Wednesday, November 29, 2006

The Hot Chick That Plays GIPF

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Finally, Fortunately, Fabulously

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 20, 2006


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Scrabble Cards

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

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

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

Friday, November 10, 2006

Games as Discrete Finite Systems

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 03, 2006

CyberKev Gets Lucky

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Hunch Gaming

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

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

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

At the second Hunch Gaming we played Thurn & Taxis.

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

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

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