Gaming Trent Daily #67 – Lord of the Rings: The Card Game vs. Pathfinder Adventure Card Game

In the past few years, two amazing adventure-themed cooperative card games have become a permanent part of my gaming collection.

The first one was Lord of the Rings: The Card Game. Released in 2011 by Fantasy Flight Games and designed by Nate French, it’s set in the Lord of the Rings universe devised by J.R.R. Tolkien.

The new kid on the block is Pathfinder Adventure Card Game. Released in 2013 by Paizo and designed by Mike Selinker, it’s set (at least in this initial release) in the Rise of the Runelords thematic scenario from the Pathfinder tabletop roleplaying game, also published by Paizo.

Things in Common
Here are five key factors these games have in common (besides the card game aspect and the fantasy theme).

1. Both games work for one to four players. Pathfinder Adventure Card Game has an expansion for five to six players.

2. Both games involve a player or group of players working cooperatively to defeat a scenario or set of scenarios. In each game, the scenario deck deals out threats of various kinds that the players must deal with in order to win.

3. Both games involve randomized scenarios, meaning you might be aware of the general types of threats you’re facing in a given scenario, but the specific order and magnitude of the threats is unknown to you.

4. Both games play very well solo, but also work in a group situation. I’ve deeply enjoyed the solo experience with both games.

5. Both games require you to construct a player deck for you to use out of the available pool of cards prior to the start of the game. The deckbuilding experience for Pathfinder is substantially easier, but that’s because you’re building a deck of fifteen to twenty cards versus a deck of fifty cards.

Differences
Here are seven key differences between the game that really distinguish them in my eyes. Some of these factors will encourage players to try Lord of the Rings and others will encourage Pathfinder play, but I’m not sure the same points will offer the same encouragement to different players.

1. In The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game, you have much more freedom in terms of deck construction, but it’s also much more involved. You’re building a 50 card deck with only a restriction of three cards of any given name for most scenarios. On the other hand, Pathfinder Adventure Card Game gives you a “recipe” to follow that involves choosing among several different choices for each slot in a small 15 card deck. It’s much easier to build your starting deck and to revise it between scenarios, but you have less flexibility to build whatever you want.

2. In The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game, the threats generated by the scenario stick around if you don’t handle them immediately. In Pathfinder Adventure Card Game, the threats are far less persistent. In terms of tactical choices within scenarios, the greater persistence of the threats in The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game adds a greater level of tactical depth that Pathfinder Adventure Card Game doesn’t quite have.

3. In terms of variety of scenario objectives, The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game offers far more variety, at least to this point. Part of this is due to the age of the game and the numerous adventure packs available, as you’re comparing roughly 50 scenarios to eight. Still, the early Pathfinder scenarios are rather similar to each other (for the most part).

4. In The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game, most of the randomness in terms of player choice comes from the player’s own deck of cards. In Pathfinder Adventure Card Game, the deck is far less random thanks to the “recharge” mechanic and small deck size, but some randomness is brought in via die rolls. What flavor of “randomness” do you like better? If you like the randomness of card draws, The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game will prove less frustrating. If you prefer dice rolling that’s somewhat mitigated by card play, Pathfinder’s randomness will be more appealing to you.

5. In The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game, for the most part, the scenarios are very independent of each other, though this may change thanks to the upcoming Lord of the Rings box sets and the “campaign mode.” In Pathfinder Adventure Card Game, the overarching Adventure Path mode incorporates all 33 scenarios for the game and your deck slowly changes and your character grows between (and even during) scenarios. Pathfinder Adventure Card Game‘s campaign mode stands far above The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game‘s at this point in terms of a long and engaging experience over a sequence of plays.

6. The art is probably better in The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game, though I don’t find the art in Pathfinder Adventure Card Game to be problematic. There have been some complaints about the “drab” card design in Pathfinder Adventure Card Game, but having seen the wide variety of cards, they’re completely fine.

7. Though both games do a good job of telling an adventure story through gameplay, Pathfinder Adventure Card Game‘s storytelling is more accessible. Paizo’s experience with the Pathfinder RPG and how to use game elements to tell a story comes through very clearly here.

Which Is Better?
If you’re attracted to a wider variety of scenarios and deeper strategic and tactical choices within scenarios, Lord of the Rings is probably a better choice. If an ongoing campaign mode with character building and ongoing storytelling along with strategic and tactical choices that are still compelling seems more intriguing to you, Pathfinder Adventure Card Game is probably better. It really depends on what you want most.

As for me, I’m pretty “high” on the campaign mode for Pathfinder Adventure Card Game at the moment, but I suspect once I’ve played through the campaign a few times, I’ll prefer the scenario depth and variety of The Lord of the Rings: The Card Game over the long haul. Both are strong enough games that I’m proud to have them in my collection, and they’re different enough that I don’t feel one excludes the other.

Daily #66 – Top Ten Games from Gencon 2013

I attended Gencon 2013 and, naturally, played a ton of new games there. Here are the ten best new games that I actually played.

Note that I excluded games that I was sure were released at least a few weeks before Gencon, though I included some games that I was not entirely sure about. Some of these were Gencon releases, some were perhaps released a bit before Gencon, and some have yet to be released.

Also, two games I really wanted to play but was unable to try were Bruges and Firefly.

10. Dungeon Roll is a quick dice-rolling dungeon delve game designed by Chris Darden, published by Tasty Minstrel Games, and playable by 1 to 4 players in 15 minutes. It’s light, plays quickly, and offers just enough variety via the role cards to have some lasting power.
9. Maximum Throwdown is a dexterity game designed by Jason Tagmire, published by AEG, and playable by 2 to 6 players in 30 minutes. It’s a simple dexterity game reminiscent of last year’s Flowerfall but with special powers and a few other twists.
8. Lost Legends is a fantasy-themed card drafting game designed by Mike Elliott, published by Queen Games, and playable by 3 to 5 players in a little over an hour. It’s a very intriguing card drafting game that I quite like, but I worry deeply about balance issues over many plays.
7. Consequential is a fantasy-themed cooperative game designed by Carl Chudyk and Chris Cieslik, published by Asmadi Games, and playable by 1 to 5 players in an hour. The single scenario I played was intriguing and the use of digital storytelling was cool, but the game’s future relies on more scenarios with more variety.
6. Rialto is an area control game designed by Stefan Feld, published by Tasty Minstrel Games, and playable by 2 to 5 players in about 45 minutes. Like many Feld games, this one mashes up mechanisms in a way that’s difficult to simply describe, though this one is on the lighter end of the spectrum.
5. Compounded is a chemistry-themed worker placement game designed by Darrell Louder, published by Dice Hate Me Games, and playable by 2 to 5 players in about an hour. This one really wins because of the unique and effective theme as well as the very solid and well-integrated underlying mechanisms that create a very competitive and potentially even cutthroat game.
4. Impulse is a space exploration card game designed by Carl Chudyk, published by Asmadi Games, and playable by 2 to 4 players in about an hour. This one follows strongly on the “multiple uses of cards” path of Innovation and Glory to Rome, making it another must-have for me.
3. Lagoon is an unpublished prototype that I tried in the prototypes room – I am unsure as to the designer, though I know he’s intending a Kickstarter for it early next year. The game involves a board made out of hexagon tiles, each of which has a unique power, and throughout the game players explore outwards (adding more random tiles) and score tiles already on the board (taking them off the board and adding them to their score pile). This one had lots of twists and turns – I was ready to Kickstart it right then and there.
2. Trains is a deckbuilding game designed by Hisashi Hayashi, published by AEG, and playable by 2 to 4 players in an hour. The introduction of the board as a method for manuevering and scoring points drastically alters the standard deckbuilding game, opening up many different paths to victory from each setup.
1. Pathfinder Adventure Card Game is a cooperative card game designed by Mike Selinker, published by Paizo, and playable by 1 to 6 players in an hour (per scenario). This game does an amazing job of merging a interesting tactical card game with the flavor and dice-chucking of the Pathfinder RPG, creating a wonderful campaign-oriented game. I can’t wait to see where this goes.

Episode #59 – Playing to Win

In Episode #59 of “Twenty Minutes with Gaming Trent,” I discuss handling cheating in a game group, talk about my recent play of The Great Heartland Hauling Company, and then talk about playing to win. Listen in!

Topic One – Handling Cheaters
Not too long ago, I participated in a community game night where a player was caught cheating. The guy running the group had a quick conversation with those playing with the cheater, then he asked the cheater to leave.

Easy as can be. It works really well for larger community groups.

What do you do if someone cheats in a smaller group? You have five or six people over to play games, including someone’s “friend,” and that person cheats up a storm? How do you handle it?

This has happened before, and here’s how the situation is best handled, in my opinion.

First, take careful observation of the cheating. If you can, talk privately for a second with someone else you strongly trust in the group and have them watch, too. Make sure you’ve observed clear-cut cheating.

If that player steps out for a moment to the bathroom, check with the other players and make sure they’re aware of it and they’re okay with you asking that person to leave. The “friend” might be bothered, but if you make it clear that the cheating is disrupting everyone else’s enjoyment of the game.

When that person comes out, confront them about the cheating. Make it clear that the cheating is unacceptable with this game group and simply state if they cheat again, they’ll have to leave.

After that, never invite this person to a game night again.

Cheaters aren’t fun for anyone. Don’t let it happen to you.

Recently Played Games
The Great Heartland Hauling Company is a pick up and deliver game for two to five players, designed by Jason Kotarski, published by Dice Hate Me, and playable in half an hour

The Big Topic – Playing to Win
When you sit down to play a game, how do you judge the success of it? Is it only enjoyable for you if you win? Do you get enjoyment as long as the game was competitive, or if you pull off your strategy (even if it doesn’t win)? Everyone likes to win, don’t get me wrong, but for some players, winning is the reason to play.

I think there are five elements to winning any game. Many gamers only adopt a few of these during gameplay.

Internal psychology – Are you mentally prepared to play? Are you focused with a healthy balance of relaxation and intensity?
Strategy – What’s your game plan for winning?
Tactics – How do you implement that game plan on a turn-by-turn basis?
Information – How can you minimize the correct information and maximize the false information you give to your opponent?
Rapport – Does your conversation with the other player lull them into false security or take them gently out of their mindset?

I don’t consider any of these “unfair.” I consider them all essential elements of playing to win without crossing the line into unsportsmanlike tactics.

Next Episode
Tune in early next week for episode #60, in which I’ll be discussing my top ten economic games.

Episode #58 – Top Ten Abstract Games

In Episode 58 of “Twenty Minutes with Gaming Trent,” I talk about sports and games, talk about my recent play of San Juan, and list my top ten abstract games. Listen in!

Topic One – Sports and Games
First of all, what is the difference between the two? The dictionary provides several meanings of both which have a lot of overlapping elements. To me, the difference between the two is the type of skill placed on the table. A sport involves primarily physical skill, though mental elements can come through at high levels of play, whereas a game focuses on mental skill, though physical elements can come into play on a secondary level.

In other words, as a gamer, I can appreciate a sport, though I may not have the physical skill necessary to participate at any sort of high level.

What I find fascinating, though, are the points at which games and sports overlap. Take, for example, the management and analysis of sports teams. The statistical analysis of determing the best players is absolutely fascinating to me, as are the various tactics and strategies employed regarding trades.

To me, sports management at that level is purely a game. It’s a deep intellectual pursuit and it’s one I find endlessly entertaining.

Recently Played Games
San Juan, a role selection card game designed by Andreas Seyfarth, published by Rio Grande Games, and playable in an hour or so

The Big Topic – Top Ten Abstract Games
An abstract game is a strategy game that minimizes luck and does not rely on a theme. Most of the games on this list are essentially themeless and the ones that do have a completely painted-on theme.

10. Kahuna is an area control and route building game for two players, designed by Günter Cornett, published by Rio Grande Games, and playable in about thirty minutes
9. Micropul is a print-and-play tile placement game for one to two players, designed by Jean-François Lassonde, and playable in about thirty minutes (a lot like Carcassonne)
8. Fealty is a territory building game for two to four players, designed by R. Eric Reuss, published by Asmadi Games, and playable in about thirty minutes
7. Twixt is a very simple pattern building game for two players, designed by Alex Randolph, published by 3M, and playable in about thirty minutes
6. Go is a classic area enclosure game for two players, published by any number of companies, and playable in an hour
5. Torres is an action point and tile placement game for two to four players, designed by Wolfgang Kramer and Michael Kiesling, published by Rio Grande Games, and playable in an hour
4. Ingenious is a pattern matching and tile laying game for one to four players, designed by Reiner Knizia, published by Fantasy Flight Games, and playable in an hour
3. Chess is a classic grid movement and area control game for two players, published by countless companies, and playable in about an hour
2. Blokus is a tile placement game for two to four players, designed by Bernard Tavitian, published by Winning Moves, and playable in about thirty minutes
1. Arimaa is a grid movement and area control game for two players, designed by Aamir and Omar Syed, published by Z-Man Games (though it can be played with any chess set), and playable in an hour

Next Episode
Tune in later this week for episode #59, where the topic will be playing to win.

Episode #57 – Strategy and Tactics

In Episode #57 of “Twenty Minutes with Gaming Trent,” I talk about teaching parents to play games, discuss my recent play of Arimaa, and discuss the difference between strategy and tactics and how that can be useful when playing. Listen in!

Topic One – Teaching Parents to Play Games
My parents are both in their sixties and often react with a shrug to my gaming hobby. My father’s primary hobby is gardening, for example, while my mother is a very avid reader. Gaming is just not a hobby they’re familiar with in any real way.

Having said that, I have taken several steps to introduce them to gaming. I’ve found a few things have worked really well.

First, stick to games that aren’t overly long. They dread sitting down to a game that will take longer than thirty minutes or so, not because of the length, but because of the commitment to something they might not enjoy. They compare it to watching a movie – if they don’t know about a movie, they’re hesitant to invest that time to watch it and a game is the same way.

Second, know how to explain it cold. You need to be able to give a one minute overview of the game and have the game on the table in five minutes or so. Sitting there and reading the rulebook aloud doesn’t cut it for my parents.

Third, save the strategy and tactics advice for the game itself. Stick to the rules when explaining it to get the game on the table. When the game starts rolling, talk about some tactics, but skip over anything that isn’t relevant within the next turn or two. Let them figure out some of it, too.

Thanks to these three tactics, my parents have enjoyed quite a few of my favorite shorter games and have even expressed a willingness to try some of the longer ones. They’ve even asked about buying a few of them to play with their own friends. It’s been a lot of fun watching them get genuine enjoyment from my hobby.

Recently Played Games
Arimaa, an abstract chess-like game for two players, designed by Aamir and Omar Syed, published by Z-Man Games (though playable with a chess set), and playable in about an hour.

The Big Topic – Strategy and Tactics
Before we even dig into this topic, let’s define strategy and tactics.

Strategy is a high level plan to achieve one or more goals under conditions of uncertainty. In a game, your goal is usually victory in that game. Thus, strategy refers to your high level plan to win the game even given the uncertainty present in the game.

A tactic is a conceptual action implemented as one or more specific tasks. When you begin to implement your strategy, you eventually break it down into a series of smaller actions. The actual implementation of these actions is what tactics refers to.

Let’s use an example from Dominion. In a typical game of Dominion, you define your strategy as you’re examining the kingdom cards at the start of the game. You figure out what your overall game plan is, what you’ll buy in the early game, what you’ll buy in the mid game, and what you’ll buy in the late game.

Your tactics happen on your turn. In what order do you play your cards? This is often obvious, but sometimes it can require finesse. There’s also the decision of what card to buy. Both of these are specific implementations of the conceptual actions in your gameplan.

Most games have some element of both strategy and tactics to them. You define a strategy at the start of the game (or even before the game) and you make tactical decisions within that game that essentially implement that strategy in the specific game situation you have before you.

To play a game well, you need to be strong in both the strategy and the tactics of the game. You can come up with the perfect Dominion game plan at the start, but if you’re unsure as to the order of playing the cards and don’t buy cards in the right order, your gameplan is useless. Similarly, you might intuitively understand what the best value is for the coins that you have, but if the purchase makes no sense in an overall strategy, you’re going to just have a bunch of random cards in your deck.

Next Episode
Tune in early next week for episode #58, in which we’ll be discussing my top ten abstract games.

Episode #56 – Top Ten Real-Time Games

In Episode 56 of “Twenty Minutes with Gaming Trent,” I talk about taking games on vacation, mention my recent play of Hanabi, then I list off my top ten real time games. Listen in!

Topic One – Taking Games on Vacation
When my wife and I go on a family vacation, we often wind up with lazy evenings where the kids are asleep and we’re kicked back sharing a bottle of wine.

It’s during those times that we often enjoy playing a game. The problem is that suitcase space is often at a premium when we fly anywhere.

So what’s a gaming couple to do?

My solution is to put a game or two into freezer Ziploc bags. I’ll take the contents of, say, Agricola and put them in a gallon freezer bag. If the boards don’t fit, I put them in the middle of our suitcase somewhere.

This little tactic eliminates the rigid shape of the box and gives us some flexibility in our suitcase. The only part that needs to remain truly flat is the board, and in some cases, that’s not needed.

What went along on our most recent trip? I snuck in two Android: Netrunner decks along with some Summoner Wars – and we also made a stop at a game shop while we were out.

Recently Played Games
Hanabi, a cooperative game designed by Antoine Bauza, published by Asmodee, and playable by two to five players in about half an hour.

The Big Topic – Top Ten Real Time Games
A real-time game is any game that is played without any downtime and rewards fast play. Many party games qualify as real-time games.

10. Escape: the Curse of the Temple, a cooperative exploration game designed by Kristian Amundsen Østby, published by Queen Games, and playable by one to five players in about ten minutes.
9. Pit, a boisterous stock trading game designed by Edgar Cayce, Harry Gavitt, and George S. Parker, published by Hasbro, and playable by three to ten players in about an hour.
8. Jungle Speed, a quick set collection game designed by Thomas Vuarchex and Pierrick Yakovenko, published by Asmodee, and playable by two to eight players in about ten minutes.
7. Ubongo, a puzzle-solving game designed by Grzegorz Rejchtman, published by Z-Man Games, and playable by two to four players in half an hour.
6. Galaxy Trucker, a spaceship design game designed by Vlaada Chvatil, published by Rio Grande Games, and playable by two to four players in about an hour.
5. JAB: Realtime Boxing, a boxing-themed game designed by Gavan Brown, published by Tasty Minstrel Games, and playable by two players in about ten minutes.
4. Set, a pattern recognition game designed by Marsha J. Falco, published by Ravensburger, and playable by any number of players in about half an hour.
3. Space Alert, a space exploration game designed by Vlaada Chvátil, published by Rio Grande Games, and playable by one to five players in about half an hour.
2. Icehouse, a simple war game designed by Andrew Looney and John Cooper, published by Looney Labs, and playable by three to five players in about twenty minutes.
1. Space Cadets, a space exploration game designed by Brian, Geoff, and Sydney Engelstein, published by Stronghold Games, and playable by three to six players in about ninety minutes.

Next Episode
Tune in later this week for episode 57, where I discuss strategy and tactics.

Episode #55 – Preparing for a Gaming Tournament

In Episode 55 of “Twenty Minutes with Gaming Trent,” I discuss game previews and hype building, mention my recent play of Ticket to Ride with my children, then I talk about how I prepare for a game tournament that I want to do well in. Listen in!

Topic One – Game Previews and Hype Building
Game manufacturers and game designers want you to buy their games, of course. Given that the game market is rather crowded, many game manufacturers and designers try various things to get your attention. They’ll distribute the rulebook. They’ll preview individual cards. They’ll participate actively in forums about the game.

After all of that, though, I’ve found that there are three things that will get me to at least pay a bit of attention to the game.

First, make an overview video of the gameplay and include a rulebook link right there for me to click on. I’m pretty much willing to watch a five minute video on any tabletop game and if you have the rulebook right there, I’m probably willing to read it. A preorder link here is a good idea, too, but I’ll hit on that in a minute.

Second, get a link to that video in a clearinghouse where I’m likely to see it. The most effective way to do that is to simply give it to Boardgamenews. I tend to read the updates there pretty faithfully. You should also make sure that video gets to all other board game news sites – Game Bugle, Purple Pawn, and so on.

Third, make sure you get the game up as early as possible for preorders online. I’m most likely to preorder a game right after watching that video, reading the rulebook, and maybe browsing a forum about a game. I will never be more likely to preorder than right at that moment. If the game clicks with me and I have some credit at Amazon or Coolstuffinc, I’m likely to preorder that game right now (or, in CSI’s case, add it to the wishlist for the next time I build up a free shipping order). Make sure this is ready to go before you distribute that overview video and rulebook.

This all assumes that the game you’re presenting is a good one. If you’re presenting a poor game with bad components, I might watch the video, but I will walk away with a bad taste in my mouth.

Recently Played Games
Ticket to Ride, a train game for two to five players, designed by Alan R. Moon, published by Days of Wonder, and playable in about forty five minutes

The Big Topic – Preparing for a Gaming Tournament
I’m already knee-deep in preparations for the Android: Netrunner U.S. Nationals tournament at Gencon. I thought it might be interesting to talk about how I prepare for a tabletop gaming tournament. Most of this would apply perfectly to almost any tabletop game.

First, I assemble a closed team to prepare with. Right now, that team is four people. These four don’t necessarily need to be able to meet up all the time, but there needs to be many opportunities for at least pairs of them to meet up.

Second, I try to assess the metagame as it sits right now. What are the strong strategies to apply to the game? I need to know these. How can I assess which strategy my opponent is using? What strategies work best for my playstyle? In some games, how can I identify which strategy I should be using this game? These things all rely on having a good sense of the game.

Third, I play lots of different strategies to try to understand the field. For the first part of preparation, I’m mostly trying to understand most of the strategies I’ll be facing in that tournament. I’ll build lots of decks and play against them in various permutations. I take tons of notes during this phase. I usually try out some unusual strategies here to see if they fit in anywhere.

Eventually, I’ll start to identify a strategy that I want to focus on mastering. In the case of a game like this, that means I’ll figure out what decks I want to play. They’ll be decks that synergize well with my natural style of play.

When I’ve identified those, I will play that strategy to death. I need to know the nuances of that strategy cold and I also need to know all of the corner cases. I need to know what to do against every other strategy I might face in the tournament.

My goal is to go to the tournament with a strategy that I can play blindfolded along with a strong sense of the other strategies I expect to see there.

Next Episode
Tune in early next week for episode #56, where I discuss my top ten real time games.

Episode #54 – Top Ten Customizable Card Games

In Episode 54 of “Twenty Minutes with Gaming Trent,” I talk about a surprising use for an old expansion box, mention my recent play of Arkham Horror, and list off my top ten customizable card games. Listen in!

Topic One – Using Old Expansion Boxes
In a recent math trade, I received a box in brown paper wrapping. When I pulled off the wrapping, I was rather confused, as the box inside was not the cardboard box I was expecting but the box for the Conquest of Planet Earth expansion. I was absolutely sure I had not traded for this, so I was mystified at first. When I opened it, though, I found the game I actually traded for on the inside along with some packing peanuts.

The person had used the Conquest of Planet Earth expansion box as their box for shipping their actual game to me.

This got me to thinking about expansion boxes. I’m one of those “dump the contents of the expansion in the main box and chuck the expansion box” types, but I hadn’t really thought about uses for expansion boxes. It seemed to work well for shipping.

After this experience, I’m going to start saving at least some of the expansion boxes I receive. I can see myself storing print-and-play games in them – a small expansion box would work better for micropul, for example, than the baggie I currently have it in. I can also see myself using large ones as shipping material for small games.

Recently Played Games
Arkham Horror, a cooperative Lovecraft game for one to eight players, designed by Richard Launius and Kevin Wilson, published by Fantasy Flight Games, and playable in four hours or so.

The Big Topic – Top Ten Customizable Card Games
First of all, I wanted to mention Summoner Wars. Is Summoner Wars a customizable card game? I suppose that it is, but the customization for it is so restricted that I usually just find myself playing with the default factions, so I chose to exclude it from this list. Had I included it, it would have been somewhere in the top four, turning those four into five, and bumping the bottom game on this list.

10. Vampire: The Eternal Struggle is a vampire-themed game with political aspects for two to five players, designed by Richard Garfield, published by Wizards of the Coast and White Wolf, and playable in about two hours.
9. Versus is a superhero-themed game for two players, designed by a small army of people, published by Upper Deck, and playable in about thirty minutes.
8. World of Warcraft: Trading Card Game is a fantasy-themed game for two players, designed by another small army of people, published by Cryptozoic, and playable in about thirty minutes.
7. Legend of the Five Rings has an Asian theme and works best for two players, designed by several folks, published by AEG, and playable in about thirty minutes.
6. Game of Thrones: The Card Game is set in the Song of Ice and Fire setting as developed by George R. R. Martin, plays with two to four players, designed by Nate French, Eric M. Lang, and Christian T. Petersen, published by Fantasy Flight Games, and playable in about thirty minutes to an hour.
5. Star Wars: The Card Game is an asymmetric game set in the Star Wars universe for two players, designed by Eric Lang, published by Fantasy Flight Games, and is playable in about thirty minutes.
4. Lord of the Rings: The Card Game is a cooperative game set in J.R.R. Tolkien’s Middle Earth, designed by Nate French, published by Fantasy Flight Games, and is playable in about thirty minutes.
3. Mage Wars is a fantasy-themed game of arena combat, designed by Bryan and Benjamin Pope, published by Arcane Wonders, and is playable in an hour to an hour and a half.
2. Magic: the Gathering is a fantasy-themed game that basically invented the customizable card game genre for two or more players, designed by Richard Garfield and (later) Mark Rosewater, published by Wizards of the Coast, and is playable in twenty minutes to half an hour.
1. Android: Netrunner is an asymmetric cyberpunk-themed game for two players, designed by Richard Garfield and Lukas Litzsinger, published by Fantasy Flight Games, and is playable in half an hour.

Next Episode
Tune in later this week for Episode 55, where I discuss preparing for a game tournament.

Episode #53 – Tabletop Gaming Podcasts

In Episode 53 of “Twenty Minutes with Gaming Trent,” I talk about the fun of playing Magic: the Gathering Commander/EDH, reflect on playing Agricola on the iPad, and go over some of my favorite podcasts. Listen in!

Topic One – The Joy of Commander
It’s no secret that I’m a pretty big fan of Magic: the Gathering. I’ve been a Magic player for nearly two decades now as I started playing in the game’s infancy.

At various points I’ve been a casual player and a tournament player, a very active player and a nearly inactive player, an avowed weekly drafter and a constructed maven.

Over time, like many players, I’ve grown tired of the ceaseless collectibility of the game. At this point, my tournament competitive play is purely sealed and draft. Still, I had a pretty big collection of cards sitting in my closet.

My solution was to turn the whole collection into a draft cube and, more relevant here, a bunch of Magic: the Gathering Commander decks.

For those unfamiliar, Commander is a casual Magic variant with a number of special deck construction rules and a few gameplay changes to encourage creative deck construction. Because the decks are impossible to hone thanks to those rules, players often play crazy cards that never get played in other formats. You see game situations in Commander that never exist anywhere else.

Not only that, you can stick a Commander deck in the corner for three years, pull it out, and still have an enjoyable and competitive game against other Commander players.

There are occasionally local tournaments for Commander, but it’s almost entirely a casual format. It’s not cutthroat, there’s not a drive to buy new cards constantly, and the experience of deckbuilding and playing is very creative and low-stress and enjoyable.

If you’re burnt out on Magic, try giving Commander a whirl.

Recently Played Games
Agricola, a resource management game for one to five players, designed by Uwe Rosenberg, published by Z-Man Games and Lookout Games and Playdek, and playable in about an hour and a half.

The Big Topic – Gaming Podcasts
I work from home. I have a little home office where I write, record podcasts, and do other professionally oriented things.

During the workday, if you were to stick your head into my office, you’d almost always hear a podcast playing. Some of them are replays of NPR programs, others are about creative writing, and still others are about science topics.

A healthy number of the podcasts I subscribe to, though, are about tabletop gaming. I actually like almost every podcast I’ve heard in this genre for one reason: the people recording them seem happy and enthusiastic. Even the casters that go the extra mile to have steady and calm voices often have bursts of joy and excitement at gaming. For me, that’s a huge part of the appeal of gaming podcasts.

I could fill an hour describing podcasts that I listen to. I listen to some of the “big” ones, like The Dice Tower, The Spiel, and The D6 Generation, of course, but I figured that if I’m going to talk about podcasts, I’d like to highlight a few of the seemingly less well known ones (again, I’m not sure how to really gauge their relative popularity, so these might actually be hugely popular). Here are four that I particularly like.

Drive to Work Podcast is done by the chief designer and developer of Magic: the Gathering, Mark Rosewater, literally recorded as he drives to work. While it does have a Magic-heavy focus, Rosewater does a very good job of discussing the logic behind games and how they work in a very detailed way, and he does often delve into how other games work.

The Game Design Roundtable is hosted by Dirk Knemeyer, Jon Shafer & David Heron. On this show, the hosts talk about various games and try to dig into the logic behind how they’re designed. The variety and the host interactions make this show pop.

Garrett’s Games and Geekiness is hosted by Doug and Shelley Garrett, a married couple. They talk about a wide variety of gaming topics. This show appeals to me because Doug and Shelley seem like two people that my wife and I would invite over for a bottle of wine and an evening of gaming on a very regular basis. I wish they lived near us, in fact.

The Long View is hosted by Geof Gambill and often co-hosted by Joel Eddy. What I like about this podcast is that it focuses intensely on one game without becoming boring. They take that one game and twist it around from lots of different angles. I recently guested on this podcast, in fact, to discuss Android: Netrunner – big surprise.

Give these podcasts a listen! You can find all of them on iTunes with just a simple search.

Next Episode
Tune in early next week for Episode #54, where I discuss my top ten customizable card games.

Episode #52 – Top Ten Drafting Games

In Episode #52 of “Twenty Minutes with Gaming Trent,” I discuss the latest iteration of my game design, talk about my experiences playing Legends of Andor, and then list my top ten drafting games. Listen in!

Topic One – My Game Design
As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve spent the last year designing a card game based on MOBA-style video games – think League of Legends. Today, I’m just going to talk about the current state of that design and my primary concern about it.

The game is designed for two or more players. Any number can play, though it generally works best for two to four players and then even numbers of players above that.

In the game, you play a hero. Your hero is represented by a card that describes your passive ability, a deck of forty tactics cards (that you can modify to your desire), another deck of eighteen cards that describe your hero’s abilities, and fifteen item cards that you can purchase during the game. Each player also has a set of twenty tokens representing their hero’s influence on the goal. Neutral components include a bunch of gold tokens, a bunch of experience tokens, a bunch of damage tokens, a deck of “monster” cards, a few other markers that represent specific game states such as “defensive position” or “overextended position” and a circular disk that represents a powerful artifact that you’re fighting over. The goal of the game is to get fifteen influence on that objective.

The tactics cards describe various simple tactics that a fighter might use in the battlefield. One might allow you to fight two monsters this round in exchange for taking a damage. Another might allow you to do an attack and then retreat into a defensive position. Another might be a normal attack that does double damage if the other player is in an overextended position.

The hero ability cards are much more powerful than the tactics cards. Each hero has four abilities, so in the eighteen card hero deck, there are five copies each of three different abilities and three copies of a fourth ability. At the start of the game, a player can choose a level one ability and add it to their deck for free (in the discard pile). Thereafter, each ability has an experience cost that must be paid to add the card to their deck.

The item cards are things you can add to your hero to make them stronger in some fashion, increasing the damage they do, making them able to take more damage, and so on. They each have a gold cost.

How do you earn gold and experience? That’s where the “monster” cards come into play. One of the actions you can choose is to fight one of these monster cards. When you choose to do that, you do an amount of damage equal to your character’s power (listed on their identity card, which can be modified by items) to that monster and add damage counters to it. You also pull that monster in front of you. Most monsters will take a few actions to kill early on, but will die to a single action later.

When a monster dies, you receive the reward listed on the card – some amount of experience and gold. At the end of your turn, you can spend experience and gold for free.

You have a hand of six cards that’s completely refreshed each turn. On your turn, you have three actions. What kind of actions can you take? You can attack a monster or an opponent, you can influence the objective, you can rest (healing a single point of damage at first), or you can play any of the cards in your hand.

At the end of your turn, you discard the remainder of your hand and draw a fresh new hand. This means you cycle through your deck every six turns or so at the start of the game. Later on, you’ll be able to remove cards from your deck as well as draw more each turn, speeding up the rate of churn through your deck.

If you accumulate damage equal to your life level, you merely have a single action on your next turn and are refilled to full health. Your death is usually a great opportunity for the other player to accumulate influence on the artifact.

The variety in this game comes from the huge variance in character powers. Some characters focus on poking the other player for damage over and over. Some will attack a bunch of monsters at once and then use area-of-effect abilities to slaughter a pack of them, building up experience and gold quickly.

The base game I designed includes six heroes and enough components to play a three-on-three game. Expansions would be very easy – just have a small pack with another hero in it and a few supporting tactics cards.

That’s my design. My problem? I’m not much of a self-promoter for things like this, plus I’m pretty certain that game companies are already designing a game based on League of Legends. I’m actually more curious to see if the design that inevitably comes out is anything like what I just described.

Recently Played Games
Legends of Andor, a cooperative puzzle-like game for one to four players, designed by Michael Menzel, published by Fantasy Flight Games, and playable in a bit over an hour.

The Big Topic – Top Ten Drafting Games
I’ll admit that I had a hard time defining what “drafting” really was. In the end, I went with “games where players pick cards from a limited subset, such as a common pool, to gain some immediate advantage or to assemble hands of cards that are used to meet objectives within the game.”

10. King of Tokyo is a light dice-rolling monster mayhem game for two to six players, designed by Richard Garfield, published by asmodee, and playable in about twenty minutes.
9. Dominion is a deckbuilding game for two to four players, designed by Donald X. Vaccarino, published by Rio Grande Games, and playable in about half an hour.
8. Ascension is a deckbuilding game for two to four players, designed by Justin Gary, Rob Dougherty, John Fiorillo, and Brian Kibler, published by Stoneblade Entertainment, and playable in about half an hour.
7. Citadels is a role selection game for two to eight players, designed by
Bruno Faidutti, published by Fantasy Flight Games, and playable in about an hour.
6. 7 Wonders is an empire development game for two to seven players, designed by Antoine Bauza, published by asmodee, and playable in about thirty minutes.
5. Ticket to Ride is a train game for two to five players, designed by Alan R. Moon, published by Days of Wonder, and playable in about an hour.
4. Macao is an exploration game for two to four players, designed by Stefan Feld, published by Rio Grande Games, and playable in about an hour.
3. Puzzle Strike is a deckbuilding game for two to four players, designed by David Sirlin, published by Sirlin Games, and playable in about forty five minutes.
2. Through the Ages is a civilization building game for two to four players, designed by Vlaada Chvatil, published by Czech Games Edition, and playable in about an hour per player.
1. Agricola is a medieval farming game for one to five players, designed by Uwe Rosenberg, published by Z-Man Games, and playable in about an hour and a half.

Next Episode
Tune in later this week for Episode #53, where the topic will be my favorite boardgaming podcasts.