Friday, May 29, 2009

Board Game Review - Birds on a Wire

When I sat down to play Birds on a Wire with my wife, she reminded me of this old Pixar short called For the Birds. This little animated feature ran before... well, one of the full-length Pixar movies, though I don't really care which one. There are these rotten little birds, little bullies, really, and they make fun of the goofy bird because he doesn't look like them. And then the goofy bird, who apparently suffers from Asperger's Syndrome, decides that they like him, so he flies over and lands on the wire all the asshole birds are on, and weighs it way down. They knock him off, the wire flips back up, and they fly into the air and all their feathers fall off. Then the retarded bird laughs at the asshole birds, which just shows that he's just as much a jackass as they are.

Sorry if I just ruined the movie for you, but it's only like three minutes long, so it's not like I just gave away the ending to Fight Club.

Anyway, the reason that little Pixar movie reminded us of Birds on a Wire is that there's a lot of the same stuff going on. You're trying to get similar birds to sit next to each other on your power line card, and if you get the wrong bird on your card, you turn on the juice and zap the birds so they'll fly away.

It's actually a remarkably simple game - in theory. You pull a bird tile out of a cloth bag, and either put it on your power line card (a four by three grid with blank spots for birds) or you put it in the sky. If you keep the first bird, you can draw a second, but you have to keep this one. If you fill up a line on the sky card, you can grab all the birds and place one of them, plus you can usually keep one of the zap cards that will let you shoo your birds back into the sky.

The trick comes when you understand the scoring. You win automatically if you get six of the same bird in a flock on your card - but that's pretty hard to do, since there are only seven in the bag. Most of the time, the game is going to end when somebody fills up their power line card. Then you count the smallest group you've got (not counting single birds) and score one point for every bird in that group, and all the groups of the same size. So if you've got three flocks, and two of them have two each, and the third group has three, you count the little flocks and get four points.

The thing is, if you can finish bigger groups, your score will be higher - but it's always a risk, because a group of two will almost always score, but a group of three will only score if you don't have any groups of two. You could go for broke and get groups of four, but through the clever use of zap cards and migrations, other players could actually force you to get extra birds, leaving you eating crow (see what I did there? It's a bird joke).

So another reason that Birds on a Wire reminds me of that Pixar mini-movie is that the birds are total dicks. Only instead of laughing at each other, I'm fairly certain they're laughing at me. When I desperately need a little green bird, all I can get is a fat blue bird, and then he has to go in the sky, so my daughter gets to score the zap, and she gets twelve points and I get nothing because all my damned birds just flew away so I could clear some room for the little green birds. And as soon as they fly away, the birds also poop on my car.

I didn't think I was going to like this game at all. I broke it out because I got a review copy, and it's been sitting around my house for a month, daring me to try it. I needed a game to write about tonight, so I talked my wife and daughter into trying it - and we loved it. And when I say we loved it, I mean we started playing at 9:30 and stopped at 11:00. And it was a school night. This is especially interesting because each game takes about fifteen minutes - which means we played Birds on a Wire six times in a row. I don't play anything six times in a row, unless it's Hangman while we're at Chili's waiting for our artery-clogging burgers to show up.

Now, a word of caution - if you do get a copy of Birds on a Wire, give it a chance. There are some tricks we found out through trial and error, so don't duplicate my mistakes. First, don't even bother with the family rules. They seem to be designed for very stupid families. You want to go straight to the advanced rules, because they're actually fun. Also, play it at least twice before you decide if you like it. You'll probably need at least three games to figure out all the intricacies and subtleties of the game, and until you do, your first few games may be a little confusing.

I don't expect that all my friends would like Birds on a Wire. For one thing, nobody dies. For another, it's a fifteen minute game, and essentially an abstract (though the theme works pretty well, as a game about making birds sit on wires). Some people might call it simple filler, but that's not how we play it. When we play Birds on a Wire, it's a whole evening of entertainment, because we play it for a really long time. It's like potato chips - it's awesome once, but you're going to want more. Once you start, you may end up keeping your kids up an hour past when they ought to be going to bed, especially when they have tests in the morning.

I guess in the end, Birds on a Wire has one critical difference between it and the little cartoon - you'll only need to watch For the Birds once, but you're going to want to go back to Birds on a Wire over and over and over (you might say your family will flock to it, but only if you're a hack writer who isn't nearly as funny as he thinks he is).


Plays so fast, you won't be able to jump up for a snack between turns
Seems so simple, and plays so tricky, that Euro-nerds at BGG will call it elegant
Subtle and deep and full of tricky plays
Just enough luck to keep it interesting
More addictive than illegal narcotics (well, probably not, but way better for you)

The game looks really boring - art is flat and cheap-cartoony. Don't let it fool you. It fooled me.

This quirky game can be found direct from the publisher, Gryphon Games:

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Board Game Review - Heroes Incorporated

I've been looking for a good superhero game. I've seen a few superhero games from the big publishers, but the problem is, they always use licensed heroes. That's cool, and all, but everybody knows that when Hulk fights Daredevil, the Man Without Fear is going to take a hell of an ass-whipping. And way too many of these games screw up the powers, so that Juggernaut can be totally beat down by Black Cat.

Another problem with lots of the big publisher games is that they try so hard to make the powers work in a game that they have to cut the nuts off the real powerhouses, and have to make up all kinds of silly abilities to try to make Batman have a prayer against Apocalypse (yes, I do know that Batman can't meet Apocalypse outside of an Amalgam crossover).

So I was really excited to try Heroes Incorporated. It's small-press, so they can't afford to buy a license from anyone bigger than Dark Horse. And since they can't afford to use heroes anyone else has created, they had to make their own - which means they had to actually try to be original and focus on making a well-balanced game, rather than being able to tell the fans, 'hey, you can have Wolverine fight Doctor Strange' and then just delivering a mediocre, over-complicated piece of crap.

In Heroes Incorporated, each player gets a superhero team of two butt-kicking supers. You might get Thunderhawk, who flies and has super senses, or Scrap, the crime-fighting inventor, or Charm, who uses her magical abilities to bust crime wherever it rears its ugly head. And then you have to use your superhero team to roam the city and battle crime - and you have to do it better than your opponents. If you can manage to pull down a little extra media coverage, that's just gravy, because in the end, you're all competing to be the city's official supers team. Get on the news, show off some heroism, and bust some super villains to earn the exclusive contract to protect Megalopolis.

So for starters, you've got original heroes with recognizable, intuitive powers. So far, so good. And the premise works (though in all fairness, there are really only two useful premises for superhero games - beat the snot out of everyone else, or... well, this). So the real litmus for Heroes Incorporated is whether it's fun to play.

And good news - it's a blast. Every turn, crime markers will move around the city. These could represent pretty much any crime, from stealing hubcaps to corporate espionage, but the nature of the crime is not what's important. What's important is how tough they are to stop. Criminals pulling a heist at a huge tech firm are probably going to be pretty well prepared - but they'll also draw a crowd, which is great if you're trying to get a little face-time on the six o'clock news. Of course, you can also stop bag-snatchers at the old folks' home, and while that isn't quite as impressive as arresting a bunch of cyber-ninjas, it sure is a lot easier.

That is, it's easier unless (please insert drum roll when I go 'dun dun DUN!') dun dun DUN! super villains show up! Any crime can suddenly turn into a huge event if an opponent plays Warhead on it. And he's a heck of a lot harder to beat than a couple teenage hoodlums boosting car stereos. Your heroes may be hard-pressed to take down some of these villains - but in many cases, you'll want to try even harder, because lots of these guys can really punk your heroes if they don't. You might see the entire block be destroyed. You might lose some of your gear, as Berserker smashes it on the way to blasting your hero through a wall. And even if you don't lose something, you still end up wasting time trying to bash a tough villain when you thought you were going to get to kick a couple muggers around like Beckham at the World Cup, and instead have to live with the shame of having the dork with the combover who does traffic giggle about how there's a pileup on the crosstown bridge because your face is being used to clean gum out of the gutters.

The real trick to playing Heroes Incorporated is using your time well. You have a limited number of action tokens, which you need to move, play cards, or fight crimes. And sometimes it's important to use the right action at the right time - a hero can only beat down one group of bad guys every turn, so it's crucial to choose the right moment to round up a gang of YuGiOh counterfeiters so that you don't miss the opportunity to battle the Mutant League.

There's a lot going on in Heroes Incorporated. You can use cards to gain new gadgets, like jet packs or utility belts. You can play fame cards that give you a little more media attention. You can play out epic battles, or pump up your heroes, or make sure your opponents are caught on tape when they're drunk and peeing against the side of a public building. And yet, for as much as you can do in Heroes Incorporated, it's never overwhelming. There are lots of things you can do, and you have to plan a little and use some strategy, but you also just get to jaunt around the city punching crooks in the nuts.

The real draw of Heroes Incorporated is how well it executes its theme. As you traipse around Megalopolis, trying to beat your opponents to the break-in at Genicon and pulling out the stops to throw Toxica out a window, the game really does feel like you're managing a superhero team. It's fun as hell, and it does a magnificent job of making the theme come to life.

That's not to say there are no flaws in Heroes Incorporated. The biggest flaw, and the real reason this game isn't the best superhero game in town, is that sometimes, there is no possible way to beat a villain. It's really frustrating to have a bad guy land on a crime you were fighting, and next thing you know, you could roll like the devil controlled your dice, and you still can't win. This could have been fixed, and it should have been, with sacrifice cards and special abilities. Lots of similar games do this - you can play reinforcements, or break out unseen special powers, or sacrifice cards for extra points on the dice. It's not like this is a new concept, and Heroes Incorporated is flawed because it's not here. I mean, this absolutely should have been in this game.

Another downside is that, while the theme really does rock my face off, it would have been easy to make it better with more art. The super villain cards don't even have pictures of the villains. The city is kind of gray and drab. The heroes are great, and the art for them is fantastic, but I would have preferred some flashier action counters and maybe more art on the resource cards. But in all fairness, when I get a game from a publisher who doesn't have Fantasy Flight's deep pockets, and it's this good, I'm just looking a gift horse in the mouth.

But even with these flaws, Heroes Incorporated is one of the best superhero games I've ever played. It's a whole hell of a lot better than Marvel Heroes, and I would rather play this than HeroClix any day. It's fun, the theme works great, and you'll have plenty of reasons to play it again. I can heartily recommend it to anyone who likes a little chaos and a lot of theme. There's even an expansion, which I'll review once I get a chance to play it a couple more times.


Great combination of tactical and strategic play and good, old-fashioned kickin' ass
There's luck, but not too much of it
Does a great job of letting you feel like you're running a superhero team

Could have used more art
Definitely should have had some clever combos to beat tough villains

This is a pretty small-press game, and the best place to score a copy is probably right here:

Monday, May 25, 2009

Board Game Review - Cosmic Encounter

[EDITOR'S NOTE] The following review contains some factual errors. The winning conditions for this game are that you have to have five foreign colonies, not one in each other system. The editors should have caught this error, and apologize for any confusion.

[WRITER'S NOTE] I don't actually have an editor. I'm just trying to pass the buck to someone who doesn't exist. But this is still a totally kick-ass game, and now it's a lot better with three people. Carry on.

I've recently begun a project to attempt to cut down on the number of games I own. I probably have a few hundred games in my office, and while I know many people have more than I do, that's more than enough for me. In fact, if I never got another game, I could play the ones I have for the rest of my life, and never feel a need to buy another one. So I'm trying to cull the collection down to my favorite 50.

This is not easy, especially because every time I get rid of a few games, people decide to send me a bunch more. Probably they send more because I ask for them, which may seem a little bit counter-productive when it comes to reducing the stacks, but is kind of important if I want to keep writing about new games. I mean, if I just wrote reviews of the same 50 games over and over, after a while, I think people would quit coming here.

So any more, after I play a game, I sort of mentally decide if it's Top-50 material. Usually, they're not - I have some really great games, so the competition is brutal. But this weekend, I played a game that not only easily bumps itself into the top 50, but may wind up in the top ten. It's called Cosmic Encounter, and it's fantastic.

Cosmic Encounter is a ridiculously fun game. It doesn't seem like it should be this awesome, because you just take turns putting little flying saucers on planets and then comparing cards. And yet, Cosmic Encounter might be one of the best games I've played in a really long time (if you don't count any of the other amazing games I play all the time).

Everybody starts out with a home system with five planets. The goal is to get a colony in each of your opponents' home systems. Now, you may think that because I have a fondness for games with violence, and I really love Cosmic Encounter, that you get your colonies through the application of brute force - but that's not the case. In Cosmic Encounter, you win because your friends let you.

Of course, they may not mean to let you win, and that's where the beauty of Cosmic Encounter comes into play. More than anything else, Cosmic Encounter is about choosing the right time to help out, and the right time to bow out. Every time you send ships to establish a colony on another player's planet, you can invite people to help you. And then they invite people to help them. So green might help purple one turn, and then help yellow attack purple on the next turn. It all depends on what green needs to get ahead right then. If green is trying to stop red from getting a colony in purple, he'll help out that turn, and then next turn, he may need a colony in purple, so he'll throw in with yellow to get it. It's a little convoluted, and a lot awesome.

Then you've got different aliens. In most games, special powers are kind of an afterthought, or something that adds a slight variation on how you would play. But in Cosmic Encounter, each player has a completely game-breaking ability that will cause utter chaos and mayhem, and completely change how the game is played. For instance, the Oracle aliens win an awful lot of fights, because they can check your attack card before they play their own. And the Vacuum aliens tend to lose a lot, because they can sometimes gain more by losing than by winning, if they play the right cards and destroy the right enemies. The list of powers wraps around the block, because there are like 60 different aliens in the box. You would have to play a minimum of a dozen times to see all the different powers, and even still the only way that would work is if you've got the kind of luck that makes a hundred chimps with typewriters bang out an encyclopedia.

There's a fairly heavy amount of luck in Cosmic Encounter. Instead of just saying, 'I'm going to send my red ships to green's planet', you draw a card every turn, and that card tells you where you have to go. So no matter how much you need a red colony to win, you'll have to hope some other player is willing to share the win and let you piggy-back when they draw a red. This forces you to cooperate, to make and destroy strategic alliances, and maintain as much flexibility as you can manage as the game progresses. It's luck, sure, but without it, this game would be boring. With this luck factor (and some other luck factor that comes in here and there), it's flat-out brilliant, and a little addictive.

For a game that looks like it should be fairly simple, Cosmic Encounter is brilliantly deep and brimming with strategy. Play the wrong special card at the wrong time, and you risk both exposing your hand (and thus losing it) or worse, losing a key colony. You can lose your alien ability if you lose too many planets. You can be holding an amazing hand of cards one minute, and the next minute you're handing the game to your opponent on a silver platter as he uses all those great cards against you. And all the while, the most critical element is that you must always try to make the best alliances you can get, because without a little help from your friends, you'll never win. With some help, you'll probably just give the game to someone else anyway. But you'll have an amazing amount of fun doing it.

So like I said, Cosmic Encounter is a shoe-in for the Top 50 Hall of Fame. It's intensely fun, with no wasted time and strategy so deep you'll wish you had a second brain to help out. This is one of those games I could play once a month, and not get bored for years. The only way I could offer a higher recommendation for Cosmic Encounter is if could either cook or change the oil. And either one would be weird in a board game.


Beautiful pieces and fantastic art
Seems simple, but has incredibly deep strategy
An absolutely ridiculous amount of fun
Nearly endless replay factor

Not as awesome with three players as with five (though still awesome)

It's been a while since I made this abundantly clear, but Dogstar Games supports Drake's Flames by getting me review copies I couldn't get otherwise. They got me Cosmic Encounter, in fact, and lots of other stuff that has been requested, and if they didn't get me these games, you wouldn't be able to read about them, because God knows Fantasy Flight isn't about to send me anything. And even better than keeping me stocked with stuff for you to read, Dogstar Games is cheap. Check out this price on Cosmic Encounter (which you should TOTALLY buy) and then notice free shipping. Then buy this game:

Friday, May 22, 2009

Board Game Review - Bombay

Remember when you were a kid, and you used to play pretend? When you would pretend to balance your checkbook, or get a dead-end job in an office, or refinance your house? Yeah, me too. And I think my favorite game was when I used to pretend I was a guy who bought and sold silk from the back of an elephant.

Wait, you didn't play that one? Man, I loved that. I would spend hours just pretending to buy some silk in one place, take it to another place, and sell it. It was so thrilling to get clients and pay tolls and try to get enough to build a big house. Ah, good times.

Finally someone has recreated my childhood dream. Bombay is all about riding an elephant all over India, buying silk in one place and then selling it in another place. It's really great, too, because nothing bad can happen to you outside of paying another player if you have to go through his palace to get to your next client. No fighting, no stealing, none of that awful garbage that happens in those horrible games like Descent or HeroScape. Nobody gets hurt! Everybody gets rich! What a great fantasy world.

See, there are these markets all over the map, and every market sells a different color fabric. And then there are cities, and they'll buy silk, but they pay more for one color than another. So you'll be able to walk your elephant up a road, and then buy silk! Well, OK, you probably won't be able to buy the silk this turn, because you only get to do a few things every turn, so you may have to wait until next turn, but then you can buy silk!

After you buy some silk, you can go to a city, and at the city, you can sell some silk. It's every boy's dream come true. You could get money! You might even get a client! Man, it's like they saw into my childhood and found the most exciting thing from my youth.

You can also trade some of that silk and spend a little cash and put up a palace, if you're at a place where nobody else has put up a palace. That's cool, because then you can totally charge tolls! When I was a kid, all I ever wanted to do was build a palace and collect tolls. That, and I wanted to haul silk all over the place with an elephant.

As the game progresses, you almost can't help but get richer. You'll sell your silk, and collect your tolls, and after everyone gets to be first player, the game will end. Now you can compare your pile of money to the piles of money that other people have. This is so much better than some crass game where you count kills or compare victory objectives. In this one, there's none of that scary punching or stabbing. Just honest-to-goodness mercantile work. Why, I don't think it could be any better if it were a game about stocking the back room at Bed, Bath and Beyond!

Now, some of you readers may be the kind of sick individuals who get a kick out of playing games where you kill people. That's just wrong. You should never kill people. You should sell them silk. That's way cooler, and nobody has to get hurt. Plus you might be able to make a very nice billowy dress shirt.

But I have good news for you violent types - Bombay isn't just about the most exciting thing ever, it's also a good game. If you can get past your blood-crazed tendencies and just enjoy the way the game works, it's full of opportunities for tough decisions, long-term strategies and quick deals. No, it doesn't have any of your precious gunfire, but it is a well-designed game with several different paths to success. Plus, even with five people, it goes pretty fast. Turns go by before you know it, especially if you're not that jackass at the table who doesn't plan his turn until he has to start moving, and then spends five minutes calculating permutations while the rest of you recharge the batteries in your cattle prods to wake him up and make him do something, already.

The art is also a lot of fun. It may not have robots or monsters, but it's as pretty as you would expect from Asmodee. And the elephants are ludicrously cool - you can actually stick two bales of silk (well, these are actually little wooden cubes, but they're colorful like silk) into the baskets on their backs. The little palaces are pretty darn sweet, too.

So if you like to play a game where people die, you still might enjoy Bombay. It is a good game, regardless of whether you spent more time as a kid pretending to put on power armor and blast space orks, or if you lived for those quiet afternoons when you could become a middle-management accountant, if just for an afternoon.


Very solid economic game
Super kick-ass plastic pieces
Very nice art
Fast, even considering all the options you have

This theme is nearly as boring as one where you collect tea

Ah, Dogstar Games comes through again. Here's the link where you can get Bombay and save a bunch off the retail price, and even get it shipped free:

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

General Gaming Rant - Night of the Living Game

One of my favorite games of all time is HeroScape. It's endlessly expandable, magnificently customizable, and tactically brilliant. You can add cowboys to make it an Old West game, or power armored guys to make it sci-fi, or mutants and shotguns to make it all apocalyptic. It's an amazing game, and I've spent countless hours of my life enjoying it.

And somehow, it's going to die.

Well, OK, that was a little dramatic. We're hearing about a new August release of some expansion stuff, but a lot of people are pretty sure that it will be the last one. Letter-writing campaigns are in the works to save the game, but many people are already planning the funeral. So many fans are furious at Wizards of the Coast for killing their favorite game. What will they do once the game is dead?

Here's an idea - play it. What are you, retarded? If Wizards quits making expansions, are they also coming to your house to take it all out of your storage closet? Are they sending out secret hidden remote signals that will cause all your game pieces to spontaneously erupt? Is the game suddenly less fun because you can't spend all your money on it?

Here's the thing. A game is not dead until people don't play it any more. It irritates the piss out of me to hear people deciding they're not going to play a game any more because no new stuff is coming out. When a publisher quits producing expansions for a game, it doesn't die. It dies when you get all disgusted and shove it in a closet. And that's stupid, because if a game is fun, play it. Who gives a crap if it ever gets expansions?

There are lots of examples of this happening. Like, when is the last time you heard about a Mage Knight tournament? How about Dreamblade, or Doomtown, or Seventh Sea? Let me guess - you haven't heard about those tournaments because everyone quit playing the games. And the big tourney gamers quit playing the games because they couldn't go get a bunch of free crap and a national rating. And frankly, if you can't muster the gumption to get together with a bunch of friends and play a game that you enjoyed for several years, then you deserve to be disappointed, because you're a whiny, self-pitying douche who depends on some big company to tell you what to play.

But you don't have to be a douche. You can still play your games. Look at Squad Leader - this game has developed a huge international following, and the last time it had anything published, I was still in high school (for you nitpicky jackasses looking for a reason to get your shorts in a twist, I'm not counting the ASL starter kits. They're not exactly official releases). Somehow, the people who enjoyed Squad Leader for ten years figured out that they could still have fun even if nobody ever published another Squad Leader expansion.

Or we could look at HeroQuest, which hasn't had new stuff released in nearly twenty years. And yet somehow, there are huge fan websites, and people playing this game all over the country. They're not crying into a bucket of beer about how Milton Bradley ran out and stabbed their game to death, because they're not crybabies. They somehow manage to have the intellectual fortitude to decide for themselves which games they want to play, and not depend on a company to tell them what's fun.

I could go on, but you probably get the idea. It's asinine to accuse a game company of killing a game. The fact is, your ability to enjoy a game has ZERO correlation to the number of expansions that came out last year. You only think it does. If you can't have fun with a game unless it is constantly churning out new stuff, then you're a fad-following drone. I'll bet you had parachute pants and feathered hair, too.

Of course, mindless fanboys are not the only things that drive people to particular games. People are really, really stupid. They'll pay astonishing amounts of money for figures just because they could only have scored them at a tournament (which is especially insipid in the case of HeroScape, where the exclusives are just repainted figures, and you could just print out the card and play the exact same game). And when those exclusives come around, greedy jackholes start seeing dollar signs rolling up behind their eyelids. Plus every idiot fanboy just has to have one, and they'll sign up to play just to get away with a figure that they can show to their friends.

Then there are the big-time hot-shot gamers who only play games if they can go out in public and prove their prowess against people they never met before. These people are often the first to jump ship like rats when a game looks like it might not see more expansions. Because apparently, if Upper Deck or somebody doesn't reserve back rooms in game stores to entertain these fickle fans, it means these chest-thumping assholes can't play any more.

And that's stupid, too. To return to the original example, the entire HeroScape tournament scene started out in a movie theater lobby in East Dallas. First place got two boosters (provided by one of the playtesters) and a foamcore dice tower. Second place got two boosters. Third place got to spend the day playing games with his friends, which means he came away with a win, too. HeroScape's publishers have never officially endorsed the tournaments, and yet there still exists an incredible tournament scene that rivals - and often dwarfs - lots of officially organized events. People still come out in droves to play this game, and probably will for a long time to come, even if Wizards never creates another thing.

So if you've got a game that you think is fun, you can keep it alive. No publisher can ever make your game dead. In fact, no publisher can keep your game alive, either - that power lies entirely with the fans who play it. Take a little responsibility for your own entertainment. If you like a game, play it. Get some friends together and show them how to play. Make your own pieces, and your own rules, and your own figures. Quit being a punk-ass little bitch and just play what you like.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Playtesting Open - Feral Instinct

I know you're all out there, quivering with excitement, wishing eagerly for any news about the game spawned by my enormous ego... er, genius. So here's a little news - it's ready for playtesting. And that's where you come in.

I've uploaded a PDF with rules, cards and character sheets. You can download this little gem right here:

Once you've downloaded the PDF, you'll want to print it out. Or maybe you won't, but it will be hard to play otherwise. For one thing, it'll be a bitch to shuffle.

Then you'll need to cut out the cards. Don't worry, there are only like 70 or something. So it shouldn't take more than a few hours. If you get a blister, just remember how much I appreciate your willingness to help.

I'm using card sleeves for my playtest deck, and I highly recommend them for yours. But you'll want to use the ones you can't see through, so penny sleeves are going to be pretty much worthless. I found a really cool set of sleeves with beastmen on the back. Perfect, right?

You'll also need a bunch of regular dice (you know, with six sides) and some markers. Not like Crayola markers, I mean like glass beads or pennies or teeth or something (if you're using teeth, please don't tell me). You'll probably want them in several colors, so if you're using pennies, you may need some dimes and nickels, too (that could be especially tricky if you're not in the US. Just know how much I appreciate your dedication in getting your local currency changed out for American coinage).

Now, the rules tell you to make 25 card decks, but I'm not sure if 20 might not be better. So if you would, try it out a few times each way. Go back and forth. See what works for you.

Also, try mixing up the decks. Like give Stoat a Mighty Blow, or Bull some Blinding Powder, or whatever. See what cards are the game breakers. Try out a few things, and see what works and what doesn't.

Finally, if the game isn't fun, stop playing immediately. Don't even bother with answering all the questions in the survey. Just answer the first one, only instead of your name, put, 'your game blows' and I'll get the message. I'm not asking anyone to play a game that sucks. I just want to see if you like it, and what you like about it, and what would make it better.

Then after you've played it a few times, take the survey by clicking the link at the end of this post. Everyone who bothers to fill out the name and email parts of the survey will be credited (assuming the game ever gets to the point where we need credits). And remember that I don't need flattery or fake enthusiasm. I need honest reactions, tough critiques and brutal opinions. Because without them, I can't make a good game. Also, they'll give me someone to hate.

Thanks for reading this repeating cannon of crap review site, and thanks for helping me make a game. And in closing, it is really hard to make a game.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Card Game Review - Masters Gallery

You know, I don't know why Reiner Knizia bothers with themes at all. Yeah, I've said that before. Yeah, it's a tired bit. But seriously, when you could replace an entire theme with a few summer colors, why freaking bother?

Masters Gallery is a Reiner game. That means that the theme could be replaced with monkeys, aliens, pirates, or whatever else you want. I've played abstract games with more theme. At least some of those had wooden pieces.

But on the other hand, it is a really fun game. It's a revamp/reprint of an older game called Modern Art, which was then reprinted and changed up a little to be called Modern Art (no, I didn't type that wrong). Then to mix it up a little more, they changed out the art with classic art and called it Masters Gallery, so instead of pop art, you get Renoir and Van Gogh. But really? They just needed five colors.

The idea here is that there are five different colors... er, artists. Each one has a main card, and then there's art on like 90 other cards. You play cards from your hand to show which ones you hope win, and then when there are enough cards out, the artist with the most cards on the table is worth points. The second and third place artists get honorable mention (and also a few points).

This part isn't that interesting. You just put out colors. Whoop-de-friggin-doo. But some of the color cards have special powers, like the Wonder Twins, only they don't turn into snowmen or lemurs. They might let you play another card, or make everyone play at the same time, or draw more.

And then you've got a building point scale. Initially, no one artist is going to be worth a mint, but they get more valuable as the game goes, so you want to hang onto your big points for the end, to make sure you don't have to watch a big score get racked up on Monet when all you have left is a pile of Degas (not to be confused with de gas, which is what you get if you eat at De Taco Bell).

I've read a couple people call this game a cheap filler. I think that's crap. For one thing, it's not that cheap - the cards are nice, but you're basically paying like twenty bucks for a big deck of cards that's easy to shuffle. For another thing, this is a cool game, and it can take half an hour to finish. No, it doesn't need a theme, but frankly, if the theme were replaced, you could sell this puppy in Wal-Mart (but only if you add a really big 'Made in China' on it somewhere and kill about seven hundred American jobs). It's great for a family game night, especially if everyone is willing to play it a couple times. It's fun, and it's easy to learn, and it's got way more strategy than you'll usually see in a Reiner game. When people say that games are cheap filler, it always seems so damned arrogant to me. Normal people would not call Masters Gallery filler. They would call it a fun game.

It's no big secret that I don't like Reiner Knizia. But whether or not I want to invite him to Thanksgiving, I'll tell you when I like a game, and I really like Masters Gallery. I don't care if it's an update/reprint. I don't particularly give a hoot if it has a theme worth the ink it cost to print it. I can appreciate a good game, and Masters Gallery plays like a regular card game. It feels a little like the kind of card game you play with your in-laws when you get stuck at their house on vacation, like Spades or Rummy or Canasta. It's definitely not a board game, but it's fun and requires a lot of strategy. That means my wife is going to destroy me at it from now on - she's always been better at card games than I am - but it also means I'm going to have fun while she does it.

So ignore theme (or at least ask Reiner Knizia to stop pretending he cares about theme). Masters Gallery is fun, intelligent and tricky, and as long as you have some kind of life outside board games and painting porcelain miniature dogs, it's not filler. It's just fun.


Way, way deeper than I expected
Fun and fast, with buckets of strategy
Cards are really easy to shuffle

Theme is completely pointless. Not even sure why he bothers any more.

As far as I can tell, Masters Gallery isn't out yet. I guess I got a prerelease copy. If I could just talk Fantasy Flight into getting me prerelease copies, man, would my gig be sweet or what?

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Board Game Review - Bakong

I am something of a fan of adult beverages. I don't drink as much as I did when I was a younger man, but I still enjoy an occasional glass of scotch or dark beer. But even when I was a beer-swilling permadrunk (a phase that lasted less than a year, and was still far too long), I never was able to stomach weak drinks. Bud Light is like dirty water, and wine coolers just taste like fruit juice and oven cleaner. I don't drink a lot any more, but when I do, I want a real drink.

And when I play a game, I want a real game. I want tough decisions and strategic placement. I want to calculate odds and read my opponents. What I don't want, what I never want, is to just roll dice and move.

And unfortunately, that's what Bakong is. The theme idea is awesome - you race your fellow explorers through the Cambodian jungle, grab a giant diamond from the Temple of Bakong, and race back. Along the way, you might fall into pits, cross rivers, explore caves and scale cliffs. These can slow you down or hurt you, and you'll need special equipment to get past them easily. Even being the first player back isn't enough to make you the winner - you have to have the most emeralds in your pack, and hopefully not lose them all paying the doctors to splint your broken limbs.

The mechanic seems simple and interesting up front. You have two dice, and you roll them, and then you choose one to use as a movement die, and one to point out which tile to flip. The jungle is made of a series of double-sided tiles with rewards and penalties on them, and you might be able to flip a tile to discover a cave where you could grab some precious stones, or you might flip a different tile to dodge around the quicksand that will swallow your equipment.

The problem is, there are only two choices on any turn, and it's almost always obvious which is the better choice. If you can flip a pit and move to a camp, that's what you'll do. You won't slow down very often, because you really need to hurry to get the best treasures. There are so few decisions that it's really rare to see a player not sure what to do with his roll.

The game isn't all luck, though. Sometimes you'll have a choice between getting to a treasure and getting to some extra gear, and you may want to slow down to hit the best spot. Then you have to choose gear - do you want the machete, to move an extra tile, or the rope, to cross the rivers without stopping? There are lots of different pieces of equipment, but only two of each, so if you want the grappling hook, you better grab it when you can.

And it is a really attractive game. The art on the tiles is jaw-dropping pretty. It makes me want to visit a Cambodian jungle, just to see if they look that good in real life. Everything is made out of that linen stock that you know cost them a mint (unless they printed in China, which you know they did). The pieces feel good, and they're easy to use.

But sadly, there's just not much depth. It is definitely less filling, but does not taste great. It feels very much like a game driven mostly by luck, which is probably because you roll dice and then move.

Now, in all fairness, Bakong would make an excellent game for kids. If you've got a couple rugrats scooting around the house who just finished third grade, they might really dig this one. It's easy to learn, and it moves incredibly fast. Kids can grasp the concepts and jump right in. And since it's so heavy on the luck, there's a decent chance they can beat you, which is always a plus in my house.

So get Bakong to play with your kids. Just don't let them drink Keystone Lite.


Very nice production values
Really cool theme
Viable mechanic, even if it's not that deep
Great game for kids

Not interesting enough to interest most adult gamers

Great news! Dogstar Games has Bakong! So if you want a game that will work well with kids, and you want to pay less than you would at the store and still get free shipping, go right here and get a copy:

Monday, May 11, 2009

Board Game Review - Dice Town

Know what's irritating? When people think they'll sound like an old 50's Western movie if they talk like they were ignorant hillbillies. You see this a lot in games - writers who think they're very clever because they write Old West games and say stuff like, 'Well then, pardner, ya gotta roll a d8 ta check fer reoccuring damage.' Yeah, because Clint Eastwood would have totally been talking about polyhedral dice while he was shooting half the town in the brainpan.

I admit that I was tempted to make the same mistake when I began this review, because Dice Town is one of those Western-themed games that makes undiscerning writers decide to forget all the spelling and grammar they learned in junior high in an effort to sound authentic. Happily, I remembered groaning my way through the rules for Doomtown, and found restraint. Instead I'll just pretend I'm a reasonably educated writer who knows how to talk about a game without sounding like a Kentucky mountain man with gravy stuck in his beard.

Fortunately, the authors of Dice Town were similarly restrained, and the rules are in normal, 21st-century English (even if they were translated from French). The idea is that you're all trying to rule a small town in the Old West by getting the most land and the most gold. The theme was probably the result of the main mechanic in the game - poker dice.

I've played poker dice before. They're not that interesting. You only have six sides, so you're probably not going to win a pot with an ace-high garbage hand. In fact, it's not entirely rare to roll two pair with your first roll, so hands tend to be high.

However, Dice Town makes poker dice interesting, because you get different rewards based on your hand. The highest hand gets to grab land, which is great, but nearly anything you roll is going to get you something. Get the most nines, for instance, and you can pilfer the gold mine. The most tens lets you rob the bank and get a little spending money. The most Jacks gets you a trip to the general store for useful cards, Queens let you hire saloon girls to steal cards from other players, and Kings let you claim the title of town sheriff and decide ties. Oddly enough, there's no reward for the most Aces, but if you have the best hand with lots of Aces, you're going to grab a lot of land.

A few more considerations make the game even more interesting. For instance, you need land to win - but if the only land available this turn is dry desert, you might be better off trying to get a lot of Jacks and draw some general store cards. Or if you're running low on cash, you might be really interested in robbing the bank and restocking your funds. And if you don't get enough of anything to get a reward, you can always visit Doc Badluck - which is a great idea if you want to run a sting and just steal from everyone else.

Another great mechanic that may be a little undervalued is the sheriff. If you're in a dead heat for the top spot, the sheriff decides the winner - which is especially convenient if you're the sheriff. Ties can happen a lot, and that's even cooler if you're not the one in the tie, because then you can open the bidding and let other players bribe you with cash, gold and land.

But the coolest thing (if you ask me) is how you build your hand each round. Normally you roll all five dice, pick one to keep, and then reroll the rest. You do this five times, and then you're done. But if you roll four Aces on your first throw, you can pay a buck apiece to keep those three extras. And if you already have most of a straight, you can pay a dollar to reroll all the dice you haven't kept so far. Having money means you can afford to rig your hand a little, but if you blow all your dough early on to grab a single advantage, you're going to wind up desperately trying to pick up a bunch of tens so you can rob the bank. Meanwhile, everyone else is splitting gold and land grabs.

Dice Town moves fast. There's really no downtime for anyone, since everybody is rolling at the same time. And since you have to leave your kept dice revealed, there's a fair amount of strategy as you roll your way through a round - if you want to visit the saloon, and see another player with three Queens, you may end up spending a pile of cash trying for that four-of-a-kind.

My only real complaint with Dice Town is really lame, and it's about the theme. Sure, you're rolling poker dice, so it feels sort of Old-Westy, but the town could be replaced with a James Bond casino, or mobster wars, or nearly anything that starts out with poker. It's cool enough, but the theme isn't quite as hearty as you might like. Really, though, the theme is represented, and I did say it was a lame complaint.

Dice Town isn't going to appeal to poker purists. Of course, I don't tend to think poker dice appeal to poker purists, so I think that's probably fairly obvious. If you're thinking that you're going to shoot for the best hand every time, you'll be a little disappointed when you realize that it's more important to choose a target hand than it is to shoot for the highest hand. There's no pot, and no real bluffing, but there is a lot of interaction and strategy. It's not a card game - but it's a heck of a lot of fun...



Really cool hand-building mechanic using poker dice
Strategic options allow flexibility, so it's not just Yahtzee with a saloon
Great art and components
Fast - everyone is involved, all the time
Lots of interaction without too much direct back-stabbing

Not very poker-like, really
Theme is a tad weak

I like Dice Town so much it makes me want to talk like I grew up in the Ozarks with a third-grade education. You can get one right here:

Friday, May 8, 2009

Board Game Review - Worst Case Scenario

I had a really crappy week, and it ended with a really crappy Friday. I had a fun game I was ready to review, but now I feel like a little catharsis. And for me, that means finding a game that I hate and saying terrible things about it and the misbegotten neanderthals who created it. So strap on some waders, because it's about to get messy in here (metaphorically, anyway - it might be very clean where you are, and my office is in a state of constant disrepair, so it's not likely that anything is actually going to get messy. That's just something people say. I don't know what people).

The target of tonight's feel-good review is a wretched piece of crap that passes itself off as a board game, titled The Worst Case Scenario Game of Surviving Life. Since I know I have a tendency to candy-coat my opinions, let me be clear - this game is a travesty and should have been put down like a rabid squirrel.

The Worst Case Scenario Game of Surviving Life is basically a stupid trivia game. You might open the box expecting a bunch of questions about escaping shark bites and riding out avalanches, but you would be disappointed. Yes, there are a few interesting questions about swimming against a rip tide or escaping fire ants, but there are also questions about such disasters as responding to difficult interview questions or cleaning a grimy barbecue grill. I am not making these up - I have the game open right now, and I'm reading these questions off the cards. It's a little tough to prepare for such a trivia game. These are not scenarios you probably covered in the Boy Scouts.

To add insult to injury, the game itself is dumber than a box of recycled milk cartons. You progress through 'life', rolling to move and hoping you can correctly describe how you would eat a caterpillar so that you don't have to stop. You go to school, then dig some ditches, and maybe get a happy family. And along the way, you get to deal with such terrifying accidents as coffee-stained documents and dates who want a Swedish massage. No, I am still not making this up.

As you answer questions correctly (and good luck - if I could identify a nightmare workplace by the potted plants, I never would have spent three years making ugly packages for the world's worst pet clothing company), you get tokens. If you answer incorrectly, you lose body parts. I, for one, would like to know what kind of horrifying company picnic you're attending where you could lose an arm, or how serving the wrong dessert to an old lady with fake teeth costs you a leg. (That's right, those questions are in there. And you can lose a limb for getting them wrong.)

So you've wandered across one of the ugliest boards of all time in one of the stupidest board games of all time, and managed to answer enough questions that you might be able to buy a little condo in Daytona Beach, but the insult is not complete until you see how the game ends. You get to this one last space, and you roll a die, and that's how much the question is worth. So after managing to be far ahead of your opponents (probably because you have to determine your hat size and your opponents have to perform emergency tracheotomies), you roll high, answer wrong, and wind up dead last. Or the dumb bastard behind you rolls ridiculously well and has to describe how he would cope with stage fright, and you end up losing to some moron who couldn't even correctly answer how he would get a girl's phone number (you're probably getting tired of this by now, but yes, those are real questions).

I have played some hideously ugly games since I started reviewing games, probably because I'm not nearly picky enough about what I review. Monster Quest, for instance, has art that will make you wish you were blind, and so continues to hold the top spot for ugliest game ever assembled. But The Worst Case Scenario Game (I'm not typing out all this crap over and over. You get the idea) is a very close second. They obviously attempted to all their printing with swamp green, flat yellow and dull black, and they succeeded, if you can call a board that looks like a PowerPoint presentation assembled by a four-year-old a success. The question cards are even uglier. They could have hired a graphic design intern straight out of junior college and wound up with a more attractive game.

So if you're in the mood to play a horrible, nonsensical trivia game with stupid questions, ugly art and a terrifically random end game that destroys anything you've done up to this point, you should get out more. Seriously. Go see a movie or something. Because the Worst Case Scenario would be that you play this game.


Yeah, no.

Ridiculous questions
Stupid rules
Ugly, ugly game
Sucks like the vaccuum of space

You want worst case scenario? I'll give you worst case scenario.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Board Game Review - Small World

Let me tell you a story.

Once upon a time, there was a little game company called Days of Wonder. They made all kinds of games, but all the games had one thing in common – when you opened one of their games, it was like discovering a box of toys on Christmas morning. Whether you found pirate ships, monks, soldiers or gladiators, there was just so much in the box, and it was all so pretty, and it was all so fun, that every game was like opening a treasure chest.

People started to take notice of the little game company and their games that were like toys, and before long, Days of Wonder became a big game company. They were much loved for bringing fun and happiness and variety to families across the world.

And then came the train games.

The first one seemed like a good idea. It sold like gangbusters, and while the board wasn’t as gorgeous as some of the other games they made, there were cool plastic trains. But that game began to grow and take over, and after a while, it seemed like the little game company had become That Big Company That Makes That Train Game Over and Over. Many fans turned away, saddened, missing the little game company that had provided so many wonderful toys, and now seemed to only churn out expansions for one game that just kept getting less interesting.

When the day seemed darkest, when all the train games seemed to run into one another in a long, continuous parade of same-old, same-old, a hero emerged. A hero named Small World. And the saddened masses paused, turned back, and hope emerged. Maybe the little game company was back! Maybe this new hero, this Small World, could bring back the joy and color and variety and FUN!

So will our hero herald the triumphant return of the little game company? Will Days of Wonder return to making games that leave their fans with a sense of wonder? Or will fans continue to wonder if Days of Wonder will ever make another interesting game?

I’m happy to say that, as far as I’m concerned, the little game company is back. Small World is fast and colorful and tricky and just plain fun. There are no little plastic people, so it’s not a complete recovery to the box-of-toys days, but the illustrations are absolutely fantastic. The board is gorgeous and the rules are easy to learn.

From the chatter I’ve heard, Small World is an awful lot like Vinci, a game I’ve never played and can therefore not comment on in any way. You get a starting race on a map that doesn’t have near enough room on it, and your starting race expands all over the place, trying to grab as much land as you can and hold it as long as you can. The other players send their races out, too, and before long you’re running into each other, killing off enemies like mosquitoes in a bug zapper.

Every race has special abilities, and then they get a random ability, too. So you might have merchant amazons, or commando orcs, or pillaging tritons. You have to exploit the abilities to hold onto land as long as you can – and then you have to know when to cut loose of your active race, let them slide into decline, and start up another one. If you switch too often, you won’t be able to get the best mileage out of your conquering races. If you don’t switch often enough, they’ll get stale and stop expanding, making themselves soft targets for the aggressive races that are left.

Small World is just plain fun. It’s easy to learn the rules, though the various combinations of abilities and races can get a little complex. There’s really no luck, so that’s kind of dry-toast Euro, but you’ll spend the entire game trampling the other races on the board, and that just refuses to get old. Bodies will pile up all over as the humans kill off the sorcerers, then the ghouls kill off the humans, and all the while the giants are killing off anyone they can reach.

So it looks like the little game company might be back. I have cautious optimism – Small World is so fun that it could usher in a new age of fun Days of Wonder games. But if the next game has the word ‘ticket’ in the title, I can only pray that the full name is ‘No More Speeding Tickets’, and it’s a game about blowing up cars on the abandoned highways of post-apocalyptic America.


Beautiful, expressive art
Rules are easy to learn
Plays really fast, and has great combos that are a ton of fun to exploit

All the possible combinations mean you need one hell of an FAQ
I still wish they had plastic people in the box

Dogstar Games carries Small World. You should buy it from them.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Card Game Review - Cutthroat Caverns

Some games suggest the theme through their title, like Android, which is a game about solving a murder where a robot may or may not have been involved. Some use the title to hint at the mechanics, like Blokus, with its crazy plastic blocks. And some other games just have weird titles with very little relation to the actual game, like Cribbage, which despite sounding like a game about cooking bland vegetable dishes is actually a card game with nonsensical rules invented by a drunken Englishman with too much time on his hands. We won't discuss games with names in foreign languages, because frankly, I don't even know what those mean.

But rarely has a game had the kind of truth in advertising found in Cutthroat Caverns. In this dungeon-diving card game from Smirk & Dagger Games (one of my favorite little game companies), you go into caverns and then play really cutthroat. Plus there's some great alliteration there, so it's just a flat-out catchy title.

Everyone in Cutthroat Caverns plays a member of the adventuring party in a quest to nab the greatest treasure ever. But there's only one greatest treasure ever, and only one of you can have it, and your long-standing rule is that the person who gets the kill gets first pick. So now you all have to make sure that the monsters die before they kill you - but more importantly, you have to make sure that when the monsters die, you're the one who gets credit for the kill.

It's actually a really simple mechanic, in theory. Every turn, players take turn playing an attack card face down, then revealing them in turn order. You never want to do enough damage to almost kill the monster, or the next player will get the kill, but you also don't want to hold off entirely, or the damned thing will murder all of you. You have to cooperate, or the monsters will be eating your livers with fava beans and a nice chianti. But you have to be sly, and time your attacks, or an even worse event will transpire - someone else will win.

And if timing doesn't work out for you, there are other options. You can trip your friends so that they miss. You can taunt the monster and then jump behind your allies so that they get hit. You can deliberately screw up their attacks so that they hit themselves. It's nasty in this dungeon, but man, it sure is fun.

You'll fight monsters as you wind your way through the dungeon, defeating one after another as you kill your way to your prize. You'll fight the ripper, which makes you dump cards when it bites you. You'll battle the iron skin gargoyle, which shrugs off weak attacks. You'll take on the clockwork golem, which heals itself as you fight, so that you have to keep throwing your best attacks at it, and it will still probably get to whack everyone at the table.

In fact, all the monsters are amazing, with brilliant art and different tricky rules for every encounter. Don't hit the lurker too hard, or you'll be his target. Hit the basilicanth as hard as you can, or he'll be hitting you, real hard. And if you're fighting the gas bag, try to get someone else to deliver the killing blow, because they'll be poisoned and not actually get any credit for killing it. You have to be on your toes and adjust your strategy for every encounter.

There are even encounters where you don't fight at all. The trap room, for instance, randomly smacks players until they can get through, and the riddle room damages players until they can correctly guess where two identical cards might be hidden. These are fun - but only at the beginning. I can tell you from experience that either one of these makes a really disappointing game ender - everyone is gunning for the score leader, and then it all ends in a random guessing game. It's very anticlimactic, and I recommend that you house-rule these non-combat encounters out of the last few rounds, to keep the game tense until the end.

And boy howdy, is it tense. By the end of the game, people are probably bruised, bloodied and dangerously close to winning - and that means everyone is out to get everyone else killed, except the person winning the game, because his only goal is to try to fend off the backstabbing and betrayal long enough to get out of the caverns and claim his prize. Good luck with that, though, because when everyone at the table is trying to get you horribly maimed to death, it can be awfully tricky to stay alive. The good news is that while they're all after you, they still have to try to land the killing blow, or they'll just end up giving the game to someone else, so they're distracted. Hopefully distracted enough that they don't notice when you cancel their attacks and make them the targets.

After two plays on a rainy Sunday morning, Cutthroat Caverns has leapt to a top spot in my house. Usually when we finish a game, my wife says something like, 'that was fun', and then goes off to do something she actually enjoys. But when we finished this one, she looked at me with blood in her eyes (I won the first game) and said, 'can we play again?' I should have known better. I totally got murdered the second time. But we all had a blast, and my wife even opened up the expansions and read the rules for those. That may not sound like much, but it's been years since anyone but me read the rules. She's just really excited to play again.

Speaking of expansions, there are three really cool expansions for Cutthroat Caverns - but they're big enough and cool enough that they deserve their own reviews, so I'm not going to get too far into them right now. It's enough to point out that not only is the game good enough to justify three full expansions, but it is so fun that Smirk & Dagger was sold out for months. If you can find this game now, I would pick it up before it sells out again.


Really fantastic art
Brilliant, fluid mechanics demand flexible strategy and ruthless card play
Plays so fast, you won't notice you just spent an hour trying to stab your daughter in the duodenum

Pretty darn random - bad card draws can hurt a lot, and a bad last encounter can suck all the awesome out of the game (so cheat and draw again)

Ignore whatever I said here before - Dogstar Games totally carries this game! And you can get it cheap! With free shipping! And the expansions are there too! And I'll review those pretty soon! Maybe once I can quit using exclamation marks!

Friday, May 1, 2009

Real Life Review - My Day

Most people, when you tell them about your trials and tribulations, are usually more than willing to say, 'I'm sorry that happened to you.' But if you were really honest with yourself, like way down deep inside, you might have to confess that the first thing you really think - like, the thing you think that you never tell anyone because you don't want people to think you're an inhuman bastard - is 'I'm glad that didn't happen to me.'

So allow me to tell you about some stuff, and then you can be glad it didn't happen to you.

My wife likes dogs. She really, really likes them. More than makes any sense - we have five dogs.

Well, we had five dogs.

One dog - we'll call her Jasmine, because that's her name - is an amazing guard dog. She loves the family, would never hurt any of us, and would lay down her life for any of us. She's big and tough and scary, and if she starts growling at you with her back up, you would be wise to back away real slow.

Another dog - Waffle - is a pain in the ass. She's neurotic and irritating and chases the cats. She also bites people, and would probably just as soon see us all dead so she could eat us. She's a pretty dog, though, and so my wife likes her.

One other dog is Bandit. We got Bandit before we even had kids - and they're teenagers now. He's older than dirt, has arthritis and joint pain and wicked bad gas. But he was a great dog for a long time - good protector, good guardian, loyal friend, all that crap you want in a dog. Plus he's like 80 pounds, so people are scared of him. Since he started getting pretty old, he's really slow, but he's still a member of the family.

Jasmine hates Waffle with a passion unmatched by the heat of the sun. Jasmine would like nothing better than to rip out Waffle's heart and show it to her before she died. So we have to keep Jasmine and Waffle separated, and that's not always easy, and it's got Jasmine really depressed and a little crazy.

A lot crazy, actually. Yesterday while my wife was taking the kids to school, Jasmine attacked Bandit. We're not sure why, but when my wife came in the house, it looked like someone had been filming a cheesy 80s horror movie. There was blood everywhere - pooled on the floor, smeared on the furniture, splattered on the walls. And Bandit was bleeding out in the kitchen.

I rushed home, we got Bandit to the vet, and he went directly into surgery.

He never came out of the surgery.

So now I've got to break someone's heart. My wife loves Jasmine, but we can't exactly hang onto a dog that kills other dogs. My son loves Waffle, and for the life of me I can't figure out why. I loved Bandit, and now he's off to be cremated and returned to us in a cedar box with a brass plaque. Because I live in a crazy house, we're not taking any of them to the pound - they have to go to a no-kill shelter, where Jasmine can enjoy a long life of not being put down like a crazed lunatic killer who tears up old dogs because they get too close to her breakfast.

My wife is depressed, my daughter is crying, and my son is mad enough to bury a hammer in my skull for getting rid of Waffle.

And to top it all off, today I locked my keys in the truck. I had to bust the lock with a screwdriver to get home from work. It was humid as hell and I dripped sweat right through a really nice dress shirt, and cut skin off a knuckle, and now I can't lock the truck.

It should probably be pretty obvious by now that I'm not writing a review tonight. I don't feel like playing games, and I don't feel like making witty quips about the regular stream of dross and garbage that flows through my office and clutters up my storage unit. Sorry I can't entertain you with a great review of the most recent unnecessary distraction that Fantasy Flight put in a cardboard box, but I'll be back Monday night with something that is either hilarious and irreverent or just boring and crappy (or somewhere in between).

So there you go. I give you my full permission to think, 'holy crap, am I glad that didn't happen to me!' You can even say it. If it had happened to you, that's what I would be thinking. And don't worry about me - I'll get through this just fine, with the help of lots of cigarettes and distilled grain alcohol.