Game 2: Smash Up

smashup

I played Smash Up for the first time a year or two ago and I really wanted to play at that time because it was everywhere - demo'ed at cons, in my favorite local game stores, at the Looney game night. It even seemed popular at trade shows and buyer meetings... which doesn't happen for every game.  A lot of games are perfect for certain niches but when you start seeing people whose careers and hobbies are built around games playing something new over and over again, you get the sense that it must be good.

But... I didn't get it. And yet, it's on this list and I know people that LOVE it.  So I set about furiously playing this past month to figure out what went wrong with those first demos.  And I'm here to report that I get it (and kinda love it) now!  I don't remember what I didn't like last year but my first demo this year felt familiar. 

About a month and a half ago, I was on a business trip in Atlanta with a bunch of other game publishers.  I played with about five or so guys, some of whom had never played before, others who clearly were fans of Smash Up.  We had the Pretty, Pretty expansion mixed in but because there were so many people playing a lot of playtime or turns to ask questions about how to use my minions and actions because pretty quickly someone had won. You're given these two types of cards and the minions have a power value.  A collection of minions (and some actions) on a base will eventually have enough power to smash the base.  When your minions contribute to the smashing of a base, you get victory points. The game has many different mini-decks and you get to choose two of these mini-decks to "shufflebuild" together the deck you play with.  This is where it gets fun, but back to that game in Atlanta...

I've never played Magic or any other CCGs and only played a few deckbuilders and I'm only guessing, but I think the guys who jumped into Smash Up so quickly are more familiar with those. The reason I say this is because I took Smash Up on a camping trip with some friends over Memorial Day weekend. Everyone there who played Magic loved it and caught on right away. I had Ninjas, which allow you to play out of turn but I kept hesitating to use them because it hadn't yet completely clicked for me that you must play to your decks' powers.

leosmashup

And this is what's so cool about Smash Up - each mini-deck has a set of special powers and when you take advantage of them, you realize it's super clever, funny and it's fun to get into character.  But it's also limited to 2 sets so the complications of collecting and building aren't there. I really started to enjoy the game when I played again with my friend, Leo, and we dipped into the Pretty, Pretty expansion.  The princesses are all really high powered minions, the kittens come back to life, the ponies work together to give you bonuses and the fairies let you mess with other actions and minions.  There's a great review (and photos) of the Pretty, Pretty Smash Up expansion on GeekDad. I love that AEG made this - it always makes me happy when these cool mechanics aren't lost to guts and gore. Smash Up does a great job of bringing in light art and fun mechanics for each type of faction it includes - there is a good balance of male and female minions and I think the art is inclusive, which I really appreciate.

andysmashup

So after playing about 30 times in the last month or so, I think it's fair to cross this one off the list. And it's definitely staying on my shelf.  Just narrating the game is fun - my favorite quote so far comes from Andy, who boasted last time we played, "I'm sending Queen Fluffy to Ponyland." Even Magic Ponies couldn't save him against the wrath of the Princess Kittens, though!

Game 1: Twixt

Twixt

With my first new game of this blog, I learned something... that I might play a lot of games in this series but I might also lose a lot of games. And with that, I bring you Twixt by Alex Randolph.  As soon as I decided to start the blog, Andy gave me one of his three copies of this 1962 game. Andy also taught me to play the game and it quickly became clear that I was going to need to study up a bit more before being competitive. Andy has designed some impressive abstract strategy games with the Looney Pyramids and grew up playing Twixt against his brother, who he tried to reassure me beat him just as easily as he won against me.

Photo May 12, 10 57 42 PM.jpg

The goal in Twixt is to build a connection from one side of the pegboard to the opposite side before your opponent. You build a connection by placing pegs and connecting them with the same color links. It took a bit just to get the hang of the distance that worked for linkable pegs.  I dug around on BGG and found Twixt Live and T1j and started playing online. I've played online quite a bit and at a couple of game days with friends. I like Twixt because once I understood it, it became incredibly fun to play against other friends who got it. 

One of the fun things about Twixt is that it's part of the 3M bookshelf series. It is also a 1979 Spiel des Jahres recommended game. The cover art and components for the game are really impressive compared to modern games in my opinion. Mike said in the panel that Twixt is better than Blokus, which is probably true.  Twixt is certainly deeper than Blokus and it was great to learn.  I'll keep playing Blokus with my friends that don't game very often but Twixt is very accessible, even if it's tricky enough that one wrong move can sink your strategy.

I'll consider this one crossed off the list, even if I still need to schedule a rematch with Andy. I'd love to hear if you've played Twixt - it's currently going for $155 on Amazon but I'm sure it's easy to find a used copy for less and the online option is great.

PAX East

I went to PAX East for the first time this year and it was great. I am largely unaware of the video game business but PAX focuses on video games. My dad had an Atari, I had a Nintendo, I played Wii when it first came out and I played with a Kinect on a friend's Xbox years ago - but really I haven't used a controller (other than to navigate to Netflix) since the Nintendo. So running around PAX East playing video games was eye-opening. But this was also the first time that I had real life, non-work friends at a convention with me. Normally I am working, demo-ing games, having meetings - and I did all of that last month - but I was also able to meet up with my cousin to play video games and my friend, Matt, to go to panels. And the focus on video games made the tabletop area intimate. I played games from a bunch of other companies. It was just fun. 

I went through the program book and circled all of the panels that I was interested in and showed them to Kristin & Andy (the Looneys of Looney Labs), to see if they wanted to attend anything.  Andy saw Mike Selinker's panel, The 100 Games You Absolutely, Positively Must Know How to Play, and told me he thought he might have a game on the list so we went.  It was exciting to hear everyone boo or cheer in reaction to each game revealed on the list... but I had only played 33 of the 100 games. And hearing Mike describe each of them felt like the list was a syllabus to an education in gaming. He explained that he hadn't tried to list the 100 best games or the 100 most fun games but rather the 100 games you really must play.

So I've decided to play through the list - as a way to play more, to learn about video games and to try more tabletop games. It's going to take years to get through the list but I'm excited to learn so many new games. I'll post my progress here along with some photos and Mike's pitch for the inclusion of the game. I'd love to hear what you think if you play along!