Monday, March 27, 2006

It's Here! It's Here! (parts 2 and 3 of 6)

Woohoo! Toys! More parcels arrived today - the T-shirts from Meeple People and the parcel from Robbirob containing PitchCar, PitchCar l'Expansion, and Ca$h'n'Gun$. We had another little boy visiting at the time, so we ripped it open and played it immediately. Cool game! The kid is pretty excited...

First Plays of C&C: Ancients

As mentioned below, my copy of C&C: Ancients turned up last week and I was hunting for an opponent. Before Arnold Horshack even posted his reply, I'd emailed him and on Sunday afternoon he came over for a game.

We started with the first scenario because the book suggests that. I think it has fewer unit types and terrain types, and given that we spent a long time learning the numbers for what we had, it was a good idea.

In the first game, I was the Syracusans and Arnold took the Carthaginians. I studied the board for hints as to how to play, and I could see a few important factors - I had 3 archer units which covered most of the battle plain, and he had only 1 or 2; I had cavalry which were more mobile than his chariots; I had a big lump of heavy infantry in the centre flank. Did those things matter? I didn't know.

My strategy then was to use the archers to cover the advance of the heavy infantry, and to be totally confused about what to do with the cavalry. As the Carthaginians advanced, the archers started getting a few shots in, but they only hit on green so they were fairly hopeless. Arnold attacked on my left flank without making much impact, but my flanks were difficult to see how to use so I kept advancing the infantry. Suddenly I realised I was within 2 hexes of the Carthaginian line and I'd run out of cards to play in the centre. Oh stupidity! I was within range of any light infantryman with a bow, sling, javelin or pointy rock, and I couldn't defend myself! Oh woe!

Luckily, Arnold had nothing in the centre either, and didn't mow me down like I deserved. He got the chariots into action on the flanks and we argued there for a while. Then I got lucky and picked up a Leader Advance or something, and took my heavy troops into the fray. Oh boy, those guys hit hard! I concentrated on one of his leader units and eliminated it but couldn't take out the leader. But then I was again left with no cards in the middle. Very unfortunately for Arnold, he didn't have any centre cards either, and couldn't even get his leader to run away. When I eventually found a Move 2 Units in the Centre card, they mowed down the leader and advanced to break the Carthaginian line.

I have forgotten most of the details of the fighting on the flanks, but the battle was decided by the heavy troops in the centre of the field. With the Carthaginians unable to defend, the heavy infantry took 4 flags. I can't remember where the other one came from. Then we swapped sides. I won't mention the game of Star Munchkin that the kid made us play in the middle.

So in the second game, Arnold had seen the way I had won, and started off in a very scary fashion. He formed a solid line with his infantry, and advanced the entire line, twice. I looked at the very very big Syracusan heavy infantry, and quaked with fear. I decided to ignore that part of the field. I sent my chariot and light cavalry up on the left flank to see if I could cause some trouble there. I didn't, and was repulsed. The Syracusan line dropped off the forces on the left flank, and the massive centre engaged in close combat.

The first attack went very well - for me. I think I took a little bit of damage, but on the battle backs I got some good hits and managed to force one unit to retreat. Those auxilia are more dangerous than I had given them credit for - they get crossed swords and 3 dice in close combat. I even managed to wipe out one of the units that was attacking, and the leader had to flee to somewhere else.

I had done well there, and I had a Move All Light Units card. I put the light cavalry behind his line where it could fire at a badly wounded heavy infantry, and moved all of my other light units into the gap in his line and to outflank him. It was just a massacre then - the gap in the line had prevented units from being supported by 2 other units, and those that were not killed had to retreat. I took a couple of Momentum Advances, and with the help of my leader knocked out some more units. It was fairly bloody. The heavy infantry retreated to the safety of a light cavalry unit, only to discover that it was my light cavalry behind enemy lines. They cut him down. I told my archers to Darken the Sky, and the enemy fled. I won this scenario 5 flags to 4.

The turning point seems to have been when I repelled the attack from his line of heavy infantry. I really did much better then than I expected to. Maybe it was because I had 2 leaders in my line, against 1 in his? I wasn't so susceptible to retreating? Or I got lucky with the dice.

The two games took about 4 hours, of which a lot of time was spent referring to the rule book and looking at the reference sheets. As we get to know the game, it will go quicker. We kept forgetting about the possibility of Evading, and when we did it only worked once anyway. However the game felt really really good. I like the idea of commanding a whole line of troops to advance. The heavy infantry were very very scary, and the cavalry were manoeuvrable. The leaders were very useful, and need to be kept in the battle. We're hoping to play it again soon. I want elephants!

Saturday Morning Shopping

It was pay day sometime last week, so I had an appointment with the FLGS. I decided to make it Saturday morning so I could take the kid along. As the FLGS is in a pretty nice suburb (Paddington), we even took Mum with us.

Well, maybe I got a little bit excited, but I had been waiting a long time for Zertz. And I needed a copy of Blokus Duo during the month and didn't have one. And the kid has decided he likes Carcassonne now. And Reiner Knizia's Poison has been sitting there waiting for me to buy it for *so* long, and it's prettty cheap. We had to quickly leave the game store while I still had some money left.

We evacuated to the coffee shop across the road because we were all hungry and Mum likes coffee. This is not a blog about coffee shops so I will spare you the details, but I was sitting there opening the games and noticed a HORRIBLE ERROR. In the Carcassonne box, there were no yellow meeples! I always play yellow, so that was a disaster. I thought maybe they had changed the colours or something, but I checked the rules and realised that there had indeed been a mistake, and only the yellow meeples were missing. So I took it back across the road to the shop and got another copy with the correct meeples. How can I make funny photos without all the right meeples?

The bill for the coffee shop came to $40, which is as much as I'd spent on Carcassonne or nearly Zertz, so I didn't feel so bad about spending money on games.

Then we headed off to another games store which I don't often get to, mostly because Mum likes the factory outlets nearby. The kid and I had a look at their really quite large range, and I told him he could have one. He chose Star Munchkin. Plugh. Despite the large range of games (Entdecker, they had Entdecker!) I can't really get excited by this store. They're just there to sell things, which is fine for normal people but not for obsessed fanatics like me.

On the other hand, the people at Presents of Mind told me they are thinking of starting a games night at their store. YEAH BABY! I expect they would include the GIPF Project games in what they want to play, and I'm very interested in meeting more opponents for those. I'm hoping that when they get it going they advertise on the Settlers of Brisbane mailing list.

I also managed to find a couple of small plastic boxes - one for Memoir '44 and the expansions (and C&C: Ancients lives in there too now), and another for carrying a small number of games to a games night - I didn't previously have a small one with a lid. The essential requirement for such a box is that it be able to carry Domaine and a couple of other games, as I have many popular games in the same sized box as Domaine. I look forward to not lugging the bigger boxes around so much.

So when we got home with all this loot, I went back to putting stickers on C&C:A blocks. No rest for the wicked.

Friday, March 24, 2006

It's Here! It's Here! (part 1 of 6)

I have been waiting on 6 parcels from places all over the world, and one finally arrived yesterday. It was C&C Ancients from GMT Games. I have started reading the rule book, and stared in amazement and trepidation at all the wooden blocks and stickers, and I'm very excited about it. Not sure where to get an opponent from at the moment, as the kid refuses to play "Memoir without miniatures" and Cyberkev doesn't like war themes. I'm hoping I can find someone at BIG - they play DBA, they might go for this. Nevertheless I went to the GMT site again today and preordered the expansion. Too many options never hurt anyone.

The other parcels I'm waiting for are:
* Settlers & Runebound expansions, from Boulder Games
* Return of the Heroes, from Boulder Games
* Frank's Zoo, from Milsims
* T-shirts from Meeple People
* PitchCar, from Robbirob

Monday, March 20, 2006

Nickel and Dime Revisited

Man, you guys have been ripped off! For the second time this week I have been entering a great geeklist only to slip with the fingers and have Firefox chuck the whole damn thing in the bit bucket. Speaking of "bit bucket", that rhymes with what I said on both occasions. Having lost the enthusiasm to fill in all those teensy weensy fields, and opting for a medium which I can back up more easily, I'll post the idea here instead.

So I'm still messing with mkgray's BGG XML API. I had already been doing that sort of thing, but parsing XML is heaps easier than screen-scraping HTML which can be changed at Aldie's whim (and he is within his rights to do so). The latest question I have answered is: "in 2005, for which designer did you record the most plays?" You get one guess as to who came out first. But the other places were interesting.

1. Reiner Knizia - 89 plays - who else, really? 15 different games, including Lost Cities, Lord of the Rings - the Confrontation, Fish Eat Fish, Ingenious. Nobody else had a chance. It's almost fashionable to bag Reiner, but he produces so many games, and many of them are GREAT. This year, Rheinlander will score well for him (I hope).

2. Richard Borg - 29 plays - designer of Liar's Dice, Wyatt Earp, Memoir '44. All three are great games. I have bought Liar's Dice and 3 expansions to Memoir '44 this year, so he will stay on the list.

3. Bruno Faidutti - 23 plays - designer of Castle, Key Largo, Mystery of the Abbey and Citadels. I think M. Faidutti is often overlooked for the Germans like Kramer and Teuber, but I think he is one of the best. Not only does he produce great games, he has a great web site, and appears to be a nice guy. I have read the rules for Key Largo and Diamant in the original French, and either I don't understand them or he's pretty funny too.

4. Mike Fitzgerald - 19 plays - 3 types of Mystery Rummy and Wyatt Earp. My wife likes his sort of games, and I am glad he's made such good ones for me to play with her.

5. Emiliano Sciarra - 17 plays - Bang! Sorry, I'm over this game.

6. Kris Burm - 17 plays - TAMSK, YINSH, DVONN. I did not expect to see Kris Burm all the way up here, but he's only going to become more popular.

7. Serge Laget - 16 plays - Castle, Shadows Over Camelot, Mystery of the Abbey.

8. Jacques Zeimet - 16 plays - Schicki Micki, Hamsterrolle.

9. Kevin G. Nunn - 15 plays - Nobody But Us Chickens

10. Michael Schacht - 15 plays - Coloretto, Hansa. After playing Web of Power this year, I am hoping to play many more.

OK, tired now. The next designers were Jim Winslow, Klaus Teuber, Dan Smith, Uwe Rosenberg, Wolfgang Kramer and Kory Heath.

If you'd like the stats run for you, just let me know your BGG user name and I can do it.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

New Top 10 Disparities

(a sequel to Crazy Crazy Man)

Aldie has implemented a new way of calculating averages at BGG, resulting in my top 10 disparities (between my ratings and the 'geek's) being wildly readjusted. It's getting late, but I can't resist bagging a few of these games again.

Taboo - my rating 1.0, BGG 5.54 - this is the sort of game that makes all your friends look stupid. It also rewards people whose mouth works without input from their brain. I hate it. I hate most games where people shout endlessly.

Cranium - my rating 2.0, BGG 5.92 - it's a prerequisite to play this gane that you are very very drunk and very very stupid. Or so it has seemed to me when I have played it.

Poker - my rating 3.0, BGG 6.89 - Guys, if you have to bet money to make it interesting, it's a BORING game. Flop, river, don't give a rat's rectum, this is dull. Let's make a world series of Euphrat & Tigris, now *that* would be exciting.

Pictionary - my rating 2.0, BGG 5.86 - Hey, everybody in the world can't draw. Let's make a game where they're required to do that! Hey, everybody in the world, you're STUPID.

Maginor - my rating 2.0, BGG 5.70 - the kid and I played half a game of this once. Luckily the phone rang and interrupted us. It was just Rock Paper Scissors over and over. Dull dull dull. I own 13 Knizia games, this is not in the same class as any of them. I would rather eat the box than play the game.

MindTrap - my rating 1.0, BGG 4.55 - at least BGG agrees it's a pretty bad game. I reckon I can answer 80-90% of the questions before they're even finished being asked. Optimal strategy for me would be to never roll the dice, just answer one question after another. That's really boring for my opponents, so I play suboptimally to keep them happy. Not a game.

Magic: The Gathering - my rating 4.0, BGG 7.29 - I really think I'm being quite fair. I just don't find it interesting. The rules lawyering completely kills it for me.

Mystery of the Abbey - my rating 10.0, BGG 6.79 - Bruno rocks, everyone else is wrong.

Stock Market Game - my rating 3.0, BGG 6.20 - How long since you played the game? When I was a kid (say, 25 years ago) I might have rated this above a 6. It has not aged well. The kid loves it.

500 - my rating 4.0, BGG 7.09 - Call me a magpie, but I don't much like games played with normal cards. Horrible weird things that they are. When I play this again I might improve my rating.

Good night.

Dungeons & Deagons 2

Yesterday I hosted Dungeons and Deagons 2, the sequel to Dungeons and Deagons which was held in May last year. It is nothing to do with the game D&D, it's just called that because I live in a suburb called Deagon, and as that's a long way from most of the people I game with, the location is a large factor in the success of events held at my house. All of the attendees this year live on the north side, and in May last year I didn't know any of them, which partly explains why it has been so long between events.

As it's such a long way to my place (as much as a 45 minute drive from some places, oh my!) the Dungeons and Deagons events have been designed to last longer than a normal gaming event, and so have to be held on the weekend, starting after lunch and going into the night. Last year we played Talisman, Wizard Kings and Plunder, and my hope for this year was to play some longer games again. Matters were complicated though by the number of attendees. Last year we had 5 (which was still difficult except for Talisman) and this year we had 7. Boy oh boy, that's a hard number. There are some 7 player games, but as they're often party-type games, I wasn't very interested in playing those. Cyberkev and I wanted to play Primordial Soup, but that takes 4 and to put the two most prolific game teachers in a 2 hour game leaving the other 3 to their own devices didn't seem fair. Particularly when one of them was the kid who tests the patience of even his patient and caring dad.

While we were still 6, we played Bluff and Elfenland. Then when the 7th arrived, there was a long debate where we were trying to sort out how to play Flying Carpet and Hare and Tortoise at the same time when they both needed to be taught by the same person who also wanted to play both. In the end we gave up on that plan and got out the second copy of Flying Carpet and Wayne explained the rules to both sets of players at the same time. I had played before, but as the rules are vague and I didn't have an English copy to refer to, I didn't think I could teach it. It was quite funny how the games turned out. The other game had 3 players and few buildings and they seemed to play nice. Our game had 4 players and lots of buildings (too many, I admit) and we were at each other's throats for the whole game. I managed to avoid most of the conflict by coming dead last, but it was brutal at the front. The rules are definitely inadequate. I haven't seen an official rule for what to do if you can't do anything, which does happen if the game is crowded. I would usually only play this with kids who will believe any rule I tell them, because trying to play by the official rules doesn't work.

After Flying Carpet, we were stuck again on what to play. As we'd at least solved the Flying Carpet problem, we negotiated to run simultaneous games of Hare and Tortoise and Bazaar. Hare and Tortoise is a very interesting game - it looks like a dicefest but there's not a dice in sight. I was thinking of getting this to play with niece and nephew, but even the kid had trouble figuring out what to do in a timely fashion, so I don't think 5yo nephew would cope at all. The kid was last throughout the game, and jugged the hare at every opportunity, and managed to get all three lettuce eaten by rolling the right numbers. I mostly went for the positional numbers and did fairly well out of those. I also benefitted from getting to tortoises and lettuces first and disturbing the plans of the other guys. I actually managed to win, with the kid dead last and the other guys a little behind me. I'd like to play again, but the fairy-tale tone of the illustrations just doesn't match the game.

After dinner we played Nuclear War at my request, as I'd seen other people having a lot of fun playing it. Yes, it was fun, but regular readers of the blog will know I don't go for fun games so much. Also, there's something disturbing about the theme of the game. Maybe if I wasn't so concerned about the idiots in charge of the U.S.A., Australia and Israel (hey, just who is in charge there now anyway?) I wouldn't mind so much. Maybe we could play a nice game about detaining prisoners of war in violation of the Geneva Convention instead?

As Cyberkev had been eliminated early in Nuclear War, he had been studying the rules to Oriente. It's technically my game, but he'd played before and I wasn't confident I understood well enough to teach it. In retrospect, the one bit I didn't know was that the lord you have persists across seasons, I was thinking they must be discarded or something. But after a comprehensive rules explanation, which was entirely necessary, we got started. We discussed what we were doing A LOT - the game sort of requires it, I suppose, with alliances between players shifting all the time, and samurai having nothing better to do than attack people - so it went pretty slowly, but it was interesting. It's definitely the sort of game I'd like to play regularly. Wayne managed to win. He was the shogun when the game ended, but that wasn't why he won as he'd had good points from being an akindo earlier. Of course the game ended just at the wrong time, when we all had plans to make a big move. Except me, of course, a harmless nofu wouldn't cause any trouble. I was just sitting quietly with my friends in the square...

It was now pretty late, and Cyberkev and Mrs Cyberkev went home, but the rest of us pulled out Cloud 9 and played two games of that. For a game with dice and cards, it's surprisingly not random by the time you get to the end. There were some spectacular crashes, often with me driving, but we did manage to make it to cloud 9 at one stage. It's not a bad game, though not one that I particularly aspire to play.

After that, it was bed time. Today is housework day, and the dog wants to go for a swim. Of course, while I was writing this the kid wandered in and asked what we were going to play...

Gaming Hangover

One very good thing about gaming is that I drink less alcohol than I normally would, simply because I am more often driving home afterwards. Because I am invariably rushing to get to a gaming appointment at 7 after arriving home at 6, I sometimes skip dinner and so I'm eating less as well. Then after we finish at 11 or 11:30 or so, I drive home and grab a G&T and surf the web for a while until I've got that game of Rheinlander out of my head and am able to sleep, resulting in bed at about 1am or so. So I'm sleeping less as well. Is this good for me? It can't be much worse than sitting around drinking beer watching TV I suppose. I have had a couple of mornings where I just did not want to get out of bed, but due to my Circadian rhythms being firmly committed to going to work I haven't had much choice. Goddam Circads, whatever they are!

So here's the story of the week - Wednesday night Monsters Menace America & Betrayal at House on the Hill & The Great Dalmuti; Thursday night Rheinlander & Trias & the less said about Frank's Zoo the better; Friday night Hoity Toity & Fearsome Floors & Cartagena & Nodwick; Saturday was Dungeons and Deagons 2 which deserves its own article. Cartagena has rushed to the top of my most-played-this-year list with 11 plays so far, and I think I need a rest from it for a moment. Rheinlander and Trias have been the highlights of the week - pity I came second in both of those :-(.

I wandered out to the LGS on Friday and bought Bluff, and we've played it 4 times already since then. It's not an earth-shatteringly good game, but it is a *great* filler. The components are all plastic so you can even play it while you're eating. Just be careful which cup you sip from and which you shake.

Monday, March 13, 2006

More GIPF for Dummies

(a sequel to GIPF for Dummies Like Me)

I played a game of GIPF against a real person yesterday, and as good as GF1 is, a real person provides a much more satisfying experience. But this article is not about that game, this article is about strategy. My ambition is to distil some GIPF maxims, such as are used to teach Go (although i don't remember any of them). Here are some attempts.

Run away from 3 on the 5 line. For black, it is suicide to enter onto the c7 line from either end, because he can be immediately captured. This is obvious with a bit of thought, but the trouble with GIPF is that sometimes you're thinking about other things. If you can make this rule an automatic instinct, you can avoid at least one class of stupid mistakes.

The centre point is safe.
No matter what white does, it's not possible to capture the black piece on the centre point, because all of white's chances to make 4 in a row involve that point. The centre point is also handy to push people up against, just make sure you don't lose it.

Destroy your opponent's structures. In this diagram, white is bulding a structure which will be useful under some circumstances. I like to disrupt their plans by doing this:

I don't like the idea of my opponent having 3 in a row, no matter what the position of the game. If I break up their structures, they have to work harder to threaten me.

If you're a GIPF expert, or even another dummy, I'd like your opinions.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Fun is a Genre

Never let it be said I don't have a crackpot opinion for every occasion. Today's topic for discussion is that "fun" is a genre of board games, and that not all board games we might choose to play (a) are fun and (b) should be fun. What do I mean by fun? I mean games that make me laugh. I explicitly do not mean games that I have a good time playing - I contend that that is quite different to fun. Let me tell you some fun games: Mystery of the Abbey, Pick Picknic, Pirate's Cove, PitchCar, Ca$h'n'Gun$, Nobody But Us Chickens, Battle of the Bands, Munchkin. Bruno Faidutti has the magnificent ability to make games that are fun AND strategic, I guess Key Largo could be added in there. However most of the rest of the time fun games rate fairly lowly for me - they are ego and supergo games. Fun games make me laugh, but often I do not much care whether I win or not. Laughing is great, sometimes...

Do you like horror movies? I don't go out of my way to watch them, but I watched The Village and decided that it was a totally awesome movie. I loved it. Was it fun? Nup. Sometimes everyone likes to do stuff other than have fun, just like they like to eat things that aren't sweet. Fun games are like comedies - sometimes what you want, generally popular, but sometimes when you want to have the crap scared out of you or cry rivers of tears or be thrilled, a comedy is not what you want.

Using the movie analogy, I have come up with some new genres of board games:
* experience games - Arkham Horror, Shadows Over Camelot (corresponds to horror movies)
* fun games - Ca$h'n'Gun$, Munchkin, Bang! (corresponds to comedies)
* thinky games - GIPF, Tikal (corresponds to thrillers)
* crap games - Cranium, Pictionary (corresponds to chick flicks)
* kids' games - Goosebumps, Pokemon Master Trainer (corresponds to kids' movies)

I like experience games, I like thinky games, I will play fun games. I think the kid goes for experience games and fun games (and of course kids' games). I guess his thinky bits are not fully evolved yet... Come to think of it, he would probably even play crap games, if he could find an opponent.

So, opinions? I will probably expand on these ideas in a later article, particularly with relation to how the reason we play games affects the genre of games we choose. But right now, my back is hurting, the tokay has run out, and my bed is calling me. Goodnight.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

What's a Hot Game?

BoardGameGeek has a section on the profile page for Hot Games. This section is difficult to fill in because (a) you need to enter the ID of the game, which is OK as long as Die Macher is your only hot game, and (b) I don't know what a hot game is anyway and Aldie has declined to tell me. I have been experimenting with determining my Hot Games using the BGG XML API, but with little success.

Undoubtedly rating a game highly correlates positively with it being hot. I also find that my hot games are ones that I've played recently. So I have tried adding my rating to a factor based on how recently I played the game. By this metric, my 10 hottest games are Rheinländer, Shadows over Camelot, Blokus, Elfenland, Bazaar, Domaine, Amazonas, Geschenkt, Arkham Horror and Battle of the Bands. Hmm... it didn't come out *so* bad.

Where it seems to be falling down is on games I am a little bit bored with. Rheinländer is definitely my hottest game of the moment - I played it for the first time on Thursday night and think it could well become a favourite. However Shadows Over Camelot, although it is a great game for a big group, doesn't hold many mysteries for me. So I tried adding an extra bonus for games that I haven't played very many times. The hot 10 then becomes Rheinländer, Bazaar, Geschenkt, Arkham Horror, Medici, Torres, Great Ballon Race, El Grande, Elfenland and Shadows Over Camelot. There's still something missing there... Medici was an interesting game, but I don't particularly aspire to be good at auctions. Not sure how to encode that at the moment.

I think my hot 10 is "games I want to play most right now". That means that old games, even great games, are not hot. New games that I liked are very very hot. The hot games are the games that I read about when I surf the 'geek. I'll continue work on determining them automatically and let you know when I make the breakthrough that allows me to read someone's mind.

Anyway, here's my real hot 10 that I would enter at BoardGameGeek if I could get a connection: Rheinländer, Bazaar, Arkham Horror, Torres, Trias, Evo, Ra, Cathedral, PÜNCT, Web of Power. But not necessarily in that order.

Great Days in Gaming

This morning I have been working on my program which uses the BGG XML API to produce all sorts of useless statistics. I can proudly say that my program is now more useless than ever! I have added in the ability to suck down games played, so the latest feature is "Best Days in Gaming". Here's how it works - for each day, find all the games you played. Find your ratings for each of those games and subtract 5, so that bad games count as negative points. Multiply the number of times you played by the rating, but more than 1 play of a game counts as only 1.5 (otherwise playing 10 games of Nobody But Us Chickens would come out as my best day ever). Total all the numbers. That's the rating for the day. It turned out surprisingly well for me. Here are my top 10 gaming days ever.

#10: Friday, June 24 2005: A Free Radicals meeting at Kracken's flat, and my first game of Euphrat & Tigris. I must have played Trias with Snacko in the afternoon, and then played Samurai, Monsters Menace America, and E&T in the evening.

#9: Saturday, July 09 2005: Day 2 of ConVic 2, the day I met Fralissa. We played Cosmic Encounter, Fearsome Floors, and Around the World in 80 Days. On the same day I managed a game of Power Grid, a game of Hansa, and even Hamsterrolle.

#8: Saturday, December 03 2005: What a day this was - a QUGS meeting in the morning and a Free Radicals meeting in the evening. We played Key Largo at each (after I had read the rules in French the previous night). At QUGS we played Dungeonville, Orcz, Arkham Horror. At Free Radicals we played Cloud 9, Gulo Gulo, Saboteur, and Frantic Frankfurt.

#7: Friday, March 03 2006: The most recent Critical Mass meeting. We played Coloretto, Torres, Domaine and Tongiaki. Strange that my highest-rated Critical Mass meetings were the ones where Leister beat me all the time.

#6: Friday, May 06 2005: This was the first ever Critical Mass meeting. Leister showed us Star Wars Epic Duels, then beat me twice at Lord of the Rings: the Confrontation. Then we played Domaine, Caribbean, and Fish Eat Fish to close the night.

#5: Sunday, February 12 2006: This was a BIG meeting where no board gamers at all turned up (except Cyberkev, whom I brought). While the miniatures guys played their interminably long games, Cyberkev taught me Coda and Australian Menagerie, and I taught him Kung Fu Fighting, Scarab Lords and Domaine. When there were more players, we played Ca$h'n'Gun$.

#4: Saturday, May 14 2005: This day does not stick in my mind. but I think it must have been after an order of games arrived from Milsims. My first game of Trias, my first game of Odin's Ravens, and a game of St Petersburg, all against the kid. It looks like we must have played Mystery of the Abbey with mum in the evening. Not sure this day belongs up here, but the quality of the opponents is not taken into account.

#3: Wednesday, December 28 2005: This was Christmas holidays, when Brendan and one of his daughters came round and we played games all day. Key Largo, Ricochet Robot, Pirate's Cove, Coloretto, Blokus and Vinci.

#2: Saturday, September 24 2005: I played Pit with the family in the morning. and in the evening went to Kracken's house for a Free Radicals meeting. We played Coloretto, For Sale, Mystery of the Abbey, Tongiaki, Castle and Blokus.

#1: Wednesday, February 22 2006: This was a Book Realm meeting where I played my first game of Evo and my first game of Cathedral, after meeting Cyberkev for lunch and playing Pico 2. Other games played were Coloretto, Pick Picknic, Ra and Coda.

Wow, there were some great sessions in there. The metric does tend to favour whole day events, so I might fiddle with a bit because many of my games meetings are only 4 hours. Anyway, with the Australian Games Expo and ConVic 4 coming up later this year, I'm expecting some more great days ahead.

Monday, March 06, 2006

What's the Arkham Horror Like?

Justin Walduck asked of an earlier post, "what's the Arkham Horror like?" It's like sitting at home waiting for the phone call that told you your mum died. It's intense, the whole game is spent on the edge of disaster. After the 6 hours we played for, we were exhausted. And we had a relatively easy win.

We had 4 characters - I was the magician and the photographer, and the kid was the sister and the gangster. The Ancient One was Yig. The sister was blessed, and we realised pretty quickly that being blessed is really really handy. I sent my guys in to seal a gate each, and the photographer went insane and the magician sealed a gate with an elder sign. The kid's guys went to fight some monsters - the gangster is awesome against monsters without physical resistance. The photographer recovered and sealed the gate with an elder sign. The sister sealed a gate with an elder sign. The gangster went around killing things with his Tommy Gun. He had a pile of monster trophies. The photographer went in and sealed a gate with clue tokens. There was some sort of ritual being performed which meant we had to discard 3 spells to prevent it, but the streets were full of monsters. The sister and the gangster went in and cleaned them out, then the monsters descended from the sky to attack them, so the killed them as well. The magician came and discarded 3 spells to prevent the ritual. There was some sort of occult fete in the streets, so the sister and the gangster went there to go shopping for elder signs, and found one. The gangster had killed so many monsters he got appointed police deputy. He drove the police van right into a gate. The sister went through a gate as well. She sealed her gate with clues, he sealed his with an elder sign and went insane, we won the game.

My opinion of the characters - photographer was useless. His special power of "take 2 encounters, choose one" meant that he was always suffering the lesser of 2 evils which was still pretty evil. The magician was reasonably decent, but weaker after he lost his spells. The sister was handy with her blessing, and could eventually fight OK. The gangster was great, mowing things down with his tommy gun and not taking much damage.

But the game is intense. I didn't know the rules particularly well, and there are LOTS of them. Much more complex than Runebound, for example. We spent a lot of time checking rules. And the Mythos phase is terrifying, and it happens all the time. After we had sealed the gate in the Woods, it was noticeably calmer, but two of the bad gates had such big (yellow) monsters on them that we couldn't even go near them. Some of the monsters are so dangerous that wherever they are, you don't go. We did see one item that would take out all monsters in an area, but we couldn't afford it.

The game is (unfortunately) a little like Talisman. This happens, roll a die to see whether you get knocked out, go insane, or get lost in time and space. In Runebound I feel like the dice are blessed and I will usually succeed, in Arkham Horror and Talisman they are out to get me. Maybe d6 are evil? The photographer's continued crappy luck was very wearing, it was only because the other characters had some good luck that we succeeded.

Compared to the Arkham Horror, Betrayal at House on the Hill is a happy walk in the park on a spring day. It's over in an hour and at least somebody will win. Arkham Horror is much harder work, and depressing if you lose. Maybe you could roleplay it, but your characters might end up killing themselves...

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Crazy Crazy Man

I just wrote an app using the BGG XML API to find the games I own with the highest disparity between my rating and the average on the 'geek. I thought I'd quickly discuss the top 5 entries.

1. Cranium - average 5.92, my rating 2. I intend to never play this again. It is the most party of party games, and involves lots of skills neither I nor anyone I play with ever possesses. Inevitably, all the players are drunk. There's lots of screaming. My wife is really bad at it. There are *so* many better ways to be spending my life than playing this. I actually like to play games because it is an alternative to drinking myself into a stupour every night, so a game that people play only when they're drunk or Christian is not acceptable.

2. Magic: The Gathering CCG: average 7.29, my rating 4. It's just boring. It's a whole culture I don't want to be part of. Some of the cards have great art and great ideas, but I just don't care.

3. Mystery of the Abbey: average 6.79, my rating 10. I love this game. It has great production, it has fun bits, it has thinkiness and tension, it has a bell! It's much much better than Cluedo. You can drink Benedictine while you play it. I play this with my wife and kid, and I don't think we will ever stop having fun with it. The freeform questions mean there's always the chance you can infer or guess something on the flimsiest of evidence, so you know you are taking a risk but it might be worth it. This games is rated 0.22 below TATATA! - how can that work? TATATA! is a boring game with shonky Italian rules, Mystery of the Abbey is a masterpiece!

4. Stock Market Game: average 6.18, my rating 3. This is a pretty boring game. Many of the choices you might be able to make, e.g. where to move, are taken away from you. This game stinks of the time before people knew how to make great games, and it isn't punished for it. My guess is that most of the people rating it haven't played it in the last 20 years.

5. Trias: average 6.91, my rating 10: Trias is a cool little game, it has dinosaurs and the board keeps moving. There's heaps of thinkiness in there, and screwage. Maybe if Days of Wonder released a nice version it would score very well. As it is, people rate Trias below TATATA! as well. I don't get it. Trias is one of my id games. The question is, it is *me* that's crazy, or all of you?

When mkgray gets the BGG XML API doing a few more fun things I will release my app to the world at large. If you'd like to see what it can do at the moment, just send me your BGG id and I'll run it on you and send you the results. You crazy crazy man, you.

First Plays this Weekend

Quite apart from the Elsom Horror described below, it has been a big weekend of gaming. Friday night was the Critical Mass meeting where I finally got to play Torres, after getting it for Christmas. I was hoping it would be a lighter game than it is, because the bits would appeal to non-gamers and I would be able to play it more regularly. However, as it is, it's a game that appeals to me, it's just harder to find opponents.

Also on Friday night I played Domaine, still my favourite game. I have played this too much against beginners, and this time I was up against Leister and Pryllin, both of whom know their gaming. I made some classic mistakes - overextended an underdefended domaine, and built a wall to give Leister a huge domaine when there wasn't much hope he'd be able to make it himself. Pryllin noticed that I was still in a position to win, and prevented that, and then ended up being in a king-maker position. He decided to punish me for making the stupid mistake that put Leister in the lead, and I ended up coming last. Oh, if only if only if only. If only I had the sense to play cautiously against good gamers.

Saturday morning at QUGS we started with an 8 player game of The Great Balloon Race. It's an excellent game which even 5yos could play, so I need to find a copy. Can't see it at any of the on-line stores though :-(.

I then played my first game of El Grande. It was an OK game, though there is something about placing bits to take influence that I just can't cope with. I noticed it in Himalaya and Louis XIV, same as in this. It seems to me that there's always an arms race to dominate the valuable spaces, so rather than waste my pieces there I go somewhere else. That means that the valuable space is gotten cheap, and the player who got it seems to be completely unhindered on the rest of the board. Hmm, maybe need to practise that. Anyway, I came 3rd out of 5 in El Grande, so I did at least some things right.

After El Grande we played Medici, which was on my to-play-in-2006 list. It;s one of those auction games where you need experience to know how much things are worth. I had some minor successes in the game, but paid too much a couple of times. I think I came second last out of 6.

Next we played Amazonas, one of my favourite games. I taught it to 3 newbies. One player understood straight away. Another player had to ask maybe 7 times what the income cards did. Another player arrived late and got no rules explanation at all, other than "do this now". I passed up the first native (first round) to get ahead in the race for camps. I had 5 different samples by the end of 7 rounds and took the 5 point token. By the end of 14 rounds I had all my camps built. I ended up with 14 points. The guy who'd spent the entire game asking what the income cards did had finally sorted it out and got 14 points as well. The guy who understood what he was doing had got stuck behind other people in the camp building race, and came last (frustrating!). And the guy who still hasn't heard the rules got about 12 points I think, which is respectable. On a countback I lost to the other guy who had one more research token. We'd let him take the first round native for one silver, and that was about what won the game for him.

We finished up yesterday with Modern Art. Another auction game where you don't know how much things are worth! I made some awful mistakes, but I think in general my play is too conservative. I don't want to get involved in bidding prices up, but when a last round Krypto sells for $100,000, it probably would have been smart to be involved in that auction. Auction games aren't really my thing, but maybe with practice I will enjoy them more.

So that was another two games off the must-play-in-2006 list. Those still on the list are: Traders of Genoa, A Game of Thrones, Goa, Puerto Rico, Illuminati, Honor of the Samurai, Princes of Florence, 6 Nimmt!, Tichu, Backgammon and Scrabble. Better buy a Scrabble set I suppose, that could help.

The Elsom Horror

The kid and I are halfway through a game of The Arkham Horror. Suddenly today my niece and nephew turn up to visit for the afternoon - their surname is Elsom. My nephew is 5 years old, interested in games, and can't sit still. It's rainy outside and the ground is soggy, so they'll be staying inside. Arkham Horror has 20 decks of cards, 15 piles of chits, and we have 4 character cards and the GOO all covered in chits. What are my chances of finishing the game? If only Lovecraft was here to record this, he could write the scariest story you've ever read.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Building a Gaming Culture

BoardGameGeek has become a fantastic success, both as the gaming database and community site that it was designed as, and incidentally as promotion for the hobby. Thousands of new members join each month. Some of those members get the disease, the compulsive obsession with the hobby that draws them to buy new games, read the site perpetually, and evangelise the hobby to anyone who'll stand still long enough to listen. I know these people exist, I am one. You probably are too. For those inductees into the hobby, there is one burning question: will you play with me?

The sad fact is that not everybody else in the world is a board game geek. It may not seem so, but we are members of a small and mostly unloved subculture. This means, like other small and unloved subcultures (choose one appropriate to your part of the world), we need to proselytise our hobby. Don't worry if you don't know what proselytism is, that's what this article's about anyway.

I can't claim to be an expert on finding gamers. I don't have the easy extroversion of a Derk Solko, the grand poo-bah authority of a Greg Schloesser, or the innocent energetic enthusiasm of a Tom Vasel. In fact, I'm a fat bastard with no friends. However I do have a passion for games and a few ideas. In the remainder of this article I'll be discussing groups of people you can try to convert, along with the best ideas I have had so far for getting them to play with me.

Firstly, your family. Your children make the best game buddies because they are captive in your house and you rule their lives and can make them go to bed if they take the Craftsman. Also, they usually love to play games, and you don't usually have to force them at all. Once your kid is about 4 there's a chance you'll be able to play interesting games with them and it gets better as they get older. If they're younger, you'll have to settle for some not-so-good games, but just think of the time spent as an investment for the future. A is for Apples to Apples, B is for Bohnanza, C is for Caylus... and who says bed-time stories can't be San Juan strategy guides?

And how did you get those kids anyway? Your spouse is a prime target for playing games. Many spouses barely tolerate games, but you may be lucky. My wife likes card games - 500, Rummy, etc, so I have more than my fair share of those sorts of games, and I mostly enjoy them (thanks Mike Fitzgerald!). If you have a spouse who is not so keen on games, but might be convinced, buy games to suit them. Trying to convince your spouse to play Diplomacy when they want to play Lost Cities is doomed to failure, and if there's one thing that can ruin your gaming life it's an unsupportive spouse.

The other big difficulty with family gaming is that your family may not have a gaming culture. My family used to have a television culture, and that's a hard habit to break. I think persistence pays off. I now know when my wife's favourite shows are, and design our gaming around that. As a result, she's happier to play games and will often game with us rather than watching her second-favourite shows. I often get away with turning the TV off, and on very rare nights it doesn't get turned on. After about a year of gentle suggestion, my wife is not surprised when the kid and I ask her to play a game with us.

What about playing games with friends? Well, what would I know about that? I have co-workers, and they're different. So I'll talk about how I might try to interest my wife's friends in gaming. The first thing is, let them know you're a gamer! They probably think you're a nerd anyway, it's not like their opinion of you will change. And they might be a gamer themselves! That actually happened to me three times last year! But usually they're not, yet. I like to leave games set up in the corner of the room, because someone might say "that looks interesting" and you can suck them in. Another tactic is to have your wife bitch about how many games you've got. Or to always carry a pile of games in your car. Anything to let people know that you'll play when they're ready. Of course, you could even suggest playing a game with them, but pick your target wisely (more on that later).

What about gaming with your workmates? If your work is anything like mine, your workmates know your personality better than most other people, and you know which of them are smart, funny, and polite under pressure. You can tell who you would like to game with, and can probably guess who would be interested. And the guys at work are quite possibly geeks just like you, which is a good start. I work with one guy who plays Magic: the Gathering, and one who plays on-line shooters, so at least they're not going to sneer at my hobby, and one day when they've seen the error of their ways I'll teach them Tigris & Euphrates. I do some game shopping during my lunch hour at work, so my workmates regularly notice I've got new toys, and occasionally show a little interest. If I had a regular lunch hour I'd bring along games to play, as I believe some of the guys wouldn't be able to resist a mental challenge. As it is, my workplace is not particularly friendly to gaming, but there's a lot of smart guys there, mostly with kids, and one day they will see the value of what I do.

Now, to BoardGameGeek. Wherever you are, even if you're in Victoria, Queensland, there's a game group forum for you. Or if there's not, just ask Aldie and he'll create one. I posted the first article in the Brisbane forum nearly a year ago, and have had several responses out of the blue since then, resulting in new people coming along to the various game groups. Keep an eye on the forum for your area, and with the massive growth in BGG membership you should find someone eventually.

I also recommend putting your town in your BGG profile. When I see a new poster from Australia I always check to see where they are located. Sometimes they don't say, but if they say they're in Brisbane I drop them a note and ask why I don't know them. I guess that doesn't work so well for Americans, but in any case, you are more likely to be invited to a gaming event if people know you're nearby.

Probably the best thing to happen for me due to my involvement on BGG was the formation of the Critical Mass game group. Mr Critical Mass used BGG to locate a number of Brisbane gamers, contacted them, arranged a hall, and a new game group was born. I think we're about to have our 12th monthly meeting this week. If there is no game group in your area, BGG makes it easy to locate players whom you can invite. Often they are just as game-deprived as you are, so they'd be ecstatic at your suggestion.

Now if you live in a place like Brisbane (pop. 2 million), you know for a fact that there are other gamers out there. It's just a matter of finding them. With some research (i.e. Google) I have found quite a few games groups of various persuasions in this city. I also searched for Yahoo groups related to board games, and found a few of those in Brisbane as well. I joined everything I could. Some games shops apparently have gaming at their stores. That doesn't happen for board games in Brisbane (tell me if it does!), but it's worth finding out about. If your game shop supports it, you could put a note in the window with your email address, asking to be contacted by other gamers. Apparently a lot of people find gamers at their church, and I guess you can try to find people in any similarly social group.

My most recent project for locating gamers has been the Settlers of Brisbane mailing list, for which I sent email to every Chess, Scrabble, Bridge, Go, board game, miniatures game, and role-playing game club I could find in the city, and asked them to forward my invitiation to join the list to their members. It was mostly ineffective, but I think I contacted a few people.

You can also try attending games conventions. You'll need to search the 'net for information on which cons are in your area, but there should be at least one within reasonable travelling distance. You never know who you'll meet there, and you're assured of a good time. With any luck, you'll find someone who's familiar with the gaming scene in your area.

You can also start a games group. Because nobody wants to drive to my house (hey, I live near the beach, I can't have everything) I haven't been able to do that, but when other people start games groups I play with them. If you have a private games group, you could try expanding it and taking it public. Some cafes and bars will let you play at their tables if you're buying their stuff and don't come at a busy time. Who knows who you'll meet? If you run a public games group, have you thought about running a convention? Brisbane has an organisation designed to run games conventions, there may be similar support in your area.

What else needs to be said here? I guess you should be careful not to annoy people. Your enthusiasm might be irritating rather than infectious, and demanding that games be played at every social occasion, while acceptable to me, will just lose you friends. Let people be drawn in, and if you don't succeed in drawing them, try someone else. You don't want to be known as that annoying guy with the games. Even if it's true.

The fundamental strategy for enriching your gaming lifestyle is the same as for playing Settlers: don't wait for it to come to you, get out there and make it happen. Let it be known you're a gamer. Attend events. Organise events. Talk to people. Ask people to play. Be prepared to do the work - researching games, learning rules, teaching games, calling people. It's not easy to develop your gaming life, but it's much more likely to happen if you do something about it.