Friday, April 20, 2012

This blogger has moved.

Hello!  Hello?  Helloooooooo? I don't know if there is anyone still paying attention to this blog, but I wanted to say that it will no longer be active.  That was probably obvious from the fact that it hasn't updated in like 8 months.  I am no longer adding content to this blog.  I appreciate everyone that came by to read it, but ultimately it was just a little unfocused.   I also had a lot of trouble staying motivated to blog all on my own.

If this news comes as a disappointment to you, do not despair!  I have joined the crew at the Growing Up Gamer blog and have been blogging regularly there for several weeks.  Please go check out that site if you haven't already.  Its full of fun content and updates much much more regularly than this blog ever did. 

Thank you everyone who read this blog.  I hope to see you all of you over at Growing Up Gamers.

Stick a fork in this blog, its done. Thanks, everyone!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Let Slip the Dogs of Chore Wars

Chore Wars
 My family has started a Chore War!  For those unfamiliar with this game, it is a fun way to encourage yourself and your family members (or roommates) to get on top of doing the chores.  Basically how it works is that you can set up different "adventures" which amount to different chores. You can set experience points for each adventure which usually amounts to 1XP per minute the task is likely to take with really annoying tasks getting some bonus XP for encouragement.  It's entirely customizeable, easy to set up, and has been incredibly motivating for myself and my family.

For my famliy, we have been way more productive on our chores in the last two weeks of doing Chore Wars.  Above all, it has made it more fun for me to focus on getting the chores done.  There are three main ways I have found it motivating.

1. It Helps Me Keep Track of Chores.
By having every chore in the house on a fun "to do" list I am much more aware of what I've done and what needs to be done.  The XP also represents time so it's much faster to identify something I can do if I only have a spare 15 minutes.  Just getting organized has helped a lot.

2. It Encourages Competition For Cleanliness.
It may seem silly, but it bothers me when my wife is ahead of me on XP.  It makes me want to get more.  It's a friendly competition but I'm competitive enough of a person that it sparks my interst to try harder and stay ahead.

3. It Help Us All Understand the Value of the Chores.
This is the biggest boon of Chore Wars.  One of the frustrating things about the chores (for me) is that I never felt like my wife really recognized how much work I put in to the house.  Additionally, I realized she did a lot around the house that I never really thought about or gave her much credit for.  Chore Wars keeps track.  In addition to sparking a spirit of competition, it's just nice to know that your good deeds will be remembered.  It's nice to look at what my wife and daughter have done.  It helps me recognize the work they put in to keeping the household running.  It's a fun way to make sure you pay attention to the effort everyone in the family puts forth to help the family function.

The unfortunate part of Chore Wars is that you really only get out what you put in.  It's up to you to make those experience points mean something.  You can have quest let you fight wandering monsters, get gold and get treasure but it's all entirely text based.  Your treasure pile only means something if you decide that it does.  None of the "loot" shows up on your character as anything other than some text saying that you have it.  You do level up and you're stats do increase but the net effect is just numbers going up.  For example, my first level barbarian looked like this :

1st Level Barbarian
He's a pretty cool demon looking avatar.  However, I've leveled all the way up to a level 5 fighter.  Now my super awesome avatar looks like this:
5th Level Fighter

See the difference!?  Yeah that's because there is none.  The lack of graphical update is a bit of a bummer.  Chore Wars gives the impression of a great idea that had a great start and is now maintained with a minimum of updates.  The last update seems to have been February 2011 in which they fixed some kind of experience bug.  The update before that was September not a lot of improvements in the last 2 years.

The XP, because it represents real time spent that goes on a permanent record has some intrinsic value.  I could not, for the life of me, figure out the point of random monsters - so we don't use them.  The gold we earn we haven't figured out how to use yet.  However, we've discussed using to bid on who gets to pick a movie or an evening activity.  I think we'll find a fun way to spend it.  We set up a shop for my daughter (on a piece of paper) so she can buy more computer time, a treat from the store, or some other fun prizes.  The "treasures" seemed meaningless until we decided to avoid goofy treasures and have them represent real things.  Rather than a random chance, we always set it to 100% and only put treasures on big quests.  So, for example, my wife earned the treasure of "15 minute foot rub" for making me a huge batch of salsa.  She can turn that treasure in at any time to get that reward. 

Like I said, Chore Wars can be incredibly motivating and fun.  I don't know how long we'll keep doing it, but for now it's definitely been worth it.  Unfortunately, it is up to the user to make something motivating out of the game.  Its lack of graphics, animations, or even sound effects means that Chore Wars really only has meaning if you and your family decide that it does.  However, with a little imagination and willingness to go along, Chore Wars can help your family turn the everyday drudgery of chores into a very rewarding competition.

If you give Chore Wars a try or you've already tried it, please feel free to leave a comment about your expereince with the game and any tips you have to help others succeed.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Defenders of the Realm: My New Favorite Adventure Game

Defenders Of The Realm
To be fair, I must state upfront that I am writing this review after only a single play of the game.  That said, I have been searching long and hard (or questing you might say) for a solid adventure game that I could enjoy playing over and over.  I have played many and found few that I love.  Defenders of the Realm, however, has inspired my adventurous spirit.  I wish I was playing it again right now!

Defenders of the Realm does almost everything I want an adventure game to do.  The character classes are powerful and diverse.  The combat mechanic is simple but satisfying.  The sidequests are motivating and useful.  Above all, it’s a cooperative game.  You and your friends are actually allies working together (like in every adventure story ever) instead of trying to save the realm before the other hero does it. 

For those experienced with co-op games (especially Pandemic) there will be some familiar devices.  Each turn, your hero takes a number of actions to move around, fight monsters, accomplish side quests, or gather power.  At the end of your turn, you draw 2 hero cards (that can help in a variety of ways) and then advance evil.  When evil advances, minions are added to at random locations around the board.  When there are too many in one location they break out (like a Pandemic virus) to neighboring locations causing more monsters and more problems to appear.  Additionally, there are 4 generals of the monstrous hoards that move ever closer to the capitol city and leave more minions in their wake.
Good art and components enhance the play

Winning the game involves defeating each of these generals.  Generals feel sufficiently different from each other and epic in their scale.  They make for a very satisfying fight which you can attempt all on your own or team up with any players that want to get in on the action.

There is a light competitive component which amounts to little more than Legolas' and Gimli's competition to see who could get the most orc kills in the Lord of the Rings movies.  You get victory points for every side quest and general you defeat.  The person with the most victory points is awarded "best defender of the realm" or something like that.  This amounts to making you the MVP of the game and NOT the winner so it’s a fun incentive to try to be the best without getting in the way of the cooperative spirit of the game.

All in all, it was an amazing first play and I am excited to play again.  Despite its high price tag, Defenders of the Realm has been added to my list of "must own" games.  Its awesome gameplay, beautiful components (Larry Elmore art is a big plus in my book), and solid co-op mechanics have won me over completely.  I suspect it will top my list of adventure games and cooperative games for some time to come.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011 Makes Me Feel Foolish

Okay so is an awesome site that is currently in its beta.  If you have the time you should check it out.  While is the go to site for board game info, I find it an nearly unuseable eyesore needs some serious design work. has fantastic design and some truly awesome features.  The top feature is the game overlay of the site.  You can level up for increased participation, reviews that get liked by others, providing useful tips and strategies, and other contributions to the community of the site.  It makes participation in the site fun and addictive and also means that for a beta that's been going a short time there is already a lot of really decent content to view. 

Sadly, this site has also shamed me.  I have officially written 5 reviews, 2 strategy tips, 1 general tip, and contributed to a discussion all while totally failing to update my own blog.  For some reason, writing for someone else's site lets me write casually with confidence whereas I over-anlayze my own blog posts to the point of never feeling like I have enough time to write that perfect post.  Soooo...enough of that.  I don't know if I'll actually stick to the review format I gave myself before because I don't think I really want a formal format.  I just need to get to some writing.  I've also got more free time again, so hopefully look for more on this blog. In the meantime, you can check out some of my reviews on and check out the site.  If you need an invite to get into the beta (which I believe is open until September 1st), just leave a comment with your e-mail address and I will send you an invite. 

Also, if you enjoy the site, leave a comment with your name on so I can check out your comments and reviews.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

7 Wonders Game Review

7 WondersI've played at least a dozen games of 7 Wonders and  I can tell you, this game is fantastic!  7 Wonders is a fast playing strategy game that lets you have all the fun of building a civilization in 30 minutes or less.  It accomplishes this by using a card drafting mechanic to determine what a player can build.  This means you will look at a handful of cards, pick one to play, then pass the rest along to the next player and look at an entirely new handful of cards.  This game is quick and fun, but might not have much staying power.  Check out the details below.

Not sure if I will ever get used to the term “Freshness”.  It makes me smile and want to smack myself.  Anyway – 7 Wonders’ use of card drafting as a build mechanic feels unlike any game I’ve ever played.  Sure the draft mechanic is stolen from Magic card tournaments, but it’s used in an entirely different way.  It’s a great fit for a building game.  It keeps the decisions strategic but the play time short.  I expect there will be many other games trying to copy and modify this drafting mechanic in the future.

This game has fantastic intrigue.  There are several different strategic paths, constant consideration from other players and the cards are lumped together differently each game so there’s always a slightly new puzzle to solve.

Unfortunately, here is where the game stumbles.  I loved the first dozen plays of this game, but I’m not sure how many more times I want to play it.  Remember, this game only takes 30 minutes.  That dozen or so games I played was literally three different game nights and now I’m “pacing myself” before I play it again.  While the cards are distributed differently each game, you still see the exact same cards every single time you play.  This game is in desperate need of an expansion that makes different cards available from game to game.

Elegance is this game’s strongest aspect.  7 Wonders is perfectly paced.  Three rounds of play and 6 turns to a round.  Even though there could be as many as 49 cards available in a round, you will never look at more than a hand of 7 cards in a turn and choose 1.   You always have just enough choices to consider.

While it plays quickly, 7 Wonders hits all the high points of a civilization building game.  There are build trees, military conquests, resource gathering, and trade.  It doesn’t provide the complexity and satisfaction of the more detailed civilization games, but it scratches all the right itches.  It’s also simple enough that more casual gamers could easily enjoy it.  There’s nothing about 7 Wonders that a Settlers of Catan player couldn’t handle and enjoy.

And that’s my first review in this new format.  Let me know what you think!

Monday, July 4, 2011

The 5 Factors Of Cool

Here on Cool Factor 5 I’ve decided we need a standard format for judging games. 5 things. The 5 components that all games should strive to have.

1. Freshness: Good design borrows; great design steals. All design builds on designs of the past, but great design has something that feels entirely new. Dominion caught a lot of attention because it was the first game to successfully turn deck building into a game all by itself.

2. Intrigue: A game needs a mystery to solve or a puzzle to work out. This is inherent in strategy games, but present in other games as well. Trivia games are still wildly popular because people love the sensation of figuring something out.

3. Variety: There’s an ancient Chinese proverb I just made up that says a monkey can shave a drunkard 10 times before it’s no longer funny. Games lose their luster if you see the same stuff every time. Magic the Gathering, king of collectible card games, offers near limitless variety.

4. Elegance: I don’t mean it dances well and looks pretty in a dress, though bonus points if it does. Elegance in design is about using a little to do a lot. Great depth in a simple to understand package. It takes 10 minutes to learn the rules of Chess and a lifetime to master it.

5. Fun: Like the old line about pornography, fun is hard to define but you know it when you see it. Fun is personal. It’s the spark that makes you smile. Despite a rather dull and uninteresting set of rules, Monopoly has survived the ages because it taps in to the fun of being rich.

So there they are, the 5 factors of cool. You’ll note they make a snappy pneumonic acronym FIVE F. True, I had to use the slightly “dude that’s awesome” surfer term of “freshness” to make it happen, but “originality” would have made the acronym FIVE O and I am not the game police. These are the categories I will be using to tell you about games in the future and whether or not those games measure up to something worth playing. Let me know what ya think.

Next time on Cool Factor 5: The game 7 Wonders and how it holds up to the Five Factors.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Welcome To The Re-Launch!

Back after a very long hiatus due to the birth of my son and needing to get my family re-oriented with its new size and structure. Turns out babies are cute...but mean. My son like to repeatedly fight me to a knock out.

But no more! I have found a moment to myself. I am re-launching this blog with a brand new approach. Henceforth, this blog will be a place for three things.

1. Reviewing Games: This is not new to the blog but I will be having a more standard format by which I judge games.

2. Displaying new and exciting things about the games I’m designing: I’ll share bits about the games I’m working on and the occasional freebees of alternate or additional rules for games you might be playing.

3. Game theory and game design concepts: I’m sure you’ve got games you like, but do you know what exactly makes you like them? By better understanding the inner workings of games, it can be easier to pick out ones you’ll like or create fun house rules to improve the games you already own.

I’ll give details on each of those soon. I’ve got updates on games I’ve played and games I’m working on designing. So here it is, the new blog, the new look, and the new approach. Let me know what you think!

Next time on Cool Factor 5: The 5 Factors of Cool. The standards by which I judge all games, the ones I play and the ones I design.