Sunday, October 30, 2005

What the Fudgesickle? Game Considerations

Oh yeah, there's been a spate of some 'topics' on this, and you can't fault these folks for desiring their subjects if THEY feel that this is warranted. In fact, the GEEK's own "Maverick"-Joe Scoleri, has gotten into the mix with his 'design' of a game concerning a 'pony-polo' one, which is based upon something that the "Mongolian Horsemen" are wont to play. This also involves the "ball" consisting of some poor animal's carcass or maybe it's just the head, but whatever that is, then it must be quite the 'sight'! Now, there even was someone just during this past week on the "Geek", who proposed a "Hip-Hop Lyricizin'!" sort of 'game', and that's been getting some discussion going with mostly a 'bad rap' for this-pun accorded. I had made mention to a fellow ''Geek'' in the CHAT there-hello ''Xlyce'', that maybe HE ought to see about producing a GAME based upon the ''Canadian Football League'' and utilizing a 'system' that I was particularly fond of. It isn't a very complicated sort of 'game' that I had in mind, since I was keen on this certain type and I hope that he'll seriously consider this. But if you really want to check out some ''odd ducks'' that are oozing from people's minds, then check out the ''Boardgame Designer's Guild'' website, you won't be disappointed!

I'll reiterate this here for those that might not give a listen to a truly decent show called ''the Dice Tower'' put on by Joe Steadman & Tom Vasel, but they have a really nice game offering for their ongoing 'Contest'. This will consist of a complete copy of "Memoir 44" PLUS the most recent expansions for that! Not too shabby eh? You'll have to give them some decent 'props' for this as that's a lotta gaming then, for those that are so inclined. I won't detail just what YOU'd have to 'do' for this, since it'd defeat the purpose of listening to them and it is in their #22 episode that you'll find out more upon the matter. ALSO, check out what Joe Steadman has up for trade considerations and he's got those listed upon the ''GEEK'' itself, as well as his 'own' BLOG for that. Despite what you might believe, then ole JOE does have quite a few NON-'Wargames' as well, so if you get the chance then swing on by one or the other 'place' and check 'em out 'dawg'! There's even going to be some 'horse trading' ('dogs' unloading?) going on during the upcoming ''BGG Con'' next weekend, so I'm sure that there'll be plenty of LISTs detailing that aspect in the following weeks! Oh yeah, even the ''ShillKing'' himself will be making an 'appearance' there and with plenty of copies of his games. Now, while I do sincerely wish HIM the very best on that, although there are plenty of others who would 'do' otherwise. I don't know if that somewhat 'celebrated' game between HIM and ''Derk'' ever took place at ESSEN just recently, so maybe we'll find out more upon this eh? I'm sorry NOT to be able to attend this year's ''GEEK Con'', but I just can't.

Something that I do intend on attending and is the FIRST for itself as well, is an upcoming ''ConQuestNW Seattle'' and this is going to take place next February! It'll be during the ''President's Day Weekend'' of which is Februrary 17th~20th '06, and is going to be at the Marriott Sea-Tac Airport Hotel. There's also a ''So-Cal'' version that is to take place in Sacremento and that'll even combine a ''Sci Fi'' feel for it too. This will be going on from April 6th~9th '06, to be held at the Red Lion Hotel, and if anyone is interested in being a part of either of them, then please do. Whilst 'reccon'ing these just now, then I also find that there's to be a ''ConQuestLA'' and that'll be making its debut on January 13th~16th '06, at the L.A. International Airport Hilton, and it almost sounds like the 'place' that the ''Gateway'' Con is usually conducted within. If anybody knows if this is the case, then please inform others upon the fact for their ease of locating the events. This just occurred to myself from what I'd already written here, but they just 'need' a MARCH 'Con', and they'd have a great candidate for that with the folks down in Portland, Oregon! So, maybe they ought to contact some of them there and get on the ball for this, as I'm sure that some sort of accomodation could be reached. I have attended some of the gaming conventions in the Metro Portland area from time to time, and they are a GREAT bunch of folks for this, so let's see this become a ''Surreality'' then guys & dolls!

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Crusader Rex

Got to play my second game of Crusader Rex a couple of weeks ago, this time with John Haba of John had had more experience with CR than I, so we agreed that I would take the Saracens (who I had also played in my first game with Marty McMartin). I'll also mention here that I haven't read any online strategy discussion (except the designer's suggestion that defending players run away rather than hole up in fortresses) and so will use that as my excuse if I ramble on about stuff that has already been hashed out somewhere else.

A good chunk of my six initial draws from the pool were Kurds to be deployed in Damascus; this made me happy since I had done fairly well for myself pushing up the middle in my first game and I saw no reason to head in a different direction in this one. My first goal was to take Tyre in order to cut John's forces into two halves; this would make it easier to eventually move on Tripoli, as it would be tough for John to counterattack from the South since the roads that lead to Tyre and Banyas from that direction are narrow and will only accommodate two attacking units. Certainly he could utilize sea moves to get around me (which he later did), but this is a relatively slow process.

On the first turn, 1187, I feinted northward from Egypt, got John to contract his forces in the South, and then moved West from Damascus to take Beaufort. I believe I even made it to Sidon on the coast that turn, but that may have taken place in the following year. I also grabbed Krak des Chevaliers, which almost seems like a foregone conclusion.

My hand of cards was relatively weak in 1188, so rather than following through and pushing into Tyre I ended up just shuffling units around in the rear so as not to lose any newly drawn Aleppo units to winter attrition; at the time I was unhappy with my lack of progress, but in retrospect this was a good thing to do; I would soon need the Aleppo Turks to help cover the ground I had taken in the middle of the board. I did do one useful thing, however, which was to take Tartus, just north of Tripoli; certainly I couldn't defend the position against a concerted attack, but it did cut off free movement between the center and the North. The Frank units between Sidon and Tartus were being held gently in place, like an ugly orange beetle with its legs pinned between two delicate fingers....

One of the interesting things about CR is that the wintering rules force players to pack their offensive maneuvers into small bursts before everyone has to run for cover. I had stalled too long in the second year, so in 1189 I immediately pushed four of my best units into Tyre. John had two units hunkered down there, and called north two more from Acre. It was a massacre, however; if I remember correctly the original two Frankish blocks were eliminated, and the reinforcements beat a retreat soon after they arrived. My blocks only took two step losses. I took advantage of the confusion to also take Tiberias so as to slow down any attempts to get behind me in Tyre by moving East from Acre towards Banyas or (gulp!) Damascus.

My next move was to bring the rear guard in Damascus forward to occupy Tyre while Saladin and his pals moved north and camped outside of Tripoli, though I don't remember whether that happened at the end of 1189 or the beginning of 1190.

It should be mentioned at this point that I had really good cards that year and John had really crappy ones.

You didn't need to be a swami fortune-teller to know what was going to happen in Tripoli. The two gentle fingers had turned into a pair of pliers, and the hammer was hovering just overhead. I blasted in with eight or nine blocks via three different roads, and when the dust cleared there was nothing left of the Christians in Tripoli except the echo of a Hail Mary and a stain on the ground.

It was 1191 at that point, and the reader might be wondering when the Crusaders are going to come charging in to the rescue. John was wondering the same thing. He finally drew all three Germans at the very end of 1190, but still only had two out of three of the French and the English. In fact, here's how dismal things were for John: at one point he was down to two blocks in his draw pool, and they were the missing Frenchman and Brit. Ay caramba!

Anyway, Barbarossa and his comrades started drifting into Antioch, and so John started to show a little backbone in the North. To be fair, he had pushed back a little before this point as well, but the counteroffensive never gained any momentum. Anyway, a nasty force elbowed its way into Artah, and another slipped through the front lines southeast and then west into the region around Krak des Chevaliers and Montferrand, so I had to spend a little time and energy shooing the holy rollers back into place.

We were now poised at 1192. The Germans were in the North, more Crusaders were on the boat, and a frightened, ominous hush descended on Tripoli.

And I had to go home.

It was very disappointing, but we just couldn't finish. The game up to that point had ended up taking three and a half or four hours, and my family was waiting for me to get home so we could all have dinner. Why can't these stupid wargames ever end on time?

Regardless, I think the outcome was pretty clear. My ace strike force of Saladin and his cronies were hanging out in Damascus playing cards, so all they had to do was to spend one movement point to bolt to Tripoli and I'm sure I could have held it for the year. John had taken back Tartus by this point, but if I remember correctly I still held Krak des Chevaliers, so there wouldn't be any easy two-pronged attacks on his part; basically, I had enough Arabs loitering around the North to react to any sudden moves he made. An end run at Damascus from the area around Jerusalem might have been an option, but it would have taken a great hand of cards on his part and a really lousy one on my part to pull off, I think.

So ultimately I would say yes, this is a tough game for the Christians to win.

Does the Frankish player have any chance at all? Maybe, I guess. The only thing I could suggest from my perspective is that the Frank needs to prod and pester the Saracens constantly in order to slow down their advance; he doesn't need to do any real damage, he just needs to be a nuisance. Because the winters demand that offenses be fast and coordinated (they have to get wrapped up before football season, you understand), the Arabs cannot be allowed to have any zen moments of clarity, or they will gather up all their actions and use them in a concerted way to do Mean Things to the Christians. John did use this tactic to some extent in our game, but not as much as he could have. Anyway, after meeting Saladin in a few dark alleys, I would guess it's easy for the Frankish player to get spooked into thinking that all the Saracen forces are bad-asses, but that's not quite true. Had John pushed back against the crust more methodically, he might have found one or two mushy spots. Such an approach can make a difference I think; after all, even though I was kicking ass and taking names, note that it took me until late 1190 or early 1191 to actually get my fourth city; had he distracted me a little more, and had the crusaders made a more timely entrance, things might have been a lot different.

Overall I enjoyed myself and I think Crusader Rex is a fun and exciting game, or at least it is for the Saracens. The demands of wintering mean that things don't settle down into a static front line; offenses tend to wax and wane, and there is enough room on the map for jabs and darts and general mobility. Also, I like that the game manages everything with a relatively small rule set; while I enjoy a challenge, I don't have any passion for military history, and I prefer it when the complexity is in the game, not in the rules. Nothing is as aggravating as playing a wargame for four hours and suddenly realizing that some peripheral but influential exception or bit of upkeep was neglected three turns ago, thus leading to an erroneous chain of events that can't be untangled.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Musings, Ramblings and More Ramblings.

The past few months have been slow game months 'round these parts. A fellow I work with got activated with his Army Reserve unit, so I fell on my sword and agreed to cover his shift until they can find a full time replacement, so far no one has even applied. Prior to that I was working 3 jobs. Two of those jobs allowed me a very flexible schedule and I could usually play a game on a moment's notice.

Given my druthers, I'd rather be driving a cab as my primary job. Cab drivers just have better stories. Admittedly, I get pretty good stories from working as a nurse, but as a nurse I'll never slam on the brakes at 80 miles an hour, sending a drunk into the dashboard just so I can get his attention.

"If you would just shut your pie-hole I wouldn't have had to do that. Now, shut your trap and put out the cigarette."

"My nose is bleeding."

"I said, shut your pie-hole."

"You bastard."

The thing is, if he hadn't called me a faggot and complained about the service non-stop since he got into the cab, I would have let him smoke. If he wouldn't have called me a bastard after hitting the dashboard the first time I wouldn't have had to do it a second time. I still see the guy from time to time and he acts like my best friend, go figure.

Some of the best nursing stories are rendered moot because I have to keep a certain level of confidentiality. For example, I've seen a jackass making a scene in the store and have had to bite my tongue. The story about the time I gave him a suppository would be hilarious at that particular moment, but not so funny if I were to tell it later without the context of him throwing a fit in the Electronics Department.

Sometimes the two jobs collide. I can't very well say, "Hey buddy, that gal you're going home with sure is cute, but do the initials "chronic-yeast-infection" mean anything to you?" I at least get to tell those stories to other nurses, so they don't entirely go to waste.

It is odd that both professions frequently have funny stories that revolve around puke, but until a nurse can say, "What, you're out of money? Don't worry about it. We'll just call it even. Oh no, it's not a problem at all. I'll just keep the six cases of beer you put in the trunk and we'll be square," the cab stories will always be better, and will almost never involve suppositories.

But that's not what I'm writing about today. I'm writing about a topic I have almost no experience with; game conventions.

This general lack of gaming I mentioned in the first paragraph got me thinking about BGG.con and how I now wish I could attend. I priced airline tickets the other day, and it was significantly cheaper to fly from Alaska to Dallas than from Alaska to Seattle. Who'd a thunk? Now I'm kicking myself for not going.

Dame Coldfoot and myself have only been to one convention. BRIMFROST. It is the only game convention in the state. It is a smallish affair hosted by the Anchorage Miniature Game Club. Not surprisingly it's tilted heavily toward miniature games. There was an Advanced Squad Leader tournament, and a Circus Maximus game that featured a huge, home-made board that drew a multitude of players and observers (self included). The wife and I were able to play several board games, none of which were planned, but all of which were fun. We had a lot of fun. Both of us are looking forward to more game conventions, but if we want to go to the big ones we will have to pick one each year and plan well in advance.

I think the missus and myself will be attending BGG.con next year, assuming there is one. I would have liked to attend this year, but we had already planned to spend 3 weeks with our families over Christmas. One trip in November and another in December would have just been too expensive, and would have taken too much vacation time. Dame Coldfoot would have to get a part-time job to finance both trips, and possibly two.

Oddly enough, Dame Coldfoot is lobbying for the Essen trip. So far I have managed to keep her away from Chris Brooks' website. He's posted a number of nice pictures of castles and scenery from his Essen trip. If she were to look at those I would be doomed to make the trip. I would rather be locked in room with Potterama and nothing but Knizia games to play, than spend 20+ hours on planes and in airports, both ways. No thank you. The thing that kills me most about the Essen trip is that there is a non-stop flight from Fairbanks to Frankfurt in the summer months. Takes less than 8 hours to make the trip by flying over the Pole. If it was a year-round flight I would never miss the Essen Game Fair, it would take significantly less time to fly to Germany than to GenCon, or to BGG.con.

For the time being we will have to content ourselves with BRIMFROST in March. Dame Coldfoot is enthused, possibly more so than I am. She has been watching the price of airfares to Anchorage for a couple months. Word on the street is that Advanced Civilization and TI3 games are planned. The convention will feature more organized boardgaming than in previous years. I have volunteered to run any boardgame they might need help with. We'll see.

Have fun at BGG.con. Keep the rest of us unfortunate, home-bound folks posted, and maybe we will see you next year.

Good gaming,

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Games to Watch For: Essen '05

October is inevitably a good month for German games, thanks to to the hundreds(?) of new releases at Essen. Word slowly trickles over to the States about the best, and in the weeks and months that follow the games trickle over as well.

What follows is my listing of what I think are the games coming out of Essen with the most potential. It inevitably ended up being a list of gamers' games, not card games or fillers, no matter how deserving they might be. Some are actually reprints, or games otherwise being made widely available to America for the first time, but the main point is this: for most people they'll be new.

I've offered up my best representation of each game, but I actually haven't seen any of them yet (except Elasund), so I can't guarantee accuracy, especially not for the "Like:" area. Feel free to add your own thoughts or comments below.

Games marked with a star(*) made my first-cut list, and I think are likely to be the biggest movers in the year to come


Authors: William Attia
Synopsis: resource management & castle building
Background: France, 1289
Like: Keythedral, Puerto Rico
U.S. Publisher: Rio Grande Games

This is by the company who released Ys last year (though the designer is a newcomer). It's getting some recognition as one of the gamer's games of the fair. The big idea of the game seems to be that you can build buildings which do special things and which others players can use too, for a fee. Each turn you place your pieces on the buildings & then get to do stuff. The placement is rather like Keythedral, it appears, which leaves me with some concern because I thought that that particular game system was so chaotic as to be astrategic.

Elasund: The First City of Catan

Authors: Klaus Teuber
Synopsis: city building & conflict
Background: Catan
Like: Candamir, New England, Settlers of Catan
U.S. Publisher: Mayfair Games

Some people may well consider Settlers of Catan over and done with. To a certain extent it's from an earlier period of game design that isn't 100% in tune with the modern German games that excite many. However there's also a number of us that are thrilled to see another Catan variant. The big idea here seems to be that instead of trading between players the main interaction comes through a higher degree of interference during the building process (which is where it reminds me more of Domaine than Settlers).

(Since I first drafted this article, I've played Elasund. Though it uses some of the core mechanics of Settlers, including a die roll that produces resources that are in turn used to build things, it's very different from the core game. There's a lot of strategy & tactics here, and it's a surprisingly thoughtful game. One of the players called it "New England done right", and though I like New England, I think the comparison of this as a somewhat kindred game is apt.)


Authors: Wolfgang Kramer
Synopsis: economics, connections, card management
Background: Argentina, the 1940s
Like: ?
U.S. Publisher: Rio Grande Games

This game hasn't really gotten much attention, but as one BGGer said: Kramer + HiG. That's a potent combination. I haven't really been able to tell if this is one of his tactical heavy games or not. There's clearly some connectivity gameplay and some economics which are a bit more unusual in a Kramer design. I'm waiting to learn more, but this is clearly a game to watch for.

Il Principe

Authors: Emanuele Ornella
Synopsis: auction, resource management & city building
Background: Italy, The Renaissance
Like: Oltremare, Settlers of Catan with auctions
U.S. Publisher: Z-Man Games

Last year's Oltremare was a great reimagining of Bohnanza: a new and unique game that still scratched the same itch. Its author this year released Il Principe, which looks like a resource-management city building game (ala Settlers) but with some auctions and other complexities. This one hasn't generated as much excitement as some of the others on my list, but I have faith in the author based upon Oltremare.


Authors: Klaus-Jurgen Wrede
Synopsis: civilization building & resource management
Background: Mesopotamia, the Ancient World
Like: Settlers of Catan
U.S. Publisher: Mayfair Games

I've been saying for a bit that I think that Phalanx Games have been on an upward trend. Maharaja and Alexander the Great were both above-average gamers' games, and this one, by Carcassonne designer Klaus-Jurgen Wrede, just seems to be continuing that trend. I haven't seen enough about it yet to entirely understand it, but I think this one could be a new Settlers of Catan.


Authors: Kris Burm
Synopsis: abstract connection
Background: N/A
Like: Twixt
U.S. Publisher: Rio Grande Games

I haven't been a big fan of the GIPF series of games, but I'm pretty sure that the release of the last in the sequence is going to be a big deal for many gamers. This one looks somewhat like classic Twixt to me, except using variably sized pieces. The big idea is apparently that you can not just place pieces, but move them too, something which I think could add a lot of depth to many connection & other railroad games.

Railroad Tycoon

Authors: Martin Wallace & Glenn Drover
Synopsis: economic, resource management & connections
Background: The Age of Steam
Like: Age of Steam
U.S. Publisher: Eagle Games

Speaking of Railroad games, here's a true entrant to that genre. Prior to the release of Conquest of the Empire I was really hoping for a slightly simplified version of Struggle of Empires with some additional development work that in the end would be superior to the original. I didn't get that (though CotE is every bit as good as SoE, just in a different way), but hope springs eternal. I'm hoping that Railroad Tycoon will be the slightly more approachable game that I wish Age of Steam was. We'll see. I don't really see a big idea here, as this is the nth iteration of a tried and true railroad system, but that may well be enough in itself.

Reef Encounter

Authors: Richard Breese
Synopsis: tile laying & set collection
Background: A Coral Reef
Like: Acquire, Tigris & Euphrates
U.S. Publisher: Z-Man Games

One of the most talked about games of '04, Reef Encounter is finally going to be widely available in the U.S. in '05 thanks to Z-Man Games. I'm not convinced that there is a new big idea behind Reef Encounter. Instead it seems to have won converts with some combination of its original theme, its shrimp meeples, its Breesian author, and its serious strategic play. This is one of the heavier German games of Essen '05, and may be the heaviest game on this list.


Authors: Mario Papini
Synopsis:card management & economics
Background: Siena, 1338
Like: ?
U.S. Publisher: Z-Man Games

I feel a bit like a shill, listing so many Z-Man Games, but the honest answer is that they've fairly quickly burst onto the designer game scene, both with their own releases (Parthenon) and with a singularly good taste for German reprints & coproductions. Siena is another of their upcoming games which is getting a lot of recognition. I don't really have much understanding of how it works, other than the fact that it's a card-driven economic game that seems to have enough serious gameplay to keep it interesting. The big idea here simply seems to be beautiful art: the background of the board is a classic mosaic.


Authors: Martin Wallace
Synopsis: civilization building & warfare
Background: Generic Hexland
Like: Civilization, Parthenon
U.S. Publisher: Cafe Games

This is a new Martin Wallace game that's been getting attention most of the year. The big idea is "a civilization game that plays in under 2 hours". It appears to have neat technology & warfare rules, pretty much what you'd expect from the genre.

Some games that I didn't include in my list because I've already reviewed them but I still think are good games for this Fall Season include: Beowulf: The Legend (FFG), The Hollywood! Card Game (FFG), and Parthenon (Z-Man). The one other game that I left off this list, but almost made it on was Byzantium, the newest Warfrog game, which is as well rated as some of the others that appear here. A third Wallace game on the list just seemed like overkill, however.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

What Was Your Name Again?

I’m one of those people who has a very difficult time remembering people’s names no matter how hard I try to imprint it on my memory when I’m introduced. I’ve tried repeating their name immediately as in, “Hello, Betty, nice to meet you”. I’ve tried using word association as in “Betty—Betty Rubble from the Flintstones”. I’ve tried using humor or rhymes such as “Betty Spaghetti”. All to no avail because at the end of the meeting I’m thinking, “Was it Betsy…Beatrice…Bernice…I know there was a ‘B’”.

How is it, then, that I have stored in my memory hundreds of game names ready for almost-instant retrieval? I read or hear a game’s name and I get an instant impression of the board (Tigris & Euphrates) or a unique piece (who can forget the Castillo in El Grande?) or a mechanic (Modern Art), even the number of players (Lost Cities, Puerto Rico). I know instantly if it’s a card game, a dice game, a heavy game, a light/fun game or an abstract. If someone is looking for a game with certain requirements—middle to heavy strategy, plays well with 2 but can handle more—I immediately think of Torres, Hansa, Carolus Magnus, Samurai—but don’t ask me who wanted to know. Many of the games’ names are in a language that I don’t even know and yet I have no trouble remembering them. Why the hell can’t I remember the name of that guy my husband introduced me to the other day?!
Bridges of Shangri-La

The other day an online friend asked me about Bridges of Shangi-La. In my comments I had qualified it as being after just one play, so do I still like it.

I was embarrassed to have to tell him that I hadn’t played it again but I didn’t want him to think it was because it was a bad game. I wandered around the house for the next hour trying to determine why this game doesn’t jump out and demand to be played again. It’s a very good game and I’m glad to have it in my collection but…

The final analysis, with much soul-searching, is this: it’s very much like a mutli-player DVONN.

The wide-open, random board set-up facing you offers dozens of movement options at the beginning of the game so it feels very random and chaotic for the first game or even two. Then you begin to see the subtle strategies you could employ to try to manipulate your position or your opponents’ movement.

The play area shrinks in size as the game progresses so that your options become less and you are faced with the reality that each move now is critical; you may even realize that some of your earlier moves were not a good idea.

You can play this game in a quick, lets-see-what-happens manner, but this is a deep game where careful planning and plotting can make a difference. You can study the board trying to find the perfect move but eventually someone will mention that they have to go to work on Monday.

I think Bridges is a game that has to be played several times in a short span of time to become comfortable with and begin to appreciate its subtle depth. That is why it waits patiently on the shelf for a day when we can explore it thoroughly.

Qualifier: this is after only one play.
Taj Mahal

This week I got to play Taj Mahal for the first time. This was an online version which can be found at but it isn’t a play by email game so that makes it a little harder as you have to arrange a meeting time which is convenient for all the players.

You can play alone against AI opponents, which is what I did before the big game. This let me get used to the interface, which isn’t bad considering all that has to be displayed. One screen shows the players’ area: your card hand and what you’ve won, the cards your opponents play, the draw cards and the special cards. Another screen shows the board and another screen shows a summary of what each player has won and their scores. A separate screen has the chat area, which can be annoying but you get used to it.

Two of us were new to the game but there was little need for teaching since we’d done our homework, which is a good thing since flipping between screens/chat would make it very difficult for teaching to a total newbie.

The game flowed along very nicely and took about an hour with 4 players. There was one memorable elephant fight which I was glad I was not a part of, having elected to drop out before drawing a card but it was good fun to watch! I thought I did pretty well for a first play even leading for awhile during mid-game but in the end the scores were 40-42-42-46 with myself in last place.

This is a brilliant game with several ways to score points, different paths to take strategically, hand-management with tough decisions and a sort of bluff/push-your-luck feel, and yet does not bog down with analysis paralysis. I highly recommend it and am in the process of acquiring my very own copy to inflict on my family.
Until next time, remember what Thomas Edison said: I haven’t failed, I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.


Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Roll Against Your Wisdom To Post Here

In Dallas, Tex, BGG.con
A stately pleasure-con decreed :
Where Derk and Aldie, website ran
With games piled to infinity.

Up in a hotel room.

So twice three thousand miles flown
Through taxis, flights, and missed connections :
Boxes enough to build a home,
Of fragrant types in all distractions ;
And will be meeples lurking on a throne,
Enclosing many fields and walled projections.

But oh ! that deep romantic sense of gamer's guile
Down in the pit of a geeky gamer's breast !
A holy sense, awakened all the while
A game is taken from the great game chest,
As Gawain must have felt ere a child,
Hearing first his fate to lead a quest!
As if the Earth a trembling beneath the feet,
A mighty horde of gamers trampling in
And sounds of armies lost and won therein
Down in the Dallas halls of humid heat
Resounding cries of tactics overthrown
And the heartrending ache of missing tiles
Needed to complete the game in style
But five tiles down after the game is won.
A dice is cast, a fortune is made known
Winners and losers both enjoy as one
The satisfaction of the game well done
And midst it all the ever present hum
Of Aldie's pointy silver microphone!

The gaming vendors offering a pleasure
Given to all those who pay the price
They will weigh out games by measure
Equally to naughty and to nice.

It will be a miracle of rare import,
To play even one tenth the games they have !
To play them well and still be a good sport
Will make the time there spent a treasure trove
Although my beatific Miss
Must stay behind and work while I am gone
It serves her right, for she enjoyed the bliss
While I worked through her last vacation.
Still, I will miss her anon
Even while I revel in the hiss
Of games and gamers playing at the con.

Oh, that with music, trumpeting, and song
I could throw a con in my hometown
This nice! This big! This full of fun!
All who click my site would soon swoon
All should cry, "Sign me up, anon!
And I will be arriving soon!"
Registering con-space and hotel rooms
To play from break of day, and all day long
And fun and laughter would descend upon
My stately city of Jerusalem!


Sunday, October 23, 2005

Upon the past Week start off with then we've "LOST`d" 'Rick Thornquist' and ''the GameWire'', while preceding that, there was poor 'DERK' of the GEEK having a parcel of his`n becoming ''LOST`d'' too-the 'prequel', with resultant LOSS of many materials of which he'd have entertained 'us' with. The 'Games Journal' done 'bit' the proverbial ''dust'' as well, while I wouldn't put it past ''you-KNOW-who'' to be a factor in these demises, ya kno? Then, there was that higly touted ''Mega-Powerball Lotto'' that I didn't WIN, nor could I have since I can't BUY a 'ticket' for that around here`n! But someone down in ''Medford, Oregon'' is one lucky 'sunuvaBLIP'! ain't it GRAND to just 'dream' of having THAT obscenely alluring amount of 'moola'? oh well...what would YOU 'do' if`n you HAD to 'deal' with that? First thing that I'd DO is list someone ELSE's phone number as MINE, along with a WRONG 'address' heh heh. Now we DID have someone close by here that had WON a huge amount ($92-Million) and they were DELUGED with 'mail' at around '2' FULL Mail Trucks JUST for THEM! Talk about some hard-up folks, or worse-mostly others looking for ''hand outs'' and probably 'from' the 'asking' for such! I'd often wondered IF someone were to WIN any ''Lotto'' and then proceeded to DONATE the entire amount TO some 'Charity' function, or even have a 'Church' CLAIM this 'Prize', would they THEN be able to obtain the FULL amount? I doubt it as I'm sure the damm 'Gubbamints' would TAX it just to get their 'grubby Gubbamints' mitts upon WHATEVER they 'can'! It's some ''Hard Work!'' to keep on robbing the POOR to further enrich the RICHest of the RICH! sing it on 'so' ole ''Grubya''!

On the PLUS side, then there's going to become a NEW ''Games Review'' magazine that had a short-lived 'announcement' ON the ''GEEK'' previously, and how's about giving that some well deserved attentions with as little 'belittlement' as possible? Sure, they didn't do themselves any 'favors' to SOME with their errors, but c'mon! WHO amongst 'us' hasn't done likewise? There were even a few who WERE making their own 'errors' and NOBODY called 'them' upon the carpet for those!?! It must have been some 'short-memory & narrow minds' that couldn't POINT them 'out' until now? Someone even had ''the gall''-(the 'GALL' I tells ya!) to accuse 'moi' of being ''pre-deterministic'' in my 'opining' in certain circumstances, of which I CAN although I 'RESERVE' that 'Right' where it is applicable. NONE of what I've ''gone off'' about wasn't of 'irreasonible' concerns, since I was MOSTLY talking about disappointingly 'current' sub-standards in GAMES in general...mostly. Other times, then it had to 'do' with someone's 'Corporate' DECISIONS and the 'impact' that those had compounded upon in regards to GAMEs, where this was ''imbecil`d'' to the 'N'th degree! Yeah, yeah 'those' are supposed to be ''money grub`n'' AS their main concern, but WHEN they won't produce WHAT many are clamoring FOR, then WHO are 'we' to turn to? Well, I'm glad that I brought this UP! Since I'm quite prolific in producing my OWN 'stuff', and I don't mind in the least 'sharing' these once someplace can produce them, then I hope to be able to accomodate many with these then.

I had already contacted the likes of ''CinC'' about THEM producing a more extensive LINE of 1/48ooth scale Naval Vessels for uses in the 'Milton Bradley' version of ''Axis & Allies'', while I had been assured that this would occur, just not WHEN. As it stands right now, then you can adapt those for EACH of the various Nationalities, so I encourage ANY to obtain some packs of these for their 'Gameplays', and also encourage THEM by doing so. They've STILL got their *Special* DEAL on the ''A&A'' TANKs, and it is quite the savings on this amount of full metal castings of these Historical vehicles. 'XENO Games' also produces the pieces for the ''Fortress America'' game and maybe even that ''Sushi-Jalapeno'' game as well. while I like their 'Bomber' aircraft in the latter, although they have 'it' being designated as a 'Fighter'! I'll be using those as ''Heavy Bombers'' for the ''F.A. Expansion Pack #1'' Game myself, as I have some 'Fighters' already AND will even reconfigure others for that 'inverted wing' looking kind that is 'seen' upon the front box coverart. The 'Soviets' had a couple of these under development as this first started out as the ''Su-37'' and then it is now known as the ''Su-47b'' currently.
You can clearly see this here and I can scarcely imagine the amount of componentry that has to be involved, to keep such an unorthodox lay-out such as what is displayed with this~airborne! Not since the ''Wobbly Goblin'' 'F-117', or the 'B-2' Bomber has a 'design' garnered such attentions as what was witnessed with THIS! There's even more 'bizarre' versions floating about and you just have to keep on the lookout for those wherever you can.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Post-Season Wrap-Up

Another Essen has come and gone. The Super Bowl/World Cup of Boardgame Geekdom is over for another year. There will be one major post-season event for serious geeks, BGG.con will be held next month in Dallas. After Dallas it will be a short off-season before pre-season events start again in February with the opening of the Nuremberg Toy Fair. The traditional start of the Boardgame Geekdom season, as always, will be Alan Moon's Gathering of Friends in April.

Major highlights from the past season include the Reiner Knizia episode of Geek Speak, the rise in the number of boardgame podcasts and blogs, and the demise of the Games Journal. Certainly the re-release of Ra, Age of Steam, Through the Desert, Twilight Imperium, and For Sale were significant events this past season.

Thomas Liesching came out on top in the final geek rankings. His game Niagara won the coveted Spiel des Jahres.

Coach of the Year was undoubtedly Rick Thornquist from Team Gamewire. He got a good late round draft pick in geek Ryan Bretsch. Team Gamewire member Tom Vasel was the point leader with over 100 game reviews and a grand-slam, hat-trick, quadruple-double with The Dice Tower podcast. His only serious competition was Shannon Appelcline from Team Shannon scored 85 reviews and also was a starter on Team Gone Gaming. Thornquist had even more success with Team Gamewire in the timely-game-news and on-the-scene-reporting competitions. (Note: This article was written before the announcement of the demise of the GameWire.)

The best showing by a referee must have been Matthew "Octavian" Monin from Team BGG. He made a few controversial calls under pressure, but stuck to his guns. He irked me with a couple calls, that in my opinion weren't even close, but the instant replay left enough doubt that the call stood. Octavian was called upon to make the calls no one else wanted to make, and over the course of the season his judgment proved to be among the best.

Team CardChess lead at the end of the season with the most fouls, despite a strong showing by Team Moon at the start of the season. Team Berg might have been in the running, but no one was paying attention to him. Team Moon was ahead by two lengths going into the first turn then stalled, and was destined not to move for the rest of the season. Team Potter, an amateur team which has been a strong contender for the most fouls in recent years, disappeared soon after the season opened. I fear some tragedy may have befallen this perennial gadfly. Although he and I rarely saw eye to eye, if anyone has news of his whereabouts a notice of such would be appreciated.

Although the most fouls is generally considered to be a sprint event, Team CardChess stood the sport on its ear and slowly chalked up points all year making it a marathon. By mid-season at Origins fans were tiring of the event as it was clear no other team would even be in the running.

A couple of minor highlights from the past Boardgame Geekdom season include Alfred's "Best of the Blogosphere" over at the orange blog. I am thrilled that the number of boardgame blogs has increased to the point we can have a weekly "best of" list. A couple of daily blogs have been introduced, including this one. Credit Adam at Gamefest with coming up with the idea of a daily, game related, team blog a couple years ago.

The ever insightful John "Scribidinus" O'Haver got a job that took him away from near constant monitoring of BGG, but Robert "Grognads" Wesley was drafted to fill those big shoes and has done so admirably.

The World Boardgame Championships was moved to a new stadium. The move was made from Maryland to Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Participants reported the humidity was just as bad in Lancaster. Non-participants reported that it isn't the world championship of anything, except the organizers' egos.

The Chicago International Toy and Game Fair seems to have stalled in its efforts to become the American Essen, but hope is still alive as the GenCon organizers are gossiping about changing the location from Indy. In my estimation Chicago and the International Toy Fair are just too close to GenCon to build up a large following. One or the other will have to move for the Toy Fair to gain traction.

That's it for this season. One last bash at BGG.con and us diehard fans will have to content ourselves with late-night re-runs on BGG-2, and ConSim-2.


Thursday, October 20, 2005

The Collector Bug

In halycon bachelor days, I was a collector. My bookcases overflowed with variant editions of Michael Moorcock and H.P. Lovecraft. When I stumbled upon one of my favorites with a different cover, I gasped, scooped it up, and ran at once for the cash register. Multiple editions of roleplaying books graced my shelves, and I could adroitly explain to you the differences between every edition of Call of Cthulhu from first to fifth, and I could even shake my head and sadly state, with quiet assurance, that there was never a Pendragon second edition, that Chaosium just skipped from first edition to third, with nary a backward glance.

As you might expect, my purchase of board games suffered from this affliction as well. I'd long noted the identical spines of the Avalon Hill bookshelf games, which fit together so beautifully on the shelves, but it was TimJim Games which truly fed my addiction. Like those Avalon Hill stalwarts, the spines of the TimJim boxes were equally designed to entice any obsessive-compulsive purchaser, but they also went a step further, and put product numbers on the spines in very large, highly contrasted, boxes.

Outpost, my first purchase, was #1001, and so naturally I got Mystic War (#1002) when it was released. Even today I look at that shelf of games, and think, "I should find a copy of Time Agent (#2002)", because I've heard decent things about it, and because it would look so good on my shelf next to Age of Exploration (#2003) and Suzerain (#2004). Not that I ever liked any of the TimJim games I bought, mind you, except Mystic War, but the numbers, the numbers, I had to match the numbers.

That's right, I was a twenty-something collector.

Collecting Board Games Today

I like to think I've given up the collector bug nowadays, that I've expunged it like an unwanted virus. As a rent-controlled apartment transformed into a 30-year mortgage, and as my discretionary income plummeted, I like to think that I matured and gave up such silly things. I like to think that while I used to collect books and games I now instead buy books to read and games to play, as odd as that might sound.

And I did break up my TimJim collection last year by selling off Outpost. I got a dozen or so games in exchange, any one of which has probably gotten more play than that ancient behemoth. But four more TimJim Games still sit on that shelf in my closet, all unplayed for at least half-a-decade. Nearby are my copies of Dragon Pass, Nomad Gods, and Elric, all set in the same worlds as some of my favorite RPGs, but which I will probably never play again.

So I'm a recovering collector, but I can't quite give up my secret stash.

And darn these modern publishers and their ever seductive consistency. How will I ever truly get better when they constantly dangle their tawdry box designs in my face?

Alea, oh how I hate them! They have become my greatest nemesis since TimJim, for their box spines match beautifully and they place numbers most prominently on their boxes. And, these aren't arcane SKUs, but instead simple counting numbers, like "1" and "2".

Even now I look at my shelf of Alea big-box games, and I cringe at its disharmony. Reading across you can see "4", "6", "7", "blank", and "9" (though I pretend I can see the "8" on my copy of Mammoth Hunters, even though it doesn't exist). Even as I pretend that my collector bug is gone, I know that Palazzo is higher on my buy list than Tower of Babel, because the former is #2 in a new Alea series, while the other is just some random Hans im Gluck release. And I know I'll buy #10 in the big-box series when it's released next year, no matter how light I hear it is, because how could I not?

Subtle Collecting

Thankfully, not all publishers are sultry seductresses like Alea. Take Fantasy Flight Games or Days of Wonder. They know how to satisfy my collecting urges without forcing me to admit that I'm actually toting up all the numbers to lay out on a shelf. They know the art of subtlety.

Days of Wonder hides their overtures within the designs of their big box games. Take a look at any two, and you'll probably see it. Turn a box so that you can see all the edges and you'll discover that on every right-hand side there's a portait of someone or something from within the game. Take Shadows Over Camelot for a spin and you'll see Merlin, Gwen, Morgan, and a pair of fighting knights adorning the four sides. Except, and this pains me to say, there's one flaw in DoW's big-box consistency, and it appears on Mystery of the Abbey, where the character portraits all appear not on the right-side of each box edge, but rather on the left!

Fantasy Flight plays a similar game with the sides of many of their big-box games. I believe it started with Lord of the Rings, but look at Arkham Horror, Runebound, or Beowulf and you'll discover it there too. These games (and presumably more) all sport bindings holding the box together. Metalwork, knotwork, whatever, you'll see it, running up and down the box sides and cutting across, transversely. Stack a pile of these Fantasy Flight Games together and the bindings all match up, holding your pile of games together.

Casual collecting, you could call this. Perhaps it's not the same thing as true collecting, as matching up the numbers, but it's at least a close susbstitute. You don't have to get the entire set, but every one improves the beautiful gestalt of your gaming shelves.


It makes me crazy sometimes, this collector bug that I've gotten rid of but that still haunts my dreams. I look at my copy of Hoity Toity, a half shelf away from my Alea Games, and I think, "I bet the German edition is a lot cheaper now that Uberplay has rereleased it. I could just give away my Uberplay ed and then fill in one of the spaces in my Alea collection." And I ponder about the new releases of Ra and Winner's Circle, and wonder if those might drop out the eBay markets on those games too. Whether the new editions might be better is of no consequence, because the older ones match

I don't give in. I hold steady. Hoity Toity stays firmly on my shelf, and I don't move Mystery of the Abbey away from the rest of my Days of Wonder games, even if it does look wrong.

But what's this that arrived on my doorstep just the other week? Dungeon Twister. With such an attractive spine, and look, an "S" in a circle (for Starter). I can imagine the supplements already, with their bindings and their numbers and their pictures all lining up perfectly. Will they have letters, perhaps a "A" or an "X"? Or will they have numbers, a standard "1" or a "2"?

I can imagine them already, bravely marching across my shelves.

But I'll play them, I will, honest.

I'm not a collector any more.

PS: Welcome to my new blogging day, on Thursday. You should see my scribblings here every week now, while Alex has scooted over to my previous spot, biweekly on Saturdays. His next column should be up two days from now.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Games, Games and More Games

We talk about it for months. We scour the internet for news. We envy those who are making plans to travel to Germany. The anticipation builds in equal parts to our fear of how much money we’ll be spending in the near future. Yes, it’s Essen time again.

Like the rest of you, I’ve checked the daily updates on GameWire where Rick Thornquist does a great job keeping us informed and I’ve read several blogs which unselfish (and lucky) gamers have posted from the Essen Game Fair. As I read the short summaries for games that I had thought would make good additions to my collection, one by one they were crossed off my list until I’m left with only 4 possibles. That’s a good thing, right?

Granted, many of the new games didn’t even make the list because they are longer and more complex than the games that prove successful in my house, and I don’t really need any more brainless fun games so that eliminates another large portion of the new games but I did expect to have a list of 8 to 10 games that I seriously needed to know more about.

Now I’m trying to figure out if it’s me or is it the games. Do I have so many games that it’s hard to find something that sounds different? Do I have such great games that I can’t bring myself to buy something that doesn’t sound great, too. Maybe our tastes in games is too narrow which eliminates many great games.

Dare I ask if the designers are not coming up with new and original ideas that are also great games? Aqua Romana is compared to Metro but with a twist to add strategy. Hacienda reminds a couple of posters of Through the Desert and I detect a bit of Magna Grecia in there with the connections which earn money/points. I could be wrong but Aloha sounds like Tongiaki with a press-your-luck twist.

I’m not saying that’s a bad thing, especially if the games are good, but I don’t feel the need to add them to my collection. Two years ago I would have jumped on Hacienda with its tile laying/card management style but today I’m less than enthusiastic. Maybe it’s just a phase I’m going through, the I’m Bitchy And Hard To Please Phase.

The games that still remain of interest to me are Kaivai, which I’d like to hear more about, Big Kini, which seems to be one of the hits of this year, Hey! That’s My Fish, which Mr. Thornquist made sound like a simple yet interesting puzzle of a game, and Castle Merchants, which I’m not quite sure of but haven’t crossed off yet. Aqua Romana is still in consideration, too, since I don’t have Metro.

The good news is that my husband and checkbook are both relieved.

I’ve been playing DVONN for the last week, not face to face since no one in my household will play with me (everyone say, “awwww”) but online with Jasen (Baldboy_1) Robillard, who has been great about teaching a novice the ins and outs of this brilliant game.

I had played it once or twice before in a haphazard, this-looks-good kind of way but the more I play it and the more I understand the strategies in it, the more impressed I am with the genius of the rules. The limitations on movement—which pieces are free to move, how far you can move them, and the dvonn movement—combine to create subtle strategies that you don’t see immediately as you do in the other GIPF series games. The first impression I had was that it’s a lighter abstract that anyone can play and have a good time with. This is still true because it can be played that way, but this is also a heavy game that takes a great deal of analyzing and planning to play well. I‘m not a fan of abstract games but this one intrigues me and I’m totally hooked. I may never be very good at it but I’m sure having a lovely time learning. Thank you, Jasen.

Misc. Games

I haven’t been playing many face-to-face games due partly to the need to get the house and yard ready for winter but I did get to introduce a friend of Cori’s to Through the Desert and Attika. The latter is a bit tough to teach to someone who hasn’t played many board games but I thought he did very well managing his hand and blocking temple connections. Cori won with all her buildings placed. Through the Desert was a runaway for yours truly since I’ve had so much practice with tough opponents online. Our guest seemed to enjoy it but he didn’t realize the importance of getting to those oasis and came in dead last.

Richard and I also played a couple games of Fjords between supper and television time. I’ve come to the conclusion that there is more strategy to this game than most people give it credit for or I wouldn’t win with such consistency. And I have to say that I’m very tired of hearing how the Go half of the game is over in 2 minutes! The game is in the tile laying/farm placement decisions! The final bit is just a way to determine how well you’ve played the game. It’s a scoring mechanism, albeit a different breed of scoring mechanism.

Until next time, may your camels be swift and plentiful.


Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Every Day is Games Day

1. This morning I wanted to wake up at 8:30. Time was counting down. It was already 8:27 and I had the complete set of endorphin cards, but I still hadn't managed to discard my last two dream cards. Finally I pulled a "rational thought". I didn't need it, but I managed to trade it for a second "circumstance" card, which allowed me to draw from the external events deck. Luck was with me. I got "mosquito", which let me discard my remaining two dreams and wake up on time. Sharon was only a round behind me, but Dave was still stuck in REM, and John's bladder wasn't yet full.

2. I had to get dressed. I can't stand getting dressed with John; he's a new dresser. I kept giving him the sock drawer, but he kept going for shirts, so both of us kept clashing. Meanwhile, David and Sharon were practically colluding, dressing each other. By the time David was dressed, I only had a pair of pants and a pair of shoes.

3. Breakfast was worse. I needed to make omlets, french toast, and tea, but I could only get the ingredients for salad, cereal, and tarts. David had a monopoly on eggs, and my oldest kid had already made his one trip to the store to bring me tea and bread. I needed eggs! I only had my smallest son left, but I was trying to save him for an emergency, expecting Sharon to steal my bread. Too late. I should have sent him, since John finished his cheese sandwich, melon, and coffee. I was this close.

4. Driving to work. 'Nuff said. I never win this one and today was no exception. I tried a narrow route, but everyone except David had the same idea. David left us in the dust.

5. At work I had 8 projects to complete. I managed some excellent trading here. foisting off two big projects for which I didn't have the resources for four matching medium projects, all of which I could finish with only three resources. An easy win.

6. They wanted to drive home again, but I took the train. Another close one. I almost caught two trains at once, but John maneuvered his train in front of one of mine. I got stuck behind his train and I couldn't catch him before the train ride was over.

7. Game group. My happiness factor was "win at least once", my personalities were "rules lawyer" and "meeple stacker", and I owned "Puerto Rico", "El Grande", and "Time's Up". I tried to play one of my games first, which would allow me to get the happiness factor out of the way without much difficulty, but I got voted out. I managed to guess John's personalities ("whiner" and "bored") before any of the others, which put me in the lead. I also completed my happiness factor by winning two games, but it wasn't enough to beat Sharon's which was "play at least one game you propose". We ended up playing only her games ("Ursuppe", "Tikal", and "For Sale"), which gave her enough of a bonus to win. Nobody ended up guessing David's personality of "reserved", although Sharon nailed his other one: "cause chaos".

8. Bedtime. I grabbed the blue mattress, pink pillowcase, and green bedspread early on, but stalled from then on. Sharon hit the sack first with all the linens, and then humiliated me with a "kick another player out of bed" card. Like I wasn't losing already.

Another typical day ... for an aspiring game designer.


Sunday, October 16, 2005

The ''Göt Nüttin'' Report

Yep, this went over this past weekend around here`n, while another 'Spiele-Fest' was taking place elsewhere around the 'Gaming World', in case some happened to 'miss' that. I didn't even get a chance at that 'Toys Я Us' *Special* on the 'games' deal, since I couldn't afford to at this time. But, I don't wish to enrich the coffers of that ''HasBORG'' fellow if I can help it any, he's such a 'tool' of the ''establishment''! Now, what I don't mind so much is when I have a ''Earned Rewards'' CARD that I get every so often, and use THAT to make some 'purchases' with, since then I don't feel as culpable because I'm ONLY ''paying sales taxes'' for those, HA! ''I gots YOU sucka!'' So, what else is going on? Well the ''Fishermen of CATAN'' is coming around, while I'll just await upon the 'DWTripp' version with ''the Goat-ropers of CATAN'' then, myself. I figured that I had better emphasize BEST upon the subject of the latter, as I didn't wish to 'get' ole 'DWTripp' into any misconceptions and the like, had I NOT. So I don't really know or care as to the particulars about HIS 'predilection' for them thar GOATs, yet I'd be willing to take him UP on any offers to try some ''Barbequed'' manner of such. ''Shish-ke-billy-bob-goat'' spears sounds right mighty tasty to ME! I'd imagine that it is fairly close to Lamb or Mutton overall and as long as it wasn't undercooked, then it's fine as well. None of that ''Deranged Fed Mental Disease'' for 'moi', thank you very much! I've got enough of my own 'providing' to keep me going as it is.

For those so inclined, then I have it on GOOD '411' that ''Larry Harris Game Designs'' is working upon an 'A&A'-"D-Day" style GAME that will be covering ''Guadalcanal'', in the works! There promises to 'be' NEW kinds of Naval Vessels & perhaps even some LAND or AIR types as well, of which these would be geared towards their individual requirements. While I'm just speculating upon certain aspects for THIS that may or may NOT be taken into considerations, ole 'Larry' has made it well known that he'd like to keep it as simple for ease of playings as possible. So NO there won't 'be' any ''Japanese Kabuki'' Units being represented, or the 'Marine Corps Dog Troop' as well, for 'those' who'd WANT such! They also might have to go along with perhaps the likes of 'Eagle Games' for any distinctive MINIs for this, as he's taken UP with them for the time being. Let's HOPE that there'll ONLY 'be' a disparity in actual 'playing surface' to provided 'mapboard' of around 30% wasted space instead of the 'usual' 70%! YES! that has been a 'qualm' of mine in their regards for MOST of their 'Historical' line of games, and THEY may not like this 'fact', but it's relevant just the same.

As for the fine fellow on the side here, then YEP that's a version of the CATS chap of 'infamy' with his even worse than YODA elicitations! With ''Take every ZIG off!'' and even the fine ''Make your TIME!'' are a few of the other more notable or 'memorable' ones as well. I can't recall just which GAME this is taken from, so if anyone else can provide some background upon him, then by all means, please back me up on it, thank you very much! Oh yeah, and why not show what other 'exclamations' HE was prone to emit, if you can think of some of these too.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

How to Turn Family and Friends into Gamers Using Subterfuge, Mind Control and Violence

It's Essen time again, which of course means that everyone is busy scouring the internet for steaming little tidbits about what's new in the hobby and no one is in the market for my particular brand of nonsense. So, I might as well take advantage of the recent demise of The Games Journal and pick its pockets for a piece I wrote in 2002. It's a little silly, but what the hey. (In my own defense I should also say that I had a hectic couple of weeks and only got halfway through the piece I had intended to write).

Doctors. Lawyers. Policemen. Hundreds of people walk around every day and don't play games, and no one knows why. Scientists of all nations are baffled. Ancient philosophers studied the phenomenon in vain, and atheism was born. Rather than trying to understand this illogical behavior, let us instead focus on strategic methods to redirect people's perverse urges to write screenplays, build bridges or start families into healthy, wholesome gaming.

The problem, perhaps, is that board games have the stigma of being intended for children. Sound familiar? The scene: you have invited some old friends over for "TV or something". Once they have all settled in, you nonchalantly pull out your brand new, eighty-dollar Roman chariot race simulation with its one hundred and fourteen mahogany tokens, nine-inch pewter emperor, laminated conversion charts, and coveted three-sided die. "Hmm," you say, innocent as a baby snake, "I wonder if this would be any fun?" It is at this point your so-called friends look at you and say:

"A board game? What, like Sorry?"

Those who have been at the business end of the hated and feared "Sorry" remark know all too well the tears of bitter shame that follow.

One answer to this vexing problem is the card game. The card game has completely different connotations for the American drone. Cards are considered "cooler", thanks to their association with drinking, gambling and magic tricks. Maybe if people started betting on Candyland or played strip Careers the world would be a better place (I can only assume it would be), but for now we will have to make do with the way things are. And so, the point is this: the first step to dragging the rest of the world down to your level is the card game. I have had my own greatest success with Bohnanza, that delightful German game about the Cartwright family. Just as pot smoking inevitably leads to heroin and horse tranquilizers (are you listening, Mom?), Bohnanza is the first step on a long road to all-night tournaments of Die Macher where the winner is the last to collapse from fatigue or diet cola poisoning. This is a good thing.

It is important, however, not to scare off your potential converts. Gamers tend to like variety; they will have barely tasted the nectar of one flower before they are ready to buzz off to another. Your average newbie, however, is not so fickle. Once you have gotten them hooked on Carcassonne or Lost Cites, they will want to play that game ad infinitum, agonizing as this will be to you. Any suggestion of trying a different product will seem to them a wanton breach of fidelity, and, if repeated, they will come to regard you with mistrust. You must let them thoroughly drink in their first experience with a real game before you introduce the next one. If you would tempt a married woman away from her husband, it is best to wait until the bridal flowers have wilted. After she has been unfaithful once, each succeeding conquest will be progressively easier.

There are other methods of winning non-gamers to your camp, however. If you happen to have children, you can use that fact for a sly little ruse I like to call "The Fireman's Gambit." I call it this because it sounds cool. I do not personally know any firemen but I wish them the best of luck. Anyway, the crux of the biscuit is that it is quite easy to prey on your friends' innate sense of intellectual superiority. You invite said cronies over, again, for "TV or something". When they arrive, however, they find you standing over an open box and a set of rules. The look on your face is that of a monkey trying to understand a carburetor. You scratch your head slowly and bite your lip, your forehead wrinkled from the vain attempt to understand what is beyond you.

"I bought this game for my kids", you say, innocent as a gift basket of poison, "but I can't seem to figure it out. Can you guys make any sense of this?"

Your friends, filthy snobs that they are, will pat you on the head with an affectionate smile and help you out of your misery. "Poor fellow! Not too swift upstairs you know. Better let us take care of this, pookie."

Suckers! Soon you will all be playing a rousing game of El Grande, and then we will see who the smart one is. It's you, of course! You knew that! Why didn't they?

There is one last little fiendish ploy I know of, one which I call "The Wrath of God." It is quite simple. Innocent as a pink bayonet, you invite your friends over for—yes, you guessed it—"TV or something". Here's the trick: just before they show up, pitch a brick through the front of the TV. When they arrive and find out that their precious television is "experiencing technical difficulties," they will fall on the floor and start crying like babies. A warm blanket or a cup of hot cocoa is helpful at this point—try to remember your Red Cross training. After about fifteen minutes of no-TV, their self-esteem will be shattered and they will feel helpless and confused. It is at this point that you introduce them to the concept of alternative forms of entertainment. German board games! Of course! Have we been so blind all this time? Blinking and sniffling, they will get up off the floor and bend to your will like a bunch of cheaply-dressed sheep. They may even be willing to clean your gutters or wash your car—the disorientation of no-TV can be just that extreme.

As gamers, it is our sacred duty to cure the world of bungee-jumping and stamp collecting. What's the point of going to an opera if you can't make the little Nibelungen fight each other? Who wins at hiking? All these pastimes are pathetic and they know it. We shall not rest until Settlers of Catan is an Olympic sport, played life-size on giant padded hexagons, where burly Austrian women run back and forth laying down colored railroad ties and try to trade live sheep with wiry Jamaican girls pushing wheelbarrows of bricks.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Master or Grasshopper?

First off, I do admit that I don't beat my wife nearly enough. That's a worn out joke in our game group, maybe you can get some mileage out of it.

Now that we have that out of the way, this week's guest blog is by my (fictional?) wife, Dame Koldfoot, who may or may not be the person I was referring to last week when I referred to "the player who is always confused", I will never tell. Only myself, Dame Koldfoot, and the guy who thought the game was broken will ever know.


Coldie loves to buy games, almost as much as starlets love to purge before a casting call and Brazilians love to wax. Coldie has over 250 games, with all but the best stored in the shed collecting dust. I have played maybe half of the “good” games occupying six floor-to-ceiling shelves in the game room. One of my longstanding complaints about being married to an avid (could I say addicted?) gamer, besides the cost of the games, the room to store the games and the time Coldfoot spends away from home playing games, is learning a new game. I don’t mind learning new games, but I want to master the games I’ve played before moving on.

If given a choice, would you rather learn a new task or master the knowledge you already have? There are advantages and disadvantages to both learning and mastering. In my career as a paralegal, I would rather be the master of a task than attempt to learn a new one. It is disconcerting trying to interview a witness when you know nothing about the case or issues being litigated. On the other hand, it is comforting to know when my supervising attorney asks, “Are you sure this is how it should be done?” that I can answer with a resounding, “Absolutely.”

In learning a new game, there is a sense of excitement: opening the shrink-wrap, punching the pieces, examining the artwork, and analyzing the rules. The cards are still shiny, the scent of new cardboard and plastic wafts from the box, the four year old has not stuffed any tokens up her nose yet. You set it up, try a practice game and then evaluate your mistakes, all the time looking forward to the next play.

On the downside, there is the confusion of rule interpretation, the placement of tokens, the indecision of which card to play. There is the disconcerting feeling of uncertainness. “Did I play that right?” “What will happen if I place here?” “I am so hosed because my play backfired on me!”

The mastery of a game is comforting. I’ve been playing pinochle since I was 12. Yet, I still feel like I have not mastered the game. I will never be as good a player as my grandpa. However, in the intervening 20 years or more since I’ve been playing, I have developed my method for how much to bid, counting tricks, tracking the high trump card and knowing when to take the lead or give it up. I could not have done this if I played the game just a few times. It is the same as if I only went to work a few times a year—I would not be as good a paralegal. I was lucky Coldie also played pinochle and would spend Saturday afternoons with my grandparents and me playing cards.

When you have mastered a game, you know the rules, the strategy, the pitfalls. You know when to play a certain token, when to attack or fall back, when to trade or hoard your commodities, what and when to build. You (usually) know your opponent or partner and his or her tactics. From your comfort seat, you can try new strategies without the disconcerting feelings of not knowing what the hell you’re doing. “If I buy the large warehouse, then I could try to hoard tobacco to later ship from my own wharf. But I still have the office, so my coffee is safe if Coldie chooses the Trader.” It’s hard to develop your strategy or try new plays in a game you know when you’re always learning new games. The length of time in between plays causes me to forget the rules, how the use the components and what I wanted to try differently on my quest for mastery. I am not, however, advocating playing the same game ad nauseum.

So, would you rather be the master or the grasshopper? For me, I think I would rather be a master. It boils down to the fact that Coldie and I are both fiercely competitive. I don’t feel like I have mastered a game until I have whipped him many times in a row. I am looking forward to the day when he admits that he doesn’t beat me as often as he should.

Dame Koldfoot

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Ethics in Gaming 5.0

For what it's worth, the last submission to The Games Journal. Unfortunately, unedited.

Board games are excellent opportunities for examining the good and bad ethical qualities in yourself and others, and for cultivating good ethical practices. More often than not, games naturally lead to developing these good qualities.

Games Teach Ethics

Games, by their very nature, teach ethical principles. The vast majority of games require patience and fair play, which tends to be naturally enforced by your fellow players. You are required to adhere to various rules. You are expected to finish what you have started, unless you can peaceably obtain consent from others to resign. You are expected to be gracious, both in winning and losing. And so on.

Strategic games are a perfect facility for opening the mind to intellectual and emotional growth. For some games, a single playing is enough to break open those rusty neurons and get the mind thinking. However, the real path to growth is gained only through repeated play as you work to develop yourself.

A single game can teach perseverance and fortitude against opposition, but most games last no longer than a few hours, at most. A few hours of fortitude is not much in the real world. By working to get better at a game for months or years at a time you develop a type of moral quality that simply cannot be gained from casual play. This type of perseverance can be learned in games and transferred to other aspects of your life.

Consideration before acting is another important principle you learn while playing. Whether or not your group allows you to take back moves, at some point you have to commit to your actions. When you make a mistake, you will soon know about it in a game, a lesson not always as accessible to you in other areas of your life.

Parallel to this are the principles of leadership and teamwork. Certain games require you to make decisions on the spur of the moment. There is not always time for consideration, yet you must act! In other games, you win or lose only by your ability to cooperate with others, either because you need their resources, or because you win or lose as a team. Balancing all of these requirements is often tough. By facing these choices, you can develop within yourself stronger skills to deal with these issues.

Another essential lesson from games is delayed gratification. It begins when you understand that you may not just pick up your piece and move it to the end of the game board, and continues until you realize that you are not going to be able to win the game until you have worked hard at learning the game through playing it numerous times. This helps you to navigate the cognitive dissonance between the disparate goals of winning the game and having a good time: that, while working towards winning, the essential part of a game is the process, rather than the goal.

For younger children, or people who act like younger children, playing games is an important step in developing a good appreciation for etiquette. In the case of games, this is the sometimes arbitrary limits and rules imposed by a game or game group, and the contentment that can be gained by not violating them.

Speaking of young children, of paramount importance in all areas of life is the acquisition and practice of good manners. Games can be a perfect step in helping with this, if, as a parent, you can manage to set a good example while losing (or winning) to a persnickety four year old.

All of these lessons, and many more, can be carried from the field of gaming into the rest of your life. In this way, games inculcate ethical principles.

Playing Games is Valuable

More than this, however, playing games is a worthwhile activity in and of itself.

Studies indicate that people learn better through play, rather than through rote lessons filled with facts. Many games are excellent for teaching math and vocabulary. Some games, chosen with care, teach history or politics. It is a magical thing to watch children actively want to learn.

More than this, by its nature of being a coordinated activity, playing games forces you to identify with and cooperate with another person. The act of arranging with another person to spend time committed to following a thread of action from one end to the other is an act of defiance against the world of the self-absorbed and the transitory.

In our short life, there are many distractions that tempt us to abuse and lose our time. Few activities are inherently a waste of time, but for many activities it is difficult to gain something permanent from indulging in them. So many people in this day and age choose activities based only on how entertaining they are at this very moment, after which they are the same bored person that they were before.

While I seemed to have just denigrated the concept of “entertainment”, let me say that the very act of allocating precious time to play a game sends an important message to yourself and to others: that enjoyment IS important. That enjoyment is, in fact, a goal. Not an all-pervasive one, but an important and necessary one, nevertheless.

More important than entertainment is transformation of character; any good game should be able to provide both. It is the nature of games that a game requires something from you in order to make it happen. Games, other than mind-numbing die-rollers, require active participation. The more active the participation, the more likely the game imparts some important transformative benefits.

We need to balance the things we do in order to live with the things we live for: love, play, faith, community. So often nowadays we choose only easy, passive activities:­ sleeping, reading, watching television, playing on the computer, etc. Make sure you allocate some of that time for others and with others by playing games.