Saturday, August 26, 2006

Museum prep

Our exhibit at the Melbourne Museum starts next Friday, so I've had a really busy week trying to get everything ready. Expect me to talk of nothing else for the next month or so.

We have had some fantastic offers of help, although we are still finding staffing the demo games every weekend a bit heavy going.

Here's where we'll be - it's a little out of the way, but the demo games really move us into the main part of the gallery.

I've built a rudimentary website to provide extra information for people who are interested. This will also include a list of all games exhibited (ideally, of all games demoed each week, but I am not sure my energy will stretch that far after a full day at the museum...)

Trying to select 11 or so games that are "representative" of what we like about games is really really tough. Here's the list we have so far, and the text I've written to accompany the displays. I think we have room for one more game ... maybe

On the wall:

Shadows over Camelot

Serge Laget & Bruno Cathalla
(Days of Wonder, 2005)

Winner of a special “Fantastic game” prize from the German Spiel des Jahres (Game of the Year) council in 2006, Shadows over Camelot is a co-operative game for up to 7 players.

Players take the roles of Knights of the Round Table, working together to stop the siege of Camelot and complete various quests including retrieving Excalibur and the Holy Grail. Each Knight has a different special ability which allows him to change or bend a rule (for example, to draw 3 cards instead of 2).

The tension in this game comes from the feeling of impending doom as players struggle to balance all the conflicting threats. If that’s not enough, players can use the optional rules to add a traitor to the mix – one (unknown) Knight who is working against the rest of the group.

The very strong and engaging theme of Shadows over Camelot pulls players in to the game, and the high production values and beautiful game boards enhance the gaming experience.

Sunda to Sahul

Don Bone
(Sagacity games, 2002)

This game by an Australian designer is played by 2-4 players, or can be played as a solo puzzle. The theme of the game is the migration of people down the Indonesian archipelago into New Guinea and Australia.

In this simple but engaging game, players place jigsaw tiles to build the archipelago of islands, while also claiming land rights over particular ‘nodes’ (points where several tiles meet). All pieces on a completed island score double points, so players have to balance the need to complete islands with the benefits to them if they extend the island (and possibly place more pieces on it).

A variety of optional game rules which can be combined in different ways extend the game for experienced players.

Don’s second game Freya’s Folly was launched at the international games fair in Essen, Germany, in 2005.

Out for people to play with
(The local distributor has kindly offered us some spare sets of pieces for if when they go missing.

Bernard Tavitian
(Educational Insights, 2000)

Blokus is a very popular “abstract” game – that is, a game that does not have a theme attached to it. Traditional abstract games include Go, Othello, Backgammon and Ludo (and even Chess).

The rules are simple – 3 or 4 players take it in turns to place a piece. The only rules are that a piece MUST touch another piece diagonally (it may not touch along any sides).

A single player can also play Blokus as a puzzle – see if you can get all the pieces of one colour onto the board at once, following the rule that they cannot touch directly but must be connected on the diagonal.

You are welcome to play with this Blokus set, but please make sure that you leave all the pieces beside the board when you’re done.

“Travel Blokus” (2005) is a slightly smaller version for 2 players – and “Blokus Trigon” is a new (2006) version where the pieces are made up of connected triangles rather than squares, and are place on a hexagonal board.

In the display cases:

Nacht der Magier - “Magicians’ Night”

Jens-Peter Schliemann & Kirsten Becker
(Drei Magier Spiele, 2005)

This unusual dexterity game was nominated for the 2006 German “Kinderspiel des Jahres” (Children’s game of the year) award.

Each player takes a piece with a different symbol – crescent moon, lightning, ring or star. Your aim is to be the first player to push a cauldron (red piece) with your symbol into the recessed area in the centre of the game stand. As soon as a piece falls off the game area, a player’s turn ends and the next person can start pushing.
The trick? The game is played in pitch dark – fortunately the symbols on the pieces glow in the dark.

Shear Panic
Fraser & Gordon Lamont
(Fragor Games, 2005)

This is one of the more collectible games in our collection. Released for the Essen games fair in November 2005, the print run of 550 copies was completely sold out before the fair opened. Although originally priced at 25 Euros, there were reports of this game selling for up to 80 Euros during the event.

This was a self-published and home-produced game, but it has since been picked up by a major game company and a re-release is imminent.

The combination of a rule book full of bad puns, some great little sheep pieces and fiercely competitive game play made this a huge hit.

Plus and Minus
(unknown designer, c. 1940s?)

We found a copy of “The most intriguing game ever invented” in a beach house we hired during January 2005. When we finally got around to playing it, we found it to be a great little maths game.

The rules are simple – add the number on your card to the number on the card played by the previous player, then move one of your pawns that many spaces forward, or backward if the total is negative. The goal is to get all of your pieces to land exactly on 25 – if you go over 25, you have to go back to the start.

It took us a couple of months to track a copy down on eBay, but we found it eventually. Maybe it’s not “The game everyone has been waiting for for years!” but we’d agree that it’s “Absorbing for the Adult, Interesting & Instructive for the Children.”

The Settlers of Catan
Klaus Teuber
(Kosmos / Mayfair Games, 1999)

“Settlers of Catan” (1995) won the German Spiel des Jahres (Game of the Year) award for that year, and is widely credited as being the game that kick-started the popularity of Eurogames (European-style boardgames). Players earn raw materials and trade them with the other players, then use them to build cities and settlements, expand their armies and build special buildings.

Settlers of Catan was followed by expansions The Seafarers of Catan (1999) and Cities and Knights of Catan (2000), by a cardgame version (1996), by 5-6 player expansion sets for all expansions, by a travel edition and by the Starfarers of Catan (1999). Starship Catan, a card version of Starfarers of Catan, was released in 2001, and The Kids of Catan, a simple building game for young children, in 2003. More recently, Candamir: the first Settlers (2004) and Elasund (2005) have built on the Settlers success story. There has even been a novelisation of the story of Candamir.

A Mormon adaptation, The Settlers of Zarahemla, was released in 2003, and die Siedler von Nürnberg (The Settlers of Nuremberg) was released in 1999 to commemorate the 950th anniversary of the city’s charter. There are several special editions of the Settlers games, including the very rare “das Wasser des Lebens” or “Whisky Settlers” (1997), a re-theming of Settlers based on the production of scotch whisky and issued in conjunction with the Glen Grant Distillery company. The most notable, though, is the tenth anniversary 3-D “Treasure Chest” edition (2005) which retailed for nearly $800 Australian. Sadly, and for obvious reasons, this edition is not in our collection.

The first Australian Settlers of Catan championships were held in June 2006 at the Australian Games Expo in Albury. The winner, Dennis Bodman, will represent Australia at the world championships in Essen, Germany, in October.

Power Grid
Friedemann Friese
(2F-Spiele / Rio Grande Games, 2004)

In Power Grid, players compete to power cities – by building connections to the cities, buying power plants, and fuelling them with the appropriate raw materials (coal, oil, garbage or plutonium).

Power Grid is probably the “heaviest” (most complicated) game that we have on display here, as there are so many different factors for players to balance – can I afford to buy a new power plant? If I buy it, can I afford to power it? Will I be able to connect to a new city? Would it be better to buy a more expensive but environmentally friendlier wind plant?

Power Grid is probably Fraser’s favourite game at the moment.

Reiner Knizia
(Alea / Rio Grande Games, 1999)

Reiner Knizia is considered one of the world’s great game designers. His prolific output is matched only by his enthusiasm for innovation – one recent game uses a special ink that can hold an electrical charge.

The game Ra features an innovative auction mechanic (players bid for tiles, aiming to collect groups of particular tiles in each of the three Epochs of the game). The player must balance the conflicting needs by collecting a variety of different types of tile but at the same time collecting sets of the same tile. This theme of balancing different requirements is often a feature of Knizia’s games.

Ra is widely considered one of Knizia’s best games, with the main criticism being that the ancient Egyptian theme is incidental to the game.

Reiner Knizia
(Hams im Glück / Rio Grande Games, 2003)

Reiner Knizia is considered one of the world’s great game designers. His prolific output is matched only by his enthusiasm for innovation – one recent game uses a special ink that can hold an electrical charge.

In Amun-Re, each player takes the role of a pharaoh, aiming to build more pyramids than any other. To accomplish this, players first acquire a province, which they can trade and farm. The profits from trading can buy new provinces and building stones to erect pyramids. Players can use power cards and can offer sacrifice to Amun Re to help them achieve their goals.

Tier auf Tier
Klaus Miltenberger
(Haba, 2005)

Tier auf Tier (“Animal upon Animal”) is a delightful and beautifully produced children's dexterity game in which players take turns piling wooden animals on top of one another.

Although this is billed as a children's game, we have found that it is enjoyable for adults and children alike. It's also a game where children have some advantage when playing with adults, due to their smaller and sometimes steadier hands.

Big City
Franz-Benno Delonge
(Goldsieber / Rio Grande Games, 1999)

In Big City, players compete to build a city, adding residential and commercial buildings and factories, as well as tram lines, parks, a town hall and a range of special buildings including shopping malls and cinemas. Before they can build, though, each player must acquire the rights to the pieces of land that they need for building.

Big City is a light-to-medium-weight game and typically takes around 45 minutes to play, of which the first 5-10 are usually spent oohing and aahing at the pretty plastic pieces.

Big City has been out of print for a couple of years now, but copies occasionally appear on eBay and on game trading sites. There are no verifiable rumours of a reprint at this stage.

Puerto Rico
Andreas Seyfarth
(Alea / Rio Grande Games, 2002)

Puerto Rico is generally considered to be one of the three best “Eurogames” ever, and is one of Melissa’s favourites.

The 3-5 players are plantation owners in Puerto Rico, growing a variety of crops, which they sell at the trading post or ship back to the old world. Strategically building commercial buildings to gain an advantage, in each round players must choose a role that will give them a slight advantage - but each other player can also take that action.

Other stuff:

It's been suggested that we should exhibit 2 versions of a game, to show the difference a reissue could make. We're considering

Lewis Pulsipher
(Avalon Hill, 1986 / Fantasy Flight Games, 2006)

Two different versions of this popular medium-weight historical wargame, which re-enacts the struggle for control of the British Isles from the Roman invasion of 43AD to the Norman conquest in 1066.

The new edition from Fantasy Flight games looks much prettier than Melissa’s 20-year-old copy. While the rules have been updated for the new edition, the basic game remains the same – but is now accessible to a new generation of gamers.

We will also have a PC running a selection of Scott Nicholson's video reviews of boardgames:
Video Reviews
Many thanks to Scott Nicholson of for his permission to show these boardgame reviews.

You can see Scott’s reviews at his website, or subscribe to automatically receive new reviews through iTunes.

We also have a folder of game reviews, I've spoken to the museum shop and promised the guy there that I'll give him a list of games we're displaying (with distributors ...), I'm not sure what else is left. I have that nagging feeling that I've forgotten something, though.


huzonfirst said...

This is fantastic, Melissa! It should be tremendous exposure for gaming Down Under, not to mention to tourists from other parts of the world who come visit. Hopefully, you've emphasized that this isn't an Australian phenomenon, but that these games can be found and purchased the world over.

I know you said you only had room for maybe one more game, but I'd really like to see both Ticket to Ride and Carcassonne represented. The most hopeful goal of the exhibit would be to get some newcomers to buy some of these games for their own collections (do you tell them how and where they can buy the games?), so great Gateway games should be provided to let them crawl before they walk. You already have Settlers, but TtR and Carc are even better introductions into gaming.

Tremendous job, Melissa. Please keep us posted about how well it all goes!

Melissa said...

Thanks for the comments, Larry. Maybe I should emphasise the international aspect even more - I think I still have room for one more gmae.

We thought we would *demo* Ticket to Ride and Carcassonne - both for the practical reason that we only have one copy of each, so they can't be on exhibit as well, and also because they look good on display, but BETTER when they are being played. And also because we are putting Shadows over Camelot on the wall, and I want to make sure that many game companies are represented.

I should have included the blurb about "us and our collection" which is going on the wall. In gaming circles, I feel silly calling 300 games a collection, but to a non-gamer it's a lot.

Modern european-style boardgames typically offer plenty of interaction between players, relatively short (up to ninety minute) playing times and opportunities for involvement even during other players' turns. The emphasis is on skill and strategy over luck, with many games offering players a choice of actions and opportunities to trade or negotiate.

Melissa and Fraser have a playing collection of around three hundred games, bought locally as well as on mail order from overseas. They have regular game nights with friends and also play with their daughters, aged three and seven, who are also keen game-players.

They enjoy the social aspects of getting together with friends for a fun game or three, as well as the challenge of trying to out-negotiate an opponent (or each other). They see games as a great way to bring families together and as an interest that crosses over age and geographic differences.

Gerald McD said...

Excellent! This is really exciting. Sounds like great plans, and a LOT of work for you guys. Wish I could be there to see it. Please keep us posted about the progress and results.

Yehuda Berlinger said...

This looks like a wild ride. Good luck, and keep us posted.


Anonymous said...

Excellent work, Melissa. This will definately be THE highlight in Sept for me.

Anonymous said...

Great job!

Don't forget Settlers of Canaan as yet another incarnation of the Settlers franchise.

Fraser said...

There are not quite as many Settlers as there are Carcassonnes, and although we own quite a few of them we don't own them all. We have finite space too.

Now if we had an entire wing or gallery...

Anonymous said...

You're doin' a great job Melissa keep it up.