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the 17 best board games for holiday family fun – TechCrunch

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Welcome to TechCrunch’s 2018 Holiday Gift Guide! Need more gift ideas? Check out our Gift Guide Hub.

Ah, holiday board gaming. A roaring fire. A glass of nog. And a raging debate over whether the blue guy was next to the red square or vice versa.

Buying a gift for a board game fan? Just need something new to bring along to the get together? In this roundup we highlight some of what we’ve been playing lately — from the easy to the immensely complex — and give you and your family fodder for your next bout of holiday fun. Some new, some old, all great.

 

Machi Koro

This super-cute card game involves building a city using special buildings and attractions. Will your city have a power station, a noodle bar and a playground? Or will you focus on a TV station, a bakery and city hall? Think of it as a whimsical Sim City in physical form.

 

King of Tokyo

Who do you want to be today? A giant lizard? A mech? An alien invader? With King of Tokyo you can take over a Japanese metropolis with your giant monster and, with the right moves, take out other players with your spiky tail or teeth. A great game for middle-schoolers, it offers some of the fun of card gaming with board game play.

 

Codenames

Codenames is a wildly different experience with each new group of players. You lay out a grid of cards, each with a single word on it. You pair off two-versus-two, with one player being the clue giver, the other being the guesser. The clue giver is trying to get their guesser to pick as many of their team’s cards as they can each turn, but there’s a catch: the clue giver can only say one word per turn… and there are sudden-death cards on the board. You’re looking for single words that can connect multiple cards without misleading the guesser into tapping any of the other team’s cards or, worse yet, the sudden-death killer card. Lead the guesser astray, and your team’s done for. There are all sorts of variations of Codenames at this point — including a picture-heavy Disney remix for when the littles want to join in.

Anomia

You pull a card. It has a seemingly random symbol on it, along with a category — like “Shoe brand,” or “Occupation,” or “Pop Star.” Look at the top cards of the other players at the table; does your symbol match anyone else’s symbol? If so, the race is on. The first one who can name something, anything that fits the category wins that round. It sounds simple, but it’ll leave your brain exhausted and your body sore from laughter.

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Bohnanza

In this German card game, you’re dealt a hand of assorted types of beans (some more rare than others) that you must play in the order they’re dealt. You have a limited number of fields in which to plant your beans, which you can then harvest for money. The trick of the game is that as new cards/beans are introduced, they must be planted or harvested by someone at the table for play to resume, so a big part of the game is negotiating bean trades with other players to make the most of your own hand. The player with the most money at the end of the game wins. If you enjoy haggling and negotiating (and goofy cartoon beans) this game is for you.

Waldschattenspiel

I’ve talked about this game before on TC, but this version, in the original German, is one of the coolest versions. The gameplay is simple: you turn off the lights in the room and hide little elves behind tall trees. Then one player moves her candle through the forest, trying to catch the elves at play. Once all the elves are caught — or all the elves hide in one spot — you win. The best part? Fire!

Viticulture

Given that most games are played while drinking a bottle or two of wine, Viticulture is the drinking person’s board game. You and your family run a small winery in Tuscany and you have to grow your business by picking grapes, making wine and getting visitors. Another building game with a great premise.

 

Secret Hitler

Secret Hitler is a game about the rise of fascism. While it’s not a light-hearted game, it does teach us about the fragility of political systems and what it takes to go from a peaceable state to a fascist one overnight. Influenced by Werewolf/Mafia style games, one player is Secret Hitler and another player is a secret Nazi. Together, without telling the other players, they must work together to convert the government to fascism. It’s well worth a look if you like thinking games.

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Spaceteam

Spaceteam is a cooperative game — you win, or lose, together. But just because it’s cooperative doesn’t mean it’s a calm, friendly hang. Oh, there will be yelling.

Spaceteam has you working together to repair your failing spacecraft. Everyone at the table has a set of goals they need to accomplish… but everyone else at the table has their own goals, too. And everyone seemingly has the wrong tools. Gather all the tools you need from other players, and that goal is complete… but everyone else needs their tools too, and with the timer counting down, you’re going to have to all go simultaneously if you’re going to survive. It’s frantic and ridiculous and OH MY GOD SOMEONE PASS ME THE CENTRIFUGAL DISPOSAL, I’VE ASKED 15 TIMES! Oh, nevermind, I have it right here.

Carcassonne

Carcassonne is one of my absolute favorite games. This city-building game lets little ones take part in the fun and, because it is so visually arresting, it can engross you for hours. This massive box includes almost all the expansions. I cannot recommend this game more highly.

 

 

Twilight Struggle

This massive game lets you play the USSR vs. the USA in a struggle for world domination. Designed to simulate the Cold War — I know, exciting! — it’s actually a truly engrossing title and well worth a look.

Scythe

Scythe is a sprawling game that uses cards and miniatures to describe a world of alternate reality. As a farmer in this broken world you must rebuild your armies, reclaim lost lands and start up the great gears of progress. It’s a long game — about 115 minutes — but it has gotten rave reviews.

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Gnomes at Night

Gnomes at Night is a cooperative kids game with a twist. One player sees a maze while other player cannot. The players work together to move through the maze to the treasure, encouraging communications and interaction that online games lack.

 

 

Risk Legacy

Risk Legacy offers all the complexity of Risk with even more complexity! In each game the board and pieces themselves change, allowing you to create long stretches of gameplay that promise repeat bouts. While old-fashioned Risk is a still a classic, this amazing game is a great expansion to that military world.

Last Night On Earth

Last Night on Earth is a board game with multiple playthrough scenarios. Players get to choose if they play as humans or zombies. If you’re on the human team, you get to pick a hero card before the game starts. You then move around the board to solve the scenario — for instance, you can be defending a manor, escaping a location and more. Zombies will get in the way and you’ll have to find the best weapon to get rid of them.

 

Gloomhaven 

If your friends and family take board gaming serious, consider Gloomhaven. It’s a good bit more intense (and, at $140+, more expensive) than anything listed above, but it’s one of the most popular games of the year for a reason. A ready-to-play dungeon crawler in a box, it’s got thousands of cards, dozens of playable classes and nearly 100 playable scenarios. You’ll want to lock in a group of friends who can meet up regularly to play this one before diving in — but if you can do that, you’re in for something special.

Hero Realms

Hero Realms is like a trading card game (think Magic: The Gathering) but also quite different. If you hate buying card packs to build the best deck ever, Hero Realms is for you — everything is already in the box. Each player starts with just a handful of cards and slowly builds a deck by acquiring cards from the central pile. After that, it’s a matter of combining the effects of multiple cards to attack your opponent and destroy their heroes.

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The looming software kill-switch lurking in aging PlayStation hardware

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Enlarge / These consoles could eventually be large paperweights if Sony doesn’t fix a problem looming in their firmware.

Unless something changes, an issue lurking in older PlayStations’ internal timing systems threatens to eventually make every PS4 game and all downloaded PS3 games unplayable on current hardware. Right now, it’s not a matter of if but when this problem will occur.

This ticking firmware time bomb has been known in certain PlayStation preservation and hacking circles for a while. But it’s gaining new attention amid Sony’s recently announced decision to shut down the online stores for PS3, PSP, and Vita software. While that impending store shutdown won’t impact players’ abilities to play and re-download previously purchased software for now, the eventual wider shutdown of PSN servers for these aging consoles could have a much more drastic effect on the playability of a wide swath of games.

What’s the problem?

The root of the coming issue has to do with the CMOS battery inside every PS3 and PS4, which the systems use to keep track of the current time (even when they’re unplugged). If that battery dies or is removed for any reason, it raises an internal flag in the system’s firmware indicating the clock may be out of sync with reality.

After that flag is raised, the system in question has to check in with PSN the next time it needs to confirm the correct time. On the PS3, this online check happens when you play a game downloaded from the PlayStation Store. On the PS4, this also happens when you try to play retail games installed from a disc. This check has to be performed at least once even if the CMOS battery is replaced with a fresh one, so the system can reconfirm clock consistency.

Why does the PlayStation firmware care so much about having the correct time? On the PS3, the timer check is used to enforce any “time limits” that might have been placed on your digital purchase (as confirmed by the error message: “This content has a time limit. To perform this operation go to settings date and time settings set via internet”). That check seems to be required even for downloads that don’t have any actual set expiration date, adding a de facto one-time online check-in requirement for systems after their internal batteries fail.

On the PS4, though, the timing check is apparently intended to make sure PSN trophy data is registered accurately, and to prevent players from pretending to get trophies earlier than they actually had. You’d think this check could be segregated from the ability to load the non-trophy portions of the game, but player testing has shown that this seems to be a requirement to get PS4 games to load at all.

An eventual issue

None of this is a huge problem for most PlayStation owners right now. Yes, the 10- to 20-year lifespan on your average CMOS battery is slowly running out, especially for the earliest PS3 hardware. But replacing the battery and resyncing the internal timer with PSN is a relatively minor annoyance for the time being (assuming you can find a Wi-Fi hotspot and PSN isn’t suffering one of its rare outages).

But nothing lasts forever, as Sony’s recent decisions regarding older PlayStation online stores shows. At some point in the future, whether it’s in one year or 100 years, Sony will shut off the PSN servers that power the timing check for hardware it no longer considers important. After that, it’s only a matter of time before failing CMOS batteries slowly reduce all PS3 and PS4 hardware to semi-functional curios.

Sony could render the problem moot relatively easily with a firmware update that limits the system functions tied to this timing check. Thus far, though, Sony hasn’t publicly indicated it has any such plans, and hasn’t responded to multiple requests for comment from Ars Technica. Until it does, complicated workarounds that make use of jailbroken firmware are the only option for ensuring that aging PlayStation hardware will remain fully usable well into the future.

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Fast and Furious 9 drops a new trailer ahead of June 25 release

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This past weekend, with little to do thanks to the pandemic, I marathoned through the Fast and Furious franchise. That was fortuitous timing, because on Tuesday a new trailer dropped for F9, the next installment, which arrives in theaters on June 25.

We actually got our first look at F9 well over a year ago, when the first trailer dropped at the end of January 2020. Family has been a central theme to the F&F movies, and that continues here. Dominic Torreto (played by Vin Diesel) and the gang have to confront his younger brother Jakob (John Cena), described as “the most skilled assassin and high-performance driver they’ve encountered.” He’s working with criminal mastermind Cipher (Charlize Theron), who sports a much more flattering haircut than in Fate of the Furious, the movie where she improbably hacked a bunch of old cars to drive themselves.

Also returning to the series is Han Lue (Sung Kang), who we all thought died at the end of Tokyo Drift. (This was revealed to be the work of Deckard Shaw (Jason Stratham) who was bad in Furious 7 but then turned out to be good in Fate of the Furious and Hobbs and Shaw.)

Based on this second trailer, the plot for F9 appears to involve magnets, and at one point Tej Parker (Chris “Ludacris” Bridges) and Roman Pearce (Tyrese Gibson) don makeshift pressure suits and take to the skies in what might be a DeLorean with rocket boosters strapped to the roof.

As my colleague Jennifer Ouellette explained last year, “F&F9 will probably make about as much sense as its predecessors—in other words, not much sense at all. And fans wouldn’t have it any other way.”

I know I wouldn’t.

Listing image by Universal Pictures

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It’s Dave Bautista and pals vs. zombie horde in Army of the Dead

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Dave Bautista stars in the zombie heist film Army of the Dead, directed by Zack Snyder.

Fresh off the successful release of Zack Snyder’s Justice League, we’ll soon be getting the director’s latest project: Army of the Dead, about a group of mercenaries that attempts a heist in a zombie-ridden Las Vegas. In a sense, Snyder has come full circle. His directorial debut was 2008’s Dawn of the Dead, an entertaining reboot of the original George Romero classic from 1978.

Army of the Dead started out as a joint project between Universal Studios and Warner Bros. back in 2007. But like so many films, it got stuck in development hell until Zack Snyder signed on as director in 2019. Netflix picked up the distribution rights from Warner Bros. soon after.

Per the official premise:

Army of the Dead takes place following a zombie outbreak that has left Las Vegas in ruins and walled off from the rest of the world. When Scott Ward (Dave Bautista), a displaced Vegas local, former zombie war hero who’s now flipping burgers on the outskirts of the town he now calls home, is approached by casino boss Bly Tanaka (Hiroyuki Sanada), it’s with the ultimate proposition: Break into the zombie-infested quarantine zone to retrieve $200 million sitting in a vault beneath the strip before the city is nuked by the government in 32 hours. Driven by the hope that the payoff could help pave the way to a reconciliation with his estranged daughter Kate (Ella Purnell), Ward takes on the challenge, assembling a ragtag team of experts for the heist.

They include Maria Cruz (Ana de la Reguera), an ace mechanic and Ward’s old friend; Vanderohe (Omari Hardwick), a zombie killing machine; Marianne Peters (Tig Notaro), a cynical helicopter pilot; Mikey Guzman (Raúl Castillo), a go-for-broke influencer and Chambers (Samantha Win), his ride-or-die; Martin (Garret Dillahunt), the casino’s head of security; a badass warrior known as the Coyote (Nora Arnezeder) who recruits Burt Cummings (Theo Rossi), a slimy security guard; and a brilliant German safe cracker named Dieter (Matthias Schweighöfer). Scott finds an unexpected emotional hurdle when Kate joins the expedition to search for Geeta (Huma S. Qureshi), a mother who’s gone missing inside the city. With a ticking clock, a notoriously impenetrable vault, and a smarter, faster horde of Alpha zombies closing in, only one thing’s for certain in the greatest heist ever attempted: survivors take all.

Notaro replaced comedian/actor Chris D’Elia late in the project, on the heels of a number of sexual misconduct allegations against the comedian. This required reshooting some scenes with an acting partner, which were then inserted into the film; Notaro was also inserted into several scenes via digital compositing. She has been fantastic on Star Trek: Discovery, and it will be interesting to see how she fares in Army of the Dead.

The trailer is entertaining, with Kenny Rogers’ “The Gambler” as a musical backdrop, just to set the mood. “There’s 200 million dollars in a vault beneath the Strip,” Tanaka tells Ward and his team. “This should be a simple in and out.” Of course, nothing is ever simple. Vegas is swarming with zombies—faster, smarter zombies, not the classic Romero variety. They’re smart enough to organize, and that, plus their far superior numbers, doesn’t bode well for our human protagonists. (The house, after all, always wins.) But we are definitely on board for the Zombie Elvis and zombie tiger.

Army of the Dead debuts in select theaters and on Netflix on May 21, 2021. If this is as much fun as Snyder’s Dawn of the Dead—and it looks like it could be—Army of Dead should be a huge success. There are already plans for a prequel film focusing on the character Ludwig Dieter (played by Matthias Schweighöfer) and an anime-inspired TV series, Army of the Dead: Las Vegas.

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