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December 12, 2018

Gift Guide: the 16 best board games for holiday family fun

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.

 

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 of 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 they other players, they must work together to convert the government to fascism. It’s well worth a look if you like thinking games.

Spaceteam

Spaceteam is a cooperative game — you win, or lose, together. But just because it’s cooperative doesn’t 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 FIFTEEN TIMES oh nevermind i have it right here.

 

Carcassone

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.

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, its 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 with 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.

 


News Source = techcrunch.com

Lift Aircraft’s Hexa may be your first multirotor drone ride

We were promised jetpacks, but let’s be honest, they’re just plain unsafe. So a nice drone ride is probably all we should reasonably expect. Lift Aircraft is the latest to make a play for the passenger multirotor market, theoretical as it is, and its craft is a sleek little thing with some interesting design choices to make it suitable for laypeople to “pilot.”

The Austin-based company just took the wraps off the Hexa, the 18-rotor craft it intends to make available for short recreational flights. It just flew for the first time last month, and could be taking passengers aloft as early as next year.

The Hexa is considerably more lightweight than the aircraft that seemed to be getting announced every month or two earlier this year. Lift’s focus isn’t on transport, which is a phenomenally complicated problem both in terms or regulation and engineering. Instead, it wants to simply make the experience of flying in a giant drone available for thrill-seekers with a bit of pocket money.

This reduced scope means the craft can get away with being just 432 pounds and capable of 10-15 minutes of sustained flight with a single passenger. Compared with Lilium’s VTOL engines or Volocopter’s 36-foot wingspan, this thing looks like a toy. And that’s essentially what it is, for now. But there’s something to be said for proving your design in a comparatively easily accessed market and moving up, rather than trying to invent an air taxi business from scratch.

“Multi-seat eVTOL air taxis, especially those that are designed to transition to wing-borne flight, are probably 10 years away and will require new regulations and significant advances in battery technology to be practical and safe. We didn’t want to wait for major technology or regulatory breakthroughs to start flying,” said Chasen in a news release. “We’ll be flying years before anyone else.”

The Hexa is flown with a single joystick and an iPad; direct movements and attitude control are done with the former, while destination-based movement, takeoff and landing take place on the latter. This way people can go from walking in the front door to flying one of these things — or rather riding in one and suggesting some directions to go — in an hour or so.

It’s small enough that it doesn’t even count as a “real” aircraft; it’s a “powered ultralight,” which is a plus and a minus: no pilot’s license necessary, but you can’t go past a few hundred feet of altitude or fly over populated areas. No doubt there’s still a good deal of fun you can have flying around a sort of drone theme park, though. The whole area will have been 3D mapped prior to flight, of course.

Lifting the Hexa are 18 rotors, each of which is powered by its own battery, which spreads the risk out considerably and makes it simple to swap them out. As far as safety is concerned, it can run with up to 6 engines down, has pontoons in case of a water landing, and an emergency parachute should the unthinkable happen.

The team is looking to roll out its drone-riding experience soon, but it has yet to select its first city. Finding a good location, checking with the community, getting the proper permits — not simple. CEO Matt Chasen told New Atlas the craft is “not very loud, but they’re also not whisper-quiet, either.” I’m thinking “not very loud” is in comparison to jets — every drone I’ve ever come across, from palm-sized to cargo-bearing, has made an incredible racket and if someone wanted to start a drone preserve next door I’d fight it tooth and nail. (Apparently Seattle is high on the list, too, so this may come to pass.)

In a sense, engineering a working autonomous multirotor aircraft was the easy part of building this business. Chasen told GeekWire that the company has raised a “typical-size seed round,” and is preparing for a Series A — probably once it has a launch city in its sights.

We’ll likely hear more at SXSW in March, where the Hexa will likely fly its first passengers.

News Source = techcrunch.com

VRgineers looks to set a new gold standard with their $5,800 VR headset

Thought VR was too expensive and too bulky? Well, VRgineers is here with a giant $5,800 headset to prove that you lack perspective.

The Prague-based startup just showed off its latest piece of high-end VR hardware which it will be launching at this year’s CES expo. The headset sports an 180-degree field-of-view, dual 2560 x 1440 OLED displays and a form factor that’s massive. The big focus of the revamped XTAL headset seems to be in the lenses which have a brand new design meant to expand what users can see at full resolution inside the headset while also minimizing distortion elsewhere.

The headset has integrated Leap Motion hand-tracking, is compatible with a variety of tracking systems and leans heavily on voice controls.

What VRgineers has built is quite obviously professional-focused. It’s pushing industry boundaries in field-of-view and resolution.

Their focus is clearly enterprise given its $5,800 price tag. Specifically, the startup seems to be trying to capture the automotive market where VR is actually being leaned on heavily in design and manufacturing.

The high-end VR headset market is in a bit of an interesting spot right now. Oculus has kind of seemed to hurt the rest of the market by having driven hardware margins so low in the quest to make VR more approachable. It’s difficult to fault them for wanting to recoup some of their investment in OculusVR, but the more niche hardware players have really been usurped by a competitor that’s just operating on longer timelines.

Things are looking up for more high-end focused VR startups though, Oculus seems to be moving in a different direction for its next PC VR hardware release. We reported last month, that Oculus was looking to keep a lot of stuff the same with its next headset, possibly called the “Rift S”. This leaves some positive room for high-end VR startups to charge exorbitant amounts for their products but also deliver more niche feature sets for customers at the same time.

News Source = techcrunch.com

Facebook relaunches search ads to offset slowing revenue

It’s an ad duoply battle. Facebook is starting to test search ads in its search bar and Marketplace, directly competing with Google’s AdWords. Facebook first tried Sponsored Results back in 2012 but eventually shut down the product in 2013. Now it’s going to let a small set of automotive, retail, and ecommerce industry advertisers show users ads on the search results page on mobile in the US and Canada.

They’ll be repurposed News Feed ads featuring a headline, image, copy text, and a link in the static image or carousel format that can point users to external websites. Facebook declined to share screenshots as it says the exact design is still evolving. Facebook may expand search ads to more countries based on the test’s performance.

The reintroduction of search ads could open an important new revenue stream at a time when Facebook’s revenue growth is quickly decelerating as it runs out of News Feed ad space, the Stories format that advertisers are still adapting is poised to overtake feed sharing on social apps, and users shift their time elsewhere. In Q3 2018, revenue grew 33 percent year-over-year, but that’s far slower than the 49 percent YOY gain it had a year ago, and the 59 percent from Q3 2016. Opening up new ad inventory for search could reinvigorate the sagging revenue growth rate that, combined with Facebook’s privacy and security scandals, has put intense pressure on Facebook’s leaders Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg.

Facebook’s revenue growth rate has slowed significantly over the past two years

“We’re running a small test to place ads in Facebook search results, and we’ll be evaluating whether these ads are beneficial for people and businesses before deciding whether to expand it” Facebook product manager Zoheb Hajiyani to TechCrunch in a statement. The announcement of the search ads comes as Google’s CEO Sundar Pichai is under fire from Congress over data privacy, though the move could help Google look less like it has a monopoly in search.

Back in 2012, Facebook desperately sought extra revenue streams following its botched IPO. Sponsored Results let game companies, retailers, and more inject links to their Facebook apps, Pages, and posts as ads in the search typeahead results. Since advertisers could target searches for specific other Pages and apps, brands and game developers often tried to swoop in and steal traffic from their competitors. For example, dating app Match.com could target searches for competitor OkCupid and appear above its results. Facebook isn’t allowing advertisers to be quite as cutthroat with this test.

Facebook’s 2012 Sponsored Results ads let competitors swoop on each other’s traffic

With the relaunch, advertisers with access will be able to simply extend their existing Newss Feed ads to the new “Search” placement through the Facebook Ads Manager, similar to how they’d pick Facebook Audience Network or Instagram. No videos ads will be allowed, and search ads won’t appear on desktop. Marketplace search ads will appear on iOS and Android, while Facebook search ads are only testing on Android. For now, advertisers won’t pick specific keywords to advertise agains, and instead may appear in search terms related to auto or retail topics. Still, the placement will let advertisers dive deeper down the conversion funnel to reach people who might already have intent to buy something and fullfill that demand. Facebook’s News Feed ads (other than those retargeted based on web browsing) are better for demand generation, and sit higher in the funnel reaching users who don’t know what they want yet.

Ads will featured a “Sponsored” tag, and are subject to the same transparency controls around “Why Am I Seeing This?” Facebook plans to evaluate the benefits for users and advertisers in order to determine whether to roll out the ads to more countries and categories. Users will not be able to opt out of seeing search ads. They can “hide” ads using the drop-down arrow as with News Feed ads, but that won’t prevent different ones from showing up in search later.

Facebook’s share of the $279.56 billion total worldwide digital ad market will grow to 19.5 percent this year, trailing #1 Google which has 31.5 percent. After gaining multiple percentage points of share the last few years, eMarketer estimated Facebook’s cut of total digital ad spend would fall to around 1 percent the next two years. Unlocking search ad inventory could perk up those projections. Facebook would only need to hit 3.3 percent of talk search ad share to surpass Microsoft for the #3 spot, or 6.5 percent to top Chinese search engine Baidu.

One major concern is that Facebook already collects as much information as possible about people and their behavior to target its ads. With the reintroduction of search ads, it’s even more incentivized to gather what we do online, what we buy offline, and who we are.

Facebook will have to balance the injection of the ads with remaining an easy way to search for friends, content, businesses and more. Search is far from the core of Facebook’s offering, where users typically browse the News Feed for serendipitous content discovery rather than go looking for something specific. The most common searches are likely for friends’ names which won’t be great ad candidates. But given how accustomed users are to search ads on Google, this new revenue stream could help Facebook boost its numbers without too much disruption to its service.

News Source = techcrunch.com

Coffee Meets Bagel goes anti-Tinder with a redesign focused on profiles, conversations

How do other dating apps compete with Tinder? By further distancing themselves from Tinder’s “hot-or-not” user interface design to focus on differentiating features – like conversation starters, commenting, and richer profiles. Today, another anti-Tinder app is doing the same. On the heels of its $12 million Series B announced earlier this year, the oddly named app Coffee Meets Bagel is today announcing a significant makeover, which includes a change to the way the app works.

Its cleaner, lightweight and more modern design does away with bright, competing colors and other outdated features, the company says. But more notably, it has ditched the big “Pass” or “Connect” buttons – its earlier variation on Tinder’s “like” and “dislike” buttons, which nearly all dating apps have now adopted.

Instead, Coffee Meets Bagel’s new interface puts more emphasis on user profiles – showcasing more of the text, and giving users the option to “heart” the profile or now, even comment.

Before a match takes place, users can tap a new commenting button that allows them to respond to the user’s profile directly, before making a connection. This could help potential matches break the ice or even spark a connection that may not have otherwise happened.

The feature is similar, to some extent, to the commenting feature in Hinge, a relationship-focused app that allows users to directly comment on some aspect of another user’s profile.

Coffee Meets Bagel says that during its beta testing, members who sent comments to their matches had a 25 percent higher chance of getting liked back. And when comments led to conversations, there was a 60 percent increase in total messages exchanged.

Focusing on enabling better conversations is a good way for other dating apps to combat Tinder, which leaves communication up to the users to initiate, without much guidance. This leads to inboxes filled with “hi’s” and nothing much else to say. By integrating commenting into profiles, however, users will be prompted to start conversations based on something they’ve read – allowing people to connect based on more than just their photos.

The app has also revamped its Discover and Suggested sections to offer seamless scrolling and better navigation, respectively. These sections are less cluttered than before, too, in keeping with the more minimalist spirit. Even the Coffee Meets Bagel logo has gotten a makeover, where the C and B now meet in the shape of heart.

The company’s anti-Tinder stance is shaping up in its social content, too. While Tinder has more recently embraced hook-up culture and the single life with its online publication “Swipe Life,” CMB is instead creating content that’s more inspiring, it says.

“We’re taking a stance against online dating conventions, like ghosting and treating people like profiles. We’re expanding the conversation to the self: self-reflection, self-discovery, and self-love,” the company explains in its announcement.

Coffee Meets Bagel has raised just under $20 million since launching back in 2012, but it’s faced threats from Tinder, which has challenged its model head-on with Tinder Picks – a curated selection of matches for Tinder Gold subscribers, similar to Coffee Meets Bagel’s curated daily picks.

The company’s app has close to 7 million installs to date, according to data from Sensor Tower, and more than $25 million in gross revenue. The revenue is growing over time, the firm also found, with users spending approximately $900,000 in the app last month, up 30% from November 2017.

News Source = techcrunch.com

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