainly use the bag. The shoulder strap for the Canopy is high quality, with a thick shoulder pad that includes a nice light rubbery underside to stop it slipping. It's great, with one catch. It doesn't come included with the bag, but is an additional purchase. Still, it's strong, has really nice clips and looks great.

The materials on the main bag bodies are very different as well. The Game Canopy is made of a much higher quality material, both inside and out. The exterior is a lovely dense weave fabric with a pleasing shine, and the interior is durable but soft, protecting those precious game boxes. The ChromaCast has a lighter fabric on the outside and a very light fabric on the inside. It's not terrible by any means, but certainly cheaper looking and feeling, plus, I'm wary of it rubbing against the game boxes, especially as the fit isn't quite as snug as the Canopy.

Which brings me to padding. The ChromaCast is padded to hold a cajon, so it has nice padding around the sides, and even on the top and base. The main difference is that, while appearing to be roughly the same thickness as the padding in the ChromaCast, the Canopy padding is a more rigid material, holding the bags shape even when empty. Also, the Canopy has a protective flap of padding inside the zip to prevent the zip from making contact with the boxes.

The Canopy is fit to hold standard sized game boxes snuggly, with no room to shift around and rub against anything. The ChromaCast is just a fraction bigger in width and depth, allows boxs to slide inside just a bit. I avoid this by including play mats on the side to fill out that gap. The Canopy can hold five game boxes, while the ChromaCast holds about seven, though, as mentioned above, I don't advise filling it.

Finally, the Canopy includes four D-rings and a pocket front and back, perfect for clipping a water bottle too, or storing small snacks. The pockets are big enough to hold small card games to help get your game evening rolling, though they don't have a cover, so be aware of the weather outside. There is a full rain cover available for the Canopy that covers everything, which I got because I live in Vancouver. The ChromaCast has no extra features. I guess cajon players don't need snacks. Or a quick round of Rhino Hero before the gig.

It's obvious that the Game Canopy is a far superior product, but that was never going to be the take away here. It costs six to seven times that of the ChromaCast cajon bag. Of course it's better. That doesn't mean the ChromaCast is bad. In fact, I really like it. It's certainly a fine alternative as long as you keep a few things in mind, namely not to over load it and maybe consider getting a trolly to move it instead of carrying it.

But, the Game Canopy is gorgeous. I'm delighted I got it, and am perfectly happy to have paid so much for the final product. It's going to be joining me to all my board game meet ups and conventions for many years to come.

So what would I recommend? I can't easily answer that. If you can afford the Game Canopy and even think it might be, possibly, maybe worth it for what you need, then get it. It absolutely is what you need. It's every bit as amazing as it looks. But if you just want something cheap and functional, the ChromaCast cajon bag is perfectly adequate. It's not going to set your world on fire, but it's better than plastic grocery bags!!

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The Game Canopy
ChromaCast Cajon Bag

Rogue One Ada Zero

Last night we watched Rogue One at our place. I hadn't seen it since the cinema, and Claire had never seen it. I liked as much as I did the first time, and while it's not perfect, it's still pretty amazing. At least it's better than the remake of A New Hope they put out under the title The Force Awakens. I love Baze and Chirrut, and K-2SO is a solid addition to the droids.

Rogue One also became the first Star Wars movie Ada has experienced, at least in part. She was awake when it started, and excited to see the spaceships and stars. But she fell asleep about half an hour in and I put her to bed.

I can't wait to show her A New Hope. She already recognises a lightsaber thanks to a story book she has about Return of the Jedi. It brought me no end of joy when, while in a toy store recently, she spontaneously picked up a lightsaber, held it to me, and said "whoom-whoom".

She'll make a great role-playing, board game loving, sci fi nerd.


ChromaCast Cajon Bag

I've always wanted a good carry solution for my board games when I bring them to friends game nights or meet ups,m which is why I backed the Game Canopy on Kickstarter. But as with any Kickstarter, I had a long wait ahead of me, and several events before then.

I started to hear about alternatives to expensive custom carry cases on the BoardGameGeek forums, and one in particular was mentioned again and again.

Cajons are cuboid shaped drums played usually by sitting on it and slapping the face with your hands. But the important thing about them is that the carry cases are them also cuboid, with some padding, and, roughly speaking, about the same base dimensions as a board game box. According to the folks at the BGG forums, ChromaCast made a good one that was fit for purpose, and only cost around $25.

At that price, it was worth the risk.

My ChromaCast cajon bag can hold six to seven board game boxes stacked one on top of the other, as long as we're not talking the oversized ones. Even then, there's a little breathing room on the sides for a hardback RPG book or small card games. It has light paddding all around, and a big, chunky plastic zip running down each side that opens the entire front panel, giving easy access to remove any of the games within, which is very nice. It also has a flap on the front top that covers the gap at the top where therre isn't any zipper, protecting the contents from the rain.

The fabric is apparently water resistant, though I doubt it's to any great degree, but it's a fair sight beter than an Ikea bag would do, or, apparently, my backpack, which has failed me once too often. The interior fabric is rough and I wouldn't want to have my games sliding around in it too much, as I could easily see it rubbing off corners and edges. That's why when I've used it to date I've packed it on the sides with either some light cloths or one or two play mats.

The stitching around the outside isn't designed to stand up to the weight of a full load of games either. The top handle is only stitched to the upper seams, and the shoulder straps, while slightly better, are still very lightweight. I used my bag to carry games to a few meet ups and Terminal City Tabletop Convention, and it's already ripping at the top.

One solution I've been using is not over filling the bag. Instead of packing the seven games it could hold, I only pack four, filling the rest of the space with a large felt I can use on the table we're playing at, as well as some small, light card games. Even then, I'd only carry lighter boxes in it, so no Cosmic Encounter. Another option is to invest in one of those small shopping trollys you often see the elderly employ. Attach the bag to that and wheel it around, rather than carrying it.

It's clear that others have been using this bag and enjoying it for board game travels. The Amazon reviews are all 4 or 5-stars, with hilarious comments like "Cajon owners beware, the board gamers have found your Cajon bags, and we love them", and "I bought this for my husband who is a HUGE gamer".

Mainly because of it's price, I'm hesitant to dismiss the cajon bag as a possibility if you're looking for something to carry your games in. As long as you're aware of the caveats and willing to be careful with it, you really can't go wrong for $25. It is functional, it will somewhat protect your games, and it does turn heads when you unzip the front panel and reveal a broad selection of games instantly accessible for play.

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The Game Canopy
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Battle Of The Board Game Bags, comparing the Canopy to the ChromaCast

Point Five Kay

This is it!! A new milestone! One I did not expect to ever reach at several points in the lifetime of this blog.

My 500th post!

I often start things, get excited about them and then forget about them just as quickly. I had hoped that this blog would break that mold, and while I've gone radio-silent a few times, my desire to post random stuff is still strong today.

I started this almost eleven years ago, on May 2nd, 2006! I can't believe it's been that long. Since then, I've gotten married, moved to Canada and become a father, and parts of all those years have been documented herein. Though a lot of a lot of 2014 and 2016 have been lost ot history, with only 11 and 9 posts respectively those years.

Let's not waste any more time and push on to 1,000!

Post Script: I actually had to cheat a little to get this post to fall on the 500th upload. Last night I posted the reviews of the Game Canopy and cajon bags, and the cajon post became my 500th. I'm going to alter the publication date on that post to move it after this one, rewriting history in real time!


The Game Canopy

I don't drink, smoke or do drugs, nor have I in recent years been spending money on addictions I used to have, like comics, action figures or video games. These days, and for some time now, board games have been my one vice, the one thing I impulsively spend money on, either in my friendly local gaming stores or online, especially at Kickstarter.

I'm proud of my collection, and enjoy sharing it with others, both long time friends and new. But carrying games safely has been an issue for gamers like me for years. We use Ikea bags, backpacks or, in a pinch, light plastic shopping bags, risking rain and crush damage, or the corners getting rubbed away on rough surfaces, all of which have happened to games I own at least once. In fact, just last month I brought Captain Sonar to a friends place, safely tucked into my backpack, only to arrive at gaming and have to wipe off the rain that got though the fabric.

I do live in Vancouver after all. It's a temperate rainforest. It rains.

A lot.

Which is why, despite the perceived high cost, more-so after including shipping and taxes, I was willing to back the Game Canopy from Level 3B when it appeared on Kickstarter back on April 24th, 2016, almost a year ago now. I was there when the campaign went live and one of the first backers, number 191 out of a final total of 1,753. This isn't even my first time talking about the Game Canopy on my blog.

After what felt like much longer than a year of waiting, I have my new game transport system in my hand. A year of waiting, anticipating, reading updates, following progress, getting increasingly more excited about how good it could be. That's Kickstarter's biggest flaw. No matter how good the final product is, it's almost impossible to live up to the imaginary possibilities that lengthy waiting conjures up.

Except, the Game Canopy is that good.

Padded on all sides, including base and top, the Game Canopy is custom built to protect your games in best possible way. Level 3B thought of everything. There is even padding inside to cover the zip so that it can't rub against its precious cargo. The top carry handles are stitched all the way around the bag to prevent the load from pulling on one seam, with D-rings on all corners front and back giving you plenty of options for how you'd like to attach the shoulder strap, which itself is the nicest shoulder strap I own, thick padded with a grippy material underneath.

The Game Canopy can comfortably fit five "standard" sized board game boxes laying flat, one on top the other. You know, the Ticket to Ride, Mysterium, Cosmic Encounter square box. Of course how many you can fit and how many you can carry can be vastly different numbers. My Cosmic Encounter box includes all the expansions to date and is a hefty load by itself. Change the orientation a bit and the Game Canopy is tall enough to handle Inis, Tales of the Arabian Nights, Pandemic Legacy Season 1 and Legendary Encounters. Side by side. Together. Not that I'd advise carrying those four games together. I have no doubt the Canopy could handle it. I just doubt you or I could. That's a lot of compressed dead tree matter.

And it looks great doing all this. I chose the charcoal base with mandarin trim (read: grey with orange edges), and it's exactly as the promotional photographs indicated. My own photography doesn't do it justice in the visual appeal. I love how clean, crisp and professional it looks, while also being fun and bright. Board gaming isn't just a hobby for recluse stereotypical nerds, and the Game Canopy is easily a carry bag I'm going to be proud to carry around the city to events and display. It's just so gorgeous!

All in all, the Game Canopy is everything I could have hoped for. I'm really excited to take it out to my next game night at the end of the month. I can tell this is the start of a beautiful relationship. Just me and my Game Canopy and Captain Sonar and Mysterium and Takenoko and Santorini and Battlestar Galactica and...

Addendum: While writing this and testing out some game combinations for the photographs I learned my two year old can open and close the zip, and really enjoys playing with my Canopy. A great start for my future gamer.

ChromaCast Cajon Bag
Board Game Review Master List
Battle Of The Board Game Bags, comparing the Canopy to the ChromaCast