Thursday, December 28, 2006

Educational Games Suck

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Do You Like Games You Don't Understand?

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

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

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

Saturday, December 23, 2006

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, December 22, 2006

I Had a Dream, Joe

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

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

Thursday, December 21, 2006

True Love

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

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

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

All Games can be Improved by the Addition of Special Powers

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

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Bring on the Hedonism!

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Zama - 202BC

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

It's That One!

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Abstract Fetish

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, December 03, 2006

A Stupid Thing Happened

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

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

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

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

What's In the Games Table?

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

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Disgusting Fat Lazy Game Collection

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

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

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

Friday, December 01, 2006

Send the Children to Transylvania!

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

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

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

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