Saturday, June 30, 2007

Games in the classroom

As a reward for good behaviour, Biggie's teachers decided that the class would have a games day to celebrate the end of the term. Initially it was going to be all boardgames, all the time, but lots of the children wanted to bring their own games to school, so 'our' part of the day was cut back to two hours.

After much consideration, I cut the list of games to take back to around 17. Gregor had kindly offered to help out, and he brought a couple as well, although we found there was less time to talk than we had expected.

We started the day by talking about games - what makes a game a game? First response: "It's about having fun with your friends and spending time with them" - how can I top that?!

Next, we talked about rules for games. There was a lot of discussion about cheating and why that's not acceptable. I used as a basis the rules that Giles Pritchard has suggested - although I condensed them to a few major points:

  • Board games are games; the idea of playing them is to have fun in good company.
  • You must listen to the rules explainer.
  • Cheating is admitting defeat and is completely unacceptable. If a person in a game you are playing is caught cheating the game should be ended immediately and a new game begun – with the promise that cheating will not occur.
  • Always treat the game and the game pieces better than you would treat your own game. – After you have finished playing the game there should be no sign that you played it except for a pleasant memory.
  • Setting up and cleaning up are a part of the game, you need to do your share.
  • Be a good loser and an even better winner.
We summed them all up with the Knizia quote, which we put up on the board as a motto for the day:

“When playing a game the goal is to win,
but it is the goal that is important, not the winning”

I had planned for this to lead into a discussion of how games have designers just like books have authors, but the natives were getting a little restless so we jumped straight into theme, as a way to introduce the first batch of games.

I'd prepared a quick table of the games that I'd taken with a quick overview of each for me, Gregor and the teacher.

Here's what I had about the themed games:


Number of Players


Incan Gold

(Alan R Moon and Bruno Faidutti)


EXPLORERS! Explore a ruined temple and collect treasures – but if you go too far you might lose it all!

5 explorations = 1 game. Disasters only count the second time.

For Sale

(Stefan Dorra)


GET RICH! Buy and sell property – the winner is the person with the most money at the end.

Part 1: Auction properties (buy with money)

Part 2: Sell properties (for cheques).

Hey that’s my fish

(Günter Cornett & Alvydas Jakeliunas)


PENGUINS! The players are penguins, trying to catch as many fish as possible.

Strategy is to isolate an area from the other players.

Fearsome Floors

(Friedemann Friese)


MONSTER! Race game – players have 14 turns to escape from the monster.

Part 1: Eliminated pieces are returned to the player. Ends when all but 2 tiles have been turned over

Part 2: Eliminated pieces are eliminated forever.


(Leo Colovini)


PIRATES! Play cards to move forward to the next empty square with a matching symbol

Move backwards to an occupied square to collect 1 or 2 more cards.

Pick Picknic

(Stefan Dorra)


CHICKENS! Players compete to get the most food – but are they a corn-eating chicken or a chicken-eating fox?


(Reiner Knizia)


CHICKENS! But this time it’s worms that they want. Yahtzee-style dice game.

Remember: You MUST have rolled a worm before you can pick up a tile.

Fast rules: Turn over highest tile AND the tile that is returned.

and some others that I took out at that stage:


Number of Players




Memory game testing out-of-sequence memory

Apples to Apples Junior


All players have 5 red cards; take turns to be the judge (flip a green card). Best red card match gets the green card – winner is first to 4.


(Reiner Knizia)


Match the pattern to place tiles & score in 6 different colours

Only your LOWEST score counts!

Use paper scoresheets instead of wooden cubes

The children separated into four groups.
  • Gregor took a group of girls who were desperate to play For Sale. This was a huge hit with the kids - at the end of the session, they begged me to leave it so they could play it again.
  • I took a group of girls and boys who were interested in Fearsome Floors. It was very popular but the kids found it a bit too complicated, especially when I had to move away for a little while
  • The teacher sat down with a group of boys who were very interested in Apples to Apples. This was amazing - they played it for over an hour!
  • Biggie sat on the floor to teach Pickomino - it seemed to go over very well, too, although I didn't hear any chicken noises from the group.
Meanwhile, one boy was roaming the classroom with Incan Gold in hand, not wanting to play anything else, and another girl was wandering around watching but not wanting to join in.

My Fearsome Floors group moved on to Sherlock and Otto, who had been playing Catch the Match quietly by herself, came to join in. She was pretty pleased to finish in second place in the group of five eight to ten year olds. Meanwhile Gregor had enticed the For Sale girls to play Incan Gold (by promising another game of For Sale later on in the day). Surprisingly, this wasn't much of a hit - they were too interested in getting back to For Sale to enjoy Incan Gold.

I'd prepared some journal pages for the students to reflect on the games they played in between new games. These were filled in with differing levels of detail and success, but with some great answers:



What I Liked

Something I Learned

Next time I will

Apples to Apples


That it had a lot of risk

That you can do opposites

Have a lot of fun!

Make ‘n’ Break


It was VERY fun.

It was constructive

Have a lot of fun!

For Sale

It is really fun and I bought a lot of houses


Do better

Incan Gold

It was really fun

Take your chances

Get more jewels



The temptation!

It’s hard!

Play better (hopefully)

Incan Gold

The temptation

That it’s easy to lose

Play with more people and have more fun



The temptation and the worms

How lucky you can be!!

Not so much of risk taker

Apples to apples


It was funny

That you don’t need to be honest

Apples to Apples


It was funny

You don’t need to be honest

Be better



It was a challenge

Be better

Dancing eggs


I liked how it was really hard and a challenge to do the actions. I WON!

Never think that anything’s easy

Do the exact same thing!

Finstere Flure

9 Excellent

It was so scary how the monster walked to try and eat you up!


Try to go first so I don’t get locked in! (by the other players’ pieces)


5 OK

How you had to use your memory


Try to remember much, much more

Fearsome Floors

There was a monster

You don’t always need a dice

Try to win


I WON!!!

You need a REALLY good memory

I’ll win AGAIN.

For Sale

It’s fun and I got to buy good houses

How to sell houses

Not spend too much money

Incan Gold

It was fun

Take your chance

Do something

We came back together as a group to discuss the games we'd played, and what skills we had been using.
  • Memory (heh - I pointed out that Otto had come second)
  • Deciding when to take a risk
  • Spending your money
  • Opposites (this from the Apples to Apples group, who had played some rounds looking for something that was unlike the faced card)
  • Dividing up the treasures
To finish up, I took out some games that used a skill that we hadn't used yet: dexterity. We had two groups playing Tier auf Tier, one playing Make 'n' Break and one playing Dancing Eggs - and a copy of Polarity for everyone to try out.



What I Liked

Something I Learned

Next time I will

Dancing Eggs


Dancing eggs was a really fun game

Animal on animal

Stacking animal

How to stacking animals

Try harder

Tier auf Tier

It’s easy

The rules

Try harder



It was a huge challenge because if the slightest thing was out of place it would fall

I learnt about magnets and balance!

Try and get three!

Overall, the day was a huge success. The teacher liked games, the journal pages, and the way the kids were engaged. Best of all - they're all (teacher and students) keen to do it again :)

To sum up the session:

What I liked
  • Having someone (Gregor) to help demo the games was invaluable.
  • The game journal pages worked well and made a great record of the day (where they were used)
  • Finishing with dexterity games was fantastic, although Dancing Eggs got a bit rowdy
Something I learned
  • Games work best with supervision - especially if they have a mechanic the kids haven't seen before (eg Finstere Flure)
  • It's difficult to involve some kids in the classroom activity, even if they are interested in the material
  • Having games that use a range of different skills works well for the larger groups
Next time I will
  • Try to take fewer games (I say this every time)
  • Introduce the game journal pages at the start of the session rather than as games finish.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Boy, I stink at this, and golly it was fun

We played High Society again this week as a short game to cap the evening. Once again I lost. I scored no points whatsoever. As readers of last week’s column may remember, I frequently do poorly at auction games with unclear ending times. I keep pulling back from paying high prices in an auction while thinking that in the long run my thriftiness will net me some bargains. But there frequently is no long run.

But I still had a good time.

This week’s question is why we like games we are no darn good at. I can think of several games that I enjoy in spite of my poor performance. Hammer of the Scots, Imperial, Struggle of Empires, and Age of Empires III are games that I like—but have never won.

I think one reason we can enjoy such games is that we believe we could win them sometime in the future. Even though I haven’t won these games, I never thought that I was out of my depth playing them. I either came in close behind the winner, or I ended up with a good idea of what I would do differently next time.

My situation in these games never seemed hopeless—at least before the final turns. In fact, other players often seem to think that I will win Age of Empires—until Charlie comes zooming up from behind with his sneaky colonization strategy.

I contrast this with my one and only play of Age of Steam. By the second turn, I knew I had made a major mistake and that my position was hopeless. I spent the rest of the game pouting. I don’t believe I will ever enjoy a game that makes me feel stupid. I am certainly willing to try Age of Steam again to see if my IQ has improved, but games that are unforgiving of players may find that players reciprocate that sentiment.

It also helps if the games we are lousy at are short. I will happily play High Society again and again to see if I can overcome my own thriftiness streak and actually score some points. But if I can’t, I still haven’t lost more than a half hour or so of my time.

It also helps to have a sense of humor about yourself. To be amused at your own occasional ineptitude.

In fact, I’m still smiling at the though of last night’s low score. I’m up for another game of High Society right now. Want to play? I can almost guarantee I will lose.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Backwards Brainteaser and New Fortnightly Puzzler / Old Puzzler Answer

The Backwards Brainteaser Game

I came up with this little game/brainteaser several months ago. I've mentioned it casually here on Gone Gaming, but I held off showing it because I was searching for a publisher. So far no bites, so I'm debuting it here. I think it should be a computer game because of the unusual movement mechanism, but I'll let you be the final judge. Instead of the usual brainteaser and article, this will stand in for both.

If anyone has any interest in this beyond casual playing, please contact me at If you feel the urge to share it with others, please give me credit.

For the puzzle I'll be sharing today, you will need the following:

7 pennies

1 nickel

1 dime (or pawn of any sort)

1 pen

1 sheet of paper

Using the pen, draw a 2 x 9 grid on the piece of paper so that each unit comfortably holds any coin. Label the vertical axis A and B so that the A is next to the bottom row and B next to the top row. Label the horizontal axis 1 through 9, left to right. The labeling should look like this:



__1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9__

To practice how the movement works, I want to show you two different scenarios.

Place pennies on A3, A4, A5, A6, and A7 (we won't be using the B row in the example. Place the dime (or pawn) on A7; this is you.

The movement rules are as follows:

1) When you move in a given orthogonal direction (N, S, E, or W) and DO NOT land on the last penny in that direction, the furthest penny in that direction will move to the next available spot in the opposite direction (the demonstration of this will be much simpler than the language makes it out to be).

2) When you move in a given orthogonal direction and DO land on the last penny in that direction, nothing happens and the layout remains the same.

3) You may move in any orthogonal direction (N, S, E, W), go back and forth, cross your path multiple times, etc. In short, you may go anywhere.

To get back to the example, move the dime (or pawn) from A7 to A6. This action triggers a movement so that the penny on A3 moves to A8. You moved west; the penny moved east to the next available spot.

Now move to A5. This triggers another movement; the penny on A4 moves to A9. In addition, if you moved back to A6, the penny on A9 would move to A4.

Now, let's try the second scenario. Place pennies on A3, A4, A5, and A6 only. Place the dime (or pawn) on A6.

Once again, move the dime to the west to A5. This triggers the normal movement so that the penny on A3 moves to A7.

Now move west once more to A4. There are no more pennies to the west; therefore, nothing happens and the layout remains the same.

Without further ado, here's today's puzzle:

Place the nickel on A2. The nickel is like a penny in that it takes up a space, but it is unlike a penny in that it is completely immobile.

Now place pennies on A4, A5, A6, A7, B4, B5, and B6. Finally, place the dime (or pawn) on A7.

Your goal is to move the dime and make it land on the nickel. And just an FYI: because of the rules, moving north or south in this particular puzzle will trigger no movement.

What is the fastest solution? Write, and I'll post the first person to get it. Good luck!






Old Puzzler Q & A

Q: & (the 'and' sign) : ampersand :: # (the 'pound' sign) : ____?____

A: OCTOTHORPE (and variations on the word as well)

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Boardgame, madame? Red or White?

As gamers begin to build their collection of games, soon there are more games available to play than gamers to play them with. The solution? – create more gamers. A key part of creating a new gamer is to find the right game for the person and the situation. Thus, the boardgame sommelier is born. (sommelier = dude who picks wines for other people). Perhaps it should be Gammelier (using a long a sound)? (Although if I were sticking with the French I guess it would Jouelier… but where’s the fun in that?)

To some, matching a game to a person can become a game in itself. Analyze a persons habits, preferences, and hobbies and then try to find a game that they will enjoy. It is easiest to start with broad categories like party or dexterity games and then narrow it down to a few likely candidates. A very good “gammelier” will also take into consideration the overall quality of the game as well as how well it fits the target player. If a game has an excellent reputation, it might be a better choice than a mediocre title that makes a more solid match based on theme and mechanics.

My personal favorite target for my gammelier activities is my wife. She’s a trapped audience and can’t run far. Normally, she’ll play a game now and then as a favor to me since I enjoy them so much, but it is a rare game that will motivate her enough to try to entice me into playing. I figure if I can find the right title, she’ll become that much more of a gamer and I’ll be all set – a live-in game playing opponent!

So, what criteria should I use for my gammelier recommendations? She’s a science professor who is good at spatial reasoning. She loves art and creates a fair bit of it – mostly abstract art with lots of geometric designs. One of her favorite games is RoboRally. (This would be a fine selection the majority of the time, but I personally feel it only becomes a good game once there are at least four players running around on the board.) So, I’m looking for a spatial or pattern recognition type game, that plays well with two players. For some time I had been eyeing Ricochet Robot – a game where players examine a board and try to find the minimum number of moves required to move one of the colored robots to a specific location on the board. I bought the game for my birthday and proceeded to show it to my wife a week or two later. The result? – I’ve created a monster. For the first week after we started playing I wasn’t allowed to pack it up back in the box. I had to leave it out on the kitchen table so we could play it whenever we wanted to. In fact, I took it to the local gaming club and another gamer spouse (who is also a full fledged gamer) also became addicted to it. We couldn’t really start a new game for the evening until we had several more “just one more” rounds of play.

While I am now stuck playing Ricochet Robot several nights a week, this truly is a “good thing”. Any game is better than no game. I’m particularly proud of my selection as I bought Ricochet Robot sight unseen – having never played it before. My next goal is to try to find a good backup game to add a bit of variety. My ADD gaming habits tend to favor variety over quantity, so I just need a few more titles selected for my wife so that I can rotate through them to satisfy my penchant for variety. While SET is a possible candidate (I’m worried she’ll just always beat me into the dust), I’m eyeing one of those games where you race to be the first to create an image out of triangles. Of course, as the gammelier, half the fun for me will be the search.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Where do the games fit in?

Biggie's teacher: So, Melissa, what is it that you actually DO?
Me: I'm a consultant in online services. I help companies improve their websites & web presence, and to manage them better.
Teacher: (Looks confused). So, where do the games fit in?

We've had this before, too, with comments like, "I didn't know you ran a book shop" (I don't, we just like to read).

I wonder whether it would be different if I coached a children's netball or hockey team three times a week. There doesn't seem to be an expectation that people are paid for their volunteer sporting activities - so it intrigues me that other recreational activities are automatically assumed to be money-making. I only wish they were! Who wouldn't prefer to play & talk about games all day?

This weekend, I'm playing and re-learning all the games that I want to take to Biggie's school on Friday, for her class's last-day-of-term games day. I'm trying to design some curriculum-related material around it, not so much for the kids (who will have fun anyway) but to demonstrate to the teacher how good a fit games can be in the classroom.

The other thing on the gaming agenda is restacking the game shelves. They are a bit like wardrobes: they're fine, they're fine, everything fits ... and then you buy ONE MORE ITEM and suddenly nothing fits anymore and you have piles of games lying around everywhere and nowhere to put them. (Or piles of clothes, in the case of the wardrobe). I think our games may have been spawning while we weren't looking - anyway, I think it's time to retire some stuff to the attic or maybe even to eBay. You know storage space is tight when you catch yourself eyeing the bedroom, thinking, "well if I turned the bed around, then I would have a WHOLE WALL that I could fill with bookshelves!"

And rearranging the bookshelves would let me set up my system for sorting the games properly, too.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Time is Fleeting

During the first half of last night’s game of Tigris & Euphrates, I drew only red and blue tiles. For approximately the same period of time, Dave drew no red tiles. I took this statistical oddity in stride, but Dave felt the need to denounce the goddess of fortune for playing her little practical jokes on him (which may be the reason why she gets so much satisfaction focusing on Dave).

One reason why the odd luck didn’t bother me was because of my subconscious feeling that there was plenty of time for statistics to travel back to the norm. As it turned out, Dave probably had a more accurate view of the situation than I did, because neither of us ever got the correct balance of victory cubes to win the game.

The belief that there is plenty of time may be why I often do so poorly in auction games. I usually let others win the early auctions hoping to pick up a bargain when others have exhausted their funds. This strategy often fails because the games end sooner than I expect. In one memorable game of Ra, I scored no points at all during the first two rounds, and was soundly beaten by a newbie. I tend to do better with games like Struggle of Empires in which the game’s time frame is clearly laid out, and I can see exactly when the end will come.

In spite of my knowledge of my own skewed time perspective, I don’t seem to be able to change my behavior. Perhaps this is because my feeling that there is plenty of time plays out in real life as well. I was never a young man in a hurry, and I have a strong suspicion that I could have made more of my life if I had not approached it with such a leisurely attitude.

Biographers tell us that John F. Kennedy lived with a sense that time is fleeting. The death of his older brother in World War II, his own brush with death in the Pacific, and his many health problems all reminded Kennedy that his time on this earth was limited. His awareness of the brevity of life can help explain his energy, his ambition, and perhaps his compulsive promiscuity.

I believe that in gaming, as well as in life, it is important to remember two essential truths: our time is limited, and it is later than you think.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Five Game Design Don'ts

If you're designing a game, here's a short list of five things that you shouldn't do:

Don't Reward the Last Man Standing. This is one of the things that Eurogames do right, so it scarcely needs to be said any more. However, it's still an important point. Unless your game is really short, you shouldn't allow player elimination, and you especially shouldn't decide who wins your game based on the same. After all, what are the eliminated players supposed to do until the game ends?

Although, as I said, most Eurogames don't use last-man-standing mechanics, nonetheless there are some who allow players to be effectively eliminated. Mare Nostrum is an example of this from the warfare side of things: you can get to a sufficiently bad state that you just don't have the resources to come back. Likewise there are any number of games where you can look at your score and quickly realize that you have no chance of winning.

This is one of the great benefits of hidden scores. Even if the information is all technically trackable, a losing player is the player least likely to take advantage of that ability. It's the old happier-if-you-don't know idea that your parents used to love.

Otherwise, you need to have some way that a player can catch up. Risk-reward systems usually allow this. If you have a big risk that has almost no chance of paying out, then the big reward might get you back into the game ... and it gives you something to do until the game is over, anyway.

Don't Confuse Complexity with Depth of Strategy. This is another one that Eurogames tend to get right ... usually. Lots of modifiers to die rolls, lots of different options, or generally a game that's more complex than others out there isn't necessarily better ... and may well be worse. There's much to be said for cutting out complexity until you have the shining gem at the core of your game design, and only then looking to see if anything else actually added to your gameplay.

Unless you're trying to write a simulation, and you know your players want to play a simulation, complexity is usually not the right move.

Don't Support False Strategy. False strategy is a somewhat hard thing to define, but I know it when I see it. Unfortunately, it also seems pretty hard to convince a game designer that his game includes false strategy ... and I've tried. False strategy involves including choices in your game that are essentially meaningless.

Nautilus was one of the games that I tagged with this label. There you make really careful choices about where to go and where to explore, but the actual results are so random that any strategic gameplay is largely outweighed by whether you got lucky or not. I think that having luck weigh considerably heavier than strategic choice is probably the easiest way to introduce false strategy into your game.

Don't Include Rock-Scissors-Papers. I think games that include important rock-scissors-paper mechanics are fine examples of the idea of false strategy that I just mentioned. These are usually blind-bidding games where you have three essentially equal choices, in which there is no way to choose intelligently between the choices.

A game like Basari where there is a meaningful difference between the rock (points), the scissor (gems), and the paper (die roll) is different because you can try and balance what choices people might make based on the options presented to them, but without that difference ... people are worrying about a choice that has no actual meaning.

Don't Develop Your Own Game. My heart aches every time I see a game that could have been a contender, but isn't because someone insisted on self-publishing. Unless you've already gotten 20 or so games under your belt, you don't have the ability to remove yourself from your game design and see its flaws, and you don't have the fortitude to cut out those beautiful subsystems that don't really improve the game. An external developer does and he will make your game better.

If you consider these points, game reviewers and game players alike will thank you.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Short Game thoughts

There's been a flood of new games1 recently. Too many to play all of them, and all too many of them have turned out to be sizable time commitments. I've been spoiled by Taluva, Ur, Yspahan and the like. Bring back my one hour game!

So here's my thoughts on recent games. Not really reviews. Just impressions and thoughts.

Tide of Iron
Unplayed. Not sure if I'll actually get around to it. A couple of customers like it though.

Notre Dame
I love drafting cards. Years spent drafting Magic: The gathering have left me with a passion for "choose one and pass the rest" I'm glad that this design space is being explored. Notre Dame is pretty good, and also probably the shortest of the latest crop. I think experienced players could play it in under 45 minutes. I still haven't figured out if one of the seven actions is just completely underpowered, or if there's some way to exploit it. Not going to blow anyone away, but a fun game.

Do you like the Great Battles of History series? No? Move along.2

An interesting game with lots of neat bits (both bits and bitz), slick execution, two ways to play... and about 45 minutes too much game. At 75 minutes this would be great. At the 120 minutes it's taken to play 5 turns, I've been dissapointed. High points involve collecting chariot riding poets, some decent auctioning (using the variant rules), and a very constricted build tree. Low points involve a trading phase that can drag and those extra 45 minutes. Sadly I don't know how I could speed it up.

Age of Empires III3
Glenn Drover has really found his place in the world of game design. He takes other peoples ideas and respins them into a form that is identifiable, but uniquely his. It's not just the excess of sculpted plastic pieces, but something else that links his games together. Drawing heavily on the action selection mechanisms of Caylus, AoE brings special worker pieces, action tiles, and some area control into the mix. Unfortunately, it hasn't fixed the only real complaint I have about Caylus - the time it takes for beginners to play the game. We can often get through 3-4 games in an evening, but AoE took 3.5 hours for the first game. Obviously it would speed up a bit with play, but it is definitely too long. Otherwise I enjoyed it. Is it worth the extra money for the plastic bitz? No. A smaller box and cheaper pieces would have been a better game.

Stack Market
I'm excited, but every game group since this appeared has been five players. Bring me four players! Bring me tall stacks of cubical corporations!

And then there's the faceless rest that are waiting for me to play. Several that I don't think I'll get to play for a while, and some that are on my short list. Many of them also cap out at 4 players, so are suffering just like Stack Market. Oh well.



1at least new-to-domestic games. While I'm always happy to play imports, specifically post essen, or what have you, I tend to consider a game 'unavailable' until it gets a domestic release, or the European publisher will return my emails. Of course it's the retailer in me - tracking the 'newness' of a game by when it shows up on my shelves. But it does often come down to exposure. Even if it is easy to find the game at a FOGS - if it needs a rules translation and people can't pick it up off the shelf, it really isn't 'available'. It's just available to the fanatics who do crazy things like blog about games. Sheesh.

2I don't move along. Samurai plus GBH? yay!

3Ah, such an improvement over Age of Empires II, this returns the series to it's roots and reminds us all of how much we loved the original.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

The Australian Games Expo 2007

Last week we went to the Australian Games Expo in Albury (a bit over three hours drive from Melbourne and six to seven hours from Sydney, the two main population centres in Australia). The expo officially ran on Saturday and Sunday, we arrived on Friday afternoon and left on Monday morning.

Last year we stayed at the Hume Inn and used their function room one very cold night. We thought that if it was heated it would make an excellent evening games venue. Local resident and tournament organiser Neil Thomson made enquiries and a deal was struck that we could have their function room for free if thirty bookings were made at the motel. This was achieved and we had the function room for gaming on Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights.

Last year I played in both the Settlers of Catan and Carcassonne tournaments. It meant that my daylight hours were driven by the tournament schedule and there was very little time to browse, chat or play other games, especially longer games. This year I decided to go sans-tournament and make my time my own.

Here are the games that I remember I played.

We had dinner at TB’s, which is a tradition for some of us whenever we hit Albury and then Melissa went off schmoozing and I took the girls back to the motel. Melissa came back to the room about 10:30 during Daughter the Elder’s meltdown about not being allowed to sleep in a wardrobe instead of her bed, so I was relieved of duty and went off to the function room.

I joined in a six player game of Antike. The other players were Rob, Bill, Kev, Louise, Rose. The game started slowly as we built up the necessary resources to do anything and then hurried along in the mid game (the term “hurried” is used advisedly given the actual duration of the game) and then the fine art of bash the leader, a new leader appears, bash the leader, rinse, lather and repeat began. This meant that the end game was a) quite slow and b) quite engrossing. Kev almost pulled victory off three turns in a row but was thwarted, for two gold more to take my gold and coin total to twenty-six I could have pulled it off on a different turn, and Rob and Bill were also in contention. I do believe we spent close to two hours in the end game and if all of the last three victory point cards had gone to Rose we could have ended up with the victory point supply expended and no actual winner. Joe from the motel who was running the bar was paying close attention to the game. Bill managed to score the win a little before three o’clock in the morning, which was not so good for me since I had to be in at the expo five hours later. The game took us about four hours, with more experienced players or less than six I can see it running a lot quicker. I enjoyed it and have put it on my wishlist as a definite possibility.

I don’t actually remember if we were the last game to finish that night. After the game was packed up and the floor check done, I headed off back to our room, to find Daughter the Elder asleep in the shower recess. She had not been allowed back into the wardrobe, refused her bed, or the floor, so went for the shower recess. One must give her points for sheer bloody mindedness if nothing else :-)

A few hours later, I was up and dressed and headed off for breakfast and then off to the Expo. First there was some wandering around checking out the stalls. Then I ran into Ben and Vince and somebody suggested Hey that’s my Fish!. A quick explanation of the rules and we were off. The territorial wars started right form the very start and once the smoke settled, Vince had managed to isolate himself a very rich fishing ground indeed. Vince 35, Fraser 30, Ben 28. This is a great little game, plays quickly, can be nice, can be nasty and it has penguins.

After a little more cruising around we had a group of seven or eight who then split into a game of something and a four player game of Imperial. I was playing with Hayden, Greg and Andrew. I found out the next day that Greg’s surname was Greg Pinder. After a few whirs and clicks from my memory I remember that Greg is one of the founders of the Australian Design Group. Greg and Andrew were new to the game, I had played once before and Hayden twice. We called on Ben at the other game for rules advice occasionally. The countries were closely contested with lots of banter. I spent quite a while without a controlling interest in any county, a couple of times I managed to snatch control only to have it immediately taken back off me. Now this doesn’t necessarily ruin your position in the game at all, in fact I came second and if England had been one more point down the track I would have actually come first, but the period where you are sitting there hoping that somebody pays a dividend out in one of the countries you have invested in can get rather boring as you are just a passenger. I like the game, but this possibility of being removed from any active decision making for potentially lengthy periods of the game can be a little off putting.

It was being able to play Imperial that reinforced to me that my decision to not play in the tournaments was the correct one to make.

Later on I joined up with Patrick and Paul for a game of Slutty Princess^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H Kingdom Quest, part of a range of well produced, recently released games. Readers with good memories may remember Melissa’s piece on the Toy and Hobby Expo where she coined the phrase “The Slutty Princess” about this game. I am afraid that it has stuck in our household. Anyway, when one of the official demo guys came over to talk to us about the game he mentioned that the Princess was known by another name. He asked us if we knew about BoardGameGeek which was when Patrick piped in that he was “user number eight”. The demo guy said that a lady had written a nice piece on the game and had called the Princess the Slutty Princess which was where I got to roll out that classic vaudeville punch line “That was no lady, that was my wife!”. We certainly thought it was funny.

The game itself is interesting, you have a bunch of identical cubes, and move them on the board by rolling them orthogonally. This make a different character appear on the top face, thus changing the character. If you end next to another player’s cube with the appropriate character face up you create a pairing and remove the other player’s cube. The thinking can get quite deep and you will find yourself playing around with a spare cube to determine what your moves should be. Definitely not a game to play with AP sufferers! I suspect it would be quite easy for a two player game to fall into a Mexican stand off position. The three player game potentially runs the risk of two of the players ganging up on the third, although this did not overtly happen in our game. It would probably be best with four. This was a win for me.

Since we were right next to the Z-Man games stand, we checked out a few of Zev’s games and ended up playing Owner’s Choice because Gregor had played it before and could teach the rest of us including Anna, Paul and Patrick.

This is not a deep game by any means, but it is quite short and a bit of fun. There are four companies that you can invest in. People then choose to move one, two or three spaces around the board. If they land on a company the president (controlling shareholder) can choose to roll the President’s die which will do something good or bad for the company. Each company has a different die and thus different effects occur. The idea is to hopefully buy in, push the shares up, sell them off and hope they fall again. At the end of the game most of thought it was being fought out between me and Patrick, but Anna had snuck the win and trounced us all. A good filler type game, definitely not gamer’s game material, but it is quicker that The Stock Market Game probably quite good with older children too.

After dinner it was back the Hume Inn where I managed to get into a game of On the Underground being taught by Neil T. I had seen this a couple of times at Gamers@Dockers but never managed to get into a game. I made a bit of a mistake by starting in the centre with my short line instead of the long one. We had five players, but I forgot to make a note of anybody else’s name. It ended up being a very tight game with only a five point spread between first and last. I will definitely be playing this again.

Next up Neil F taught Patrick, Paul and myself Spank the Monkey. The rules explanation actually took longer than the game did, since Neil said we were playing one optional rule which was multiple build cards. I was first, played a couple of cards, then Patrick had his turn and went build, build, build right up to the monkey, rolled and won. Game over red rover.

After that we moved on to Tichu. Those weird New South Welshmen don’t play by the rules, instead of going to the right they play clockwise. Since it was three to one, I had to relent. It meant that whenever I had the one, I was remembering what I passed to the person on my right which was then useless. Neil F and I defeated the two P’s. It was now after midnight and time for me to relieve my sister of her babysitting duties. Melissa played on until about three am.


Another early morning to a breakfast talk by Mike Hirtle. Very interesting.

The first game was Gheos. Melissa and I who had played it once before two player at the start of the year, taught it to Patrick and Paul as we were the veterans. It has less of an abstract feel as you add extra players. I benefited greatly when four epoch tiles were drawn in a row and I had control of the largest empire at the time. This gave me the lead, which was never overtaken. The scoring tokens seem to be a lot more important in a four player game than a two. I think this is more likely to come out at home now.

Later on I was watching some others play three piece Ubongo, a couple of them had to leave to go play a tournament so I was one of the substitute players when they started the four piece version. I got my first puzzle very quickly and then struggled for the most of the rest. I am sure practice will make perfect and a copy of this was part of our rather large purchase from Zev.

Speaking of Zev, my next game was Castle Merchants with Melissa, Duncan and Paul. It took a little while to get the hang of what was going on, and I think we would be more focused and quicker the next time. If it was around, I would play it again, but I don’t feel the urge to purchase it, although it would probably work quite well with older children. I managed to snatch the win from Duncan and Paul.

Melissa and I tried Khet next. We had a twenty second run through and no copy of the rules, so we are not entirely sure if we were playing it correctly. After killing off a few of my own pieces (assuming that is legal) I managed to defeat Melissa. This game is defitinitely one of those that has the WOW factor. I’d like to play it again a few times before deciding on a purchase though. The distributor told us that they had sold over sixty copies during the expo.

Next was The Princess and the Pea with Melissa and one of the guys from the Mayfair stand. This would be good with two and three year olds, but Daughter the Younger is already too old for it. Nice components, but small children only.

Another Haba game, this time with Patrick and Daughter the Elder was Von 0 auf 100. We had had a demo copy from CaterpillarGames for the school games night and I had taken it to work and played it a few times and enjoyed it. I hadn’t had a chance to try it out with Daughter the Elder and Patrick hadn’t played it either. Perhaps she is spoiled since we already play Formula De but Daughter the Elder was not taken with it, so it has now dropped a few points down my wishlist. Patrick was the first player car home.

Killing some time as the Expo closed down, I played a game of Chess with Hayden. I was holding my own for a while, but then the façade dropped and I was crushed.

After dinner at TB’s again, we headed off to the Hume Inn function room for more games. I only managed one that night but it was a good one. Zev had one carton of Duel in the Dark. Zev had one at the Hume Inn, punched and ready to go. A few of us were chatting to him when he brought it out and suggested we play. Giles and I were the lucky ones. You can read my session report and mini review and the review by Giles based on that evening. This is another game that has WOW factor. It looks great. Most people who looked at it or watched it being played want a copy.

I am told that the last game of Werewolf finished at six am and that Joe from the Hume Inn was playing it that. Excellent service from the Hume Inn.

Other highlights not involving playing games. Chatting to the designer of Squatter about some of the differences between the current edition and the old ones and how the new one actually reflects some of the colours that he wanted in the original edition. Watching Mike and Mary's Hive grudge match, talking to various stall holders and catching up with old gaming friends or meeting new ones, including Patrick, Paul, Richard, Neil F, Al, Max, Phil, Terry, Rob, Kev, Bill, Louise, Shebby, John, Neil T, Patty, Janet, The whole Melbourne Crew that I see normally anyway, Greg, Andrew and many more. Last but not least was the launch of the GamesAustralia awards.

Apologies for the lateness of this post, but we were playing Die Macher this afternoon, I am sure you will understand.

Mmm meeples taste like

Friday, June 15, 2007

Shooting Zombietown

We had a lot of unfinished games at last night’s meeting of the Appalachian Gamers. Usually we stop in mid-game if we’re just playing a filler and a new arrival walks in. But we were playing Zombietown (from Twilight Creations) for the first time, and we found an excuse to quit. Zombietown is not meant to be just a filler game (unless your definition of a filler game is a lot different than mine). I actually can’t remember exactly what caused us to stop playing, but I know the motivation behind the stoppage: we found the game hard to swallow.

Sorry, Zombietown is a game that inspires tasteless humor. This is a game that glories in ultra-gory brain-blasting zombie-killing imagery on combat cards. Not that that’s a bad thing. While I wouldn’t describe the Appalachian Gamers as a small horde of Ameritrash dice addicts who crave red-meat combat games, neither are we a bunch of sherry-sipping wooden-cube-loving elitists who distain any game that doesn’t require a calculator to tabulate victory points. In fact, the majority of the group expressed fondness for another zombie game—Mall of Horror.

So what were our beefs with Zombietown?

One number, the rules. I’ve never seen a game played with the rulebook so much in hand. We had far too many questions and debatable interpretations of the rules—especially considering that the game wasn’t even that complex. Maybe we could have saved ourselves some time and trouble by looking for an FAQ on Boardgamegeek, but that sort of effort shouldn’t be required.

Two, the game play wasn’t that interesting. The zombies seemed pathetically easy to kill. Yes, I understand that as the game progresses the hordes of zombies increase until there is the possibility that players could get overwhelmed. But we seemed to be halfway done with the game and no one was in any danger yet.

Players seemed to have only two things to do: either shoot zombies to gain points, or run to the house next door to get supply cards. It didn’t take long for this kind of decision-making to pale.

Now, maybe I’m being a little hard on a game that isn’t trying to be zombie Puerto Rico. Maybe the game was meant to be played with beer in hand while watching a George Romero DVD triple feature on Halloween. If someone suggests playing the game under those conditions, maybe you could have some fun with it.

But first go to Boardgamegeek and look for an FAQ

Thursday, June 14, 2007

The News in Thongs / Old Puzzler Answer / New Fortnightly Puzzler

A Cribbage Tale

The highest ranked cribbage player in the states is DeLynn Colvert. He's won the Cribbage Nationals four times, as well as countless other tournaments. Because of the volatility of the game, the American Cribbage Congress awards points for tournament victories, and these points make up the ranking system (that is to say, you could win Nationals but not be the highest ranked player). Last time I checked, DeLynn's closest competitor was several thousand points behind him.

DeLynn Colvert is a full-time cribbage player. He travels over 40,000 miles a year to various tournaments. He lives and breathes cribbage, and when you see him, you start to understand. He is usually sporting an ACC cap and is often wearing a cribbage sweatshirt.

DeLynn also lives in Missoula, Montana, and I've been itching to play him for months. World Games of Montana carries his book "Play Winning Cribbage" with his now famous Theory of 26. I've only glanced at the book, so I can't go into much detail. The Theory of 26 is a law of averages for cribbage, and as such, it is a framework for how to play if you start the game as dealer or if you start as non-dealer.

Cribbage is a game I only picked up last year. I've read one book on it, didn't get perfect scores on any of the tests, and haven't read another book since. I would call myself a beginner, and a solid one at that, but nothing more. When DeLynn came in the store earlier this week, I challenged him to a game. He accepted.

At his own admittance, DeLynn believes that every beginner who doesn't make any substantial errors should win about four games out of ten against anyone. Basically, anyone should win four games out of ten against anyone. It's those two leftover games that are closely fought over, as far as averages go.

We cut to go first, and DeLynn got the lower card. "That just gave me a 4% edge," he said. But I got a nice cut card in the first round (a 5) to match my double run of face cards, so I started off just behind DeLynn. He led the way around the board for more than 60 points of the game, but then had a terrible streak of no-pointers.

What I found incredible was his pegging during these awful hands. DeLynn was still getting around six to eight points and jumping ahead of me each time. In my opinion, pegging is the trickiest part of the game and at the heart of a lot of wins. Still, my better hands finally took a toll. I took the lead from around 90 points, with about ten to fifteen points between us.

As befitting this exciting occasion, I landed on 120 points as non-dealer and ended my turn. DeLynn caught up to about 110. In this situation, the game is usually won by a single pegged point. I felt pretty confident. My hand was an odd one; I kept two cards I thought were decent pegging cards and the other two were ten-counts. DeLynn, I soon found out, kept small numbered cards.

DeLynn laid a 4 down; I couldn't make points. I made a terrible play and played a 3; he paired it for two. Still, I couldn't make any points, so I played a 10 bringing the total up to 20. At this point, DeLynn deliberated. He quickly played an ace, bringing it up to 21. I looked at my hand and dropped the second face card, making 31 and my last point needed. Yes!

So perhaps the game was simply one of the four granted all beginners. Who knows? But after the game, DeLynn was the picture of perfect sportsmanship. He was so nice after the game you would have sworn he had just won. The board we played on was one he won in 2005, a $200 board that he had never played on before. He joked that he used up all his luck winning that cribbage board!

I really appreciated his time and courtesy. In those final moments, I feel I saw part of what it means to be a champion.






Old Puzzler Q & A

Q: This is a personal story about a magician which will lead into the puzzler.

A friend once took me to see his uncle. His uncle loved magic tricks and jumped at the opportunity to show them off, especially to new people.

When I met him, it seemed we were opposites of sorts. I was a kid in high school; he was a husband and father of two. I wore a baseball cap to block the Texas sun; he wore nothing. I had baggy jeans; he wore shorts and a T-shirt. Somehow, he knew I was the perfect mark.

He had me sit down in a chair on the living room carpet. He then took a roll of paper towels and ripped off one sheet. He showed me both sides of his arms to demonstrate that he wasn't using any machine or apparatus.

He then started swinging his arms in front of me like a person mimicking a giant alligator. One arm would go high, and the other would go low. As he made this movement, he crumpled the paper towel and switched hands. Up and down the paper towel would travel, and smaller and smaller it became as he crumpled it. Finally, poof! It disappeared.

"Do you know where it went?" he asked. I shook my head. "Ok," he said, "I'll do it again." He repeated the trick. Again, the paper towel disappeared. Again, I didn't know what happened.

"Ok," he said, "This time, I'll make it easy on you." He then took the entire paper towel roll, a pretty hefty full roll, and did the same thing. Up and down it went in his alligator jaw pattern. Finally, and I kid you not, it disappeared right before my very eyes.

Can you guess how he was doing it?

A: Two people guessed and got it right, one with part of the details of the trick. My friend's uncle simply threw the paper towels, wadded up, over my head and behind me. While this seems pretty obvious, there are a few things to consider: 1) my cap cut off my upper peripheral vision, 2) we were on carpet so the already quiet paper towels were made even more quiet when they landed (even the roll didn't seem to make a sound), 3) common courtesy is to make eye contact, so I didn't consider looking behind me.

Magic tricks, both simple and complex, are fascinating when executed well. A good showman with a simple trick is likely to be talked about for a long time.


New Fortnightly Puzzler

Here's a trivia question from long ago:

& (the 'and' sign) : ampersand :: # (the 'pound' sign) : _________.*

* Thanks for all puzzle solving attempts! Please do not post answers on the blog, however. If you feel the need, you can email me at Thanks!