Friday, September 30, 2005

Help! What's The Best Game to Introduce to a Non-Gaming Co-Worker?

How many times have you seen that on BGG this week? This month?

There seems to be a lot of talk and plotting amongst boardgamers on the best way to introduce our hobby to others. Game geeks are constantly seeking advice on which games to spring on their friends or coworkers. I have noticed this trend for the 3 or 4 years I have been visiting Boardgamegeek, and occasionally in the game blogs.

Do other hobbies have this "you'll love it if you only try it" mentality. Sky divers? Possibly. Surfers? Quilters? Scrap Bookers? Horse riding enthusiasts? I doubt it.

Do Dead Heads talk about the best songs to use to introduce the Grateful Dead to their uninitiated friends? Do AC/DC, Garth Brooks, and Dead Clown Posse fans do the same thing?

And spouses. What other hobby has so many enthusiasts concerned about the exact item needed to lure their significant other over to the hobby?

Now, don't get me wrong. It can be quite satisfying to share a hobby with your spouse. Camping, hiking, partying, golf, poetry, gardening, and the like are all hobbies that are frequently enjoyed by a couple. My in-laws enjoy hunting. My parents are rock-hounds (digging for sapphires in particular). Couples that enjoy these hobbies together are often more content than couples who have no mutual hobbies. But do gardeners lose sleep and consult other gardeners over how to best lure their spouse into the magical world of perennials?

Many enthusiasts are eager to share their hobby with others, this is to be expected. However, rarely do they plot to lure in people who would otherwise have no interest. People who volunteer to teach shooting at the local gun club don't want to teach people who were blackmailed to be there. The people who come to learn shooting made the decision on their own and come seeking guidance on their own free will. Teaching willing participants to shoot properly is a rewarding activity for gun enthusiasts.

A fellow who thinks Ronald Reagan is the greatest President, and collects Reagan paraphernalia may be eager to show his collection to his friend. However, when it becomes apparent that the friend isn't interested, most collectors don't seek advice from other collectors as to what one item he needs to add to his collection to really impress his non-collecting friends.

I've been to miniature gaming websites, and miniature collectors/players don't seem to obsess about drawing their friends/spouses into the hobby. Wargamers on BGG sometimes obsess about introducing the hobby to their peers. Wargamers on ConSim World don't. Hmmmmmmmmmmmmm.

What sets boardgame geeks apart? Is it that other hobbies can be enjoyed without a group? Boardgamers need at least one other partner and preferably several to be able to participate in their hobby.

Is it that we tend to have no friends? Are we socially inept?

While those are distinct possibilities, I doubt it is the root of the phenomenon.

While it is true that most hobbies can be enjoyed alone, boardgames are best with a group. That might be where the distinction lies, except for the fact that other gamers, such as bridge and poker enthusiasts, seem to be content to let non-card playing friends remain non-card playing friends.

I just don't know. I wonder, but I don't know.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Would You Like to Play a Game?

What do you do when no one wants or has time to play a game with you? Head for the Internet, of course. There are quite a few games out there, of which I've only tried a few.

My first online experience was when Jody Ludwick invited me to try Cartagena at Imagine the meeting of minds of the #1 Mom in Indiana and the #1 Mom in South Dakota over a virtual game board. We played and chatted about husbands, kids, food, chores, pets--just 2 friends sitting around with a cup of coffee and our respective four-legged company. Of course, we talked about games, too, and I have Jody to thank for several games in my collection including El Grande. We then tried Lost Cities at, which also has a nice presentation of Schotten-Totten. Both of these sites have very nice interfaces and I recommend them for someone looking to pass some time in light gaming.

I was shown around Brettspielwelt by Gerald Cameron, who offered to teach me Princes of Florence. BSW is a scary place when you first arrive mainly because it's so big, it's in German and you don't know anyone. A quote from a Gene Wilder movie, The Frisco Kid, comes to mind: "Find thyself a teacher" and I had found an excellent one. Gerald showed me how to get BSW to talk to me in English, some shortcut keys, and introduced me to some people with whom he plays regularly. If you ask around on BGG, I'm sure you'll find someone more than willing to introduce you to the wonders of BSW.

When I showed interest in playing Tigris and Euphrates, Richard Fawkes volunteered. He enlisted two other Geeks, Chester Ogborn and my BSW friend, Gerald, and started a game on BGG to teach me the intricacies of T & E--we've been playing together ever since. The interface for T & E is excellent and you can even set it up to play by yourself if you just want to practice or get the feel for it. As a warning, I must tell you that there is one small omission in the rules--you can not remove a Leader from the board. Don't let that stop you from giving it a try. If you've never played, all you need do is mention that you'd like to learn and teachers will answer.

I've played a couple of games of Puerto Rico at and while the interface is a good one, I did have one minor problem with it, though it may have been my browser: the mouse-over for buildings which explains their benefits would only show part of the explanation such as "gives you an extra VP for..." If you're unfamiliar with the game, keep a list handy. has several popular games of which I've played Through the Desert, Vinci and Medina. The first two are very nicely done with great graphics and useful mouse-overs everywhere in English. My first, and only, game of Medina is still ongoing and has been a pain in the (insert body part of your choice). The problem comes when you can no longer place a castle piece since it doesn't automatically discard them. There is a pop-up that you activate (mind you, this game is all in French) which gives you a place to vote to discard that type of piece. But ALL the players must vote and if you're playing with strangers who don't speak very good English and are unfamiliar with the game and/or who don't show up unless it's their turn, the game is stuck.

Lately, I've been playing a lot of Torres at A great interface though the numbers can be hard to read on the pieces and blocks, especially the 5 and 6. When setting up the game, you can choose between the three variations for the Action Cards: draw one from a single pile, draw 3-choose 1 from your own set, or all cards in hand. The site, for now, is all in French so put Babel Fish on another tab and give it a shot. offers several other games as well including Alhambra, DVONN and GIPF.

And lastly, for now anyway, is Wallenstein which can be found at This is a complicated game with a lot of information to display and I think they've managed it very well. Alas, the virtual dice tower is just as arbitrary as the real thing but that's part of its charm. Hoity Toity and Bus can also be found on this site.

These sites, except for BSW and flexgames, are Play By E-Mail so you can take your time to decide a move, fit a move into your lunch hour or during a commercial break, or in the middle of the night when you have insomnia. How great is that?

Now stop complaining and get out there and play a game.

Until next time, play with your mouse.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Encounter 4/9


By Yehuda Berlinger. Copyright 2005, Yehuda Berlinger. All rights reserved.

(Chapter 3 is here.)

Chapter 4: Mind

"Rabbi Nachman of Bretzlov told the following story: Once there was a King who had everything he wanted, including a good son for a prince. The prince was about to be a man. Soon he would be married. The future of the kingdom seemed assured. And then, one day, the prince took off all of his clothes, crawled under the table, and began to crow like a rooster."

Sarah shivered in her bed, her head fuzzed like her NetMind. Sweating, she reached for her bedside table, knocking a Snickers bar to the floor and upsetting the half glass of tepid water for which she was reaching. She wi'd the table's halogen light to a dim diffuseness. The water glowed black on the edges of the table as it seeped over.

Mom?, she sent.

What do you need, dear? I’ll send David up.

Briefcase swaying with the rhythm of her long legs, Sarah briskly walked the hallway with her usual, purposeful stride. Behind her, Sarah and Mitchell followed side by side. Beneath a fresco of peeling white paint, yellowed in the timid hall lights, Sarah walked hastily, glancing furtively at Mitchell, whose eyes casually took in both the cracked walls around the door frames and the alternating light and shadow on the back of the figure before them.

"For days, for weeks, for months, the prince would do nothing but crawl around under the table, without any clothes, eating scraps off the floor, and crowing like a rooster. The king didn’t know what to do. He brought in all the great advisers, scientists, philosophers, whomever he could think of, to help cure his son. He offered a great reward to anyone who could solve the problem. Nothing helped. The prince continued to act like a rooster."

Moments later, a hesitant knock, and her brother appeared in the dim light by the doorway. Her brother, two years younger than her, was short and sandy-haired, with a speckled, convivial face. He was holding a tan towel and full glass of water. Refracting his navy shirt in the faint light, the water looked like a glowing cobalt tube of energy.

Sarah's wi winked and the door slid open while they were still ten feet away. They entered a short hall which opened on the left into a kitchen and then on the right into a large living room. The floors of the apartment were scraped up old-style hardwood and the furniture covered in old faded and starched fabric of an indeterminate color and yellowed plastic. The cobwebbed black light fixtures were just bright enough to read by. A heady air of pizza, humid metal, and shampoo permeated the room.

There was a table in the middle of the living room, and a tall thin unshaven man with a kippah and a slightly shorter woman with a blue kerchief laced with gold were sharing a beer. They were resting their hands on the head of a pretty young girl between them who appeared to be asleep, and talking over her head.

Isn't that uncomfortable for her? Mitchell messaged.

That's Avital, their daughter. She's asleep, so I guess she doesn't mind, Sarah messaged back.

"One day a little Jew was passing through the town and heard the story of the prince. He went to the palace and presented himself before the king. 'I can cure your son, but you must let me do it in my own way and promise not to interfere' said the little Jew. Everyone looked at him and laughed. This little Jew thinks he can cure the prince, when all the great advisers, scientists, and philosophers couldn't? But the king was desperate, and was willing to let the little Jew try. 'After all, what can it hurt?' the king thought. The king promised the little Jew a great reward if he succeeded."

David's smile faltered a little when he saw her damp forehead. "Hey, how are you feeling?" he asked.

"Don't you start. You sound like Mom," Sarah answered, raising her arm towards the glass in David's hand.

"Heh. Oh, here," he said, handing the glass to her. Held in her hand, the water was once again clear liquid. It was cool and felt like honey to her hot throat. She placed the half full glass on the bedside table, avoiding the black puddle.

Others sat around the table; Mitchell already knew their names. The couple was Daniel and Marla. The blond, Swedish looking guy on Daniel's right was Chris. The two brothers on Marla’s right were Charlie and Alan. After the quiet of the hallway, conversation erupted around them like plane engines starting up.

"Hey! Hi! Hi, Sarah. Mitchell! Good to meet you. Same here. You're looking great. How are you feeling in Long Island? Where's uptown Sarah? Yeah, she's starting a class on Hassidut, remember? It goes for nine weeks. Aw, that sucks. Did they get your order right for once? I think they got it right for once. Really! That's a surprise. They never get it right! What are we playing?"

"The little Jew went straight to the room with the prince, took off all of his clothes, went right under the table, and began crowing like a rooster, just like the prince! The prince, who assumed that the little Jew was a rooster like himself, was very happy for company. All day long for a week the prince and the little Jew sat under the table without any clothes, eating scraps from the floor and crowing like roosters."

David pressed the towel onto the black surface of her bedside table, and then threw it onto the floor near the bed, moving it around with his foot. He turned to go, and then back as Sarah said, "Wait. Want to play a game? I can't sleep." She smiled up at him, weakly.

"Sure." David grabbed a chair from her desk and sat down on the opposite side of the bedside table. The black table surface changed under the water glass, displaying a black and white menu of different games. The water now looked like newsprint.

"Bring the TCP board. I don't want to have to lean forward so much." Sarah told him where to find it in the closet. Shutting off the table, David rummaged the game out of the closet. He pulled the board from the box with a clatter of plastic pieces falling onto the table and floor and plugged the board into the side of the table. David's face glowed in the soft white light that illuminated the three thin levels of clear plastic hexagons. He sorted the pegs into colors and gave her half of them.

Sarah apologized about the twists. At the suggestion of Daniel, the group started off with two light games.

While Mitchell played, he leaned back in his chair in the hot apartment. Sarah saw that his face wore that same damn ever-present grin. Mitchell messaged as often as he opened his mouth. While his eyes and attention gave due respect to all players in the group, they generally returned like a compass to his pretty classmate.

Meanwhile, the two Sarahs' eyes met frequently as they shared thoughts that required no NetMinds to convey.

"One morning the prince woke up to see his new friend wearing a pair of pants!

"'What are you doing wearing pants? Roosters don’t wear pants!' he said to his new friend. 'Aren’t you a rooster like me?'

"'Yes, I am a rooster,' answered the little Jew. 'Just because I wear pants doesn't stop me from being a rooster. Besides, it's cold on the floor. So I'm a rooster wearing pants, big deal!'

"The prince thought about this and decided that his new friend was right. He also decided to put on pants. For more days they crowed under the table, eating scraps."

Each of them chose their winning row of colors. David started placing pegs first, sliding a blue peg into a slot on the lower level on his side of the board. Sarah followed with a blue and a red into two of the middle slots on her side. As they played, the colors slid towards the center of the board, crossed, and changed from blues, reds, and yellows to greens, oranges, purples, and browns. The colored pegs dropped out of the ends of the board as new ones entered.

After some discussion, Sarah found herself seated opposite Mitchell for a game of Mugwump, together with Daniel and Marla. The others played something called Tigris and Euphrates, a game pronounced "not for beginners". Mitchell was unfazed at this pronouncement. Sarah was slightly disconcerted to be playing alone with Mitchell without her other self, having expected him to play, if not exclusively, then generally with the other Sarah. She gave him a friendly smile, but sent "Help!" to herself. Down on the other end of the table, Sarah stuck her tongue out at her.

Mitchell played with the graciousness of a prince and the cunning of a fox. His pieces always seemed to be positioned so that he collected what he needed, while giving away useless items in return. Each round he collected his disks, allocated what he needed for battle and kept the rest reserved for energizing. His battle allocations were prudent but sufficient. By the time the Mugwump appeared on the board, he had two thirds of the crystal cards he needed to win, twice as much as anyone else.

"One day the prince woke up in the morning to see his friend eating with a fork!

"'What are you doing eating with a fork? Roosters don’t eat with forks!' he said.

"'I am a rooster eating with a fork, so what?' answered his little friend. 'Just because I am a rooster doesn't mean I can't eat with a fork. And just because I eat with a fork doesn't make me any less of a rooster. I'd just like to see someone try to tell me that!'

"And so the price also began to eat with a fork."

David spun the middle level a third of the way around and added another blue piece. Sarah picked up a yellow and red piece, one in each hand, and moved them towards each other at eye level until they overlapped. They became orange.

"Are you ok?" David asked.

"Now it gets tricky," Sarah warned Mitchell, "since the Muwump always chases the leading player. You're playing very well. Are you sure you haven't played before?"

"Not that I know of. Can I get this microwaved?" he asked, holding out the last limp untouched slice of pizza.

"Sure. I'll get it," said Daniel. He took it and headed for the kitchen.

"Time went on. Eventually, the little Jew got the prince to wear a shirt, sit in a chair, and so on, until he was acting like a prince again. The king was overjoyed and paid the little Jew a handsome reward, for the prince was cured."

Sarah closed her eyes, and opened them again.

"Who am I, David?" she asked.

David's eyes narrowed. "What do you mean?"

"Thank god for the microwave," Mitchell remarked, smiling.

Avital raised her head, and recited:
We thank thee happy microwave
That speeds us on to early grave
By radiating vegetables
And other fine comestibles

And went back to sleep.

"That's part of a poem Avital wrote last year for school," said Marla, her hand lazily stroking Avital's straight brown hair. "You can Google the rest. We don't know whether to be proud of her or to drop her off somewhere in the Amazon rainforest to finish out her childhood."

"Marla doesn't know," added Daniel, returning with the pizza. "I voted for the woods ages ago." Eyes still closed, Avital's hand swung out, swatting her father.

"But was the prince really cured?

"The prince was acting like a prince, but he still thought he was a rooster. If you act like a prince, talk like a prince, and eat like a prince, does this make you a prince? What you do on the outside is good enough to fool everyone else, but can you fool yourself? Who are you, really?"

"... Never mind." Sarah paused looking at her yellow piece. After a moment, she spun the top board 180 degrees, slid the red piece into the top level, and said, "I've won." She lay back down on the bed.

"Let me see," David said. He uncovered her winning row and quickly found the corresponding colors on the board. "Hey, good game."

But Sarah was already asleep.

Keeping one step away from the Mugwump at all times, Mitchell won easily three turns later.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Game Store Confidential ~ The Dice Gods Are Smiling

The three games I’ve played the most of in the last month are Runebound, Axis & Allies Miniatures and Conquest of the Empire. All three are total dice fests. Admittedly I’ve had a round or two of Power Grid and even the always boring snooze-fest, Through the Desert. But It's been a pretty steady diet of dice-driven games lately.

About a week or so ago Joe Gola posted a really nice article here about dice, and since he posted it in the middle of a four week dice festival of gaming out here in the sticks, I’ve had dice on my mind a lot.

Game Geeks are really, really weird. About dice that is. Probably about other things too, like politics, hygiene, Star Trek trivia, historical minutia, math, clothing, Mountain Dew, Doritos, Ziploc baggies, file transfer speed, totally rank music and perhaps even women. But those things aside, nobody is weirder about dice than Gamers.

So Lyle, his brother Sean and I are in a game of Conquest of the Empire and both of them are carping about how horribly they, in particular, roll dice. As the early game progresses I lose a few battles here and there and even a particularly important one in the province of Numidia. But oddly enough, when I’m getting my ass handed to me early in the game I’m not hearing them bitch about dice.

Same thing when I’m playing a couple of rounds of A&A Mini’s with my tree-farmer buddy Tony. He waxed me completely, twice in a row and never once did he moan about dice. But let him get pounded in a game of Runebound or Memoir '44 and he’ll complain endlessly about how he never, ever gets any luck with the dice. The good part about Tony beating me up in A&A Mini’s though is he ended up buying a couple hundred bucks worth of the booster boxes.

Makes me wonder if I ought to think about losing gracefully more often.

But back to the game with Lyle and Sean. After the early setbacks I suffered in North Africa as well as being shut out of Italy by Lyle building a large army there and posturing aggressively, they left me alone for a while. Being brothers, they much preferred to start beating up each other in the fertile lowlands of the eastern shores.

If you've never had a chance to play Conquest of the Empire then you probably are unaware that the worst thing you can do is to leave a guy like me alone… in Spain… with taxes rolling in… and a shipyard cranking out triremes… and catapults rumbling down the roads to the north and south… and hordes of foot soldiers and cavalry hankering to earn an extra measure of salt… and four generals all vying for the Caesar’s attention.

You do that and you’re asking for trouble.

And trouble is just what those two got. After a particularly humiliating sea battle where Lyle lost a significantly large army that was heading to Egypt, followed by Sean losing almost 50% of everything he owned in the heated up sands of North Africa, the whining about dice started.

“Man, I never get any good rolls!” Lyle moaned.

“How come I can’t get the rolls you do DW?” Sean complained.

A compassionate and caring person would have explained to Lyle that his lost fleet was more about doing something really dumb than it was about the dice. A kind man would have advised Sean that buying only infantry because they’re cheap means you can’t take advantage of any rolls for catapults or cavalry.

But I’m neither kind and compassionate nor caring when all I’m hearing is that the only reason I’m kicking someone’s butt is because I’m lucky.

For the last 23 years I’ve stood behind a game store counter and watched literally thousands of dice-chucking role-players open a set of dice and roll them 20, 30 or 40 times on the glass-topped counter. Besides making an incredibly annoying sound, it’s scary to imagine what is going through what passes for a mind when the customer is rolling the dice. Is he praying? Meditating? Conjuring? What’s the point? What on earth is standing at a counter and rolling a D20 going to tell him about a game session that night, next week or whenever?

Faced with illogical fear of the unknown – otherwise known as being real dumb – the typical dice-chucker would probably stand at the counter for hours rolling and rolling until some metaphysical event shone a ray of intelligence at him and broke the neural shut-down mode that excessive dice rolling creates in role-players. So to help them out I normally choose to offer a suggestion that will get the Geek to stop the incessant and irksome dice rolling and get to the part where he buys the frickin’ things. My usual suggestions are:

“You know… keep that up and you’ll roll all the 20’s out of that one.”


“Pick the ugly ones. Dice are like women, the prettier they are the more capricious, mean and destructive they can be.”

Or maybe:

“If you roll those dice one more time I’m going to reach into your chest, pull your heart out and hand it to you while it’s still pumping.”

That last one always does the trick by the way.

So, back to Lyle and Sean. I smoked them. No surprise there, based upon the fact that they are typical gamers in that they actually believe that the randomness and chaos of dice in a game have anything at all to do with winning. They see dice as the reason, the source or perhaps the cause of wins and losses. And so long as they view dice in that fashion they’ll never get the understanding that chaos, while technically uncontrollable, can be temporarily corralled and used when you apply brainpower to a game that involves dice.

Sure, sure, sometimes you get a great roll when it’s not important and that’s followed up by a bad roll in a critical situation. But if you remove the situational bits and just look at the results over the course of a game you’re usually going to see that you average out, rolling just about as many good rolls as you do bad ones.

To me that is the challenge. To understand that you can’t control the dice, but you can avoid doing really dumb stuff where dice results will compound the negative situation.

“Hey DW, why don’t you just attack Sean there now?’

“Well Lyle, Sean has 12 units and two extra dice for the fortified city and I only have 14 units.”

“So what? He hasn’t been getting good rolls and you have.”

See what I mean? Duh.

Two turns later I land two triremes with an additional 10 troops and two generals and simultaneously attack from the west. In the interim Sean has bought 4 more infantry and sent them off to the meat grinder that I created just for him.

The net result? I take North Africa from Sean and Macedonia from Lyle in one turn… and the dice get all of the credit.

As we’re putting away the game, all neatly in separate Zip lock baggies of course, three dice-chucking geeks stroll in, wander over to the counter and announce, “We need to see a few sets of dice.”

Yeah,” adds one of them, “Mine have gone bad on me so I need to get a set that matches the color of my rogue’s cloak.”

“Sure guys, I’ll get some out for you, but remember, if you roll them too much you’ll use up all the 20’s.”

All three of them nod sagely at me, confident in the knowledge that they shop at a game store where the owner understands how fickle dice can be.

Yep. That's me. A guy who understands. Not to mention a guy who's in need of a career change.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

The 'issue' WITH ''Re-issues''

They're beginning to 'crop up' with much greater frequency, or so it 'seems' like this will become the FAD for many company's considerations. Sure, lots of them ought to get this 'treatment', while for many folks, then it will usually NOT become the 'one' of which they'd like. For myself, then it was Avalon Hill that tended to go whole-hog on their acquisitions from other GAME companies, when they 'gobbled' them up. Now, they didn't 'do' this with every 'product' from the many 'lines' of which that they could have, such as 'Battleline's' ''Insurgency'', ''Armor Supremacy'', ''Custer's Last Stand'', ''Objective: Atlanta'', ''Seven Days Battle'', ''Shenandoah'', ''Viva Espana!'', and some of their 'Rules Sets' as well. It's not like they already HAD anything produced on their OWN, based upon any of these mentioned, while it is too bad that they couldn't find the time & gumption for almost all of them. Then again, that has allowed plenty of others to fill in the gaps on these 'topics' as well, since I do believe that 'Decision Games' produced their own version of the ''Seven Days Campaign'' akin to their reissue of the ''Blue & Gray'' QUAD games, and even some others for that in a bunch of issues of 'S&T', when they were covering this. There have been several additional 'remakes' from a few relatively NEW Companies as well, as I've seen those over the years, or should I 'say' decades! I can think of even a ''Custer'' game being released here shortly and that looks to be very decent for it's subject matter, while many would believe it to be a 'lost cause' sort of background material. I happen to be a huge(and getting 'huger' in girth) FAN of the 'Cavalry & Injuns' types of games and even when we didn't have enough of that, then we'd even create some of our OWN! It would involve some 'Campaigns' using the Western portion of the ''War between the States'' gamemap, and allocating 'forces' around various locations on it. Then we would 'Strategically' move our Groups about, and when they encountered one another, we'd find and use an appropriate 'Battlemap' of some game's, and set up our 'Combattling' Units where they ought to 'be'. Since we only had the game counters from the 'Battleline' game of ''Custer's Last Stand'', or actually '2' complete sets of that, then we had to limit ourselves with just those. Yes, there were a few others out at the time and even somewhat later AFTER we had been getting into this, but they didn't mesh well with what we liked to become 'involved' in, with regards to our whimsy.

For those wishing to delve futher into the matter regarding 'rights' to publish something or another, then Good Luck! I know that it was mentioned at one time, about those for a certain game, of which it could be 'obtained' for the paltry sum of around $10,000, yet I wouldn't believe this until I actually saw the 'contract' concerning that. Still, many an owner of the original games under serious considerations feel somewhat justly, that theirs would somehow become 'devalued' with re-releases of them. Then there are the folks who just HAVE to 'have' the very first 'version' of one, for its 'collectibility' factor no doubt, and I'm not really that type, but if I can then I would get me one, and I have on several 'accounts'. But for the most part then I just 'lucked out' on these since I might have another later edition of which I happen to like better for the more obvious reasons on this. While even with the later & greater looking products, then it is just nice to know that having the ''one that begat the others'' has that certain desirability and will garner envious appeals from others. A very good example of this has to do with the original series of the ''Star Trek'' T V show and their 'Concordance' for that. Some of you might recall this with its slick front cover and the multitude of information minutae for the episodes of the '3' seasons contained within this. But what you probably didn't know until NOW, is that there was an earlier version of that and of which I happen to have a copy of IT! Mine 'only' contains & covers the very first '2' Seasons of the series, and is very plain looking with just Black & White typeface & drawings of the contents. I took this one time to a devout 'Trek' shop in the Tacoma area to get an appraisal from the owner of that establishment, and the look on his face was...''priceless''! He'd never seen or even heard of this particular 'one' that I had, and of course he wanted to 'buy' it from me at the time, but I said NO way! I'll bet that he's been trying to 'find' one ever since and this was like 7 or 8 years ago! They may not be too RARE, but they're most likely 'very' and I've never seen another just like this one, although the later version can be found much more easily. Yep, I'm fully admitting being a ''Trek'r'', while I'm NOT the 'only' one and I could 'name names', but I won't.

In relation to that as well, then I also have a copy of ''Lou Zocchi's'' Rules Set for the ''Star Fleet Battle Manual'' and then he lost the 'publishing rights' to another, of which 'Task Force Games' managed to get that. They made quite the pile'O'money off`n that, while yet another company might even be doing thusly even today. I even recall ole 'Lou' being the first to offer some very nicely detailed MINIS for the game, with some of these being White plastic, Clear plastic, and even ''Glow in the DARK'' plastics! For any 'die-hard' fan of whatever, then they don't care WHO happens to produce this sort of stuff, just as long as they can still get their 'fix' on the most recent product of it. I don't know if any of the ''Up Front'' crowd got the chance to actually 'see' the expansions that have just become available for that, but I did! It was even ON the BGG site and is where I got to view those, although I can't even recall their exact 'names' for them, but I did notice that one covered the Polish, and another was on the SS forces, and maybe '2' more, but I forget their exact details, so get busy and 'find' them yourselves since I've never 'cared' for this myself. Hey! I did discover one of these and it is called ''The Waffen SS'' (subtitled 'Fuhrer's Firemen') with the BGG Game ID of 19588-heh heh heh-''veeeeeery interestink!'' Maybe contact the guy who submitted this and then you too can take a gander at the others that I attempted to recollect. They must have been just submitted to the site during the past week, so if it helps anyone in their 'Quest' or search on this, then good for you! It sure was nice of 'moi' to at least have mentioned this for anyone else to partake of those once they've located them, although I couldn't re-locate the others from this one 'source', but maybe someone else will be able to?

Saturday, September 24, 2005

The Problem with Colors

So, you're sitting down to play your favorite game, you pop open the box, and you start pulling out the pieces. And it's then that the pre-game activities begin, starting right off with the squabble for color.

Because game pieces innately come in colors. We've been trained through years of playing that it's how we recognize which pieces belong to whom. When a game like Tigris & Euphrates comes along, which marks player pieces with symbols instead of colors, it's a problem. I don't know how many players I've seen who didn't understand that they couldn't be blue, red, black, or green in T&E. Personally, I found that I had to make my brain leap through strange hoops the first time I played that much esteemed game because symbols didn't make sense, and colors do.

Some players have their favorite colors, while others don't care. One of my regular game partners chooses yellow whenever he can, while another always goes for green. In my review group players tend to pick colors that match their clothing; that means I often get black when such a color is available. When I pick, however, I tend to pick red, but I'm not too deeply attached to it because, as I've learned, red is one of the favorites among game players. One of the other players in my group used to pick red, just to try and throw me off.

All this talk of colors doesn't sound like a problem so far? It's not unless your squabbles descend into fisticuffs, clawing, and biting, and I've yet to see that in a gaming group. However what can cause problems are poor choices of colors in the production process.

Color Standards

Most games use a pretty standard palette of colors. I was writing up a review for Go West! a few weeks ago and I noticed how traditional its colors were: green, red, yellow, and blue. They're the same four colors that I found in the next three four-player games I picked up: Samurai, China, and Rumis. When I quizzed my wife, those were her guesses for the most popular four colors too. Carcassonne adds a fifth player and a fifth color, black, while Ticket to Ride uses that exact same set of five colors for its players. TransAmerica uses the traditional four, but adds in an uncommon white and a fairly unusual brown for its fifth and sixth colors.

I was pretty surprised to see how consistent the four-player color scheme is among games. The Settlers of Catan is a pretty rare four-player game that breaks this mold. Though the back of my Mayfair-edition box shows the standard colors (red, blue, yellow, and green) in its pictures, inside I actually have blue, red, orange, and white, a color scheme repeated throughout many of Teuber's games.

With so much consistency (barring Settlers) I figure there has to be a reason. Perhaps it's that red, green, yellow, and blue are easy to distinguish; after all it's not like anyone were ever red-green colorblind or anything. Or maybe it's just that the wood wonder-workers of Germany have found trees naturally tinted red, green, yellow, and blue, taking the laborious dyeing process out of game manufacture.

There's little purpose in ranting about the problems caused by adventurous game manufacturers who add in an unusual fifth or sixth color, which ends up being totally indistinguishable from something else in the game, because it's already been talked about a lot. Fresh Fish is my biggest pet peeve, with its largely identical looking red and orange pieces, though thankfully the used set I got has the orange-painted-gold pieces that the publisher thoughtfully offered. There's at least one geeklist dedicated to the subject of poor color choices in games, with the red-orange-brown-pink spectrum generating the most complaints. (Publishers take note.)

By the by, if there's one thing I've learned about colors in games, it's that you want to play games in the most brightly lit room you can. I never would have considered the colors in Coloretto hard to tell apart, but then one day I played it in a dimly lit Living Room and started having problems. Fortunately Coloretto does something that more manufacturers should: it matches up colors with different textures, making them a little easier to tell apart. (Ticket to Ride just uses a symbol for each color, making things even easier.)

A less frequently discussed problem, however, is that of using all unusual colors. Take a look at Hansa as an example, which has player colors in purple, gray, yellow, and white. Pueblo is another weirdo, with dark blue, turquoise, red, and purple pieces. I'm pretty sure that the Hansa colors were used to distinguish from the goods colors (on which, more in a second) while the Pueblo colors were meant to be nicely thematic American Indian colors. Both of these are good reasons to include very different colors in a game. However they also open up a very real danger:

You don't know who's who.

As I said at the start of this article, many of us have our favorite colors, and thus it's usually easy for me to glance at a board if I'm playing with any of my regular opponents, and remember who's who. But in a game with really unusual colors (and maybe this just means that I'm getting old) I can have troubles figuring out not only who the other pieces belong to, but also which are mine!

There's an easy solution to this: give each player a marker that sits in front of them to show their color. Really, I think this should be a law in every game, a literal "Thou shalt not hide thy players' colors", even those which use the standard RYGB, but it's especially important if a game uses unusual colors. Hansa gives you a money-bag in your color, and that's more than sufficient. Pueblo sort of backs into a correct solution, because you'll usually (but not always) have pieces of your color sitting in front of you.

Tutankhamen, on the other hand, is an offender. Its unusual player colors are white, black, beige, dark brown, gray, and gold, and your pawns, which you put on the board, are the only things that mark those colors. Last game we played several players just plain forgot what colors they were at certain points in the game, resulting in a few minutes of, "Well, I think I'm black, and wasn't Chris that light brown, so you must be gold or dark brown ..."

Matching Colors ...

Simply have selected a set of 4, 5, 6, or 7 player good colors isn't enough. Games can still get themselves into troubles based on how they match or differentiate player colors throughout their game.

Matching up a player color through all of a game's components can be a real issue. Games that mix together wood and cardboard seem to have the most problems here.

La Strada is I think the worst example I have of this, to the point where I really have to puzzle through which of the various components belong to which color whenever I play. What I really don't understand is the fact that some of the cardboard pieces use different hues for the same players. There's one player who has a red scoretrack, ochre tiles, and dark brown cubes, for example. The white scoretrack meanwhile matches up with the light gray tiles and the gray cubes; the ivory scoretrack matches up with the yellow tiles and cubes, and the black score track matches up with the dark gray tiles and the black cubes.

I think.

Having worked in publishing, I can say that color printing is very hard. I'm still disappointed with how the colors printed on some of the game book covers that I sent to press almost a decade ago. But this also all points out the need for spot checking what all of your components look like before you send a mess out to your players.

... And Differentiating

A somewhat more subtle problem in games is differentiating colors that are used for very different things.

Ticket to Ride, like all of Days of Wonders' games, has very carefully constructed & well-designed components. But it also makes one faux pas: it duplicates player colors with colors used for another purpose in the game (here, railroad track routes).

As I already mentioned, the player colors in Ticket to Ride are a very common red, green, yellow, blue, and black. However there are also eight track colors: red, green, yellow, blue, black, brown, white, and purple. I've never explained Ticket to Ride to a new player who didn't get confused between the player colors and the track colors, since there's overlap. Now, maybe the DoW folks were willing to accept that moment of initial confusion in order to use common, easily distinguishable colors, but it's also a small hurdle every time I explain the game.

As I mentioned earlier Hansa is a game that gets around this problem of differentiation by using weird player colors. As a result there's no overlap between the player colors (purple, gray, yellow, and white) and the goods colors (red, green, blue, orange, pink, and black). Thus it ends up being one of my favorite games colorwise. It avoids repeats of colors used for different purposes in the game and it uses unusual player colors but gives players a marker to help them remember it.

The point of all this?

Games are items with a surprisingly large number of moving parts. And it's amazing how a single one of those parts, such as the color of the pieces, can bring the whole machine to a grind halt if poorly constructed

Friday, September 23, 2005

The Second of Many

Dane Peacock (aka Sky Knight X, aka The Master BSer) was another boardgame enthusiast on my short list of people to ask to contribute to this blog. I have always enjoyed his commentary on BGG, as do many other readers.

I asked him if he could submit an occasional guest entry for Gone Gaming and he said yes.

Without further ado here is the second of what I hope becomes a regular feature, guest bloggers on Gone Gaming.


When asked by Mr. Coldfoot to contribute to the Gone Gaming blog, I jumped at the chance; not necessarily because I have anything of value to share, but rather, I need help with a problem.

I have yet to hear any good suggestions for removing fiberfill from a game. Using compressed air would be a disaster, and vacuums are a big mistake.

Maybe it is just my gaming group, but it still surprises me that there is no mention of it.

One unique demographic about my group is that a large percentage of the players is female. Frequently, I am the only male there.

As far as educational background is concerned, we don't really have any PhD’s in the group. We are mostly college students. I go part time at nights and have a full time job during the day. The others are full time students, most of them majoring in P.E.

There is diversity in the ages of the group also. The ages range anywhere from 18, clear up to 25.

There is a mixture of careers as well. Most of the group is on scholarship for dance or cheer squad or whatnot. I am in management, as are possibly a couple of the others: The Head Cheerleader and the Drill Mistress.

For the most part I think the group is fairly open-minded. This was apparent during our first session, when I proposed a modest dress code for the group and it was quickly shot down.

Hobbies outside of gaming include the standard things: music, videos, mammoplasty, sports, and movies.

We are also a diverse group when it comes to the types of games we enjoy. We play the modern German style games, of course, but we like the occasional war game. (You know the one, with playing cards...) We also enjoy some of the traditional American classics, like Twister.

Don't get me wrong, I really like my group, but there is one tiny quirk that bothers me: We can never, and I mean never, make it through a complete game without a pillow fight breaking out.

Thus, my problem with fiberfill and also goose down.

It is also starting to bug me that every game night has to end up in a slumber party...

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Tichu: The Basics

In writing this I assume that the reader is familiar with the rules of Tichu, but not necessarily the strategy. I recommend for those who don't know the game at all to go read the rules first.

I first learned the game President (aka many other names, some of them bad), at a summer science camp in Indiana, at the Rose Hulman Institute of Technology. For that three week period, my days were about 8 hours sleeping, 8 hours working on our project and learning the basics of computer programming, and 8 hours playing either President or Euchre.

For those who don't know, President, like Tichu, is one of a family of 'climbing' games, in which the goal is to be the first player to run out of cards, and you can play cards which are of the same type as the previous play (i.e. singles, pairs, straights, etc), but higher values. The Great Dalmuti and Dilbert, Corporate Shuffle are other examples.

These games are sometimes described as trick taking games, which is highly inaccurate. In a trick taking game, each player plays exactly one card, in order, and then the highest card takes the trick. The goal is generally to take tricks. In a climbing game, play continues around and around until all players in a row (except the last to play) pass consecutively. Players may either pass or play. The last player to play takes the cards, but the goal is generally not to take the cards, but rather to get cards out of your hand.

By playing President, I learned the 'Big Rule Of Climbing Games' (BROCG). That is that cards, or sets or cards playable together, are of four types:

Type 1: Winners. Winners will gain you the lead when played, because others will not beat them. A single of the highest value for example, is a winner. In Tichu, an Ace is usually a winner as well, along with the Phoenix and Dragon. Other winners include bombs of course, and very high pairs or triples.

Type 2: Losers. Losers are cards that you will be unable to play (or very unlikely to be able to play, except when you have the lead, and which will be beaten by others. A single 3 is a good example of a loser. So is the Dog.

Type 3: Losers that wont get beaten. That is, you wont ever be able to play this set of cards unless you have the lead, but if you do play it, no one will beat it and it will be your play again. A good example of this is a 9 card straight.

Type 4: Cards you will be able to play sometime, but will not win the trick. Most mid level cards are in this category. A single Jack for example, or a pair of 9s. You'll play this at some point when the cards are going around.

The Big Rule Of Climbing Games is that you must save one winner for every loser you have. If you do not, you will get stuck holding the losers and will not be able to go out. Further, the purpose of a winner is to gain the lead, to enable you to play a loser. The purpose of a lead is to get rid of losers, because that is the only time you can get rid of them.

Thus, if you get the lead, you will first lead things which are losers that cannot be beaten. But only if they really cant be beaten. This isn't the time to lead a 5 card straight or a two pair stair or a full house. An 8 card straight or a 3 pair stair is okay.

Next, one would lead their worst loser, usually a low single, but occasionally a pair ,straight, or whatever.

If one is in a position where they have as many winners as losers, they are in good shape.
If not, they must wait until others play high cards, like aces, such that their kings could become winners.

If one is in a position where they have as many winners as other sets of cards, for example, the hand AAJ77, then they are ready to make a move to go out. If one added a 9 to this, they would have to wait until the play allowed them to get rid of one of their other sets of cards, the 9, J, or pair of 7s, and then they would be ready to go for it.

I have seen many times where players in climbing games will play high cards to get them out of their hand, when they would not win a trick, and they did not have as many winners as losers. These players end up stuck with a low card at the end and don't get to go out. I have likewise seen times where a player will get the lead and just lead high cards, trying to keep the lead. They are then stuck with a couple low cards left at the end. They likewise will not go out. These people do not understand the Big Rule Of Climbing Games.

So how does this apply to Tichu? First of all, it helps you know when to call Tichu. The biggest question new players often ask is: 'How do I know when to call Tichu?' To which the common response is 'when your hand is good enough'.

Well, here is a better response:
Sort your hand into Winners (Aces, Phoenix, Dragon, or maybe a pair/triple of Kings), sets of cards you will be able to play at some point (face card singles or pairs, possibly stuff like 10s, 9s, etc), sets of cards that you need the lead to play but which will not be beaten (very long straights or stairs), and Losers (low singles, low pairs, etc).

If the number of Winners is greater than the number of Losers, you can probably call Tichu. Thats it. Now, for a more refined system, if the number of Winners is just barely more than the number of losers, and you have a bunch of 'cards you will be able to play at some point', then you probably don't want to call it. If in this case you have several Winners and only one loser, you can probably control the lead enough to make it work. Or if a bunch of your cards will disappear in a long straight play which will give you back the lead, then it will again work, even if your number of Winners is only one greater than the Losers.

This will tend to work for you more often than not, however, you can still fail to make the Tichu due to bombs or very good hands for your opponents. If someone has already called Tichu, and you are considering it yourself, then you must have more than you otherwise would to call it. For example, you must have something like at least 2 more winners than losers, and you had better have most of your cards in things like a long straight, a full house, long stair or something, and not in 'cards that you can play at some point, but wont win'. Because when someone else is attempting to go out for their Tichu, you probably wont get a chance to play those cards.

Finally, on calling Grand Tichu, I tend to call it if 3 of my first 8 cards are Ace, Dragon, Phoenix, or Dog, or one of those plus a bomb.

Next week I will cover more advanced topics, such as how to pass.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Why Do I Need So Many Games?

~I would like to preface this week's blog by saying that when I started writing it, I had no idea what Jehuda's article this week was going to be about but by a strange coincidence my article seems to touch on his topic just a bit. ~

I discovered the BoardGameGeek about 2 years ago and became fascinated with the idea of games that allowed you meaningful choices during your turn and a level of control that is missing in the American games I'd always played. Since then I've bought over 100 games, most of which are very good or excellent games (thanks to the research I could do on BGG).

Like many gamers, I don't have a large game group--usually it's just my husband and me; sometimes our daughter will join us, and ocassionally Mike and Teresa will come down from Lead for a few hours. I don't have a weekly Game Night--I count myself lucky if I get to play a couple games a week. So why do I need so many games? An even better question is why do I keep looking for and buying more games? As it is, I could spend the rest of my life playing the games I own without becoming bored with most of them.

I would love to be able to play a game until I had it "figured out", or until I knew it well enough to offer useful strategy tips, but I can't really see that happening. Many of my games have been played only once or twice before I'm off pursuing the next prey. Yes, I'm one of those people who love the idea of trying something new, seeing what the designers have come up with that may be novel, dreaming of the next big hit with the family.

One reason I can think of is that I love variety. I have 100's of books to choose from so when I want something to read I can choose anything from sci-fi to Louis Lamour; there are 100's of movies on VHS and DVD so I always have a huge selection of what to watch; I have CDs and records (you youngsters, find someone over 35 to explain records to you) ranging from Johnny Cash to New Age so I never want for just the right music to fit my mood; I have dozens of cookbooks to browse when I feel like something different from the usual; and my game collection likewise shows variety, in mechanics, themes, number of players and general feel.

Maybe it's the exploration phase we go through when our eyes have been opened to something new and wonderful. There's a need to experience it all, to explore everything we've been missing. My game buying has slowed down very much lately. In fact, there isn't anything that's seriously calling to me at this time. Of course, with Essen coming up, I don't expect that to last long.

Why do I need so many games? I really don't know, and thankfully my husband has stopped asking, just like I don't ask why he has 5 working motorcycles in the garage and 2 in the shed that need CPR.


I just got Crusader Rex but haven't played with my husband yet and would love to but...

O.k., here's the 'but' and I don't want to hear any snickers from the audience: the thought of teaching it is intimidating. It's not a difficult game as war games go but the rules are more complex than any game I own except Euphrat & Tigris. It wouldn't be so scary if I had an interested, enthusiastic listener but Richard doesn't have the gamer drive to seek out new games, to explore new rules and new themes, to go where no man has gone...oops, Trekkie flashback.

So, how to teach a game with more complexities. I can't see a non-gamer sitting and listening to the rule book being read; it's too easy to space out (no Trekkie pun intended). You can't just hit the highlights, adding bits of rules as they occur as you can in some games because you need all that information to plan your move. Maybe a Reader's Digest Condensed version of the rules would work for a first play, going into the minute details as they occur such as exactly how seiges work in Crusader Rex.

For now, here's my plan: re-read the rules (for the 3rd time), then set up the game and play alone, checking rules as needed, trying to incorporate all the situations I can think of so that I'm familiar with the game BEFORE I have to teach it. And of course, re-read the rules one more time to catch anything I may have missed. Now I suppose I have to admit that I'm a list-maker, mainly because I tend to forget things easily, so I'll take notes of anything that's easy to over-look while teaching.

Unfortunately, it may be a while before I can test out my plan since we don't have 2-3 hours worth of brain power left at the end of the day. Any days off are now devoted to preparing the house, yard and vehicles for winter. If anyone has any suggestions, hints or first-hand stories about teaching Crusader Rex, or any war game, they'd be very welcome.

Until next time, talk nice to your dice.



Only after 1.5 months did anyone bother to inform me that the combination of a) forwarding every comment posted to this blog to the admin mailing list, and b) bouncing everything to the admin mailing list that doesn't come from a member of said list, has been causing every comment to this blog to receive a bounce message from the admin mailing list.

Sheesh. Problem resolved. Sorry for those bounce messages, everyone,


Tuesday, September 20, 2005

The Game Hordes

A while ago Jeremy Avery posted an article about people who learn games too well, thereby making the playing experience uninteresting for those who don't. He was mostly talking about the people who act sniffy and snobbish about it, as opposed to the actual idea of people learning to play games and getting better at them. Mostly he was saying that he preferred playing a thousand different games once, rather than spending time getting good at only a few games.

This seems to be an idea rife within our community: that we are a group of people who enjoy playing many different games, rather than focusing on one game, or getting better at the games we play. That it is not enjoyable to play with people who play better than we do.

I also once wrote a blog entry about it being enjoyable to rotate games. I must have forgotten this entry when I later wrote a different entry in which I found something wrong with this attitude; an entry that I subsequently deleted for being paternalistic, although not before some people received it via RSS feed, undoubtedly.

Well, I still find something wrong with this attitude; and I'm still paternalistic about it.

1. 90% of Everything is Crap - Theodore Sturgeon

Lots of people say that they got out of Magic because they were constantly buying new cards, spending a lot of time collecting the whole sets, always buying the new stuff, etc... Well, hello? Isn't this what you're doing with board games? Isn't buying every new board game the same as buying every new Magic card? Isn't playing game after game looking at the new mechanics and artwork the same as playing deck after deck looking at the new mechanics and artwork?

Are you on board game crack, just like you used to be on Magic crack?

People say that too many games come out each year. I suppose you might feel that if you think that you personally have to go out and buy every one of them. But you don't.

Do you go see every movie that comes out because you just have to see every movie? 90% of all movies are crap, because, well, 90% of everything is crap. Well, so are 90% of all board games, including at least 70% of those 700 board games you've bought.

Let Rick and Tom and the rest of the game reviewers buy and play all of these games. That's what game reviewers do, just like movie reviewers. Movie reviewers are paid to sit through 300 movies. Game reviewers, unfortunately, are not yet paid to do this (they should be!), but lord almighty, why inflict it upon yourself unless that's really what you want to do? Kudos to them - the rest of us are grateful. If they didn't do it, someone else would have to do it. I suspect that their enjoyment comes more from providing a valuable service to the gaming world than in enjoying every one of those games.

The rest of us have to face the truth: we make critical decisions about the movies we watch. You can't watch 300 new movies a year, unless you really like to waste your time. Don't play 300 different board games. 270 of them are a waste of your time. Spend your time better, more valuably. Let the reviewers make their judgments and then buy only 30 games. You may still get some misses, but the risk is the same as going only to the four star movies.

So my first problem with playing game after game is: you are going to play a lot of bad games.

2. Why we Play Games

For me, a major point of the game is the ability to get better and have that reflected in the game.

This is something you don't get when you play game after game each night. The first time you play a game, even a game without any luck elements, is like playing a party game. Anyone can win.

Games of chance and party games - they have their place. The adult U.S. population playing typical Hasbro games knows nothing but party games. Monopoly, Life, Sorry, Trivial Pursuit, etc. are party games. You could also call them gambling games. Games where, no matter how often you have played, anyone can win at any time, and where the chief enjoyment is waiting to see who wins by luck or by accident.

For me, a game requires something more substantial from the person playing it. I demand of a game that it demand something from me in return. I feel the same about my literature, my movies, and every other use of my time. Yeah, everyone needs to relax and everyone needs to sleep. But is that really what you want to fill your entire life with? Is that the way you want your children to spend their time? Is that all there is to games? Would you rather read Archie comics all day or read literature that transforms you? Would you consistently rather watch dumb TV shows or something equally enjoyable but with content that makes you think? Do you want to play the game equivalent of candy, or a game that challenges you to grow?

Of course, there is another extreme end to this spectrum: games that are lifestyles. You know, the games that people devote their whole lives to, such as Chess, Scrabble, and ASL. In some cases, like Go, the game is even more than that, it becomes practically a god. This is where I receive the brunt of my own criticism: I am too lazy, immature, and not enough of a gamer to want to do this with such devotion. I also want candy, sometimes. But more power to them.

So my second problem with playing game after game is: playing games becomes pure entertainment with no substantial value.

3. Disservice to the Game

The first time I played Dvonn, the game looked like total chaos. In fact, my first few plays I felt that the whole game was almost random. If I had given up then, I would have missed a whole depth of understanding.

I could almost say that the first few times I played Dvonn I was not playing Dvonn, at all. I was playing "the introductory game that teaches you how to play Dvonn". The next few times I played were like playing a different game, entirely. You might even say: each time I play Dvonn, it is like I am playing an entirely new game.

They say that the first fifty games of Go are a learning experience. (I don't think that they say this about The Game of Life.)

If the game you are playing is any good - and by good, I mean "has depth", not only "is fun" - you are just not experiencing the game by playing it only a few times. Now, nobody owes anything to a game. What you owe is to yourself.

What can you say about exercise if you exercise once and then quit because you didn't lose weight? The experience of playing a game to a certain depth is the act of getting to know something, which goes beyond surface impressions.

This is where the similarity between games and movies part. It is very rare for a movie to be worth watching several times. Twice or three times, maybe, but not more than that. Games, on the other hand, really do change as your experience with them changes.

So my third problem with playing game after game is: you are not even playing the game.

Somewhere in the middle of all this is a happy balance. A few games at which you spend time getting better by pushing yourself. A few games that you play for new ideas and interactions. A few games you play as party games. New games once in a while, to learn something new and rotate out the solved and staid.

Any more than that and you're better off going out and getting some more exercise.


Monday, September 19, 2005


This week I’ve decided to cover another subject so I’ve put several of my lighthearted and highly informative insider views of game store life on the shelf. Plus, I ran out of humor on some I’m working on because just remembering some of the total jerks I’ve had to deal with gets my blood boiling and makes me want to hunt those specific people down and whip the dog tar out of them.

Actually, I’m not exactly sure what dog tar is, but I guess if you whip somebody enough you’ll eventually find out.

I want to address Grognad’s perpetual criticism of Hasbro… or, as he prefers to call them, HASBORG.

All the ranting and raving Grogs does about Hasbro is pointless. He accuses them of a multitude of historical inaccuracies, he indicts them for being profit motivated, he slams them for glossing over little known and meaningless historical minutia, he even blames them for making cheap components. To top all that off, he actually ranted that the anti-tank guns in the new Axis & Allies Miniatures game have the wrong wheels… or was it tires?

So my answer to Grognad’s rant is this: so what?

It’s not as if Hasbro is taking an existing pool of gamers and reducing the total number of people in that pool. Is it? Quite the opposite in fact. Hasbro, along with its subcorps WotC and AH are increasing the number of gamers on our planet. Right? Ranting and raving about Hasbro making historically abstract games in a historically abstract fashion is the equivalent of accusing Ford of not making Porsches.

I also noticed our good Geek from the Frozen North chimed in and mouthed his displeasure at Hasbro as well. And when I followed the same thread on Boardgamegeek that Grogs referred to the harshest criticism of the new Axis & Allies game came from one or two people who hadn’t played the game, won’t play the game and therefore, the game sucks.

So despite the fact that Grognads and Coldfoot are two of my favorite Geeks, I want to go on the record right now and state very clearly: they are both wrong and they probably know it… deep, deep down inside their little gamer hearts, they know it. I think they’re just jealous because they didn’t make both the game and the subsequent millions that Hasborg…errr… Hasbro will make.


Next subject ~ Joe Gola and his Dicefest article

I liked that article quite a bit. Well done Joe, but then I expect anything you write to be well done. The article reminded me of the inherent chaotic nature of Dicefest games and the criticism they take. Joe highlighted that very well.

I happen to believe that games involving dice are, by and large, the best games made. I like dice. I like chance, I like the chaos and I like the fact that I can win or lose a game despite my excellent strategy and brilliant moves, because of a bad die roll.

I’ve looked at Gola’s game ratings on Boardgamegeek and while he rates many games high that I don’t care for I think we see eye to eye on the subject of chance in a game. I suspect I’m in a fairly unique position as regards Boardgamegeek and certainly here on Gone Gaming… that’s because I have probably taught and witnessed more games over the last 24 years than almost anyone you could think of. I have run literally thousands of game nights, taught several thousand people how to play several hundred different games and I’d guess I’ve personally played somewhere between 500 and 1500 different games myself. And one thing is crystal clear about 99% of gamers, they like dice. They like randomness.

So if you remove the twelve or thirteen people on Boardgamegeek who decry any game that has any sort of chance factor in it you’ll understand one of the most successful mechanics of any game is that the game ought to have some measure of chance in it, be it dice, cards or a random tile or chit selection.

Back in about 1967 I was living in St. Louis and an older guy I knew well was a master gunsmith and the National Benchrest Shooting Champion. We took some modified Ithaca shotguns out to a private shooting club on an Army base in Illinois and spent the day shooting Skeet and Trap with several other world class benchrest shooters. When the day was done I had shot consecutive sets of 24 and 25 in both competitions using this guy’s shotgun.

He was pissed off.

He blamed it on the wind. He blamed it on the load. He blamed it on the sun. He blamed it on the ambient light. He blamed it on the humidity shift between my turn and his. He ranted and raved the whole way back to St. Louis and I was pretty intimidated by his vocal barrage. But I believe he missed the whole point… which was that I had a particularly good day and he just happened to suck that day.

It may have been the ambient light for all I know. Maybe I was just lucky, eh?

Dice are good. Chance is good. I didn’t need Joe to remind me of that but I’m glad he did. Especially since I got creamed in two Axis & Allies Miniature games yesterday because I rolled such horrible dice. If it had been Grognads he’d have blamed his loss on the fact that the anti-tank guns had the wrong tread on the tires.

Right Grogs?


Last subject ~ Mary, Shannon, Yehuda and Alex

Thanks for inviting me on board here and thanks for such great articles. I mean it, everything from rants about box size to weird multiple personality stories to articles about how to bribe your family, it all makes sense somehow and it’s great to be able to see a slice of life from various gamers around the world.

Okay Grogs, I’m ready for your next excellent rant and I have also proved to Coldfoot that I look nothing like Curly, his local game store owner, by attaching a picture of me to this article.

Besides which, my dad never owned a Ford dealership. He did own a tote-the-note used car lot in New Mexico though. And I was his Repo man on and off for a couple of years. True story… I’ll get to it one day if I can figure out how to tie repossessing 20 year old Chevy's to the subject of games.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Speculative Gaming

Unlike what some folks might construe from the 'heading', I'm talking about just WHAT we could 'expect' for the latest rendition of something that has gotten the 'buzz' over on the BGG site! There's rumors to the effect that it will be of an ''old school'' Avalon Hill game(or 'what' THEIR definition of that could 'be'), from the W.o.t.C./Hasbro people would end up as. I submit the following as the BEST 'guess' upon this. Since they're most likely to 'go' with a time-proven 'system' and just plunk a familiar 'name' upon that, then it wouldn't surprise ME in the least. Why, you would probably even 'get' some ''A&A''-Minis for the 'bits' in this! Instead of 'Houses & Hotels', then there'll 'be' 'Pillboxes' and 'Bunkers'.
''Do NOT Pass 'GO' & don't Collect 200 rounds of Ammo!''
''Take a 'Ride' on the Auschwitz Railroad and PAY with your LIFE!''
''You WON the 'Beautiful Aryan' Contest and have Dinner with Adolf! Remember NOT to 'smoke' around him, or you'll get sent to the Russian Front!''
''Go to St. Charles de Gaulle Place and PAY the owner TWICE the normal amount of 'prestige' since you have to 'kow-tow' to their 'honor'!''
''Advance to BOREDOM! Collect your 'wits' and git the 'heil' out!''

This is NOT at all representative of their ''hive collective'' mentality, but MORE akin to their ''it's just business'' approaches and a means to satisfy their ''share holders'', of which is truly their main 'concern'. I have nothing against companies making money for whatever they 'produce', but what I dislike is having the SAME ole 'crap' again, being foisted upon US-(the consumers) with just some tacked on 'theme', to have it become 'distinctive' for ''Marketing'' purposes. Of course, I'll continue to NOT ''buy into'' their 'gaming pablum' for the massively misguided folks, but don't let that stop YOU from doing such. Does anybody have any idea of just how MANY of the ''M~opoly'' games there are? More than 'one' is TOO many. So you can understand just WHY I'd 'pick' this as their NEXT 'game' release. The 'gameboard' that you see here was done up by someone I know, and has his ''Forum'' name upon this, as you can readily 'see'. He did this with regards to displaying just how INSIPID it would 'sound', and for our amusement. I do believe that he accomplished ALL of his 'goals' for that WITH 'this'!

RANT 'on': As for the ongoing 'bone of contention' regarding the 'A&A'-Minis, then I'd like to point out the MANY unhistorical inaccuracies, or downright idiotic seepage of the "Fantasy Farcical Figures" that they'll be providing. There's the ''Red Devil Cap'n'' FOR the U.S.A. forces-of which HE should 'be' British! Are there going to 'be' some ''Dreaming Beagles'' Paras for the Brit's sorts as well? Then the 'Inspiring Lt.' guy for which WHY couldn't they get a better 'name' or description with something ELSE? I wonder if they'll have the 'Curmudgeon Corporal' NEXT? Or how's about the 'Sarcastic Sergeant'? I wouldn't doubt that they'd come up with 'Major Disappointment' and 'General Lack of Concern' at the rate they're going with this. It's just plain and simply STUPID on their part, while I don't know just WHO does their 'background' on these, but they need to slap 'em upside the HEAD some for their 'contributions' on these. Get a 'grip' on reality and around the 'tard's throat that 'arrived' upon 'em, since they're definitely lacking in qualifications for THIS, and maybe even a LACK of oxygen would rectify their disposition. I don't know, but I 'wonder', just who did the sculpting for the Anti-Tank guns? as they don't look 'correct' and especially for the simple TIRES for those! I mention this since lots of people(idjits?) seem to proclaim the 'details' of them all, as being exquisite-their 'words', not mine. Maybe they ought to get out to the Game places to SEE some excellent 'examples' on display for other 'systems', and THEN make their 'determinations' eh? As for some of the 'A.F.V.'s-(Armored Fighting Vehicles or TANKS for those not 'in' on the jargon), then what's with the 'camo' schemes for some of them? The M-3 Lee has a 'Desert' look to it when it should 'be' for a JUNGLE locale instead! The SAME with the 'Japanese' Tank as well. While the 'Soviets' have what? Somebody explain to ME just where are they going to be 'Combattling' AT! They 'appear' to be on their 'way' to the North AfricanTheatre!, or somewhere thereabouts. Then there's that 'Croc-O-Tank' that don't gots its Trailer-Tank full of 'fuel' of which it NEEDS to 'spout flames'. Also of 'note' is the 'classification' for some of these, and it is THAT of which I really take 'issue' with! Their selections are truly indicative of their 'uninspired' attempts at bringing some of the RARE 'factor' into all of this. Anybody there at W.o.t.C. ever 'heard' of going to the Library? Then how's about just LOOKING these 'up' on the ''intarwebs''? I'm sure that there'll be plenty of other more inane additions to this 'listing' as they crop up, since we have the wonderfully demented folks of you-know-where going 'whole hog' on their efforts for this. While, who knows?, maybe we'll FINALLY get to 'see' some of them ''Alien Space Bats'' *popping* in with future 'boosters' for this, huh?
RANT 'off':

It just goes to show you, it's ALWAYs 'something'!

Saturday, September 17, 2005


Back in the old days, when mankind lived in the world and not merely on it, the peoples would throw the bones of birds and animals into the air and ask the unknowable.

Had we been there at that distant moment in our white lab coats, we might have tried to pull a joke on those funny little men. Earlier that day one particularly light-fingered technician might have borrowed the bones, weighed them, determined their centers of gravity, and performed a few quick aerodynamics tests in the miniature wind tunnel hidden in the bushes; meanwhile one of the better-looking lady scientists might have distracted the augurer by egging him on to undertake a few informal strength tests. Hathur, you're a mighty one, aren't you? Can you lift this rock? I see! Well, can you lift this very slightly heavier rock? Fascinating! While all this is going on, a ring of temperature gauges and anemometers are erected around the village like a thin wire Stonehenge, though not so many so as to hinder the natural airflow to the valley (we don't want to actually cheat, you understand).

Then, just at the moment of release, BANG! The strobing cameras placed at strategic angles calculate the velocity, trajectory, and x-, y- and z-axis spin, and everything goes straight into the computer (cleverly disguised as a goat so as not to attract too much attention, patch cables running in under the beard and monitor and tiny keyboard under the tail). The modeling program kicks into high gear: processing, processing, there! We call the throw just before it lands. Now, we can't predict to the tribe whether the trembling little boy fighting back the tears there before us will be village chief or village idiot, but we did at least predict how the bones would fall, and that's the important thing.

Except...well, we got it wrong. It's a somewhat more complex system than we thought, really. There was that gust of wind, you see, and that one techie sneezed right in the middle of it all, and wouldn't you know it but Hathur decided to show off at the last minute with that little flick of the wrist, one of those typical medicine-man grace notes that always plays so well in the sticks.

Bummer! But not surprising. It's all a bit reminiscent of Benoit Mandelbrot and his fractals, the basic idea being that these multidimensional, self-referential, feedbacky systems are a bitch to figure out. As Benny says, even something as relatively straightforward as measurement can be tricky to get a handle on in the real world. Suppose you wanted to know the length of the perimeter of Long Island; certainly you could gauge it from the twenty-mile view and get a rough idea, but what about all those little nooks and crannies? The inlets? The promontories? That big ugly rock just south of Patchogue? If you really wanted to do it right you would get down on your hands and knees and go along the edge with a yardstick, measuring every curve and bend, but then all of the sudden the length of the perimeter is twice what you thought it was, and that's only just a rough estimate, because within each thirty-six inches of shoreline there are twists and bends of an ever dinkier nature adding flagrantly unmeasured centimeters to the real total. Two months later you're somewhere deep in the Hamptons staring at a bit of high-class mud with an electron microscope and just a moment before Steven Spielberg releases the hounds you've decided that the true length of the perimeter of Long Island is either infinite or—thanks to all the erosion and tidewrack and general disinclination of atoms to stay in any one place for too long a time—unknowable.

I see some of you scientists are bouncing up and down in your seats and holding up your hands, and yes, I'm getting to that. Some random and/or complex things are knowable, maybe not on a real-world basis, but mathematically. If you take those marked bones of the shaman and made them all regular-like—let's say a cube for simplicity's sake—and then numbered the faces one to six, you could predict generally—over the very long haul—how often any particular number will come up. You would never know what those cubic bones were going to do on any one throw, but you would be able to say that if you rolled three of them together, perhaps while asking the gods how charismatic the son of the chief would grow up to be, there would be a 0.463% chance of rolling a total of 18, which translates to roughly George Washington-level charisma (for reference, figure that a 14 is John Stamos-level charisma and a 6 Pauly Shore-level charisma). In other words, in a hundred thousand throws (well, we don't want to lose them, so let's just roll them instead), you could expect to end up with three "sixes" somewhere in the vicinity of four hundred and sixty-three times.

Now, as you can see, the journey from the dawn of man to Long Island to our own Modern Times is a long and tortuous one, but here we are, thank God, and now before us is the final goal, the highest peak of cultural evolution, in other words that particular brand of homo sapiens who we shall call homo gamer—a creature as hunched, hairy and smelly as his ancestors, but better educated, and kind of a smart-ass to boot. What is this creature's philosophy as it relates to bone rolling?

What homo gamer will tell you about the little numbered cubes is that they are very, very stupid. Why? Simple: because they're supposed to do something and they never do it. If, for example, one had the requisite savvy and foresight to secure property abutting a region that produced an important resource on a sum of 8 on a 2d6, that person could expect to be a wealthy man over the long haul of a game, earning that resource on roughly one out of every seven rolls; and yet, wouldn't you know it, turn after turn people are rolling every other number you can think of, some numbers you might even have forgotten about, but not one stupid 8. Or how about this: you're in a battle with the enemy and he needs to roll a whopping five sixes on seven dice to make you retreat out of Patchogue once and for all. The very idea is laughable, but what happens? The swine does it. Now you have to spend the winter in Bellport like a chump, and it's all the dice's fault.

Beyond even that, there's the question of whether random elements belong in games at all. How can you prove that you're the smartest player if you can't predict everything that's going to happen?

So anyway, now that we've had our fun reducing everything to meaninglessness—now that the shaman's bones have lost all their marrow—the only thing left is to ask if there is at least remaining to us in the little plastic cubes a metaphor for something larger.

I think there is.

My theory is that, at their best, games present a microcosm of life, or at least some small part of life. Even a game as dull and pointless as "war" simulates a real-life concept, which is that of a winner and a loser; nothing is really won or lost, neither player has actually advanced his position in the workaday world, but the two participants are playing at being winner or loser in the way that a child might play at being a jet pilot or a fairy princess. Nowadays of course the concept of winning or losing at a game is second nature, but imagine a hypothetical moment at some distant point in our cultural evolution when there was no playing but only reality: Neanderthal Adam and Neanderthal Eve grab at the last apple on the tree in the same instant, and Eve is just a hair quicker than the Adam, and Adam goes hungry. Winner and loser. Minutes later Adam and some smooth-talking Cro-Magnon he thought was his best friend both grab at Eve, and now we get to see just how quick Eve really is.

Time goes on, civilization progresses, and soon it's not an apple that's at stake but a whole frigging orchard. Who can take the pressure? How does one even cope with such a devastating event as the loss of apple trees? It's a bitter pill to swallow, and so the little human cubs seeing all this heartache and strife and skirt-chasing going on amongst their elders figure they'd better get a little practice in before things start getting serious with a capital S. And so they still do today: anyone who's ever played a game with wee ones will tell you that there's a certain shock that takes place the first time a child loses a game that he very much wanted to win. The concept takes some getting used to, for sure, and sometimes there is crying, and sometimes the pieces get thrown across the room, and sometimes your wife will tell you that chess is no game to be playing with a three-year-old, but in the end the little monster learns how to deal with it and everyone's happy, more or less. Twenty years later when sweet & lovely Yvette says she just likes him "as a friend," our little exercise will have hopefully granted him the maturity to not burst into tears and drop-kick her purse.

Now, dice simulate something about life as well, but it's something just a little bit deeper than simple winning and losing. One can discover in dice rolls a certain atavistic truth, a residual, instinctual species-concept which, though deeply buried, stills ring like a bell when struck hard enough, as mythological-real as true love and free lunch. The idea is that of luck as a Thing in the World, a substance that ebbs and flows, a viscid fluid that pools and drains, a mystic visitor that inexplicably comes to stay and then disappears in a puff of purple smoke. Deeper, more to the point, it is a metaphor for being anointed, being favored by the gods, to be the Golden One of the cosmos itself.

Even well-educated and crusty gamers can fall under the spell of dice in spite of themselves, and it is a wonder to watch. Haven't you seen them become crestfallen with self-loathing, with each roll just knowing that things will turn out badly, that they are the least loved of God's creations? Poor Caliban! Conversely, when things go their way they will puff up, beam from the inside, become one with the eternal Tao, and know that finally and at last has been confirmed the secret suspicion forever held deep in their hearts that they deserve to win because they are themselves. Soon other archetypal roles weave their way into the net; Underdog and Icarus swoop up and down in a dance, corkscrewing across the sky in a long, graceful double helix. What goes around comes around, and in some rare and bizarre circumstances there will be hallucinations of Karma. In patchoulied college moments I used to play Cosmic Wimpout with a certain group of chums, and it came to be understood that one did not say anything negative when another was about to roll, as such a rash and careless action shattering the harmony like shit hitting a cymbal would only rebound on one's self with double force in the form of crummy, crummy rolls. It was never spoken, this rule, but it was known, and often one would find one's self clacking one's teeth shut in mid-sentence when the dice were about to hit the table.

Those with a more agnostic outlook can still find some resident awe in the rolls of dice even without this hippie dream of a ruling goddess. After all, is there no mystery in the law of averages, the fundamental paradox between pattern and unpredictability? Is it not strange to know that these cubes that clatter crazily this direction and that are in the long run secretly turning with the stolid precision of clockwork, each side facing out in its turn with implacable duty? Or, looking at it from a yet another aspect, is it not the very concept of randomness in this world of law strange, and what if it is somehow necessary, the grimy oil that keeps the entire mechanism moving on its course? Either one of these trains of thought ought to be good for at least a second's pause, depending on whether you view the world as primarily orderly or primarily chaotic.

So now take a pair of dice in your hand, and imagine—just pretend—that for one moment your entire life would lay decided in a single roll, that somehow, by some strange conjugation of forces, this one outcome would dictate your entire fate with no dream of appeal or reprieve. Hooded, red-doubleted guards stand over you holding battle axe and chain, and behind them the icy judge with the tangled white hair, the worn creases in the hollows of his face and the iron gimlet eyes watches in silence. Crouch down on the stony, rat-crossed floor of the donjon, let fear grip your stomach, and roll, and then see if in that play of make-believe you can scratch the paint off a corner of reality and catch one tiny glimpse of the unknowable.