Thursday, December 28, 2006

Educational Games Suck

Scrabblette is in India and has been sending back games that she's been buying over there. What a nice girlfriend! Amongst them is an educational game called Howzat (which is not listed on the 'geek until my entry is approved). It's apparently a fast moving arithmetic game - like Scrabble with equations. It looks really dull... but the kid has such unfathomable taste in games I'll try it with him and see what happens. My guess is it will be as successful as feeding my dog lettuce - she doesn't recognise it as food, and he won't recognise it as a game.

OK, there is definitely a genre of sucky educational games that are no fun at all. What really intrigued me though was another game Scrabblette sent back called "Math Bogglers", which is really a packaging of Nine Men's Morris and Crossing the River into one set. I don't know what Crossing the River is, but Nine Men's Morris is a proper abstract game. Why does it need to be marketed as "Math Bogglers"? It's not about maths as normal people recognise it. It won't help your kid learn to play Howzat.

My theory on this is that parents buy their kids educational games because they think education is more important than having fun. This occasionally results in decent games being packaged as sucky ones. That's stupid but it makes sense if you understand the motivations of the parents.

Of course readers of this blog will know that games teach you maths whether they're designed to or not. Almost all of the games I like encourage players to be forever running the numbers in their heads - if I can get one more denier I can move another 3 spaces and I can get the majority in indigo because he's only got 2 actions and can only get another 4 and then I'll get the 10VP chip and with the 25% bonus I'll have 53 and last time the winning score was 39 and that was with 4 players and scores should be 33% higher with only 3 players. If you subject a kid to enough of these games and they understand the systems and are motivated to win, they'll start doing maths and enjoying it, and games don't need to suck at all.

Having said that of course, I was very proud of the kid when he won his first game of Bluff. I asked him if he had any trouble dividing the number of dice in the game by 3. He had no idea why you'd even do that.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Do You Like Games You Don't Understand?

I played Caylus for the first time today, and I was kind of meh. It's an interesting game, but there are too many things to think about and I'm not sure I'd ever do a good job with it. I like the building track, and if Caylus was simply an economic game trying to build the right sets of buildings so that my economy functions more efficiently than yours, I think I'd like that. I find that adding the castle and the royal favours makes Caylus so complicated I'll probably never do a good job with it. I can't grok the long-term consequences of my actions.

I think Princes of Florence is somewhat similar - there are just too many things going on. I'm all at sea when I play that, and consequently I don't enoy it so much. I suspect Goa and Louis XIV are a bit like that as well. Maybe just a bit too complicated. I like games that I can get my head around, even if it's only just, such as Tikal, Tigris and Euphrates, and Elfenland. They're the limit of complexity that I'm comfortable with and consequently a challenge to play. Easier games like San Juan, GIPF and Hare and Tortoise that I understand really well become old favourites that I can play to relax.

What I want to know is, do people often like games which confuse them? Are all the people who rate Caylus highly super-mega-smart? I have a Ph.D. and a genius IQ, but it confuses me. Are Caylus fans the absolute intellectual elite of the planet? If not, what's so good about a game that's confusingly hard? Do people like playing a game where they feel lost? Is there some different sort of intelligence that they have and I don't? I need feedback here, because it just doesn't make sense to me.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Life's Too Short to Play Twilight Imperium 3 (again)

Goodness me. The afternoon, evening and night has been occupied by a game of Twilight Imperium 3, the imperial flagship of the Ameritrash Empire. CyberKev and I are on a campaign to have played more of the games in the top 50, and as the Evil Count von Walduck has a copy of TI3 and we're on holidays, today was a good time to play it. I carefully organised for the kid to be with his mum because I knew this would take a long time and the kid wouldn't be able to deal with it.

So, the players. I was yellow and had the Hacan - lion people who are traders. Bertie Beetle was red and had the hot chick thieves (Mentak?). Badhoe was green with the Gollums (Yssaril), and CyberKev was a nice shade of lavender with the undead dudes. I've got no idea what they were called. I was pleased to have the Hacan because about the only sci-fi books I've really liked were Dune and Pride of Chanur, and I was proud to play the Chanur. Also, they were an innately non-aggressive race.

We started the rules explanation at about 1:15pm, and started the game at about 3:15pm. Yes, it really did take that long. None of us had played before and the evil count kindly popped in to tell us what was what even though he wasn't able to stay to play. Then the first turn took us an hour and a half. Kevin and I had calculated that with the Imperial power, the game would last at most 17 turns, but taking an hour and a half for the first turn didn't encourage us at all. My significant achievement for the first turn was controlling the trade agreements. I can now reveal my evil plan in all of its glory, so I will. Badhoe had a trade contract worth 2, I had two trade contracts worth 3, and everyone else had trade contracts worth 1. That means that everyone wanted to trade with me, even me. I didn't want to trade with those underfinanced scum! But I had to. So I chose Badhoe's better contract, and CyberKev. I knew that CyberKev was the sort of player who would not start a war when it would cost him a lucrative trade contract, so by trading with him I was protecting my right flank. However that left my left flank open to Bertie, so I approved a trade contract between Badhoe and CyberKev, leaving Bertie underfinanced. I hoped.

However over the next two turns it became clear that Bertie was a homicidal kleptomaniac who expanded rapidly and soon infringed upon territory that belonged to the Hacan by divine right. Badhoe also revealed himself as a dangerous lunatic who was building up forces along his border with CyberKev. Bertie's large fleet occupied a central hex which I considered to be in my territory and was between CyberKev and I. We were definitely intimidated by this large force, and I considered Bertie to be my only threat barring masterful backstabs by the other two.

Now as the Hacan I had good income and a good home system, so I set about building planetary defences. I eventually got deep space cannons to I was able to use my planetary defence systems to threaten the system Bertie had occupied. All I needed for him was to step my way and I could blow him to smithereens.

Then occurred a somewhat dull part of the game. We all knew that in Ameritrash economic games, attacking is a stupid move economically. The cost of the invasion just can't be recovered before the game ends, even for a small invasion. You need a really stupid opponent to be able to make an invasion a financial success. The game moved into the doldrums, with Badhoe building up attack forces, CyberKev
building defences, Bertie building war suns, and me building anything I could while I waited for the fighting to start. Bertie announced he wasn't going home until he'd used his war sun, so I figured I could wait for my opportunity.

After a few more hours, with Badhoe's planetary defences on Bertie's side looking formidable, and CyberKev's use of diplomacy preventing Bertie from attacking him, it began to look like Bertie would be staying all night. I cracked. I decided I didn't care who won, the game had to be spiced up, and furthermore something had to happen or I would be there all night. I attacked one of Bertie's undefended backwater systems. I knew this was a bad move. Bertie's war suns were itching for a fight and I'd presented myself as a target for revenge. But bugger it, something had to happen to make the game exciting. It was interesting, yes, but not exciting. My frustration resulting in my making a game-losing move cost the game maybe two points in my rating - turtling is a serious flaw in the game. When I decide I don't care about winning there's something wrong.

So I attacked Bertie and occupied his system, immediately attracting the attention of the fleet of 2 war suns, 4 cruisers and a destroyer. They steamed over straight away and I was crushed, but Bertie had no invasion forces and I maintained control of the planets.

In the next round Bertie's battalion of enforcers came to attack me again. This time he entered the range of my planetary defences and before the fleet even attacked he'd taken two hits from the cannons. Those hits were on the war suns so his forces weren't depleted at all. The law prohibiting bombardment of factories was in force, so he wasn't allowed to attack one of my planets. The other was bombed back to the 21st century. I then sent in a force of three cruisers to attack his war suns, activating the planetary defences again. All three hit, as did two of the cruisers, and Bertie the last of his cruisers and one of the war suns. Woohoo! Noble sacrifice! As a parting shot, my factory on the planet built a war sun itself, leaving the system occupied by Bertie's damaged war sun and my healthy one. We thought there might have been a rule preventing that occurrence but we couldn't figure out what it was.

Meanwhile, over on MegaCool One, the centre of the universe, CyberKev did some stuff. Badhoe built up his forces even more. The real action was happening over in my system. At the first opportunity, Bertie invaded again. Again my planetary defences mowed him down, leaving only the two war suns to fight. We scored one hit each, destroying his war sun and injuring mine. But his hit was a critical hit, and my war sun exploded as well. Kaboom!

And then CyberKev won. His secret objective was to do wheelies on MegaCool One while having some technology stuff, and he satsified that for 2 VPs we didn't expect. So he won. And that was that. Well played CyberKev.

So what did I think of the game? Well I think the redesign of it is very good. Trevor was telling us how it differed from the old version, and the strategic phase is very nicely done. All of the strategy cards are handy and about equally powered. The political cards were very interesting, and the tactics cards were mostly useful. The fleet supply and command tokens work very nicely to constrain the number of things you can do. Christian Petersen has done some good work there.

Having said that though, this is really not my sort of game. Like Wizard Kings and Age of Mythology there is no financially sensible reason to attack. Nexus Ops and Antike do a much better job in that regard. Also, the game lasted 10 hours, and that was with a surprise win by CyberKev. That's way too long for me. I rated the game a 4 although it's very unlikely I'll ever play it again. In 10 hours I can get a whole lot of other things done. Without the turtling problem it might make a 6, but really, life's too short.

Friday, December 22, 2006

I Had a Dream, Joe

I had a dream this morning that I looked at the receipt from my FLGS and it said the proprietor's name was W. W. Rouse Ball. For those of you who've never heard of him, Rouse Ball was the Martin Gardner / A.K. Dewdney of the 19th century. I read at least one of his books when I was a maths undergrad. It would be so cool having someone like that running a games store! Except he's dead.

BTW, if you don't know Martin Gardner and Alexander Keewatin Dewdney and probably not even Douglas Hofstadter, you should find out about them. You owe it to yourself as a geek.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

True Love

BattleLore is here... I have to go gaming with CyberKev tonight but I want to spend some time alone with the light of my life... I love her...

The kid is with his mum at the moment, I might have to wait till Sunday morning to play. Be still my beating heart!

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

All Games can be Improved by the Addition of Special Powers

Well, so says CyberKev. Personally, I think special powers would ruin Nacht der Magier - whoever got the Anti-Gravity power would easily win. But I was thinking about special power cards and how they could be used in Werewolf. Of course each special power card could have different powers for the different roles, and you only get to use the one you actually are. Here are my ideas (so far):
  • Persuasion (all roles): use this card once only. You get 2 votes in a lynching.
  • Far Sight (seer): if you identify a werewolf, you get to check another person straight away.
  • Clouded Moon (wolf): during the night, show this card to the moderator and swap your role card for a spare villager role. You are still a wolf but if you get lynched you will appear to be a villager.
  • Infectious (wolf): rather than killing during the night you may choose a villager to be infected and they become a werewolf.
  • Lucky (all roles): the first time the wolves or the villagers try to kill you you reveal this card and manage to survive.
  • Peeping Tom (villager): once during the night you may peep at the werewolves. If they catch you they kill you automatically.
OK, that's all the stupid ideas I have right now. Your contributions are welcome.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Bring on the Hedonism!

1.the doctrine that pleasure or happiness is the highest good.
2.devotion to pleasure as a way of life

One of my favourite blogs is Amongst the silliness and touching thoughts for the lovesick there are some pearls of wisdom such as this one:

It turns out that I'm going to be spending quite a few days over Christmas playing games. After all, I hope to play all the ones that I give at least once :-). But that's my reward for being a brilliant yet miserable and grumpy Java programmer for the rest of my life. If I could figure out how to arrange my life to increase the playing of games and decrease the misery, I would. I'd keep the brilliance and the grumpiness though.

It also means that while other people are buying investment properties and cars and food for their kids and so on, I'm buying games. I don't feel guilt about buying games - all I feel guilt about is not playing the games that I do buy! My collection is quite adequate now, and I think I'd like to focus more on the unusual games rather than the latest hot thing (except BattleLore, nothing will stop me buying BattleLore), and unusual games can be more expensive. So what? My money, my life... I've got the Settlers 10th Anniversary Edition, Hameln, Hamsterrolle, Bamboleo... all of the outrageously expensive ones that are just so cool! BTW, see my latest geeklist.

When I die I want the kid to remember me as a dad who was a hell of a lot of fun to be with. Bring on the games.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Zama - 202BC

The kid sits in my seat while the wolf that suckled Romulus and Remus looks on. Arnold searches for Alps.

Arnold Horshack came to visit today for another game of C&C: Ancients. I've got the expansion but still hadn't used the elephants in the base game, so I insisted we play a scenario with elephants. The last scenario in the rule book, Zama, looked good to me - the Carthaginians have 3 elephant units and the Romans have none at all. The thought of infantry facing elephants just got me excited.

In the first game, I played the Romans - the guys without elephants. Reading over the rules this morning I realised that a cavalry unit forced to retreat when it was almost at its own back line would be in severe trouble, so rather than focus on the elephants I directed Laelius to charge down the left flank with the medium cavalry. My cavalry were fairly successful on both flanks, and I took a handy lead in victory banners. However the Carthaginian infantry pursued my wounded cavalry and Arnold caught up.

I had certainly distracted him from his elephants, but I hadn't made much progress organising my troops, so were not really prepared when the elephants charged. Arnold directed them against the medium infantry because elephants get as many dice in close combat as their opponents would, and medium infantry have 4 dice. It wasn't pretty. Elephants also reroll swords as additional attack dice, and get armour overruns (or whatever it's called, armour overrun is fairly accurate) and a bonus attack when they overrun. One elephant attack cost me 7 medium infantry. Ouch! But then on the battle back one of the elephant units stampeded another elephant... that was pretty funny. I managed to survive the elephant attack only losing one banner (but many other units), and with some good hits on battle backs and so on came within a banner of victory. When Arnold's line advanced, I won the game on a battle back 8 banners to 6.

After a break for Arena Maximus, chicken sandwiches and the third Ashes test, we played the reverse scenario. I decided I would send the elephants in as early as possible with the hope of breaking his line and then using my line advance and Card of +2 Bashing I would take easy banners against unsupported units. But no, not MY stupid elephants. Whereas Arnold's elephants included oliphants and Stampy Simpson, my elephants included Dumbo and his baby sister. They were big fat baby girlie loser elephants. Not cold-blooded mass murderers like Arnold had. My elephant attack was repulsed without claiming a banner. In fact Arnold had 4 banners before I had any. I think the difference was that when Arnold had the elephants they attacked me, but when my elephants got into range Arnold charged them and attacked them. They mostly ran away with out stomping, trampling. stampeding or trumpeting. Off to the elephant graveyard with nary a whimper.

Fortunately I'd done a reasonable job defending against Arnold's cavalry attacks, and gained a couple of banners. I had to use my line advance card to reassemble the forces after they stumbled over the blubbery carcasses of the "Terrors of the Alps". I wanted another line advance card so I could hit him hard, but I couldn't find one. Arnold did advance the line, and finished me off, 8 banners to 4.

We agreed that this is a great game. I don't know what ancient warfare was really like, but they did so much of it it must have been nearly as much fun as this game. The elephants are a hoot - you never know who they're going to kill next (if anyone). The expansion has camels, and although I'm sure they won't be as good as elephants maybe I'll get away with spitting at my opponent.

By the way, we're REALLY looking forward to BattleLore. The same system, in a fantasy setting, slightly stream-lined, should be AWESOME. The kid hasn't played Memoir for ages, and totally ignores Ancients, but I reckon he'll be hooked by the miniatures. Arnold and also the Evil Count are getting BattleLore for Christmas, so I'll have several educated opponents very soon. It's gonna be GREAT. It's gonna cost me a MINT. I can't wait.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

It's That One!

BGG Secret Santa delivered my Christmas present on Saturday. Since when did Australia Post deliver on Saturdays? Anyway, it was a copy of Xe Queo! shipped from Mind Games in Albury. I checked their on-line catalogue and it was the only game on my Must Have list that they had in stock. so Secret Santa got lucky there. And so did I!

It's a very pretty game - nice colours, and brass rings; but the tokens are quite thin, and the board is not very impressive. The game plays quite OK though, and very quickly - 15 minutes for a game against the kid who is one of the slowest people in the world.

The possible victory conditions are:
  1. You move your colour into the ring, and your opponent does not have that colour.
  2. Your opponent moves their colour into the ring, and you do have that colour.
  3. On your turn you point at a colour and say "it's that one" and your opponent has that colour.
I managed to win the first three rings of the first game using each of those conditions once. In fact I beat the kid 4 rings to 0. In our second game, the kid began to catch on and refrained from moving my piece into the ring so much. We were locked up at 3 rings each and I noticed an attack that I hadn't thought of but which would give the kid victory on his next move. So I pointed out the attacking piece and said "it's that one". I was totally wrong, and the kid won the game. I guess the good news is that he'll want to play again.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Abstract Fetish

I never used to like abstracts. And considering the abstracts I knew, such as Checkers, Dominoes, Tic Tac Toe, Connect 4, and so on, fair enough. I still don't like those games. I still don't like Chess much either, but I can see that it has some interest, I just find the movements of the pieces too complex. But then I played Blokus and liked it. Then my mate from Funatical loaned me a copy of DVONN, and I liked that too. And then he loaned me YINSH. And then I realised that I might not be so down on abstracts after all, and collected the complete GIPF series. And it has continued from there. With brother-in-law as a usually willing opponent, and occasionally the kid, I've played a lot of abstracts this year.

One of the advantages is that they're usually quick. If you've got half an hour for a game, you can fit at least one and sometimes 3 plays in. Gobblet and Quoridor play very quickly. They're also easy to explain. You can explain and play Gobblet twice in the time it takes to explain Hameln. That's not to say it's not worth the effort to play harder games, but it's certainly easier to keep the interest of a casual gamer if the rules explanation is quick.

Recently, my interest in abstract games has turned into a complete fetish. I looked at Stephen Tavener's ratings and examined all of his 9s and 10s. I looked at all the games that Clark Rodeffer may be interested in trading for. DAYS later my wishlist had grown bigger than my belly. And because many of the games are out of print, so had my want list. Then came the want-list purge as described in an earlier posting, and most of the abstracts survived. Why? Because good abstracts do get played. The kid and I can fit a game in most evenings. I'm much more confident that if I buy Kris Burm's new game SHMESS that I'll be able to play it a few times. I don't feel so guilty about buying games that will actually get played.

Abstracts are also often pretty. I have 3 of the Pin International Collection on a rack in my living room, I have two of the very beautiful Gigamic wooden games, and all of the GIPF Project's beautiful bakelite. I need more places to display all of these games, but I do love to look at them. Oh yeah, and beautiful glass Chess and Backgammon boards that I bought in a set for $A20. There's something mathematically enticing about abstract games.

So my wishlist now contains 26 or so abstract games, from a total of 87. Yeah, I still can't get past the amusing card games and chunks of plastic, but that's a lot of abstract games that I want. And I know I can't trust Santa...

BTW, for those who are wondering what has happened to Scrabblette: she's visiting family overseas and taught her nephew Blokus Trigon last night. She shares many of my fetishes.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

A Stupid Thing Happened

I was visiting sister and brother-in-law this evening, and BIL was busy working on the laptop so was unable to play DVONN with me. Sister volunteered to take his place - I think she's trying to overcome her aversion to thinking. Just as we agreed to play BIL observed that it was raining and it would be lovely to sit out on the back deck in the cool and listen to the rain (we're in the Souther Hemisphere here, remember). So we took DVONN out and set it up on the table on the deck.

So I explained the game and we placed our 49 pieces. Just then the wind picked up. BIL asked us to move down a bit so he could shelter from the rain. Then the wind picked up a little more. BIL suggested we move inside, but we'd just placed 47 pieces, we weren't going anywhere. Then the wind picked up some more, and the rain was being blown onto the DVONN board and BIL evacuated back inside. Hang on! Whose stupid idea was this anyway?

With BIL gone, we could lift the table cloth to protect the board from the rain. In a couple of minutes we were lifting the table cloth to protect ourselves from the rain. The table cloth was being blown onto the board dislodging pieces, and we were getting wet. Sister and I are nothing if not pig-headed, and we played on, sheltering behind the table cloth. Towards the end of the game though, the rain and wind died down a little, so we didn't get wet going back inside. And. she won. I think my mistake was to clear a large number of my pieces from the board leaving me with not enough stacks to work with.

In the rematch, I won handsomely. I think I understand why, but I'd like to play again to be sure. I like DVONN more every time I play it. Nevertheless, next time I play in the rain I think I'll choose ZERTZ.

What's In the Games Table?

When I stocked the games table I took a photo of the games I was putting in it. That was several months ago now, but I love photos of games so here it is:

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Disgusting Fat Lazy Game Collection

I'm disgusted. I played Thurn and Taxis today. It's an alright game, I loved the map so much that I bought it. I don't remember how much it was because I paid in some foreign currency, but let's say it should have been about $A60. I've played that copy three times, and I honestly can't see many more plays happening, what with my obsessive game-buying habit. Apart from the fact that I'm very bad at it, I've had most of the amusement it will provide for me. Sixty bucks for three plays? That's not a great return on investment. But I had to have it, because nobody else here does and I wanted to play it some more. It just seems like a lot of money...

I guessed one day that I've played 1200 games in the last two years and spent maybe $A6000 on games. I'm not complaining that the hobby is driving me to the poor house, but at $A5 per play I could be doing a whole lot of other hobbies that would be cheaper. I think I need to change my ways to spend less. However sometimes I feel that shopping for games is a significant part of the hobby. Don't you just love putting together an order from Bags and Boxes or Rebekka Spielt or some on-line site with great prices and a selection of new treasures?

Anyway, my immediate action is to cull my BGG wishlist. There are some games (e.g. Puerto Rico) which I will play enough without having my own copy. There are some games (e.g. Antike) which I woud love to have but would cost $A80 and be played twice, so I can't justify the purchase. I hope I can recognise a few of those before I spend any money on them. Maybe next year I'll even trade away some of the games I already have that don't get played. Or maybe I could just play them and stop feeling guilty.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Send the Children to Transylvania!

I had a nice surprise waiting for me when I got home yesterday afternoon - my order from had arrived. Woohoo, Hameln and Die Dolmengotter! I had no time to read the rules before leaving for CyberKev's place to play, but I did manage to print the rules to Die Dolmengotter from the publisher's site. We didn't get to play it, but we did play Hameln using the time-honoured but a bit boring technique of reading the rules at the table as we set up the game. Wow, this game has a lot of bits! And it's pretty! And it's complex! It reminds me somewhat of Power Grid (3 phases) and somewhat of Goa (many ways to score VPs) and not much of Shear Panic. There's a whole lot more game than I was expecting.

It's very cute - you have houses with men and women in them. The men produce goods such as meat and the women have babies. The babies can get married and move into houses, and the meat can be sold. There are rats everywhere. When enough rats take over the board, the Pied Piper comes along and may take unmarried babies to Transylvania with him (which costs you VPs). What a good idea that is! But it also means that it's a valid strategy to father children upon other players so they have babies to worry about. Also when the girl children get married they can choose a house and the boy player has to pay. This group had played Funny Friends together, so forcing each other to get married and have children was familiar territory for us and we had some fun.

We did play several rules wrong, but one of the Lamont brothers has a good article on BGG about rules that people get wrong. The one we figured out was that when you activate males or females you can do so in multiple houses. This would have made the game move a whole lot faster and there would have been more money to splash around on the optional actions. We agreed that would improve the game, and might give it another run tonight at Critical Mass.

I had read some disparaging comments about Hameln, and that and the steep price ($A100) almost convinced me not to buy it, but I wanted those mice. Now that I've played the game, I'm glad I got it. Where is my kid, anyway?

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

The Hot Chick That Plays GIPF

Last night, Scrabblette and I consummated our relationship. We put the kid to bed, turned the lights down low in the bed room, climbed into bed, and laid out the GIPF board. Then I explained the rules and we started playing. What else would we do?

Speaking from my limited experience, the hardest part of GIPF for beginners is the ease with which you can make bad mistakes. Several times Scrabblette completely missed my threats. In fact, three times she missed threats in exactly the same spot, which prompted a lot of wailing and gnashing of teeth and tearing of hair and stuff. Nevertheless, I could see she was trying to set up traps for me, and several times I was reduced to a single move to avoid losing pieces, and once she managed to sustain the pressure enough that I did.

Anyway, she says she likes that game. Excellent news! Sadly she's leaving today for a long-planned holiday overseas, and I've been reduced to playing Tichu with the evil Count von Walduck. I hope he shaves.

BTW, my new ambition is to get the entire GIPF series on my nickel list for this year. I need to play 2 games of DVONN and 5 games of YINSH to achieve that. I think I've got the DVONN covered, but I need volunteers to play YINSH in December.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Finally, Fortunately, Fabulously

Thanks to Friedemann Friese for allowing me to use the name of his next game as the title of my article.

Scrabblette and I have been playing Tichu every Wednesday night against the CyberKev family. Sometimes they just beat us, sometimes it's a complete drubbing. Last night, we handed out a drubbing of our own.

The evening started well with Scrabblette leading us into a 1-2. I was quite relieved to actually see some high cards - after last week I was wondering if maybe they'd all got lost or something. The second hand was played without tichu calls - "for boring old points" as CyberKev described it. Normally he's the one who calls tichu, so that would be why. In fact, CyberKev was strangely silent the whole evening, only making one grand tichu call as far as I remember. I made a couple of tichus, for which I thank the cards I was dealt rather than any particularly good play.

Anyway, the fun part of the evening started when we were on 940 and the CyberKevs were on about -140 and Scrabblette called grand tichu. I think that's called joie de vivre. If I'd been on top of my game I could have finished the game on the previous hand (should have played the Ace first, but basic strategy eluded me), but instead we dropped 180 points. The next hand was one of the tichus that I made, and we somehow got to 990 points. This time we played the last hand very conservatively and just made 30 points. The final score was 1020 to us, -20 to the CyberKevs. We'll see next time whether this was skilful play by us, or just good cards.

One strategy tip from the night was "pass the dog to the tichu caller". CyberKev described it as "cute" when I did it to him, and Scrabblette became rather befuddled when it happened to her. It's certainly another thing that you didn't particularly want to cope with. So I'll keep doing it.

Monday, November 20, 2006


My order arrived from Magnus Spiele during the week. As well as a few games which I'm going to give as presents, it had a few that I ordered for myself.

Gelb Gewinnt! (Yellow Wins!) - As I like to play yellow this was a compulsory buy. It turns out to be a not very interesting modification of Scopa.

Igel Argern (Hedgehogs in a Hurry) - A Doris and Frank game which is a very cunning roll and move. It's very easy and I like it a lot. I wanted to play it with the kids last night but we ran out of time because we were busy playing...

Diamant - from Bruno Faidutti and Alan Moon. When this game first came out I was so interested I had to read the rules in French. Then it cost the earth to buy, but I've now got the second edition (no board) for a reasonable price. We played with 11 players at Critical Mass and 6 players with the kids, and it's a very good game. Lovely bits, quick and fun to play.

Ursuppe Extension - Primordial Soup is an interesting game but it really works best with exactly 4 players and doesn't work at all unless you have exactly 3 or 4. The expansion increases the range to include 5 and 6 players as well. I hope to get this played some time next month.

Asterix & Obelix - One of the newest Kosmos two player games, but I'm having trouble finding an English version of the rules which makes sense. Scrabblette likes the characters, so I hope to get it played a few times.

After Christmas I'll post a list of what games my relatives got lumbered with...

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Scrabble Cards

Scrabblette has moved into chez nous, and in her boxes of stuff we found a deck of Scrabble Cards. I've seen them at the shops but didn't think to buy them. So I checked out the rules on BGG yesterday and we played last night.

Her first move was PROVIDE for 63 points. Uh oh. BEMATER probably wasn't a word so I was forced to play BEATER for only 44 points with a double word score. I should have played BEAMER for 48, but you do stupid things when you're in love. Anyway, with the help of some double and triple word scores I eventually caught up and passed her. SCRUM with a triple word score for 69 points really helped, as did ENJOYING with all 7 cards and a bonus for playing a blank for 71 points.

Scrabblette, meanwhile, was struggling with category cards that she couldn't fulfill the conditions for. A category card gives you two options - for example, "a word starting with J" or "a four letter word". There seems to be no rule which allows you to discard a category card you don't want to use, which is annoying while your opponent is playing double and triple word scores all the time. At the end of the game we discovered that I'd played ALL 4 of the double word scores and BOTH of the triple word scores. As you'd expect, the result was a glorious victory for me, but I want to play again in a fairer game.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Games as Discrete Finite Systems

When I was at university I studied maths (that's what we call it in Australia) and computer science. I eventually realised the maths I loved was combinatorics. I don't know enough about it to tell you exactly what combinatorics is, but some things you might have heard that could be included are:
  • Conway's game of Life
  • Eight queens puzzle
  • Game theory
  • Magic squares
  • Graphs, directed acycylic graphs, trees
  • Rubik's cube
  • Polyominoes
  • Towers of Hanoi
Although I don't necessarily know very much about those particular topics, that's the vibe of the thing. If you understand that sort of maths, it may seem obvious to you that I like computers and I'll always choose an integer over a float. Furthermore, Douglas Hofstadter and Alexander Dewdney are my idols.

Why is this relevant? Because I think I like games that are based on this sort of maths. Games such as Trias, Domaine, and Rheinlander have a simple finite underlying model which the players manipulate to try to score the most points. In these games there is overt conflict, but you're only susceptible to conflict because you didn't manipulate the model to defend yourself properly - you chose different moves which left you vulnerable.

The GIPF Project, and many other abstract strategy games (Gobblet, Quoridor), are very simple finite systems (except TAMSK which has that annoying continuous time thing happening), so I can get my head around them and love to play.

Word games like Scrabble and Milleranagrams and Lexicon I think scratch some entirely different itch, but deduction games like Mystery of the Abbey, Coda, Code 777, Black Vienna, are all about optimally narrowing down a finite set of possibilities. Hare and Tortoise is blatantly mathematical, which makes it difficult to find opponents!

What about games that suck? CyberKev (who this blog is NOT about) swears that Cosmic Encounters is analytical, but I find it to be mostly political so I don't really get the fun bit. Mall of Horror is the same game with better components. Even Fish Eat Fish, although it looks like an abstract, turns out to be a political game.

Other games that suck are ones that aren't finite, where there aren't even discrete spaces for you to move on, like Warhammer 40K, De Bellis Antiquitatis, Mech Warrior, and so on. Maybe they're decent excuses to play with toys, but I don't find them very interesting as games. Even games with large maps like Heroscape don't work for me, because there are too many possibilities and I don't feel like I'm manipulating a system.

And party games! Don't get me started on party games! Oh hang on... it's my blog, I can say what I like. Taboo, Pictionary, Cranium, all absolutely suck. You can't even get people to agree on the rules so the games are decided by screaming matches between the drunken participants. They turn out to be political games where the politics isn't even part of the rules. By the way, I find playing word games without a dictionary to be a political game as well - if there's any chance of arguing about whether something's a word or not the game ceases to be a game and becomes an argument. You've gotta have the dictionary to make sure there are no arguments. Scattergories! VOMIT!

So I think this is the best characterisation of my favourite sort of games that I've been able to come up with so far. Others that suit me are Puerto Rico, Vinci, Tikal, Torres... with so many good games, there's no time to play bad ones.

Friday, November 03, 2006

CyberKev Gets Lucky

This is not a blog about CyberKev, though given the number of mentions he gets you might think this was his unauthorised biography. Nevertheless, let me tell you about how he got lucky with my girlfriend...

Since the kid's mum chose earlier this year to go join a different game group (see April's posts), the quest has been on to find a new gaming partner: in particular, the mythical Hot Chick That Plays GIPF. CyberKev graciously reserved a spot in his game group for her. However after my July trip to ConVic4 where I played Tichu with Fraser and Shaun Low, and my ordering of a copy of Tichu in August, CyberKev has been subtly hinting that The Hot Chick That Plays GIPF might actually turn out to be The Fourth For Tichu. In CyberKev's view, the selection of a life partner is subsidiary to finding another player for your next game.

To be fair, he had a point. A good cards partner is not easy to find, so when I updated my profile on RSVP (the singles site), I mentioned that I needed a Tichu partner. Despite having no idea what Tichu was, Scrabblette suggested that she'd try anything once and so from the moment we established contact Scrabblette was pencilled in to be The Fourth For Tichu.

Regular readers of this blog will understand that from the number of mentions of Scrabblette that things have turned out pretty well, and during the week we hosted a dinner party / Tichu evening where we played Carrom (Scrabblette kicked ass), had a slap-up feast, and settled down to figure out Tichu. It has a lot of rules. I remember when I first played that the dog and the phoenix confused the heck out of me. And I'm still not very good at trick-taking games - my card counting skills are rudimentary at best (I don't even use all my fingers!) and I'm still developing a feel for what I'll be able to get away with.

The game started badly for my team, with CyberKev and Mrs CyberKev recording a 1-2 for 200 points. Never fear, "first game's a learning game"! In the second hand, CyberKev called a Grand Tichu which he made for 200 points, and the score was 455 to 45. There's still a long way to go in the game. The third hand was very civilised, with no Tichus called, and we caught up to trail 490 to 110. Then came a curious hand - Mrs CyberKev called Tichu. I thought I had a good hand so I called Tichu as well. As it played out, CyberKev was able to go out first but to do so would have cost his team 100 points, so he held off and I went out first instead. Scores were now 460 to 240.

Now sorry if you think this story is going to have a thrilling denouement... after a couple more hands Mrs CyberKev had to go home to sleep and we didn't manage to finish the game. The scores when stumps was called was 590 to 210 - in the missing part of the story the Kevs scored another 1-2 and both teams lost on a Tichu call. Clearly we need a lot of practice! I'm hoping that getting beaten by CyberKev at Tichu can become a regular occurrence - after all, I have organised my entire life around it.

I'm So Good at Games That I Hardly Ever Win

Many people who are "alpha-gamers", i.e. the people who buy and teach and suggest games will recognise the following phenomenon: because you're assumed to be good at games, people pick on you and you hardly ever win. Certainly when I play with my family I'm regarded as the biggest threat, and that's probably true in that group. As a consequence, a lot of ganging-up happens and if the game has elimination it will often happen to me. Is it any wonder I choose games that don't have elimination? When was the last time I played Bang! with the family?

Even with the various game groups I play in I'm assumed to be a threat. To be fair to CyberKev, he knows that if he doesn't deal with me as a threat then I will be dealing with him (as will everybody else). That is unless the Evil Count von Walduck doesn't come up with some plan that defeats both of us. The evil count has complained that he isn't as cunning as we make out, spending rather more time being confused than plotting, but there's just something about the man that worries me... and for that he must die early in the game.

The advantage of this form of positive discrimination is that people who wouldn't normally be able to win a game do have their chances enhanced - kids and stupid people, for example. But I wonder whether the people who are regarded as threats in different game groups are regarded as such for any good reason, or just due to superstition and/or respect. Feedback is welcomed.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Hunch Gaming

The kid and I have occasionally, very occasionally, been inviting CyberKev and Mrs CyberKev over to play games of a Monday night. By carefully managing the invitations we ensure that there are exactly 4 players which means we can play those pesky 3-4 player games. As I insist that we play at the gaming table, which is rather low, CyberKev has christened the event "Hunch Gaming".

At the first Hunch Gaming we played my Settlers of Catan anniversary edition.

To be honest I forget who won, I think it might have been me. I do remember that the kid ate a lot of M&Ms and was very very tired by the end of the game.

At the second Hunch Gaming we played Thurn & Taxis.

Notice from the picture that as well as having a low table, my lounge room has bad lighting which we tried to rectify by adding the fluoro lamp which mostly served to blind CyberKev without illuminating very much. My other best gaming spot, the back deck, has the same lighting problem. Whoever lived in this house before me didn't care for seeing things very much.

Anyway, Thurn & Taxis seemed to go a bit shorter than Settlers and the kid was not so exhausted by the end. CyberKev won, and I struggled into third place only managing to beat the kid. In my 3 games of Thurn & Taxis, I've come third in all of them.

That's all the Hunch Gaming sessions we've had so far. With the hassle of looking after the kid it's hard to get organised for it. With the addition of Scrabblette to our household we would now have 5 players for Hunch Gaming, and that just screams Trias to me. If only I could get organised.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Hallowe'en Games

Scrabblette, the kid and I are going to a gaming Hallowe'en party on Saturday. What should I take?

The Arkham Horror - a very good game if you're willing to spend 3 hours or more. Theoretically I would have more hours than that, but can I depend on the concentration span of the players?

Lexicon, Scrabble, Boggle, Milleranagrams - good fun to play with Scrabblette and the hostess of the party.

The Great Dalmuti - a good party game, though Scrabblette isn't into card games so much. The host has a decent selection of party games.

PitchCar - always good for large groups, and will keep 8 players occupied.

Betrayal at House on the Hill - despite the bad rules, a great experience game. Not too long, and always interesting.

Fearsome Floors - I think it's about time we started playing with the advanced obstacles. Not a deep game, but one that allows good player interaction and takes a decent number of players without lasting too long.

Gloom, Unhappy Homes - I've owned the (first) expansion for a long time and never played it, so I think I'd better take it along.

Goosebumps - I have a selection of Goosebumps games, none of which I enjoy. So despite them being appropriate, I'll probably leave them at home.

Mystery Rummy - I have 3 of these games, all of which I like, but Scrabblette is not into card games. Can she be won over?

Nacht der Magier - What better Hallowe'en game than one that's played in the dark? I do like playing games in the dark with Scrabblette.

Any other ideas? Here's what I own.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Not Crokinole

I was shopping in the Indian grocery store with Scrabblette on the weekend, and the most interesting thing I managed to find was a bottle of cherry-flavoured syrup. I'm not going to say why that was interesting to me because Scrabblette reads this blog. Anyway, Scrabblette shouts out to me and points excitedly at the Carrom boards that I've walked past in that shop a dozen times. Crokinole is more famous on the 'geek - 447 users owning as compared to 173 for Carrom, but I haven't been able to find a Crokinole board in Australia. So a Carrom board at my local Indian grocery store was a pretty good find. Even better, it was only $A90 - an absolute bargain for a game which is effectively a piece of furniture.

We took it home, bathed it in baby powder, and played a few games with my sister's family while Scrabblette cooked up an absolute feast. How did you celebrate Diwali?

I quite like the game, I hope we will play it a lot in years to come. The issue will be not so much getting it to the table as finding somewhere other than the table to put it. And cleaning up all the baby powder.

Let Me Talk About Essen Too!

Although I am stuck at work in Australia, I can't help but be excited about the new games being released in Essen. Here's what I'm interested in, or otherwise.

Leonardo da Vinci: I'm interested in playing, but it hasn't got my interest enough to want to buy it.

Taluva: A must-have for me. Very pretty, almost abstract, plays quickly - many of the things I like.

Hameln: I picked up a copy of Shear Panic last week, and I've decided that Fragor games are simply must-buys. Even if the game sucks I can use them to amuse small children. BTW, Shear Panic is a decent game.

Anasazi: I know almost nothing about the game but I love the theme so I'm going to continue watching it.

Fiji: I've had good experiences with Friedemann, and a game about shrunken heads has to be a good thing, so I'm going to get it. Mara's art is always awesome as well.

BattleLore: I have a 10yo son who liked Memoir '44, and loves the fantasy theme. I guess I'll be buying this for a few years yet.

Emira: I'm always attracted to games with controversial themes, and I owe it to my game buddies to buy a gamer's game every now and then. You can't have too many games about hot women.

Silk Road: I was very keen to support Bruno and Ted, but when I discovered it used that horrible "someone misses out on the auction" mechanic, my interest fell away sharply. I'm very interested in the theme, but are the bits beautiful enough to support a mechanic I dislike?

Graenaland: I like the theme, but need to find out more about the game. Maybe I'll just look forward to playing it.

Formidable Foes: I only just realised this one existed. Same comments as above for Friedemann, though the theme doesn't appeal to me as much as for Fiji.

Khan Tsin: I know nothing, but I'm always up for a good 2 player abstract. It looks nice.

Well there goes a couple of months discretionary spending... On a slightly related note, I only own 4 games published this year. However I own 33 published last year. I guess I won't get most of these till next year :-(.

Friday, October 13, 2006

The Great Dimwitty

I took Scrabblette along to Book Realm on Wednesday night. We played Elfenland, then I narrowly avoided playing Ticket to Ride by suggesting The Great Dalmuti. For those who don't know, The Great Dalmuti is a simple shedding game (a card game where you're trying to get rid of your cards) with some very fun conventions regarding the behaviour of the players. The currently winning player is referred to as the Great Dalmuti, and the second place player is the Lesser Dalmuti. The last player is the Greater Peon and the second-last player is the Lesser Peon. The Great Dalmuti gets the best chair and is waited on hand and foot by the Greater Peon who sits on a box and has the added responsibility of gathering the cards, shuffling and dealing. A lot of the fun in the game is in the interaction between the Dalmutis and the Peons.

I started as the Lesser Dalmuti and got myself promoted. Justin became the Greater Peon so I bossed him around as much as I could - telling him to hurry up, abusing him for the bad cards he gave me, and generally giving him a hard time. Justin played along wonderfully, bowing humbly and tugging his forelock and apologising at every opportunity. I even got bored and told him to abuse himself for a while. I'm glad he interpreted that in the family-friendly way. I had a good run, and spent quite a few rounds as the Great Dalmuti, and eventually Scrabblette became the Greater Peon. What Great Dalmuti could resist? "Greater Peon, give me a kiss!" The Greater Peon obeyed, as she should. In fact, the Greater Peon had a fine time playing footsies with the Great Dalmuti. Until Justin became the Great Dalmuti, at which point I directed him that he wasn't to kiss the Greater Peon no matter how fine a Dalmuti he was.

I had a lot of fun playing that game - it's a bit of a party game, but it rewards skill and there's lots of opportunity for showing your personality. Since then Scrabblette has forgotten her station in life and continued calling me the Great Dimwitty. It's hard to get good peons these days.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Two Player Games

Long-time readers of this blog will know that I occasionally foist my personal life upon you. In fact, some of my family and friends read it simply because I don't otherwise tell them anything about what's happening. So for that purpose, I'd like to introduce you to the latest character in my game, Scrabblette. Let's clear up any confusion - Scrabblette is NOT my Chinese Lost Cities partner. Scrabblette is so-named because her English language skills exceed mine, and playing Scrabble against her is an intimidating prospect. But I'm quite an adventurous guy...

Scrabblette is in training to become my Tichu partner. Yes, it's that serious. CyberKev's plan to turn my love life to his own ends is progressing well. In the interests of understanding Tichu when we do get to play it, we have played Gang of Four and The Great Dalmuti. Tichu is a little more complicated than either of those, but that gives it the depth that makes it a great game. I would like to play Frank's Zoo as well, but we haven't had a chance yet.

So, things are progressing well. Stay tuned.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

What Makes a Really Great Game?

Some games are fun. Some games are interesting. Some games are more than that. I tried the other day to explain to an email correspondent why I like games, and I think I had an insight - games are a world in which players can interact in ways that are not permissible in the real world, and a great game is a game that supports richness of that interaction. The game is an abstract lens through which players can see each other as they could be.

What does that mean? Take Carcassonne as an example. It's often the case that I have a tile that could be played to help you or to hinder you. I can choose to be nice or nasty. In the real world, I would choose to be nice. In the game, I can choose to be nasty and you won't resent it in the real world. I can also choose to be distant from you, or in your face. Our relationship in the game may be quite different from our relationship in the real world. The game lets us interact in ways we never would in real life.

I play many abstract games (Gipf series, Gobblet, Quoridor) against by brother-in-law BIL. In those games I often find a particularly cunning move which lets him know that I've seen what he was up to and I've found a foil to it AND I've backstabbed him at the same time. His inevitable comment is "Oh, you bastard!" And he sometimes does the same thing to me. As abstracts are particularly easy to make stupid mistakes in (Gobblet has a rule that if you touch a piece you must play it), we also act much stupider on average in the game than in real life.

In a game you can be aggressive, nasty, annoying, nice, tricky, cunning, aloof, bizarre, and in general behave in ways you can't do in real life. Citadels, which I played again last night, allows for a large range of nasty and tricky behaviour which you wouldn't otherwise get away with. It's a great game, though emotions do tend to seep into real life a little.

I find two player games to be particularly good, probably because each player has more control and can express more of their personality through the flow of the game. Even Scrabble (which must be played two player to be at its best) supports all the things I've mentioned. I've been known to play a fairly poor word down the side of the board mostly with the intention of keeping my opponent away from the Triple Word Score. Nasty, but accepted behaviour. And if my opponent didn't do it to me I'd wonder what she was up to.

The GIPF Project games are great, but I find them a little too abstract to express a great depth of player emotion, which is why I haven't rated any of them a 10 despite having very high regard for them. I think you just need a little more complication, such as you find in Trias or Domaine or Citadels, to be a really great game.

I think I'll eventually explore this idea further. Opinions?

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Love in the Time of Carcassonne

CyberKev has been bitching that I've been in a blogging drought, to which I have the answer he should have expected - there's a woman involved! And if at any time there's not a woman involved, it's the lack of a woman that's causing trouble. In any case, my life is as finely balanced as a game of Puerto Rico - there's only 168 hours in the week, and you can follow the Love Life strategy or the Game Geek strategy, and the more you do of one the less you do of the other. Maybe I should rename this blog "Sex and the Single Gamer". But that would be misleading :-(. Anyway, CyberKev should be grateful that he has managed to hijack my love life and turn it into a quest for a 4th for Tichu.

So, on Sunday I went to visit my sister who has introduced me to hardly any of her single friends. I wanted to play a game with her and the kids, but Dogville was too long and Escape From Atlantis only takes 4, and there's 5 or 6 of us depending on whether BIL is playing. In desperation as I rushed out the door I grabbed Carcassonne. It's like going out on the prowl and having nothing to wear but a faded pair of jeans. So embarrassing to be seen playing something so dowdy.

Of course, my sister hadn't played it before, and it was completely new to the kids, so I had to teach them how to play. Out of respect for the newbies, there were no such things as farmers, not even lying-down ones. Anyway, it was disturbing seeing people who didn't know how to play Carcassonne. It was new to them. It was like seeing someone discover the sky was blue, or that you could drink water. Or that chicks really dig faded jeans.

Anyway, son and sister conspired to build a big city. I could see myself getting shut out of the game, so I tried to invade and they blocked me. I tried to invade again and succeeded in preventing them from completing the city. Meanwhile, I started a small city and was joined by 5yo nephew. As there were no farmers, I invested in a lot of roads as well - I had my guys out working for me! Son could have played better by taking small points with his extra meeples, but he just doesn't get that every point counts. Oh, and everybody loved doinking - you can't knock a game where doinking is taken seriously.

My attacks on the big city succeeded in keeping son and sister out of the winning position. Niece played respectably but didn't get involved in any major cooperation. Nephew made enough points out of our city to get into second place, but I beat him by about 5. They did seem to like the game - building a city, meeples, doinking - it does have a lot going for it. And finally they know what my Meeple People shirt is about.

On the same evening BIL and I played a few games of Gobblet, yet another of my underplayed two player abstracts. It's a very good game as well, though not quite as popular as Quoridor. We'll have to play more because we're still not out of the "losing due to stupid mistakes" skill level.

Anyway, enough blogging. I've got a strategy to execute.

Monday, September 18, 2006

No Really, Quoridor is Awesome!

After losing my first game of Quoridor to the kid yesterday I took it with me when I went to visit my sister. Brother-in-law (BIL) is a fan of 2-player abstracts, so I showed him how to play. We played 7 games during which we both learned a lot about the game and our strategies evolved. First we started by trying to block the other player. I started fighting back against that by placing walls to prevent blocking, allowing me to make a corridor to the far side of the board. Then we realised that you could let your opponent go down a long corridor then block it, forcing them to go all the way back. Nasty. So then we realised that the defence against that was to block off the other ways that the corridor could go, i.e. make it more restrictive, so that your opponent was not allowed to block it off. I've just been playing against the kid, and I realised that when you're heading down a corridor your opponent is making for you, the best defence is to block the back end of it so your opponent may not block the front. Awesome. Every couple of games I find a new strategic aspect of this game. I love it.

BTW, BIL played against his 5yo son, and the 5yo kicked his butt. While BIL and I played Zertz the three kids had a Quoridor tournament amongst themselves. It's the most attention I've seen a game that did not require parental involvement get from the kids.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

The League of Feelthy English Kerniggets

Today's gaming adventure was a trip to the League of Extraordinary Gamers, the last major Euro-games meeting in Brisbane which I had not previously attended. It was an unusually varied meeting, with Warhammer, Magic, Ticket to Ride and Scrabble all being played at the same time. I wanted to game with the Scrabble ladies but they left before I got the chance. The kid and I started with a game of Settlers which I won by about a turn from the other adult player. My kid went for largest army at the expense of any economic development (and we had words about that afterwards), and the other kid who was only 7 just built roads and couldn't achieve longest road anyway. By the way, are you allowed to build one of your first settlements on a harbour? I allowed it for my adult opponent, but it seemed to give him a big advantage throughout the game. It seems wrong.

After that some of the other Eurogamers were organising a game of Shadows Over Camelot, and as it seemed that most potential opponents would be doing that, the kid and I joined in on that. Wow, talk about culture shock! They play TOTALLY differently to us. They (a) don't take black cards, (b) place siege engines, (c) ignore the Pict, Saxon and Black Knight quests, and (d) complete the sword and grail quests. When I've played, we (a) almost always take black cards, (b) never place siege engines until forced, (c) always do the Pict and Saxon quests, and (d) manage the grail quest rather than completing it. They have a definite plan to attack the game, and in the groups I've played with they'd be described as m-m-m-m-m-m-mad. sir.

As luck would have it, I (Sir Percival) was dealt the traitor. Sir Kay, the most vocal of the feelthy English kerniggets, said "OK, you have to do the Lancelot's Armour quest but before you complete it we'll accuse you of being the traitor because it's too dangerous to let the traitor get it." Um, decent plan, but I AM the traitor and I don't much want to do that. Of course, arguing with the plan would only raise suspicions so I simply mentioned "that's not how we play this game", and went along with it. So there I was, railroaded into the Armour quest and desperately trying to figure out how to lose it. Because they didn't draw black cards (except I did, because I had the power of seeing what was coming), there were no points accumulating on my quest. However I pretended I had no decent cards which forced King Arthur to feed me cards. He gave me a 4, I played it on the set of three, forcing him to feed me more of them. I was desperately trying to guess what he would feed me and trying to return the same thing to him. It's called hand management :-). I had a single 3 so I played it on the set of two. I picked up a 4 somehow, but didn't play it on the set of three because I wanted King Arthur to spoon-feed me. I quietly kept my Merlin card to myself, kept the special white very quiet, and did the least I could to be helpful. Several times King Arthur forgot to trade with me, and I forgot to remind him. Hehehe.

Finally, I was poised to fail at the quest. I needed to play a 3 to win it, and I didn't have one. Woohoo! Failure! But before I could admit defeat, Sir Kay accused me of being a traitor. Doncha hate that? It was a bit of a surprise to the guys that I was, they were expecting Sir Galahad maybe. But then I was relegated to taunting the loyal knights by stealing a card from one of them each time, and either playing a black card or placing a siege engine. Stealing a card was successful on a couple of occasions - I managed to steal a Fight card someone needed to fight siege engines. Playing black cards was not very successful - if I got a Pict or a Saxon nothing bad would happen. So I kept placing siege engines. The game wore on and everyone was getting low on life points. The grail had been drunk, various special white cards used up, and Sir Galahad used Clairvoyance to rearrange the top 5 cards of the deck. When someone was required to draw a card and it caused a siege engine to be placed, I knew the next 4 cards were at least as bad as that. So I could safely draw a card and at least get a siege engine.

After a very long time the loyal knights had 6 or so white swords, no black swords, and lots of siege engines. They were reduced to drawing black cards for the Progression of Evil. Then King Arthur drew "All loyal knights lose one life point". Five loyal knights died at once. Woohoo! Next turn was mine and I placed a siege engine to win the game. Woohoo! Sir Percival did several victory dances, none of which were elegant nor knightly, but after such a hard-fought battle with my reputation dragged through the mud, it was a-very nice to see the son-of-a-hamster elderberry-smelling feelthy English kerniggets go down. I said "WE'VE ALREADY GOT ONE!"

Anyway, then the kid and I headed off as I had other games to play (i.e. squash). We hope to get back to LXG some times, and hope that some of the guys from there can come along to Critical Mass etc. occasionally. I handed out my Settlers of Brisbane cards, so maybe some of those guys will be in touch.

Gigamic Hits the Shelves

The kid and I went to the FLGS yesterday. When I say F, I mean they came to Critical Mass and gave us discount vouchers, that's how F they are. So we had to go and buy 2 games to use out discount vouchers. The good news is that they now stock the Gigamic range of games, in particular the beautiful wooden ones such as Quoridor and Quarto. The very good news is that more shelf space has been granted to board games with a new section holding Thurn and Taxis, Emerald, Ticket to Ride Marklin, Hansa, El Grande and I forget what else. I could have spent $A200 without thinking, but having been to the vet earlier in the day I was a bit scared of doing so (or maybe it was the liver treats upsetting my stomach?). In the end, the kid chose to get King of the Beasts (you don't often go wrong with Reiner), and the kid chose for me to get Quoridor. How come the kid chose both? Because I'll play anything and he has to be the opponent.

We haven't played King of the Beasts yet, but we did have 2 games of Quoridor. It's good! In my troubled sleep overnight I was thinking of cunning and nasty ways to play. It is a 2 player abstract so it's not to everyone's taste, but if you're into that sort of intense thought it is very interesting. You're often wondering whether to block your opponent, advance yourself, or to place a wall that will ensure that your opponent can't block you. I want to play more of it! Unfortunately 2 games might be all the kid can handle, because he got fairly badly beaten. Oh well.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

My 10s

I'm trying to work on the stats here! I've got everything I need - time, working computer, red wine... but boardgamegeek is down or busy or something. Aaargh! So instead, I'll blither on about the games I have rated 10. No point wasting good red wine.

So a strange thing happened last week. I decreased my rating for Domaine from a 10 to a 9.5 in recognition of the fact that at the moment I don't feel like playing it. I haven't figured out why that is, maybe it will come back into favour when I do play it. This article is not about what's wrong with Domaine, this article is about what's right with the others.

I find myself wanting to play Scrabble. I swear, it's nothing to do with the seductive nature of the ladies at the Scrabble club. I like the game. Finding words and anagramming really work for me. Memorising word lists doesn't, which is why I'll never be a great Scrabble player (actually, I have another 40 years I suppose, it might happen), but I really do like the struggle of finding a decent word worth decent points and getting the sucker on the board.

I really like Mystery of the Abbey as well. I like deduction games a lot, maybe because I often do well at them. In fact there aren't enough of them around. Cyberkev disses MotA, saying too much card passing goes on, but as part of the game is to know what cards to pass I don't find that a problem at all. And I love, absolutely love, the meta-game where you can ask other players "are you going to accuse..." and then try to steal the win from them. Not to mention that the bits are beautiful, and I'm a tart like that.

Lord of the Rings - the Confrontation is an absolute genius of a game. I forgot how much I liked it till I played Ozvortex a couple of months ago. The sides are so different, and it's so beautifully balanced. Yes, you do need to know every detail of the rules to play really well, but I just wish I had a handy opponent who would play frequently. My kid doesn't like it :-(. He will when he grows up, and then I'll unlock his bedroom door. Ungrateful wretch.

My final 10 is Trias. It has fairly crappy bits, though dinomeeples are cool. But I like the way you can drown other people's dinos, and sometimes they like that, then you fill the verdant shore with happily grazing dinos sneering into the water at the struggling swimmers. I'm sure if I was good at it I'd be able to look at the board as a map of low and high potential zones and be able to identify optimal fault lines, but until then I will just stick to opportunistically drowning the opposition. Maybe that's why I like Tongiaki as well.

Get Your Fresh Stats Here!

The BGG extended stats are taking on a bit of a life of their own and I find myself often wanting to send email about why they're broken or new features or whatever. To make sure I only get the people who care, I've created a Yahoo group for discussion of the stats. Feel free to join up.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Zertz, At Last

Let me state first up that I am not going to put any silly accents on words that don't deserve them. It's OK to make silly names for games, but making them hard to type is unacceptable, so Zertz it is.

Anyway, I bought this game a long time ago, not coincidentally on the day my wife told me she wanted to leave me. As my life consequently changed a lot, it became very difficult to organise a time, an opponent, and a good mood to play this game, even though I'd been looking forward to it since reading Stephen Tavener's strategy article. But last night at BookRealm, while the other guys played Zombies 3, Walter and I had a good session of 2-player games.

All I could remember from the strategy article was "go for the white balls", and "use sacrifices to control your opponent". So indeed, I used sacrifices to control Walter, and I made him take a heap of black and gray balls to the point where he had almost won the game and I had maybe 2 white balls (we were playing 3/4/5/6 rules, not 2/3/4/5 Blitz). We weren't really clear on what we were doing, until I realised that the archipelago we'd created could easily be used to capture a white ball. I tried setting up some traps, i.e. if Walter didn't see what I was doing I could make gains, but it turned out that he did see what I was doing and that cost me big time. So I stopped doing that.

I managed to hold on to win the first game, and started to get into it more in the second. Walter was still thinking some moves didn't matter, but I found I could often set up a trap in one or two moves, so it was worth thinking every time to see how I could do that. I won the second game easily. In the third game, Walter could see what I was doing and started trying to do it himself. I got cocky and managed to give him a free white ball, but he made a mistake forcing me to capture and gave me three balls. I think he must have made another bad mistake as well, because I ended up winning the third game with 3 of each colour.

So I liked this game, and so did Walter. I can't imagine how hard it will become when my opponent knows what he is doing as well as I do - the required lookahead will do me in, I reckon. I want to play more.

I have now played all of the GIPF Project games, and I think my order of preference (best to worst) is Gipf, Zertz, Punct, Dvonn, Yinsh, Tamsk, with Tamsk a distant last. I want to play them all again. I hope my next wife will play them with me...

Did I Tell You I Wrote a Version of San Juan in Java?

At the beginning of last year my first proper game order was San Juan, Lost Cities and (by accident) Nobody But Us Chickens. All turned out to be great purchases. I liked San Juan a lot but my family wasn't so keen on it, so I didn't play it much. So I downloaded Mark Haberman's VB implementation and played it. But it had bugs, like the Aqueduct didn't work. I tried to fix it, but as a Linux user that just grossed me out, so I decided to rewrite it in Java. How hard could it be?

Well, it wasn't very hard, but it was very long. By the time I finished the code and the packaging and so on, I was well and truly sick of it. And some other people had written their own versions. Oh well. But here's my version, if you want to try it out. It does have the novel feature that it runs in Hungarian, Brazilian Portuguese, French and English, including different languages for each user if you like. Oh, and source code is included in case you want to do more work on it.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Doing it With Style

In case you haven't noticed, the BGG extended stats are back. My machine's problem was a blown power supply, so I have replaced that and we're back on-line. I have been enhancing the pages to use some style sheets provided by the very cunning Justin Walduck. Sooner or later it will look nice like he intended.

Friday, September 01, 2006

She's Got a Nice Rack

So what do you think this article might be about? Hmm?

Well I went to Scrabble club last night. Because they didn't know I was coming (heck, it depended on the whim of a woman, how could I know what I was doing?) I ended up playing against players who were simultaneously playing someone else. First game was against S, who completely flogged me. I had a confusing rack for the whole game and scored small points a few times trying to make my letter mix a bit better but to no avail. I think the final score was about 440 to 300... which wasn't bad given that I didn't feel comfortable in the game.

Second game was against B who was recently ranked 10 in Queensland. That's pretty serious. I played first and opened with JIZ which I considered obscene but apparently it's some sort of wig. 39 points, I think it was. In comparison the game against S, my game against B was charmed. Maybe she was concentrating on her other game more, but she left triple word scores open for me, and I was nasty enough to close them off for her. I tell you what, those experienced Scrabble players are awesome the way they can put down an A and a T and make 4 words for a score of 42 points! In this game I got all of the good letters (J, Z, X, Q) and also made TRANSACTS for 72 points or so. B did really well with limited resources, so I managed to beat her about 360 to 300 I think. But before I get excited about beating a ranked player, I have to point out that I was using social rules which allow me to look in the dictionary. I never would have made ENARCH without the book's help. If only I could have made "ENARCHY" like I wanted to.

Third game was against T who gave me some Palm software (KDIC and LAMPWords) which are faster than looking in the book all the time. T was nice enough to point out that ZAX and ZEX are words (umm... a tool for making slate roof tiles I think) which was worth 4 billion points. Must remember DZO as well, that was good points on a triple word score. We weren't able to finish the game, what with all the software beaming, but T was well ahead when we called it. T made a comment about someone else having a nice rack which suggested the title of this article.

I really like Scrabble, but it's practically impossible to get it played at a games night. Maybe if I carried my set around I would get more takers. Maybe even against an opponent with a nice rack.

BTW, happy birthday to M who turns 76 today!

In other news... we suspect the problem with my PC is a blown-up power supply, but I want to test it with a known good one before I spend $A70 on a new one. And I forgot to post a link to Shingo's Critical Mass photos.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

The All-Too Familiar Smell

Once again, somehow, I have managed to blow up my home PC. So that means there'll be no updates to the extended stats till I get it working again. Honestly, it shouldn't be that hard to add memory. I've done it before. But somehow twice this year I've blown motherboards trying to stick RAM in. This time I don't even know what I did wrong. It's getting expensive.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Got A Life

I recently had an unsavoury exchange on BoardGameGeek where I objected to one poster's comment that other posters in the thread should "get a life". It was a thread about an aspect of gaming, where many people jumped in with an opinion. The comment I objected to was a particularly patronising one suggesting that other posters should do something like "open the door and step outside and get a taste of what the big wide world has to offer", or something like that. I object very strongly to that sort of comment. I've had two marriages, one child, travelled to dangerous places, my mother has a terminal disease, I'm in love and confused; and if I feel like arguing minutiae of board games, I'll damn well do so. I don't care who you are, I've got a life, every poster on BoardGameGeek has a life that they are leading to the best of their ability, and it's the height of arrogance to assume that because someone wants to discuss small details that they are somehow lacking in other aspects of their lives.

Of course I chose not go into such detail in my reply on the thread, merely pointing out that this was actually a geek website, and that being polite wouldn't go astray. I received email from the "lifer" saying that he'd been on BGG longer than I had (ooh, and his dad could beat my dad up!) and knew what was appropriate. So I told him to get a life :-). Then he called me assorted names which I didn't read very closely and didn't distress me. I know what sort of person he is now. He goes on the list of arseholes to ignore on BGG. I don't see him posting very much, which I guess is lucky for all of us.

Anyway, that's something that Pisses Me Off. We've all got lives, we choose to play board games in them. I don't think for a second that my life is better than anyone else's - I don't know what other people do when they're not posting on BGG, I don't know what motivates and distresses and excites them. We come together to discuss board games, not to play at one-upmanship. We've got lives.

Monday, August 21, 2006

I'm Awesome

I don't normally post links to stories on other blogs, but this one is an exception.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Le Shipment

Milsims had an insane sale last week or the week before or sometime... as far as we could tell all French games were being disposed of as cheap as possible. I bought China Moon (Faidutti), Dogville, Evo and Saga for a total cost of $A69. Bargain! We played China Moon at Cyberkev's all-day gaming extravaganza, and it's quite a decent game. With 5 players it was pretty chaotic, but what do you expect from Bruno? We followed it up with a couple of games of Democrazy which turns out to be not as bad as I feared, and indeed crazy as M. Faidutti promised. Anyway, now that I own Dogville I am the proud owner of multicoloured dog piddle tokens. Gotta be happy about that, huh? I might see if I can get it played at Critical Mass tomorrow night so I can get some experience before I introduce it to the niece and nephew.


For my birthday my dear sweet sister bought me a deck of Italian playing cards. "Wait!", I hear you cry, "what do you mean by dear sweet sister? One of them's a professional bitch and the other's a psychotic tornado!" I mean the bitch one... this year she has hosted 3 birthday parties for my family, and there are only 1.5 people still in it, so she has hosted above and beyond the call of duty. I even gave her a copy of Apples to Apples to thank her (better than me owning it). Anyway, the "you say bitch like it's a bad thing" sister gave me these Italian playing cards. They have 4 suits - clubs, cups, swords and coins, and have A,2,3,4,5,6,7,J,Q,K. There are no numbers on the cards, you have to count the symbols. They're kinda cool in an arcane but not as boring as normal cards way.

Of course I had to find a game to play with them. My research indicated that the traditional Italian card games were Scopone and Scopa, so on Sunday morning my beautiful Chinese Lost Cities partner and I sat down to see how Scopa worked. This is the 2 player variant. Players are dealt 3 cards each and 4 are dealt face-up in the middle. On your turn you play a card either by capturing cards from the middle or by adding a card to the middle. To capture, you take 1 or more cards whose value adds up to the value of the card you're playing (J=8, Q=9, K=10), and the card you played, and they go into your scoring stash. When players have played their 3 cards they get 3 more until the draw pile is exhausted. If you've played Frog Juice, it seems to be based on Scopone. At the end of the hand you do the scoring.

The person with biggest stash gets a point. The person with the most coins gets a point. The person with the 7 of coins (the beautiful seven) gets a point. The person with the highest prime gets a point, where the prime is one card from each suit where it's best to have 7s, 6s, As, 5s, I forget... Basically having more 7s and 6s than your opponent will win you the prime. That's up to 4 points available from scoring, because ties don't score. But there's an additional rule that if you capture every card in the middle at once, that's called a sweep and is worth a point straight away. Often as more points are scored in sweeps than in the scoring. First player to 11 points wins the game.

After several hours, beautiful opponent had won 3 games and I had won 2. It was interesting enough. She was counting cards, whereas I was struggling to sit up... Sunday morning, gimme a break! It was a nice way to spend a Sunday morning.