Monday, August 13, 2018

Guest Appearance on The Dice Tower's Board Game Breakfast

Hey guys, I was featured on The Dice Tower's Board Game Breakfast today! (approx 20 minutes in) 

Board Game Breakfast Aug 13, 2018



Friday, August 10, 2018

Board Game Review: Shoot Cows


Saturday afternoon at GenCon I came across a demonstration of Shoot Cows getting started at the designer’s booth. The little cow cards looked interesting, so I volunteered to participate and within 5 minutes we all had the rules down. I picked up a copy for myself and vowed to play it within a week.
Yesterday I did just that. My husband, myself, and our 13-year-old daughter gathered around our gaming table at lunchtime for a quick game.

Opening the box and examining the cards, I found them to be of average thickness. Not impossible to bend, but thick enough to stand up to repeated usage. The artwork inside the box compliments what’s on the cover – a black and white cow palette that fits the game’s theme.

I don’t often delve into step-by-step gameplay in my reviews (too complicated; read the rules) but as the rules and play for Shoot Cow are rather simple, it’s reasonable to given them some coverage. Two survivor cards are distributed to each player and put face up in front of them, six cards are dealt to each player for their hand, the main deck is shuffled and placed face down in the center of us, and the location deck is shuffled with the top card revealed and the number of main deck cards specified on the location card are laid out face down in a row below the main deck. FYI, the location sets some of the rules for play – how many points one needs to rescue a survivor, whether the cows or survivors win ties in battle, and so on.

Ready to begin!

The game play is simple but with a lot of variability. The player begins their turn either equipping items such as weapons or accessories to their survivors - gaining the benefits listed on the card such as increased attack power, or stocking items under survivors, increasing their survivor point rating. They can also add survivors to their tableau if they have any in their hand (up to three max can be in one’s tableau). Then each survivor they have may either explore the location (draw a card from the main deck to add to their hand and reveal one of the main deck cards laid out in the row), fight a cow previously revealed that wasn’t destroyed, or pass. Next the player may opt to play a cow from their hand against one of their own survivors or an opponent’s to prompt a battle. Each time a battle takes place, other players can contribute cows to the game on either side to influence the results. When they do this, it’s called “upping the steaks” …hahaha get it? If the cow wins, the survivor they attacked loses stocked items and/or dies. If the player wins, the cow card gets stocked under the survivor attacked, adding to its survivor point rating. Once this part of the turn is finished the player evaluates if any of their survivors have enough points stocked to reach the minimum level required for rescue and if so their survivor is set aside, having been rescued. Finally, the player can once again equip or stock items and play new survivors. There are also event cards, many of which are “take that” kind of cards, that can be played during different phases of the turn for oneself or against other players, including some that can be played at any time. Game play continues in the same manner until a player has rescued three survivors (they win) or until the location deck is depleted (at which point the player who has rescued the most survivors wins the game).



Fast, easy, and fun was promised. Two of out three ain’t bad right? The game took us an hour and a half but was pleasurable the entire time. My time was divided equally between trying to strengthen or rescue my survivors and trying to tank my opponents’ survivors. A few times I excitedly played an event card to a devastating effect on my husband or daughter only to have the smirk wiped off my face when one of them immediately played an event card canceling my card or exacting some other worse revenge. I really enjoyed playing Shoot Cows, and I’m looking forward to picking up the expansions.

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Publisher: Self-Published by Jon Ong and Ben Petry
Players: 2-6 (We played with 3)
Actual Playing Time (vs the guideline on the box): About 90 minutes
Game type: Card game, take-that
Rating:


Jenni’s rating scale:

OUI: I would play this game again; this game is ok. I probably would not buy this game myself but I would play it with those who own it and if someone gave it to me I would keep it.

OUI OUI: I would play this game again; this game is good. I would buy this game.

OUI OUI OUI: I LOVE THIS GAME. I MUST HAVE THIS GAME.  

NON: I would not play this game again. I would return this game or give it away if it was given to me.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Culinary City Spotlight: Saigon

A few years ago, thanks to a great mistake rate on airfare, I was able to hop over to Vietnam for a long weekend to explore the culinary wonders of Saigon.

My first night in the city, I reserved a table at La Villa (14 NGO Quang Huy St, Thao Dien Ward, District 2). Because the French occupied Saigon from the late 1800s until the 1950s, there is a distinct French stamp on the local cuisine and La Villa is a fantastic example of it. Course after course of French food was paraded before me and I delighted in it.
























I spent the morning and afternoon of the next day taking Vietnamese cooking classes at the Saigon Culinary Arts Center (make reservations at http://vietnamsaigoncookingclass.com). For a very affordable rate (less than $50USD) I was treated to an educational tour of the local markets, an in-depth overview of typical Vietnamese cooking ingredients, lunch (that I made), and a recipe book. The class even includes escort from one's hotel. The techniques I was taught have proven valuable; I still rely on them whenever I cook Vietnamese cuisine at home.

Market Stall                   






Vietnamese shrimp and pork salad





Grilled pork and sticky rice










By far, the most amazing thing I did in Saigon (and perhaps one of the most amazing things I've ever done anywhere in the world) was to attend a "Back of the Bike" culinary tour my last evening in town. Motorbikes are EVERYWHERE in the city, seemingly the main mode of transportation, and since traffic is insane you need a skilled driver if you want to survive. I hired a talented duo  - an American chef and his Vietnamese wife -  to buzz me around the city's authentic best eats on a multiple hour stuff-yourself-full tour. My mouth waters just thinking of the deliciousness of course after course after course all these years later. Definitely a must do when you visit Saigon.



I'm hoping to make a return visit to Vietnam in the coming years and bring the entire family with me. There is still much of the country to explore and the people are wonderful and welcoming. One fascinating bit of trivia - in Vietnam they refer to Vietnam war as the "US War of Aggression". Was quite unnerving to hear the locals call it that.

Trip Pictorial: Turkey 2014

In 2014, I made a return trip to Turkey. My third visit to the country, I set out to explore more of the southwest area of Turkey. As always, I flew into Instanbul from the US and got in a lovely visit to the Turkish baths at Cemberlitas Hamam and made time for a quick visit to the spice market before making my way to the Anatolian peninsula.



I started my adventure in Aphrodisias. It was once the capital of the Roman province of Caria and renowned for its sculptures. While the city was devastated by a 7th century earthquake, the quality of its marble buildings was so great that ruins remain today.












































 Once I'd had my fill of the ancient city, I departed for Pamukkale (ie the Cotton Castle). This is a phenomenal natural landscape, with limestone terraces hosting cascading pools.







Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Board Game Review: Summit


I was drawn to Summit after eyeing the box. Jordan Danielsson has created a beautiful thematic cover, including a font that is evocative of a Swiss chalet.

I was also excited to dig into a game that promised both cooperative and competitive modes.

Opening the box and examining the components, I found thick and sturdy cardboard components in addition to well-made wooden pieces, dice, and high-quality cards. No worry here about flimsy pieces that will tear. The artwork inside the box compliments what’s on the cover – a mix of easy to read modern fonts in coordinating colors on character boards and card faces, character sketches on the character boards, and a repeat of the Swiss style decorative font on the backs of the cards.

My husband, my daughter, and I played the game one afternoon in the cooperative mode. The game is marked for ages 14 and up but my 12-year-old had no trouble learning or executing the gameplay. The game features multiple levels of difficulty, which is appreciated. A game that can scale in complexity or ability to win helps keep things from feeling stale. We played on the “chill” setting since it was our first game. In cooperative mode, the object of the game is to have all team members scale the mountain and return to base camp, using cardboard pieces to visually connect rope segments and using equipment and event cards to alter the gameplay.




Each player is given a character board and player aid card at the start of the game. Player aid cards are always useful, so I appreciate that attention to detail. However, as soon as I examined the individual character boards more closely, I grew irritated.


Notice from the picture above how some scales on the character board go in ascending order from left to right while others are listed in descending order. I tried to tell myself the designer must have had a good reason to flip the scales around, but I like my character cards orderly and consistent and this ran counter to that. Additionally, the numbers of the scale are printed inside the boxes except for speed which are printed below the boxes for some inexplicable reason. Finally, the little plastic cubes don’t fit into the tracker spaces on the board, which seems to be either an oversight in design or a quality control issue in the manufacturing.

While the character cards seem flawed, the rule book was clear and detailed. I think our only unanswered question was whether Sherpas can restock at base camp.

The heart of any good game is the gameplay and getting into the gameplay for Summit, it was a bit boring with the three of us working in cooperative mode. The person at the forefront of the mountain scaling effort had most of the decision making and interesting actions while the player who was furthest from the summit was simply following in the footsteps of the other players. It had a “just going through the motions” feel for that player (which happened to be me). It’s possible that on a more difficult level, there would be more compelling actions for the third through sixth players but I’m not sure how that would be a certainty. And of course, it’s possible that competitive mode offers a more interesting gameplay as well but with hundreds of games to explore still in our collection, I’m not willing to gamble on another game to find out. My first play of this game will be my last.

-------------------------
Publisher: Inside Up Games
Players: 1-6 (We played with 3)
Actual Playing Time (vs the guideline on the box): About 40 minutes
Game type: Grid movement, dice rolling, cooperative (solo and competitive mode also available)
Rating:


Jenni’s rating scale:

OUI: I would play this game again; this game is ok. I probably would not buy this game myself but I would play it with those who own it and if someone gave it to me I would keep it.

OUI OUI: I would play this game again; this game is good. I would buy this game.

OUI OUI OUI: I LOVE THIS GAME. I MUST HAVE THIS GAME.  

NON: I would not play this game again. I would return this game or give it away if it was given to me.


Monday, January 30, 2017

Board Game Review: Hanamikoji

Hanamikoji is the first game from the EmperorS4 Games publishing house in my collection. Christopher told me the designer's (Kota Nakayama) artwork was beautiful and so when he brought the game home for us to play, I was looking forward to the unboxing and reveal. As he opened the box and laid out the cards, I saw he was correct - the cards are absolutely perfect.



He thought I'd do well at the game since I generally ace most games of Battle Line that we play and he felt the basic elements were somewhat similar. In both games there is a race to capture object cards based on a bit of calculated projections and a fair bit of guesswork. In this case, the object cards are the lovely Geisha cards, numbered 2 through 5. Each card numbered 2 comes with two corresponding standard size cards with coordinating artwork, each card numbered 3 comes with three cards, and so on.

The mechanics of this area control game are deceptively simple - each player is dealt a starting hand of six cards and then you draw a card on your turn from the deck (one card is removed at the beginning of the game and set aside to increase the unknown variables) and then play one of four actions. You can exclude 2 cards from your hand from the game, save 1 card from your hand to reveal and play at the end of the game, choose 3 cards from your hand and offer them up to your opponent to immediately choose 1 to play on their side while you immediately play the remaining 2, or you can choose 4 cards from your hand and divide them into pairs and offer up the pairs to your opponent to immediately choose 1 pair to play on their side while you immediately play the remaining pair. That's it. Four actions, each done only one time by each player and then the game is over. A Geisha card is won by a simple majority of her corresponding standard cards laid on the winning player's side of the Geisha. When she is won, a round marker that has been resting on the center of her card is moved toward the edge of the card on the winning player's side. To win the game, a player must win four Geishas (out of seven) or score 11 points among the Geishas they have won (Geishas are worth their numerical value). If the game ends without anyone crossing these thresholds, the game is played again, but this time the round win markers are left in place from the last game and if a player wins a Geisha that was won the previous round by the opponent then the win marker is moved to the winning player's edge of the card as expected, but if the players tie for a Geisha it remains on the previous winner's edge.

While the mechanics are easy to explain, making quick and exacting decisions based on very limited information in order to pull off a win is anything but easy. Christopher noted that the only card from your hand that you can choose to definitively play is the one you hide for reveal and play at the end of the game. All other actions provide your opponent the chance to select the cards to play for both of you, injecting additional uncontrolled variables into the game and mucking up the direct follow through of what you might have willed. You can attempt to disrupt their selection by offering up cards you think will tempt them to make choices you prefer and by using the 2 throwaway cards to dismiss cards that might swing the game in their favor, but otherwise you are helpless.

It took me three consecutive games before I was able to formulate a winning strategy in the face of all the unknown variables. The first two games though? Trying to outsmart Christopher with such limited information available over a small set of choices gave me the kind of headache that only balancing chemistry equations did in college. I have a gift for divergent thinking and for anyone who approaches tasks similarly, games that focus on expanding options and creative moves bring out the best in us while games such as these that focus on narrowing down options based on a static set of known or unknown variables is a challenge. Still, it's good to be challenged intellectually, even if it is a bit frustrating at times.




The components for Hanamikoji are compact and travel easily in the 4 1/2 by 6 1/2 inch box they come in. All of these pieces are either sturdy cardboard cutouts or glossy paper cards which should hold up well to long term use (though not puppy or small child bent on destruction safe as I always like to note when applicable) The components carry the theme well.

Although this game is never going to be a favorite in my collection, the stunning artwork will lead me to bring it out every now and then when I want to sharpen my convergent thinking skills (it's a logic puzzle at heart).

----------------------------
Publisher: EmperorS4 Games
Players: 2
Actual Playing Time (vs any guidelines on the box): About 10 minutes
Game type: Hand Management, Area Control
Rating:
                                                                                                   


Jenni's Rating Scale:

OUI: I would play this game again; this game is ok. I probably would not buy this game myself but I would play it with those who own it and if someone gave it to me I would keep it.

OUI OUI: I would play this game again; this game is good. I would buy this game.

OUI OUI OUI: I LOVE THIS GAME. I MUST HAVE THIS GAME.

NON: I would not play this game again. I would return this game or give it away if it was given to me.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Book Review: Cooking for Jeffrey, A Barefoot Contessa Cookbook

This month, the cookbook discussion and dinner party group that I lead met to enjoy and discuss selections we cooked from Ina Garten's 2016 cookbook, Cooking for Jeffrey: A Barefoot Contessa Cookbook (Clarkson Potter publishers).

(Menu)

Butternut Squash Hummus
Herbed Fromage Blanc

Lentil and Kielbasa Salad
Asparagus and Fennel Soup

Brisket with Leeks and Onions
Roasted Italian Meatballs
Roasted Ratatouille
Creamy Parmesan Polenta
Chipotle Smashed Sweet Potatoes

Bourbon Honey Cake

I've flipped through many a Barefoot Contessa cookbook in my bookstore adventuring, but I'd never found a volume to be so compelling as to demand a purchase. I decided to go out on a limb and picked up Ina's newest release to give it a fair review, thinking with this many successful cookbooks under her belt there must be something to her recipes right? No publisher is going to keep giving you book contract after contract if your recipes fall flat.

I'm very glad I took the gamble; Cooking for Jeffrey: A Barefoot Contessa Cookbook provides page after page of tasty things to make in the kitchen and lovely pictures to accompany. As one of the dinner party guests mentioned, her recipes are well structured and very detailed, making them easy to follow for inexperienced cooks. She relies on ingredients that are relatively easy to source in American markets. And she has drawn from a great mix of ethnic influences for her recipes.

With regard to the recipes our group cooked and sampled, my favorite was the Asparagus and Fennel Soup, as well as the Ratatouille served over the Polenta, and the Lentil and Kielbasa Salad (which I never thought I'd enjoy and which has this unique but surprisingly delicious pairing as it is served over herbed goat cheese spread on crackers). Perhaps the only criticism I can muster for Ina's latest cookbook is that most of the recipes were seemingly oversalted, especially the hummus and the meatballs. Luckily our member chefs spotted the excess of salt and scaled it back during dinner prep, but if they had followed Ina's recipes as written it would not have been a happy ending. So go forth and Garten it up, but pull back on the salt.




Monday, October 31, 2016

Board Game Review: Brew Crafters

I'm already familiar with Dice Hate Me Games as I own a few games in their catalog. I hadn't yet played Brew Crafters and when it was suggested for me at Gen Con this year I wasn't sure after reading the box summary it would be a game for me because I don't know anything about beer. I don't drink it, I don't buy it, and nothing about processing beer sounded fun to me. But I have a reputation as an objective and thorough reviewer so I wasn't going to let a little thing like total lack of interest stand in my way.

I'm so glad I made that decision because you guys, YOU GUYS, this game is pretty nifty. It's not really about beer per se, it's about business and entrepreneurship. And I love doing business. I mean, sure, if you know a lot about beer, there's a rich layer of context here that you'll appreciate the way adults sitting beside their kids watching the Simpsons get all the jokes the kids can't possibly understand.  And I'm happy for you. Me, I'm content to get lost in the theme of running the best business and earning the best reputation. How a player does that exactly takes us right into the mechanics of the game...

This is a worker placement game with your workers being your market action meeples and your shift employees at your brewery. All players start off with two market action meeples and one shift of employees. Each season (spring, summer, fall, winter) i.e. round of the game sees all players completing market and brewery actions using their workers. Both types of actions directly or indirectly lead to gaining reputation points. There are four seasons in a year and there are three years in a game. At the conclusion of the third year, the player with the most reputation points wins the game.


Market actions are competitive, meaning if your workers stake the claim to a particular action, no other player's workers can do so that season. Brewery actions are not competitive; they can be selected by any player even if another player has already selected the same action. As the game progresses players can amass more workers to place by hiring additional market action meeples (interns) and additional brewery shifts. The market actions allow a player to make strategic business decisions such as developing partnerships to allow for conversions of raw ingredients; buying beer recipe ingredients; hiring skilled employees, interns, or additional shift workers to provide efficiency gains in future market or brewery actions; and raising cash. The brewery actions allow a player to choose from operational tasks such as selecting and brewing a type of beer (raises cash and provides for reputation points), installing new equipment to increase brewery efficiency, or conducting research to obtain special benefits. There are three basic beers that are used in every game and a variety of advanced beers that may be selected for brewing included in the game components; a subset of the advanced beers are chosen for each game, providing many possible combinations and great replay ability. There are also special reputation awards given to the first player who brews each kind of advanced beer during a game.


Layout of Beer Crafters

In most worker placement games, when you place your workers, you pay an opportunity cost to complete the transaction you've selected them to do. Brew Crafters turns this sequence on its head by requiring players to pay operational costs as the consequence of selected market actions (such as hiring skilled employees) and brewery actions (such as owning additional equipment) at the end of each winter season instead of when you take the actions. I like this clever twist because it give you the ability to take an action now and come up with the cash to pay for it one or two rounds later. If you don't have the money when it's time to pay, you have to take out business loans which cost you reputation points at the end of the game.

The components for Brew Crafters are legion (extra bonus points to the publisher for including a large quantity of small bags to store everything neatly). For example, there's market and brewery action boards, the season board, player brewery and research boards, the ingredient cubes, the workers (meeples and shifts), the skilled employee cards, the recipe cards, the reputation tokens, the money, the equipment cards. And let's not forget the 24 sets of adorable little six packs of beer tokens. All of these pieces are sturdy cardboard cutouts, glossy paper cards, or wooden objects and while they should hold up well to long term use, you wouldn't want to leave them alone with your small child or undisciplined puppy. Overall I found the artwork and components to carry the theme well.

I am very happy to add this game to my collection and I'll definitely bring it out on game night to introduce it to others as well. Enjoying this game as much as I did also means I'm going to put Viticulture on my play and review consideration list because I have been putting off playing that game for much of the same reasons (I don't drink wine).







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Publisher: Dice Hate Me Games
Players: 2-5 (We played with 2)
Actual Playing Time (vs the guideline on the box): About an hour and a half
Game type: Worker Placement
Rating:
                                                                                                     


Jenni's Rating Scale:

OUI: I would play this game again; this game is ok. I probably would not buy this game myself but I would play it with those who own it and if someone gave it to me I would keep it.

OUI OUI: I would play this game again; this game is good. I would buy this game.

OUI OUI OUI: I LOVE THIS GAME. I MUST HAVE THIS GAME.

NON: I would not play this game again. I would return this game or give it away if it was given to me.