Board Games

I decided the fam has been playing enough board games i needed to get a few that weren’t quite as complex as, say, Supremacy or Firefly even. We’ve got a four year old that’s pretty bright for her age, and was really engaged by Munchkin, so I looked for games with easier base games in subjects she might like.

She loves cars and motorcycles, and racing, so enter Formula D — a later edition of the French Formula Dé board game by Asmodee. It’s supposedly for 10 and older, but we found the simple rules were easy enough for Sofia to grasp, and she quickly started to understand the ideas behind “slow in, fast out” and how to shift appropriately.


The game has two boards for the race — Monaco and a street race we haven’t tried yet. Wee toy cars are placed on the board, and each player gets a marker box with a shifter from 1-6th gear. Each gear has a corresponding die that is rolled for your speed per round: a d2 for first, d6 with 2-4 for second, d8 for third, d12 for fourth, d20 for fifth, and d30 for sixth. Your car can take a certain number of wear points. Downshift to hard, brake to hard, overshoot a turn too hard and you lose these. Take a turn far too fast, you wreck and are done. It requires some canny reading of the distances to start working the shifter to your advantage.


The advanced game breaks the wear across tires, engine, etc. and there look to be characters you can play. There’s even weather rules. When the kiddo is old enough, I suspect we can start tacking on the harder stuff.

Would it be more “realistic” to play each other on a gaming console? Sure, but there’s a certain fun to sitting at the kitchen table, throwing different types of dice and chatting while playing a game. It’s tactile, it’s teaching her (subtly) probabilities and how to judge distances, etc.

I found a copy with no troubles at Noble Knight for $35. There’s four different expansion packs, each with two new and different tracks at $30. It’s a great example of how simple rules can still lead to complex strategizing. If you see a copy, and you’re into board games and racing games, it’s a buy.

I picked up a copy of Gale Force Nine’s Firefly: The Game board game a week ago. I’ve yet to play it with others, but there is a “solo” option that I tried out. The game is nicely made, with high production values. There’s a board loosely based on the Quantum Mechanix Map of the Verse, five Firefly-class miniature pieces, a Reaver vessel, and an Alliance Cruiser; there’s a collection of different game card decks — this seems to be a new trend in board games, having a dozen decks of cards for things.


Play is simple you take jobs from various contacts, try to do said assignments, and meet the requirements on a “story card” to win. Doing a quick trial as a solo, I found that the difficulty for some of the jobs require you not to just leap into misbehavin’ — but you want to get together a crew with the widest variety of skills you might need. There are some “short cuts” you can take — gear you need to pull off the job with ease (two words — “hacking rig”) or specific crew members. Resolving jobs has you roll a d6 — if you get Serenity, that counts as a six and you can roll again and add the amount.

It looks like it could be a lot of fun and the learning curve looks to be relatively low. The flavor of the show comes through very well in the game materials and play — Browncoats should love it. The game runs about $40 and I think it’s worth it, especially for Firefly fans. There are also a pair of card expansions for the game already available.

This is another from the oldie but goodie category. Easily my favorite strategy game of the 1980s, Supremacy was a high-complexity board game in the style of Risk. The players chose a bloc that they controlled — Europe, America, South America, Russia, etc… The game includes an economic track that allows the player to buy and sell resources, or use them for their military. You can build armies, navies, and most powerful of all — nuclear weapons and weapons satellites. The player’s territories provide them with resources per turn, and playing the market can be very important in your ability to keep your fighting forces active and to keep yourself flush.

We often found that players would collude in market manipulation to profit from resource trading. Many would reflexively avoid using nuclear weapons, as 12 of the sinister black mushroom cloud figures on the board means everyone loses (MAD.)

Here’s the board:

There were some good expansions that included submarines and “fortune” (natural disasters, etc. to help keep the market moving), and a few that were less useful (including massive maps and larger units for the wargamers who didn’t like dealing with child choking hazard-sized pieces.)

Some black mushroom goodness:

The goal is to either eliminate the opponent through conventional or strategic war, or bankrupt them through economic means. The average play time is between three and six hours, depending on the number of players. This is not a “hey, let’s just bust out a board game” sort of thing; this is a “let’s spend the day playing Supremacy” sort of thing.

To my knowledge, Supremacy Games is defunct and this is no longer produced. If you find it on eBay, or someplace, it’s a good addition to the pile if you are a board gamer. It’s stuck firmly between the light strategy game of Risk and the heavy sims of SPI and other wargames.

Back in 1986, Milton Bradley gave us their “Gamemaster Series” of “light” wargames. Unlike the high-complexity stuff you would have gotten from SPI or other wargame manufacturers, these were low-complexity rules that supported high-complexity strategy fun. Easily my favorite of these was Shogun, later renamed to Samurai Swords to avoid copyright issues with James Cavell’s novel and a game based on it (the most recent version was called Ikusa.) There’s a whole backstory of whuy the name changes, who owned the game when, etc…but we’re interested in the play:

The game consists of a large mapboard of Japan, broken down in to provinces which have corresponding cards to show ownership. Players split the cards evenly, populate their provinces with a spearman. They also get three armies (represented by a daimyo figure that corresponds to the army on another small army board. They also get a figure carrier fashioned to look like a fortification into which plugs a cardboard screen with all of the important rules on it. The plastic pieces include three daimyos, samurai (bowmen and swordsmen), and ashigaru (spearmen and riflemen.) Set up takes a bit of time, and does involve some strategy in the placement of units and armies.

Play is quick and easy. Each turn, you count the number of provinces and get a number of koku (money) to build fortifications (nifty fortress bases and castles), hire a ninja to assassinate your enemies, build your units. Order of play is decided by picking wee katana swords with a number of pips on them. The randomizers are d12s. Average play time is about 2-3 hours depending on the number of players and they quality of play.

The game is deceptively simple from a rules set standpoint: collect your money, build your units, etc., attack your enemies, repeat… The fights are ordered from the ranged weapons — bowmen and riflemen, to the daimyo, through the swordsmen and spearmen. Organizing your armies and standing guard in the provinces takes a lot of care and planning, and even the best plans can be laid low by chance. We’ve had some excellent games where it seemed one player was neigh invincible, only to have one single battle go awry and the player be taken out of the game early.

Quality of the Shogun and Samurai Sword sets is lovely — good cardstock, nice plastic figures, excellent artwork. I can’t say for Ikusa but I’m assuming it remained the same. If you find it on eBay or elsewhere, it’s a definite buy.

After reading a short, glowing review of the board game Fortune and Glory by Flying Frog, I decided to go ahead and order it through I got lucky and one of the distributors had it for $25 off because the box had minimal shipping damage. Once in, I can say: it’s bloody gorgeous.

Production values are top notch — the multitude of cards are heavy gloss stock, full color, and lovely. the map is nicely period (similar in character to the map illustrations in Hollow Earth Expedition), theres a big load of dice, over 100 plastic figures, and in the box the plastic tubs for everything are so well laid out you can store everything easily and keep the various cardboard chits separated.

Play is broken into a simpler form of the game, an advanced rules set, and can either be played with the various players racing against each other, or working collaboratively in a team against Nazis, etc. (or another team of players, for that matter.) There’s even a solo option for people having trouble getting friends together to play. Set up, as usual for many board games, is the longest thing. There’s a lot of different card decks to shuffle and keep track of. You pick a character card, with your particular abilities and shticks — all of them classic pulp archetypes — then set them up on their home city. Next four artifacts and adventures are pulled giving you a series of missions, like “The City of the Dead!” or “The Hammer of the Gods!” The goal: collect and sell artifacts to get 15 fortune chips (gold doubloon-like pieces.)

The first stage is initiative. Everyone rolls, the highest goes first. If you roll a 1, you get an “event” card which can add a bit of spice to the game — my first event threw a bunch of Nazi troopers across the board. Next is movement: you roll in turn a d6 and move up to that number. The map board is broken up to allow fast travel, save across the ocean; there is a alternate rule that allows you for a certain bit of glory chips to fly from a major city to a major city. If you stop at a spot without an artifact to hunt, you can draw an event or have to fight a bad guy, depending on a die roll.

The adventure stage is where the fun really gets going. this is when you resolve the events/enemies encounters above, or if you are at a place with an artifact, you have a number of challenges to go through. You pull a danger card and try to accomplish the feat. If you don’t it turns into a cliffhanger card. Don’t succeed, you’re back to square one. Succeed at the task and you earn glory chips (blue doubloon like chips) which can be spend on gear and allies to aid you. The final stage is mostly for the advanced rules enemies to do their thing and for players, once they’ve returned to a city to auction off their find for fortune.

Set up, as mentioned, was a bit slow, but once you’re playing it goes by fast. The wife and I ran through a game, complete with interruptions from screaming baby, in just over an hour.

So is it worth it? You bet your bippy, toots! Style: 5 out of 5; Substance: 5 out of 5. Cost: $75-100 bucks was the range I saw. It’s worth it. Enough so I’m looking at Flying Frog’s other board games for a buy.

And now a role playing game aside: the way the game is structured would allow a gamemaster pressed for time or ideas to quickly slap together an adventure for a pulp-style game in minutes. Bust open the box, pull an artifact and adventure card, and a couple of location cards with an event or danger card for each. Flesh out the massive plot holes (or don’t…it’s pulp!) Run the game. This added bit of utility pushes this game right to the top of my favorites pile.

I’ll try to get around to adding some pictures of the game when I can.

I’ve been seeing an annoying trend for the last decade or so on game forums:  RPG and board (mostly strategy) game players that are waiting for new systems or supplements getting out-of-their head angry over delays in publishing (an unfortunate reality of the business, especially with licensed products like Star Trek or Leverage.)

The impatience shown is understandable in a few instances — Decipher screwed their Star Trek RPG customers over with promised deliveries of product that wasn’t just approved, but already printed and sitting in a warehouse.  I wasn’t happy about it; I loved the system and while I wasn’t a Trekkie, I was running the game pretty steadily and wanted more official information.  Battlestar Galactica got the same chop as the show came to an end — several promised supplements never materialized, but were apparently in final stages of lay out or approval.  Margaret Weis Games just didn’t like the end of the show and dumped the lines seems to be the general consensus for what happened.  I didn’t appreciate it, but i wasn’t going to take my FN FiveSeven over to the MWP offices in a fit of pique.

Here’s the facts, kids (most of whom are about my age…so NOT kids): if you want more setting information for your game, make it up.  I’ve been pumping out new cars and guns for the James Bond: 007 system for two-plus decades, I drew up some well received android rules for the Decipher Trek, and I’m still doing stuff for BSG…all of which can be found on this site, by the way.  I’m working a dissertation, was often working full time, running two games, and while I don’t have the time sink of having kids, I can say this:  you can make time to build your own gear, ships, house rules, and setting material.

Stop whinging on the boards.  It makes you look like little punks.

Wired has a blog post on some ideas for sprucing up board games with technology.

While the idea is very cool, and I’m sure it would appeal to those looking for a crossover between tabletop and video gaming, I can’t help but feel this won’t take off.  There’s a certain visceral feel to have hand-painted miniatures (or the wee plastic ones that Wizards is big on right now), drawing out a map (or building one from 3-D tiles and what have you), that this won’t capture.

Yes, having moving stuff on the board is neat.  Hell, little robotic minis that did what they were instructed would be pisser! but it loses some of the fun of the board game.  My favorite remains Supremacy! — the original version with the highly abstract map with it’s square and ovoid pieces, and of course the mushroom-shaped “clouds” for the nukes.

Normally, I’m a technophile.  I really want a Surface table with multi touch where the players can all manipulate dice programs, their pdf character sheets, and I can have map overlays for pieces, etc.  (Not too different from this idea, really…) so I don’t know why this particular bit of application doesn’t thrill me.

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