Monthly Archives: December 2016

THE MANA DORK SPECIAL EDITION: THE GIFT DORK

by December 6, 2016
The Mana Dork
Are you looking for a gift for that special geeky someone, or family, in your life? Look no further.
01_ornaments

Hello, everyone! I hope your various holidays are going well for you, whichever you choose to celebrate. 😀
Usually, I write about Magic: the Gathering here on the site, but today, I figured I’d take a moment to help out anyone trying desperately to find a geeky gift within a particular price point. If you’re that person, welcome! I hope the following info is helpful.
We’re going to look at ten different gifts today — one for each price point from under $10 to above $100. Most of these are going to be board games, since they don’t need any extra accessories and they’re easy to wrap.
Ready? Let’s go!
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1. ORNAMENTS FOR WINNIPEG HARVEST ($3)
 
Pictured above, these lovely dice ornaments are available from the store for $3 each. $1.50 from every ornament goes to help out Winnipeg Harvest, making them perfect for the socially-conscious gamer.
(Or, really, anybody who’s having some particularly bad rolls in their Dungeons & Dragons game and needs some new dice from off the tree!)
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02_localcrafts
 
2. CRAFTS FROM LOCAL ARTISTS ($10-$35)
 
A Muse N Games always has art from local artists on display, but they’ve got several items in especially for the Christmas season. Make sure you stop by and check out the dice bags, cards, coasters, and much, much more!
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codenames
3. CODENAMES ($25), or CODENAMES PICTURES ($25)
 
Vlaada Chvátil is one of my favourite board game designers, and Codenames is perhaps his crowning achievement. I can’t recommend it enough.
In Codenames, you split into two teams, Red and Blue. There’s a grid of twenty-five different code words in front of you. Each team has to guess which code words belong to their team before the other team guesses all theirs. Each team has a Codemaster who can give clues — but the clues can only be a single word followed by a number. So if you’re on my team, and I need you to guess “Left”, “Neighbour”, and “Bible”, let’s say, I might give you the clue “Flanders 3” — and hope desperately that you’re a Simpsons fan!
I love Codenames because it can support groups of any size, the randomized code words make it infinitely replayable, and the clues often rely on shared experiences and references you might not remember, making every game different!
If you don’t have Codenames, you owe it to yourself to pick it up “for your significant other” (cough). If you or your giftee do have Codenames, you can pick up the recently-released Codenames Pictures, which replaces the code words with abstract images for an additional layer of difficulty!
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04_fiasco
 
4. FIASCO ($35)
 
Fiasco is a role-playing game from Jason Morningstar designed to be played in about three or four hours. Unlike most role-playing games, you don’t need a Game Master to play!

In Fiasco, you give each player a set number of six-sided dice — some dark, some light. The players pick what “playset” they’re playing — whether it’s a shady casino heist, a Bond-movie caper, or a Coen Brothers-style crime gone wrong in small-town America — and who everyone’s character is. Over the course of the game, they’ll act out the scenes in-character, and award each other dark or light dice based on how well their characters performed.

(To see Fiasco in action, here and here are videos of Wil Wheaton and friends playing through a session of Fiasco on Tabletop!)

Hanging out and making your own movie is a great way to spend an afternoon, and if your giftee is on the creative side, Fiasco will probably go over quite well! Highly recommended.
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05_flashpoint
 
5. FLASH POINT: FIRE RESCUE ($48)
 
Have you ever wondered why you always have to be playing against each other in board games? Are you tired of Monopoly disputes lasting much, much longer than the actual game? Flash Point: Fire Rescue to the rescue! (Pun intended.)
Flash Point is a co-operative game, where everyone plays as firefighters working to put out the blaze in a family home. Every turn, you have a set number of action points you can spend to move through the house, put out fires, or pull victims to safety. If you help 7 of 10 victims make it to the ambulance, you win!
The game also has an “expert” variant with a more challenging map, different roles for the firefighters, and rules for combustible materials and randomized set-ups. It’s great for families — easy to grasp for the kids, but still challenging for the adults as well!
Flash Point: Fire Rescue is one of my favourite co-operative games on the market, and if you’re looking for something the whole family can play, look no further
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06_splendor
 
6. SPLENDOR ($50)
 
Codenames might be the most talked-about game among my friends in 2016, but Splendor is a close, close second.
In Splendor, you play as Renaissance merchants, buying and selling gems to increase your wealth and impress the local nobility. Turns play quickly, with each player choosing to do one of three things: collect gems, build a card, or reserve a card to build in the future. As you play through the game, your gems and cards you’ve built help expand your economic power, allowing for bigger and bigger turns and more and more chances to get prestige points from visiting nobles. 15 prestige points wins the game.
Splendor is one of the best games I know of for teaching the concept of building an engine: developing a strategy that will help you win the game, and then carrying through with it. If this sounds like it’s up your giftee’s alley, Splendor is sure to please!
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07_takenoko
 
7. TAKENOKO ($60)
 
This is by far the most adorable board game I’ve ever played.
Takenoko revolves around the adventures of a ridiculously cute panda bear as it tries to eat all the bamboo in the Imperial Gardens, and an exasperated gardener who tries desperately to stop it from doing that. Your job is to manage the growth of the bamboo and the panda’s appetite, so that the bamboo patterns match special achievement cards in your hand. At the end of the game, the player with the most points from their achievement cards wins!

(The panda probably also wins, too — so much bamboo they get to eat!)

Takenoko is an accessible game that doesn’t overwhelm you with different mechanics and options. At the same time, the different choices you make throughout the game affect each other, and you have to do a good job of reading your opponents to make sure you complete your cards before they complete theirs.

If your giftee likes pandas, cuteness, and a surprising but not overwhelming amount of strategy, Takenoko is a fantastic choice! If your giftee doesn’t like pandas… I’m very, very sorry. I’m sure they’re nice people.

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08_coup
 
8. ADD COUP TO ONE OF THE OTHER BOARDGAMES I’VE LISTED (+$20)
 
Alright, I’m cheating here by not actually giving you a $70 game, but Coup is so good! It’s up there with #10 on this list for one of my favourite games of all time.
In Coup, you’ve got two cards in front of you, face down. They represent important people you have influence over. You can claim to use the abilities of any card — but be careful! If people call you on it and you don’t have the card, you have to turn one of yours face-up and you’re halfway out of the game. But, if you do have the card, the person who called your bluff loses one and they’re halfway out! The last person standing wins.
Coup plays like poker with only fifteen cards and two-card hands. I love, love, love the interplay and bluffing and guessing in a game that has so few components. Best of all, the games are only about 15 minutes each, so you’re never out of the action for very long!

Buy Coup. Seriously. You won’t regret it.

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09_fivetribes
9. FIVE TRIBES ($80)
The ancient game of mancala gets a number of surprising new twists!
In Five Tribes, the board consists of thirty small squares, each of which depicts an oasis, village, encampment, or desert, and each of which starts with a number of people on it. The people are Elders, Viziers, Builders, Merchants, and Assassins, and over the course of the game, you’ll be picking up and moving around these people to get different bonuses. Build towards purchasing the services of a powerful Djinn, or developing many of the squares, and you’ll be in a position to win!

Like Splendor, the gameplay of Five Tribes lends itself to building an engine: finding a strategy that isn’t immediately obvious, and taking advantage. The rules are quick and easy to grasp, but the complexity of the decisions you’ll have to make and the moves you can and can’t do help make Five Tribes a wonderful strategic brain-burner.

Five Tribes has taken mancala and made something fantastic and unique. If your giftee likes complex games that while away an afternoon, Five Tribes is going to go over very well.
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10_scythe
 
10. SCYTHE ($110)
 
This is the big one. It’s also my favourite game of the year, and one of my favourites all-time.
Imagine it’s just after World War I or so, on an alternate Earth. The countries of Eastern Europe have developed steam-powered robots that help them farm, and fight. Now, you have to help a folk hero for your people claim territories and resources, and advance the cause of your nation, in the face of ever-increasing threats. This is the world of Scythe.
The designers at Stonemaier Games have created something that has the epic feel and scale of Risk, with wonderful art and storytelling, and layers upon layers of strategy and engine-building, in an extremely streamlined package. One of my favourite things about it is that you don’t have to get in fights to win — but you have to look like you can win them, which creates an amazing feeling of tension as you jockey for position on the board.
Scythe is not an easy game to grasp, but it is extremely rewarding. If your giftee is big into board games — the more strategic, the better — I can’t think of a better gift than Scythe.
 
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stockingstufferpromotion

BUT THAT’S NOT ALL — GIFT-WRAPPING, STOCKING STUFFERS, AND MORE

 
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that A Muse N Games has gift-wrapping available, for the price of a small donation to Winnipeg Harvest! All the easier to help make sure your gifts get home safely wrapped and covered, AND people in Winnipeg don’t go hungry over the holiday season.
As well, if you spend $200 or more at A Muse N Games, you’ll receive a FREE stocking-stuffer game to go along with all the wonderful gifts you’re already giving! Want to have a fun afternoon or evening playing all sorts of different games with friends and family? This is a great way to do it.

That’s it for me for now — hope I’ll see you at the store in the next few weeks!

Jesse Mackenzie is a regular contributor to A Muse N Games. Tune in every two weeks for The Mana Dork, his column on all things Magic.

THE MANA DORK – Impressions from Commander 2016 and AMNG Leagues!

by December 2, 2016

The Mana Dork
I am beginning to think I have previously been a tad too cute with the titles. Also, given that we’re doing a bit of a round-up today, it seems appropriate to simply call out the round-up, eh?
Onward!

Sidar Kondo of Jamuraa

COMMANDER 2016 IMPRESSIONS

Who has two thumbs and called it? This guy.
Here’s what I said back in October, before Commander 2016 released:
“But what if Wizards decided to go wayyyyy out there, and design two creatures that could co-exist in the command zone?
It doesn’t require much of an adjustment to the rules—just increment your commander tax for each card individually, define your deck’s colour identity using the colour identity of the two commanders combined, and come up with a new mechanic that allows your new commanders to co-exist. And it opens up some interesting gameplay decisions about when you cast your commanders, and how.”
The mechanic I predicted was worded thusly:
Alliance (You may begin the game with up to two creatures with alliance in the command zone.)
It differs from the actual Partner mechanic in that it defines the cards themselves as commanders—which, you know, probably should happen if we’re going to play a format called Commander. But other than that, I was almost word-for-word correct with my craziest prediction!


Okay, enough self-regard. You’re here for impressions.

The decks themselves are quite good. I’ve played one game with Kynaios and Tiro and several games with Saskia, and generally speaking, I have all four colours between turns 4-6 or so. I have yet to truly be mana-screwed.
Wizards has done an excellent job in constructing the decklists—they needed to make sure the decks had equal access to all of their colours with relative frequency, without reprinting expensive, in-demand cards like fetchlands that would have made it easy to do so. And they have succeeded.

Additionally, the decks contain many Commander staples—hello, Chromatic Lantern! Hello, Ghostly Prison!—making sure that they can hold their own against a variety of custom-brewed lists.

The Partners mechanic is extremely novel, and it’s going to take a while to figure out. I have a strong feeling that Partner commanders are going to be much better at the head of decks that don’t rely on the commander, than ones where the commander is central.

Shadowborn Apostle

To give you an example, here’s the latest iteration of my Shadowborn Apostle deck, now featuring Sidar Kondo of Jamuraa and Tymna the Weaver in front.
This is a combo-ish deck—get six Apostles on the field, sacrifice them, bring out Rune-Scarred Demon, bring out Thrumming Stone, get every Apostle on the field, do Fun Things™ with them. Previously, it has featured Athreos, Little Teysa, and Karador as commanders.
It had a problem, though—I never had enough draw, or enough to do in the middle of the game.
Sidar and Tymna help me solve that problem. They don’t need to be out for the deck to function, but having them both lets me poke people with Apostles and draw 3-4 extra cards a turn, which greatly helps with the velocity of the deck. See more cards, cast more Apostles, combo off more quickly.
This is where I think Partners will do best—as supports for their deck, rather than as keystones.

Glimmer of Genius

KALADESH PLAYTEST LEAGUE IMPRESSIONS
(This section is going to be much shorter—mostly because I don’t have neat predictions to preen over.)
I spent a bit of time in the Kaladesh Playtest League in recent weeks, and it was an absolute blast!
If you’re not familiar, here’s the deal with League play, in brief:
Start with three booster packs.
Build a 30-card deck using cards from those packs and land from the store.
Play with as many different people as you can over multiple weeks. Matches consist of a single game, with one free mulligan.
Each week, and after every third loss, you may buy an additional booster to add cards to your card pool and rebuild your deck.
Have fun!
In practice, it felt like “mini-Sealed”. I was stretching all those good Limited muscles, looking for synergies and assessing card playability—but there was much less pressure, because of the casual, fun-focused nature of the league.
And I have to say, it’s also pretty fun knowing that, with three rares and only room for 17 or so non-land cards in your pool, you’ve got a pretty high likelihood of drawing an awesome bomb in almost every game.
In short—built, played, had a blast. Cannot recommend enough.

Argothian Enchantress

ETERNAL MASTERS LEAGUE, AETHER REVOLT PRE-RELEASES, AND MORE!
And if you’re excited by the idea of League play—good news, everyone!
AMNG is doing an Eternal Masters League for three Sundays in December! At 2 PM on the 4th, 11th, and 18th, you can buy into the league for $40, netting you three Eternal Masters boosters and a chance at glory. EMA boosters will also be available at a special discounted rate of $15 per booster when bought for League play, so come on in!
Also, AMNG has announced that they’ve started doing… SUNDAY pre-releases. (Ooooooh)
Starting with Aether Revolt in January, the store will host a 6 PM Sunday pre-release, alongside the midnight Friday and noon and 5 PM Saturday pre-releases! MOAR MAGIC, amirite?
See you in the store!

Jesse Mackenzie is a regular contributor to A Muse N Games. Tune in every two weeks for The Mana Dork, his column about all things Magic!