Tuesday, January 06, 2015

Red Dead Winter - 2014 Gaming Year in Review

As has become a tradition at WAGS, my gaming year in review:

Last year I played ~136 times (136 "plays") allowing me to play an average of about a game every three days.

I played 60 different games, of which 29, or almost exactly half, were new to me.

My most played game was, surprisingly, Warfighter by DVG, at ten plays, followed very closely by Band of Brothers: Ghost Panzer and Red Winter, tied for second at eight plays each. Yes, I love wargames.

My most played eurogame was 7 Wonders with four plays, and my most played heavier euro was Archipelago, with three.

In 2013, I had played 139 games, and in 2012, I played 165, so the overall trend is down, but not a significant amount, and my statistical sample is poor, with only three years recorded. From 2012 to 2013 the difference is statistically insignificant, and considering I took two significant vacation breaks this year, I don’t think I did too badly. I also think I’ve probably missed recording about a half-dozen to a dozen plays, but I can’t be certain.

Of the eurogames that were new to me, I think I enjoyed Dead of Winter the most, though some might term it more thematic than euro. Interestingly, when I tried to go through and look at games that were new to me, I played very, very few new pure euros this year. In fact, I knew that was the case, but it was interesting to see just how much of a trend it was. The list is so short, I can easily write them all out: Red7, Hanabi and Nothing Personal (and even Nothing Personal has some very thematic elements), and Red7 and Hanabi are both very abstract set-collection-type card games as opposed to traditional table-top euros. Everything else I played was either a wargame or had really strong thematic aspects.

Which is not to say 2014 was necessarily a bad year for euros – I’ve just apparently missed some interesting games: Five Tribes, Castles of Mad King Ludwig, Splendor, Imperial Settlers, Istanbul, Sheriff of Nottingham, Abyss, Alchemists, Panamax, Deus, Fields of Arle. Despite these being some of the highest rated for 2014, I’ve entirely missed hearing about Splendor, and only heard peripherally of some of the others (I did see Imperial Settlers, Five Tribes and Sheriff of Nottingham on the tables at TABSCons).

Interestingly, only two games published in 2014 have squeaked their way into the BGG top 100, Dead of Winter and Splendor (which makes me think I should check out Splendor).

I’m sad to say that there haven’t been any real blow me away moments in 2014. I really did enjoy Dead of Winter, but it wasn’t spectacular as other games have been for me in the past.

Two games which did surprise me this year were Red Winter and Warfighter, both of which were wargames that I had been watching, but had not expected to be my cup of tea. Both turned out to be satisfying, quick-playing games which are readily replayable. Another late-in-the-year surprise was Eklund’s Greenland, which I was entirely uninterested in based on its theme, but turned out to be a really engaging game.

A game that I had been eagerly anticipating last year, Canadian Crucible, arrived, but unfortunately, I’ve had difficulty finding people to play it with. After two plays, I feel like I want to play it more, but I can’t label it as the best of the year by any stretch.

The game I most enjoyed playing this year has been Dead of Winter – in only three plays, we’ve had some really fun moments. The wargame which was the standout this year for me was Red Winter, which combines an interesting setting, well-balanced scenarios and a intuitive design with engaging and fast play. Yes, the coincidence of name is not lost on me, nor is the irony that the winter of 2014 has been, thus far, something of a no-show.

An honourable mention should go to Clash of Cultures, which, with the Civilizations add-on, has become for me the best ancient/classical-world civilization game out there. Another honourable mention is given to Greenland, which as mentioned above, I was entirely willing to pass on. Thanks to Miguel for saving it from the abyss!

In 2012, Miguel had mentioned innovative games. For me, some of the interesting stand-outs for innovation have been Tragedy Looper, for its interesting take on deduction puzzles, and the War Stories series, which features great aspects of fog of war at the tactical level while still having some significant design issues at the same time.

So, it was a relatively quiet year for gaming for me. In some ways, it’s been a return to the roots of what attracted to me to gaming in the first place – thematic games with a lot of wargaming on the side.

Here’s to a more adventurous 2015!

Monday, April 15, 2013


Also, in the spirit of post-action reports now that the blog is dead, I wanted to share a few comments on Clash of Cultures (which I played with Shemp last week):

- I found it to be a really good game, better than the Sid Meier one in most ways.

- the design is cleaner and more logical than the other Civ. for these reasons, learning it is easier despite the fact that there are probably more rules in this one.

- there is a certain amount of randomness introduced through events that some might have a problem with. In the game we played it seemed like a nice addition because it forced players to react to threats that were not necessarily coming from other players (in this game, the neutral barbarians civilizations take an unusually active role)

- the tech tree, and the forms of government, work really well.

- there is a way of gaining victory points through cultural influence which is really cool. Essentially, if your city gets big enough the surrounding cities can become converted to your color and give you points in the endgame (they still belong to the original player for all other purposes)

- combat is very interesting because there are cards that can be used to give specific abilities (ambush, flanking, etc)

- objective cards and wonders provide short term/ alternative goals to players which give other reasons to players to pursue goals that are not driven by the other players.

- Shemp is a jerk for having taken over my biggest city on the last turn, giving him the win.


- It's slightly longer than the Sid Meier game I think, probably a full 60 min per player

- scope is reduced, as the game never goes beyond antiquity. That said, the Sid Meier one does a pretty poor job of modeling the growth of civilizations after antiquity anyway.

- there is a bit more of a generic feeling due to the lack of starting civ differentiation and the goal being VP driven instead of objective driven. Luckily, it felt to me that the technology tree and the way the world develops will allow for many different paths to victory.

Wednesday, January 02, 2013

The World-Ending Year in Review: 2012

Well, the world didn't end for many reasons, not the least of which was that the Mayans never said it would end, but that didn't stop the breathless media frenzy... it never does!

I (personally) played 86 different games in 165 discrete sessions this year, up by around 30 sessions from the year before, which surprises me. Curiously (and coincidentally), almost exactly the same number of different games. Of those, 39 games were new to me. I have no idea how many we played as a WAGS group - probably between 60-70 different games - I'm only going from my BGG played games stats log, and I've recorded all the games I played this year, not just WAGS sessions.

Although it was technically published in 2011, I only received my copy of Band of Brothers: Screaming Eagles in 2012, and I would have to call it my wargame of the year, in terms of number of plays and originality of system.

On the Euro/Designer side, I played 7 Wonders most often, with Kingdom Builder a close second. I can't say that 7 Wonders was the game that impressed me the most this year, though it is pretty solid even after multiple plays. The game that was a pleasant surprise for me was Netrunner, for which I had only watched sessions being played before.

The "Euro-like" game (some may argue that it's more a "thematic game") that I enjoyed most that I played for the first time this year was BIOS Megafauna. If we're talking "pure" Euro, I'd probably say Ora et Labora, with Castles of Burgundy a close second.

In the Thematic category, I played Summoner Wars most often, but I enjoyed Risk: Legacy as well. Overall, I'd say I'd take Summoner Wars over Risk: Legacy.

It was a slow Euro year for me, not much new, nor much that impressed me. I did get a lot more wargaming in, though.

I enjoyed and appreciated Mage Knight for what it is/was, but it's not my ideal quest/adventure game. I see that it's clever and I won't turn down a game, but I'm not running out to buy a copy. It certainly got a lot of hype, not altogether undeserved. Once again, good game, just not my cup of tea - too deterministic and pre-plotted.

Overall game of the year? Band of Brothers, for me. I cannot recommend it enough to other wargamers.

The game coming up that I'm excited about is the next module in the TCS series, Canadian Crucible: Brigade Fortress at Norrey. I'm sad to say that nothing currently on the horizon for Euros is particularly catching my eye, but often it's been a case of things sneaking up on me as I haven't been looking too far ahead. For example, I wasn't really looking at Netrunner seriously until I got a chance to play it. I was also completely dismissing the Star Wars: X-Wing miniatures game until I actually played it. On the other hand, I was disappointed somewhat in the reboot of the Panzer game system despite looking forward to it and am currently in the process of debating its merits at BGG with a loyal fan base. I am looking forward to the new Smash Up expansions.

I missed out on playing Village, which is apparently one of the best of the most recent crop.

Well, here's to the old year, 2012 and the new, 2013!

Placeholder: (Spartacus x1, Tichu x1)

We played Spartacus once (I won, with Shemp close behind and Pablo and Easy not too far back either). We played Tichu. Pablo's heart wasn't in it and Team ShempKoz won.

This post is a placeholder until I can find more time to write more in an edit.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Cylons Wear Hats... Mostly

The game of the week, chosen by Pablo "No Nickname" H., was Battlestar Galactica (no expansion).

I like BSG. It has a certain feel - a combination of gritty, "let's make the hard decisions" resource management and paranoia that you don't quite get from any other game. Shadows Over Camelot wasn't bad, but got a little tiresome, and Panic Station had too many thematic problems for me to enjoy. I haven't played "The Resistance", the other candidate for the tinfoil hat prize for paranoia in gaming, but I suspect that it would be less engaging without the opportunity to push little models of Vipers around and making pyew-pyew-pyew noises while blowing up Cylon Raiders.

Well, what to say about this session except it featured a undeserved brigging of Shemp (as Apollo), the destruction of Caprica One by terrorists, an early suspicion and subsequent brigging of Bharmer (as Chief Tyrol) and a Academy Award (tm)-worthy performance by Pablo (as trouble-maker President Zarek), who turned out to be the second, very deep cover Cylon operative, unsuspected by anyone until the very end. It also featured one of the highest Raider kill counts by a single pilot (Easy's Starbuck) I've seen in the game -- somewhere upwards of 20+ --  and a very above moral reproach but ultimately futile tenure as Admiral by me as Karl Agathon.

The suspicion thrown on Shemp's behaviour by an early (and, if I recall correctly, misread) play led to him being brigged at a fairly critical time. With him being unable to get out without the firm support of the other human players, it was difficult, and then when it became apparent that Pablo was the other cylon, we couldn't brig him because the Admiral's quarters were damaged - and Tyrol had already "gone cylon", so repair cards were few.

It was an interesting dynamic. We had Bharmer pegged as a cylon early (and brigged early), but in the mid-game, none of the humans were sure who the cylon was until certain potentially Cylon-game-winning strategies were ignored both by me and Shemp, at which time it was difficult to get him out. By the time we recovered, resources were in the low reds, and there was no escaping.

We fell to a morale loss at distance 6. To my credit as the admiral, we had only lost one civilian ship to enemy fire and Galactica was never in serious danger from Cylon ship-based attacks. No, we lost this one because we couldn't identify and brig the second cylon, and Pablo's machinations caused us to lose several key morale-based crises. We were high on population, mid-range on fuel, low on food and critical on morale when we lost. I was generally happy with my performance as admiral, less so with my ability to figure out who the cylon was and act on it decisively.

The difficulty of this game varies dramatically depending on whether there are zero, one or two cylons from the initial loyalty deal to the sleeper phase, and in this case, there were two right from the start, making it the most difficult it can be in a five-player game.

This game may not be the most balanced and it is a little long; but for the dramatic experience it's one of the better ones.

Also, Cylons wear hats. It's a fact.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Shemp's Spoardic Challenge #2

What is the least impressive ending to the following:

"Hundreds of ..."

Please note we are not looking for anything necessarily negative or disgusting. The goal is to elicit an unenthusiastic "huh" from someone hearing the completed phrase.

That's a "huh", not an "ew."

The instigating phrase last night was: "Hundreds of ... baggies." Deflating, but is it the deflatingest? Only you can tell us!

[PS Challenge #1 is in buried in the post below; please go there to give us you Nerdliest Possible Board Game Title. ]

Five years, man. Also, five weeks.

All right, this is really rough, but at least a record of what got played in Early Fall 2012. Maybe I'll fill in a bit later, or someone else will in the comments.

This week I selected Traders of Genoa for our game, since, as I repeatedly stated, "It's been FIVE YEARS!"

Well, it wasn't five. It was four, so mea culpa on that. Still, a long time to go between plays.

PREVIOUSLY : Last week was 2 rounds of Smash-Ups, one w/ 3 players + 1 w/ 4. Also, Bios Megafauna.and For Sale!

PREVIOUSLIER : Game of Thrones Storm of Swords, yo. My wife thinks Storm of Swords is the nerdliest boardgame title possible. Feel free to suggest nerdlier possible titles in the comments.

EVEN PREVIOUSLIER : Roma, followed by Lord$ of Vega$, and I think a 3 of Vikings


Monday, August 27, 2012

Summertime Rolls


You know, at the end of every summer I think: "The board game playing group just doesn't work very well in the summer. Maybe we should take the summer off, and just start again in September..." And this is when you, dear reader, look at our last post, see it was in May, and think: "They took the summer off."

But we did not! Though things have been fairly haphazard. I'll attempt to recap what I can recall now.

LAST week, 'twas Easy and I and special guest Aussie Tim, in from Australia. We tried to keep things light + easy for our semin00b, and went with Galaxy Trucker, Kingdom Builder, and a new, Africana. [In retrospect, Easy, how did we not think to select King of Tokyo? We should have selected King of Tokyo!]

Africana had the feel of a slightly trickier Ticket to Ride, with a set collection aspect to scoring overlaid on the route completion mechanic. On the lighter side of things, but well done and quite fun. The end certainly came unexpectedly, and Easy won by a fair chunk, which wasn't how I thought the game was going, so there is some surprise there, also. [For the record, Easy swept that week, the third week in Aug]

Moving backwards, in the 2nd week of August, we played a 3 player round of *** some fantasy themed block game that Kozure owns, which comes in VHS style boxes *** Wizard Kings, which we adjourned w/ Easy in the clear lead. At the moment I don't have any clear thoughts on the game, as could be guessed by my earlier inability to remember it's name. I suppose I think it's a playable [meaning adequately non fiddly] fantasy wargamelite. And was fine, but kind of unmemorable.

Before that, Easy and I had a 2 player game of Vikings, the advanced version. [ The rules call this the "Progress Version", which nomenclature we spent a little time making fun of. ] The advanced version really does make decision making within the game much more difficult, particularly in the areas of resource management. Uncertainty is also upped through the special tiles won by buying the most expensive combo available. I like this version a lot, and managed to jump out to an early lead and hold on, thanks to picking up the tile that grants a bonus for nobles early on.

Further back, the 1st week of August, I wasn't there, and don't know what happened in Toronto. I did see this:


Fourth week of July, Last Will, along w/ MARIA. As Austria I pursued a bad strategy, and paid for it. Both other powers were in a victory position, tho I don't remember which technically took the game. I'm glad Last Will got another try, but don't think I'll be selecting it again. It's in the no man's land for me, too long and fiddly to be filler, not quite thinky enough or fun enough to be a main course.

Third week of July, BIOS MEGAFAUNA + Wildlife. A C&P: Megafauna, I knowingly took a risk and it failed due to randomness, throwing me into a spiral of larger risks, each of which failed. I'm OK w/ that, intellectually. Tho it stunk as an experience.

Wildlife, I played suboptimally, and would like another chance. Plus, it's fun and we hadn't played it in five years or somesuch.

Second week of July, I was absent, and am unsure of what happened. I DID hear that Bharmer has an impressive beard; the question remains, is it silky? I hope it's silky.

First week of July there was NO WAGS. NONE.


Last week of June, I flaked, and Easy + Bharmer did something, I think?

Third week of June was RISK: LEGACY + Beowulf. I like the Risk Legacy. I need to get it on the table, w/ 4 or 5 players. I am kind of obsessed. In game three on our Earth, Easy in North America was targeted by the other 3 players, with Kozure attacking thru Alaska, Pablo thru Central America, and me through Greenland. I ended up winning by capturing the Easylander's HQ, which Kozure then fell JUST short of taking from me. Seeing that he was on the verge of trading in cards for a red star, I took a chance on launching 2 fronts from Europe, and took both remaining HQ's for the victory. Which means we got to open the "sign the board twice" packet, which is was pretty exciting.

Beowulf is always fun. Swedish betrayal, y'all. HM. Next RISK city is being put in Scandinavia and being named Betrayal. Book it. Unless it's something else of course.

Second week of June was three players, I was there, it happened. I don't know what happened. I am old. :(

First week of June we played 1812! I remember that week! Good game, really enjoyed it, and I'm not a wargame guy so much. Or I haven't been. Maybe en route to becoming one?


Last week of May, we played Luna, Innovation, and Kingdom Builder. I don't need to talk about Kingdom Builder, I am mostly indifferent towards Innovation, and I thought Luna was another middling Euro, but with neatish mechanics. Would play again.

Week before that, Civilization, with Kozure, Shemp, Pablo [does he have a nom de blog?] An email fragment: Went well, by which I mean: Miltary Victory by ME as the Germans. Kozure's Russia was, erm, less successful. Pablo enjoyed a learning game as the Americans, mainly getting the hang of the mechanics. Had an error in that the Wonders came out in random order, rather than sorted by era. Will look fwd to trying 4 players.

Week before that, was Eclipse, I was absent, there was a guest teaching the game - JOTORA?

Week before that, was Civilization and Last Will, with 3. AND that's as caughtupish as I can get us.

...post peters out here. Contributers who wish to expand in comments would be welcome. MOST WELCOME. -LONG ABSENT FROM BLOGGING SHEMP

Thursday, May 10, 2012

MAGE KNIGHT! (Mage Knight x1)





(I occasionally daydream they are the ones from Ora et Labora or Murder in the Abbey)











(in a very calculated way)

Friday, April 27, 2012

My Personal Holy Grail... Found at Last? (Bios: Megafauna x2)

Professor Henry Jones: Elsa never really believed in the grail. She thought she'd found a prize.
Indiana Jones:
And what did you find, Dad?
Professor Henry Jones:
Me? Illumination. 

- Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade

Reflections on Perfection

So, a few years back (edit: Holy Schnikes! It was EIGHT years ago. Time flies.) I wrote this blog entry on the idea of the perfect (Euro) game:

The Perfect Game

For those who can't be bothered to follow the link, in it I expounded on the elements that, to me, made up the perfect (Euro-style) game. Note: I love wargames as well, but the "perfect" wargame and the perfect Euro-style/designer game would be quite different, so in this entry, whenever I type "perfect game", substitute mentally "perfect Euro/designer game".

Eight years after writing that entry, thirteen years after rebooting my boardgaming hobby by buying Settlers of Catan and thirty-odd years after developing a keen interest in boardgaming in the first place, I've finally found a game that satisfies (to varying degrees) every criteria I set for choosing the perfect game.

Amazingly, the game is one I hadn't expected to be more than a passing interest - a curiosity or a niche game. It just goes to show that you often find things in the last place you look (a truism - but that's another discussion).

What's the game that matches all my "perfect game" criteria?

Bios: Megafauna

Is this the perfect game for everyone? No, not at all. In fact, were I to choose criteria that to me would define the best possible game for the largest possible audience, it would be a game much different than Bios: Megafauna.

But, by the criteria I first wrote down eight years ago and on reviewing them, largely still feel right today, I've found my "Holy Grail".

Before I go too far off the deep end, I do want to caution the reader that I am a self-confessed enthusiastic dilettante. I will often get really quite enthusiastic about something, engage with it with a laser-like focus for a few weeks or months, then gradually lose interest. I don't "drop" the interest, and I seldom lose fondness for it, it's just that I'll spend less time obsessing about it.

So, I've learned to try to temper my enthusiasm for something with the need for "sober second thought". I will need to play Bios: Megafauna at least a dozen more times to better test its limits and breaking points. I'm sure, in time, some wrinkles will appear in its radiant countenance. But for the moment, I'm pretty smitten. Thus, take what I've written with a grain of salt.

To the review and the criteria I've set for the perfect game.

Evolution and Me

Bios: Megafauna is a reworking of Phil Eklund's American Megafauna, a game which I've been interested in for some time but have never found an owner or anyone interested enough in playing to actively hunt down a copy on eBay to buy.

I've always been fascinated by the arms race of evolution - the survival of the fittest and the jaw-droppingly vast time periods, geographical changes and sheer biomass involved. Why were there once Sabretooth Tigers? Why did they die out? Are wooly mammoths the ancestors of elephants (A: no, not really - their genus is extinct). What on earth is a Terror Bird? How on earth would land animals ever manage to grow to over 30 tonnes? And how does something hunt something that weighs 30 tonnes?

These sorts of questions and their answers are fascinating to me. Since re-entering the boardgaming hobby again in 1999, I've cast about for a game which captures this fascination in a playable but scientifically respectful way. By "scientifically respectful" - I mean that the game doesn't have to be bang on with the science - a simulation -, but an effort to be accurate and a sort of "if you squint it still looks right" effect is desired.

The Proto-Evolutionaries

One of the first I came across was Evo, but while cute and entertaining, hard science it ain't. Later I found WildLife, which I still quite enjoy and think is a bit of a overlooked gem - the science isn't too bad, but for game balance reasons, you can only really play it best with four or six people, which is sometimes a hard number to hit in my gaming group. For my young son, I picked up Trias, but it was also somewhat light on the science, and didn't really satisfy on a "mutate the individual creature level". I also bought Dominant Species with high hopes and, while it also is a well designed game (it also has a few faults for me) I find that it largely abstracts the finer details of evolution, the physiology of individual species and genera, which is of interest to me, and it also has some scoring/randomness issues which I find somewhat problematic.

I put American Megafauna on my wishlist before Dominant Species was in development, and even after buying and playing Dominant Species, it remained on my list. I loved High Frontier, also from Phil Eklund, and it remains one of my top five games. When I heard that Bios: Megafauna was in the pipeline, I was interested, but I didn't order a copy because I didn't think anyone in my weekly playing group would be into it. When I already had WildLife and Dominant Species, neither of which generally hits the table unless I pick it, it was hard to justify buying another evolution-based game that was based on harder science than either.

To my surprise, a fellow gaming group member, Agent Easy, bought it a few weeks ago. I knew he was mildly interested in American Megafauna, but I didn't think he was keen enough to pick it up. "Well," I thought, "here's my chance to try it. It should be good to play once."

Entering the Presence of the Grail

Agent Easy pulled out the game box. To be honest, the cover, while glossy and relatively professional looking, is a little hokey. A velociraptor holding a bow, pulling an arrow out of a quiver with its other hand, reflected in the eye of some sort of reptilian? I know it's the Sierra Madre Games logo and all, but come on.

The board is sturdy, if a little gaudy - it looks very Illustrator-drawn (if you've used Illustrator or similar DTP programs, you know what I mean) - lots of hard edges and geometrical shapes. The colours are a little garish and there's a proliferation of different typefaces (at least seven or eight, by my count) which give it a bit of a uneven appearance, as if another "pass" would've smoothed it into a more coherent-looking whole.

In play, it's actually a little mis-sized - the roadrunner DNA tracks (more on that later) are a little too big and the actual play spaces are a little too small. The board feels small, but actually there is room for everything - as long as you don't mind tiny point sizes.

Overall, it's very functional, if a little unattractive. To paraphrase a movie about a Archaelogist/Fortune Hunter who is on a quest for his own grail, "Truly this is the gameboard of a scientist."

The cards are very nice, good cardstock and quite well designed in general; they are clear, with excellent icons and illustrations. The wooden "creature" pieces (creeples?) are excellently cut and coloured, with surprisingly sharp detail. As representation of the various genotypes, they're great.

Seeing the Light

I had read the rules earlier in the day. Having heard what a simulation American Megafauna was supposed to be, I was expecting a much heavier ruleset. Although the terminology is dense (Eklund coins his own term for genetic characteristics that help one catch prey or avoid being caught as prey - "Roadrunner DNA" - you know, like the Warner Brothers cartoon, with Wile E. Coyote always chasing the Roadrunner? Eh? Eh?) with terms like genotype, speciation, dentition, genome, biome and orogeny sprinkled throughout the rulebook, the actual mechanics, once you get past the fancy names, aren't that difficult at all. Others have describe the game turn in more detail, but simply put, you choose one of four (or six, if you're using the optional living rules additions) actions, carry out the consquences of that action, and then pass play to the next player.

The original actions are buy a card from a shared display of five (or ten, if you're using the living rules "two display" variant) which starts a new genotype or mutates one of your existing species - and then resolve an event on the card which replaces the one you bought; resize, which makes a species bigger or smaller, allowing it to develop (or lose) attributes and hunt or avoid being hunted by other creatures; acculturate a species, which gives a species advanced, primitive human-like abilities which enable it to survive more readily in wider types of environments (and also banks VPs) and expand, which allows you to add additional figures of a species to the board, or alternatively add a new species which inherits some of the genetic traits of the parent species.

The actions added in the living rules are Roadrunner action which permits a player to put two genes (the currency of the game) on one of the first cards in the display row and develop or improve a roadrunner DNA trait. This was apparently added largely as a fix for the possible start-game condition where a player might be surrounded by impassible marine biomes and consequently find it impossible to expand. The last added action is Genetic Drift a way for a player to steal genes from the player with the most genes... a sort of evolutionary rob from the rich to give to the poor scheme that I suspect Eklund added as a balancing feature to avoid a situation when someone might hoard genes and not release them back into circulation (genes are zero-sum).

I would be remiss to mention the little nuggets of scientific facts footnoted or sidenoted throughout the rules. These are catnip for me - I just can't get enough.

Struck by the Chixulub Bolide

Gameplay turned out to be fast, actually much faster than I had expected. We blew through a game, including a brief rules explanation, in just over 90 minutes. I immediately wanted to play again; everything was falling into place. We played again immediately. The second game was a little longer at 110 minutes,(people, knowing what to look for and what to avoid, took a more time to consider their moves) but just as enjoyable for me. Decisions are challenging but not paralyzing, you can directly affect other players in a competitive, predatory or somewhat parasitic way, and the theme permeates the entire game in a positive, constructive way, instead of interfering with or slowing down game play.

So, how does Bios Megafauna satisfy my Perfect Game criteria?

  1. PLAYING TIME: Playable in 60-90 minutes – 120 minutes at absolute outside. The game can be finished in 90 minutes. Slightly shorter or longer games are also possible, depending on variants used (we used the two display variant) and gaming group play style. My gaming group seemed to "get it".

  2. PLAYER LIMIT: Playable by 2-6 players, and scales well at all player numbers. To be fair, this game does not play with 5 or 6 players, so it doesn't quite meet this criteria completely. However it does have a solo option, and 2, 3 or 4 players seem quite playable. Call it a partial match?

  3. DOWNTIME: Has low levels of downtime and low amounts of “move paralysis” – that is, the number of action options available to a player during any given turn or turn phase should be neither so numerous nor so complex as to be daunting. With some groups, the dreaded analysis paralysis (AP) might set in, but the chance of this happening compared to, say, Tikal, is much, much less. I never felt like I was "waiting" for my turn - I was always engaged in what was going on.

  4. BUILDING: Involves “building” in some way – creating and improving on something, so that you end the game with something “better” than you started. For example – more money, better city, more powerful character. The game is about evolving - the most biological way of building possible. On top of building more "fit" creatures, over-specialized creatures can be wiped out by extinction events, letting you/forcing you to build another creature suited for the new reality.

  5. CONFLICT: Involves “conflict” in some way – either actual fighting or economic/qualitative/quantitative competition. Survival of the fittest, baby! If your creatures can't compete, they won't thrive.

  6. NOT TOO RANDOM: Minimizes randomness – players should never feel as though the luck of the die/draw is the only factor in success. Some have pointed to the events as causing too much randomness. I didn't experience this. Careful play and anticipation of catastrophe will reward a player who diversifies and doesn't put all of her genotypes in one basket.

  7. SOCIAL INTERACTION: Involves enough player interaction that a social atmosphere is created, while avoiding interaction which otherwise slows down the game. There was much discussion and amusement over comparing and describing the creatures being created - long-necked elephantoid creatures with beaks and tusks, or super-speedy, horse sized raptor-creatures who could sing to each other and relied on adrenal glands for bursts of speed.

  8. EASY TO TRACK: Minimizes calculation or the need for extensive record/bookkeeping – i.e. everything is at your fingertips or in front of you and does not have to be closely tracked by a complex process. Points are simple - tiles you've won from the tarpit, cards you've put in your fossil record, and creature meeples on the board.

  9. SCREW YOUR NEIGHBOUR: Gives the opportunity for “screw your neighbour” tactics – a way to play to thwart the plans of others, but in a manner that is otherwise avoidable by careful play and not overly frustrating. All the time - snatching a juicy biome or buying a card at exactly the right moment was a constant feature of our games. You can even go so far as to purposefully out compete an opponent's species.

  10. DOWN BUT NOT OUT: A mechanic for dealing with the possibility of being knocked out of the game – that is, if someone is in a losing position, there is a way to fight back if carefully played. There is a specific mechanic for a player whose species have all become extinct - Lazarus Player, which actually occurred. The player involved came back to win the game! The living rules also added the genetic drift rule, which seems to level the playing field. In addition, extinction catastrophes can easily take out a species which has become over-specialized, allowing other players to take over those biomes.

  11. LEADER REWARDS: A mechanic to address the standard “kill the leader” situation that rewards being in the lead without making being the leader unstoppable. The leader gets a substantial share of the tar-pit. I can't immediately think of other aspects, but a method to specifically "kill the leader" seems like it would be trickier in this game.

  12. VICTORY CONDITIONS: A victory condition track (victory points or score) which permits the fun of being able to see how roughly how close other players are to each other (fostering competition) while maintaining some element of surprise. Players can see how many tiles are received from the tar pit each round. Genotypes can be bought and buried in the fossil record, lending some element of surprise .

  13. THEME/FEEL: Game has a strong and interesting theme that is colourful but also relates to the game mechanic without bogging down the game. Execution of the mechanics of the game and the theme should mesh well at all levels. It should “feel” right. Yes, yes, YES. In spades.

  14. REPLAYABILITY: Game should have enough “depth” that it can be played more than once – conversely, it could be simple enough that complex strategies are possible (like chess or bridge) even given relatively simple rules. Not sure yet, but the random placement of starting biomes, the random assortment of cards, the random occurrence of events and the very variable consequences of player interaction while competing for specific biomes and configurations of biomes (which, as noted, are determined randomly) make this one look like it could have really long "legs".
Wow. Just wow. Depending on how you count, a game which hits 14 out of 14 points (13 if you dock it marks for being 1-4 players instead of 2-6). Amazing. Whereas some of the games which have come closest before had 10 or 12 points satisfied, this one has 13.

I'm really excited about playing this one again. I'm not sure if the novelty of the 108 mutation cards and 144 tiles will wear off, or if I'll tire of imagining sail-backed bipedal giraffes with disembowling claws or massive underground communities of tool-using insectivore lizards with wings.

I've played (euro) games which were more fun. I've played games which were more satisfying on an intellectual level. I've played games which felt more clever from a game-design point of view. But seldom have all of these factors come together for me so cohesively in a single game.

Taking it on Faith

There may not be any such thing as a "perfect game", but Phil Eklund has managed to make something which, for my money, is a close as anyone has gotten.

Once again, and I want to make this abundantly clear, it won't be perfect for everyone. Some people will be put off by the technical jargon. Others will find the mutation mechanic and the long strings of letters to be confusing. Still others might dislike the idea of a random event potentially smashing their carefully created empire of hyper-specialized critters into bone fragments and dust, or having their marine animals find their seas dry up around them.

Now that I've found Bios Megafauna, will I stop looking for the Perfect Game? Nope. Not by a long shot. But isn't that the beauty of unobtainable perfection?

For the moment, I'll be sitting back and enjoying this little gem. It deserves the attention.
Marcus Brody: The search for the Grail is the search for the divine in all of us. But if you want facts, Indy, I've none to give you. At my age, I'm prepared to take a few things on faith.