For the 10 people who read this blog

I just want to say thank you. I appreciate anyone who reads this and hope that you get both enjoyment and helpful information from it.

So thank you!

But…?

I’m taking a short break from writing this and may consider easing back on my. Originally, I was able to push out an article once a week! But now, I’ve got a lot on my plate. I’m heavily into developing my game and working on design/artwork as well as trying to organize playtesting cycles.

Finally, I knew you’d quit. It was just a matter of time

I’m not quitting! I’m just taking a break and then reducing my posting frequency.

I’m also trying to finish a short sci-fi story in time for an upcoming contest. (Wish me luck!)

Break a leg

I think you’re only supposed to say that to actors who are about to go on stage, right?

I know—I’m just stating my wish

Expect a new article in the last week of May.

Cheers!

Dragon’s Milk & Call to Adventure: great beer with an unfortunate name and an unfortunate game with a great name

My title is too long, you say? I know, but I had to go for it. It communicates my feelings for this pairing well, this article is just to offer the details on how I came to this conclusion.

 

I backed Call to Adventure on kickstarter. When my copy was delivered to me, complete with Name of the Wind cards and a neat original backer cinch bag, I was ecstatic! Call to Adventure is a hero story building game. Players “compete” (I’ll get to why this is in quotes later) to become the most damn interesting hero in the world.

Your title is too long

Imagine a D&D-esque world where—after a hefty journey—you’re finally able to relax for a moment in a hole-in-the-wall tavern, far from where you’re from but somehow you still feel at home. As you plop your rear end in your seat and take your first foamy gulp of your ale, you overhear someone boast their tales of peril and wonder, logic and madness, natural and supernatural. You have only one thing on your mind: my life story is way better!

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That is Call to Adventure, a fantasy world where you build your hero’s back story, motivation, and destiny.  Seems fun right? Well…

Uh oh

Uh oh is right. The artwork and custom assets for Call to Adventure are phenomenal. The game has blood-red rubies for experience tokens and custom two-sided “dice” runes that are shaped like large pieces of Eclipse gum.

 

The actual gameplay of Call to Adventure is severely lacking. It suffers from severe mechanical over-engineering. Call to Adventure also has the poorest written rule book that I’ve ever had to parse. If this game were set during the Spanish Inquisition as opposed to a fantasy world, I could see Catholic priests using it to torture people for information on where all of the heretics are hiding.

There are so many inconsistencies in the wording of the rule book and the over designing of the game that I’m under the conclusion that the developers, Brotherwise games, were so caught up in the idea of a “hero story building” game that they didn’t stop to think about what makes for a great tabletop game: fun, challenging mechanics and an extremely well-articulated and well-organized rulebook.

A great tabletop game transcends its theme; Call to Adventure, unfortunately, succumbs to it. There were so many times when I just wanted to stop playing this game. It has all of the iconoclast mechanic explanations of a game like 7 Wonders with absolutely zero wonder of its own.

I’m sad now, can we talk about something nice now?

When I was perusing the beverages of my local alcoholitorium, I was looking for a drink that wanted to share its story with me. Something that spoke to me and said, “you’ll want to hear (or in this case, drink) this.”

I settled on Dragon’s Milk—a bourbon barrel-aged stout from new Holland Brewing in Holland, Michigan. I bought it for the ridiculous name and my affinity for dark beers, but I continued to drink it because of just how damned interesting it is as a beer.

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Dragon’s Milk does not suffer from over-engineering. Quite the opposite, in fact! This beer is filled with complexity: it’s malty and creamy smooth like a chocolate cream stout, but includes the caramel and slight buttermilk notes that you’d find in a bourbon barrel-aged beer. It’s thick, its full, but it’s not overwhelming. Once you get past the name, and all of the dirty dragon-based jokes that you can make from the name, you get a beer that’s on par with those fancy, limited edition, longer-aged craft beers that you see on the market. (It also has 11% ABV, whooo dog!)

But what does it all mean?!

Call to Adventure comes with a lot of lessons:

  • Even tabletop games from established publishers can be absolutely rushed and deliver a substandard experience.
  • Do not rush your rulebooks. This rulebook was clearly rushed. If it somehow wasn’t rushed, get better people to host your playtests. Like I said—worst. rulebook. ever.
  • Having great artwork and fancy custom runes and tokens doesn’t make your game fun. And it definitely doesn’t make up for poor, clunky game mechanics.
  • Don’t get cute and call victory points something else. Call to Adventure calls them “destiny” points. They’re victory points—get over it. I’m not gaining any thematic suspension of disbelief from you calling a spade a clover.
  • Over-engineering your game is the one true evil. I believe in this case, having an over-engineered game coupled with an absolutely horrid rulebook (Spanish Inquisition torture device) made Call to Adventure extremely frustrating to play at all times. I would wager that you can have an over-engineered game with a fantastic rulebook and have that game be a delight. Don’t shoot me for this, but I believe that a lot of aspects of Dungeons & Dragons are or were at one point extremely over-engineered—but the insanely smart rulebooks completely remove the pain from the game.

Was there anything aside from the assets that was good about this game?

Definitely! My favorite aspect of this game is that it gives you the vehicle to tell a story without having to start from scratch. Another part of Call to Adventure that I enjoyed was that, although someone is declared winner, I never actually cared about competing in this game. Some may find that frustrating but I found it refreshing. Competition can be fun but I enjoyed the fact that, when my partner won the game by one “Destiny” point, I really just wanted to hear her connect the dots between the cards she gathered along the way.

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Final Verdict?

If I had a chance to play Call to Adventure before eagerly kickstarting it, I wouldn’t have backed it. What I did was based on blind consumer trust. I’ve enjoyed every Brotherwise game I’ve played until now—Boss Monster and all of its expansions and Unearth. I believe that in the future, I’m going to wait until a Brotherwise game hits retail stores and I get a chance to borrow a copy to play from my friendly local game store before I put my dollars in their hands again.

But as for Dragon’s Milk? Oh I’ll be putting my dollars in New Holland’s hands in the future, you can count on that.

Root and Barleywine: Rich Gameplay With a Rich Beverage

Root and its expansion were an impulse buy. So far, it’s been the best tabletop game purchase that I’ve ever made. I’ve played it twice—once with two players and another time with five. Let me tell you: the rules of this game are fucking hard to understand.

This isn’t just a difficult game to understand, I believe this was an insanely difficult game to develop. Imagine taking four different area control games and smashing them together. Then imagine developing an expansion where you take two more area control games and smash those into that game as well. Root is six different games bundled into one experience.

Is that a good thing or a bad thing?

I like to think of it as a book that you’re compelled to read multiple times in order to understand. There’s both good and bad in that. The good—well, you want to keep playing this game. When you’ve finished, you want to play again from the perspective of a different faction. The bad—you fuck up a lot AND no matter how many different rule books, walkthroughs, overview cards, how-to-play-the-game quick guides are thrown at you (Root has all of these), you’ll forget or completely cock up a rule.

That Nestle water isn’t mine, I promise!

Wait, I’m confused…

I understand, let me back up a bit and explain the game.

Root is an asynchronous area control game. I mean asynchronous in every sense of the term. A player controls one of six factions, each with completely different assets, rules, mechanics during their turns, and methods of scoring points.

When playing with more than two people, expect to take a lot more time than the 90ish minutes advertised. Most of that time is spent thinking about your moves, consulting the multiple rulebook to see if your play is valid, and figuring out how other players work. Even if you’ve played a few times, remembering the rule sets of six asynchronous factions is difficult.

Oh, never mind that sounds easy, carry on!

Exactly. It’s not only difficult to understand how your own faction fits in with the game, let alone understanding how your competition plays their game. And that’s just it, each player in Root plays their own game. Some more than others. (I’m looking at you, Vagabond.)

Players typically only attack one another when they need to own a clearing. I’m positive that that’s the entire point of Root: figure out how you score points and only be aggressive when you need to be.

The Marquise de Cat must go!

One small gripe that I have is on precisely that, though. I wish that there were more strategic reasons to claim a clearing other than “I need more resources and building spots.” I think that would force more challenging (in a good way) player interactions.

One larger tribe that I have is with how difficult it is to explore the rules and find the answer that you need. Simple set-up things that I would’ve hoped would be on the back of the faction boards are buried deep in the core rulebook. Sometimes rules are a little too vague, other times rules are overtly complicated in their wording. I think another pass or two over these rules would’ve fixed that right up. (I hear that a new edition of the rulebook is being released, so these issues may be fixed!)

This is too much…I need a drink

Then might I suggest that you go with a 2011 Pike Place Brewery Barleywine.

This is a complex, strong (as in, high ABV) drink. Can you see why I chose it to pair with Root? Pike Place is a brewery local to Seattle, currently nestled in the heart of the Pike Place market.

Also, the artwork of this game seems inspired by novels like Redwall—in which there are moments where cute, anthropomorphic animals guzzle down barleywine by the cask.

So do you like this game or not?

Yes, yes, a thousand times yes. Root has the best kind of complexity. It takes several sessions for you to get down the logistics of each faction, let alone to try and think of complex strategy. But you still want to be a mastermind and learn the rules.

I have the core game and the expansion. Leder Games, makers of Root, have already announced a second expansion that they’re kickstarting in a matter of days and I’m going to back it on day one.

Root is the first game in a long time that compels me to play it. I can hear Root whisper, “play me” when I see it on my shelf. I want to try and play a faction again just to pin down those amazing plays. I want to play different factions to figure out how to master them. When I don’t have time to play, I just stare at the box and think about what could be…then I have a drink.

Illimat & Dark Star Oatmeal Stout: Myths Made into Realities

Wow.

Go on…

Yes, sorry. At the time of writing this, I’m overly saturated with rich darkness,  both in this thick-as-oil oatmeal stout and in the black-as-negative-space design of Illimat. I love both the beer and the game, but both are difficult to interpret. Let’s dive into why…

Throwing shade this early?

No! Well maybe a little. I’m bringing my honest impression to the table here. I love the beer and the game and will drink and play them again. Maybe not at the same time, but who knows!

Why did you pair these together?

Both the beer and the game embrace darkness in color. Both have far more to offer than just that darkness. In fact, I would say that the whimsical style of Illimat with its muted pinks, reds, and blues coupled with the luxurious sweet vanilla, cinnamon, and nutmeg notes of the Dark Star: Spice Wars edition provide a lighthearted, refreshing flavor to both your taste buds and your tabletop experience. The artwork of Illimat is reminiscent of the older 1800’s decks of cards.

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Let’s start with the beer

Dark Star is a thick, rich oatmeal stout creation from Fremont Brewing, a fine establishment which is local to me in Seattle. This particular version of Dark Star is barrel-aged and spiced. (Oh yes, it’s spiced.) This beer is dense, heavy, and you might not believe me if I told you that it was carbonated. I will concede that it’s a difficult drink. It’s as if I had liquified a cake, frosting and fruit and decoration and all, and asked you to drink it. It reminds me of a classic german Black Forest cake (Schwarzwälderkirschtorte), minus the cherries. It’s a Schwarzwälderkirschtorte smoothie. That word alone is hard to swallow, let alone the physical substance.

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A 22-ounce bottle of this magical Dark Star costs $20 USD. The beer is more expensive than the current price-per-ounce of a barrel of crude oil. Please reach out to me and correct me if my math on this is shitty:

  • A barrel is about 5000 ounces.
  • As of 11/19/2018, crude oil is about $65 per barrel.
  • Oil is $0.013 per ounce. (Dividing 65/133.)
  • A bottle of Dark Star is 22 ounces. (I think.)
  • As of 11/19/2018, barrel-aged Dark Star is about $20 per bottle.
  • Dark Star is $1.1 per ounce. (Dividing 20/22.)

I believe that beer should be more expensive than oil, but that’s an aside from my main point: this beer has complex notes that are hidden under the heavy oatmeal stout tar pit texture. It has one of the heaviest mouth-feels of a beer that I’ve ever tasted. This beer doesn’t care about nor need carbonation. You don’t decide to drink this beer, this beer tells you that you’re drinking it. It commands you and traps you; when you try it, you’re stuck.

I hope the Illimat review doesn’t reek of hipster like your beer review

Your hope is futile. In fact, let me tell you a little more about the inception of this game. This game was sponsored or presented by the Decemberists. The theme of the game fits right into their semi-poppy folk rock world. It was more specifically designed with elements of their 2009 album The Hazards of Love in mind. With that being said, we definitely listened to The Hazards of Love, and The Crane Wife while playing Illimat and drinking our expensive, Pacific-Northwest-brewed oatmeal stout for the full on hipster experience.

Thought so…

Illimat takes the concept of a classic playing card game, brings it into the current tabletop gaming world, and wraps a farming theme around it. The game’s mechanics complement the theme well. In a round of Illimat, 2-4 players will take turns sowing, harvesting, or stockpiling cards for a chance to harvest the entire stockpile on a later turn. The suits of the cards—each suit containing a single “Fool” card representing both 1 and 14 much like an Ace in classic playing card games—follow the four seasons, as does the play area itself. When playing with 3 or 4 players, the deck is increased with a “star” suit of cards. There are also Luminary cards, which are revealed the first time that a field is cleared. These cards change the rules of the game. For example, The Forest Queen causes a particular field to remain Summer, locking the seasons until her field is cleared a second time.

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One word comes to mind with the design of this game: magical. You don’t have a board, you play on a square piece of cloth that has four “fields” to take action in. The box that the game comes in also serves as a part of the game. You set it in the middle of the cloth to show which field is in which season. Playing a face card in a field switches that field to the season of the face card’s suit and you rotate the box accordingly. Each season has a special property as well which is neatly printed on the box:

  • In Winter, you can’t harvest cards
  • In Spring, you can’t stockpile cards
  • In Autumn, you can’t sow the field with a card
  • In Summer, you are free to take any action you like

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The objective of the game seems simple enough: be the first player to get 17 points.  The manner in which players gain or lose points is based around a few factors:

  • You gain points by harvesting the most cards
  • You gain points by having the most cards from the Summer suit
  • You gain points by collecting Fools (which are like the “Ace” card of Illimat)
  • You gain points by collecting Okus tokens or Luminary cards, which happens when you clear a field
  • You lose points by having the most cards from the Winter suit. Everything about this game seems well-thought

Except…? 

Except two things: some of the advanced mechanics, and the rulebook. The rulebook doesn’t cover a lot of situations that can occur during a game of Illimat. It also sometimes suffers from not formatting important information to stand out more. For example, we played the game thinking that each field had only three spots to sow cards—and that’s not the case. There were moments where we struggled to take an action or thought that we sometimes couldn’t take an action. Turns out, each field has no limit to the number of cards that can be sown. We had to dig through the rulebook and read a few sections over and over again to find that detail buried. NOTE: As described above, we played Illimat under the impression that you could sow only up to three cards in a field, which isn’t the case. This made each round of Illimat last a lot longer than it should have. The way that the stockpiling mechanic is described in the rulebook is also difficult to follow at first. Stockpiling is a more advanced mechanic where you can take a little risk to possibly reap a huge reward if you’re able to harvest that stockpile on your next turn. (You can only take one action on your turn, and you must have the right card to take that action.) For example, if you have a 5 in your hand, you can play it in a field which has a 2 and a 3, this then acts like a pair of 5s. A player can harvest this stockpile if they have a 5 in their hand, and the field isn’t in Winter. Seems simple, right? Well, you can also create a new value when you stockpile, which didn’t make sense to me. You also need to have another card in your hand which matches the total value of the stockpile you’re creating. So can I not make a stockpile of a 5, 3, and a 2? Apparently not unless I have a 10 in my hand. NOTE: When we played Illimat, we treated the stockpile mechanic as described above, where you combine cards on the field with one on your hand to create a “pair” of cards. (For example, playing a 5 on a field with a 2 and a 3 to create a “pair” of 5s.) This apparently was incorrect gameplay.None of these elements are described well in the rules. Illimat’s Stockpiling FAQ elaborates on the details of this complicated mechanic, but in my opinion it’s still an odd system in the first place. The FAQ talks about having an active card and a passive card, which was entirely omitted from the rulebook for some reason.

Active card—the card that you’re playing down on a field to create the stockpile. Passive card—the card in your hand (that you don’t play) which is equal to the total value of the stockpile. Why? This seems like a mechanic that needed a little more time in the oven. Furthermore, you don’t have to show anyone that you have the correct passive card unless they ask. The FAQ describes you as cheating if you don’t have the passive card. What? What is the point of designing a mechanic like that? It makes no sense and seems to be arbitrarily inhibiting players from using the mechanic.

So is Illimat a buy or not?

Despite the rulebook needing more time to bake and the issues with the stockpiling mechanic, I’m glad that I purchased Illimat and will likely buy the new Crane Wife expansion. Illimat combines the simple math and card collection goals found in classic card games like Hearts, Gin, or Bridge with the modern elements of tactics and strategy that you’d find in the current tabletop scene. The Dark Star oatmeal stout is also a strong buy from me, although I must try to limit myself so that I don’t go broke buying those $20 bombers every time I visit Fremont Brewing.  

Century Golem Edition & Field to Ferment: Rethemed Game with a Rethemed Beer

In my last pairing, I voiced disappointment with the form of cultural appropriation that happens in tabletop games with giving games that have a market, buying, or trading system a generic “middle eastern” or “Indian” theme. Century: Spice Road is one of many games which fall into that category, so I was pleased to see this game fitted with a new skin.

Really? Another scalding on cultural appropriation?

I love Century: Spice Road. It’s another European-style (lovingly referred to as a Eurotrash game) game which focuses on gameplay mechanics, balance, and having multiple strategies to gain the most victory points and win. The game focuses on collecting and upgrading different spices in your caravan that you’ll sell to merchants to gain victory points. At its core, Century: Spice Road is a resource management game. You must make decisions on whether to keep or upgrade resources to get that merchant card that you want. Merchant cards are your key path to victory in the game. Using your spices to buy 5 merchant cards ends the game, and the player with the most victory points wins.

Century: Golem Edition’s mechanics are no different from the original. The game is a “retheme,” meaning that the only difference between Spice Road and Golem Edition is the artwork and core story.

(I know the diamonds are upside down here.)

In Century: Golem Edition, you collect gems (equivalent to Spice Road’s various spices) which you can use to power golems (Spice Road’s merchant victory point cards). Here’s my recommendation if you’re wondering whether to buy this game or not:

If you already own Century: Spice Road, I’d recommend against purchasing Golem Edition unless you prefer different artwork.

Golem Edition is a great retheme. I didn’t own Century: Spice Road, although I have played it a few times, so I leapt at this game when I saw it at friendly local game store (FLGS). I think that the artwork on the cards (especially the golems) and replacement of spices (which were painted, wooden cubes) with gems (which are translucent hard plastic) is for the better. I’m glad to see this resource management and trading game take on a new life with these fantasy elements.

I played this game with one other person—this game works well with two players but can support up to six.

What is Field to Ferment and why did you pair it with Golem Edition?

Just as Century: Golem Edition is a retheme of a tabletop game, Field to Ferment is a retheme, of sorts, of a beer. It’s a beer with three different variations, which are each brewed the same way but with different types of hops added! We performed a tasting of all three variations.

Field to Ferment has three variants: one made with Centennial hops, another with Simcoe, and one with Citra hops. I love all three versions of this beer. Field to Ferment is a nice, well-rounded (but on the lighter side) ale with a great finish that reflects hops from the Pacific Northwest region. It’s brewed by Fremont Brewing, which I consider to be one of the best breweries in the PNW. This beer is interesting, because the only difference in flavor is the hop variation.

Each variation brings unique notes to the taste:

  • Centennial hops have a smooth, slightly herbal taste with a clean finish
  • Simcoe—my favorite of the three—has a strong pine flavor but also with a clean finish
  • Citra hops, to me, had a similar taste to the Centennial but with interesting citrus notes

Just as Century: Golem Edition is the same game with a new skin, Field to Ferment is the same beer with a different flavor.

I get it. But why care so much about these variations on the same thing?

You can gain a lot of insight by looking at the same thing with a different perspective. Making slight variations on the same thing, whether it’s making a small change to something that you’re creating or making a minor change to your daily routine for the better, you can stimulate yourself such that you think outside of the box. To me, this can turn a fun game with a common, Indian goods and spices trading theme into a fun, whimsical game about powering friendly golems with gems.

In the same vein, hop farmers who dared to innovate on selectively cultivating their hops have produced interesting flavors which create a trademark for a great beer three times over.

Thanks for reading! Until next time…