Monday, April 25, 2016

I <3 2P

A good two player game pits you against an opponent in a battle of cunning and wits. A great two player game is one I can grasp in a few minutes, and feel competent at after a game or two. So that's chess right out then.

Starting out at the top, Quoridor is my all-time favourite two player game, and easily one of my top board games ever. I've played it with other hard core gamers, and six year olds, and it's great every time. That's not because there's a high element of randomness or something. In fact, it's pure strategy, with zero randomness. Instead, it's so simple to teach and learn, anyone can play. I find that older gamers will over think a series of turns, planning well ahead, while younger gamers just spot the weak link and destroy all those plans. At least, that's what happens to me.

Quoridor is played on a 9x9 grid. Players have to get from the their side of the board to the opponents, either moving one space, or placing one of their ten wall pieces anywhere on the board. You can never corner in your opponent, so the trick is to make their journey to your side longer than your journey to theirs. It's wonderfully simple, elegant and fun. I highly, highly recommended trying it. Gigamic publishes a beautiful wooden edition of the game that might seem a bit pricey, but based on play value, it's worth every cent.

There is a four player varient for Quoridor, which I didn't like for the longest time. But playing it with the school age kids I work with, I saw the value in it as well. It's a completely different strategy, and fun in it's own right, but I still mostly love this game for the one-on-one version.

I picked up RESISTOR_ from Cardboard Fortress through Kickstarter based entirely on the visual design. Luckily, it plays as wonderfully as it looks. RESISTOR_ is about two Cold War supercomputers battling each other, atempting to lull the opposition into a false sense of security, dropping its DEFCON level before launching a nuclear attack without the chance of retaliation. The game is played with cards lined up, each one looking like a big microchip. You have to connect to the opponents computer to drop its security level, which dealing with resistor chips that dramatically reduce the playing field. It's a crazy fast, fun, and funny game, that is easy to play and beautifully presented.

Kickstarter is a godsend for two player games, it seems. I guess big publishers are hesitant to finance games that are restricted to such a small number of players. I've been told that even games designed for four players see pressure to expand to six players for retail. But thanks to Kickstarter, I have two more two-player games coming to me, hopefully by the end of the year, if things go according to plan.

Santorini is a stunningly beautiful game that has been under development since 1986 by designer and mathematician Dr. Gordon Hamilton. This is merely the most recent edition, and looks stunning, adding in a whole bunch of new player powers and a few new elements thanks to the massive success of the Kickstarter campaign. The game is a two player abstract strategy game, building the town of Santorini and trying to reach the top of a tower while blocking your opponent from doing the same.

I can't wait to get my hands on this game. The rules are all online, and it would be easy to replicate with Lego, blocks or other components, so hopefully I can play it before this beautiful edition arrives. It's still available to back on Kickstarter for a few more days if you're interested.

Also on Kickstarter right now, but with more time left on the clock at time of writing is Tak, a game from James Ernest and Cheapass Games, based on a game described in the fantasy novel series, The Kingkiller Chronicles, written by Patrick Rothfuss. In Tak, you place pieces on a square gridded board, attempting to build a continuous, straight road from one side of the board to the other. It looks lovely, with wooden components and the promise of a wooden board coming soon as part of a stretch goal add-on, which I will definitely be getting.

I haven't even mentioned Patchwork here, which I have but haven't gotten to play yet. Do you have any two player games you enjoy? I'd love to hear about them! Let me know in the comments to this post.

Early Bird Gets The Worm

I've backed a lot of Kickstarters in my day, though I haven't ran any, so take this post with a huge pinch of salt and with the understanding that this all comes from one point of view.

There are a lot of ways to get your product moving on Kickstarter. Interesting Stretch goals are the obvious main feature, slowly unlocking new features or improved components over the course of the campaign as more and more funding is achieved. I also like something that I saw Evil Hat Productions[1] do first, unlocking additional content based on number of Backers, rather than funding. This nicely encouraged people to share and promote the campaign to friends, spreading the footprint wider.

But some Kickstarters use Early Bird offers to encourage people to back their product early, and I have an issue with this. A Kickstarter is a marathon, not a sprint. They last four weeks, or more in some cases, Bu Early Bird offers rarely last past the first day, if not the first few minutes. The Game Canopy campaign had two Early Bird levels, a regular one and a Super Early Bird level. Both were gone within the first 10 seconds. I know. I was there.

Ultimately, Early Bird offers are supposed to reward supporters that have been following the creator since before the Kickstarter, but they're usually restricted to an extremely limited number, as they are often zero profit, or even loss-taking pledge levels. This results in a mad dash to grab them by a much larger number of Backers, resulting in a lottery system based on luck, connectivity, and even proximity to the Kickstarter servers. This incentive harms more supporters than it rewards, and leaves a lot of people with a bad taste in their mouth toward the campaign.

A way around this is to have a timed Early Bird offer, a cheaper than normal level only available for the first 24 hours, or something similar. This is better, but still leaves people who stumble on to your campaign at a later date cold, knowing they're paying more for the same product than those in-the-know. You could argue that this is to reward long-time supporters who will know about your camping before it starts, but the flip side is that Kickstarter is designed to bring in new supporters, to broaden your reach into new communities, and seeing a closed off early, cheap pledge level can turn away potential new Backers.

As a regular Kickstarter supporter, I'd advise any campaign to avoid any form of special discount that is only available to people who find your campaign early. Focus on unlockables that are available to all, either as automatically included upgrades or add-ons. Aim to spread knowledge of your campaign, treating Backers who find you in the last hour as just as valuable to your success as those who have been supporting you for years.

Because a lot of them will be there to support you the next time.

[1]- Evil Hat are currently running their own newest Kickstarter, The Dresden Files Cooperative Card Game. Well worth checking out, it's a fast, fun game based in the universe of wizard Private Investigator Harry Dresden.

Board Game Carry Solution

I love board games, that much is obvious. I also love sharing my board games, and teaching folks my favourite games. I love broadening my hobby by introducing people to this amazing social activity. But transporting my games to local conventions has always been an issue.

In the past, I've employed IKEA reusable bags and other tote bags, as well as my backpack, like so many other gamers through the years. However, it rains a lot in Vancouver during certain times of the year, and this has caused issues. I've damaged more than one game box from having it out in the rain, even while it was in my backpack. I can sometimes plan ahead and wrap them in a plastic bag first, but all that is just awkward and messy.

Which was why I got so excited when I saw the Game Canopy from Level 3B on Watch It Played. It looked ideal for my needs. Sealed, safe, and water resistant, and it holds the boxes flat! No more opening up a game to teach and spending the first ten minutes sorting out a pile of cards and tokens that got knocked loose in the box.

I followed Level 3B on Twitter and via mailing list, and anxiously awaited the start of the Kickstarter. I was there the second it went live, and grabbed the Adventurer Level, which includes the Game Canopy, the shoulder strap and the all important rain cover. It's more expensive than a duffle bag, but far safer for my games. It also looks amazing! Like any hobby that isn't a sport, board gaming regularly gets dismissed as a childish, or geeky pastime, so I love having accessories like the Game Canopy that just elevates our hobby to a new level, showing it off in a professional, smart light.

The Kickstarter has only just begun and is already a huge success. It's got over 1,000 Backers, and is about to break $150k in funding at time of writing. There are some odd features of the campaign that I hope get fixed soon. The reward levels are fixed, trying to cover ass many bases as possible with different levels, but still don't suit everyone's needs. The Level 3B team seem hesitant to allow add-ons of the Canopy bag or the smaller Vanguard to pledges, and I noticed that this has resulted in some pledge levels seeing vastly more popular than others. The worst is Game Knight Lite, with no Backers at all. Allowing add-ons would have avoided this, having less Reward Levels, but ultimately more options for Backers. I'm happy with the my level, but would definitely consider adding a Vanguard as well if it was an option. There is one with everything I have, plus a Vanguard and a second shoulder strap, but I really don't want the second strap.

The only other issue I have is that the delivery date is in the far distant future of April 2017. I'd love to have it for Terminal City Tabletop Convention 2017 in March.

It's going to be a long wait.