A Blast from the Past

All Board Games

This Christmas vacation, like the ones before it, has had a lot of fun surprises in store for me once I drove up to see my family. I’ve been to a cool Pittsburgh museum, had lunch at a church converted into a restaurant, saw a University of Pitt basketball game, and have gotten some much needed R&R in the process. One of the coolest surprises, however, came in the form of a large box my Grandfather handed to me my first day in PA. This box contained a large number of games for me to add to my collection.

For some background on this: my Grandpa recently sold his condo in Florida and was working hard packing everything up to take to his house in PA for Christmas. A lot of unneeded items were donated, and unusable ones were discarded, but he was always keeping an eye out for useful things he could give his relatives. He also was aware that I write this blog, so one day in November he called me up and asked if I had any use for his old board games. As I’ve discussed before in my post about old school vs. new school games, I have always enjoyed older games and like the idea of owning originals of some of the more popular ones. Remembering that I used to play original versions of Monopoly and the Game of Life at his condo when I was young, I told him that I would be happy to take those games off of his hands.

Fast forward to the present, and the box I was given was much larger and heavier than I originally expected. I open it up and to my surprise, it’s a large stack of older and newer games in all shapes and sizes! Grandpa gave me over a dozen different games, including some staples of the gaming industry as well as some games from my childhood. I’ve been delving into the games periodically throughout the trip and have found some gems, including but not limited to:

  • An original copy of Monopoly
  • An original copy of The Game of Life
  • An original copy of Battleship
  • An original copy of Parcheesi
  • Block-building games such as Blockhead!, Ta-Ka-Radi tiles, and Lincoln Logs
  • Slightly newer games like Hoopla and Tiddley Winks
  • Games I don’t remember and haven’t seen before, but am looking forward to trying out!

I’ve already gotten a chance to play a few rounds of Battleship with my sister’s fiancée, and plan on trying out some more along with newer additions to my collection the rest of the week. Needless to say, I’m extremely thankful to have such a kind-hearted Grandpa, and I can’t wait to put these games to good use!

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Top 10 Board Games as Last Minute Christmas Gifts

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We’ve all been there at some point in our lives; it’s the week of Christmas, the holidays are in the air, and you’re trying not to panic because you still don’t have all of your Christmas gifts figured out. Whether it’s a Secret Santa gift you’re not sure about, or a close friend or family member who is particularly difficult to give gifts to, you’ll sometimes find yourself scrambling for something to wrap up and give out on the 25th. As someone who has a tendency to pick up gifts last-minute, I’ve gotten used to going to a store with a vague idea about what to buy somChristmas Shopping its over its doneeone but not knowing for sure until I actually see it. This year was the first year in a long time when most of my Christmas shopping was done well
beforehand, so I am on the outside looking in to the hectic last-minute rush, but I can honestly say I’ve felt your pain. So, in order to help with your struggles, I’ve compiled a list of some fun and simple board game gifts that you can find easily in stores this week!

Now obviously, board games are not the perfect gift for everybody. There are plenty of people out there who, for some reason, don’t enjoy board games as much as me. But for nieces and nephews who enjoy playing kids games or for older friends who like to host an occasional game night, there are some great options out there for you to find. Below I’ve listed my top ten Christmas gift games you can find in stores this week:

  • Apples to Apples– Apples to Apples is a great family and/or party game, and luckily enough it’s still around in stores pretty much everywhere you look. The game focuses around choosing the noun card that best fits a card picked by the judge. Fun and easy to play, it’s relatively cheap and popular among friends.
  • Clue– The mystery-based board game has goClue Logone through some changes since it was first created, but at its core it’s still the same game we all played as a kid. A popular game for youn
    ger audiences, I’ve used it for the occasional game night too so it’s not completely outdated for older groups. Make sure that the person you get this for doesn’t already have the game before you buy it for them!
  • Headbanz– The new version of an old game, Headbanz takes “Who headbanzAm I” and simplifies it for younger audiences. This game is fairly popular now and can be found in stores like Walmart, Target, and Toys R Us.
  • King of Tokyo– I found this game at Target when I bought it, and its popularity hasn’t waned since so it is definitely available in a number of different places. A topic of my most recent blog post, King of Tokyo is a dice rolling game that is perfect for all kinds of gamers.
  • Pandemic– Pandemic is a very popular cooperative game currently on the market, so it can be found pretty much anywhere you look. It is slightly more complicated than the average game, but is a good purchase for people who like to have friends over on a regular basis and would be interested in trying something new.
  • Quiddler– A less known game created by the designer of the card game Set, Quiddler is not the most common of Quiddlergames but I’ve seen it in department stores and most frequently in Toys R Us. The game revolves around spelling out words with letter cards and trying to use up as many
    cards in your hand as possible. Good for kids as it helps with critical thinking and mental acuity.
  • Qwirkle– The colorful mix and match game, Qwirkle focuses on matching shapes and colors to form groups and earn points. A good game for younger audiences, but also has appeal to older groups. The game is a bit older than some of the others so it might not be in every store, but it’s considered a staple of the board game industry and shouldn’t be too hard to find.Qwirkle
  • Settlers of Catan– It’s fairly self-explanatory as to why this game is on the list. Settlers is considered one of the most important board games in the industry’s growth and is a heck of a lot of fun to play. If you know someone that doesn’t have a copy of this game, go to any store and you’ll be able to buy it for them (along with many of its expansions).
  • Sorry!– A game that brings back memories for me, Sorry has been a Sorry!popular game for a while. Based on moving four pieces around the board, the trick is to avoid getting your pieces knocked off by other players as you race towards the finish. While the original is probably hard to track down, the newer version of the game is available in most stores.
  • Ticket to Ride– The ever-popular railroad expansion game is pretty pricey in comparison to others on this list, but is worth it if your friend or family member hasn’t played the game or doesn’t have a copy. The game focuses around building rail tracks from city to city, and can be found in all of the major stores without any difficulty.

This list isn’t all-exhaustive, and is more meant to prove the over-arching point that board games can be a good last minute gift for anyone on your list this year. Walking around a game section of a department store is a good way to find something that fits a person’s personality and offers a fun and interesting gift idea for a number of different audiences. To those of you who still have gifts to buy, good luck, and enjoy your holiday rush!

Board Game of the Week- King of Tokyo

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  • Game Title: King of Tokyo
  • Release Date: 2011
  • Number of Players: 2-6
  • Average Game Time: 30 minutes
  • Game Publisher: Iello
  • Website: iellogames.com/KingOfTokyo.html
  • Game Designer: Richard Garfield
  • Expansions/Alternates: Yes
  • Available in Stores: Yes

I once read an article that discussed the idea that a number of successful games are usually centered on themes that aren’t particularly interesting in real life. There is some truth to that: games like Settlers of Catan, Monopoly, etc. all have fairly straightforward concepts based around tasks or stories that are mundane and unimpressive outside of the board game realm. King of Tokyo takes this idea, smashes it into the ground, and sets it on fire while laughing gleefully.
The theme of King of Tokyo is this: you are a giant monster trying your best to infiltrate and destroy Tokyo all while undermining the other monsters trying to do the same thing, ultimately powering your way to the top and earning the title of the King of Tokyo.  Sounds simple enough right? In reality, the game is a predominately dice-rolling game with inIMG_2756tense amounts of strategy and some power-up cards sprinkled in for extra fun. The game starts off with everyone at 0 victory points and 10 health. The object of the game is to gain 20 victory points all while keeping your health from dropping to 0. You can victory points by rolling the dice, paying for victory point cards, and surviving inside Tokyo where you’re more likely to be attacked.

The dice rolling mechanic is very similar to Yahtzee- you have 6 custom dice which you roll all at one time, then geIMG_2755t two additional dice rolls where you can choose to pick up and roll any of the dice you had thrown previously. After you’re done with your three rolls, you immediately “resolve the dice” by taking any necessary actions that come about from the dice you’v
e rolled. Each die has 6 numbers/markings on it, and the goal of your dice rolls is to either match up the same number together to earn victory points, stockpile health/energy, or attack your opponents. After the dice have been resolved, you can buy any of the face-up cards to power up your monster and then use any effects from cards you want, and then your turn ends.

Ultimately this game is a lot of fun- there is a lot of strategy revolving around spending your time in or outside of Tokyo. Staying in Tokyo gets you victory points, but also means yKingOfTokyo_3Dboxou are a target for opponents to attack you. You can only stay in Tokyo when you have 5 health, so stockpiling health and energy is important. The cards bring an additional layer to it, and while the game can take some time getting the hang of it’s a lot less complicated than it originally looks. I particularly like the strategy of the dice roll, where you have to decide what to focus on during a particular turn. Choosing between victory points, health, energy, and hurting your opponents can be the difference between progress and defeat. Artistically the game is also very appealing, with six individual monsters that all look really cool (they somehow find a way to make mecha-bunny particularly impressive) and the cards each have a unique cartoon picture that makes the game engaging to the eye. I would have liked to see each monster have their own special ability to make your choice of character more important to the overall strategy, but even without that there are plenty of different paths you can take to claim the title of King.

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This game is suited for people of all ages and groups of all sizes- Iello really knocked it out of the park on this one. Plus, giant fictional monsters fighting each other in a large populated city should always be enjoyed no matter what the context.

Jack’s Rating: 4.5/5 stars

Tabletop Monthly, Hardcore Subscription

IMG_2745As mentioned in a previous post, I recently received two subscriptions from the company Tabletop Monthly with some cool board game goodies and nerdy accessories. I’ve been looking forward to diving into them for some time, and this week I’ve finally had some time to check them out in more detail. I focused on the “Hardcore” box set, with the more competitive and complex games as opposed to the “Family” subscription. Here are the items I received in this month’s box:

Board Game, Car Wars- A Steve Jackson Games creation based on gladiator style automobile combat, Car Wars is highly focused on dice rolling and maneuvering vehicles around a track. The game is highly customizable and complex, with a comprehensive rulebook and a number of different types of vehicles and weapons. Games can be played either in a single duel format or a multi-session campaign style, depending on preference. Average price is around $16, so it is a majority of the value in this box set.IMG_2746

Expansion Pack, Star Wars E-Wing– One of the more popular competitive games on the market, the Star Wars Miniatures game is a war game with a number of expansions available. I currently don’t own the core game for this expansion, but it is on my wish list so this is a good opportunity to start my collection of miniatures. The E-Wing miniature is worth about $10 and is helpful add-on to what looks like a cool game.

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Heroes of the Storm mystery mini- This was the one extra in the box I didn’t have any information on, but it looks like Heroes of the Storm is a miniatures set created by Blizzard Gear which has a number of different cute minis for collection. I got the Clear Variant mini character Nova, from the StarCraft set. A cute little addition as part of another “collect them all” series, I personally won’t have a strong urge to collect more but still think it’s pretty cool. Each miniature is part of a random draw, and cost about $10 per mini.

So now that I’ve given a rundown of the items in the box, here are some of my thoughts on the box and its contents:

  • The contents of the box are worth close to what you’d pay for them normally, with a slight discount overall (shipping is not included in this pricing breakdown). Ultimately you’re not saving an insane amount of money with this subscription, but they do provide you with a fairly good deal. I’m sure the totals will vary slightly from month to month, but it looks like the boxes will be worth the $30 subscription for the items you receive monthly.
  • The mystery of the box is part of the charm of the subscription, but you might have to be prepared for getting one or two items here and there that you simply won’t use. Still, of the 3 items I received I plan on using two of them quite regularly, so there’s definite value there. There is also a chance for receiving something that you already have of course- this is more likely to occur with people who have large gaming collections, but it could happen to the casual gamer as well depending on the situation.
  • I would definitely recommend finding the right box for you early, because not everyone would want to play the hardcore games and not everyone would want to play the family games. There will be some people who would like the idea of getting both boxes, and that is certainly an option. However, you would be paying $60 a month so depending on how much you budget out for board games a month you may have to pick your preference.

Overall I was quite happy with the mystery box I received for “Hardcore” games- I will be reviewing the “Family” subscription later this week, and am hoping to have the same results!

Christmas: A Time for Family (and board games)

Christmas Trees

If I were to choose a favorite holiday, I would probably say Christmas gets the #1 spot in my book. I have so many amazing memories surrounding Christmas; traveling down to Florida with my family, spending time with my relatives from my mom’s side of the family, and calling my dad’s extended family in England to wish them all a Happy Christmas… The gifts were obviously a big part of my youth, but now looking back it’s really all about the family to me. I’m blessed to have extended families on both sides that get along and want to see each other, rather than the stereotypical dread that revolves around some holiday gatherings. Are these Christmas vacations I remember perfect? Of course not. Cousins bicker, Uncles and Aunts have to work late hours, people get sick (usually me for some reason…) and the magic of Christmas seems slightly less magical with the passing of my Grandma this past winter. But still, leading up to December 20th when I drive myself up to Pennsylvania (we switched venues a few years ago from sunny Jacksonville FL to snowy Gibsonia PA) I can’t help but smile at the idea of seeing my family soon.

One of the highlights about the family vacations is seeing my cousins on
my mom’s side: my sister and I are the oldest (she’s two years older than me), and then I have two cousins in college (Betsy and Lauren) and two in High School (Stephanie and Billy). Since all of my cousins are younger than me, watching them grow up can be a very strange feeling. When my mom told me that Betsy had started driving I remember looking at her and telling her that I didn’t believe her. The days when we were all under 5 feet tall couldn’t have been that long ago right? Still, it’s great to see that they are all growing up to be smart, talented, and moskeep-calm-its-just-a-family-reuniont importantly genuinely kind and good people.  Sure, we have our fights, and I know that sometimes I can be inattentive as a cousin, but there are so many great memories it’s like the bad ones don’t even exist in my mind. OK, so now that I’ve gotten the mushy stuff out of the way, I bet you’re thinking “that’s great Jack, but why are you talking about all of this on a blog about board games?” I’m glad you asked random reader, because this article has one very specific purpose: to show you how tabletop games can make Christmas better.

As I have mentioned in previous posts, I play a lot of video games in my spare time. This was especially the case when I was in High School; any chance I got to play video games I would take. The problem was that I was also a very active High Schooler, so whether I was playing in the band, singing in the choir, or hitting serves on the tennis court, I was always busy after school and didn’t have much time when I got home what with homework and that whole “sleeping” thing. So my brilliant solution to this issue was to take my Xbox 360 with me to Florida! It’s vacation, I’ll have tons of time to play the new games I got right? Well, technically yes, but it had a bit of a backlash when it came to my cousins. Now, I’d like to preface this by saying that I wasn’t intentionally trying to ignore my relatives; the issue is mostly revolving around the fact that kids change when they get older. When they were younger, my cousins all really enjoyed watching me play games like Luigi’s Mansion or Pokémon Snap (bringing back N64 game references… I must be getting old). But as we all got older, the types of games I liked changed to one-player adventure games like Prince of Persia or Assassin’s Creed, and my cousins started to become bored with the idea of sitting around a room watching me play a game they couldn’t enjoy themselves. So slowly but surely, things got more frustrating for them (while I remained oblivious) until one cousin said to me “all you do is play video games when you’re here, so what’s the point of you even coming?” And suddenly I realized that what I wanted to do when I was on vacation wasn’t the same as what my cousins wanted to do. I left Florida that year feeling guilty, but also not knowing what would happen when we returned the next year. Should I stop playing video games around the holidays? Is it alright to get a little bit of time to myself to play, or is that selfish? Luckily enough, the next year ended up being one of the better ones, and paved the way for a new tradition on Christmas.

Christmas next year started off a similar way- I pulled out the consoles I had brought with me and my cousins rolled their eyes. We had dinner, we chatted, and things were fine but there was a feeling that it could go south if I moved towards my Grandpa’s den, where my video games were all set up. And then my sister made a recommendation that I will always appreciate: why don’t we play a board game after dinner? It just so happens that one of Katie’s new gifts was 7 Wonders, and she wanted to teach us to play.

Sure enough, we all sat down and labored through the tutorial and finally started to get the hang of things in our first play through. And suddenly, it was as if last year had never happened. I can’t stress enough that games are great at bringing people together- you can focus on a fun activity, but also have time to catch up, joke around, and all in all have a great time. 7 Wonders has become a favorite of ours to play, but we’ve also brought along games like Clue, or Settlers of Catan, or the Lego creation game called Creationary. Not all games are a hit (a two hour game of Settlers of Catan has spoiled it for my cousins somewhat) but no matter what happens with the game we enjoy ourselves. We don’t spend all vacation playing board games of course: we go outside and throw a football, build puzzles, watch TV, and yes I do get some video game time every once in a while. But the games are always a fun part of what we do. I’m looking forward to seeing what new games we play this year, but more than that I’m looking forward to spending time with my family.

So if you spend time with your family this Christmas, I recommend you find something that connects you in the same way board games have connected my family. Ultimately, if you look past the gifts and the food, Christmas is a time for family, and for me that time is something I get to enjoy with some slight help from board games along the way.

Board Game of the Week- 7 Wonders

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  • Game Title: 7 Wonders
  • Release Date: 2010
  • Number of Players: 2-7
  • Average Game Time: 20-30 minutes
  • Game Publisher: Repos Production
  • Website: http://rprod.com/index.php?page=description-22
  • Game Designer: Antoine Bauza
  • Expansions/Alternates: Yes
  • Available in Stores: Yes

Some board games have a simple style that you learn quickly and then play, without any additional strategy involved. In contrast, there are games that take a lot longer to learn and even once you’ve learned, there is still an opportunity to learn and improve because of the strategy involved in mastering the game. 7 Wonders definitely falls into the latter type of game. I’ve tried to explain the game multiple times to new players and have always received looks of confusion and frustration right away. However, once they start to play and get the experience of “learning by doing”, it all starts to make sense.

I’m not going to go into all of the details of how to play the game (I would be writing a 10 page essay), but the basic premise and rules I can try to explain. To start, each player randomly chooses an individual board with one of the 7 wonders of the world: Babylon, Gizah, Rhodes, Alexandria, Halikarnossos, Olympia, and Ephesos. These boards each have different resources that they provide as well as different “wonders” that have additional benefits as the game goes on. Gameplay is completed through a series of cards that are distributed evenly through three “ages”. There are multiple different types of cards, such as resource cards, science cards, army cards, and more. Using the cards that fit with your Wonder and your overall strategy is the key to win.

To play the game, each player takes his/her cards, chooses a card to play, and plays it at the same time as the other players. The hands are then given to the player directly to the left, which becomes the hand used to play the next card. This process continues until each player has two cards left, when the players each choose one card to play then discard the other. Finally to end the age, each player goes to war with the players directly to their left and right, providing points to whomever has the most army cards. The second age follows the same process except the players hand their cards off to the right, and then the third age switches back to the left. After all three ages are completed, points are calculated based on the cards played, along with war points and points from Wonders. The player with the most total points from all of these factors wins.image2

Reading my explanation of how the game works probably doesn’t do it justice, but I hope that it gets across the vast number of strategies and cards that are involved in every game. That’s the biggest benefit of 7 Wonders by far, is that you can use countless different strategies to succeed. You can build up armies, improve your sciences, create more culture through monuments, or build your wonders to gain points, and any mix or combination and more will lead to your total score. Another advantage of the game is that once you get the hang of it, it isn’t a particularly long game. You can feasibly play the game 3 or 4 times within a two hour period, which gives you the chance to try out new Wonders and strategies and keep things fresh.

Ultimately the downsides of the game are focused around the steep learning curve. I’ve had friends who tried to get into the game but didn’t have the patience to learn the rules and ended up losing interest before they got the hang of it. It’s also a game where you will be constantly checking the rulebook because the card descriptions are extremely vague. I’ve played the game dozens of times and still don’t remember what certain cards or wonders do. Finally, the game is fun with any number of players but when you get to 5+ it gets harder to keep your area organized because so much space is taken up with your board, cards, coins, etc.

While the game may not be for everyone, 7 Wonders is a great game to play in the right setting. It’s also a good game to have as a staple in your game nights. I also recommend taking a look at the expansions out there, because once you expert the game it’s fun to add in additional layers to it.

Jack’s Rating: 3/5 stars

Tabletop Monthly Subscription


One of the most frustrating parts about board games for me is purchasing the games. I don’t mind spending money on a good game of course, but I have a very long list of board games that I want to play at some point and games can be expensive. It’s hard to justify buying more than a few games a month, especially around Christmas time when you’re buying gifts for your friends and loved ones. One of these days I hope to find a way to rent board games for a limited time (if someone ends up creating this, I want in!), but until then it’s either playing your friend’s games or buying them yourself. With all that being said, I was recently contacted by an up-and-coming family business that could potential make buying games a lot more interesting.

The company is called Tabletop Monthly, and it works just like it sounds. You subscribe to their service for $30 a month and once a month you receive board games, card games, and accessories for your enjoyment. Whatever games you receive are your forever, and you never know what games you will be receiving on any given month. There are two different types of boxes, one for “hardcore” games and one including “family” games. The hardcore games are more technical and competitive, whereas the family games lean towards simpler themes that you can pick up easily and play with anyone. This isn’t the first board game subscription service in the market, but it’s a good price and the different types of subscriptions allow any type of tabletop gamer to enjoy the games they deliver.

The company is owned by a family of gaming enthusiasts (who own a pizzeria as their main job) and they were kind enough to give me two sample boxes to try out and review. Initial impressions are good- I received one game and two miniatures in the hardcore box and three travel sized games in the family pack. One of the most important things to mention about the games I received is that I didn’t own any of them; in fact, I had heard of some but there were others I didn’t know existed until I opened the box!

I haven’t gotten a chance to play any of the games yet, but I plan on doing so soon and writing up an in-depth review of everything I received. Until then, if you’re interested in learning more about Tabletop Monthly you can find them at tabletop.cratejoy.com or on Twitter @tabletopmonthly. They’re currently doing a promotion where if you provide them with your E-mail address, you’re entered into a drawing to receive a lifetime subscription for free!

That’s it on Tabletop Monthly for now. Be on the lookout for more posts soon with additional details about the new games I got!