Sunday, July 24, 2011

Just Read It: Apathy

Apathy and Other Small VictoriesApathy and Other Small Victories by Paul Neilan

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

"The world is your oyster, and you are addicted to shellfish," reads the bumper sticker logo that becomes a life motto for Shane, the lead character of Apathy. Fans of Chuck Palahniuk will love this book that reads like a murder mystery/film noir for the Gen X & Y crowd - those disaffected, jaded and cynical souls fed up with consumerism and societal norms will find there's some humorous life commentary for them on every page. The lead character is one you don't necessarily root for, but follow because he's just so strange that you wonder what he'll say or do next. Packed full of oddball (yet interesting) characters from deaf Marlene to the firework peddling Mobo the prose somehow keeps these larger than life personalities all in the realm of believability, and the writing style keeps the pages turning, which is everything you want in a good read.

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Friday, July 22, 2011

Gen Con 2011: Stomple and Stratego!

Yesterday I wrote about Stratego, a game with simple, easy to learn rules that is capable of layers of complex strategy. Today I'll mention Stomple, another Spin Master game that falls into the same category (think: Chess, Go!, Pente, Catan, etc.) of easy to learn rules, with layers of possible tactics.

Stomple is a multi-player (2-6) game where the goal is to score points by being the last man standing. The game board is a simple grid, with multicolored marbles spread randomly throughout. Each player is given a "Stomper" with the objective on their turn to "stomp" out another player's marbles by pushing down on them (marbles drop into the bottom half of the board). If you begin your turn and don't have any marbles adjacent to your stomper, you're out!

There's a few other intricacies; "chain" stomping an opponent's row of the same colors for instance will get you closer to victory. Players can also warp at any time to a marble with the same color as their Stomper, possibly providing a lifeline to someone who gets painted into a corner (at the expense of Stomping that color - making it a one time trick).

The real strategy is how to rack up points effectively. The game awards points to the last player on the board, with bonus points for other remaining marbles that do not correspond to Stompers in play like tiger eyes. Beware - in desperation to stay in the game those Tiger Eyes are often sacrificed. The key to victory is making sure you isolate your own color of marbles from others so opponents can't knock out a "warp" spot that could save you late in the game.

It's a fun family game that is enjoyed by players of all ages. There's also a glorious cutthroat aspect lurking underneath as well, the kind that can easily turn into one of those long standing blood feuds between competitive siblings (not that I'd know *anything* about that).

I mention Stomple and Stratgeo here, not just because they're great games, but also because I will be working at GenCon this year helping promote these game lines. Spin Master has some great tournaments lined up in Indianapolis, with events for both adults and the 12 and under crowd, and they're offering some good prizes to boot.

Come on out, bring the kids, sign up, have some fun and say hi! I guarantee you'll have fun even if it means losing all your marbles. I also recommend giving the updated Stratego a try as well! Hope to see you there!

Strategy and Stratego

I've recently been addicted to an updated version of Stratego, the classic board game of capture the flag warfare that combines elements of chess and concentration in one tidy package. Similar to Battleship, each player has their forces hidden to the other player, with each piece having a designated power number attached to it. The higher the number, the stronger the piece. Unlike chess, attacking a piece does not insure it will be removed from the field.

For the uninitiated the main challenge of Stratego has always been the unknown factor of figuring out what your opponent's game pieces are while memorizing their location on the game board so you can position to eliminate them with a higher numbered piece of your own. Simultaneously, you must craft a strategy to protect your side of the map from an invasion.

Stratego teaches basic strategy on a grid-like map that is no stranger to HeroClix players. In fact, I suspect Stratego may be a great "gateway drug" to HeroClix, as the two share many similarities beyond the map. Positioning, pawn sacrifice, and a battle plan are the three major components to reaching a victory in both games.

I was delighted to find an updated version of Stratego on shelves now by Spin Master, makers of the widely popular Bakugan collectible element game and the party game Stomple. Packaged and presented to the Halo generation of gamers this new edition comes with a few changes that streamlines game play and speeds up play time.

For starters, the new set removes 10 pieces from each side, effectively tightening up the board which automatically makes games faster by placing the flags a row closer to the opponents. Additionally there are a few new pieces that have a move and attack ability.

The Scout for instance, can move full speed vertically or horizontally to "check" a piece, or capture a flag. With a power level of 2, Scouts are not very strong though they do trump a few figures like the Spy (whose sole job is to assassinate the opposing #10 piece) and the other move and attack piece - the Spotter.

The Spotter is an entirely new figure to the game, and has an ability to "guess" what an opposing piece is before he checks it. If the guess is correct that piece is removed from the game no matter what it is. All pieces from 10's to Bombs fear the Spotter who does not have to give up ground when he attacks (as in chess a Stratego piece normally occupies the square of a piece they removed from the board).

The game keeps staple mechanics like the unmoving Flags and Bombs, and bombs still have the ability to eliminate any figure that "checks" them - except Miners (and Spotters). The nice thing about the new game is speed - average game time, from set up to finish is probably around 30 minutes or less, depending on the experience you have with the board. The more you play the faster it goes. I highly recommend the new "Halo" Stratego to anyone who likes board games that have simple rules and are also capable of complex strategies.