A Place To Play: Brooklyn Game Lab

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Living and gaming in New York City is all about space. While gamers worldwide enjoy games in their basements, garages, dining rooms and even dedicated spaces, gamers living in the five boroughs wage a constant struggle for tabletop real estate. It’s in this context that Brooklyn Game Lab opens today and joins a mini-boom in storefront gaming spaces and stores that have opened over the past five years throughout New York.

Brooklyn Game Lab is the vision of Robert Hewitt, a former Silcon Valley game developer, designer, co-founder of game app company HashGo and ESL teacher in Brazil. Carrying his start-up experience and a passion for games and teaching, Bob’s mission for the Brooklyn Game Lab is to provide not only a space for play but to challenge players to think about games beyond what comes right out of the box.

Located in the heart of Brownstone Brooklyn’s Park Slope, the core of the Brooklyn Game Lab is an afterschool program focusing not just on kids playing games but evaluating games and creating homebrewed expansions. The curriculum involves player self-evaluation of gaming mechanics, strategy and tactics, as well as a reward system which will allow kids to earn merits as their gaming prowess develops. Euro, cooperative, social and conquest games like Settlers of Catan, Forbidden Island, King of Tokyo, Werewolf and Small World will serve as jumping-off points.

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Aside from the afterschool program, the Brooklyn Game Lab also features a number of After Hours gaming events targeting adult players. Mondays are Miniatures Night with a revolving series of fantasy and war-themed minis games the likes of Star Wars X-Wing, Space Hulk, Warhammer 40K and Flames of War for experienced players and curious newcomers alike. Wild Card Night on Tuesdays invites outside groups to host favorite go-to games for their own members and drop-ins from the general public. Thursdays are Singles Night, bringing in 20-somethings to roll dice, play cards and mingle. The old mainstay, Magic: The Gathering, occupies the Friday night slot, and weekends will provide opportunity for open gaming.

The 32-seat space will focus solely on the game curriculum and  special events for the time being, although there may be room for retail and private party rentals in the future. Things are off to a great start for Brooklyn Game Lab which is opening with a fully-booked afterschool program including my oldest son who will be a particpating Monday afternoons. Meeting with Bob for coffee last month, I was glad to connect with another passionate gamer looking to put a spin on New York’s gaming spaces. Getting kids engaged in games for life and igniting a developer mindset in them makes Brooklyn Game Lab a very welcome new space for the community.

2014: Opening New Fronts

wraondsnyIn the middle of 2013 I somewhat unexpectedly re-launched Brooklyn Wargaming with a new design and a renewed posting vigor. Since then, I’ve had more than 10,000 visits from readers all over the world. Together with these folks I’m sure to never know, we share a continued passion for gaming I am committed to infusing in every one of my postsings here.

My World War II Flames of War posts are clearly the favorites for visitors to the site. My FOW After Action Reports continue to garner a lot of daily views, and people in particular seem to love the Barkmann’s Corner scenario I played in July at Metropolitan Wargamers in Brooklyn, NY. More AARs and building-out my various national forces in my FOW Modelling posts will be a big part of 2014.

As for other stuff on the site, my few posts on Warfare In The Age of Reason are quickly shooting to the top of popularity. I really enjoy writing up my plays a variety of board and card games through my New Game Weekend posts, and taking a look backward at Retro Gaming The 70s & 80s often result in emails from people like me who have fond memories of hours spent at play in the past.

Looking to 2014, here’s where my focus will continue and grow on Brooklyn Wargaming and the tabletop each week.

World War II

For years, I’ve played a lot of FOW with a big focus on Western Europe. To start the year, I’ll be playing a beach landing or two as a way to prep for the 70th anniversary of D-Day this summer, and I’ve also got a handful of other historic scenarios I’ve been working-up over the past few months.

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Over Thanksgiving, my brother (another lifelong gamer like myself) handed me a copy of Antony Breevor’s Stalingrad and told me it was the best military history book he’d ever read. The highly-readable account of the vicious siege of Stalingrad has gotten my hooked on the idea of expanding my WWII gaming into the Eastern Front in the new year.

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As a first step toward this front of the war, I picked up the new FOW Desperate Measures book. While this intelligence briefing is centered on the closing months of the war battled among German and Soviet forces, there’s also a newly-released updated edition of the FOW Red Bear book which gives a broader look at the Allied forces on the Eastern Front. These resources coupled with my historical reading on Stalingrad have whet my appetite for fielding some large masses of Russian forces on the table. A couple other guys at the club in Brooklyn have already started putting together some of Stalin’s finest and I’m very much looking forward to the Eastern Front opening up my WWII gaming with some scenarios this year.

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I spent a chunk of the past year reading Rick Atkinson’s Guns At Last Light, the third book in his World War II Liberation Trilogy. The book’s focus on the D-Day landings through the campaigns in Western Europe to the fall of the Third Reich squares with the majority of my FOW gaming from the past year. Working my way back through Atkinson’s books, I’m just starting in on The Day Of Battle for Christmas. As with my new swing in interest toward the Soviets and Eastern Front, I’m looking to Atkinson’s second WWII book to fill in my knowledge on the southern European campaigns in Sicily and Italy. Whether I get some Italian troops on the table by year’s end remains to be seen, but I’m really looking to 2014 as another big year of WWII gaming and learning.

Seven Years War

I grew up in Western New York State and then lived for a period of time in Western Pennsylvania, so the French and Indian War has always lingered as an interest but has never found its way into my gaming.

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James Fenimore Cooper’s The Last of the Mohicans and other books in his Leatherstocking Tales series have also been favorites since boyhood. These colorful stories are set within the wilderness backdrop of the colonial wars of the Americas fuel much of my love for the French and Indian War period, and my visits to historic sites like Fort Niagara and Fort Necessity have added physical understanding to the frontier conflicts of the period.

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Toward the end of 2013, a fellow club member introduced me to the Warfare In the Age Of Reason rules and the Seven Years War. While my experience gaming battles from the period have thus far had a European focus, my long-time interest in what most consider the world’s first global-scale war holds tremendous interest for me. To this end, I hope to make wargaming the Americas front with the FIW a project for the coming year. Modelling 15mm miniatures of colonists, French, British and Native Americans, along with requisite early American frontier terrain, is sure to be making an appearance here in the coming months.

World War I

While I’m on the subject of world wars, I can’t help but acknowledge the calendar and the 100th anniversary of the beginnings of World War I this coming July.keegan_first_l

My only real exposure to the war so far has been with John Keegan’s excellent The First World War. I’ve read a half-dozen of Keegan’s books, and his 1999 overview of the Great War gave me a solid introduction to a war that’s often overlooked by most Americans like myself. Clearly this is a major period in modern warfare I could stand to learn more about.

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To get myself back into the period, I’m planning on reading Max Hasting’s Catastrophe 1914: Europe Goes To War which made many top nonfiction lists at the end of 2013. I’ve only gamed WWI once with a 28mm French-German trench warfare scenario at a convention back in 2011, but there are a number of club members with miniatures from the period I may prod into using in some games this year. There are also rumors afoot that the makers of FOW are expanding into WWI just in time for this year’s anniversary, but for now I think some time with a few good books should be enough tribute from me in 2014.

And…

I can’t really tell with complete certainty where this coming year in gaming will take me. Like with most battle plans, a grand strategy can be laid out but actual events often unfold very differently in the fog of war. I can say there will be more miniatures, more scenarios and more completely fresh games to come here on Brooklyn Wargaming by New Year’s Day 2015. For now, here’s to old fronts not forgotten from 2013 and new fronts to come in 2014.

Games Take A Vacation

I’m currently midway through my family’s annual summer vacation week on Cape Cod, Massachusetts, and as always, games are on my mind. Renting a vacation house often gives an odd insiderish view to other people’s lives. The weird assortment of kitchen gadgets (who needs three waffle makers?), the hodgepodge of furniture, the collection of beachy knickknacks and bookshelves of worn bestsellers all seem to exist in various forms in the homes we’ve rented over the years. I always wonder how much this conglomeration of stuff reveals about the unseen owners who cash our rental checks each year and how much it tells me about my fellow vacationers.

Piles of games also usually inhabit vacation rental homes. Cottage owners probably provide a few games to start. Over the years families may pick up a game at a local gift shop and then leave it at the house for the next renter. For rainy days away from the beach or late nights after the sand has been rinsed off sunburned bodies, games hold a pretty consistent presence in the vacation home experience. I would hazard to guess that families who hardly ever find themselves playing board or card games together at home do so as part of their sacred vacation ritual.

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Games found in vacation rentals usually fall into a few broad categories. First, there are standard playing cards. Adults and kids alike can find many games for cards, from a calm game of Go Fish with a toddler to a game of Poker on the screened porch for the grown-ups after the children are tucked into bed. The house this summer has no less than ten decks of cards, including two unopened packs and a sailboat-decorated double set like the ones my grandmother and aunts used to use to play Bridge. Cribbage boards are also pretty commonly found along with cards, although I personally know few people who know how to play the game these days. Poking around in drawers and shelves this year revealed five cribbage boards, including two folding portable ones and a folksy handmade version with holes drilled into a slab of age-darkened wood cut into the shape of a whale (pic below). Tucked in a desk drawer I also found a set of five standard six-sided dice still sealed in their dusty package. Like so many items in a vacation home, I wondered at the story behind these dice. Why were they purchased? Why have they been left abandoned for so many years without use?

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The second class of vacation games fall into what I call “American Classics.” These are family-friendly board games like Life, Monopoly, Chutes and Ladders, Checkers and Clue. To these I’d also add word games like Boggle and Scrabble, the dice game Yahtzee and Dominoes, all  of which were with us in this year’s house. Nostalgia and tradition resonate with these games, each offering a familiarity to vacationers year after year. These classics also give the flexibility for  games to be played among family members of all ages and the chance to introduce a new generation to an old favorite.

This year we also found a copy of Mastermind at the house, a classic board game outlier I’d never encountered in a rental cottage before. I hadn’t played in probably 30 years but was glad to find my eight-year-old son was an old hand at the game from playing a school. While not very challenging for me at this point, I was more than happy to pass an hour with this classic deductive code-solving game as part of a rainy day of indoor activity.

Finally, there’s the modern adult party games like Trivial Pursuit, Pictionary, Scattergories, Balderdash and Outburst which grew out of the boom in adult board games in the 80s and 90s.  These games are light on rules and big on group participation, making them the perfect thing to fill rowdy late nights for adults well into their gin and tonics or local summer brews. A copy of 1967’s trivia game Facts In Five was in the pile at the house this year, perhaps the result of a local yard sale find in the past.

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Along with packing the car with luggage, beach gear and bikes, we usually stow some games for our annual week away. This year, we hauled along several games from home, including Small World, Civilization (pic above), Settlers of Catan and the horse racing game Winner’s Circle. My kids and wife have developed a liking toward well-designed strategy games and can even be found delivering sneers and eye-rolls at the mere mention of a game like Monopoly. A simple deck of cards or a heap of Parker Brothers classics just don’t make the grade when there are grand civilization-building strategies to be played, even while on vacation.

Like many vacation home renters, I often fantasize about owning my own funky little cottage on the Cape. Part of this fantasy is how I’d decorate it with only the most thoughtful and interesting collection of furniture, useful yet surprising books and top-of-the-line kitchenware. Added to this list would be a set of well-curated games, short on too many classics and filled out with the best Eurogames there are to offer. Maybe a couple basic Dungeons & Dragons books and a bag of polyhedral dice sitting on a shelf would inspire some vacation role-playing. I’d be sure to throw in the occasional retro game for irony, but my hope would be be that my renters would be pleasantly surprised by having their minds expanded while on vacation.

But then, I wake up from my real estate dream and realize most people probably don’t want a challenge on vacation. A deck of cards or a familiar board game is what most folks will ever want on those few precious days away from home each year. For me though, gaming never takes a holiday.

Favorite Kickstarters of the Month (August 2013)

These days it seems like a month doesn’t go by that some Kickstarter horror story makes the rounds. Projects vanish, people lose money to scams or entrepreneurs running Kickstarters go belly-up with their success. This past week, the owner of a successfully-Kickstarted game called Corporate America wrote about his experience. The piece gives a solid, balanced look at the real economics behind running a Kickstarter game campaign. It’s a good read and worth bearing in mind while taking a look through the game campaigns I’ll be watching this month.

duelA Duel Betwixt Us: This two-player card game pits two 19th-century gentleman in a game of manly combat. By using their workers, each player is able to mine for ingots used to create weaponry and armor for combat. Once ready, a player selects a duel and then brings their arms, armor and stack of dirty tricks to the fight. The very Victorian artwork reveals a hilarious game of codpieces, drunken miners, oddball weaponry and double-crossing at every turn in the quest of woman’s favor.

incursionIncursion: Released by Grindhouse Games in 2009, Incursion is yet another take on an alternative post-WWII world where Nazis and Allied forces persist in protracted combat as a Doomsday Device threatens world destruction for all. This sci-fi-fuelled game is full of fantastic weapons, evil scientists, daring heroes plus zombie Nazis and combat gorillas. This second edition and expansion of the game adds all sorts of plastic miniatures to the game, new missions and rules for three players.

freedomFreedom – The Underground Railroad: I grew up in Western New York, a hotbed of the Abolitionist movement and gateway to Canada for escaping slaves. Academy Games is adding the story of the Underground Railroad to their Birth of America Series of games that has already covered the American War of Independence and the War of 1812. There’s a lot of real history packed into this intense strategy game as players take on the role of allied abolitionists alluding slave trackers while escorting escaped slaves north to Canada along eight routes. Historical events and people shape the game along the way, making this game a really fascinating vehicle for retelling the story of the Underground Railroad.

TemplarTemplar – The Secret Treasures: I’m a fan of a number of the Eurogames produced by Queen Games, and Templar looks to be another fun hit. The game plays on two boards, a “harbor board” of warehouses and the other a detailed floorplan “abbey board.” Moving between the boards, players seek to find and hide treasure relics throughout the abbey by playing different character cards. Characters like the Prior, Abbot or Spy act to either aid or foil the Templar’s plans.

zerohourZero Hour – Survivor Horror Card Game: Aside from the occasional run-in with some zombies, I’m not generally a horror gamer. Zero Hour could change that. Play begins with 30 children stranded in the woods after their bus driver dies. Soon, weird things begin to happen in the woods, pushing each child closer and closer to insanity. Somehow, the children have to survive the night until the zero hour at dawn. The gothic design and theme of the entire game makes this look to be creepily attractive. A bonus part of the campaign is a tall plush Slenderman doll, certain to please the darkest child within you.

New Game Weekend: Innovation

Humans at one of our most basic levels are builders, and gaming offers a wide variety of opportunities to experience the push of civilization building over time. It’s no surprise then that one of the big genres a lot of board, card and even video games fall into is civilization development. The combination of historical facts and the linear nature of societal advancement through the ages lends the subject to a wide variety of games. Gamers return again and again to the chance to play out the evolution of technology, philosophy, warfare, religion, agriculture and art. Sid Meir’s Civilization, Small World, Settlers of Catan, Clash of Cultures and Tzolk’in are just a few of the games I’ve played that fall into this broad category, both historically-based or set in a fantasy realm.

This past weekend at Metropolitan Wargamers, a few of us played through Innovation, the 2010 award-winning card game from Asmadi Games. Retailing at $20, the game consists of 105 unique and text-heavy cards played against a simple set of rules but with a lot complexity in keeping track of your own civilization’s innovation track.

Like most civilization building games, Innovation proceeds along a linear timeline from the Stone Age to the Modern Era. After starting with four cards laid out in front of them, each player chooses two actions in each turn: Draw, Meld, Dogma or Achieve. Cards are drawn from chronological eras numbered 1-10 with cards depicting progressively-advanced innovations. A meld action allows a player to play a like-colored card on top of a card already laid out in front of them. Melded cards supercede the innovation on the cards previously played underneath.

The dogma action is where the meat of the game takes place. Each dogma allows a variety of single or multiple actions that can affect not just the one player but other players displaying equal or greater numbers of symbols such as crowns, factories, lightbulbs, castles, leaves, etc. Dogma actions can result in additional drawn or discarded cards, taking cards from other players or fanning the pile of cards to the right, left, up or down.  As cards are collected and scored, players can take an achieve action to score a level of era achievement for their civilization. Some dogma actions allow a combination of cards to be used to score special achievment cards such as Monument, Empire or Wonder. The first player with five achievements wins the game.

As with most civilization development games, Innovation involves a lot of balance between charting your own progress while keeping an eye on the advancement of other players. Certain dogmas are extremely valuable in moving your civilization forward, but they may also assist the other players, too. This combination of collaborative and competitive play allows Innovation to mirror the arc of human societal development as the ebb and flow of alliances and strength can shift from turn to turn.

Innovation is deceptively easy out of the box, and it’s only through a play through a game or two that the true complexity is felt. Unlike other civilization games which can often  involve managing hundreds of pieces, charts and cards, Innovation’s simple card mechanic is one of its strongest points. The devleopment of human civilization has been a complex road for sure, but with Innovation the road doesn’t get bogged down in a big box of stuff and all the strategy you need is right there in the cards.

Favorite Kickstarters of the Month (July 2013)

Kickstarter can be a weird, volatile environment. Some projects come and go with little fanfare while others soar into the stratosphere with backer support. There can be all manner of highs, lows and outright trouble for projects on their journey from idea to funding to delivery. That said, four of the projects I wrote about in June wound up successfully funded in the past month. The fifth, the seafaring game Admiral, was funded but the project was then suspended inexplicably with a day to go. No doubt there’s a story there, but for now, here are the projects I’ll be watching as we hit the first hot month of the summer in July.

Cthulhu Wars: Drawing on the Cthulhu Mythos of H.P. Lovecraft, this game is the big story in games on Kickstarter right now. With dozens of gorgeously grotesque miniatures and many planned expansions, this strategy board game turns the tables and allows the players to play as Lovecraft’s beastly horde seeking to control the surface of a ruined Earth. Many of the pledgers have bought in at the higher funding levels of $200-500+, no doubt attracted by not only the theme but the tons of extra maps, gaming pieces and figures rewards. The project is trending toward nearly $1 million in funding in its closing days, and the more than 3300 backers are delivering a built-in fan base of this classic horror genre already popular with gamers.

Seas of Iron: I’m not a big naval gaming fan, but I really like the looks of this very modest battleship wargame from Battle Bunker Games. The battleships are comprised of two-sided cards defining the sections of each ship where you deploy your crew and fire volleys at your opponent. When a section is destroyed, cards are flipped over to show that part of your ship aflame. The Kickstarter exclusives include the famed Yamato and Bismarck warships. Just $20 allows for a backer to get a full version of the game which allows enough flexibility for 1-on-1 or small fleet play with combined sets.

Devil Dogs and Dragons: I’ve invested in more than a few of the Anglo-Zulu War 28mm miniatures from Empress Miniatures. They make quality, spirited and detailed miniatures, so its great to see them expanding their Modern Combat line. There’s a lot of interest in gaming modern warfare right now, and the 28mm scale seems to be a clear favorite with small squad-level engagements in the dusty and hot embattled corners of the world. These 28mm figures fill out modern US Marine Corps and Chinese People’s Liberation Army options for deployment in the Asia-Pacific desert and jungle regions. With a bit more imagination, these guys will even find a home in various zombie, alien invasion or post-apocalyptic scenarios.

Fife & Drum American Revolution Range: Just in time for the 4th of July weekend, Fife & Drum Miniatures is also expanding their established line of miniatures. Sculpted in a large 30mm or 1/56 scale, these majestic figures offer incredible detail for the Colonial Period ranging from the Seven Years War to the American War of Independence. The Kickstarter campaign will help fund the company’s expansion into new British cavalry, Hessian, Highlander and French infantry offerings. At the $50 level, backers receive a special three-figure “Spirit of ’76” vignette, making this project perfect for any patriot and fan of the AWI period.

Gettysburg: The Tide Turns: Finally, and in keeping with the theme of American military history, I’m throwing in one video game offering to round out the list. The Battle of Gettysburg is celebrating its 150th anniversary this month, and so this timely iOS game for the iPad and iPhone looks to be a deal at just $10 to back the project. Developed by Shenandoah Studio, the makers of the previously Kickstarted Battle of the Bulge iOS game, this simulation looks to be a very promising 21st-century tribute to the strategy, tactics and heroics found on the famed Pennsylvania battlefield 150 years ago.

Gaming With the Stars

Aside from my love for games, comic books, movies and associated hallmarks of geekdom, I’m a longtime fan of AMC’s Mad Men which wraps up its sixth season this coming Sunday. One of the much-maligned characters on the show is the media buyer and TV man Harry Crane played by Rich Sommer.

What the average fan of the show probably doesn’t know is that Sommer is one of the increasingly-prominent stars of the small and big screen who has a deep passion for gaming. Although currently on hiatus, Sommers until recently posted frequently about his gaming exploits on his blog Rich Likes Games, and he has appeared on a number of webisodes of gaming sites like Wil Wheaton’s Tabletop. Wheaton’s show will soon be premiering new episodes featuring a new crowd of writers, comedians, actors and other creative friends with the common love of rolling dice, playing cards and out-strategizing their opponents across the table.

The ability for gaming to bring together diverse groups of people, the famous and not-so-famous alike, is one of the wonderful things about the hobby. There’s an oft-told tale of Vin Diesel introducing Judi Dench to Dungeons & Dragons on the set of The Chronicles of Riddick, leading to Dench dungeon-mastering subsequent games for her grandchildren. There are all sorts of stories out there and extensive lists of celebrities who place themselves among the worldwide population of gamers. Among them are Stephen Colbert, Matt Damon, Ben Affleck, Mike Meyers, Robin Williams, John Favreau and Joss Whedon. Go back further and there are stories of the likes of Charlie Chaplin, Douglas Fairbanks Sr., King Vidor, Cole Porter, Harold Ross and Amelia Earhart partaking in gaming.

What I’ve found in my own experience is that gamers come from all walks of life but share a commonality in creativity, reason, knowledge, problem-solving, logic and alternating collaborative and competitive natures. These are obvious traits to be found in people who occupy prominent positions in the culture but also in the regular folks I game with on a regular basis. I find this every week at Metropolitan Wargamers club in Brooklyn where different combinations of ages, background and experience come together to play.

I recall being at a gaming convention a few years back watching a young guy with a mohawk, lipstick, piercings and dressed in head-to-toe black speaking passionately with a retired buttoned-down US Army veteran about some tactical minutae of a WWII engagement. Thinking back to that scene, it serves as my Diesel-Dench moment where those of us who share nothing and everything randomly encounter each other in our worlds of gaming.

New Game Weekend: Love Letter

Heading into a weekend visit to Metropolitan Wargamers, I often don’t know what kind of game I’m going to be jumping into. It could be a re-fighting of a World War II D-Day scenario with hundreds of finely-painted miniatures. It might be a gory zombie apocalypse boardgame. Maybe it’s a sci-fi deck-building card game. Or, it could be an abstract Euro-style game where great world civilizations are built over the course of a couple hours of play.

This past Saturday night it was Love Letter. Released in 2012 in Japan and quickly moving into multiple international versions, Love Letter is a seemingly unlikely game for a group of hardcore gamers crowded around a basement table. The game is comprised of just 16 playing cards, 4 reference cards and 13 tiny red square cubes — “tokens of affection.” Everything comes in a crimson crushed velvet drawstring bag with “Love Letter” embroidered in flowery yellow script. The simplicity of the game’s packaging, design and minimal components hides a pretty compelling strategy card game which even the most battle-hardened gamers will find engaging in just under a half-hour’s play.

In Love Letter, player’s vie for the affection of Princess Annette of the imaginary kingdom of Tempest. Players are dealt cards with values of 1 to 9, each depicting a courtly character with a specific ability. In turn, each player then draws and plays one card. Guards (value 1) allow you to guess a card in another player’s hand. The Baron (value 3) has two players compare hands with the lowest hand eliminated from the round. The Prince (value 5) forces a player to discard their hand and draw a new card. The remaining six cards reveal different types of actions, and some cards are plentiful while others are unique. After a round of play, the last player holding a card or the player with highest-valued card wins a cube and a new round is dealt. The first player to score four cubes — “tokens of affection” — over a number of rounds of play wins the hand of Princess Annette.

The trick of the game is to attempt to follow which cards are in the hands of other players and still in the draw pile. Love Letter is thus a game of memorization, strategy and deceit. The most powerful cards, while best at the end of a round may make a player a target early in the round. Playing cards may reveal information to you, but also allow your opponents to possibly infer who is holding what cards. Players may gang up on a leading player to force them from a round, leading to shifting alliances from hand to hand.

Despite its courtly conceit, Love Letter can turn into a bit of a raucous and cut-throat game, as ours did among four of us Saturday night. The game would be perfect to keep tucked in the bottom of your bag to pull out among a group of friends at a bar or around the table during dessert. Given that entire ancient battles have been fought and historic treaties struck over the union of two fated lovers, Love Letter provides a quick and challenging chance to play out the ultimate game of royal affection taken to extremes.

New Game Weekend: Pacific Typhoon

It was the second rainy weekend in a row in New York City, but a crowd of guys made it down to the Metropolitan Wargamers club in Brooklyn Sunday afternoon. With seven of us standing around the table trying to come up with a big enough game with easy rules that could be played in a couple hours, a few people tossed out the idea of 2008’s Pacific Typhoon by GMT Games.

This WWII Pacific Theater naval battle card game was originally produced as a sequel of sorts to Avalon Hill’s Atlantic Storm  game from the late 1990’s. Created for 3-7 players ages 10 and up, Pacific Typhoon is simple to grasp with a pretty straightforward trick-taking format yet enough opportunity for interaction among players to keep a group of hearty experienced gamers engaged for the afternoon.

Pacific Typhoon comes with 140 force cards and 40 battle cards plus a couple dice and a rulebook, making this a compact and entertaining game for medium to large groups. The cards themselves are simple but have nice black-and-white WWII period photos and contextual factoids which add flavor to the game. Plus, at just $20 direct from GMT Games, Pacific Typhoon carries a lot of fun at a really friendly price.

Each player begins by drawing a hand of six force cards. Cards depict historical Japanese (red, top left) and Allied (blue, middle left) naval forces plus upgrade and event cards. The starting player draws two battle cards (black-edged, bottom left) and chooses one of the two to play. Play goes around with each player choosing in turn to commit a Japanese or Allied force card to the battle. Players contribute the points on their cards to the total strength of each side in the battle, and the side with the most points wins that battle. The player with the highest point value on the winning side then divies up the points among the winning players, and the next round begins.

As described above, the play is really straightforward but there’s a lot of flexible play in each round. Battle cards take place in a specific year (’41, ’42, 43, etc.) and during day or night. The player choosing the battle also calls whether the battle is to be fought with submarines, on the surface or by air. A battle combination such as “night battle, surface, ’44” will determine which force cards the players can choose to play in the battle.

With force cards with varying levels of strength, bonuses, year, time of day and type, each battle plays out differently. Alliances among players are created and broken with each battle, with players choosing which side to support as a gamble toward contributing to whichever side will win. For example, a turn may start with Japanese cards being played to what looks like a certain victory until a group of subsequent players decide to pool their Allied cards and win in an upset. As the game progresses, winning players dole out points rewarding their allies in each round while making certain to hold enough points for themselves ahead of the whole group at the game’s end.

With alliances and double-crosses sailing back and forth over the table in each round, Pacific Typhoon is a game rife with good-natured team-play and trash-talking. Pacific Typhoon ultimately makes for a great mix of individual and collaborative play within a casual trick-taking card game good for beginners and experts alike interested in spending a couple hours re-fighting famed WWII battles of the Pacific high seas.

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.