New Game Weekend: Dixit Journey

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I play a lot of games with my kids. I started them at an early age, so they have a pretty healthy knowledge and love for hefty wargaming miniatures games like Flames of War and elaborate strategy games like Settlers of Catan, Village, Canterbury and Civilization. Even with a big stack of boardgames crowding our shelves, we regularly run into new games that capture our imagination in new ways. After several rounds of of Dixit Journey with three generations of my family over the Thanksgiving weekend, we have a new favorite in our constantly-growing list of favorites.

journeycontentsDixit Journey is a variation on the family of games and expansions from Asmodee , an award-winning French Eurogame publisher. In essence, Dixit is a storytelling game with the only real skill needed is your imagination. Each round a storyteller player secretly selects an illustrated card from their hand of six cards and announces a clue somehow referenced by the picture on the card. Anything can be used for a clue — song lyrics, characters from a book, famous quotes, historical figures, TV shows, sounds, news stories, etc. — provided it somehow references something depicted on the card. After the clue is announced, the other players then likewise secretly select a card from their hands which they think may also depict the clue in some way.

Cards are then revealed and laid out along the edge of the board. All players except the storyteller then place their guesses on the card they think is the storyteller’s card. Player guesses are then revealed with points going to the storytller if their card is selected and to other players whose cards were also guessed on. Choosing an overly-obvious card and clue combination everyone guesses correctly results in no points for the storyteller, so balancing a clue and card pairing that is both guessable but not too literal is key to the winning the game.

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Like many Eurogames, Dixit is simple on the surface with minimal rules and reading but creatively open in how it plays out. In our games, one clue was given as an interpretive dance of sorts. Other clues included movie references, literary allusions and just flat-out odd phrases inspired almost wholly by the cards themselves. Part of the fun of the game is to see how it plays out with different people’s minds interpretting the same clue in multiple cards.

For a taste of how a game of Dixit plays, check out  the episode below of Wil Weaton’s always entertaining Tabletop web series.

Dixit is a gorgeous game with trippy, weird and abstract cards that may be reused over and over again. The many expansions available add more storytelling possibilities to the game, and the Journey edition makes some improvements on the scoring and game board included in the first edition box. Playing in about a half hour and with multiple players or even teams, Dixit makes for a great nighttime game with family or friends of all ages after the dinner plates are cleared.

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New Game Weekend: Canterbury

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This past week I arrived home from work one evening to find a package in the mail containing the first game I’ve received from backing a Kickstarter campaign. Canterbury from Quixotic Games was successfully funded at just over $58,000, a relatively small game when compared to recent runaway Kickstarter hits like Zombicide: Season 2 at $2.2 million, All Quite On The Martian Front with just over $300,000 in funding and the current it-game Mars Attacks which looks to be cruising to a finish over a half-million dollars.

As promised in the steady stream of updates from the game makers, Canterbury is an exceedingly well-manufactured board game with tons of sturdy cardboard playing pieces and typical colorful wooden markers. The game presents a board containing 25 districts, each with six building lots. Each lot contains spaces to indicate water, food, religion, defense, commerce, and culture services which are provided as players build out the board.

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Beginning with a simple well providing water to the central district, players take turns performing one of three actions. A full build action allows 1-2 buildings to be constructed, depending on size and moneies available. Levying taxes gains a full monetrary collection based on the current economic strength of the entire kingdom, and a player using a levy play must perform on full build of 1-2 structures on their following turn. A third option allows a player to collect half the avilable taxes and build a single structure.

Building and placing structures provide services to the board. A small, single-lot building gives that distruct the available service while a medium-sized two-lot building provides the service to that district plus the districts surrounding at right angles. The five largest structures are built at a high cost, cover four building lots and provide their service to the local district plus any five other districts on the board. Planning comes into play as buildings may only be built when previous services are available in a district. For example, religious structures may only be placed when the prerequisite water and food services are already present in the district. Previously-constructed buildings may be demolished to upgrade existing services or expand on already-provided services.

There are lots of points to keep track of in Canterbury, adding up to many strategies toward winning at the game’s end. Erecting a structure gains points for the player as well as the kingdom, and players receive bonus points when breaking ground and building in empty districts. Once the kingdom passes the 100-point mark, players score “district favor” points based on the prominence of providing services to each district. Providing services also moves each player up an additional scoring track with those points scored at the end of the game. Points are again counted at the 200-point mark. Once the kingdom’s wealth takes three laps around the edge of the board to 300 points, the game ends with a final tally of points.

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The game is a bit lighter and faster than other civilization-building games I’ve played like Settlers of Catan, Civilization, Clash of Cultures and Village. That said, even with the brisk pace of the game, there’s a lot of strategy to be had. Players must always balance their own plays for points with the riches and services they are providing the kingdom (and other players) as a whole. Racing to provide services, build structures and gain an early lead on district favor points looked to be the key path to victory in the first game I played with my sons. Collecting and spending money at a balanced rate was also important since sitting on a pile of coins at the end of the game doesn’t provide much in the way of points.

Like any civilization-building game, Canterbury strikes a great balance of real-world competitive and collaborative construction play. My older son thought injecting the game with random events like floods or droughts might spice up the straightforward play a bit, but overall the three of us really liked the quick, well-structured play and progressive organization on the board. As a Kickstarter supporter, I’m really pleased with the results of Canterbury and I’m glad to have been there to see the kingdom’s development from that lone well in the wilderness.

Favorite Tabletop Games Kickstarters of the Month (June 2013)

I’ve spent a month tracking my favorite projects and looking for new fun stuff on Kickstarter’s Tabletop Games section. Of the five projects I wrote about in May, four have been succesfully-funded to date. I wound up throwing my support behind one of these, Canterbury, and I’m still hopeful things will turn out well for 54mm plastic Civil War toy soldiers project now in its closing days. Here are the other projects I’ll be watching in June.

Princes of the Dragon Throne: This fantasy-themed board game combines deck-building, area control and resource management. Players build recruits and vie for control of the board on their quest to be crowned upon the Dragon Throne at game’s end. There’s a ton of stuff in this box with over 200 miniatures and more than 500 components overall. The levels of support for the game plus the accompanying specially-crafted meeples comes in over $100, but it’s got dragons so the game looks to be well worth it.

Euphoria: Build A Better Dystopia: This Saint Louis, Missouri-based project launched in May but wraps up this month with a very successful funding run. In this worker placement game, dice represent your workers and cards represent elite recruits. Using your workers and recruits, each player attempts to establish a new empire by managing and selling resources, collecting artifacts, building alliances, and undermining your opposition by digging tunnels and launching devious agendas. Dystopian scenarios are a big fave of mine, and the artwork captured in the design of this game is marvelous.

Amerigo: Another successfully-funded game slated to finish its run in June is Amerigo by Queen Games. Players aid famed explorer Amerigo Vespucci in his quest to discover new lands, establish settlements and collect resources in the islands of South America. The game uses a nifty tower through which players drop and draw colored cubes which determine actions available on their turns. Pledging support at different funding levels scores you a copy of Amerigo as well as one (or more) of Queens Games’s other popular historic-themed games such as Alhambra, Shogun or Lancaster, making backing this project quite a deal.

Admiral: In general, I don’t play naval games since I like the variety that a well-laid-out land terrain tabletop allows. That said, this game could get people like me interested in strategic wargaming on the high seas in the Age of Sail. The Ukrainian designers of this game have loaded the base game with 24 1:1700 scale ships that surpass their toy-like colors in their attention. Backers at higher levels get more islands, ships, seascape gameboard tiles and other game components, making supporting this project a fnatstic opportunity to set sail into a different kind of wargaming.

Giant 2 Inch Soft Foam Polyhedral Dice:  My final fave of the month is just goofy and fun. My two sons, ages 8 and 13, are familiar with real gaming dice at this point. But, if I had a small gamer-in-training in my life, these would be on my funding list. The set includes six large, squishy brightly-colored dice used in most gaming (D4, D6, D8, D10, D12 and D20) in a handy cloth storage bag. Appropriate for ages 3+, there’s a whole bunch of options for buying a la carte dice to supplement the basic set, and additional colors and number styles will be made available. What better way to introduce a kid to the wonders of gaming than throwing a few of these on the floor? Then again, they may just go nicely on my desk at work…

Favorite Tabletop Games Kickstarters of the Month (May 2013)

Earlier this week, I wrote about how I believe Kickstarter to be the latest incarnation of how gamers have contributed to the decades-long conversation on who truly “owns” our hobby. This had me delving deep into what’s current on Kickstarter’s Tabletop Games section.

To date, I’ve honestly only contributed to one tabletop games Kickstarter project. The modest fundraising drive for A Las Barricadas which brought in just under $10,000 for a game that has since been delayed but promises to be shipping soon. While I wait for this little game of street protest pitting Occupy Wall Street-like demonstrators against the police to arrive, I thought I’d share a few projects I’m watching this month.

Moby Dick, or the card game: Like any good English Literature major, I’m a fan of Herman Melville’s epic American tale of one man’s obsession with a whale. On the flipside, I am not generally a fan of card games. That said, this card game of the high seas boasts some truly marvelous woodcut-like artwork and what looks to be an entertaining game of the best recruited crews trying to survive in their quest to spear the Great White Whale.

All Quiet On The Martian Front: Showcasing 15mm miniatures of Martians vs. early 20th-century human armies, this game uses the H.G. Wells sci-fi classic as a jumping-off point to imagine a world of humans locked in protracted combat with alien invaders. The models look fantastic, mining the very-popular steampunk trend in gaming today. Supporters of the game (particular those pledging in the hundreds of dollars) will net a lot of cool looking stuff with its funding.

Canterbury: Nothing gets me going like a great Euro-style worker placement game, so this is particularly enticing. The game places you in the age of Saxon Kings, and your aim is to build the greatest of cities starting with only a well in the wilderness. Managing your growing population, resources, culture, military and ongoing construction of buildings, the game claims to be one of pure skill and planning with no luck factor whatsoever. This one looks like a beauty and I’ll be anxious to give it a play when it is published later this year.

 Wargaming Terrain for the American Frontier: I don’t play games in the period, but the latest from Acheson Creations presents more than a dozen wonderfully-crafted 28mm buildings from the pioneer, settler and Native American era of 18th-century colonial America. I particularly like the longhouses and wigwams, possibly inspired by the local tribal history of the Western New York and the Rochester area where the creators (and I) hail from. The blockhouse, fort wall sections, barn and cabin models also look great and could easily be used in other eras or in fantasy gaming scenarios, too.

Civil War Toy Soldiers: This final project has less to do with gaming and more to do with the special spot in my heart for the toy soldiers of my childhood, especially around the holidays. Cast in soft plastic and a large 54mm scale, this new line of Union soldiers have been launched to compliment Cunnyngham Collectibles’s existing Southern troops. The poses, liveliness and equipment details on these guys make for some really cracking personality. A few bags of these fellas on the floor or in the tall grass and I’d be transported back to when I first fell in love with little plastic men nearly 40 years ago.