Monday, February 27, 2006

Gobblet and PÜNCT

Despite a weekend mostly without gaming. I have managed to play both Gobblet and PÜNCT since I bought them last week. Gobblet was against the kid. I found that if I made a stupid mistake he would beat me, but if I kept the game going for a while I could beat him. I just needed to present enough threats across the centre of the board that sooner or later he would get confused and reveal one of my swallowed pieces to set me up for the win. It's an OK game.

I got out PÜNCT last night against the brother-in-law. I didn't really know what to expect, and at first we made a mistake, allowing ourselves to place from the hand to on top of other pieces, which isn't right and isn't as interesting as the real rules. So I figured out that when I place a piece that is reaching for the edge, I need to align its pünct so that it can later be brought in to defend the centre of the board as well. I found that brother-in-law was good at getting into an attacking position, but I was good at defending. In one game I held him off and was able to cross the board in the confusion; in the next game I held him off until he made a stupid mistake; and in the third I missed a move he could make and he beat me. PÜNCT is a very different game from GIPF, YINSH and DVONN, and I'll have to play more. I think I like it, but probably not as much as GIPF.

By the way, I got to play Cathedral during the week. It's very very simple, and plays something like a puzzle that the two players are macking for each other. I cramped my opponent for room, and looked like blocking off a large territory for myself, but he invaded and made it a small territory. Still, it was enough to win. I'm not sure whether I'd play it too many times in a row, but the kid might play against me. I think I'd have to get Cathedral World, because it looks so nice.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

GIPF for Dummies like me

I really really really like GIPF. However as there is nobody in my household who is willing to play it, or would be much chop if they did, I downloaded GF1 (GIPF for 1) during the week. It's very nice. I have only been playing the basic game so far, and I beat it on level 1 (i.e. I was conscious). However I can't yet beat it on level 2. It goes up to level 9. That means I am not very good at GIPF. It seems to me that this is a game you can get very very good at, and I am just a beginner. I went to the 'geek today to read strategy articles, and there are none. That means that this one that I am about to write is the best I can find :-). Expert that I am!

So the edges of the board are 4 pieces long, the diameter is 7. That means that you cannot capture on the edges, all you can do is weaken your board position. In the second row (length 5) you can capture one piece, in the third row you can capture two, and across the centre you can potentially capture three pieces. If you have a piece on the very centre point, you cannot lose it (while it remains there), so that single point defends all of the longest rows. I think that means the centre point is important. I suspect the points around the centre are nearly as important, so I am guessing that the heart of the game is a struggle for control of the centre.

Consequently, one strategy would be to get your pieces into the centre of the board while denying your opponent that privilege. As you can only place pieces on the outside of the board, and making long chains of pieces reaching into the centre of the board will just get you taken off, you want your opponent to help push you into the middle of the board. I don't know how you coerce him to do that. In any case, you want your opponent to be in the middle of the board with you to prevent you from having rows of 4 when you don't want them.

Having the most pieces on the board seems to be an advantage as well. If you have more pieces, you have more opportunities to capture your opponent. If you can find a move which allows you to force your opponent to remove 4 pieces from the board, do it, as you'll have relatively more pieces to be working with. His will go back to the outside and they might end up pushing you into the centre. I notice that when your opponent captures you, he removes 4 pieces from the board and you lose fewer than that. I wonder if sacrifices might be useful for improving board position?

Hmm, can't think of any more brilliant ideas at the moment. Don't make mistakes. I spent several games smacking myself in the forehead as I made blunder after blunder which allowed the computer to demolish me. The game is more fun if you don't do that (make the blunders). It's really only once you get past that that you can think about how to exert any pressure on the opponent, as you'll have so few pieces on the board you won't be able to attack anyway.

Anyway, the author of GF1 asks for a postcard if you like his work. I think I'll send him one.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Also on order

Woohoo, payday! Monthly pays were introduced late last year, and have seriously disrupted by game buying abilities. Luckily, most of the impulse buying I could do at local shops got done then, and now I am left with a long list of items that I know I want and need to plan to purchase. Today was payday, and time for some shopping.

First stop was at Milsims, where I ordered Arkham Horror (with the intention of playing it solo, in general) and Frank's Zoo (with the intention of playing it with my family, as my wife likes card games). I considered Dogville, but I am not really clear whether Boulder is sending that on the slow boat from Colorado, so I didn't get it just yet. It may not be the sort of game you'd like, and maybe not even me, but we do have a very good dog and the kids (my kid, my niece, my nephew) are consequently into dogs, and I think they will enjoy it.

Next stop was to the FLGS, Presents of Mind at Paddington. The lady there is always very helpful, and doesn't mind my obscure questions. Have you got Zertz yet? Have you heard of Cannon? Do you ever sell Kahuna? How much for Railroad Tycoo... oh my goodness feel how much that weighs! Unlike many other games shops I have been to, they seem to be interested in their games and are interested in finding other games which sell. I could buy the same stuff cheaper on-line, but choose not to. Anyway, today's purchase was Pünct and Gobblet. When my kid and I were there last payday, we tried out Gobblet and decided we had to have it. I wanted Zertz instead of Punct, but as they still didn't have it I chose the member of the Gipf project that I knew least about and bought that. Other games they have that I am thinking of for next payday are Dvonn, Yinsh, Cathedral, and if they have it, Blokus Duo. I'll buy Blokus Duo and leave it in the car for those emergency situations where you need a game.

The other order that I am waiting for is C&C Ancients, which GMT kindly sent to me very slowly for a very low price. Hope the guys on the boat have put the stickers on for me.

Hmm, a month till next payday. It seems so far.

Edit: I forgot, I have Return of the Heroes on its way from Boulder Games as well. The kid likes Talisman, I like Runebound 2e, and RotH might be a mid-way point. In any case, it looks very very nice, and I like the idea of the quests.

Monday, February 20, 2006

The Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost

I was talking to Cyberkev today, who, despite being an intelligent man, says he can't understand my taste in games. He accused me of being a game snob (correctly!) yet wanting games like Munchkin (correct). "Does not compute" for Cyberkev, which I guess just goes to show that I'm a complex individual, which I would have thought that a secret master would understand. Hmm, hang on, my wife doesn't understand and she's known me 12 years, why should Cyberkev have me figured out? Anyway, my theory is that I have different aspects to my personality. Freud thought that too.

I suspect the largest influence on my gaming is what Freud would have called the id: the id wants whatever feels good at the time, with no consideration for the reality of the situation. The id wants to play Domaine, Tikal, Gipf, Through the Desert, Vinci, Euphrat & Tigris and For Sale. The id wants severely hard games that keep me thinking. These are usually my top-rated games.

Then there's the ego: the ego understands that other people have needs and desires. That leads me to games that are more fun in the traditional sense, such as Mystery of the Abbey, Amazonas, Shadows Over Camelot, Wyatt Earp, Pick Picknic and Pirate's Cove. I will play these games and enjoy them, but they're not particularly mentally challenging and they don't satisfy the primeval needs of the id. However due to the availability of opponents they get played more often. These games can rate quite highly, and provide some sort of satisfaction. Mystery of the Abbey, Amazonas and Pirate's Cove also feed some magpie instinct in me as well, but Freud didn't mention magpies so I am not sure how to address that issue.

Finally, there's the superego: the superego is the moral part of us nd develops due to the moral and ethical restraints placed on us by our caregivers. My superego wants me to play games that others want to play. As I have a 9yo son, that includes Goosebumps games, but also games like Munchkin, Hex Hex, Sitting Duck Gallery, Zombies, Once Upon a Time and Bang!. These sorts of games get played as little as I can manage, but all the dads out there will recognise that any time spent with their kids having fun is a good time. These games are for when you're playing with little people, or non-gamers, or people whom you just want to be around without wasting your life drinking and gossiping. And of course, unless your kid understands the strategies behind Munchkin, he'll never be any good at Diplomacy.

So on to the extraordinary vanity and irreverence... The id games satisfy the holy ghost, that thing inside of me that is me. Daniel Dennett calls it the homonculus, in the process of explaining that it doesn't exist. The superego games satisfy the father in me, giving me a chance to interact with and educate those not yet ready for Tikal. And the ego games let me play nicely with others, like a good son. I'm not going to claim that I really *am* God, readers can decide that for themselves :-).

Of course, there are many games I have played solely with the intention of finding which category they belonged in. There are some games which even the superego can't deal with. My quest to find the perfect games group is a quest to find players whose id games match my id games, so that after a session we feel that no matter who won or lost, something great was achieved. Is that possible? I don't know. But it's a dream worth dreaming.

References: Psychology 101, homonculus

Saturday, February 18, 2006

I have a dream

I have a dream that one day I will go to a games meeting, say "let's play X", and everyone will know the rules and we'll sit down and play it. That would be so good.

I'm guessing some of you are confused. After all, isn't that how games meetings work? Maybe yours do. What happens to me is I say "let's play X", and everyone says "OK, you teach us how". So you see, I am thinking about (a) teaching the game and (b) winning, when I would enjoy the game more if I was thinking about (a) winning. I reckon I teach 50% of the games that I play, 25% are games I am learning, and 25% are with the kids or my family, and so are not usually the sort of games I aspire to play anyway.

It's a function of the newness of the hobby in Brisbane, the newness of the games groups, and the fact that I own many games that other people don't. The games played most last month as logged at BoardGameGeek were Lost Cities, Caylus, Magic, TtR, Carcassonne, San Juan, Settlers, Puerto Rico, TtR:E and Ra. At one game group (of 4) that I attend, I expect I might get a game of Ticket to Ride without needing a rules explanation for somebody. At another, I might get Settlers and Magic. All other games at all other groups would need to be explained. What we've got here is a massive education deficit! So the two adjectives I would use to describe the Brisbane Euro-gaming scene at the moment are "warming up" and "undereducated". Well, hey, at least we've got one.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Roll the Bloody Dice!

Time for a rant. One thing that completely gets up my nose is people who take a long time to roll dice. Especially if they sit there shaking them. What are they trying to do? Make them more random? Find just the right angle to throw them at to get a 6? Keep their fingers warm? Or just annoy the crap out of me? I especially hate dice cups, because they make extra noise and encourage extra shaking. All you gotta is pick the freakin' dice up and drop the bastards, they'll work fine! Now stop buggerising around and have your freaking turn before I stuff those bloody things up your freaking nose! Have I made myself clear?

But seriously, games get a bad enough rap with non-gamers for taking too long without time-wasting rituals with the dice. Just say you have 50 turns in a game, and spend 10 seconds rolling the dice each time. That's 500 seconds (8 minutes) you've wasted just rolling the dice. If there are 3 players who do that, like there might be in a family Monopoly game, that's 25 minutes. No wonder the game takes such a long time! Games take as long to play as the players choose to let them take. If you think games take too long to play, consider what you can do to speed them up. Like rolling the freaking dice!

Sweet Revenge! (and pretty, too!)

I just managed to convince the family to play Amazonas. Last time we played, I had a miserable game and got completely thrashed, although I can't remember who won. This time I lead from start to finish, and the final scores were 15-10-6. Not sure what the kid was doing, he didn't even get all 5 samples. I think one of my good moves was going for the big money at the beginning, so I was able to get 2 camps on my first 2 turns. There was a lull after that, but at least I had options for where I wanted to build next. I also managed to score 3 out of 4 natives, because the other 2 didn't value them so much. I need to play this more, but I am beginning to suspect that this game shares a flaw with Pirate's Cove, in that the rich get richer and the poor get the picture. Anyway, I enjoy it, it's gorgeous to look at, and I am the champion!

Postscript: Why does this game get such a bad rap? I find there are many interesting things to do. For example, it's vital to play the income cards in the right order, not just to choose the highest score at the time. If you can get 5 by playing flowers now, but you're planning to get another flower camp very soon, then save the flower card. You'll get an extra silver when you play it. Also, where's the best location to build your next camp so that your future income is maximised, you score in as many different types of samples as possible, and you're able to make all the right connections to fulfil your secret orders? And should I play my native now for the money, or save him to avoid a disaster? I find a lot of things to think about in this game. No, there's not much player interaction, except that you're sitting there at the table with the other players. You want the game to tell you what to say to them? I love this game, you're all wrong.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

I Invoke Ra

The "Settlers of Brisbane" list is working already. A friend of a friend from QGG told us about a bookshop at Gaythorne (yes, it is in Brisbane, apparently) where he plays games, so 2 new people attached to the list turned up there tonight. There could have been 3 more, but apparently they have things in their lives more important than gaming. Well excuse us! :-) But seriously, it was exactly the sort of meeting I've been looking for - intimate, not too far from home, with some real gamers. And held in a second hand book store, no less! Candlelight dinners be damned, it's book stores that turn me on. The guys seem to have only played games that you can buy at shops in Brisbane, so there's plenty of stuff in my collection to show them.
Anyway, Mikey brought along Ra and Evo, at my request. Both are on my "I will buy this if that is the only way I'm going to get to play it" list, so I am grateful for the chance to try before I buy something I don't like. We didn't get time for Evo, but we did play Ra. I liked Ra so much that when it hit the table a second time, I opted to play that. The other option at the time was Cartagena, which has hit my nickel list already this year, so I felt no need to play that anyway. Ra was a very interesting game - my opinion is that it's similar to Coloretto, but with many more complications. In both cases, you want to assemble a good set of cards, with the fear that someone's going to steal them before you get them. I kicked butt in the first game with 60 points, but in the second game I got shafted by crazy tile draws and barely held on to be second-last with 19 points.
Other games played on the night were Settlers, Robo-Rally, and Cathedral. I definitely want to have a go at Cathedral one of these days. It looks like Blokus, if you squint.

Monday, February 13, 2006

My Favourite Game

I'm going to assume you have a favourite game. Mine is Domaine. BTW, I haven't played Lowenherz, so I am unqualified to get into that discussion. However, here's a question that's disturbingly difficult to answer: why? Why is your favourite game your favourite game? What's so good about it? Let me speak for Domaine while you think.

Firstly, there's not much luck. The random set-up does add some luck, unless you are skilled enough to analyse the board and choose an optimal start position, but I am only good enough to choose a decent one. Also, the cards add some randomness, but with the chancery there's a reasonable chance you'll be able to get any card you need at some stage. Overall, the cards seem to even out.

Secondly, it's an economic game, so you have the chance to develop your economy in order to fund the war effort, and I like that because unbridled aggression and rushing don't work. Furthermore the economy and the war interact (if you lose mines, you lose money), so you need to continually maintain your economy.

Thirdly, there's conflict, but not too much. I don't mind conflict between players, but I don't really go for games where everything that is good for me is bad for you, Memoir '44 being a notable exception. In Domaine, there is always the chance that a player could attack you, but you have the chance to make it too difficult or not worth the effort, so you're not perpetually fighting people off.

Fourthly, there's cooperation. Few domaines are built by one player's walls alone, so the first part of the game is sort of cooperative building of the domaines, with a little bit of squabbling about where the borders go, but not too much or else nothing will get built at all.

Fifthly, there's thinking. I like games where I am always thinking. Tikal, Louis XIV, Trias, all get good points for that. There might be down-time in Domaine, but I don't notice because I am thinking what I need to do next, what is he doing that is a threat to me, why did he just take that defector card from the Chancery? Shadows Over Camelot and Citadels are otherwise good games which just don't inspire that sort of thought in me.

Between the combat and the thinking, there's perpetual tension. I am always thinking how can I complete that domaine, is he going to attack, am I going to have enough money, am I vulnerable anywhere? It's good stuff.

Lastly, I am at least a little bit good at it. I admit, I don't think I've ever played against an experienced player, but I usually win and I know what I need to do and I have a fair idea of my chances of success. Often, my plans work. There are fine games such as Samurai and Alhambra where I can form a plan, and it never helps. At least in Domaine I play well enough to always be a contender, and if was to lose I'd be able to identify causes.

I was just considering a posting about my least favourite games, but I haven't got the time to express my passionate hatred...

Sunday, February 12, 2006

First Thoughts on Louis XIV and Web of Power

You know sometimes when people are explaining rules it's just easier to go "uhuh, uhuh" and figure them out as you go along? Well I deny that I was doing that when Andrew explained Web of Power. I just didn't particularly follow the advisor scoring, and missed the rule that to play 2 pieces you needed to play 2 cards, but other than that it was as clear as mud. Luckily, it's not too hard to pick up as you go along - this is the same as did Coloretto, after all. I'm thinking his games aren't quite as simple and confusing as Colovini's (Clans, Cartagena), but he's in the same vein.

Anyway, Kevin's spinner chose me as first player, and I dumped a cloister in Frankreich. In hindsight that maybe wasn't a good idea, maybe I should have looked at the upcoming cards and played somewhere I could follow up on in my next turn. By the time it got back to me there was an opportunity for an advisor in England, so I got one there. It soon became clear that I wasn't going to be building long chains of cloisters, but I could get a few advisors in linking countries, so I focused on that. I might have missed some opportunities for great moves, but I think I played solidly. The intermediate scoring was tight, but at the end I managed to make good points out of my advisors, and got ahead of Andrew and Paul. Sadly Kevin's advisors were even better placed, and he beat us all soundly.

I like this game. It's like Coloretto with a map, in a very loose way. I can't think who I'd play it with other than these guys, but it's pretty cool. I wonder if you can still buy it? Or if you can't, how similar China is. Not that I need to buy it, if I can't play it. But I do like it.

After Web of Power we had a long debate about what to play next. We were constrained by time, and the debate made us more so. We decided on a quick game of Louis XIV (hah!) followed by Ingenious. The trouble was that the rules explanation for Louis XIV took quite a while, as there are all those special powers of the tiles, and then there's what happens in the case of ties. Playing in my naive semi-ignorant fashion, the turns didn't take long, but the guys who knew what they were doing seemed to take longer.
Paul and I got off to miserable starts, only completing one mission each. I got into a pissing war with Kevin on the king space, and got very little reward for a lot of influence, so I decided not to do that again. That meant that Kevin dominated the king space for the entire game. I guess someone could have taken him on, but at what cost to them? Anyway, as well as dominating the king space, he managed to have enough influence in other places (maybe that was his vulnerability?) to win 2 other rewards each turn, and I think he completed 8 missions. I had a really good 3rd round, getting stuff on 7 tiles and completing 2 missions with a crown left over, but in the end I was too far behind to even threaten for the win. Andrew and Kevin both did very well, and Andrew pulled off the win by a couple of points.

There seemed to be a lot of analysis paralysis in this game, from players who are not prone to it. I had my moments too, where I needed to wait till Paul had moved to assess what I could achieve with the cards in my hand so I could choose which one to cash in for influence, but maybe I was just too ignorant to worry :-). We certainly spent a lot of time discussing the fine details of the rules, as we really did need to know, and there are *lots* of rules. I would play again, but something like Tikal is probably a better reward for the time spent. That was one of "the games to play this year", so another one bites the dust.

Oh yeah, Ingenious got abandoned. But I play that all the time, so no biggie.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Blokus: Rejected Again

BoardGameGeek's image moderators seem to be determined to stymie any in-depth discussion of Blokus. Oh well, I'll host it here. This is the picture they rejected.

I'll admit that it's no work of art (it's gloomy here today, I can't get decent light on it), but it is a work of passion. It's a complete solution to the solitaire game where you have to place all pieces on the board. It took maybe an hour to figure this out. Actually, judging by the number of wickets Australia was losing at the time, it might have been about a month.

Monday, February 06, 2006

My Mate Beowulf

I played Beowulf: The Legend on Saturday, and understood it somewhat better than the first time, and I think it's a decent game. Of course, the first time I was completely frazzled from spending all day downloading the English rules from the FFG web site and then trying to convince my printer to print them for me. The kid managed to win that game, and the assessment from the gamers was that it was extremely random. I now disagree.

Consider the goal of the game: to get the most VPs (OK, so Reiner calls them fame). We always play advanced rules, because they are barely more complicated than the basic rules, and let you use all the cards and all the episodes. Weighed up against the goal to get VPs is the almost required subgoal of not getting 3 wounds, because if you do, you will lose 15 VPs straight away, and that will substantially interfere with the main goal. The risk mechanism of the game allows you to gain wounds in order to attempt to gain VPs. Thus wounds are resources which you accumulate to pay for the chance to get VPs.

Nothing else matters. It doesn't matter whether you get symbol cards, special cards, gold, or whatever, they are all just currencies that you trade in to get to the VPs. The episodes are the mechanisms by which that trading is done. Obviously to determine the best way to proceed in an episode, we need to be able to compare the values of the various results, and so need to determine the relative values of the currencies.

The scrolls have a random value between 1 and 3 gold or VPs. That, and the basic rules that equate gold to VPs make a strong case that 1 gold is equal to 1 VP, and so a scroll is equal to 2VPs (on average). The selection episodes, where a player may choose a scroll, 2 gold, 2 VPs, 2 cards or lose 2 scratches suggest that cards are worth 1 VP, and that scratches are worth -1VP. The Peace Returns episode at the end of the game reinforces the suggestion that 1 card is worth 1 VP. However the rule that each wound is worth -5VPs at the end of the game suggests that scratches might be valued at -1.7VPs. In any case, that gives us some basic values to compare rewards.

The episodes are obviously designed to, on average, increase a player's net wealth in VP equivalents, otherwise people would end the game with about as many VPs as cards they started with. In each major episode, a player pays a price determined by the auction, for one of the rewards which can be very valuable (7VPs) or very expensive (2 wounds and 2 cards is worth approximately -8 VPs). The art of the game is to get better value for money, on average, than the other players.

Given this philosophy, what then is the value of a Risk episode? You have a 16% chance of getting 2 cards, a 48% chance of getting one card, and a 36% chance of taking a scratch. That's an expected return of 0.16 * 2 + 0.48 - 0.36 * 1.7 = 0.188. If you value scratches at -1, the return is 0.44. So a Risk episode gains you between 0.2 and 0.4 VPs.

What about Selection? The gold, scroll, VPs, and cards selections are basically equivalent (as we assumed above) but the scratches are potentially worth more. If you've had bad luck with risks and taken scratches, this is a way for you to catch up.

How about King Hrothgar's Hall? All of the rewards are positive, although I am not going to try to put a value on the special cards today. The maximum reward is the 2 scrolls, worth about 4VPs. Hence it's not worth bidding more than 4VPs to win that auction. In Grendel's attack, the rewards vary from 5VPs down to about -3VPs for the wound. Hence in that episode, players are bidding on an 8 point turnaround in fortunes. The other major episodes can be analysed similarly, with obviously the climax of the game being the Fight with the Dragon, where the whole 15 point swing is available.

Of course, by this late stage in the game, the values start to become very rubbery. You can determine whether the value of any scratches you hold is going to be 0 (because you didn't reach 3 wounds) or negative. Any cards you have left after the Fight with the Dragon are worth only what you can get for them in Beowulf's Death. Depending on how much money you have compared to other players, you might want to save it for Recover Treasures, or you might want to try to spend it on the Iron Shield in order to help you win the Fight With the Dragon. From the Dragon's Rampage onwards, it's really a tactical exercise to maximise your VPs by spending all of your resources, and the approximated values of the resources give way to the old adage "it's worth what you can get for it".

I hope this analysis has presented this game in a more positive light. I don't think Reiner designed a bad game, I think he designed a game whose mechanics don't match what people would expect in a game about Beowulf. Armed with this analysis, I'm prepared to take on all comers...

Settlers of Brisbane

After contemplating the Brisbane gaming scene, I have decided to take a positive step. The problem is that there are lots of gamers in Brisbane, but the groups seem to be somewhat insular and don't cross-pollinate. Most people seem to be content to attend a meeting once a month and then complain that they don't game enough. However there are other groups out there, if you care to look. For the last year or so I've been attending meetings and meeting people, and I think I now know most of what's going on in Brisbane, and there are some great gaming opportunities out there. In order to spread the word, I've created the Settlers of Brisbane mailing list, a list aimed at bringing gaming opportunities to gamers. I'll put the link to the list's page in my sidebar, or if you're excited you can join directly from the form.

I've promoted the list to all the Brisbane games groups I can think of - BoardGameGeek, Critical Mass, LXG, QUGS, QGG, BIG, Scrabble clubs, Bridge, Go, Chess, an RPG club, miniatures players, and even Mensa. With any luck, the representatives of those clubs that I have mailed will spread the word to their membership, and everyone will see increased membership as a result. But if it gets me more people to play games with, I'll be happy anyway.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Learning Cartagena

I've taught Cartagena to a variety of people, from my 5 year old nephew to hard core gamers. It's interesting to see how they play. Colovini's games only tell you what you can do, not what you're supposed to do to win, and people are really left to figure out their own strategy. Cartagena is a simple enough game that you can see the strategy develop in as little as one game, so it's a rare opportunity to study how people learn to play a game.

Let's start with the gamers from Critical Mass. I explained the rules, and, knowing that gamers would want to be competitive, I explained "it's a race between the last guys on your team, not the first guys". It seems to me that once you get that idea embedded in your strategy, the remaining points are very subtle. However, not all of the players could cope with that straight away. Some made an opportunistic rush for the boat, but then fell behind due to the neglect of their other pirates. On the other hand, some players understood straight away, and I got beaten.

Stepping down a level, consider my kid (who's 9). When I taught him the game, I didn't know how to play either (he's a very good person to learn games with, as he'll play almost anything once, and if I'm not careful he'll beat me), so I wasn't ableto give him any strategy hints. He went for the "get guys into the boat fast" strategy. A couple of games later, I mentioned to him what I'd figured out about the last guys, and he started changing his strategy. I reckon it took about 2 games for him to stop doing the wrong thing, and start playing moderately competitively.

Now consider my 5yo nephew. He likes this game because it has pirates and daggers and guns. He likes to get his guy on the boat first, at any cost. I played against him this morning, and the only thing I could say that would prevent him from moving the front guy was "look, if you get him in the boat you'll just need to move him off again so you can get more cards". That made sense to him, so he did something else to get more cards, then he moved the front guy onto the boat. All through the game I was suggesting moves to him, and he accepted just enough of my suggestions so that he had enough cards to keep moving his front guy and then survive to get more cards. I think he has played 4 games now, and although he completely understands the mechanics, strategy is beyond him. He appreciates playing the game, anyway.

So, let's consider what we've learnt here. For a gamer, it takes one or two games to learn how to play. For a 9yo, maybe 4 games. For a 5yo, the value approaches infinity. It seems that somewhere between 5 and 8 (based on other experiments on my kid) something develops in the gamer mind to enable the formation of strategies. Maybe some 5yos have it, but my nephew only started playing games last year. When I first suggested that he could play Nobody But Us Chickens by himself, my sister told me "you've got no chance", and then we were all amazed. There's definitely a skill there, that either needs to be learned or developed, I'm not sure. Can you learn how to develop strategies by watching other people do it? My kid has so far been not very good at developing complex strategies, e.g. in San Juan, but then he mostly avoids that sort of complexity. Is it the same skill taken to another level? Or is a strategy derived from combination of interacting parts (as in San Juan, or a CCG) different from a strategy which can be expressed as a couple of rules to be followed? Hmm... must devise some more experiments to use upon the children.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Blokus: The Picture Boardgamegeek Doesn't Want You to See!

Actually, they rejected it because it looks too similar to the previous one I posted.

OK, so this is about opening strategy. But first, a note on the naming of pieces. All the pentominos have been given a name by the mathematicians. Green has played , from the corner to the centre, FWXY. Blue has played PXWF. Yellow has played YXWN, and red has played FXWN. The Barasona opening as discussed on BGG is FXWN. Note that this gets you to 3 spaces from the centre point. The order of the X and W is irrelevant - you could play FWX as green has done. However playing Y rather than N gets you one square closer to the centre.

As demonstrated by blue, it is possible to start with P rather than F, but that leaves you one space further from the centre. Why would you use this variant? I don't know. As demonstrated by yellow, you can even open with Y, but that also costs you because you can't use it as last in the chain to reach towards the centre. Of course, having an N in the centre gives you more points to work from.

So here's my characterisation of this family of openings. X and W are played as the second and third moves, in either order. The first move is Y, P, or F. The final move is Y, N or F. Between the first three tiles there are only single square gaps, making it expensive to cross the line.

If only I actually played this game, I could put this theory to the test!

Can't Sleep, Must Game

Critical Mass happened last night, and we played a looong game of Reef Encounter. With the rules explanation, it went for 3 hours, and my head was well and truly wasted by the end of it. Also, some really bad decisions born of ignorance meant that for a lot of the time I could tell I was out of the running. So the kid and I got home after midnight, and I couldn't sleep, I guess my head was still placing polyps. About 2am I got up and had a snack. Then today I woke up at 7am for no good reason. Today is games at QUGS, so the kid and I have to leave fairly soon, even though I wish I could have more sleep. I'll probably play badly again and get my backside handed to me in a variety of other games. And the worst thing is, this happened exactly the same last month. Tonight might require drastic measures, starting with "B" and rhyming with "URBAN".

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Top of the wish list

One long hot boring day this summer, I culled my wishlist fairly savagely. There were lots of games that sounded really good, but I'd just never got around to ordering them, making me wonder what the wish list was for if I didn't really want these games. Emerald, Aladdin's Dragons, and Duel of Ages, you'll need to prove yourselves to me before you make it back onto the list.

I've also made a couple of orders this year, clearing out large chunks of the wish list, i.e. those parts containing the Memoir '44 and Runebound expansions. Here's what's currently at the top, awaiting funding.

Zombies!!! 4: The End... - This is the one with the zombie dogs. The kid and I played Zombies!!! 1, 2 and 3 at BIG, and it was an alright game although it did go longer than I would choose to play for. Given that we can play those games with those guys, I promised the kid I'd get the one with the dogs.

Carabande - I really want this. I really want a couple of sets, so I can make a massive track and completely freak people out with the size of it. I also really want the expensive and rare expansion with the jump. I don't see even the base game available at many on-line retailers. I know it will be amazingly expensive to post, but that doesn't matter if I can't find it for sale!

Arkham Horror - I played this at QUGS one day, and it was quite good. Of course, I didn't need my own copy, as I'd have nobody to play with (maybe the kid, if the theme grabs him). Then I realised you can play it solitaire! Woohoo, playing with myself, my favourite type! (OK, technically I prefer to play with other people, but with solitaire games I don't have to organise anybody.) So it jumped straight to the top of the wish list.

For Sale - This is a great game, and I'd like to play it with the in-laws. Critical Mass has a copy, but I need to play it more often than I get to play it with him.

Fairy Tale - Not necessarily my sort of game, but I'd like to see how the kid goes with it. He's right into Dragonball Z, Pokemon, Yu-gi-oh, so I figure an anime card game might be something he'd like. As my primary opponent, it's important to have games he likes.

Havoc: The Hundred Years War - Mummy is a big fan of card games, and we have been playing Gang of Four in which the kid has learned about poker hands. Now poker itself is far too dull to play, but Havoc seems to be an interesting variation which Mummy might play with us. Also, the Hundred Years War is a segment of history which I never really followed, so if I play this game I will probably get more of a handle on it.

History's Mysteries Card Game - This is a Mike Fitzgerald (Mystery Rummy) game, so I must have it. The only ones I don't much want are the American ones - Bonnie and Clyde and Al Capone. Eventually I will probably get them too. I don't know where I can buy this game.

Saboteur - I have borrowed a copy of this for a couple of months, and it's a great game for probably 6-10 players. I have to give this one back sooner or later, so I'll get my own copy for those odd 6-10 player situations.

ZERTZ - I have committed to buying the entire Gipf Project because it is just so good. This rocketed to the top of the list because of Stephen Taverner's awesome strategy article. Sadly, last time I was at the FLGS they had every other one, so I had to buy GIPF instead. It's very good too.

Gobblet - When we were at the FLGS, the lady convinced the kid and I to have a game of Gobblet. I didn't want to like it, but I did. What is it with me and abstracts? A year ago I was sure I hated them, and then my most played game of last year was Ingenious. This is an abstract that the kid and the brother-in-law will probably both play (like TAMSK) so I added it to the list.

Travel Blokus - It occurred to me one day, what if I go on holiday/to the beach/shopping with my sister's family, and brother-in-law and I are trapped in some completely dull situation (e.g. waiting for fish and chips, everybody else watching Harry Potter on DVD) and we don't have a game??? Well, he wouldn't care, but that's my valuable gaming time he's wasting! What if he doesn't like Pico 2? In fear of this situation, I added Travel Blokus to the wishlist. In my dreams, even the kid would play it with me.

That's all the priority 1 games from the wish list. When I've got a spare couple of days, I'll write up the priority 2s...

A vow of silence

I played Mystery of the Abbey last night, where I was forced to take a vow of silence for the first time. It was a 3 player game with Ness, who's a very good Settlers of Catan player, and Justin, who's a board game geek and hence to be held in high regard. It was their first game of MotA.

I found this game to be unusual, in that people would ask "how many fat Franciscans do you have", and they would give some answer and I would be able to tell from what I knew which ones they had and so cross some off. I know that's how it's supposed to work, but it always seems to me that the answers don't give me very much information. I was able to cross off all the Templar brothers and all the thin novices and many more by listening to questions that I wasn't even a part of. Nevertheless, coming into Terce (I think), it was obvious the game was about to end, and we were all in it.

I checked my cards, and discovered that I had two secrets (Galbraith and Cuthbert), i.e. nobody had seen those cards at all. Justin asked me "how many fat Franciscans have you eliminated?" and the truth was I had eliminated all of the Franciscans, but if I admitted it he would know I had seen Galbraith and Cuthbert. Rather than give away my secrets, I had to take the vow of silence. That's the first time I've seen anyone do that. A couple of turns later, I was standing outside the Capitulum, and Justin strolled in. He asked me if I'd seen Brother Cyrille (I hadn't) and I asked him if he'd seen Father William (he had). That narrowed it down to Sergio or Cyrille for me, so I decided to take a chance. I went and accused Cyrille, and was correct.

That's the second time I've stolen a game at the door of the Capitulum, and although I have some sympathy for the people I steal them from, that's how the game works. It occurred to me a couple of times that I really wished I could remember what questions people asked previously, which suggests that my note taking is inadequate. After all, if someone asks "how many Franciscan Fathers do you have?", chances are that they have one and they're hoping the answer will be one so that they know who it is you have. Later on, if you haven't spotted all of the FFs, you at least have a note that someone was asking about them and there's a slight chance they're both around somewhere.

I also realised that I should be asking about fat/hooded/bearded with a view to making revelations. I don't often use those characteristics, but if I can eliminate the last fat guy with a good question, I can at least make a revelation. It seems to be rare that revelations win the game (simply because it's a long way to walk to make a lot of them), but it's a strategy worth trying. Anyway, the game last night was a good one, with a lot of hard thinking. I've got myself 200 extra suspect sheets, so we should be able to play this for a while yet.