Monday, December 31, 2007

Turning out the lights

First, let me congratulate the Gone Gaming bloggers on their new home at Eric has been doing a bang up job filling Thornquist's shoes at Boardgame News and I wish them all the best of luck.

Guess it's my turn to reminisce.

Many bloggers have passed through the doors at Gone Gaming. They all had something to offer, and all were coming from a slightly different point of view. They all worked together to keep Gone Gaming not only one of the best and most diverse boardgame blogs, but one of the best blogs in general. It is a shame to see it go, but all good things must come to an end.

I would like to specifically single out and thank Shannon Appelcline for going the distance, so to speak. He is the only original blogger to have stuck with Gone Gaming over the years. As he alluded in his last post, Shannon was the last of the original bloggers to sign on. Funny how it worked out. The rest of us were hot-to-trot, and ready to go before he accepted his invitation in literally the last hours before the inaugural post. At the time I only knew Shannon as a noted RPG and boardgame reviewer, I had no idea he was a professional writer. Had I known I might have been too embarrassed to approach him.

Gone Gaming was created in the wake of the demise of the daily boardgame blog feature at the internet game seller, Gamefest. At the same time the noise on the premier boardgame site, Boardgamegeek, was drowning the good content. The desire for a daily boardgame blog where gamers could read quality material and congregate was my intention when I originally solicited contributors for Gone Gaming. I enjoyed reading over the years, and I hope you did as well. In the early days Gone Gaming still had that new-blog smell. In the intervening years blogging has become common place. Personally, I subscribe to nearly one hundred boardgame related blogs on my RSS aggregator. Some of those blogs haven't been updated in a year or more, but I discover new ones all the time. Also, several changes have been made which have greatly improved the situation at BGG, and to a great extent have alleviated the need for independent boardgame blogs.

The main factor that contributes to the demise of many blogs is the fact that blogging is a tough business. About the only thing blogging has going for it is that you can choose your hours, but even that isn't always true when there is pressure to meet a deadline as is (often) the case at Gone Gaming. Sure there are the loose blogger groupies, but even their attention wanes when the blow run low, and your smack dealer is in jail. The pay is low. The benefit package sucks. Feedback can be iffy, and you can't bribe an OSHA inspector to make it tough on the competition. I truly appreciate all the bloggers who are able and willing to keep their blog updated over a period of years. Consider this a thank you to all the bloggers who do so.

In my case work was not only getting in the way of blogging, but in the way of gaming. I was no longer playing a new game or two every month, and there were months in which I played no games, new or old. The stress of writing for a boardgame blog became greater and appropriate material became harder to come by. Like many other Gone Gaming contributors it came time for me to pass the torch. As has happened many times in the past, and as is the case right now, the final Gone Gaming torch will be passed to Boardgame News.

Thank you for reading. Thank you for contributing. Good luck to all, and to all a good night.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Hello Goodbye

As a biweekly contributor from the beginning of the blog in August of 2005 through the February of 2006, Gone Gaming was a lot of fun for me. It was a great outlet for my thoughts about my favorite hobby, it spurred me to write, and it enabled me to engage in the general buffoonery which I love so very much. More than that, though, the experience was special to me because of the enthusiasm of my co-contributors, Brian, Shannon, Yehuda, Mary, D.W., Alex, GROGnads, Fraser and Melissa; each had their own distinctive voice, but we were all united in our love for the hobby.

Two and a half years later, it's time to put the chairs on the tables and turn out the lights, but is that a bad thing? Not really. Things change, people grow, one door closes and another one opens. Nothing lasts forever, and that's just as well. Like gaming itself, what's important is the fun one has along the way, and for me Gone Gaming was nothing but. I hope its readers feel the same way.

As a parting thought, I will relate a conversation I had with my half-asleep son as I struggled to write something appropriate for this occasion:

The monkey is chasing the bees!

Did the monkey catch the bees?

No, they went into outer space.

What does it all mean? Something important, probably. If nothing else, I think we can agree that while chasing bees might be a fun endeavor for a while, in the end we monkeys have to slow down and let the bees do their thing. What would we even do with the bees if we caught them? It would probably be very awkward and we would just have to let them go again.

Thanks, Brian.

Last "riposte" for "Gone Gaming"

Here's a last riposte from GROGnads, another of the original Gone Gaming authors.

I was honored to even be asked to JOIN these folks when it first began years ago, so thank you all with that distinction. It was quite the unique experience as far that I'm concerned upon it all, since it brought together a diverse select few, where that was the main point of this all. You were then given their "perspectives" in the GAMES 'World' that they'd currently been involved with, along with the opinings of many another where they delved and diverged from the relevant and "on topic", to lambaste & lampoon one another and even gots some "hurt feelings" with a few. Let's all just BE above that 'pettiness' and 'pitiful' attempts then, to be respectable in PUBLIC displays here or anywheres for that matter.

Now, I'm asking everyone else to JOIN and keep them folks HERE, immortalized within our "communal psyche" throughout the remainder of our days. While certainly, it does require that a few people take it upon themselves to 'work' on being the "Admins" with anything that we shall come up with for whatever shall develop upon this all. I'm proclaiming HERE about a BGG-"related" 'blog' comprising of contributors from the vast amount of people within it there, to make UP that 'blog' with their everyday encounters. I've already gone around and formally asked a few folks to assist with that, while any others are most welcome to submit any content for considerations. Were there to be several individuals that can combine their efforts regarding some specific *topic*, then having their multiple "viewpoints" gathered together in coherent reply with response, is a good means for bringing out continuous discussions and resolution in this manner. WHY many of the actual "Game Designers" don't pursue this course to clear UP 'matters', is something of which I would hope that they're willing to comply abouts. Check out the BGG 'blog' we're creating and WHY don't YOU think of a good "intro" piece about yourself, so that others can gaze within your respective 'vibes' about "Gaming", with what you can? Keep the content 'fit' for public consumption with "civil demeanor" towards one another, and one more 'thang'~"Good Gamings 4 YOU!".

Saturday, December 29, 2007

So long, Farewell, Auf wiedersehen, Adieu

Since we're sharing, here's the original approach to me and Fraser back in December 2005 to join what we saw as the pre-eminent boardgaming blog.
Hello Fraser, Melissa, "BIGGIE" & "lil`un" and the 'critters'-if many as I send this for your to read upon and answer quickly please, thanks for reading over it. We would like for the BOTH of YOU to join in at the 'blog' for ONE 'day' out of the WEEK for a "Weekly" upkeep about YOUR 'gaming experiences' with insights, etc. and you could even alternate or however you'd like to approach this:

"FROM: the BGG 'group of geeks"

I'd suggest EACH of us write to them(you folks~edit.) with our very OWN 'notions' as well, in order to foster IDEAS from them or even US. The better MEANS would be for ALL of us to gather in the CHAT here and maybe some of YOU would be able to LISTEN in for 'moi' TALKING through that as well as ANY others capable for this? I've been on for hours with folks ALL over the world at NO Cost 'extra' for it. At the very least then WE can meet and toss 'subjects' off of one another as a 'sounding board' discussion and fleshing OUT Group missions. Should you agree to such, nobody's to FORCE anything upon another AS they can BE in or OUT on whatever matters. I'd surely expect YOU all to join in with "web-cam" meet ups when you're able, while I've got a T V "camera ready" S-VHS kit for actual tapings of 'gamings' in a to be featured "Games Channel" of some sort. Most likely they'll become 'subscriber based' for JUST certain and MANY varied types huh? So of course just about ALL can cover their 'milieu' since I don't EXPECT to myself. Then there's the "local yokels" of which we ALL would comprise for THIS within every country and soon upon the MOON! "Get with the 'program' of GET left behind"~that's a "Xclamato''
" Have 'your people' contact OUR 'people'! "

As I so eloquently put this, then it shall involve HOWEVER we can EACH accomplish this, while WE should all strive towards WHAT they'd like as well. You may become "famously RICH" whilst participating too, but it'll depend upon IF you'd want to AND in what particular 'manner' this results in. Take care-Robert.

My response, if I recall correctly, used the phrase "Mouse in the Company of Giants". I was honoured and surprised to be invited to join the group, and wasn't entirely sure that I had earned the right to be here.

I'm still not sure that I have earned the right, but I have learned that that is one of the beauties of blogging. There's a sort of upside-down logic to it: By blogging, you earn the right to be a blogger. It doesn't get much more egalitarian than that - and I now have a long list of boardgaming blogs on my RSS feed list.

One interesting side effect of writing for Gone Gaming has been that I now write more on my personal blogs than I used to - once you identify yourself as a blogger, you start to write more.

Unlike on Gone Gaming, where I feel the need to at least try to write something a bit longer and relatively cohesive, my personal blog posts may only be a paragraph or even a sentence long - sometimes it is more important to post than to polish. I have seen many excellent blogs lose their way because the author spent so long polishing a post that they missed posting five other things that would have been of interest. This is not (entirely) an argument for quantity over quality, but an understanding that sometimes the balance lies more in one direction than in another.

It has been an honour to be a part of the team here and to get to know so many people, both my fellow bloggers and our loyal (and sometimes occasional) readers. I hope to meet many more of you over the next few years.

My first post on December 17th, 2005 talked about why beating Fraser gives me a thrill. I have to confess, it still does - while I try not to bring anything from outside into a game, I still love to beat him.

When I wrote that, we were packing for a long Summer holiday away, and finding the time and opportunity to blog was tricky. Given that, I'm amused that we decided that December was a good time to pack up and move shop - but this time, it will just be a change of location rather than something new.

There's definitely a pang at leaving the Gone Gaming site behind. It's exciting to be moving somewhere new, though, and I hope to see our many readers on those pages as well.

*smoochies* - and see you next Tuesday!


PS - Sadly, although he and we hoped it would happen, DW Tripp was unable to contribute a farewell post to this series. We wish him well - and those of you who are missing his posts might enjoy re-reading his first post on Gone Gaming.

Friday, December 28, 2007

A Plain Vanilla Gamer

This Christmas I asked for and received not a single 2007 boardgame. Instead, I asked for and received two older games that I thought should be part of my collection. The games are Manhattan and El Grande. You don’t get Euro-games more classic than these. I believe that both are Spiel des Jahres winners. Manhattan is a quick-playing light strategy game that I expect to play with non-gamers like my in-laws. El Grande is…well, if you’re reading this, you already know what El Grande is.

Now that I’ve come to the end of my Gone Gaming blogging career, I think I’ve earned the chance to be both lazy and to pontificate for once. In other words, here is a list of recommended games. This is not a list of all the games I own, or even a list of all my favorite games (although it comes pretty close to being the latter). But it is a list of ten strategy games that could be the foundation of any good Euro-game collection. (I have a different list of easy-to-play games to be pulled out when non-gamers are around; that list includes Manhattan).

The Hall List of Ten Essential Medium-to-Heavy Strategy Games You Should Own:

El Grande
Puerto Rico
Power Grid
Twilight Struggle
Union Pacific
Reef Encounter
Struggle of Empires
Age of Empires III

I now own all of these except Reef Encounter, and I hope to add that to my collection in 2008.

What strikes me looking at that list is how mainstream and bland it is. Is there a single controversial choice? About the only unconventional decision I made was to drop Tigris and Euphrates and replace it with Liberte (I’m not that fond of tile-laying games). Many of you undoubtedly would replace Union Pacific with Age of Steam, but overall my tastes are so conventional that I could be a stand-in for that hypothetical beast: the average gamer.

So I guess that is my strength and my weakness as a boardgame blogger as well as game collector; I am a plain vanilla kind of guy. Don’t expect too many quirky insights from me, or too much exploration of the odd corners of gaming. I tend to keep my boat in the center of the current.

I want to thank Coldfoot and the rest of the Gone Gaming crew for allowing me to give you a dish of plain vanilla once a week. I hope most of you readers will check out Boardgame News where some of us will still be chattering about the hobby.

It’s been fun.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Christmas Traditions

This time of year is always rife with traditions at my house. I’m descended from Scandinavian and German stock, so we tend to make a big deal out of Christmas, particularly Christmas eve when we would exchange presents as a family. I’ve always been a fan of boardgames, so I would often get games as presents. However, on Christmas morning we would all get up and open a few more presents from “Santa” in our stocking. Next to each of our stockings (there were four of us kids) would be one last present, a brand new boardgame! That’s four new games entering into our family’s game closet every year. As THE child in the family who was into gaming (I was in charge of “games and refreshments” whenever we had an official family meeting), new games were a big deal. Having most of our important traditions and activities happen on Christmas eve left the entire Christmas day for me to try to con my brothers, sisters, and parents into playing a game. We’d get all four new games onto the table at some point during the day, and sometimes even a few repeats. While I’ve loved boardgames as long as I can remember, I attribute some of that lasting appeal to the annual appearance of a new game from “Santa”.

One of my fondest Christmas game memories is the year we journeyed out to Montana to do some downhill skiing over Christmas break. My mother packed the large-box Milton Bradley Axis and Allies in the back of our van just so we could unwrap it on the traditional Christmas morning. As it was a bit expensive, it took the place of both my brother’s and my own games for that year. I didn’t mind at all, and my older brother seemed to put up with it. We played through two entire games before we headed out on the trip home. Losing a day of skiing or playing a huge boardgame with lots of little army pieces? – no question in my mind which is the right choice.

I’ve since grown, as has my family. The Christmas morning game tradition at my folks’ house still lives on, although it is now one per family rather than per kid. With my son only 1 year old, I’m anxious to start some game-related traditions of my own but I suppose that may have to wait at least another year. He’s too busy playing the “hide in wrapping paper game” or “chase dad through the cardboard jungle” game.

In fact, my own little future gamer is the main reason I’ve been so silent lately. Returning back to school this fall after staying at home with my son for a year severely cut into my spare time and I’m afraid my posting regularity suffered. It’s great to see the blog going out on such a high note with so many insightful writers coming back one last time for a grand hurrah. I came to Gone Gaming as a blogger later on in its lifetime, but I enjoyed my brief run. Thanks for reading and see you around the net!

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

New, old, in between.

I qualify as the new guy I guess. I think I'm still the most recent addition to Gone gaming, so I don't have quite the long period of time to look back on and reminisce. When several folks left Gone Gaming at about the same time, I either mentioned writing to Shannon, or he mentioned it to me. Whoever instigated it, the result was me joining on a mostly biweekly basis to muse about the old and the new. I find it amusing to look at the variety of writers at gone gaming who were also retailers - DWTripp, Smatt, and myself. Did I miss anyone? If Smatt had admitted to owning motorcycles we could have had even more in common1.

Group blogs usually do have a short lifespan, or at least sporadic, with flurries of activities and then silence. Gone gaming has stood out as nicely even - which I hope we can continue at our new home over at boardgamenews.

It's christmas day for those following that calendar/celebration. Not the biggest blog reading day on the calendar, so I'll keep this short.

For those following the US retail religion of consumerism, this is a pretty even holiday. Lots of late shoppers kept me busy right up until closing yesterday (christmas eve). No big gains over last year, but no horrible drops either.

Gaming on the horizon? Unknown. It's an evening that might get monopolized by Rock Band, or could easily see a game upon the table. One of my regular groups meets on monday nights - we've got an extended break this week and next. I'll find out tomorrow how many people show up for games at the store the day after christmas.

And so it goes - a year ends, a blog winds down, and the new year brings change and all manner of other excitement. I'll see you there.

Merry Xmas, Thanks for the good times, and see you again soon.


1 Obligatory footnote: Yes, my primary transportation is a motorcycle. I don't have the undying love for them that DWTripp possesses. Why didn't you ride a motorcycle Smatt? oh well.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Every end is a new beginning. (Yehuda)

I still like the original byline for the blog:

If you look you'll never find me
I've gone gaming I'll be back
Got to finish what I started
Got a few things on my stack
Got to ship a few more barrels
Got to trade a brick or two
Got to buy some more provisions
Got to run this train on through
Got to roll a few more 6's
Got to draw a few more cards
Got to shake hands with my neighbors
'Fore I'm back in my backyard
But if you look up to the night sky
That's my spaceship passing by
Give a wave That's me inside her
It's farewell but not goodbye

Every end is a new beginning. Change is the only constant.

When this blog first started, we would change the byline every few days on a whim. I don't know who wrote all of them, but some of them were quite funny. Just one little piece of artistic expression that is uniquely available in this medium.

Blogs come and go. Games come and go. For that matter, gamer interest comes and goes; people pick up a hobby and drop a hobby, or their interests within the hobby changes.

There are no right and wrong ways to live your life if you're not hurting yourself or others. I believe that time can be more or less well spent; but this depends a lot more on the spirituality of the person than on the activity.

Gone Gaming was quickly the best gaming blog out there, and its quality, if not its posting frequency, continued right to the end. Everyone involved can be proud of its content, which will remain online, helping and entertaining people in one form or another, for many years to come.

Here's a (slightly edited) letter I found in my mail archives:

Date: Jul 24, 2005 11:27 AM
Subject: Just an Idea
From: Koldfoot
I've been kicking this idea around for a while.

Right now I'm just contacting you and one other blogger. Shannon Appelcline is the other.

I have only been blogging for 7 months, not as long as you guys, but long enough to know that I will keep it up. You two seem to make it a point to update your blogs at least a couple times each week, as do I. That is the reason I am writing you.

I was wondering if either of you is interested in co-writing a blog. I think a co-operative game blog that is updated nearly everyday would be interesting and have a sizable audience, especially if we all have come from a different perspective. ...

I'm not asking you to abandon your current blog. Just write something on another blog whenever you feel like it, hopefully once each week.

Like I said, it is just an idea I've been kicking around. If you are interested you probably have another person or two in mind that might contribute, don't hesitate to ask them. If you have a different vision for such a blog, let me know. I am very flexible.

Let me know.

Brian "Coldfoot" Waters


Thanks Brian, thanks everyone on Gone Gaming, and thanks to everyone who has read or commented in this forum. All the voices of Gone Gaming and its readers will continue to help or entertain, in whatever form, on whatever forum. I'm sure of it.


Sunday, December 23, 2007

Baby, You Were The Greatest!

It all started with a GeekMail from Brian Waters (Koldfoot) in late July, 2005 asking if I’d like to join him in writing a group blog. I was flattered and honored to be asked. O.k., in all honesty, it was a total ego-rush! Of all the posters on BGG, Brian liked my writing enough to ask me. I was still new to board gaming (less than 2 years) and my mind was in a constant whirl of board games, so it didn’t take me long to say “yes” to Brian’s offer. As did DW Tripp, Yehuda, Alex Rockwell, Shannon Appelcline and Grognads.

The first post was made on August first, starting something that, if not great, was damned good. The mix of personalities and tastes brought something to the table for everyone: game analysis, imaginative stories, war games and miniatures, feisty game store owner stories, interviews, and an occasional guest writer. If you didn’t like today’s post, come back tomorrow for something different.

Gone Gaming has offered a lot of excellent articles but one series of posts stands out in my mind from all the posts made in over two years, The Anniversary Tour. This was a fun and imaginative set of posts to celebrate the first year of Gone Gaming. By then, Alex Rockwell and Grognads had left, replaced by Joe Gola, and Melissa and Fraser. If you haven’t read them or you just feel the need for a pick-me-up on a particularly crappy day, you should travel back in time to July 31st, 2006 where the series starts.

When I got a message from Melissa saying that Gone Gaming was closing its doors, I was shocked and saddened. I understand, though. With the writing burnout that some of us have had and no one willing to step up to fill in the spaces, the blog was slowly dying. Luckily for us faithful readers, Boardgame News is going to take in the last of the Gone Gaming writers. Still…it feels like your favorite, comfortable local shop has packed up and moved to a small corner of a big box store. The sense of cozy familiarity just doesn’t transfer.

I thank Brian for including me in his original line-up; it was a fantastic group of people to work with and I enjoyed every minute of my fifteen minutes of fame. I also want to wish all the present writers good luck in their new home; their voices will make a great site even better.

Many blogs come and go rather quickly but Gone Gaming entertained and informed many people for almost two and a half years and, in my opinion, that’s not too shabby. I think Brian’s dream was a success.

Happy gaming to all and to all, a good night.


Saturday, December 22, 2007

Games that we are giving or getting this Christmas...

The games that we are giving for this Christmas can be broken into a number of categories. A significant number of them come from because they have, or had, a deal where shipping from Germany to Australia was a flat 14.00 Euro regardless of the order. don't stock all German games, but they do stock a significant number of games compared to their counterparts in other countries.

Games for, or to play with, Daughter the Younger and Daughter the Elder (that have already arrived)
Daughter the Younger is 4 3/4 and Daughter the Elder is heading towards 9 1/2.

Beppo der Bock Looks good for the Daughter the Younger age group and we would probably have fun playing it as a family. The winner of the 2007 Kinderspiel des Jahres.

Trötofant A game that is played with party tooters! Melissa has been itching for an excuse to get this for ages, and the 14 Euro shipping was the reason! This will probably remain the only game we have that has components that need to be put through the dishwasher after each game.

Chicken Cha Cha Cha Obscenely cheap when ordering it direct from Germany. This was the winner of the 1998 Kinderspiel des Jahres. The girls will be familiar with the artwork from Pick Picnic.

Games for the family, or games that have already arrived and been broken out
As Melissa and I do not seem to be specifically giving each other games this Christmas these will have to count as "our games".

Wizard We have already played this with Daughter the Elder and a friend of ours. It will be a good training ground for her in the art of trick taking games with suits. Something that comes as second nature to experienced players - before playing the card you want to play, answer the question do I have any cards of the suit that was lead? The fools and wizards make this variation much more interesting to play than standard Oh Hell!

PitchCar, PitchCar Extension and Pitchcar Extension 2. Actually PitchCar was ordered ages ago and finally arrived. These two expansions arrived too and so now we have them. We will probably play it in the next few days.

Other things that haven't arrived yet or are still to be sent but still only cost 14 Euro shipping

Pecunia non olet and Los Mampfos combine with our copy of Drunter und Drüber to complete Melissa's holy grail of the trilogy of poo games. If you are fan of "The Two Ronnies" and have seen Melissa collapse in tears of laughter at the line "and the Richard the Third flew away" you would have some understanding as to how important it is for her to complete the set.

Hart an der Grenze This is a game I played a while ago at Dockers one night and enjoyed. It's not the sort of game I would play every week, it would probably only come out every couple of months, but with the right group of players will be a real hoot.

Make 'n' Break Extreme We have Make 'n' Break and love it. It is pretty much a hit with everyone that sees it, so given that this may not be available in Australia for years, this is pretty much a no brainer.

Die Steven Segal it was only a few euros and we have played other people's copies quite often. Side note, I know Die Steven Segal is not its real name, but I can never remember the real name - to the extent that in BGG I have a page 2 QuickBar entry under the name Die Steve Segal to link to the game's page just so I can find it. I have submitted a game correction to have "Die Steven Segal" listed as an alternate name, but it would seem that my suggestion was declined.

Äpfel zu Äpfeln - Erweiterung - 1, the German expansion to Apples to Apples. Melissa is fluent in German and Daughter the Elder is going to a German Saturday school next year to learn German. Need I say more?

Halli Galli This game is expensive and quite difficult to obtain in Australia. It is an excellent game for children who have just started school. Daughter the Younger is starting school at the end of January, so we have ordered two copies of this to be given as birthday presents for her friends. Note when playing this very competitively protective gloves should be worn.

Destined for Secret Santa recipients
To protect the innocent not many details will be provided, suffice to say that the list of games was Die Säulen der Erde - Die Erweiterung (the German edition of the Pillars of the Earth 5 & 6 Player Expansion (by request), Medici vs Strozzi, Ziegen Kriegen, Notre Dame and All-Zeit. This last game was the most difficult to arrange, but through a complex chain of people and favours, we managed to track down a copy that could be sent to [placename deleted], even though none of the online stores seemed to list it at that time.

... and now the end is near...

We joined Gone Gaming about six months or so after it started, so are not foundation members, but are honoured to have been in such company. I wouldn't call myself a writer, and I imagine most of the readers agree, but it has been fun to be a contributor here. See you over at Boardgamenews in 2008 (or very late 2007 depending on what timezone you are in!)

Friday, December 21, 2007

A Return to Perikles

Fantasy Flight recently had a sale in which Martin Wallace’s Perikles went for $10. A couple of the Appalachian Gamers took advantage of the offer, and as a result we had Perikles on the table again last night.

Perikles is one of those games that is smack in the middle of the No-man’s land between Eurogames and wargames. A real Eurogamer would probably find Perikles complicated and fiddly, and a real wargamer might find Perikles excessively simplistic and un-historical. But if both took the time to learn the game, they would find a smart design that rewards intelligent play and that remains challenging to even experienced players.

In fact, Perikles is one of those games that has so many dimensions to think about that I believe I’ll have to play several more games just to train my mind to consider all appropriate elements. The only other game that evokes the same feeling in me is Reef Encounter. Someday I hope to play Reef Encounter and pay as much attention to the coral tiles and algae cylinders as I do to the reef tiles that I hope to consume or have to defend. But so far I haven’t managed that feat, and James Lilly, the Appalachian Gamer Reef Encounter champion, regularly defeats all comers.

During last night’s game of Perikles, I came out of the gate strong, captured the leadership of the city I wanted (Corinth), and managed to win three victory tiles in the subsequent round of battles. The problem was that I had not given much thought to which cities I hoped to rule in the second round of the game, and in the end I realized that it might be smarter to avoid ruling any city, and hope to grab the tough Persian army (which is awarded to the player(s) who fails to lead any Greek City in a round). But Dave also had the same idea, and we ended up sharing control of the Persian army. This was not a disaster because both players get the full score of any victory tiles captured by the Persians. But we failed to appreciate how many points Ted and Tony were snagging by splitting the leadership of all six Greek cities between them.

In the end, Tony won the game because he dominated the leadership of more cities than any other player. I’m sure my too-smart-for-my-own-good Persian strategy helped him in the second round. As we were packing the game away, I realized that I had never played my one-time-use special event tile. Just one more element of the game that I had forgotten about.

Early sessions of a game are often about just learning the rules, and the subtleties of the game. But with games like Perikles and Reef Encounter, I need a few sessions to train my mind to pay attention to the big picture as well as to the details of the rules. In David Rabe’s play Hurlyburly, one character complains: “Everything in my life distracts me from everything else.” That seems to be my problem with Perikles and Reef Encounter. Planning strategy is like trying to hold two hundred marbles with my bare hands. Grabbing some of them only ensures that others will slip and fall away.

Of course, that’s what makes it worthwhile to return to these games again and again.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

To Every Thing, There is a Season ...

It's two and a half years now since Coldfoot sent me an email asking if I'd like to contribute to a new group boardgaming blog that he was putting together. I'll admit to being a bit passive aggressive about that initial invite, because I was feeling very busy at the time.

I was obsessively working on a CCG design for a game based on the Stargate: SG-1 TV show. It didn't end up going anywhere, but it sure took up a lot of my time in July and August of 2005. I was also writing scripts for some comic books (though actually the script that was on my desk that Summer was for Castle Marrach #2 which didn't get produced either, as my very reasonably priced and high-quality artist ended up too busy to make a longer term commitment).

Nonetheless, after sitting on Brian's email for a few weeks, I finally mailed him back--just in time, I suspect--and told him I'd be happy to be on board, but could only commit to writing every other week.

On August 1, 2005, Coldfoot announced the group and listed the initial lineup:

Blogger and game reviewer extraordinaire, Shannon Appelcline

Israeli blogger, game commentator and most recently game designer, Yehuda Berlinger

The gaming mom from America’s heartland, Mary Weisbeck (Sodaklady)

Game store owner and Gaming’s “Manly Man”, DW Tripp

Strategy guru and author of some of the most referenced game articles ever written, namely the Puerto Rico strategy guides, Alex Rockwell

The wargamer you either love or hate, but who will always leave you asking, “Did that make sense?” Robert Wesley (Grognads)

He doesn’t write a lot, but IMO he is the best game writer out there, Joe Gola

And, myself, the mildly-retarded blogger from Alaska.

Well, it's now December, 2007, and earlier this year, somewhat to my surprise, I realized that I was the final member of our initial group still blogging at Gone Gaming. It immediately put me into a thoughtful mood, considering all the other writers who had come and gone, and also made me wonder about what the future of the blog would be.

You see, the heart of Gone Gaming, to me at least, was Coldfoot and Yehuda--two of those original bloggers, now gone. I've been here the longest, and I hope I've written some articles that everyone enjoyed, but it's never been my baby. It was Coldfoot and Yehuda who put the initial organization into the blog, and who kept it rolling. In their absence--or perhaps just due to the passage of time--we've slowly been winding down.

Don't get me wrong. We still have terrific people posting now, and we all do what we can to keep the blog alive, not just with our own postings but also in finding guest bloggers and new blood. However no one's had that organizational zeal to go out and find an entire slate of writers--like Coldfoot did originally--and like I suspect Yehuda could have if he wanted to, given his organization of the Gone Gaming awards that we ran for two years.

It's not just us. There seems to be a general trend which has resulted in a lot of the gaming blogs disappearing over the last few years. I don't think it's because of any weakness in the core business of gaming--though the US economy is clearly weakening, and entertainment dollars often take the first hit. Instead, it seems to be a weakness in blogging itself. Some people have moved on to podcasts, while others have just disappeared altogether, perhaps because blogs no longer have that sparkle of newness that they once did. I miss the Gathering of Engineers and Chris Farrell's blog and the Best of Board Game blog, all of which have vanished in the last year or two.

And that brings us back to this blog. Through some combination of staff loss and general decline in board game blogging, Gone Gaming has shrunk too. We're still publishing regularly, but with more gaps in our schedule than ever before.

The Future of Gone Gaming

This is the point where you're probably expecting me to announce either my retirement or the retirement of Gone Gaming, and let me say ... not quite.

A week or so ago W. Eric Martin of Board Game News wrote us, noting that he too had lost some writing staff lately, and asking if we'd be interested in merging Gone Gaming into Board Game News.

I think we were all somewhat reluctant to let Gone Gaming go as an independent site. As I said in one of my letters, where before we had two sites, offering the potential for two new columns every day, now we'd have only one. But, honestly, we hadn't met that potential for a while. So we all talked, and we agreed: as of January 1, all of the remaining Gone Gaming writers will be moving over to Board Game News.

In a week or two's time, you'll find everything that you used to read here over there. We're going to port the old articles of the remaining authors, and Eric is also going to create a special Gone Gaming category, so that you can read just the GG blogs if you want. But BGN also features regular columns from other great writers, as well as the best interviews and industry news in the business, so hopefully you'll take a look at them too.

In the meantime, make sure that you stick around and read Gone Gaming through the end of the year, as we'll have return visits from as many of our departed columnists as we can get to write.

I'm really happy to have Gone Gaming go out as an independent site while we were still strong and full of regular, high-quality posts. Knowing that we're going to see the return of lots of old friends in the next couple of weeks makes me feel like I'm at the finale of a roleplaying campaign which ran its full course. In the end we get to tell our final stories and wrap up our lose ends, because we actually planned for an conclusion rather than just letting the game trail off.

(And even better, we've got part two of the campaign all ready to go, with a launch immediately thereafter.)

So that's the news on the future of Gone Gaming ...

My Year in Writing

Even before we got to talking about the BGN/GG merger, I'd been thinking about the 29 months that I've been writing for Gone Gaming, and wondering why I'm the last man standing from the original group. That was going to be my original topic for this column, a retrospective on the year and the blog.

In any case, for me personally, I'm still around because I'm a writer. I can't help it. I write. Constantly. Almost since I got on the net, I've contributed to it. In 1991 I began writing campaign logs for some of my roleplaying games. In 1994 I created an online 'zine called The Chaosium Digest, which as often as not was full of my own writing. In 2000 I began writing a column on computer game design. Last year I tried my hand at a history of the roleplaying industry. I suspect there's one or two million words worth of my writing publicly available on the Internet.

The question was thus never if I'd stop writing, but rather if something else would come along that interested me more that writing about board games.

I'm sure that'll happen in time, and it was actually a very serious threat this year, because it's been one of my most productive writing years ever. I expanded my history articles into an almost-complete manuscript of an RPG history book, before things fell through with my initial publisher (200,000 words). I simultaneously wrote a book on elfs for Mongoose Publishing's RuneQuest, which has since been published (60,000 words). I wrote 7 or 8 articles for Knucklebones magazine (20,000 words), a couple for Tradetalk magazine (5,000 words), four articles for Signs & Portents magazine (14,000 words), 25 articles here on Gone Gaming (50,000 words), and 50 reviews for RPGnet (100,000 words). In all, I suspect I flirted with a count of half-a-million words for the year.

It's been a busy year. Just like that year when Coldfoot first asked me if I wanted to write for his new blog.

Sounds like a pattern.

My Year in Gaming

Fortunately, I still found plenty of time to game amidst all that writing (though I'll admit to turning down some gaming opportunities early in the year, when I was going full-bore on two books intended for professional publication). I've logged 294 games to date this year, compared to 414 last year, and I've still got a few more game nights scheduled.

However, it's also been a year that's seen some changes in my gaming habits.

This is the year in which I decided that I didn't have to own every board game I liked. I think it's a milestone that every board game player eventually hits, as they glance through their shelves, realize how many of the games they never play and that playing a friend's copy of the newest hot game is probably good enough.

Notre Dame is the last game that I actively sought out a copy of (and couldn't get because it was out of print). I think On the Underground was the last game I actually bought. (Though, keep in mind that I still get some review copies, which helps to satisfy the new game urge.)

This is also the year in which I started getting rid of games that I actually like. They're just games that I like less and are less likely to play, so why should I have them continue to clutter up my house?

(Actually, I speak prematurely, because I haven't gotten rid of them yet. I've just packed them up in a box for an auction next Spring at EndGame.)

On the gaming front, there was very little that thrilled me for most of the year. The Pillars of the Earth is the only game from early this year or late last year which has had any staying power for me ... and that might be because I don't get to play it much. Notre Dame was the next game that really caught my attention, but I still haven't purchased a copy of it.

However, this fall has been looking better. Race for the Galaxy has gone onto my usually-want-to-play list, and I suspect that I'll be even more excited when and if the supplements come out. I initially said that I felt like I didn't need to own Race for the Galaxy because I already had San Juan and Glory to Rome, but I'd increasingly like to get a copy.

Brass and Cuba are two more games from this fall that I've liked quite a bit. They've only gotten one play each, and they're generally longer and more intricate than I tend to like in gaming ... but those single gameplays really got me thinking.

I'm really happy to see a few different games that get me excited again, because it tells me that spring was just a poor crop of games, not that I'm losing my interest in Eurogames in general.

My five and dime list isn't quite finished up for the year, because of those aforementioned remaining game nights, but generally it looks much as it has in previous years: pretty scant, because I'm much more likely to play a lot of different games than anything in depth.

Lost Cities (12 plays) was one of just two older game that I really kept playing this year, and that's primarily because my wife has had some renewed interest in the game. The other was Ingenious (5 plays), thanks to my dad buying me a copy last Christmas. (I've also played the computer version of it a ton, and should really review it.) My games of Magic: The Gathering (6 plays) were entirely so that I could write some reviews that required testing out a lot of decks. It's a fun game, but I doubt I'd go to the trouble of playing it otherwise.

New or new-to-me games took up the rest of my five-and-dime list.

Tichu (7 plays) is a game that I quickly came to adore, but it's no surprise because I really like card-climbing games. Gang of Four was a favorite long before I ever tried out Tichu.

Ubongo (6 plays) got all its attention early in the year, and seems to have died out since. My last nickel of the year should be Descent (5 plays), as we've got a game scheduled for Saturday. It's a bit surprising for such a long game to appear as a nickel, but it's because my roleplaying group likes it, so it's gotten some play there, especially when we were in-between campaigns this summer.

That's pretty much been my year in gaming.

And this is Shannon Appelcline, writer and gaming guy, signing off. I'll see you all next year in Gone Gaming at Board Game News. Have a terrific holiday, and make sure you stick around for all the great columns we've got scheduled before the end of the year.

(+2,232 words.)

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Not enough time.

It's reaching the end of the year, and the traditional time for a geek to look at what games they played and reminisce. But rather than talk about what I played lots this year - I'm going to talk about what I didn't play. And my regrets.

Invariably (In my life), the shorter games get pulled out more. There was a year when I must have played Circus Flocati almost 20 times. Why? Because we'd always play it while waiting for everyone else to show up. We might have only finished the game 10 times, but it appeared on the table constantly. So at this time of year, when I lament what I didn't play, it's always the long difficult games. On with the show.

Roads and Boats
A perennial favorite of at least one group I play with, R&B got a ton of play for awhile, and has now declined to a measly one time in 2007. There's still the possibility of play left I think - but one or two, what's the difference there? There was a time when we picked scenarios purely based on not having played them yet. I'm sure there's one or two unplayed ones left...

This was the year of 1825. It got two plays, along with one Isle of Wight. No 1830, and I missed a chance to try 18CTC at Kublacon because I was working. Sigh. Work interfering with games? Foolishness! We talk constantly about trying to play more often, but 18xx doesn't make it out for evenings most of the time, even though there are several games that play in under 4 hours. So it gets relegated to weekend gaming, and hence more infrequent.

Magic Realm
Two measly plays. Two! More if you would count realmspeak or solo dithering, but I don't. I went to bgg.con with the avowed intention of getting in a game, even going so far as to bring my custom set, but I got distracted by the shiny and new, or the shiny and old.

That crazy Fan game
Speaking of bgg.con, this game makes the list purely because I failed entirely to ever knock the stupid little post off the wooden box. More practice at throwing fans is obviously needed. One play not enough (Though seeing how the game had like 5 copies made, and I don't own one, I doubt that will happen).

Great Battles of History
Well, taking the GBH series as a whole, I've actually played a fair bit. Multiple sessions of Alexander and Samurai, plus one-and-a-half sessions of Alesia. Alesia I don't need to play again, but I'm always up for another Alexander or Samurai game, and we never did get around to reading the rules for RAN (the 2nd half of samurai that was released this year). Overall this is probably the wargame series that I regret not playing more, though Flying Colors is always a contender as well.

Lords of the...
Phil Eklunds "Lords" series were finally attempted by myself this year (along with American Megafauna, and just recently Origins..) I find myself fully enamored of Phil's games, although they are not the easiest to comprehend. Multiple plays of Lords of the Spanish Main left me with nothing but a taste for more. I have yet to attempt either of the two earlier games (mostly due to component issues), but I am sad that I didn't get a chance to play more. The Lords series demands repeat play, not only because you need to learn how the game works, but also because you need to learn how to tweak the base rules to fit the play styles of your local group. To be blunt, the "big deck" problem rears it's ugly head, and for the group of war/euro gamers that I usually play with, a more normalized randomization is needed. That last sentence probably leaves you shaking your head in wonderment, but trust me, it makes sense. One of these days I'll write more about it. For now, trust me that I wish I had played these games more often.

So there's the short list. Of all the rest, the only other game that I feel regret is for poor unloved-in-2007 Fairy Tale. The game is short, I enjoy it immensely, and I used to play it quite a bit. In 2007? One lonely time. Ah well. So many games. I'm sure I'll come back to it.


Sunday, December 16, 2007

Boardgames for Christmas

It's fun to play games, but it's fun to give games too. And with Christmas on the way, giving things is definitely on my mind. (Unfortunately, it's also the reason why I skipped posting last week - between family, Agricola and work, the last few weeks have been a bit mad).

We have a friend who loves penguins. Like us, she has a 5' high inflatable penguin; unlike ours, I think hers is still inflated. Last year, we found the perfect Christmas gift - the game Weihnachtspinguine (Christmas Penguins). Not only does it have penguins and even a polar bear, it's also a pretty fun game. Chalk up a gift-giving success.

Some games really scream out to be given to particular people. Here's my list.

Game Name: On the Underground
Designer: Sebastian Bleasdale
I'd like to give it to: My friends Jane and Stuart, who lived in London for 5 years or so.

Jane and Stuart introduced us to The London Game during the '90s - and we spent many happy times exploring the Tube together from our dining table. On the Underground is a great game for two or more players, so they can play it with one another or with friends, or with their children as they grow up.

They'll love the theme, and it's a great game as well.

Game Name: Thebes
Designer: Peter Prinz
I'd like to give it to: My brother, who studied ancient history and classics at University.

My brother doesn't play a lot of games any more, but I think this one would be an exception. Players take the role of archaeologists at the start of the twentieth century, travelling around Europe doing research and exhibiting their finds, as well as visiting archaeological sites to excavate for treasure.

The theme of this game is a real attraction - it works so well, you can really believe that you are on a dig (especially when your precious dig turns up only pot shards). There's enough luck that everyone has fun, and enough skill that the game never gets boring.

Game Name: Trötofant
Designer: Roberto Fraga
I'd like to give it to: My 4- and 9-year-old daughters

Who doesn't need some silliness in their life? This game provides it in elephant-sized doses.

Each player represents an elephant, trying to collect as many logs as possible from the top of a tree. But they can't use their hands to collect the logs - they must pick them up in a party tooter whistle, as it rolls back up.

I've never played this game, and I honestly don't know whether I can recommend it to anyone else. But I think it sounds great fun, and I think the girls will too!

Game Name: Uno Attack
Designer: (Uncredited)
I'd like to give it to: A "giving tree"

This has become a family tradition. A few years ago, my elder daughter and I decided to buy a gift to put into a charity basket.

"What should we buy?" I asked her.

"Well, we really love games, and other kids do too, so I think we should buy a boardgame"

After much careful selection, Uno Attack was chosen - and it continues to go into the basket each year.

Who would you like to buy a game for? And what is the story?


Friday, December 14, 2007

Why Write?

A couple of things have put me in a contemplative mood this week. For one thing, a college friend of mine just turned fifty. He is older than I am, but the implication that time is passing for all of us is inescapable. Someday soon I will be fifty, and that just sounds so darn mature.

For another thing, this is the first time that I can remember that I have had back-to-back columns. No one seems to have posted on Gone Gaming since last Friday. No doubt the other writers have more important things going on in their lives than writing for free to an audience of unknown size (but that probably rates a description somewhere between small and miniscule).

So why write? Why is this worthwhile for me? I guess for three reasons.

1) Exercise the writing muscle. If you value writing skills (as I do), then anything that gets you writing is good. The subject matter could be gardening, or tennis, or dubious conspiracy theories. It doesn’t matter. Writing helps keep parts of the mind limber. Because of my blogging deadline I write on a regular schedule, and I write more than I would otherwise.

2) A voice in the hobby. This is the reason that may have appealed to me the most when I first considered blogging, but that has turned out to be the least important and most nebulous reason in retrospect. Maybe if I went to more gaming conventions, then I would meet more gamers, and writing a blog could be a calling card. But I don’t go to many cons, and I don’t meet lots of new gamers. And I have found that gamers are more likely to recognize the name of the gaming sites I write for than my own name. But every now and then someone seems to know my writing, or they are at least polite enough to pretend to.

3) An ear to the ground in the hobby. This is a reason I never much considered before I started writing, but that has turned out to be an unexpected bonus. Because I am constantly looking for material for my blogs, I have read more rules for upcoming games, played more games that I might have otherwise passed by, and contacted more people in the industry than I ever would have if I had not been writing regularly. Writing has made me more analytical about games and the industry, and made me a more devoted reader of other folks’ blogs. None of this makes me a better human being, but it does make the hobby more interesting to me.

Some readers may have considered writing an essay or two about the hobby. You might have wondered why such an activity would be worthwhile, while at the same time harboring the vague notion that writing for free is about as smart as digging ditches for free.

I believe that blogging has its benefits. They may be intangible, and the cost/benefit ratio may be a little skewed. But now and then there appear unexpected emotional rewards.

If some of you have something to say about the hobby, we’d love to hear from you.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Brass Impressions

The Appalachian Gamers got to try Martin Wallace’s Brass for the first time this week, and the initial impressions were favorable. I heard several comments along the lines of “There’s a lot to think about in this game, and it may be one of those games that needs to be played two or three times before I really know what to do.”

Martin Wallace may be my favorite designer; I certainly cannot think of anyone whose games I look forward to with greater anticipation. I will need to play Brass several more times before I can determine where it ranks in my esteem compared with Railroad Tycoon or Struggle of Empires, but at the very least Brass will be among my favorite games of this year.

Brass is an economic engine game based on the Industrial Revolution in Lancashire, England. Players spend their turns purchasing industry counters, placing them on the board, and then trying to get their counters turned over to their backside which generates income and victory points. Much of the complexity in the game comes from the different conditions that will turn over counters; each industry has its own special requirements. For example, coal mines and ironworks counters are placed on the board along with a number of coal and iron cubes. When these cubes are consumed, the counter that generated them is flipped. But cotton mill counters can only be flipped if they are connected by rail or canal to a port or external location, and then the owning player must spend an action to sell cotton. Ports and shipyard counters have their own special conditions as well.

Each particular industry also has its own ratio of income and victory points. Some industries generate a lot of income but relatively few victory points. Coal is the prime example of this type of industry. Other industries generate more victory points than income. For example, shipyards generate little income but they create a literal boatload of victory points.

Also adding to the complexity is the requirement that many industries be connected by canal or rail to ports or coal mines. Players will have to construct a network of canals and rails to make their economic empire work.

All this complexity gives players strategic options, but also makes the game fiddly (a favorite Appalachian Gamer word). Players may need to play the game a couple of times to memorize all the special rules for coal, steel, and selling cotton.

The biggest reservation I have about the game concerns the victory-point-extravaganza shipyards. Both the winning and second place player in our game built shipyards, and it may be that building shipyards is a necessary part of any winning strategy. If that is the case, then game play will be a little more predictable and scripted than if shipyards were of equal importance with other industries.

Brass is a fine addition to the collected works of Martin Wallace. I wonder what he is working on now.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Who Goes Next?

Who goes next?

In a mass-market game, that wasn't really much of a question, because in Monopoly, Scrabble, Chess, or any number of other traditionals, the answer was always obvious: the next player.

However, as games continue to evolve, adding on new levels of complexity, the answer is becoming more difficult, and the question of who goes next isn't always so obvious.

Starting with Card Games

I would suspect that card games were really the first ones to raise the "Who Goes Next?" question. This is because most card games divide up their play into tricks, where each player plays one card. This means that if you kept having the "next player" go next, then the same player would lead each hand, which would allow him to play to his strengths and win most of the time. Because of this large first-player advantage, card games developed two different answers for the "Who Goes Next?" question, based around their two core units of card play.

At the end of each trick (or each round of play, if you prefer), the player that wins the hand is usually the one that leads the next hand. This tends to offer two rewards to winning a trick: getting the cards of the trick and leading off the next one. Different games play this off in different ways. In most card games, from Bridge to Spades, taking the trick is crucially important, while winning the lead just lets you control what happens next, but in a game like Gang of Four there's no trick taking, and so all that's important is getting to lead the next time around--underlining the importance of this whole exercise.

At the end of each hand, the lead tends to shift around the table clockwise.

And that's how almost every card game answers the question of "Who Goes Next?". As we'll see, some board games have adopted these same answers, but more recently we're seeing a lot of variation as well, going beyond card games' staid solutions.

Back to Board Games

As I've already said, in Ye Olden Board Games, you just kept playing sequentially. There's still a lot of designers that use this model most of the time, including stand-outs like Reiner Knizia.

However, we're increasingly seeing games designed around limited choices and limited resources. These games also tend to divide up into rounds (or tricks, if you prefer), with the most common round giving each player one opportunity to play--though they're sometimes much longer. At the end of each round, a new player then gets the opportunity to be first.

Puerto Rico is one of the earliest notables in this area, but the style of play has really exploded in the last several years with more role-selection games and more scarcity games, all of which tend to make it really important when you go.

Puerto Rico took the old card play model of shifting the lead one to the right each round, which is a fine, simple method. It can also be incredibly painful when you go from first to last, because that increases the length between your turns. It's not a big deal in Puerto Rico because of the low down-time, and in fact becomes a core element of strategy. However, it drove me crazy in Eagle's Attack! (with expansion) because the down-time was high enough that you'd have over an hour in-between your first and last turns.

I'm somewhat fond of the retrograde turn order, where the first player goes counter-clockwise rather than clockwise. Thus, in the extreme case, rather than going from first to last, you instead go from last to first. However, it's more confusing, and can cause serious balance problems when a player gets two turns in a row.

Complexity in Ordering

It's been several years now that the number of round-based board games have been increasing, and I'm pretty pleased to see that the thought being given to the whole question of "Who Goes Next?" is increasing too.

After moving the first-player clockwise (or counterclockwise) I think the next easiest answer is to allow the player with the lowest score to go first (like Torres does), if being first is an advantage, or to make the player with the highest score go first, if being first is a disadvantage. Thus, you have a simple rule that doesn't continually advantage the same player and you have a catch-up mechanism, all in one simple rule.


However I like the board games that have integrated the whole question of "Who Goes Next?" into the game play even better. They treat it as yet another resource that you have to manage.

Caylus and Pillars of the Earth both made the first-player ability a resource that you can purchase, but at the cost of doing something else useful, which is an OK, but kind of in-your-face answer.

I prefer the solutions suggested by Phoenicia and Cuba. In the first you go first in the next round if you have the most victory points, but by doing so you're probably limiting your resource production. In the second you go first in the next round if you choose your roles in a specific order. In both cases you have to minorly disadvantage yourself in other ways to increase your probability of going next, which is generally a more nuanced and interesting answer than just choosing whether to take the first-player action or not.


I've thus far left out my favorite "Who Goes Next?" mechanism, which is that found in Thebes. Therein, every action you take costs time, and whoever has spent the least time overall goes next. This is neat in several ways, because it turns the "Who Goes Next?" question on its head, because there's no longer a guarantee of getting equal turns. Instead, turn management becomes pure resource management.

I suppose you could say it's another way of looking at an action-point system, in that you can take one big action or many small actions, but if so it's more clever and less likely to cause analysis paralysis than any action point system I've ever seen.

Thebes also suggests that we've just scratched the service of the "Who Goes Next?" question. As designer games continue to evolve, we may see lots of other solutions to this question that was taken totally for granted back when we just played Monopoly and Battleship.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Short note on Retail.

It's a busy time of year for the retail biz. One of the oddities of being on the inside of retail is that you learn exactly how early "holiday shopping season" really starts. No, not the shoppers, but the sales calls.

Every year, like clockwork, on October 1st, I start getting the cold calls1 from game companies. Usually I already know about three-quarters of the companies that call at that point. These aren't eurogame companies, or hobby games (those companies aren't big enough to fund cold calls). These are the larger family game companies. Some have made it into the Mass Market, some haven't.

I only get frustrated with the ones who take offense that I don't want their products. "We've won an award!" they cry. I hesitate to tell them that while awards are shiny, and the stickers look nice, that only one or two award-winning games sell for more than a year. The chances that your game will do well locally? Not very high.

The cold calls stop by late october/early november. The big companies realize that holiday buying is wrapping up at this point. The big orders have been placed already. Now the smaller companies start calling. I've rarely heard of these companies. Sometimes their product looks interesting. Sometimes they don't. Invariably they won't be good sellers, but every year I try to take one or two risks on a strong looking product. Sometimes it pays off. Again, these are rarely strategy games, these are mostly party games.

The final round of sales contact comes about now. Early december. These are the folks that show up at the store with a game in hand, several cases of product in their car and ask how many copies we need. These people are stunning in their earnest belief that they have a sure-fire hit on their hands. It's also one of the most depressing parts of my job. I have to look at a game, with the inventor/publisher on hand and try to figure out how to say no without entirely offending them. Of course, if they are offensive or rude, I have a tendency to do the same back. It's amazing how many people think that better sales comes from telling your potential customers that they are idiots. Ugly2.

I've seen rip-offs of Uno/Crazy 8s3, dice games that imitate LCR, tons of party games, chess variants 4, and more. Most are made by one person and tested on their extended family.

I rarely buy these last products. They're just too late, and often too poorly presented. Even if a game offers a great value and gameplay, if nobody has heard of it, and the box is boring - the game won't sell5.

This year I've taken less small games. We've seen so many new titles over the past year that I don't feel I have a spot for these last minute games.

That's it for retail. Sometimes the urge strikes me.

I was out at BGG.con and completely failed to introduce myself to anyone. My apologies. Good times though. It was a strong Essen crop this year. The only complete miss for me was a three-player attempt at Army of Frogs (from the makers of Hive). We got into an intractably drawn out endgame. We quit because it wasn't fun and could have gone on forever.


1 Telemarketing speak for an unsolicited sales call. If you didn't already know that. I have no real idea how far into general culture that term has migrated.

2 So, last year I took a case of a nameless game. It didn't sell at all. Nonetheless, after taking it, I got a call from the guy every week asking if we needed a restock. Every week I'd tell him - no, your game hasn't sold, I've still got the six copies you sold me, I don't need any more. And every week he'd tell me that it was doing really well everywhere else and was I sure I didn't need any more? Ah. Insanity. Eventually he got told to go away and never call me again. The game is still around. I've even seen it in other stores. Hopefully someone is making money on it besides the salesman.

3ZAR. It even has three letters in its name, just like uno. Surprisingly, this one sells a couple times a year. But remember, LCR sells year-round as well!

4 Kruzno anyone? As attendees of our annual party can attest, we had plenty of Kruzno to give away.

5 -cough- experience talking -cough-

Friday, November 30, 2007

A Ahort Rules Preview of Supernova

Once upon a time there was a wargame company called SPI that completely dominated the wargame field (at least in terms of numbers of games produced). When SPI got around to producing some science-fiction empire-building games, they made a couple that differed in terms of scale. Their biggest-picture game was called Outreach and the scale was so big that hexes didn’t represent star systems but rather whole chunks of the galaxy that contained dozens or hundreds of star systems. If I remember correctly (and this is a big if—I haven’t seen the game in decades), the grand scale made the game so generic and abstract that the theme was almost pointless.

I was reminded of Outreach when reading the rules for Supernova. This is not because Supernova seems likely to be a bland game. Or because the two games have the same ultra-big picture scale (Supernova has individual planets and their moons on the gameboard). Rather, Supernova recalled Outreach because Supernova is a tile-laying game, and the forces of each space empire seem to be a tad abstract. In Supernova, players don’t move plastic ships around the board, but lay tiles outward from a central sun. When a player places a tile on a hex that has been previously claimed by an opponent, combat begins.

Combat is conducted with battle cards, although fortifying a hex (adding more than one tile to a hex) helps with defense. Battle cards are either numbered or contain a special abilities. There are rules about which combination of cards can be played in each battle, but there is always going to be an element of pure guesswork because players are not going to know what is in other players’ hands.

What adds to the space theme, and makes the game less abstract, are ratings for individual player abilities which can change over the course of the game. Players have ratings for weapons (which increase combat ability), shields (which boost defense), engines (which increase the number of tiles a player can play each turn), and comms (which increase the number of battle cards a player can hold). Players may buy a technology increase each turn, but the increases become more expensive as tech levels rise. This means that players will have an incentive to develop all their technologies rather than sinking their money into one or two increasingly-expensive fields.

Players get a small resource budget each turn (resources are cash in this game), and they can increase their resources by harvesting the moons which orbit the planets. Although moons create more resources than planets, planets are worth more victory points than moons.

There is also an auction mechanism in this game. Every turn there is a chance of a sun flare erupting from the central star. Players bid for the right to control the flare, and the winning player can declare where the flare goes. Sun flares destroy hexes as they move outward from the star. Early in the game, they only destroy a couple of hexes; later in the game they become more powerful and they destroy a greater number of hexes.

Supernova (designed by Oliver Harrison and Mike Roy) seems to me to be a promising game that may give players a chance to dabble in galactic empire-building without requiring the six-hour marathon session that Twilight Imperium demands. With Galactic Emperor also on track for publication in 2008, next year may be a good year for space-game enthusiasts.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Multi-player Solitaire? Nuh Uh!

The term "multiplayer solitaire" is often used (mostly by people who don't like them) to describe games where there is no direct player interaction - you can't steal my food cubes or blow up my tanks, because we are each working on our own grand master plan for our own area of the world.

Coincidentally, the games the term is often applied to include most of my favourite games.

What these games typically offer, is ample opportunity for indirect player interaction. Often, this comes through competing with other players - for goods, for resources, for actions, for control of an area.

The games reward planning - often long-term planning - but also the flexibility to respond and react to others' actions. While they are less dynamic than some other types of games, players can still have a significant effect on one another's success or failure.

In my experience, while the first few times with a new game often play out as essentially multiplayer solitaire, with experience and increased skill players will watch what other players are doing and respond/react/block/move appropriately. In other words, a game will become more interactive as you play it more and more. This can take time - and it's easy to write a game off after one or two plays without really exploring the strategies and tactics that underpin it.

Moving a game from multiplayer solitaire to a more interactive experience may have a long learning curve, but it is well worth it to someone who (like me) enjoys these types of games. The interactivity enriches the game experience and deepens the thinking involved in playing the game - or at least, in playing it well.

In bad news for designers, there doesn't seem to be a way to shortcut this process - although some seem to be having success by providing solo rules, or versions of the game with less complexity than the full game, to give players an opportunity to familiarise themselves with the game in stages.

I've looked at a handful of these games and have tried to rank them, starting with the most solitaire. Your experiences will likely vary - I'd bet, according to how often you have played the various games I list.

Crayon rails games
You could call them multiplayer solitaire because: The interaction is really only in where you build (taking the best routes into and out of a city) and in taking the goods that other players want.
Opportunities for interaction with other players: I've only played this 2-player so far, but I imagine with more players there could be more opportunity to block other players out of a particular city or to force other players to use your existing train lines.

You could call it multiplayer solitaire because: The game can be played almost co-operatively, with each player placing pieces without regard to their opponent's scores.
Opportunities for interaction with other players: Blocking!

Thurn und Taxis
You could call it multiplayer solitaire because: Each player plays their own hand, without restrictions on how many pieces may be played on a particular city. The high level of chance in the flow of cards (particularly if you choose the 'replace the 6 cards' option) makes it hard to block, especially in a multiplayer game.
Opportunities for interaction with other players: Card hogs! If I have all the cards for Lodz or Sigmaringen, you don't have much of a chance. Also, the need to keep up with other players' carriage cards means that you are under some pressure to play cards and not just to wait for the next card to come along.

Pillars of the Earth - reduced by the random draw of master builders but still very competitive. Has the feel of an auction game in many ways
You could call it multiplayer solitaire because: Each player is working to make the most of their own set of cards.
Opportunities for interaction with other players: Card selection/choice of actions - it is possible to take the action that another player wants. Watch how many workers they have left and make sure you take the only stone they can afford. Block their access to key resources like metal. Watch whether they have enough money to place their master builders.

Notre Dame
You could call it multiplayer solitaire because: Each player plays their own hand of cards on their own section of the board. There is no restriction on several players choosing the same action.
Opportunities for interaction with other players: Card drafting phase. If the next player is out of money, it might be safe for me to pass her a Notre Dame card if it means I can keep a money card out of her hands. Also, the carriages.

You could call it multiplayer solitaire because: Each player builds their own structures on the board - there's no trade or opportunity to influence your opponent's tile draw.
Opportunities for interaction with other players: Blocking! Stealing cities, pointing roads at cities - there are ample opportunities for evil play.

Princes of Florence
You could call it multiplayer solitaire because: Each player is building his/her own buildings and playing cards.
Opportunities for interaction with other players: The Auction phase (and the restricted supply of some cards for the Action phase) allows you to take choices away from other players. The Recruiter card also offers an interactive element.

You could call it multiplayer solitaire because: Each player is building their own farmyard. Unless you are using the I deck, you have little to no direct interaction with other players.
Opportunities for interaction with other players: Taking resources and actions that other players need. Early complaints about cards being overpowered seem to stem from this problem - if one player has a card that makes clay super-valuable for them then the other players should adapt their strategy to ensure that the first player doesn't get the chance to get a lot of clay. That's hard to do while you're still learning the ropes, which is where the family game should get solid play from gamers who are just starting out with this game.

Tigris & Euphrates
You could call it multiplayer solitaire because: It is possible to play this game without ever entering into any direct conflict with another player.
Opportunities for interaction with other players: War! Two different types, even. It doesn't get much more direct than that - yet the first few times you play you will almost always stick to building up your own civilisation.

What other games attract this label? And does the experience = interactivity rule hold true?


Friday, November 23, 2007

A Short Rules Preview of Power & Weakness

Last week I wrote about the rules for Albion, an area-control game set in medieval Britain. Today I’m writing about the rules for Power & Weakness, an area-control game set in medieval Britain.

There are a couple of big differences in the games. For one thing, Albion is a multi-player game and Power & Weakness is strictly two-player. Another difference is that Albion tries to be loosely historical, but Power & Weakness focuses on magicians as well as on conventional forces.

The heart of Power and Weakness is a mechanism in which conventional and magical conflict alternates as players struggle to control regions on the board. A cycle in which players move knights from regions to adjacent regions to combat enemy forces is followed by a cycle in which magicians teleport all over the board between regions that share the same magical symbol.

On his turn, a player can take two actions. Typical actions will be adding a friendly piece to a region on the board, recruiting friendly pieces from the stock, or taking and/or playing an action tile. There are a variety of actions tiles. Some of the typical ones allow a player to remove enemy pieces from a region, add friendly pieces to a region, move pieces from region to region, or cancel an opponent’s action. Some action tiles have duel abilities, and players have to choose which abilities to use. Some action tiles cannot be simply taken, but have to be auctioned off between the players.

Taking some actions removes timing cubes from the timing track. The cycle ends when all the cubes are gone, and manipulating the end of a cycle appears to play a part in game strategy. For example, playing tiles that add friendly pieces to the board can trigger the end of a cycle and make it impossible for the opponent to respond before a scoring round.

Power & Weakness has some interesting mechanisms, but the two-player limitation may decrease its appeal. I would be much more likely to acquire a game like this if it allowed for several players; two-player games just don’t get played as much.

Power & Weakness was designed by Andreas Steding and is available for pre-order from

Saturday, November 17, 2007

After being defeated by the rules, the play made it clear...

There have been a few games where I have found myself utterly defeated after reading the rules. Instead of knowing how to play the game I have no idea at all, in some extreme cases I know less about the game than I did before I started and also I am no longer entirely sure what my phone number is.

In pretty much every case this has been cured by playing the game, preferably with somebody who knows how to play it.

Games where I have been defeated by the rules include Coloretto, Mamma Mia!, Mystery Rummy: Jack the Ripper, Tigris & Euphrates and Air War (OK I will admit that the last one was not at all recently).

With Coloretto and Mamma Mia! a step by step playing of the game in close concert with the rules meant that things that were previously clear as mud suddenly became obvious as if some magic spell had been lifted. Interestingly enough I had no problem at all with Zooloretto, mostly due to the familiarity with Coloretto.

Air War is really a case of being defeated by the errata. I spent hours working my way through the hefty rule book to suddenly find this enormous errata that basically poked out its tongue and said everything you have learnt before is wrong and you must learn it again. I put the rules and the errata back in the box, gave the game back to its owner and went back to playing Foxbat and Phantom instead.

With Tigris & Euphrates I read the rules and felt I was about half way. I had some understanding, but was clearly foundering. This time I went down the path of getting someone who had already played it to teach it. This worked a treat, again suddenly everything was very clear and we played it three times in a row. With the game in front of you an experienced player can teach this in about ten minutes and actually explain the internal and external conflicts in a meaningful way as opposed to that blank look that people get when they first read the rules without having played the game.

In the case of Mystery Rummy: Jack the Ripper I read the rules twice and even tried playing a game solo. Three - nil in the game's favour. The rules aren't that long, it shouldn't be that hard. I read the rules to War in Europe and just played it from scratch, but am now being defeated by a card game and its cursed melds. At least I could console myself that I was not the only one who has had this problem, there are many similar stories at BGG.

I issued the "Teach me" plea and to my gratitude Gregor responded and it was arranged for the next EuroGamesFest. Sure enough after a brief explanation and about a hand or two it was pretty much all perfectly clear and I could now successfully teach other people how to play, which means Melissa and Daughter the Elder are now fans of the game and we have played it quite a few times recently, including a hand or two waiting for meals to arrive at a restaurant and in the waiting room at our GP's waiting room waiting for a Doctor for Daughter the Younger.

My plan of attack for our unplayed pile is still usually:
1) Read the rules
2) If that does not succeed, try a solo game
3) If that does not succeed, call on somebody who has played the game before to assist.

Usually we have a successful game after step 1, but not always.

Hmmm meeples taste like...

Friday, November 16, 2007

A Short Rules Preview of Albion

This one I am excited about. I’m talking about Albion, the upcoming area-majority game from the new game company Troy Press. Albion covers a lot of the same territory as Britannia, but looks like it is a quicker, less complicated game.

In Albion, players try to become the dominant force in various regions of the British Isles in order to score victory points. On his turn, if I player has the most cubes in a particular region, and he has the appropriate card for that region, he may play a kingdom card to score points. Petty kingdoms are kingdoms that consist of just one region. After a player has scored at least three petty kingdoms, he may attempt to score a high kingdom which consists of two regions and is probably worth more victory points. And at the end of the game, players see who has the most units in the three final kingdoms: England, Scotland, and Wales.

On his turn, a player will have to choose between the following actions: move settlers (from one region to an adjoining region), attack settlers (opposing settler cubes destroy each other on a one-to-one basis), add settlers (one cube is added to a region where you have a majority or tie for the majority of the cubes), recruit Britons (exchange neutral brown Briton cubes in one region for your own cubes), or play an invader carder (units that invade England from the sea). Complicating matters is a population limit for each of the varying regions that limits how many units may occupy it.

Does this sound simple? Maybe even excessively simple? Perhaps. But I was suspicious of the simplicity of Midgard when that came out, and Midgard turned out to be one of the games from the last couple of years that the Appalachian Gamers plays the most.

Albion may have less historical chrome than Britannia, but the Appalachian Gamers found that Britannia’s victory point system channels players into predictable grooves. Albion looks like it might be a little less predictable, and play in a much shorter time.

It looks like Albion will show up sometime in 2008. I’ll be waiting.

Albion can be pre-ordered for about $40. Troy Press can be found at