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.

New Game Weekend: Fire & Axe

After a couple weeks spent at home hunched over my workbench working away furiously at my 28MM American Civil War projects, I was finally able to get out of the house for some gaming this past Friday night. I hadn’t been to the Metropolitan Wargamers club in a few weeks, so it was good to get back this weekend. I walked in to a nearly empty club — rare on a Friday night — but in quick order a few other members showed up. I had hauled along my copy of Village to introduce to the guys, but first another member suggested we have a quick run through a different boardgame I’d heard mentioned frequently at the club before —  Fire & Axe: The Viking Saga Game.

Originally published in 2004, Fire & Axe is now hard to come by and used copies can fetch over $100 at times. I’m a little surprised at the long-standing adoration this game has. Of the twenty or so games I’ve been introduced to over the past year, Fire & Axe wouldn’t be near the top of the list although it does have ease of play and short duration going for it.

The game pits 2-4 players against one another as they sail on quests to settle, conquer or trade within various regions of European seas in the backdrop of the Viking age. The game begins with each player’s ship in the Wintering Box in the northernmost edge of the map. Once a ship is loaded and launched, players choose to depart from Norway, Denmark or Sweden. The turn begins with a player choosing to perform seven actions which may include loading goods or troops to their ship, sailing across the open seas or landing in ports to engage in trade, establish a settlement or capture a city. Special “rune cards” can also be collected and played to perform a variety of actions — from strengthening your invading forces or calling on a sea monster to destroy another player’s ship.

Gold is collected throughout the game through trade, conquest and settlement. Specific missions to trade with or take over specific ports can be collected to score additional points. The missions can also have shared success where points in conquering three port cities might be split between two players. Players who complete the most missions for each of the Viking civilizations of Norway, Sweden and Denmark stand to earn additional points at the game’s end. Additionally, missions get more valuable and reach to the farthest edges of the board as the game progresses. When all missions are completed, the game ends and points are tallied.

The game progresses quickly — four of us got through a game in about 90 minutes Friday night. The game is simple to understand after a turn or two, but it all just seemed like a race without enough variety in paths to victory. For instance, I burned up a couple turns hoping to conquer three cities, but some awful die rolls sent me back to the Wintering Box as other players swept in to claim those cities. At the end of the game, another player snatched victory from the would-be winner through one final chance move that stole a few points from the guy who had led up to that point.

I’ll give Fire & Axe another shot at some point since the guys at the club seem to have a deep love for it, but for now I think I’ll be concentrating on games beyond the Viking regions of the northern seas.

New Game Weekend: Village

Lately I’ve been introduced to a number of board games known collectively as “worker management” games. The main mechanic of these games involves each player’s management of their main game pieces representing workers, family members, tribespeople, etc. With varying combinations of placement and removal of these pieces from the game board, the player gains resources, acquires skills, builds structures or otherwise advances in the varying points systems set up for that particular game. The games usually employ the ability to gain additional workers or lose workers over time. Gaining workers usually involves expending more resources to maintain them but also allows a player the advantage of being able to perform more actions within the game.

Lords of Waterdeep and Tzolk’in are worker managment games within fantasy swords-and-sorcery and ancient Mayan contexts, respectively. To a lesser extent, Small World is also a worker management game, where players manage successive rising and declining races of varying expertise and strength in a quest to control the board. The latest game I’ve tried within this genre is Village which plays out in a Medieval rural village with each player managing four generations of workers through their lifecycle of birth and eventual passing.

Each player begins with their first generation of family members born into the game in their “farmyard” and then deployed to the board. Players can choose to play their pieces in various areas of the board — Crafts, Market, Travel, Church and Council. There are also is also a Harvest area and Family space where new generations fo your family are “born” into the game. Placement in each area can allow a player to gain goods, trade goods for points or otherwise earn points over time. Cubes of four colors as well as pieces representing grain, gold, oxen, horses, plows, wagons and scrolls all serve as tradeable commodities within the game. These are all used in a number of combinations to either acquire different resources or score points.

The key to Village is managing the lifespan of your family members, as placement in each area of the board winds up costing passage of life costs marked in a track of hourglasses. Once a certain amount of lifetime passes, a family member dies off and is placed either in the prominent “village chronicle” book or in a generic grave. Timing exactly when your villagers die determines your shorter term acquistion of more goods or resources and long term point score at the game’s end. Each round of the game involves a re-set of the village and an interesting “mass” at the church where players have the opportunity to move up in prestige (and score points) through their prominence of placement within the church hierarchy.

Like most other worker management games I’ve played, Village is primarily competitive with little to no opportunity for collaboration between players. There’s variety to be had as players can choose to focus on one area of the board over others to rack up points. Players also exercise a certain amount of control of the game’s pace. They can agressively move their generations through their lifecycles and rush the game to quicker finish or they can take their time and focus more on points throughout the game.

While I’ve only played two-player versions of the game thus far, I can’t wait to try a three-or-four-person game where compettion for space and prestige on the board will obviously be more competitive. The game moves fast, and in just about 60-90 minutes players can easily cycle through the rise and fall of four generations in this wonderfully imaginative Village.