Monday, October 31, 2005

GAME STORE CONFIDENTIAL ~ Advice For The Troubled Gamer

Many years ago I used to publish a local newsletter. Eventually gamers far and wide began writing in and asking my sage advice on everything from gaming issues to gamer issues, to romance and even for help fixing their cars. I finally began running an advice column in the newsletter in hopes that I could reach out and help other gamers in need. Particularly those who weren't confident enough or too embarrassed by their issues to write me.

Periodically I'll run some of the best of the more recent cries for help I receive on a constant basis. Perhaps you'll find yourself in here somewhere... and if so, maybe my unerring insight and common sense will make your life as a gamer even better.


Dear DW,

I’ve been having quite a bit of trouble lately with my dice. No matter what game I play I pretty much suck at dice rolling. I have kept my local store in business by purchasing new dice every time I game, and I game every night. Nothing seems to help.

So tell me DW… do I have negative waves? Am I cursed? Is the game store selling me factory seconds? Perhaps all my gaming buddies cheat. This is really making me feel worthless and I am close to just giving up games altogether.

Help me out here DW. What’s wrong and how can I change things and stick with the hobby I love so much?

Martin Feeblemeister
Clinch, Utah


I wish I could help you out here but it seems obvious to me what your problem is. Frankly, Marty… you suck at games. My calculations lead me to believe you own nearly 7,000 sets of dice and only 3 different games. I’ll help you out this way my friend; I’ll buy all your dice for $150, just to ease your pain a bit. And I suggest you donate your copies of all three games; Risk, Monopoly: The Vatican Edition and your D&D books to the local thrift store. I’ll call your local retailer and congratu--- errr… commiserate with him to help him through the sadness of losing such a great customer. Good luck!


Dear DW… you overwhelmingly sexy stud muffin…. Grrrooooowlll…purrrrrrr…

I was in your store the other day and when I saw your personal game collection behind the counter I just felt all gooshy and quivery inside. How did such a exceesively macho man like you get this far without being snagged up by hordes of game-loving females?

I’m tellin’ ya here and now lover boy, you’re the man for me. Anyone who not only plays all those fabulicious board games, but also owns them is my own personal male love machine and I’m going to grab you right up… along with your precious collection and take you to my double-wide where you’ll live like a king.

See ya tonight baby-bumpkins!

Lotta Rhumpus
Athol, Idaho

Hello again Lotta!

Sorry to say… but I had to hock my collection after your last visit to the store. You certainly haven’t lost any weight over the last 12 years have you? I should have known when you had to get all six of your kids to push you through the door that there would be trouble. And I certainly should have realized that the 12 packs of Ding-Dongs, the three 64 ounce Mountain Dews and the Family-sized bag of Cheetos would have made it near impossible for you to use the door to leave without damaging the building.

The cost of a new door frame, the rebar and concrete work and a new door was a lot higher than when you last visited my store in Boise. Not to mention the case of Valvoline and silicone lubricant I had to buy to get you unstuck… that stuff is pricey!

But thanks for the visit Lotta, and I have to say the shock collars you invested in really do help in keeping your kids under control. I also think you made a wise choice in getting rid of your old van and replacing it with that 2-ton delivery truck. I’m guessing you have saved enough on not having to replace your suspension every 1500 miles to maybe even buy something the next time you visit a game store.

I’ve emailed you the address of my two competitors in Boise, they’re really handsome guys and they have even more games than I used to have.


Yo DW!

I don’t need any of your lousy advice man. I’m just letting you know I buy all my game stuff online and at distant stores where the discounts are deep and excessive. You have always been over-priced and you’re a mean and evil person. I have limited funds man and I’ve asked you before to sell me my game crap at 40% off and you’ve ignored me every time. Well, I just want you to know that I think you’re a real dickwad and I’m glad you’re changing careers.

I’m pretty sure it’s also your fault that I can’t seem to find a D&D group, you probably have talked bad about me to all the other players. So because of what you’ve done to me I think you ought to let me put up a notice on your bulletin board and let me use your store for a D&D campaign. That’d go along way towards paying me back for all the emotional damage you’ve done to me over the years.

Treat me right man and I might let you sell me something, maybe even save your store for you. LMK

Richard Hedd
Nyssa, Oregon

Gee Dick,

I’m really sorry you feel that way. Now that I think about it I realize I don’t deserve your business. I’ve emailed you the address of my two competitors in Boise as I’m sure they will appreciate you for what you are. I have also emailed you the address of a very charming young lady named Lotta. She has a ready-made game group of six and I’m certain she’ll treat you like a King. Have fun!


Dear DW,

Since I totally admire you and trust your gaming judgement I need some help. Here’s my problem; no matter how hard I try I just can’t get any enjoyment from most of the top games on BGG. Ra, YINSH, Attika, GIPF, Blokkus, Goa, E&T, Puerto Rico… them and a dozen more I have bought all leave me feeling empty and sterile. What am I missing? These are the games that supposedly have made board gaming enter a Golden Era. Is it me?

Emery Wietenstiengenzen
Upper Padduca River, NY

Hey Emery,

Nothing wrong with you at all Bud. Those games pretty much suck, each and every one. The main reason BGG hasn’t required members to post an image of themselves is that after years of playing Euro games a person literally has all of their life siphoned out of them from a total lack of fun. Their juices run dry, their skin draws tight around their jaws and teeth in a frightful parody of Mister Sardonicus, Their hair falls out in patches and they murmer in low, eerie monotones about how much better it is to play a game where luck isn’t a real factor. If BGG allowed personal images of Euro Gamers it would create a panic sell-off in the over-produced, dry, boring and lifeless game segment. Dozens of Middle Eastern immigrant German factory workers and scores of Chinese peons would be jobless as the Euro Game industry came tumbling down. Not a pretty picture at all Emery.

The problem you’re having isn’t with you my friend, it’s with them. Most Euro games are actually Satanic creations designed by the same three men who, while they claim they’re German, are actually part of a planetary conspiracy to convince the energetic, playful, dice-chucking, laughing, pizza-munching, Coors-swilling fun people on this planet that they’re not really playing a game if it isn’t boring, with drab art, zero theme and made with excessive amounts of unnecessary cardboard and wood pieces. Once we are convinced that Euro-Snoot garbage is fun, we'll be their puppets.

Run, don’t walk, to your local game store and grab up a copy of Monsters Menace America or Monopoly: The Vatican Edition, or Cranium or Apples to Apples or perhaps Axis & Allies… anything that involves dice, laughing, swilling and fun.

Play two fun games and email me in the morning.



That abut does it for this week. I hope some of this helped you out. It did get me to thinking... since I'm changing careers anyway, maybe I ought to look into the field of helping out others in need. It suits me I think.

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!


Monday, October 24, 2005

GAME STORE CONFIDENTIAL ~ The sweet smell of success

Peee-yew! Fer Chrissakes, what died in here?

I wrinkled my nose and drifted over behind the counter where my dad was sniffing the air and grimacing. He leaned over and said quietly, “Which one of these people did that?”

“I don’t know dad, but seeing as how there’s about 12 billion square miles of open air right out the door you’d have thought he’d have stepped outside for a moment.”

The scourge of Idaho gaming had struck again and he was in the store right now. My dad, my daughter and my son, all part-time help at the store, had been tagged by the sneaky bastard before. We even had a name for him, The Silent Farter. But none of us had ever caught him because he always waited until the store was full of gamers and casual shoppers before floating a nuclear SBD out into the air that I paid the rent on.

We squinted our eyes and started our survey of the customers. We must have looked like a couple of U-Boat officers scanning the skies for enemy aircraft as we focused in on each customer in sequence. Neither of us really knew what to look for, we’re native Texans, raised in the tradition of the Old Southwest… the one where you don’t pass deadly gas in public or shoot someone… unless they deserve it.

Do you have any idea how difficult it is to figure out which of about 15 people had passed silent gas in an enclosed space? It’s not pleasant work, of that you can be assured. And even if I did figure out who the culprit was, what was I going to do? Ban him from the store? Make a citizen’s arrest for Indecent Public Display of Odiferousness? Not to mention, there were at least three females in the store. What if one of them was the Silent Farter?

I’ve heard many complaints over the years about “smelly gamers” and how unpleasant the odor can be in game stores and yes, sometimes that’s true. At the same time, people who smell bad or get their kicks breaking wind in public don’t just shop at game stores, so it’s unfair to profile in this manner. Whichever customer had done the dirty deed also shopped for groceries, clothes, home furnishings and other items. So if he snuck out an SBD in the Piggly-Wiggly produce section just as you happened by, would you then proclaim all food shoppers to be uncouth and all food stores as being inhabited by nothing but smelly eaters?

No, of course not. But game stores are typically between 500-1000 square feet and the air can get a bit dense in them, especially on a busy day. This was a busy winter day. It was cold outside and the store was hopping with pre-Christmas shoppers. And amongst the seemingly innocent throng of Geeks was a person with an intestinal issue that he was inflicting on everybody else. So I tried a new ploy.

I walked to the door, opened it wide and announced to the general public, “The air’s a bit stale in here, you guys don’t mind of I prop this door open do you?” There were a couple of smiles and nods and even several looks of relief as I propped the door and let in the clean smelling 20 degree air.

It’s my opinion that a substantial portion of the board gaming consumer base is particularly critical of the “other gamers”. The most critical would be, based on my conversations at trade shows, internet sites and Cons, the Euro Gaming portion of the gaming public.

But really folks, to be fair, people in general emit odors. Belches, farts, body odor, perfume, cigarette breath, garlic aroma, cheesy foot smells and more. It’s not as if bad smelling people suddenly sprung into existence when the first game store opened it’s doors. But if you read the threads on you’ll find bad smells to be one of the primary justifications many Euro-Snoot gamers have for not shopping locally.

So let’s just get this whole notion of smelly gamers sorted out right now…okay? In 1968 I took a trip from Spain over to North Africa. I wanted to see Morocco. Oh, I saw it all right, but not very clearly. That’s because my eyes wouldn’t stop watering from the thick, putrid aromas that assaulted my nostrils. Add to that the wonderful experience of the Moroccan toilets… basically a hole in the ground and a wash basin to clean up with afterwards, and even the bathroom in the seediest game store I’ve ever entered was pleasant by comparison.

Yet I don’t hear gamers complaining about how smelly Moroccans are.

And I don't even want to get started on the corner Pissoir's in downtown Paris. I've used one of those in the summer and it made me wish for the fresh smelling aroma of the Bullfighting stadium in Juarez every time I had to relieve myself.

I got on an elevator in the Prudential building in Boston one day and there was one other person in the same car as me. As we began our ascent I was blindsided by a horrible aroma that could be nothing else but an award-winning SBD. The well-dressed man on the elevator with me never looked at me, never changed his stance or even flinched. This reminds me of the old saying; “if there’s only two people on an elevator and one of them farts, everybody knows who did it.”

So I guess I’ll have to assume that Bostonians, and well-dressed ones in particular, are rude, smelly people. Right?

Wrong. As I’ve already stated, people in general have smells. And gamers aren’t any more or less smellier than any other group of people… well, except perhaps for the Hippies of the late 60’s. Oh man, there is almost nothing worse than three weeks of unwashed BO poorly masked by 6 ounces of patchouli oil imbued with the cloying stench of low-grade marijuana. But that’s another subject altogether. Suffice it to say I quickly learned that investing in a good stereo was a terrific compromise, it allowed me to experience the Jimi Hendrix Experience without having to experience the Jimi Hendrix Experiencers themselves.

“Don’t these people ever bathe?”

My dear old Dad was noticeably annoyed by the Silent Farter because we now had to put on coats and mittens to run the cash register and he kept hitting the wrong keys with his cumbersome thermal mitts. When the temperature in the store dropped to freezing I finally relented and closed the door. The ancient heater in the basement was running so hard it sounded like a tunnel auger was getting ready to surface in the D&D section. The customers had pretty much cleared out, making their purchases and rushing out the door.

“You know Dad, everyone who was in here bought something.”

“True. So what?”

“Well, I guess my point is that in retail we have to accept that we can’t always decide what is and isn’t acceptable from our customers. Are we going to put up a sign that says; we reserve the right to refuse business from people who stink!”

“Well, these people just don’t have their heads screwed on right.”

“I’ll give you that Dad, but it’s not as if we can run some sort of smell-check at the door and then throw out anyone who ate at Taco Time before coming in here. Though I suppose we could add a few packs of Gas-Ex to the chips and candy bar racks.”

My very non-scientific analysis of gamer-stench over the last 25 years or so has led me to the conclusion that the RPG Geeks and the CCG Geeks do tend towards having the highest number of offensive smells. So I suppose if you wanted a completely sterile game store you could draw that clean-smelling crowd by opening up in a high class mall with nothing but the highest ranked board games from BGG and the International Award committees like the SDJ Geeks in Europe.

That’d probably do the trick too. Mainly because there would be very few human beings who would ever enter that kind of game store. It’d sure be clean and fresh smelling.

It all makes me wonder though, do the Game Geeks who complain about the smelly game store crowd ever get outside their home? Attend concerts, go to a mall, a movie, a Monster Truck show, WWE wrestling, a sporting event, a fair, anything? And if they do, are they typing away on other fan oriented sites carping about how smelly the seats were at the opera? Or what an offense it was when they walked into the locker room at their gym?

I don’t think so. But I could be wrong. Coldfoot mentioned one of the BGG favorites a few days back… Aaron Potter, otherwise known as Potterama. I could imagine him doing exactly that.

But I couldn’t imagine him or Geeks like him actually lowering themselves to enter a real Game Store on a regular basis.

In retrospect, I will miss the money, the friends, the fun and the humor of over two decades of running a game store. But I suppose I won’t miss the smells. A career change will definitely make my daily life more clean and fresh smelling and that will be -

Oh crap! Look at the time! I gotta run. I need to shovel the manure out of the corrals before it gets dark!

See ya next week.

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.


Monday, October 17, 2005

GAME STORE CONFIDENTIAL ~ How dare you make money!

"So I wanna sell this book."

Eureka! What a find!! A used 3rd Edition D&D Player's Handbook, version 3.0, not 3.5.

"Okay, you want cash or trade?"

"Cash, I gotta bail my mom outta jail."

I could script this one before I even opened my mouth again, but when you'e a friendly and compassionate game store owner you go through the motions, despite knowing it will turn out badly.

"Sure, I'll give you three bucks."

"WHAT!!! Three bucks??? Crap man, I paid like $30 for this thing!"

I looked at the book again, it was the initial release, with a $19.95 price on the back, barely visible where the ink has worn off due to multiple Mountain Dew spills.

"Actually, it's got $19.95 marked on the back. Plus, the book is worn, Wizards of the Coast published a revised edition three years ago and I figure by paying you three dollars I'll only lose two dollars when I sell it."

Now comes the indignation, then the anger.

"That's like total crap man, this book cost me a lot more than three bucks."

"Yes, and that was four years ago and you've used it. Now, will three bucks help you make any headway for mommy's bail money?"

"F**k you man! You guys are all thieves!"

As the angry young man with the incarcerated mother left I began to reflect on twenty-three years of buying used books, games and cards and the astonishing ignorance and disdain that the general public seems to have regarding retail.

What the hell is it about a game store that brings out the tendency in some gamers to automatically assume they're being ripped off? Is it the fact that we're all brothers-in-arms... and sisters as well... and that the average gamer figures owning a store means you don't really have a jorb? I mean "job".

Cruise on over to and you'll see thread after thread about how this game store rips people off and that game store sucks. When you winnow the threads down to their roots what you'll discover is that what pisses these specific gamers off is that they feel somehow entitled to a good deal, or a freebie.

"Yeah, I've been shopping in DW's store for like 15 years."

"That's a long time man."

"Damn straight it is. Hell, I put DW's kids through college! That's how much I spend in here. Right DW?"

"Sure Stewie, I'll make sure Marshall and Jaimy send you a card at Christmas."

In truth, Stewie, and about 50 more like him, probably spent a total of $5,000 each over a period of 15 years of shopping at my store. That represents maybe $2,000 in profit. Spread out over 15 years that's $133 a year.

Thankfully, I didn't count on Stewie for my kid's college fund. They'd be working a collections desk at Sears Credit if I had. Which, by the way, is what Stewie does for a living.

I got an email from a sometime customer a few weeks ago. To sum it up, he said...

I'm going to purchase about $1,000 in 40K goodies. I'll buy it from you if you sell it to me for $675, which is $100 profit for you.

I guess I was supposed to jump up, shout Hoo-Rah! and thank him for the $100.

Not that I hold it against the guy for wanting to get a 35% discount, everybody likes that. But it just irked me that a gamer figured I ought to do that for him, because, after all, he has a real job and he needs to conserve his hard-earned money. Since I only run a game store, $100 from him is, I suppose, an expression of his selfless generosity.

So while I was contemplating how I might respond to his miserable offer... without letting on what a jerk I can be if I want to, he emails me again, letting me know that a store some 30 miles away took the deal. Cool. I guess they needed the hundred more than I did. It's nice to know that Gamers are so considerate of the people who make a living providing the goods to them. I'd bet they were jumping up and down shouting, "WOO HOO! $100 whole dollars!!!"

The day that particular Gamer takes a 75% decrease in his pay so I can get my computers and printers cheaper is the day I'd take his measly $100.

About 17 years ago I worked at a Mercedes dealership... selling Mercedes. Go figure. So this micro-surgeon comes in one day and wants a $50,000 car. I shoot him a deal. He says "I'll be back." He comes back with offers from seven other Mercedes dealerships, each one at about $7,000 less for a similar car. "Why should I buy from you?", he asked.

"Well, because," I said, "you make about $800 an hour. I figure you already invested 5 hours just getting those quotes. That's what? $4,000? And then there's the hour here the other day and the hour now. And since I'm going to say "not a chance" to your offer, that means you'll need to spend another several hours dealing with people in Seattle or Salt Lake, or Denver or Portland. Then you'll have to spend time ensuring the car gets here and is what you ordered. On top of which, if it isn't, now you'll be dealing with people hundreds of miles away who could give a crap who you are."

"In short, they low-balled you Doc. You can probably buy the car for that, but I think by the time you're done you'll have lost as much as you saved. It's a better deal for you to negotiate with me. I'll knock a few thou off and you'll have the car tonight."

The doctor didn't follow my advice. Over the next several days he worked me like a slot machine. He also called every Mercedes dealership from Cody, Wyoming to Indonesia. In the end my boss told me to sell him the fricking car, at about $6,000 off. I think he just wanted to get rid of the guy.

So the Doc invites me out for a Scotch a week after he gets his Mercedes. We're talking and I said, "Hey Doc, if I needed my foot re-attached, what would it cost?"

"Oh, probably about $15K."

"So would you cut me a deal?"

"Not a chance DW. Doctors ain't cheap. Do you know how much it cost me to become one?"

I think that pretty much summed it up for me. Since the car wasn't a necessity, it, and the people who make their living providing the cars, weren't really working. Expensive cars are fun. Right? And so are games. If it's fun, then why pay a fair price for it?

Now I may be wrong about some of this, but...

"Hey DW!"


"Wanna buy my Star Wars miniatures?"

"Sure Elmore... let's see... hmmm... I'll give you $12 for the whole box."

"TWELVE BUCKS! Jaysus Christo DW! These things are worth 7 times that on eBay!"

"That they are Elmore. So I have a question for you."


"Why are you here, instead of home listing these things on eBay?"

"Man... that's so much work. You gotta have PayPal, you gotta wait a week, you have to pack them and go to the post office. It'd be much easier for me if you just paid me what they're worth. Howsa bout it DW?"

"Good point Elmore. Now that I look at it that way, I'll give you $6.50 for the whole box."

A career change can definitely be a good thing. Maybe I need to get a real jorb.