Thursday, September 20, 2018

Board Game Review: Fate of the Elder Gods

I picked up Fate of the Elder Gods from the friendly staff at Greater Than Games during a gaming convention visit. I've played the game on four or five different occasions since then and absolutely loved it each time.


Let's start with the artwork. It's beautiful! Great detail on the figures, the board is well-designed, and the Elder God cards are lovely. Even the artwork contained in the rule book demonstrates an investment in time and the application of creativity and skill. 



 The components (thick cards, dice, Elder sign tokens, and various plastic figures) are sturdy and made to last. 

The rule book is easy to understand. The only issue our play team bumped up against was that per the rule book, the control actions are supposed to be done after the basic actions, but in at least one case the instructions contradict themselves and indicate it should be done before the basic actions.  A minor issue all things considered and one it should be easy to get clarification on from the designers through Instagram or BoardGameGeek.com. 

The play moves quickly so the game is not prone to analysis paralysis. It's fun, highly interactive, with just the right amount of "take that" built in. 


And the theme - I LOVE the Cthulhu horror theme! As typical for this genre, we have the cultists versus the investigators and in Fate of the Elder Gods we are on the side of the cultists. Too many investigators in your cultist lodge and you get raided and penalized with elder sign seals that represent the success of the investigators in sealing off the eldritch horrors. Pile up too many and you lose the game. 

This game is well balanced both under two player and three player games (we did not have the opportunity to play with four players) and the only potential improvement I can see is the addition of some kind of bonus to the second, third, and fourth players to compensate for turn order. Perhaps an extra turn at the end of the game or an extra cultist placed initially. 

I have 740+ board games in my collection. Because of its strengths and engaging game play, Fate of the Elder Gods is one of the top 20 games I reach for when friends come over to play. I recently picked up the expansion for the base game, Beasts From Beyond, and I am beyond excited to get it to the table as well.

Go get this game. Go get it now. 
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Publisher: Greater Than Games
Players: 1-4 (We played with 2 and 3)
Actual Playing Time (vs the guideline on the box): About 90 minutes
Game type: area control, dice rolling, 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.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Book Review: The Pioneer woman Cooks

I'd been reading Ree Drummond's blog at thepioneerwoman.com for years before she breezed into Washington, D.C. one sunny afternoon on her book tour. My friend Danielle and I were delighted to stop by and meet her and when we did I picked up a copy of The Pioneer Woman Cooks.

Jenni (left) and Danielle (right) with Ree (center).

Several years have passed since then and while I've made a recipe or two from the book, I haven't really made her collection a focus of my menu. Recently that changed. My husband Christopher has been urging me to incorporate more comfort food into my menu planning and I guessed that Ree's recipes would be perfect along those lines. One afternoon I handed The Pioneer Woman Cooks to Christopher and asked him to tag a few recipes he'd like to see on our dinner table. He tagged 34. 😃😃😃 I've prepared about half of them over the past two months and nearly every one has been phenomenal, earning a family rating of 4/5 or 5/5 forks (and that includes our children as reviewers who are quite the picky eaters).

Some of our family favorites include the PW Potato Skins, Egg in the Hole, Sherried Tomato Soup (so flavorful!), Ribeye Steak with Whiskey Cream, Chicken Fried Steak (I won over my Father-in-law with this recipe), and Peach Crisp with Maple Cream (TO DIE FOR!!!).

I have to tell you about Ree's Cinnamon Roll recipe. I was halfway through prep on it when I realized the yield was 50 rolls. FIFTY! I've never made so many in one batch in my life. Ree says the extras can be given away or frozen after baking and frosting, so I froze 40 of them. You guys, my daughter has been living on them for weekday morning breakfasts before school for weeks. She just pulls one out of the freezer bag, pops it in the microwave for 30 seconds, and enjoys it with a few pre-cooked sausage links to start her day. The rolls are rich and filling and satisfying and the recommended espresso glaze gives them a complex flavor profile that pairs well with milk, coffee, or tea. Absolutely fantastic!

Ree's writing is intimate and invites you into her life as a friend, not just a reader. Her photographs are lovely and her directions are easy to follow. This is a cookbook to add to your collection without hesitation. I'll be picking up her other cookbooks as soon as I get the chance.

Book Review: The Glorious Pasta of Italy

When it comes to cuisine, Marcella Hazan is my definitive guide for all things Italian, so it takes a pretty remarkable cookbook to earn a permanent space in my collection alongside her work. Domenica Machetti has written one of those cookbooks and it's titled The Glorious Pasta of Italy.  Comprised of 274 pages of well-researched and well-written recipes for making a variety of pasta, sauces, soups, and entrees, it has served as a valuable resource for exploring new flavors in my kitchen.

I enjoyed Marchetti's fresh tomato sauce so much that I used it one summer recently as my basic recipe for transforming 125 pounds of farm fresh Roma tomatoes into canned pasta sauce for use all year long. The flavors remained bright and tangy even after canning. Another recipe I particularly enjoy is the orecchiette with creamy broccoli sauce. The ragu is rich and satisfying and because the broccoli is pureed it won over even the pickiest never-met-a-vegetable-I-liked eater in the family (my husband). I'm looking forward to trying the summer ravioli with arugula pesto or the roasted carrot and ricotta gnocci with herbed butter next.

Definitely a cookbook I'd recommend without reservations.

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.

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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.