Minecraft: Builders & Biomes – Board Game Review

For #Blogmas 2020 day 29.

Minecraft: Builders & Biomes by Ravensburger is a game loosely based on the hit computer game Minecraft. It is a 2-4 payer game that take about 20-30 minutes to play.

The game itself is comprised of 64 tiles, 64 wooden blocks in 4 colours and 16 white weapon tokens. Each player gets 5 weapon tiles a score counter a player board and a Minecraft character and standee. There is also a cardboard structure that is used to quickly assemble the 64 wooden cubes into one big cube.
The 64 tiles are shuffled and laid out in a 4×4 grid with each space containing 4 tiles. Space is left between the piles of cards with the corner spaces acting as the spaces where the players characters can stand. Around the outside of this 4×4 grid are the white weapon tokens (not including the corners).

Each turn, a player may perform two actions:
Move 0-2 spaces and reveal the four tiles surrounding that space,
Take a weapon
Fight a Mob
Take 2 blocks from the cube
Build a building

Each tile may reveal a Mob or building. Mobs can be fought using three random weapons pulled from a player’s weapon pile. If enough damage is pulled from the pile, the Mob is destroyed and VPs are gained. The Mob tile is then claimed and may add extra points or abilities later. Taking extra weapons from the perimeter will increase the chances of success. There is no negative result if the combat is unsuccessful apart from a failed use of an action.

Buildings require the expenditure of particular cubes and are then placed on the player’s board. Each board has 9 pre-printed Biomes in a 3×3 grid and each building must cover either one of these Biomes or a previously placed building. Each building has a Biome type, building material and building type. More expensive buildings will generate points when built.

There are three scoring events during the game, each one activated by the removal of the final block from each of the top three layers of the cube. The first round of scoring scores for a contiguous single Biome on the board. The scoreing tiles provided give further detail as to how much each Biome type is worth. Round two ignores the Biomes and focusses entirely on the building material. The final round of scoring focuses on the building type. Final points from any defeated Mobs are scored and the game ends.

Those familiar with the computer game, may find this board game not very much like Minecraft on the table. The wonderful wooden building blocks (which were much bigger than I expected) are used purely as currency, with the resultant buildings being cardboard tiles. The Mobs are printed on cardboard but are instantly recognisable and most of the traditional Mobs are featured. Forgetting for a second that this is a Minecraft game, this was actually a lot of fun. The turns were easy to execute with plenty of options each turn but I was never overburdened by too much choice. Fighting Mobs had a good level of excitement, particularly as a player’s starting weapon stash is mainly comprised of useless poisoned potatoes. The extra weapons not only added extra damage but also other abilities as well such as the pickaxe providing a free block.

I can’t not address the theme of this game, however. There is no crafting, though one could argue the nature of mining the big cube. I played this with my kids and their exclamation of “an Enderman!” near the end of the game when one popped up was certainly good, but if you have no knowledge of Minecraft, this game could be given a generic fantasy, space, robot or dinosaur, etc. face-lift and be exactly the same game.

I must stress though, that this is indeed a fun and entertaining game and not some generic trash hiding behind a popular franchise mask. The blocks have a good solid feel to them and the player boards do look nice. I think a separate board for the score trackers would have been better than having individual trackers around each player’s board. The markers feel very much like an afterthought and are too big to fit on any single space on the tracker and, due to the nature of adding stuff to the board, easy to get knocked.

Final score: Worth playing or for fans of Minecraft Buy it (but knowing it’s not Minecraft on the table).

House Rules

For #Blogmas 2020

Originally written for Board Games Crate.

With the makers of Uno’s recent rules clarification about not being allowed to stack wild +4 cards on +2 cards and vice versa, I thought it relevant to address the ‘issues’ of house rules. For this I’ll give examples using Monopoly whose varied house rules have been known to end friendships and cause no end of grief.

What are house rules?

These are rules for existing games that have been made up by gaming groups or families that are either not in the game’s rulebook, or directly contravene what is in the rules. In Monopoly, landing on Free Parking and winning all the taxes and fines paid by all the players is considered to be the most used house rule. The rules clearly state that Free Parking does nothing and all monies should be paid straight to the bank. How many of you are now in shock?

Why do we have house rules?

House rules are often introduced by parents or experienced gamers when introducing a game to new or young players. They tailor the game play to either make it ‘more fun’ or ‘more fair.’
Alternatively, certain rules have either been misinterpreted or are too complicated to grasp or execute and are misplayed or left out altogether. Auctioning properties is usually an aspect that is left out of Monopoly, in my experience.

Why do house rules cause problems?

In truth, the original rules are usually there for a very good reason. Hours of design and play-testing have perfected a game to be as good as it’s going to be in its current edition. The Free Parking house rule I’ve already mentioned, can give the game more spice with everyone trying to land on an ever-increasing pile of money. But look what happens when someone does eventually roll the magic number and win thousands of in-game currency: an instant game-breaker with the lucky roller pretty much set up for the rest of a now much longer and less interesting game. Also someone’s generally sulking at this point.

“But I’ve always played it that way!”

The other reason house rules can be quite damaging are that people get very attached to them. The very memories of playing with friends or family members no longer with us are threatened as soon as someone else demands that the game be played “properly.” This can be worsened if different players have non-compatible house rules. In many cases players have never read the rules beyond how to dole the money out or other basic set-up assistance and only know the game they were first taught. After dozens or hundreds of plays it would certainly baulk being told to have been playing it “wrong.”

The solution

Due to nostalgia or player preference, house rules will never go away. However, as many games nowadays come with alternative game-play suggestions at the back of the rule book, perhaps these should also contain known house rules, but also leave a space for extra house rules to be added.

Is there a board game for you?

This is for #Blogmas 2020.

Another gaming article I originally wrote for Board Game Crate.

So, someone in your household has ordered themselves a box of board games with some weird-looking games and you’re not sure what to make of them.
Up until now, board games have been for other people. You have not the fondest of memories of playing Monopoly in a caravan on a rainy day, or trying Mousetrap with missing components and you’ve decided that board games are not for you.

Of course, you may be right – but are you aware of the variety of games on offer?

They’re not all card-shuffling or dice-chucking, unless that’s what you like, in which case, there are hundreds of different card games. There are deck-builders such as Dominion where you use Medieval-themed cards to get more cards or Card Drafters like Sushi Go! where you swap cards to collect sets of food. Dice games like Liar’s Dice where you bluff about what you’ve rolled or Quarriors! in which you use your dice to combat your opponents.

If you don’t like components and ‘fiddley bits’ try Escape From The Aliens in Outer Space which comes with paper, pencils and cards with which you plot out your secret route on a map while finding the other players’ locations – or keeping away from them (a real thriller). For a more party-game scene try Telestrations which is Pictionary meets Chinese Whispers (hilarious). Both games are good for six or more players.

For stories and story-telling there are so many Role-Playing games where you become a character and go on an adventure. If you’re not a fan of dragons or elves look up your favourite fandom and you may be surprised to see that there’s a Role-Playing game based on that (or something similar).
For more structured story-telling, try Rory’s Story Cubes or Once Upon a Time which provide cues in the form of dice or cards to help construct the stories, which can be as elaborate or as short as you want.

If you like working as a team, try Pandemic, Castle Panic or Battlestar Galactica where you work together (mostly) to beat the game by eliminating globe-spanning diseases, hordes of incoming orcs or Cylons working with a treacherous player.

Beasts Of Balance incorporates your phone or tablet as well as being a delightful game of dexterity and balance, one of a new generation of games incorporating contemporary technology.

Don’t know where to start? Seek out gaming groups in your area or download games from the Apple Store or Steam (for a fraction of the price of the physical copy – some are even free) to try out and experience different games and gaming styles. Alternatively try Board Game Arena to sample some games for free (or for a price) against your friends and family online. There are also gaming conventions where you can try out all sorts of games with help.

I can almost guarantee that there is a game out there for you, whether it’s the gameplay, theme, player-base, complexity or length that hooks you.

Introducing games to beginners

This is for #Blogmas 2020

Another article I originally wrote for Board Game Crate, now available for general enjoyment.

Usually, whenever I bring up the subject of board games, most non-gamers immediately conjure up such titles as Monopoly,Cludo or Game of Life. Now, there’s nothing wrong with enjoying those games, but the roll-and-move mechanic doesn’t really give preparation into deck-building, drafting, line-of-sight, tower defence, worker placement, co-operative, buffs & de-buffs, point salads and so on. Having seen first-hand the deer-in-headlights terror displayed by a new player subjected to StarCraft: The Board Game, I thought it best to provide some tips when introducing games to new players.

Choose games that utilise only 1 or 2 mechanics. For example, Dominion, being one of the first deck-building games, is just about deck-building so should be easier to introduce instead of games such as Star Realms that has added combat and synergy or Clank which has a lot more going on. Sushi Go nicely introduces the idea of card drafting and set collecting, to be built upon later by more complex games such as7 Wonders and Terraforming Mars.

Dumb down the rules – but don’t give the appearance of doing so. Many games nowadays have a ‘Family’ or ‘Newbie’ version of the rules for first play. Using these rules as if they are the only rules not only helps players get into the game, but also avoids them feeling patronised.

Play games that are still readily available. It can be really off-putting when someone accompanies a friend, partner or co-worker to a game, really enjoys it, and then searches online to buy it only to discover it’s only available for upwards of £250 on ebay and in German.

Be patient. We were all beginners once upon a time. If they struggle to comprehend a rule, try using analogies, show a youtube clip – or even give them the rule book for them to interpret for themselves. Be prepared to field the same question time and time again. Also, when they’re caught out by a rule you so totally did actually explain to the right at the beginning, just accept the blame for keeping it a complete secret and give them 50 points in compensation.

Be aware of short attention spans. In today’s world of soundbites, people can be less tolerant of sitting there while you read them all 64 pages of a rule book and then watching you sort and arrange seemingly countless components across the playing area while their sweaty hands grasp the hand of cards they were given at the start as if they were a lifeline to sanity. Set up before-hand and play to introduce, not play to win. Aim for a half-game so that they grasp the basics. Then, when they’re happy, start over.

Finally, accept there is such a thing as beginner’s luck and not rage out by being totally defeated by someone who’s still coming to grips with a changeable turn order. Remember, they need to enjoy their experience so they will come back where you can then properly demonstrate just how to completely destroy an opponent.

Am I a Gaming Snob?

This is for day 9 of #Blogmas 2020.

This article of mine was originally published in the Board Game Crate booklet that came in their boxes. Now that they are unfortunately no longer trading, here it is again for everybody to enjoy.

Whenever I enter a toy store with my children I always head off over to the aisle that proudly heralds the presence of board games. Every time I have high hopes, and every time I’m faced with a wall of boxes sporting brightly-coloured moulded cheap plastic and labels stating, ‘Whipped cream not included’ or ‘Download the app!”
Now, I remember growing up with games with a lot of moulded plastic, such as Downfall and Guess Who (admittedly nothing I had to shove my face through) and have fond memories of many of them. However, it’s been nearly 25 years since the Settlers of Catan shook up the gaming world. Since then board games have come on leaps and bounds with deck builders, warfare miniatures, card drafters, bluffers, strategy and so on. Not only that, but most gaming styles have offerings that fall into the ‘budget’ price bracket and are easy to play as a family. A Game Of Thrones: Hand of the King, Tsuro, Star Realms and Rumble in the House are just a few examples.
Unfortunately, mainstream toy stores don’t usually stock such things, but will stock yet another Monopoly iteration – latest one I spotted was Fortnite – or Don’t Step In It! which, I suppose, is the natural successor to Doggie Doo…
So have I become a gaming snob or do normal people only consider it a game if it features a randomly flushing plastic toilet?