Tuesday, September 10, 2019

How to run an Awesome KKCon 2019

Thanks everyone again for an awesome KKCon! I had a fantastic time, and it really gives me and Cynthia a buzz to see so many people playing games and having a great time! One might ask ‘how do you run an awesome KKCon?’. Well, I’m glad you asked, pseudo-person who sounds just like that voice in my head! Here are the fool-proof steps for doing just that!

1. Have keen friends who turn up early and leave late! 

I used to worry about starting KKCon too early, but I’ve figured out now that some people turn up early and leave early, and some people turn up late and leave late. And then there’s these guys who turn up early AND leave late. So kudos to Steve, Ben and Joe!

2. Have a trustworthy Raffle Guy! 

This year, I left the running of the raffle to a trustworthy Raffle Guy! Evan collected the funds, prepared tickets, ignored bribes and was generally the best Raffle Guy I’ve ever coerced into the job! Well done, boy!

3. Have a Looping Louie “Doubles” Tournament! 

This was the highlight of the day for me! Looping Louie “Doubles” was an idea which came up a couple of years ago, and I wasn’t sure how well it would work. Needless to say, it was AMAZING! I had such a buzz from seeing everyone really getting into the tournament. Congratulations to Evan and Jonathan who won the tournament this year! That “back-slash” move that they came up with is truly fearsome! And thanks to my beautiful Jojo who organised the matches! Great work, girl!

4. Have an awesome game-themed cake!

The cake this year was based off “Marrakech”, which is a board game about earning money by building carpets. It starts off docile enough, but by the last few turns, it becomes a pretty cut-throat affair as players lay down their carpets to cover up other carpets. I must say that this is the only game I know that uses bits of felt carpets as a game mechanic - and it works!

As mentioned during my speech, the game has some special significance to Cynthia and me. Early in the year, Cynthia had a rough start with her vision impairment, and for a couple of months, we didn’t feel like playing any games. But after her eyesight recovered well enough to recognise colours, I picked up this colourful game as this first game to play!

5. Have a Cheese & Bacon Cob. Made by Maureen!

This is essential. Apparently, a portion of attendees were there strictly for Maureen’s Party Cob, which was (as expected) made to perfection! Thanks Maureen for preparing not one, but two cobs for the con!

6. Have a good cause to donate Raffle money to! 

Contrary to popular belief, the money raised in the KKCon raffle does not go to the ‘KK Board Game Fund’! We’ve been supporting 'Restore India' for years, and this year, we were pleased to tell them that we raised $871.05! I believe this beats last year ($800), so many thanks to everyone’s generosity!

7. Have a cool Fridge Magnet Gift! 

This year’s door gift is based off Blokus, which seems to be a big hit amongst the board gamers at work. So much so that it apparently takes about 45 mins to play now because everyone is busy calculating and re-calculating their best moves. Fast to learn, slow to master - and there seems to be more masters of this game at work nowadays!

8. Invite lots and lots of awesome attendees! 

Surely it makes sense that if a gaming con is only as great as its attendees, then an AWESOME gaming con must have AWESOME attendees! Thank you all for being awesome attendees to KKCon this year!

See all photos of KKCon 2019 here.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Gamer kids these days (Jan-Feb 2018)

Jojo (aged 13) and Evan (aged 11) give their personal comments about the games they’ve been playing these days:

1. Codenames: Duet

Jojo: “Well, it’s a change from the original Codenames. I prefer the original one. I find this a bit harder when you’re playing in teams because sometimes you’re all not on the same page, and then you overthink it. Evan and I were on one team, while Mum and Dad were on the other team. I found it harder to decide what clues to give to the other team because you need to discuss it with your teammate. And the scoring and timer is more complicated than the usual one. I love the new artwork though! Was it fun? Well, the original Codenames was competitive, and I found that more fun compared to this one.”

Evan: “Where’s the gloating!? In this game, you can’t say to the other team, “In your FACE!” when you win! And it was FUNNY when the other team gets it wrong! That was missing from this game!” 

2. Betrayal at the House on the Hill 

Jojo: “I learnt something interesting with this game. Mummy says she doesn’t like this game when she first played it a long time ago - but I think that was because she played it with the wrong people! So far, we’ve played this twice, and I really enjoyed it, probably because I played it with the right people, like Dad and Evan. This game is partly like a role-playing game - you don’t know what is going to happen next because there are so many different possible outcomes. I wouldn’t have picked it off the shelf myself, mainly because I don’t like horror, gore, etc, but although this game is based off all that, I still had fun playing it! I think it puts scary things into a funny perspective! Nobody is striving to win or planning every single move - we’re just messing around to see what happens next. So yes, I found it fun and entertaining, and I want to play it again - I can even name some of my friends who would have a great time playing this!”

Evan: “I love this game! Especially when you can build the house to look real weird, like with a very long Upper Floor that protrudes over the Front Entrance! Love the different Haunts - we got the Mummy and the Cannibals. I really wanted to be the Traitor, and every time someone gets an Omen, we’d all cheer and hope for the Haunt to start! With Jo and me, it’s guaranteed fun as we make a lot of jokes while playing. I even found ways to mess with the Mystic Elevator - I wanted to use it to strand Dad in the basement! I think this game is really fun with friends who make fun of stuff!” 

3. Clank!

Jojo: “I like all the cool cards, and the wonderful artwork. Usually in a game where you have a limited amount of time, I tend to stress out a bit more, but in this one - it was more fun than expected! I like replenishing the Dungeon Row, and reading the new cards to see what cool things they do. I never felt that I was in a situation where I had nothing to do.”

Evan: “I like stealing the first Artifact I can get to, and then getting out ASAP. This reminds me of a video-game “Bonanza Bros” where you steal stuff and get out. And I like it that after you get out, you go party on the roof which triggers more dragon attacks! It’s all about the bragging rights, y’all!”

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Travels, Games and Airport Security. Or how many games can you stuff into a Codenames box?


I’m going through the X-ray check-point just before the boarding gate when I hear the dreaded words that no passenger wants to hear.

“Excuse me, is this your backpack? Could you please step aside?”

“Sure, mate.” Okay, just smile and keep casual while frantically running through the mental inventory of what I packed into there. Oh God, I did not put the nail-clippers in there, did I? That’s an embarrassing rookie air-traveller mistake.

“Something came up in the X-ray,” explains the officer with my backpack. “Let me just have a look through, okay?” He’s nicer than most airport security personnel I’ve met so far. In fact, this whole country is filled with the nicest people in the world, almost as if the colonial powers back in the day had migrated all the nice people here and left all the grumpy ones back in the old country.

After a brief rummage (which fortunately was nail-clipper-less), he finally pulls out a box. “Can I open this?” he asks.

I stare at it. “Sure thing.” It’s Codenames. Why on earth would Codenames set off the X-ray machine?

Okay, well, yeah. There’s more than just Codenames in that box.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Who are 'we' in 'Games We Play'?

First blog post for 2018, and I realise that we haven't updated (or created!) our profiles on our blog. So I decide to rectify this, and go round up the various members of the family today to interview them one at a time. Turned out to be an interesting exercise, with me asking gaming-related questions and typing furiously into the laptop while the family member drawled on about games they love to play.

Saturday, December 2, 2017

How I learned to stop worrying and love Cities of Splendor

Introduction (or “The expansions were free. But they came with this $50 Start Player token.”)

PAX AUS 2017. Hundreds of gamers crowding around the generously-spaced TableTop area, and I’m number twenty in a queue at one of the game stall cashiers when I spot a copy of Cities of Splendor on a shelf. I pull it out and glimpse at the price. $50.

I’ve read the first impressions and reviews of Cities of Splendor on BGG, so I knew what I was in for. Four expansions and a whole lot of air in a box. Oh, and a Start Player token. I liked Splendor, and it still comes out on some game nights as a quick starter or wind-down game, which is a lot more than I can say for many other games in the collection. Out of these four expansions, I was really only interested in one - the Orient expansion which introduces those Cool Red cards with Awesome Effects.

“Honestly,” I reason to myself. “$50 means that this is a box containing expansions worth $12.50 each. If I saw the “Orient” expansion by itself priced at $12.50, I’d snap it up and be happy about it. And if I saw the other expansions alongside it, I *might* pick them up based on collector’s instinct and poor impulse control.” And so, twenty transactions later, I am the owner of one expansion that I really wanted, and three other expansions that sort of came along with it like socially-awkward in-laws you hope to only see on infrequent special occasions.

At home, I open the box and read the rules. First snag. It’s recommended that only one expansion should be played with the base game. What, I can’t mix them all in? Do they not play well together like my kids after chocolate cake? I decide to reserve my judgement until I’ve played through all the expansions.

The Orient Expansion (or the one with Cool Red Cards with Awesome Effects)

Need I say anything about this expansion that hasn’t already been said by other reviews? This expansion is awesome because its cards are awesome. Like, take a look at this one:

So you build this card, and claim another card. Two cards for the price of one! And if you plan it right, you can build a Level 3 Red card to claim a Level 2 Red card to claim a Level 1 card. THREE cards in a single turn! Incredible! It’s stupendous! It’s a Willy Wonka fizz-bang action-chaining special!

Or how about this one?

Build this card, and BAM! Reserve a Noble Tile. Like the one Fred across the table was working all game to get. Sorry, Fred, King Henry here might have been interested in some of your bling, but it looks like he’s been convinced to deal with us exclusively by Lovely Lola from our merchant guild’s Public (and Private) Relations Department.

I expected much from this expansion. And got that and more. Two solid thumbs up.

The Cities Expansion (or the one with Oversized Noble Tiles - Oh, They Flip to show Different Things on the Other Side. That’s Pretty Cool.)

With the Orient expansion being such a resounding success, it was with some trepidation that I tried out the expansion from which the entire set is named after. This expansion replaces the Noble Tiles with City Tiles, which are really just Noble Tiles with prejudice.

The game ends in the round when someone claims a City Tile. The winner is the player with the highest VPs who has a City Tile. So you’ve got 16 VPs and I have 14? But I have a City Tile, and you don’t? Tough luck - I win.

This expansion really brings out the race aspect of Splendor. But instead of everyone racing for the same 15 VP finish line, here it’s everyone racing towards three different finish lines. It’s like implementing a variant in the base game where you need to have 15 VPs and a Noble Tile to win.

This forces everyone off the “just build the cards with the VPs” track into the “must get those gem sets for one of those Tiles” track. Yes, it does remove a viable strategy from the base game (which I’ve employed a number of times myself), but it forces set collection and competition for those sets. And more competition is always fun. I enjoyed my plays with the Cities expansion more than I expected, which is a good thing.

The Trading Posts Expansion (or the one with the Needlessly Large Board with Static Powers)

So honestly, why the board? Why not just have cards or tiles? Or better yet, why not have more than 5 tiles with different powers, and randomly pick 5 to play with each game? Surely that’s better replayability?

Those were the sort of questions I had when I broke out this expansion. The powers themselves seemed to vary in usefulness. In particular, this power seemed OP-ed:

This means that once you build 3 Reds and 1 White, you can claim this power which allows you to take a gem chip after you build a card. Seems like a no-brainer to build. So in my first game with my wife, I strove towards getting this power. And got my butt handed to me.

Some after-game analysis revealed my oversight. I’d not noticed this particular combination which my wife gleefully exploited:

Having this fellow available means that you’re pretty much guaranteed 8 VPs once you start hoarding Greens, which is exactly what my wife did and ended the game before I could even get a decent engine up.

That was too quick, so we gave it another go. And BAM! It ended just as quickly, this time with my wife spreading Shield Tokens across the Trading Posts board and grabbing the “Gain 1 VP per Shield” power which gave her the extra VPs to end the game.

If the Cities expansion is like a round-the-track race, then the Trading Posts expansion is more like the 100m sprint. The winner tends to be the one who quickly builds up one of the Trading Post powers, and abuses it to win. And which Trading Post power is best depends on what cards or nobles are available. It’s so fast that my wife and I can play several games of this back-to-back, and do a “best of 3”. Pretty neat.

The Strongholds expansion (or the one with the plastic towers that look like bottles of sauce ketchup)

“So every time you build a card, you get to do a Stronghold action, like placing or removing one of these ketchup bottles on a card,” I demonstrated to another group of players.

“Tomato sauce,” replied one of the players in a bored, corrective tone, which initiated a string of ‘No-I’m-right-no-you’re-wrong’ statements, which ended with us agreeing to disagree. The yellow one was undoubtedly mustard though.

This wasn’t an expansion I was looking forward to trying out. In fact, the plastic bits stayed in the sealed bag for the longest time until someone finally insisted that we should give it a go. Part of my reluctance was that I couldn’t see how yet another “reserve-a-card” mechanic could improve the game. And I felt that some players were going to be doomed in an endless, repetitive cycle of ‘I-place-my-stronghold-you-remove-it-I-place-it-back’ actions.

We started the game. Most of us couldn’t work out what was valuable to each other, so the first few stronghold placements were pretty random.

And then this happened:

Much to the horror of the Green and Black players, they were suddenly limited to only purchasing Level 2 development cards which their engines weren’t ready for. They couldn’t build a cheap card without removing those strongholds, and they couldn’t remove those strongholds without a Stronghold action, and they couldn’t do a Stronghold action without building a card. The Yellow and Red players were sufficiently amused to leave their strongholds exactly where they were until they were nice and ready to claim the cards underneath.

And then there was the turn when several players collaborated to place their strongholds on cards to deny the player in the lead. Oh my, it was mayhem. Players were building cheap cards, just for the Stronghold actions. There was vindictiveness. There was indignation to a level I’ve not seen since the days when someone rolled a 7 and moved the Robber.

And I liked it.

I seemed to have gone with the ‘race’ theme to describe some of these expansions. Strongholds is the sort of race that involves chariots, spiked hub-caps and bloodied gladiators. It’s not for everyone, but it’s sure fun with a right crowd!

Final thoughts (or “Let me tell you what I really think about this game”)

Since purchasing Cities of Splendor, I can safely say that this game has hit the table a whole lot more, and I can see that this is going to be one of those games that we pack with us for holidays. This expansion surprised and delighted me, and that doesn’t happen very often.

So how do I rate it? I'll use the trusty “I Play Games with my Wife” Measuring Stick, which sorts games into two classes: “Wife never wants to play this” and “Wife requests for it”. With Cities of Splendor, the wife lost a few games and raged that she never wanted to play it again, and then requested for it the very next night.

So, I think that puts Cities of Splendor into a class of its own.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Cynthia Reviews: ...and then, we held hands.

With such a sweet title that appeals to couples like my hubby and me, we bought the abstract strategy card game recently when we went shopping for games. I was impressed by the backstory. Designed by David Chircop and Yannick Massa, this quirky card game was first created as a free ‘Print and Play’ game. It got so popular that it won the 2014 best ‘Print and Play’ winner as nominated by fans on BoardGameGeek.

After being picked up by a game publisher, Ludicreations, the card game is now available on all major game stores and online. We tore off the shrink-wrap and noticed that the artwork looked rather like ‘Dixit’. French illustrator Marie Cardouat beautifully depicted the cards which each represent an emotion; happy, sad, ambivalent, calm, angry, manic, cold, resigned, content, betrayed, carefree, euphoric, enraged, depressed.

"...and then, we held hands" is a co-operative two-player game about finding balance. To win, players must complete objectives and reach the centre of the board. Each player takes a turn to fulfil the common emotional objective by discarding emotive cards to move from node to node. Players can use their own cards or their partner’s to complete an emotional objective. But if either player cannot move, the players lose and the game ends immediately.

We ditched the no-talking rule and converse for fun to display our emotions. We avoided suggesting any moves to each other though. In reality, we rarely argue as a couple. In this game, we were two angry people always arguing. We tried to make each other happy, but we just end up arguing and giving each other the cold treatment. We played the ‘Arguments Variant’ where we needed to resolve an argument by ending on the same node together. That was difficult to do in the game. Just when we resolved one argument, another one pops up and we are once again trying to resolve it.

We managed to hang on as a couple and got quite close to being in the centre. I only needed two emotive cards to move to the centre. But my hubby had to go through a whole display of crazy emotions before he could get to the centre. It’s a bit of a brain burner to get to the centre. When we finally did, we were so happy, we held hands!

We definitely would recommend this game to couples. The game theme depicts that relationships are hard work but when you do find the balance and compromise, both are happy when there is reconciliation.