Card Games and Board Games and (Keith) Bares, Oh My

I’ve been on a bit of a defunct TCG kick lately, purchasing several new defunct TCGs and doing a bunch of card sorting. Things I’ve picked up include the Bleach TCG, the third starter I was missing for the Young Jedi TCG, the Power Rangers TCG, Force of Will, My Little Pony TCG, Dicemasters, Highlander TCG, Epic Battles, and some more Star Trek CCG and VS system. It’s also made me revisit (and reorganize) a lot of the TCGs I already have, such as .hack, Buffy, Megaman, Hecatomb, World of Warcraft, Fullmetal Alchemist, DBZ (CCG, TCG, and new Panini CCG), Yu Yu Hakusho, X-Files, Neopets, Simpsons, UFS, Lord of the Rings, and the Star Wars TCG (by Wizards, not to be confused with the CCG from Decipher).

Behold, my sorted and labelled collection!

I’ve also been dumping starter deck card lists (at least for the games with fixed starter contents) over at randomjunk, mostly so I can reconstruct decks in the future if needed. Some of them (like .hack) required quite a bit of reconstruction (since I didn’t want to open new, unopened decks to confirm), so I hope I have it all correct.

In any case, it’s interesting how TCGs have changed over the past decade or so. Some thoughts in no particular order:

  • A lot of the older games are much more low-frills: the starter deck boxes contain little more than the deck and some rules and are often sized exactly for the contents, and the games usually don’t require components other than the cards themselves. Newer games have dice and tokens and counters and come in huge boxes with plastic inserts that have to be discarded. (Power Rangers and Force of Will are particularly bad at this, but World of Warcraft also comes in huge cases which are at least functional.)
  • A surprising number of starter decks are not actually tournament-legal decks. World of Warcraft is especially bad at this (would it kill you to give us a full 60 card deck rather than a half-sized one?), but things like Buffy, Star Wars’ theme decks, and Power Rangers also offer starter decks that are less than the necessary number of cards.
  • Many games have two-player starter deck variants, which is nice, but those almost always have fewer cards than required for a legal deck. (See: Young Jedi, Star Wars TCG.) Still, I blame this less than the above, since you’re not forcing each player to buy a deck to play.
  • It’s interesting how TCGs went through a “starters must be randomized” phase, and then split into either theme decks or semi-randomized setups. Star Trek, X-Files, and Highlander are good examples of games with starters that are actually not only not tournament legal, but are often outright not playable out of the box due to the randomization. Some games then turned to preconstructed decks, often with randomized selection or portions of decks in opaque boxes (such as Bleach, Buffy, World of Warcraft, DBZ [both CCG and TCG], and Yu Yu Hakusho), while others took a more consumer-friendly approach of preconstructed decks indicated by the box (such as Simpsons, Megaman, .hack, Fullmetal Alchemist, Neopets, VS, and UFS) so you could select which deck you wanted.
  • Duplicate cards are an expected part of any starter, but some games take this to an extreme. I think Decipher’s 2-player starter decks (Young Jedi, Austin Powers) are especially egregious examples of this, but even things like the Star Trek 2E Starters duplicate cards for no good reason between decks (and even between decks in different expansion sets).
  • I wish more games did the “starter deck” rarities, especially across all cards in a starter deck. It’s extremely frustrating to open boosters and get a “rare” that you already have a few copies of from a starter (the DBZ TCG was particularly bad at this, with both the decks having two copies of one card as the only rare), but WoW does this too. Huge kudos to things like DBZ Panini for having only starter-rarity cards in their starters, but thanks to things like Megaman and .hack for at least trying via starter-only “rares”. (Alternately, randomizing only the rares works too, like LoTR or Buffy.)
  • I wish more games would include a booster pack or two in the starter deck. It’s a good way to give a taste of the collecting and customizing experience to newbies, but also increases the value of purchasing multiple starters. Bleach and WoW are probably the top here (two boosters per starter) but other games like Terminator at least make an effort.

I keep thinking it could be fun to start a blog/podcast/youtube channel on defunct TCGs, giving a general summary of their format (starter randomization, thoughts on packaging and collectability), gameplay, history, and my thoughts on the game. But like most things, I’ll probably never find the time to do it.

It’ll also be interesting to potentially try out playing some of these in the future. Which is actually a reasonable segue into the next subject…

We’ve started in-person games again, albeit outdoors (on our backyard deck) and with a very small number of other people at a time (1-3). Still, that means photos has gotten its first update with photos since the pandemic began (the last galleries, despite being posted in August, were from a February trip).

This is mostly thanks to Ben, who was in town for an unexpected visit. We hung out and played some games on the deck a couple of times (including some of my new pickups from the pandemic, such as Shadows in Kyoto), and it felt okay enough that we had Keith and Austin over for some more serious games this past weekend. I think we’re not ready for games (or generally groups of people visiting) inside the house yet, but outdoors seems fine.

We also had lunch at Emiliano’s with Keith (sitting outdoors, of course), which was our first restaurant meal with someone else since the pandemic started.

Baby steps :)

Games Games Games

As mentioned in the last post, I have four standing gaming sessions a week (if you include the work one). If anything, this pandemic has been better for playing board games with friends, albeit virtually, than life beforehand. Maybe that’s part of the reason I never feel like I have time to do anything, but at least the relaxingness is good?

We started out at the beginning with our old favorite BrettspielWelt. The last time we used it (years ago) it was a downloaded java client that was reasonable. Now it’s a more web-based interface that is mostly clunky to use, although it seems to be decent enough.

But then someone (Austin?) suggested moving to Tabletop Simulator instead, and that has been a much better experience. Greg describes it as a physics engine that happens to play board games, which makes for amusing interactions sometimes, but there’s nothing like flipping the table when you lose a game. It also fixes a lot of the tedium of playing normal board games, even for non-scripted games, by simplifying things like shuffling.

The Fairfax group has started a weekly Jackbox games session, thanks to Tim, and that’s been a blast. Drawful 2 is one of our favorites, and we’ve gotten maybe a little too good at drawing some of the prompts.


Work introduced me to the joys of Codenames online and Broken Picturephone (AKA Eat Poop You Cat), and that has been pretty spectacular too.

Lastly, we’ve been (more recently) playing board games with Mark and Sharon (AKA my San Francisco crowd) via Board Game Arena. It generally feels like a much better version of BrettspielWelt, with (somewhat) more usable interfaces and clearer game instructions. Its main downside seems to be that a lot of the popular games and critical features (like multiple players from the same IP address, AKA in the same household) are gated behind a paywall. Fortunately Mark’s membership takes care of that for us, so it’s a pretty seamless experience.

I’ve also been taking my first forays into tabletop RPGs with Patrick and David (from high school), somewhat via Roll 20 but mostly just via Google Meet. Patrick DMed a great introductory game for us with the Lasers & Feelings system, which was simple enough for me as a beginning, and also let David’s experience with other RPGs guide us through. We’re looking at starting another campaign soon, but in the meantime, I’ve been putting them through more Jackbox.

In addition to *all* of that, thanks to Tabletop Simulator requiring me to actually make a Steam account, I’ve also started playing some of my old backlog of Humble Bundle (and other) games. I finished up West of Loathing in a few days, had a period of Cities Skylines destressing, and found a great way to “cheat” in Cook Serve Delicious 2 to get huge perfect days and unlock content (serve only sliced turkey breast or brisket, plus one side, with max prep stations). I’ve also been dabbling again in some older games like Mini Metro, World of Goo, A Virus Named Tom, and Girls Like Robots.

More recently, I’ve been playing Overcooked 2 with Austin where we’re nearing our goal of 3-starring every level in the game and all its expansions.

So I guess the nice thing about this whole pandemic, at least, has been keeping in regular contact with many people who are not physically close, since (other than timezones) it makes no difference whether someone is physically in the same city as you. Having regular contact with (old) San Francisco people, high school people, old Tartan people, the Fairfax group, and other Pittsburgh friends that have moved away has been pretty great. I think I’d still gladly give it up for the world to not be so screwed up, but hey, silver linings?

Locking Down Pittsburgh

I feel like I should be writing in here more given the historicness of everything happening right now. But mostly I’m just tired and want things to stop being so terrible. And it’s only like week three or whatever.

In no particular order, recent things: Consistently passing Expert+ on Beat Saber, started playing board games online via Tabletop Simulator, been consistently getting out of the house for at least a 30 minute walk every day, been cooking frequently and succeeding at only making one grocery trip every 1.5-2 weeks, been feeling utterly weird at work despite always being WFH and therefore theoretically unaffected by any of the office closures and such, tried 2-player Letter Jam and it was terrible, been even more bewildered at how people can still think Trump and Republicans have people (much less the “common” working person)’s interests at heart, been photographing signs for various closures and interesting things as a result of Coronavirus/COVID-19.

So because I am bad at writing, here’s some of the photos I’ve been taking from the past week or so.























Christmas, New Year’s, Life

life’s stats and photo journal pages have been updated. Not too much interesting this time around… life has been crazy, but not due to trips, at least.

It was a really weird Christmas, weather-wise. Mostly because it was super warm out on Christmas day and we sat outside on the deck with a bottle of wine, playing Paperback.

I also got Playstation VR for Black Friday, and have been playing a lot of Beat Saber. I’m consistently passing Expert songs now, but am nowhere close to passing an Expert+. I also highly recommend Astro Bot Rescue Mission as a game that makes extremely good use of VR, and is just generally adorable besides.

Otherwise, there isn’t much to update. We had a small group over last night for New Year’s, and ended up starting a game of Salem after midnight (which was great and actually only lasted until about 2 AM since Ben and Steve are so fast).

Lots of photos of everything are at photos, as always. That, this journal, and life are about the only parts of my site I actually update, nowadays.

I’ve been seeing a bunch of “Decade in review” posts pop up recently, and I guess it could be interesting to do one for myself, as well. The highlights though would be something like:

  • Moved back to Pittsburgh
  • Got married
  • Bought a house
  • Lost a parent
  • Had something like five or six years in a row with (at least) 4 weddings to attend

It’s been an eventful 10 years, and I hope the next 10 have a lot fewer big life events.

(Also, related to my reverse games post, we tried Hey That’s Your Fish yesterday and it didn’t work very well. I think the game needs more tweaks to placement or movement rules to be viable as a reverse game.)

“Reverse” Games

We played another successful “reverse” game recently, so I want to document them in one place.

Sushi No (Sushi Go)
Play normally. Goal is to have the lowest score at the end of the game.

7 Blunders (7 Wonders)
Play normally, except you cannot sell a card unless you can build no card in the hand. You must build in the cheapest possible way after selecting a card (chaining if possible, own resources or optimal conversion/production, minimal payment to a neighbor). Goal is to have the lowest score at the end of the game.

New York Spite (New York Slice)
Play normally. No section may be empty (no slices/specials). Goal is to have the lowest score at the end of the game.

Between Two Shitties (AKA Beneath Two Cities) (Between Two Cities)
Play normally. Your score is the higher of your two cities. Goal is to have the lowest score at the end of the game.

Carcass-none (Carcassonne)
Play normally. Each tile you play must have a meeple placed on it if possible. Goal is to have the lowest score at the end of the game.

Annul (Azul)
Play normally, except you cannot select a set of tiles where you can play none of them unless you cannot legally play any available set of tiles. Once selected, you must select a row for the tiles such that as many of the selected tiles play as possible (choice between ties if applicable). Goal is to have the lowest score at the end of the game. (Negative scores are allowed.)

Games we haven’t tried but want to:
6 No-mmit (6 Nimmit) – Normal play? Goal is highest score.
Yes Please (No Thanks) – Would need some tweak so you don’t just take almost every card that comes up to you. Goal is highest score.

Also Aldi’s has cute things and I want to buy all the stuffed things there.