Tornadoes: A Week Later

So, just for fair warning, this post will ramble much more than normal - and probably not really make sense or flow through a large part of it.  Oh well.  For those of you that don't know, I just recently experienced a tornado that destroyed my entire home.  You can read my thoughts on that here.  I know that many of you have never experienced something similar, and so I thought that it might be good to post about various things that I have thought about and dealt with in this post, because it might be interesting to some of you.  Yes, I realize that I have usurped my blog about board games, but it will resume being about them once things get a bit more settled.  With that said, here we go...

Inadequate Gratitude

For the many, many, many people who have helped me, thank you.  I have received a large amount of support in a variety of ways.  The first thing that happened was that the Board Game community stepped up in an effort to replace my collection (I will probably write a post about that later, but for a quick synopsis, you can read an article that Matt at MTV's Geek News wrote here.  In addition to the board games (which I really enjoy, but are really not that critical in the long run), I have also had a great amount of help from my co-workers.  I currently work at Accenture, and specifically the Joplin, Camden, and King of Prussia offices have been astounding.  On the Tuesday after the tornado, my co-workers actually beat me to my house, and they had successfully unloaded most everything that was salvageable before I even arrived at the scene.  Thanks!  They also raised a collection to support myself and my wife as we try to figure out where to go from here.  Double thanks!  Finally, many of them volunteered to donate some Paid Time Off (PTO) to me so that I can try to find a new home, move into it, settle in, and try to restore normalcy.  The other things that Accenture has helped me with include giving me a grant from a non-profit organization that is designed to help Accenture employees during similar times; they also gave me a few days off from work before I started even using my PTO.

The next thing that has been astounding has been the amount of money that has been donated to me directly using PayPal from the right-hand side of my site (or from the Geek Forum and Geek List on Board Game Geek.)  Thank you, everyone.  Much of this has come from friends and family, but a large amount has also come from people that I don't know.  I have no way of getting in touch with most of you to say thank you - but thank you!!

I almost forgot.  I need to give a very special thank you to Russ Grundy.  He has both allowed me to stay with him, and has provided a place where I can store my (damp) belongings.  Thank you, Russ!

Board Game Drive

After all of this started, I decided to start a board game drive for the city of Joplin.  There were a few reasons for this.  First, so many children and families lost their homes and have absolutely nothing to distract themselves from the reality of the situation - board games fill this hole nicely.  Secondly, so many people on Board Game Geek wanted to help; and I know that this is a very real way in which they are able to contribute.  Third, I (through begging for demo copies of games for this site) have established a relationship with many game companies, and the people that I've talked to I truly believed would want to help if they felt like their contribution would matter.  Finally (and one of the biggest factors) is that I really needed to do something to help others, as so many people had been so generous to me - and this is something that I felt I could do.

With that said, I cannot thank everyone in the Board Game Community that has donated and/or will donate games.  I simply will not know about all of their efforts.  Thank you anyway.  I would like to call special attention to the following game companies and game stores that I know have contributed (and if I forget, please let me know and I will try to update the list later):

  • Eagle Games (makers of Through the Ages, Age of Empires III, etc)
  • AEG (Nightfall, Thunderstone, Legend of the 5 Rings)
  • Pressman Toys (Rummikub, Mancala, Dominoes, and a million other products)
  • Family Games Association (Quoridor, Stratum, etc)
  • Fun Q Games (Smash or Trash, Befuzzled)
  • Stronghold Games (Confusion: Espionage and Deception in the Cold War)
  • Myriad Games (FLGS in New Hampshire)
I would like to thank all of these companies for their generosity.  Please help support them by purchasing their games.  I also know that Gamewright has volunteered to replace all of my games from their company that I have lost, but I have yet to hear if they are helping the city of Joplin as a whole.  I hope they do!

A Frustrating Experience

So, I'm a Christian.  I have been going to church all of my life.  I just reserved a blog where I can write about that stuff here, so I will try not to get too theological here. Specifically, I have also been hurt by churches in any number of ways due to growing up in one (and actually trying to work in one). The next thing that you need to know for the background of this story is that I run a Flea Market booth full of toys - and I have for about 4 years. The Flea Market that hosts my booth is moving this month, and so I hadn't really restocked it in a while. So, I had a ton of toys in my basement. Now, here's what happened:

Since I had been doing the board game drive and begging all of you in the magical Internet-land to donate games to the city of Joplin (and because people had been so incredibly generous towards me specifically), I decided that I really needed to put my money (in this case toys) where my mouth is. So, as I was going through the things that were taken out of my house, I filled two large boxes full of action figures and family friendly games and I took them up to the church - only to be told that they weren't accepting donations because they had too much!! (Don't worry if you are mailing something, they will still accept it; locally they are asking people to hold off a few days so that they can work out warehousing facilities... but I didn't know that yet.) This was the most painful experience that I have had since the tornado hit. There was not much that I could do with regards to helping other people affected, but I really thought that toys and games for kids (specifically boys; I like action figures) was an area that I could help. I was absolutely devastated when what little I could do was taken away. There is nothing worse than having someone make you feel like you are worthless. This is still a very fresh wound that causes my eyes to well up as I type. I need some more time to process this and chalk it up to one more time that I've been hurt by a church. (As an aside; if you are reading this and you aren't a Christian, please realize that there is a big difference between Christ and Christians. Please don't allow a jack*** "Christian" who has hurt you to keep you from Christ the healer of the hurting of whom "a bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out." Now, I'm done. Again, trying not to get too theological.

An Amusing (To Me) Story

So, on Thursday, I met with my insurance adjuster. Now, back to the Flea Market thing, one of the things I sell are baseball cards. I buy lots and sell them around 500-1000 cards at a time for $5 per box. Obviously they aren't worth all that much, or I would probably increase that price. My co-workers (since they beat me to the house on Tuesday) had unloaded a large number of these junk cards that were slightly water damaged, and I decided that they were too heavy to move 4 times, so I decided to throw them back. On the news Thursday morning was some story that was filmed in front of my house about this magical binder of baseball cards that survived and blah, blah, blah, but, again, it was filmed in front of my house. So, while we were meeting with the adjuster out front, a gentleman came up claiming that he had lost his cards, and that the cards on the news were his. My adjuster noticed a binder of cards (that I had tossed back), and asked "oh, might it be those?" "Yes, of course," the gentleman lied. So, I just sat there quietly, not at all caring about those worthless cards, and really wanting the guy to go away. So, he takes the binder of slightly damp, worthless to start with cards, and heads on his way. After he was out of earshot, I pointed out to the adjuster and my wife that those were my cards; I just didn't care anything about them. This distracted the adjuster for the rest of the time that we met with him. Eventually, he told the police about it. Looters try to be tricky. I just feel like I got a funny story out of it. (And apparently a little bit down the block he realized they were worthless and discarded them from what the adjuster said; he was watching him the whole time.)


So, this is a weird one for me. I guess for some reason, DVD's have take up the symbol of "nice to have, but I don't need" in my mind. So many people have given me so much in the way of money, and I'm not really sure what all I'm going to wind up needing. One thing that I did need was a gigantic DVD wallet (we actually bought two that were at least 250 discs each). We had tons of DVD's between movies, TV shows, and wrestling (yes, that's right - I've watched it since I was a kid), and their cases were all pretty messed up (or they were in our 400-disc changer that was also fairly slaughtered... how do small twigs get in that, anyway? I could've sworn there was a clear plastic piece blocking that opening at some point.) Anyway, I think that when I buy DVD's for myself again, that will be a sign that I feel like life is becoming normal again. Most of the ones I had I bought a long time ago, but right now I would feel guilty if I were to buy any new ones. After all, so many people gave me money, and I feel like that is all for the necessities of food, water, and clothing. And so anything outside of those I feel guilty about spending money on.

It's Just Stuff

"It's just stuff, right?" That's something that my wife has asked me a lot, and which I think I've handled a little bit better than she has (granted, she lost much more sentimental things than I did - family heirlooms, favorite pictures, etc, whereas most everything that I lost can be replaced at the store. More than anything, however, this tornado has helped us to clear out lost of things that we didn't really need - many things we had even debated getting rid of. In our culture, there often seems to be a pressure of having the most things. It is fairly nice to not have stuff for a while. Granted, this is a two-edged sword. It's really nice to not have stuff, because that allows you the freedom to move around, do whatever, and never worry about if you are going to be robbed or anything else. Of course, it's also fun to use stuff. If nobody owned board games, then I couldn't play them. Overall, however, I think that we'll be ok. In fact, once we get through all of this, I think that I'm going to frame the picture on the right.  I really like the picture.  It is really neat to me; the house completely destroyed to the foundation, but with the office chair sitting in the middle (yes, it was probably posed that way; no, it is not my house).


One of the main things that we are dealing with now is the uncertainty of where to go from here. It will be very difficult to find a place to rent in Joplin because so many other people's homes were also destroyed (I think that this is one of the things that sets what happened here so much from normal loss of a home from something like fire), and so we're not really sure where we are going to go. At least for now, we intend to try to find a furnished apartment that is somewhat close to Joplin (I will eventually have to go back to work), and then we will decide where to go from there.

A Face to a Tragedy

I remember Katrina.  I remember Haiti.  I remember Japan.  I remember many, many other tragedies.  However, with all of them, it was a feeling like, "yeah, that's horrible, but what can I do?  I don't know anybody there, and I don't know how I could help."  I really think that people are very generous.  I believe that I have been a real face to the tragedy in Joplin for a lot of people outside of the city.  Because I've been able to provide a face for people, they have truly felt like they could give generously.  Again, thank you for this.  However, I am now realizing the big difference.  When all of those other tragedies struck, it was horrible.  I saw all the images, and heard all of the numbers.  But then it stopped being on the news.  And I would hear things later about these areas and I would think "oh yeah, I forgot about that."  Now, I'm on the opposite side; the stories of Joplin are not on the national news as much... but it will be a long time before life is normal in Joplin again.  I have posted this in many places already, but again, here are ways that you can help:
  • Donate to the Red Cross and mark it for Joplin
  • Donate to College Heights Christian Church here and mark it "The Storm"
  • Send toys, games, clothes, etc to:
College Heights Christian Church
4311 E. Newman Rd
Joplin, MO 64801
  • Send games to (these will go to me, to the FLGS's that are providing lots of support in many, many ways - I'm actually borrowing an Internet connection at one of them now to type this up, and then to the church):

Josh Edwards
c/o Changing Hands Book Shoppe
528 S Virginia Ave
Joplin, MO 64801

Always Tired

I'm an 8-hour per night sleeper. Always have been. I was as a kid, through college, and even as a professional. That doesn't really happen now. Everything that I do seems to take a lot longer than expected, and so I don't wind up getting to bed until 1-2 AM, and then the day starts back up by 8-9 most times. And, whereas I've always loved the weekend, I'm currently viewing them as inconvenient. After all, I can't go to the bank, get my DSL service canceled, and several other things because it's the weekend. So I'm trying to use this time to relax. It's only going somewhat well.

Next Steps

Well, I had lots of other thoughts to share with you, but many of them have slipped out of my mind in the time between when I have had a reliable Internet connection. Oh well. From here, we need to get the insurance money and put it in the bank, either decide to rebuild or pay off the mortgage (we're not even sure if we are in some way forced to rebuild). We also need to find a place to live. And buy clothes, and a new car. And, in the great eventual, I will go back to work. And once we decide where we are going to live, I think that my wife will also try to find a job.

Thanks for your support! I hope that it was an interesting read.  I had another section about people I've met, but I think I somehow deleted it.  I might re-write that later.

Tornadoes in Joplin


Hi.  My name is Josh.  For a while, I have been using this blog to exclusively write reviews of board games.  I've debated back and forth in my mind for a while whether I wanted to include "site news" posts or not, but thus far have refrained.  However, something has happened that has caused me to go ahead and start that section.  Bluntly, my house was blown down in a tornado.


Here's the sucky part (I say that as if there's only one) - I was on vacation.  I and my spouse left for Miami on Saturday to take a fairly long 8 day vacation that we were both very excited about, and both felt like we really needed; I was somewhat burned out at work, and she had just completed her Master's.  After having a fairly lousy Sunday (locked out of the hotel room to where Engineering had to break the chain lock off, walked 2 miles to go to the wrong place, etc), we were just starting to relax.  Then I got the following text from one of my friends and co-workers who I have known for a long time: "Tornado hit Joplin.  Going to <in-law's house>.  Lots of downed trees.  Power will be out for days."  This immediately concerned us, but, honestly, I have been through enough tornadoes and lost power from them often enough, that I really didn't think too much about it.  I did, however, call them to try to get more information.  Was the tornado especially bad?  Where did it hit?  They were unsure.  After calling more people and turning on the Weather Channel, we started realizing that this really was a much bigger deal than we realized!  We started calling around trying to see if anyone could swing by our house to see if we even had a house.  The first report came back from a co-worker via text: "I really hate to text you this, especially when you should be having fun... but your house is mostly gone and your van is severely totalled" (keep in mind, most of the cell phone towers were down, so actually calling people in Joplin was tricky).  Now, you should know, that my office has a history of practical jokes.  Our team name is even based off of one (which came at this particular co-worker's expense) - so my first thing to do was to call and see if he was pulling a joke or not.  He was not.  I had another friend go by; reports confirmed.

Trying to Get Home

So, what do you do when you find out that your house is flattened?  Well, if you are like me, then you are worried about looters.  Now, specifically, in the high tech age, my main concern is identity theft.  Many of my documents including social security cards, etc, were suddenly relatively easy to steal (in my mind - though after seeing the actual house, I think it would have been a very dedicated looter to get to where I had stored them).  So, after calling the insurance adjuster, I was on the phone with Delta attempting to get back home.  The person I talked to was awesome.  Kudos.  He got me and my wife on a flight for the next day, and didn't charge any of the customary rebooking fees which would have normally run me around $700 from the pricings I had seen online.  So all that was left was to restlessly lay in bed until our flight the next afternoon.

We arrived in Atlanta with no real problems, but as many of you grizzled travelers know, that is when you have to run all the way across the airport to your next destination.  We did so, and then we were presented with something that we should have probably expected - the weather was still horrible.  Our flight was cancelled.  I won't go into the whole sob story of how frustrated we were for around 5 or more hours in Atlanta trying to get home, but eventually, we were able to get on a flight to Tulsa that landed at 10 PM CST.  (Keep in mind, we flew out of Northwest Arkansas, and so we had no car and no luggage.  My little joke to my wife was that the airline lost our luggage on purpose just to make sure that we had absolutely nothing; though in actuality, they just hadn't successfully sent any flights to Northwest Arkansas that night.)  We went to my parent's house, talked for a few hours, and then headed to Wal-Mart to buy the basics that we would need for the night - a change of clothes, contact solution, deodorant.  Then off to bed for some more restless sleep.

Digging Through Piles

Let me start this section by telling you - I am a very blessed individual.  I have never been more popular than since this tragedy occurred.  I have received numerous phone calls, texts, and even a BoardGameGeek forum all in an effort to help me.  I have already received several donations on Pay Pal, and many people have offered to help me refill my collection of games that I lose through this.  However, this section, specifically, is called digging through piles.

My phone rang at 8:00 AM this morning.  I honestly thought it was my alarm, and so I ignored it while waiting for my wife to hit snooze (it was on the floor charging (using our new charger we bought at the airport) since it had been in use much more than it's typical check on my Fantasy Baseball team and Twitter/Facebook feed).  Actually, it was one of my co-workers.  He said that they were planning on coming over to help me clean things up.  I didn't really think anything of this until I finally get ready to leave (you go on other people's schedules when you don't have a car, and my Dad had to run a delivery out for his business first thing in the morning).  I called my co-worker to let him know that I was on my way and, to my surprise, the response was "yeah, we're already here."  Now, Tulsa is an hour and a half drive to Joplin - almost exactly 100 miles from my parents door to mine (well, let's be honest; it used to be.  I don't know where my door is anymore!  You get the idea, though.)  A lot can be done in an hour and a half.  In fact, by the time that I got to the house, they had completely cleared out my basement and had uncovered all kinds of things - some that we will wind up keeping, and many more that we will wind up throwing away.  Again, I am blessed.  Without their help, I would have had no chance of saving everything that was saved, and it would have been infinitely longer and more exhausting - I definitely wouldn't have the energy to write this!  And, not only did they help, but other friends were calling and dropping by throughout the day.  Which is quite generous, because I am by no means the only one who was affected.  In fact, my boss, after helping cleanup my house, went to where his church used to be to try to help them out - though I don't honestly know what you do at that point!

During my digging, I really found several great surprises.  My wife was very sad that she had lost many things of sentimental value to her - some very meaningful pictures, some antique furniture that had been in her family for generations, etc.  She was still trying to get to Joplin after having to pick up our car from Northwest Arkansas, and so I knew that I really needed to keep an eye out for any of these things that could be saved for her.  Lo and behold - many were saved!  Randomly throughout the morning, someone would come up to me and show me a picture they had found and, viola! another thing that my wife could be excited about.  We were able to save her favorite picture of us as a couple (from when we were still dating), her favorite picture of her Mom, and also an old family picture from when she was a baby.  Most were probably water damaged, but the original is intact enough that we should be able to restore them.  Another item that I found was an envelope full of money (and my Gen Con money) - like many other people, I keep a supply of "petty cash" on hand at my house shoved in a random sock drawer-type location.  I figured that location was lost forever since it was in the back of the house, which was hit the hardest (and this would have been unfortunate, since the insurance only covers up to $100).  Lo and behold, I found my money - now I can afford to buy something new at Gen Con!  Sweet!  I and/or my fellow scavengers also found some of my more valuable baseball cards, autographed baseballs, DVD's, coins, and some other "useful" stuff.

Here's an aside about baseball.  I really like baseball; always have.  I remember watching it as a kid, and collecting billions of worthless baseball cards (worthless because of the timeframe of them, not the tornado - I got rid of most of those useless ones a long time ago).  In 2004, I decided that it would be neat to visit each baseball stadium and watch a live baseball game there (though with the rate they're building new stadiums, I feel I only have to watch the team once); my wife liked the idea so much that she decided that we needed to do this.  In case you're curious, we've been to the following since then: Kansas City, St. Louis, Texas, Houston, San Francisco, Oakland, Cincinnati, Minnesota (both the Metrodome and Target Field), Boston, Baltimore, Washington, and (on our very shortlived Miami vacation), the Florida Marlins.  I tell you all of this to let you know that I have kept the ticket stubs to each of these games.  We were also fortunate enough to get to go to the World Series last year to watch the Texas Rangers play (my wife is a die hard Rangers fan).  We had the World Series tickets framed, and the other tickets in a box in our closet that we were going to frame later.  I tell you all this to let you know - I found most of this stuff!  I know that I found the World Series tickets, and I also found many of the other ticket stubs (though they were a bit damp).  That was another exciting find!

"A Lesson For Board Gamers"

After digging through every part of the house, the last place to clear out was my board game closet.  I expected everything to be trashed - I mean, a pile of cardboard pieces with paper instructions among no roof and enough rain to cause significant flooding?  No chance.  However, as it turned out, the closet I used to store my board games seems to be the sturdiest room in our entire house!  Sure, I had lots of games that didn't make it - card games were triple their normal size, a game or two fell apart on me as I picked it up, and any game that wasn't in the closet at the time of the tornado was utterly obliterated (poor Lords of Vegas - I should have taken a picture of it, because it was impressively destroyed; no two parts were really in the same place).  How the shelves were setup in my game closet seemed to prevent most of the water from hitting the games, though.  At least, the games that were off the ground.  So, here are some lessons for board gamers: 1) pick up your games - poor Lords of Vegas didn't have a chance; 2) not just in the closet, but actually on the shelves; Punct was another one that by the end of the day was just squish; my new copy of At the Gates of Loyang was in the floor too (in the shrink!) and it got pretty soaked 3) choose a very sturdy location in the house to store your games.  I recommend a place that is very central, has no windows, etc, etc.  Basically, record a weather interruption where they tell you where to hide - that's where you want to put your board games.  Especially, because then in a tornado, you have entertainment!  (Though I hope none of you ever go through one.)

Things I Learned Today

First of all - I have too much stuff.  I plan on not replacing a lot of it.  Yeah, I'll probably keep buying games at a rate that is drastically unhealthy for anything but keeping the FLGS (friendly local game store) in business and allowing me to have new games to review on the site), but I will probably try to stop buying so much of everything else.  At least until I forget this lesson.  I'm thinking about framing one of these pictures to help remind me.  Seriously.

Second, there are a lot of things that happen in natural disasters that you would never think of.  Here's one of the things I'm trying to figure out - how do I get my lot cleared?  I will probably choose not to rebuild, and so I will be the owner of a very cluttered small plot of land in Joplin.  It has a basement.  How do I get that filled so that I'm not liable for somone falling into it and getting hurt?  I don't honestly know that, but since there are lots of other people in the same predicament, I'm hoping someone else can help with that.

Also, here are some other things that you don't really think of.  How recently have you had your tetanus shot?  I don't really know, and neither do most people that I talk to, and we're all digging through piles of board with rusty nails in them from almost a century ago.  Fortunately, Walgreen's was giving out free tetanus shots.  That's pretty cool, and I'm glad they were doing something you wouldn't have thought of.  Next, people get hurt and need blood.  You should give blood to your local blood bank if you are able to keep it stocked - you don't know when someone will need it.  Third (or so), it can be really hard to find places when you don't have any street signs or landmarks.  I've lived at my house for almost 4 years, driving up and down the same roads through that entire time, and I still had to pay really close attention so that I would know where I was and not pass my house!  There were also lots of insurance people, and concerned volunteers that were trying to find certain houses, which is very hard to do when there are no street signs and no addresses on houses.  Finally, if you are digging through piles of rubble, wear sunscreen!  As it turns out, I get a nasty sunburn when working in my house when it doesn't have a roof anymore.

Next Steps

Well, the next thing to do is to meet with my insurance agent.  I have what I believe to be a fairly standard home insurance policy where I have a certain amount for the house, a certain amount for external buildings, a certain amount for personal property, and a certain amount for relocation.  Well, I think that I should get the full amount for my external buildings (that clean piece of pavement is where I used to have a detatched garage).  I'm also guessing that my house will be marked as a total loss.  So, I need to work on a list of belongings for personal property that will add up to a higher total than what I have available - I don't want to shortchange myself by being lazy and not making a very good list.

The other next thing that I have to do is figure out where to live.  In a city of 40,000 to start with, when 30% of the city is destroyed, finding rental property within an hour is going to be challenging if not impossible.  Do you remember where I said earlier that I am blessed?  I lost track of how many people offered to let me stay at their homes.  I took one of them up on it!  However, as I do not want to overstay my welcome, I will need to figure out a more long-term solution soon.

If You Would Like To Help

If you would like to donate to me (which is actually not in any way why I wrote this), then feel free to use the PayPal link on the right of the blog in the "Support the Site" section.  If you would like to help the greater need, then I have posted some idea on the Board Game Geek forum that I mentioned earlier that you can see here.  Here's the short summary copied from over there:

If you want to give money to help the city of Joplin, the Red Cross seems to be a very good option - they seem to have stations setup across the city, they are running blood drives, giving out food and water, helping provide clothes, etc. Please try to make sure it is tagged for Joplin.

If you are interested in sending other things: used toys, extra board games (possibly those games that aren't geeky enough for you), clothes, shoes, etc, etc, or have some aversion to the Red Cross, my understanding is that College Heights Christian Church is serving as a dropoff point that is working with the United Way. You can check out for more info. Their address is:

College Heights Christian Church
4311 E. Newman Road
Joplin, MO 64801
(I would recommend marking the packages as "donations for tornado victims" or something similar so they know what is going on)

And their phone number (may be hard to get ahold of someone, I don't know) is 417.624.6915

Finally, if you are somewhat near Joplin, there may be a dropoff point near you (to where you don't have to pay for shipping). Check out

More Reading

If you would like to get a woman's perspective on this ordeal, my wife has decided to (at least temporarily) start a blog about the aftermath of the tornadoes. You can read about it here.

Apology For Bad Grammar And Typos

Normally I proof read these.  This one, however, is really, really, really long (if you made it this far, you already know this).  And I'm tired from dealing with several restless nights in a row.  So, I am not going to.  Please don't judge all of my writing based on the basic typos that I'm sure were in this post.  Who knows, I may come back in a few months and clean them up!

Pillars of the Earth Review

A game that I break out every few months is Pillars of the Earth.

In Pillars of the Earth, the king is attempting to build his temple and each player takes on the role of an architect who is trying to gain favor with the king by contributing to his building project. Each turn, 2 craftsmen cards will be set out along with 6 production cards. Every player starts with 11 workers (if I remember correctly), and they take turns taking either craftsmen or production cards and using gold and workers (respectively) to pay the cost for the cards taken. After this, each of the players has a certain number of "master builders" which are randomly drawn out of a bag. Starting at 7 gold, a master builder is drawn, and that player has the option of either placing him immediately at the current cost (starting at 7 and going down with each builder drawn) or passing and placing his builder once they have all been pulled from the bag. Once all of the master builders have been placed, the different spaces on the board activate - first a random event occurs, then all of the players production and master builders take effect. Finally, the players use the craftsmen that they have acquired to turn their produced goods into victory points. This lasts for six rounds and then the temple is completed - at which point the player who has gained the most favor from the king is declared the winner.

The first thing that I love about Pillars of the Earth is the master builder mechanic. I really enjoy the fact that the first person who has his piece drawn has the benefit of placing his master builder first, but at a very hefty price. If a player intends to regularly place master builders early, they must ensure that they have a steady source of gold production (which often comes at the cost of fame production). I also enjoy the fact that a scheming player can gauge whether he should place his master builders immediately or try to tempt his opponents into placing theirs and try to get them to spend most of their money. Overall, this mechanic works very well as it forces players to balance having the first option of placing a builder against the cost to do so.

The next thing that I like (and dislike) about Pillars of the Earth is how the craftsmen work. You start the game with 3 basic craftsmen, and throughout the game you can gain better craftsmen (through purchasing them or by placing your master builder next to them). Craftsmen are used to convert resources into victory points and/or gold, but each craftsman can only be used a certain number of times per round.  Each round, 4 new craftsmen become available - and these 4 are all better than the craftsmen from the previous round. In addition, everyone is only allowed to keep 5 craftsmen at a time. This means that you will not gain more than a few turns (at best) from most of your craftsmen; and this is something that you must keep in mind while paying the sometimes steep price of gold and/or master builders to acquire the new craftsman. I like this mechanic, but it can also be frustrating during the course of the game (as you feel sad to see your precious craftsmen which you have enjoyed employing have to be let go).

Though I really enjoy the previous mechanics, there are some notable cons. First, I don't ever really feel "productive" in the game. Whereas in a game like Stone Age or Caylus one turn seems to build on the next, and towards the end of the game, if you have done really well, you can have incredibly productive turns, I don't get this feeling here. I think a lot of this feeling is related to how quickly you lose craftsmen. There are actually some ways in which you can plan ahead and have one turn impact another - gain extra resources that you will need, or gain "privilege" cards which can give you either one-time or game long benefits, but I still really didn't feel like I ever "got the ball rolling" in Pillars. Another aspect of this may have been the sheer brevity of the game only lasting 6 turns. I can't really put my finger on it, but I know that I normally leave the game thinking that I hadn't made progress.

The other con that I have with Pillars of the Earth is that the options for the Master Builders seemed to be limited. When I really think critically on this topic, I realize that the number of options is fairly comparable to some of the games I mentioned above, but I think the difference in Pillars was that there often seemed not to be enough "good" options. Some examples of the options available were to get 1-2 victory points (which is good, but goes back to one turn not really helping the next), safety from the random event (but the event is not necessarily bad and if it is good, you only get 1 resource), and not paying taxes (nice, but if you have plenty of money, its not especially crucial). With as awesome as the placement mechanic is in the game, I wish that there were tons of good options so that the decision of whether to spend the money and, if so, which of the helpful options to use felt more crucial.

Overall, I give Pillars of the Earth a 7.5/10. The pros that I named definitely outweigh the cons in my mind, and so I plan on keeping my copy of the game. However, the cons are what keep me from playing it more than every few months.

Pillars of the Earth on Noble Knight Games (about $40)
Pillars of the Earth on Funagain Games (about $40)
Pillars of the Earth on Amazon (about $40)

Bang! and Bang! Dodge City Expansion Review


How many games allow you to yell "Bang!" at your friends? Bang! does...

In Bang! each player takes on a character and a role in a Wild West shootout. Depending on which role a player is given, he has a different agenda for how to win the game. If you are the Sheriff, you must kill the Outlaws and Renegade. If you are an Outlaw, you must kill the Sheriff. If you are the Renegade, you must be the last man standing, and if you are the Deputy, you win if the Sheriff wins. Each turn, you draw two cards, play whatever cards you want (but only one "Bang!" which shoots at an opponent), and then discard extra cards if you have more cards in your hand than hitpoints left on your character. Once the Sheriff is killed (or has killed all the Outlaws and the Renegade), the game is over - whoever has met their victory condition wins the game.

The first thing that I like about Bang! is the "secret" roles. I put secret in quotes because the secrecy of it may or may not last very long - often you will be able to determine what role each player has within the first few rounds. However, even if the players are pretty sure that they know what role each player has, it is still a fun element that the players have different win conditions. One way that the roles add to the fun of the game is in forging an unlikely alliance between the Renegade and the Sheriff - since the Renegade has to be the last man standing, he has to kill all the Outlaws before trying to kill the Sheriff. If the Sheriff dies too early, the Renegade loses.

Another aspect of Bang! that I like is the "distance" aspect of the game. In Bang, each player can only target the player on his right and his left, because they are at a "distance" of 1 (and that is as far as their gun can shoot). There are different ways of increasing this distance including extra guns, horses, etc. Either way, this element of the game can effect the outcome because not all players can target each other. If the Sheriff winds up being surrounded by the Deputy and the Renegade, then the Outlaws are unable to shoot at him to start the game. This helps the game last a little longer with more back-biting among the players, and isn't that what everyone wants in a game like this?

Another aspect of the distance that I like is that it (theoretically) helps players keep cards longer. Since each player only draws two cards per turn, the Sheriff wouldn't last very long if everybody could target him. After all, if each player shot at the Sheriff, then he would quickly run out of "Missed" cards. Fortunately, the distance mediates some of this by preventing everyone from being able to target a single player at the same time (unless they have guns and such).

The final pro that is worth mentioning in Bang! is the replayability. Because of the large number of playable characters (16 if I recall correctly) each with a different ability, and the constantly shifting roles, the game can be played repeatedly without feeling the same.

One con in Bang! that is pretty common among card games is the luck "of the draw" (yes, that was a pun in case you missed it. It's a Wild West game... "of the draw" - you're welcome. Anyway...) Depending on what you draw, you may or may not be able to shoot your opponents. You also may or may not be able to defend yourself. This really happens in all card games, but it can still be a bit disheartening to see the Sheriff at only one hitpoint and not draw a "Bang!" card to shoot at him.

The final thing I will note isn't really a pro or a con. Bang! doesn't really have a whole lot of deep strategy to it. It is a fun little card game. Fortunately, I think that the designers were trying to make a fun little card game instead of a deep involved strategy game. I think they succeeded at what they were trying to design. I am really pointing this out so that you don't go into Bang! expecting it to be anything other than what it is. I'm also adding my standard disclaimer that I have no idea how to rate card games as opposed to board games. Because of this, you should ignore my number even more than you normally do, and simply decide if the game sounds like something you would like based on the rest of the review. With that said...

Overall, I give Bang! an 8.0/10. This is one of the better little card games that I have played. I can see myself playing Bang! fairly often, as long as I have a decent sized group to play with.

Dodge City Expansion

Dodge City does not really change the core of Bang! very much. The main additions to the game are 1) new playable characters, 2) the ability to play with 3 or 8 players, and 3) new "green bordered" cards that can be put in front of you on your turn, but can't be used on the turn that they are placed.

I really like the new characters in Dodge City. They really did a good job of finding new abilities to give to characters.  One example is a character that is able to ignore all cards with "diamonds" on them that opponents play at him.  These new characters help prevent the game from becoming stale, and so they are a definite pro.

The ability to play with 3-8 characters is good. As often as I have played Bang!, however, I have never wound up with 3 or 8, so I cannot say for certain how the game holds up with these numbers. Having read the 3-player rules, I will admit that I would probably play something else before playing Bang! 3 player. Essentially, one player is an Outlaw, one is a Renegade, and one is a Deputy. You each have one specific character that you have to kill, and if you kill the wrong person, then the game keeps going. So, in my opinion 8-player is a pro, 3-player is a neutral.

The "Green Bordered" cards are interesting, but are really only useful at helping a player stay under his hand limit. I haven't played any games where that really became a major factor, and so it is more annoying that you can't play the card immediately than it is beneficial. Because of this, I consider it a neutral point to the game.

Overall, I give Dodge City an 8.0/10. Since I own it, I will keep playing with it - after all, I am glad to have the extra characters. Once you have played Bang! enough that you are tired of the same characters, or if you have 8 people in your gaming group, you should definitely check it out. If you only play Bang! every now and then, Dodge City will probably not be worth your time.

If you want to know what some of my fellow reviewers think of Bang!, you can see a Bang! review on I Slay the Dragon, or another Bang! review from the Board Game Family. Or, of course, you can check out more of my reviews - like Gloom, King of Tokyo, and Samurai Sword (which is based on the Bang! system).

Stratum Review

Since I've been playing ridiculous numbers of spatial reasoning games recently, I figured why not one more? And so I played (and am now reviewing) Stratum.

In Stratum, the object of the game is to have the most hexes visible (from above the board looking directly down at it) as possible when there are no legal moves remaining. To do this, the players take turns placing their pieces (4-wide hex pieces). When placing a piece, you must finish one row before moving onto the next one. You also cannot leave gaps when covering pieces; finally, you cannot completely cover once piece by placing another one directly above the previous piece. That's it. All the rules. Now you understand the whole game.

Now for the pros of Stratum - gaps! Stratum (to me) is all about making the most useful gaps possible. Whereas all of you "color inside the lines" people will try to make the lowest level be fairly filled so that you have more valid placements on the next level, I'm that guy that puts his first piece in some semi-random place in the middle that prevents you from being able to use about half of the bottom row. The more that I've cut off in this move, the better I feel. I like in Stratum that you have several ways of proactively being able to prevent other players from covering your hexes. There are some other ways of doing this, too, but my favorite way is by forming gaps.

Since the rules to this game are incredibly simple and my personal rule (when I feel like applying it) in reviews is to not be longer than the rules, it's time for the cons.

This may just be because I'm in spatial reasoning overload, but I didn't think the strategy was especially deep in Stratum. Don't get me wrong, there is definitely some strategy in the game, I just don't think it is as deep as that of some of my preferred spatial reasoning games (in case you haven't read all of my other posts, those are currently Yinsh and Dvonn). After a couple times through Stratum, I felt like I could safely move on from the game and not bother to play it again.

Overall, I give Stratum a 6.0/10. It is a respectable spatial reasoning game, and my opinion of you won't go down if you purchase it (because I'll never know - but go ahead and use my link to buy it if you're going to... pretty please.)  If I were to recommend a spatial reasoning game, though, this wouldn't be near the top of my list.

BattleCON Review

A sweet little game that I've been drooling over for a while is BattleCON.

BattleCON is a card game version of a 2D fighter (like the original Street Fighter II, Mortal Kombat, etc). Each player chooses one of the 12 fighters and also takes a set of "bases" (basic moves). Each turn, both players will choose a combination of a base (standard move) and a style (character specific modifier) to play. These two cards work together to determine the final move that each player is attempting to execute. Both players reveal their cards at the same time, and then they determine priority; whoever has the highest priority gets to attack first (but most likely has the weaker attack). If his opponent is in range, then the attack will hit and will do damage based on how powerful it was - and if it is powerful enough (and your opponent was arrogant enough to not prepare for it), you can stun him, thus preventing him from being able to attack back! The game continues like this until one player is dealt 20 damage, at which point the duel is complete. Then (like in all the other 2D fighters), you fight again. And again. And (if you're losing), you eventually walk away before wanting to actually punch your gloating opponent in the face. Or maybe you are nicer to your friends than I am.

The first thing that I like about BattleCON is the way the bases and styles fit together (yeah, this is the most obvious choice for a pro). Through this system, it both allows your characters to have personality (their character specific cards change how the basic cards will wind up executing), and also allows a large number of potential moves each turn. I don't remember the exact numbers, but there are about 6 bases and about 6 styles; since each style can be played with each base, this means that there are about 36 different moves that can be performed. Now, each player will have a couple bases and a couple styles in his "recycle" pile at any given time so it won't be quite 36 options each turn, but there are still enough options that there's a game of cat and mouse that goes on as you try to out-think your opponent.

The next thing that I liked about BattleCON (which I briefly mentioned before) is that each character is different. There are twelve different characters that each play differently. Keep in mind, by "different", I don't mean that each character will be a revolutionary experience - they each fight better either at range or in close combat. However, even within these confines, the characters still have different abilities that help them feel distinct. Some of the characters I can remember allow you to take on an Elemental Form, have an "iron body" that allows them to avoid being stunned, prevent opponents from getting bonuses, and set a "Gate Marker" (trap) on the board. I enjoyed playing with the different characters and figuring out how each one worked best.

The last thing that I will mention in the pro section for BattleCON is how "stun" worked. Being able to stun your opponent drastically changes the game (I know this because I didn't play it correctly for the first half of my first game). Since each turn you may be stunned (or able to stun your opponent), you are really forced to pay attention to both priority and your "Stun Guard." If you don't pay attention to both of these aspects of your cards, you can quickly find yourself losing because none of your attacks will actually occur. Therefore, the game isn't as simple as "play my biggest card each turn"; instead, it forces you to try to outwit your opponent to ensure that whatever you throw at him will actually get the opportunity to hit.

Now for the cons... do you remember when you got the latest new fighting game (like Killer Instinct), but none of your friends liked it because they still wanted to play Mortal Kombat? I had this problem a lot with BattleCON. I taught the game to a handful of people, and only one of them seemed to like the game anywhere near as much as I did. Because of this, though I do enjoy the game, they really prevented me from having a good experience with it. The greatest positive and negative about playing board games instead of video games is the social aspect of them. If the people you play with really make a game enjoyable, it can be immensely better than any video game ever made, but if they make the game miserable, they can make it worse than playing through a video game that's scratched so that you can only play the first 5 minutes over and over.

The next con that I will mention is actually related to gameplay. Whereas each character plays quite a bit differently, I often felt a bit too constrained in what I could do. I don't know how much of this is the game itself, and how much of it is how much I stunk at playing the game, but I was often in a situation in which I didn't really have very good moves that I could execute. The guys at close range didn't always seem to have enough cards to get them close enough to really start dealing the major damage; and with the ranged characters I couldn't get far enough away to capitalize on my range. For example, one of the ranged characters could wind up with a range of 4-10 on one of his attacks... but the game is only 7 spaces wide - which means this is a combo that will rarely, if ever, actually be useful.

The final thing that I will mention I will classify as a "point of note." Some of the characters are significantly easier to play with than others. Some players will love this, because it adds depth to the game - you feel like you've accomplished something if you master a difficult character. However, other players will get frustrated with this, especially if they randomly choose a character to play when they first try the game (like we did), and they get a hard to master character. I believe this is what skewed the opinions of several of my friends that I played the game with.

Overall, I give BattleCON a 7.5/10. I really enjoyed a lot about this game; unfortunately, I don't think that it's going to have very much long-term table time because of how it went over in my group.

Since this game is still in a preorder state, you currently cannot buy it at any of the sites I'm associated with (which I normally link to here).  If you are interested in getting a copy of BattleCON, check out their site here.

If you like fighting games, you might also check out Yomi.

I would like to thank Level 99 Games for providing me with a prototype copy of this game to demo.

Cityscape Review

Cityscape game in play
Another spatial reasoning game that I've played recently has been Cityscape.

In Cityscape, each of the players chooses one side of the board to play, and then secretly decides what the skyline should look like (from their vantage point). However, since each of the players is using a different side of the board, the skyline that one player is attempting to build may directly contradict the skyline of a different player. Once each player has selected his skyline "goal", each of the players takes turns placing a building piece (there are several sizes of these) on one of the places on the board (thus adjusting the skyline). This continues until the entire city has been built (there are no more pieces remaining). At this point, each of the players reveals his goal and scores points based on which of the 4 aspects of his skyline were correct (if any).

There are two main things that I like about Cityscape - the planning and the execution. (Isn't it good in any game if you like these two things?) First for the planning. I like that there are several different options here. You can select for each row whether you think there will be 1, 2, 3, or 4 buildings visible, or you can select that you want two (or more) buildings to be the same height or, finally, you can select that row to have the tallest building. Each of these options is a different number of points - the harder the option, the more points it is worth. (After all, it's pretty easy to make sure that you can only see one building on that row; just make the one in front incredibly tall.)

Now for the execution. This is really where Cityscape shines the most. Since you have a different vantage point from all of the other players, what is in your best interest will normally range from "not helpful" to "outright contradictory" to your opponent. Consider the situation in which you and the person sitting across from you both have decided that you will have 4 buildings visible in the same row. You will probably both fail miserably at this and get frustrated at each other in the process (and, if you're lucky, annoy the other players, too). However, if you've decided that one row has the tallest building, and the person opposite you has decided that they want to see all four buildings in that row, they could be helpful to you... as long as you're gigantic skyscraper is the one in the back! I could go on and on, because I really like this aspect of the game.

The only real con to Cityscape is that, to me, it is a bit of a filler game. Since each round of the game is so short (around 5 minutes), I do not envision myself playing it for hours on end. I think it would get repetitive at that point. With that said, playing it for 30 minutes could be a fun endeavor.

Overall, I give Cityscape an 8.0/10. It is a fun spatial reasoning game that wound up exceeding my (very small) expectations for it. If you run into this game or if you're a fan of the spatial reasoning genre, you should try to check it out.

As a final note: the 6 options for each row are represented by 6-sided dice.  A rule variant that we have tried and enjoyed is to force the players to roll their dice to select what their skyline will look like instead of selecting what is on each die.  This will force experienced players to make the best of some potentially bad situations.

If Cityscape looks interesting, you might also check out Gipf, Pentago, and Punct.

Age of Empires III Review

Age of Empires III game in play

One of the worker placement games that I have kept in my collection for a while now is Age of Empires III. (Just as a note, Age of Empires III has absolutely nothing in common with the computer game except for the picture on the front cover. I'm guessing that they branded it this way to try to pull in more players, but it actually made me avoid the game for quite some time.)

Age of Empires III is played in 3 different Ages. At the end of each Age, the players will score points based on how many colonists they have in the new world (and the available buildings will change and go up in price). On any given turn, the players will take turns placing colonists or specialists (if they have any) in order to gain the most victory points. They can use them to gather trade goods, improve their turn order, send them to the new world, discover new locations, and a few other things. The specialists can be placed just like colonists, but if utilized in certain places, they will give extra bonuses (for example, if a Merchant goes to the new world, the player who controls him will get $5). After all of the units have been placed, the board is resolved from top to bottom. Play continues like this for 8 turns (which is 3 Ages), and then the players add any bonus victory points they have from discoveries, buildings, etc, and the player with the most victory points is the winner.

Glenn Drover's Empires features specialists
Getting specialists for next turn.
The first thing that I really like about Age of Empires III is how the specialists work. First of all, there are two ways of getting specialists - you can either purchase a building that gives you specialists, or you can place a colonist on one of the spots on the board, which will give you a specialist for the next round. When I first read through the rules of this game, I didn't really think that specialists would be very important - but after playing, I have realized that careful placement of specialists may be the most important aspect of the game. Captains can help you discover or get a "merchant ship" (which helps you with income). Merchants can get money or help with the "merchant ship". Soldiers can shoot opponents in the new world, or (when discovering) can earn money. Missionaries bring extra people to the new world. Understanding when and how to use these (and how your opponent will use them) is critical to the game.

The next thing that I like about Age of Empires III is how the placement works. (This is related to the specialists.) In Age, players take turns placing units (colonists or specialists) until they run out. This allows a player with a large number of specialists to get several placements in a row after the other players have all run out of units; this can be a very powerful thing to do. Whereas some places on the board reward the first player to place there (such as trade goods and purchasing buildings, because the first person there gets to pick first), other places reward the person with the most units. If you are the only person placing units at the end of the turn, it allows you to easily take over all of these places.

Age of Empires 3 ships
Fighting for a merchant ship
The final pro that I will mention about Age of Empires is the different paths to victory. It is always nice in a game when you can try out completely different strategies and still have a chance at victory - and Age falls into this category. Players can really score a lot of points through the collection of trade goods. They can also score tons of points through settling the new world (and potentially shooting other players out of it). Finally, discoveries can also be worth a lot of victory points. I like that Age allows a player a chance to win by doing any of these strategies, or by balancing them through the course of the game.

My cons to Age of Empires are fairly minor. The first one that is almost too trivial to mention is that the box is too big. The board folds up quite nicely, and then fits in about 3/4 of the box. This is one of those things that you don't realize that you miss until it's gone; I really like my board fitting snugly inside the box.

The next con with Age of Empires is that the buildings aren't all balanced. Now, this may be on purpose to encourage players to want to be the first one in the building area (thus getting first pick), but it can really punish players for going last at the beginning of the game. And one specific building seems especially overpowered - it is an Age I building (thus costing $10, which is the amount you start with), and it gives you $20... so basically, it allows you to purchase 2 more buildings on the turn you buy it. None of these buildings are single-handedly so powerful that you cannot win without them, but they are powerful enough that you feel that you have a disadvantage by not purchasing them.

Overall, I give Age of Empires III a 9.0/10. As I said at the beginning, I was very reluctant about the game because board games based off of video games are often atrocious, but this game pleasantly surprised me - I plan to keep it in my collection for years to come.

Other worker placement games that you may be interested in include Caylus, Stone Age, and (not completely "worker placement", but still very good) Princes of Florence.