150 plays of Star Realms

I just finished my 150th recorded play of Star Realms against the Hard AI opponent on iOS. I started recording the results of the games, because I was interested in gauging the level of luck in the game.

It seemed fairly high, that is. I doubted if anybody is even able to get 60% win percentage against the Hard AI – there’s so much random in the game.

Another hypothesis quickly formed: the game is strongly biased against the starting player, who only gets three cards in the initial hand.

After 150 plays, I think I have enough plays to draw some conclusions here. The most obvious conclusion? This is an excellent game.

Starting player bias

The bias against starting player might or might not be there, but at least it’s not strong.

In a single game, it can be strong, but then again, the first player may get something great on the first round, while the second player gets only an Explorer or something else that’s not so great.

Currently at 150 plays, the second player has won 78 games and the starting player 72 games. If you flipped a fair coin 150 times, a result at least this unbalanced would come up about six times in ten. So, well within the usual random variation.

Me vs Hard AI

It seems quite clear I play better than the Hard AI. Initially the matches seemed quite balanced, but perhaps I’ve learnt something, because now I win more than I lose.

At the moment, I’ve won 89 games, while the AI has 61 wins. In a random coin flip series, a result at least this unbalanced would appear only once every 74 times. The more convincing explanation is that I’m better.

As a second player, my win percentage is slightly over 60%; as a starting player it’s 58% and overall it’s 59%. Can it be better? Yes, I think so, but not much. I don’t think I can get to 70% and 65% seems pushing it. There’s just so much randomness in the game that sometimes winning just isn’t possible, no matter how well you play.

(One thing I’ve found quite biased as well is the starting player selection: I’ve started 67 times and played second 83 times. I’d expect this to be random. Odd!)

Kyoto Protocol

Kyoto ProtocolThis review is based on a review copy given by Roll D6. I know the designer and have met him several times in Finnish game events.

The game: Kyoto Protocol by Petri Savola, published by Roll D6 in 2015.

Elevator pitch: Power Grid: The Filler Card Game. An energy-themed filler card game with a very flexible player count (2–7, and the whole range works well), simple rules and interesting player interaction.

What’s in the box? The sturdy and classy black box contains 117 cards, a sheet of tokens, rules and a die (which is not used in the game). The cards are of decent quality and look great. Good points for the looks, but I wouldn’t mind a slightly smaller box. (I’ve got my copy packed in a Ultra Pro Dual Deck Box with For Sale for easier-to-carry filler goodness.)

What do you do in the game? Players build power production by playing cards. On your turn, you can draw a card (from three open cards or from the draw deck), play cards (as many as you want, but only one type) or can clean out your game by flipping up to two cards you’ve played.

In the end of the game, each card you played is worth one point and after each of the three phases, there’s a scoring. In every scoring, there’s a minimum quota of cards you need to have played. If you’re short of the quota, it’s one point penalty per missing cards.

After phases two and three players get pollution penalties. For each of the five types of fuel (coal, oil, gas, wood and uranium) the player with the most cards gets a penalty. Heavy polluters like coal and oil are penalised more, cleaner (but rarer) wood and uranium pay less.

After three phases the player with the most points wins. Very simple, but there’s room for interesting tactics.

Lucky or skillful? This is a light filler with cards. There’s plenty of luck involved, as is appropriate. A skillful player will win more often than a weaker player, but not every time.

Abstract or thematic? Fairly abstract gameplay, but the theme is interesting, makes sense and makes the game easier to teach and understand. Very good theme for a filler, that is.

Solitaire or interactive? You have to constantly keep track of what other players do. The possibility of hiding cards adds to the interaction. Hidden cards are worth points in the end, but don’t count for production or pollution. You can sometimes hurt other players with clever play, but it’s hard to be intentionally mean.

Players: Box says 3–7, but there’s a decent two-player variant in the rules (no dummy players involved: play with half the deck). I’ve tried two, three and six players and based on that I’d say the game works well enough with the whole range. I wouldn’t buy Kyoto Protocol just for two-player games, though – there are better games for that particular niche.

Who can play? Box says 8+ and that seems correct to me. The game is easy, but there’s subtlety kids might not grasp. My eight-year-old son handles the rules, but not all the tactics. Kyoto Protocol works well for adults and families.

Length: Box says 45 minutes, but I don’t know why. Less than 30 minutes sounds better; this is a filler game, and doesn’t take a long time.

What’s to like: Looks really good; flexible player amount; meaningful, easy-to-understand theme.

What’s not to like: Slightly too large box.

My verdictKyoto Protocol has been around since 2006 in some form, and finally got published. That was great, because this is a good game – it’s just a filler, sure, but at the moment of my favourite fillers. The game is very flexible when it comes to the amount of players, the rules are a breeze to teach and the gameplay offers enough interesting decisions and player interaction.

If you want a quick filler that looks great, works with a large scale of players and both with hobby gamers and families, Kyoto Protocol will do the job.

On the scale of EnthusiasticSuggestIndifferent or AvoidKyoto Protocol gets Suggest.

Gaming Year 2014

Another good year, can’t complaing. 2013 was good, and 2014 improved upon that.

We bought a house this year and moved in, and that meant I got a bookshelf in my office I could use for games. With most of my games visible there, my son’s interest was piqued, and we ended up trying lots of different games. I’d say this year we really made the move to playing “real” games.

My daughter also continues being a bright little spark. I’m still playing more childish games with her, but at the same time she’s a real fiend when it comes to Ghost Blitz.

We repeated Ropecon with my son, and the experience turned out even better than last year. That is certainly going to be a tradition. Lautapelaamaan was another obvious spot on the con circuit, and I also visited Junacon in Turku.

In 2015, I’ll unfortunately miss both Ropecon and Lautapelaamaan.

For weekly games, I still had my Thursday group. I had to miss quite a few sessions there, but I mind less than before, as I can get better replacement gaming with my son than before.

Good new games (2013–2014)

Coconuts is a silly game of shooting coconuts in baskets with monkey catapults. It also works very, very well. Shooting is a very good balance between skill and luck. My daughter is pretty good at this. I got the game in October, and we got 50 plays out of it by the end of the year. That’s pretty wild, and while the biggest heat is already out, I can see this hitting hundred plays in a year or two – it’s just so much fun.

Splendor was a big hit, especially among non-gamers. It wasn’t a huge hit with gamers, but every non-gamer has enjoyed it. I lifted the game at the top of my annual Christmas recommendations list, it’s so universally good. Short, sweet and looks pretty. I’ve played this quite a bit with my son.

Abluxxen was one of the more popular fillers and generally quite well received. I like this quite a bit, and carry it with me constantly in my card game box. It’s somewhat unlike other games – not a trick-taking game, not a climbing game, but some kind of shedding game.

Subdivision failed quite generally, but was a success with my son. We’ve enjoyed this relaxed city-building game. It plays fast, and offers a nice little puzzle. No interaction, really, but we don’t mind.

Castles of Mad King Ludwig was the more popular Bezier game: this has been universally enjoyed. (Except all the whiny people at BGG; there has been tons of rather pointless complaining about the components, and I’ve found that endlessly boring.) And why not, as this is an excellent game. The theme is fun, and the mechanisms are interesting. Ted Alspach has done a good job here, creating a game similar, but different enough from Suburbia.

Lewis & Clark was a bit of a surprise move. Someone dumped a big load of games at the Finnish board game society forums, and I bought a few. I got this, as my son likes explorers and I thought this might work with him. It was a good choice, as he has enjoyed the game a lot. One of his highlights this year must’ve been the time he managed to beat me, he was so excited. I like this quite a bit.

Super Rhino was a funny little game. I saw a photo of the game, and decided I must have this little dexterity gem. I bought several copies from German Amazon for ~6 euros per copy, and had zero trouble unloading the extra copies. This is a fun little game, though my kids didn’t love it.

Qwixx: Das Kartenspiel is a card-game version of Qwixx, similar but not the same. It’s not quite elegant as the dice game, but I found the game fascinating enough and enjoyed it for 11 plays during the year. Well worth playing.

For the Crown mixes Chess and Dominion. The mixture is interesting, and I’d like to explore it further. Too bad it doesn’t really fit my gaming profile, being a demanding two-player game. I don’t play those much, but if I did, I’d play For the Crown.

North Wind has quite preposterous cardboard ships. Very cool. The game underneath the components is not bad at all. I enjoyed it for a while with my son, but it kind of fizzed out after four plays. We’ll see if it gets back, or gets sold. Both are possible.

Jungle Rumble is a Taiwanese mixture of Agricola-like worker placement and farming and Puerto Rico -like action selection. With cute kittens. Fun, and a nice little curiosity.

Good older games I haven’t played before

Parade has been on my list of games to play for a long time. I finally got around trying this with the Badger Deck I got, and then I bought the actual game, because it looks so nice.

Stich-Meister has been a part of my collection for couple of years now, and I finally got around creating paste-ups for the cards so we could actually play it. It turned out great. Ok, some rounds are a bit bland, if the rules don’t offer anything exciting, but sometimes the rounds are outright hilarious. This has been a fairly popular filler for us.

Samarkand was an impulse buy, mostly because Eric Brosius recommended the game. I’m a huge fan of the later Samarkand, and wanted to see how it was done 30 years earlier. Also, I don’t have many games from 1980, my year of birth, so that’s a good reason as well… and indeed, this turned out to be a pretty good game. Not quite as good as the other Samarkand, but good nevertheless.

Ark of the Covenant was a thrift store find by my friend’s wife. Couple of euros for this… not bad. I haven’t played lots of Carcassonne off-shoots, but I hear this is one of the best, and it’s easy to agree. It’s good. It also made me want to get my hands on The City and The Castle, as I’ve heard really nice things about those two as well.

Rallyman has hovered around my radar for a while, so when a friend sold his copy, I grabbed it (the same friend later sold his Wii U, which I also grabbed – what a good friend). I’m a big racing fan when it comes to video games – it’s pretty much my favourite genre – so it’s nice to have a racing board game. I’m not a huge fan of racing board games, actually, but Rallyman is nice; it’s such a unique game. Also, being Finnish, rally driving has some special meaning for me.

Children’s games

Here’s a list of all children’s games that we played at least five times. It’s interesting to see how the games change year after year. Some classics remain, some turn out to be less popular, in the end. The situations and the ages matter. I’ve had fewer chances to play games with just my son, we’ve had to include my daughter as well, which has changed the games a bit.

Das magische Labyrinth is my daughter’s favourite game right now, so no wonder it got almost 30 plays this year. It’s a good game, too, one I also enjoy playing. We use one house rule: instead of rolling the die, we just move three steps every turn. I don’t think the randomness from the die adds to the game.

Fleeting Foxes got over 20 plays, mostly requested by my daughter. And why not? This is a cute Haba game. It’s simple roll-and-move, but with a good twist: one player at the time rolls dice for everybody, assigning the dice one at the time. There’s some luck and some evaluation of probabilities involved.

Memory, usually in the form of Tatu ja Patu muistipeli, got lots of plays. I still usually beat the kids in this one, but they’ve got better. (Yes, I said exactly the same thing a year ago.)

Don’t Rock the Boat got lots of plays, because one play takes just one or two minutes. It’s not a good game; closer details are below, on the list of disappointments…

The Magic Tower was the 2013 Kinderspiel des Jahres winner. It’s a cute game, and works really well as a two-player game (it’s actually a two-player game, no matter how many players are involved). The plot – a boy rescues princess – could use some modernisation, but kids enjoy it, and I find it quite non-offensive. The princess that jumps out of the castle is a fun component.

Das kleine Gespenst still sees regular play, but has gone down in popularity – last year it topped this list with almost 30 plays. Now we’ve moved on to the Magic Labyrinth… But this still sees play, as my daughter likes the game. As memory games come, this is a good one.

Schildkrötenrennen is one of the staple family games for our family, one of the games my wife enjoys playing as well.

Da ist der Wurm drin is still the best brainless roll-and-move game in the house. It’s quite non-offensive and still sees play.

Geistertreppe is played occasionally with me and the kids. Nobody asks for this regularly, but this usually gets eventually pulled out during longer board game sessions.

Ghost Blitz is still one of my daughter’s favourite games, and one where she can beat me. We still use relaxed rules where the mistakes are not penalized and while I chide my daughter when she grabs many things, we play a relaxed game – and while I win too, it’s always a tight race and often she wins.

Animal upon Animal is like Geistertreppe, it usually sees play as a part of a longer sessions.

Indigo is still one of my favourite family games I can play with both children. We usually play three-player games.

Klack! is still asked for. I still don’t enjoy this.

Die kleinen Drachenritter was a bigger hit last year. This year, I actually traded it away – the more I played, the less I liked it, like I said a year ago. Last year, I hit the limit.

Taki is a souvenir from my trip to Israel, an Israeli Uno variant by Haim Shafir, but while the game is somewhat daft, I quite like the graphic design of the cards, and I enjoy playing this with the children. I see it as a part of my daughter’s education to make her a card game player like my son already is.

Halli Galli was introduced this year, and played couple of times. My daughter likes the idea and requests the game, but while she counts pretty well, she can’t handle the counting necessary for Halli Galli, at least not fast enough, and the games tend to end up in tears.

Troll Trail was way too simple for our kids, so we gave it away to some friends, who got more mileage out of it, as their kids are couple of years younger than ours.

Marrakech got surprisingly few plays, just six. It’s one of my favourite whole family games, and I would’ve guessed we got more plays of it, but no.

Bunte Runde is a game I always enjoy playing, but it’s not very popular.

Colorpop got the five plays required to make it to this list. The biggest enthusiasm has run out, but we always enjoy it when we play the game.

La Boca reached five plays, too. I quite like it, and it works well with a mixed group of children and adults, and takes five or six players quite well while working well with three players. There’s a reason enough to keep the game in my collection, especially as it’s actually quite fun to play.

La Cucaracha didn’t become a huge hit last year, but got some regular play. Perhaps it’s a tad too chaotic and fast-paced to be enjoyed regularly.

Games I’ve kept on enjoying

Agricola was one of the highlights of the year. I like the game, but haven’t really played it a lot, because it’s a big, heavy box, and I don’t like playing with four or five players, as the games take too long. Also, most people prefer using the cards, which I don’t like. Then, after our move, my son noticed the game on my game shelves, and we played it, and it was a hit. My son really likes it. We even moved on to the Farmers of the Moor. This has been some of the best gaming during the whole year.

Europa Tour was a cheap impulse purchase; I thought it might work well with my son. It did, we played it quite a bit during the first half of the year. Then it got a bit overrun by other games. But it’s a fun, mellow game, particularly for two players.

Machi Koro was one of me and my son’s favourite games earlier this year, but like Europa Tour, wasn’t so hot once we got access to my whole game collection and we started playing a wider selection of games.

Suburbia remains one of my favourite games. It, too, got on my local rotation, when my son wanted to try it after playing Subdivision. Despite the text in the buildings, my son can play this with me, as all the buildings are public and open.

The City has been one of my favourite fillers for years now (I’ve been waiting for it to hit 100 plays; it made it to 50 plays last year), but really got wings this year when I made my own version of the game, with the cards in Finnish and with local landmarks on them. I could play that version with my son, who seemed promising, consider the way he enjoys San Juan.

Lost Valley is an old game I owned and played back in 2005. Eventually I traded it away, but now I got it back in the same trade as Lewis & Clark, knowing that my son might be interested in it. He was – it’s one of the games he requests every now and then. It’s still not one of my favourites, but I’m more than glad to play it every now and then with my son.

Walnut Grove, or Light Agricola, as we call it, is like Lost Valley: I think it’s ok, but my son likes it. I had played it twice (or once, as my first play was far enough from the actual rules) before, but now it got a new life.

San Juan is one of those games I really like, but rarely play. However, now that I went and translated the cards in Finnish, I can play it with my son, who quite likes it. Oh, and talking about luck involved in the game: we’ve played nine times, and he hasn’t won the game once. I also got a Finnish version of Puerto Rico in a trade, and we’ve tried that couple of times. Not so great as a two-player game, but it’s quite passable for our use, and it has been fun to get back to that old classic.

The not-so-good, the disappointing and the plain bad

Clinic was the worst disappointment of the year. It seemed like such an interesting game, but it turned out such a mess that I couldn’t finish the one game I started. The rules were awful, the game overly complicated and a huge pain to explain. It just can’t be good enough to be worth the effort.

Joylings combines a rather frustrating roll and move game to Top Trumps, and is about cute horses. Fortunately my daughter isn’t too keen on horses.

Hotel Tycoon is a new version of the old classic Hotel. The rules haven’t, unfortunately, changed. I have, as the game was so awful I can’t see how I’ve enjoyed it before at all.

S-Evolution had a promising idea: trick-taking meets civ-building. Too bad the game doesn’t really work at all.

Don’t Rock the Boat seemed like a fun little dexterity filler, but no; either it’s really difficult, as in the boat tips after second or third move, or way too easy, as in you can play all your penguins to the boat without any problems. All it takes is one broken strategy…

Where Art Thou Romeo? was a good reminder that a small number of components doesn’t, by itself, make a good game.

Mont Saint Michel is a very good-looking Drei Magier game. Too bad the game under all that decoration isn’t particularly impressive.

Where are they now

Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring Deck-building Game is gone, pretty much. Just one play in 2014, with two plays for Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers Deck-building Game. These got stuck in my son’s closet, and we’ve had so many other games to play.

Continental Divide was played once, but that isn’t a huge surprise.

Qwixx didn’t become a regular filler, but that’s partly because the card game overran it a bit. Still, doing fine in the very crowded space for fillers.

A Study in Emerald is gone, sold away. Too heavy. I hear Martin Wallace is planning a much easier version of the game; that I might be interested in, but we’ll see.

Russian Railroads got couple of plays, then I sold it away. Not my cup of tea.

Coup is gone, unfortunately no plays at all. Our Thursday meetings have suffered from lack of players, and Coup requires more than we usually have.

Ab in die Tonne sees semi-regular play as a family game.

Carcassonne: South Seas was played exactly once, but I think my son has played this a bit more with his friends (or alone). It’s in his closet, so out of sight, out of mind.

Augustus didn’t do quite as well as I expected. Turns out it isn’t something I’d end up suggesting in most situations.

London I almost sold, but decided to keep. After that, I played it once and found it still interesting enough.

EuroRails didn’t see much play, as expected, but two plays is quite enough, and it certainly is a keeper.

New York Central is really hard to get on the table, but I still like it.

Australian Railways is just as hard to get on the table as any other game in the family. I bought Railroad Tycoon as well; good luck with that…

Fives and dimes

Again, last year I had a slightly longer list, thanks to a wider variety of children’s games played. This list is still very good. Having Coconuts reach 50 plays in just three months is amazing.

Dimes

  1. Coconuts (50)
  2. Splendor (32)
  3. Das magische Labyrinth (28)
  4. Fleeting Foxes (23)
  5. Europa Tour (22)
  6. The City (22)
  7. Memory (18)
  8. Machi Koro (16)
  9. Super Rhino (15)
  10. Subdivision (15)
  11. Don’t Rock the Boat (15)
  12. Magic Tower (15)
  13. Linko! (14)
  14. Die kleine Gespenst (14)
  15. Schildkrötenrennen (13)
  16. Da ist der Wurm drin (12)
  17. Ghost Blitz (11)
  18. Geistertreppe (11)
  19. Parade (11)
  20. Animal upon Animal (11)
  21. Qwixx: Das Kartenspiel (11)
  22. Castles of Mad King Ludwig (10)
  23. Agricola (10)

Fives

  1. Indigo (9)
  2. King of Tokyo (9)
  3. Klack (9)
  4. San Juan (9)
  5. Lost Cities (8)
  6. Dragonheart (8)
  7. Timeline (8)
  8. Die kleine Drachenritter (8)
  9. Suburbia (8)
  10. Halli Galli (7)
  11. Stich-Meister (7)
  12. Taki (7)
  13. Love Letter (7)
  14. Lewis & Clark (6)
  15. The Troll Trail (6)
  16. Lost Valley (6)
  17. Bunte Runde (6)
  18. Marrakech (6)
  19. Dominion (6)
  20. Skyline (5)
  21. Colorpop (5)
  22. Candy Chaser (5)
  23. Speed Cups (5)
  24. Innovation (5)
  25. La Boca (5)
  26. La Cucaracha (5)
  27. Tarock (5)

Year metric

    1. Battle Line (Schotten-Totten) (13/14)
    2. San Juan (11/11)
    3. Attika (10/12)
    4. Ta Yü (10/12)
    5. Age of Steam (10/12) *
    6. Lord of the Rings: The Confrontation (10/13)
    7. Villa Paletti (10/13)
    8. Dominion (7/7)
    9. Settlers of Catan Junior (7/7)
    10. Animal upon Animal (7/7)

First number is the years I’ve played the game, second is the number of years since the first time I played. So, I first played San Juan eleven years ago and have played it every year since that. With Battle Line I’ve missed a year. I didn’t play games marked with an asterisk this year.

H-index

My H-index for this year is 14 (13 last year); I played two games on purpose to push it to 14. My total H-index is 33, four up from last year.

Last year I said “30 is pretty much guaranteed to happen, reaching 31 next year is going to be more tricky” – well, I could’ve reached 34 with just couple of well-chosen plays. So, next year 34 is guaranteed, but how much more than that, depends on whether there are new heavy hitters like Coconuts.

Jungle Rumble

The game: Jungle Rumble by Eros Lin, Nightsorrow Chou and Zeldaaa Ling, published by ErosGames in 2013. Elevator pitch: Puerto Rico action selection meets Agricola farming and feeding in a small box with cute kittens. What’s in the box? The small box is packed with field tiles, kitten tiles, action tiles, cardboard food tokens and wooden bits for water ways, stores and … Continue reading Jungle Rumble

Games with my son

My son has become my most regular board game opponent. We often play in the mornings: on weekends and on schooldays when his school starts on 9. He’s eight years old, and quite the gamer, and here’s what we play now: Agricola — We play the family game, and recently started using the Farmers of the … Continue reading Games with my son

My 2014 top 100: 20–1

Here’s the final installment of my list. See the previous part. Now we’re getting to seriously good games. 20–19 String Railway — Build railways of strings. Simple, sometimes frustratingly imprecise, but all the same very charming. This is a delightful game, a lovely filler in a small box that works with a full range of … Continue reading My 2014 top 100: 20–1

My 2014 top 100: 40–21

Here’s the previous part. 40–39 Australian Railways — The third Early Railways Game on the list. The three games are almost identical, but this one’s different, and the best: it features organic link growth. So, instead of railroad links appearing in the middle of nowhere, they form a contiguous network. That’s pretty clever, huh. This … Continue reading My 2014 top 100: 40–21

My 2014 top 100: 50–41

Third part of my Top 100 list. Here’s the previous part. 50–48 Qwixx — Delightful filler game with dice. I’ve made an online score sheet for the game. Pantheon — This is the highest-ranking Bernd Brunnhofer title on my list, beating St. Petersburg and Stone Age. Is it a better game than the two, especially Stone Age? … Continue reading My 2014 top 100: 50–41

My 2014 top 100: 74–48

This is the second part of my Top 100 list. Here’s the first part with more explanations. Looks like here I’m starting to move to games rated 8+, the previous list was mostly games rated 7. 74–72 Timeline — Very simple idea; other games do the same thing, with more complications. This simple version works quite well, … Continue reading My 2014 top 100: 74–48