Friday, March 30, 2007


My beautiful Scrabblette is a book person who visits libraries more often than I cook dinner for her. In fact, a quiet weekend getaway for us will often involve driving to some nearby town and looking in all of the secondhand and new book stores. We have a lot of books in our house, even though most of hers are still overseas.

I like books about games. I particularly like how-to-play books, strategy guides and books that give me an insight into the mathematical underpinnings of games. Here are some that I've encountered recently:

Connection Games: Variations on a Theme by Cameron Browne - Scrabblette found this at a library and I liked it so much my copy is on its way from Amazon. It describes hundreds of games and the maths behind them.

Oxford History of Board Games by David Parlett - David Parlett is the designer of Hare and Tortoise, the first winner of the Spiel des Jahre, so the man has some credibility. Amazon can't sell me this book and Scrabblette's research indicates there is no copy in any library in Australia (the nearest is Singapore) and the cheapest copy she can find for sale is $300. I don't think I'll be getting it soon.

A Gamut of Games by Sid Sackson - I found a copy of this in a secondhand book store in Bundaberg when we visited baby sister. I found it not as exciting as the connection games book, but it's interesting.

The Complete Mancala Games Book: How to Play the World's Oldest Board Games by Larry Russ - Mancala is one of those games that I've been trying to ignore, but since niece flogged me (using the wrong rules!) I've had to pay some attention. After I read this book I will make niece cry.

100 Strategic Games for Pen and Paper by Walter Joris - I've also been trying to ignore pen and paper games, but Kropki is such a cool game I have to pay attention. We'll see what else is out there when Scrabblette brings it back.

Board and Table Games from Many Civilizations by R. C. Bell - Scrabblette borrowed this and its sequel from the library, and they're interesting reading about the history of board games, but most of the games are SO DULL. The Game of Goose. PLUGH. I don't know how many parcheesi variants the world needs, but it's fewer than already exist.

I also ordered a book about the game called Boxes, or Dots and Dashes. Why would such a dull game need a book, you ask? I asked that too. I'll report back.

On Order

Scrabblette is off to the U.S. on a taxpayer-funded junket, but she's bringing back games for this particular taxpayer so let's not bitch too much. Here's what's on its way to various locations around the U.S. for her to collect.

Taluva - I just can't get those sexy bits out of my mind, I must have that game! When I went to place my order last week it was out of stock at Boards and Bits. Then it came into stock but I had to wait for Scrabblette to decide whether she wanted to buy anything. Then it went out of stock again. I ended up ordering it from Amazon instead. I didn't want to.

Urland and its expansion - For some reason, I decided that because I couldn't get Taluva I had to order this from Boards and Bits instead. I have Primordial Soup and EVO, it would be silly to not get the second game in the trilogy, huh?

Runebound expansions - Yes, I do like Runebound and I intend to play some of it with myself while Scrabblette's away. I ordered the Sands of Al-Kalim and about 6 smaller expansions. I've avoided the class decks because they're not so useful if you play solitaire.

Fiji - My Friedemann fetish continues. My kid is starting to love him too.

Hey, That's My Fish! - Scrabblette likes abstracts, and this is the highest rated abstract I don't already own. Oh yeah, this and the next 3 games are coming direct to me from the FIGS in Melbourne. B&B didn't have this in stock the first time I looked, then unhalfbricking got it, and I decided that since Julian games with me and Tom doesn't make it over here so much, I'd get it from Julian.

Cave Troll - I'm not sure I'm going to like this one, but I'll see. I first tried to order it with Orcz and Arena Maximus, and they both turned out to be turkeys, so I'm scared.

Funny Friends - I need my own copy so CyberKev doesn't know when I'm holding my swingers' parties. Baby psychotic tornado sister liked it so much she'll demand we play it next time she visits. Which reminds me, I'd better order some food in for Pete.

On the Underground - Yes, it's another train game! I like Trans Europa a lot, so I thought I'd push my luck.

Portable Adventures: Lair of the Rat King - I have Battle of the Bands which is a very good silly card game that the kids like a lot. They LOVE Santa Claus becoming a junkie and the producer dying in a bus crash (game after game) and all the other nonsense. This and the next game are in the same series by the same designer, so I'm expecting good things. I ordered these from the publisher's on-line store.

Portable Adventures: 8th Grade - My nephew is in 1st Grade so he may not understand this one and may not be able to read the cards for a while yet, but my niece is in 7th Grade so this should be right up her alley.

They Have Some Really Good German Games In Germany (Part 5 of 5)

Rolit - this is a 4 player version of Othello. I'd like to see how that works. Othello is one of those games I like to understand the theory of, but couldn't be bothered playing in practice.

SeaSim - a two player game about... ah, who cares what it's about, theme is for Ameritrashers. It sounds like the Lotka-Volterra equations turned into a game, and we all know that's a good thing.

Schwarzarbeit - A Friedemann Friese and Andrea Meyer game about moonlighting. It's a deduction game. Friedemann and deduction is worth trying.

Schildkroetenrennen - What does this translate to, anyway? Shield creature race? It's a kids' game but I'd like to try it out anyway.

San Ta Si - This is a weirdo game that looks like someone's collection of lipstick tubes. It's described as spatial hide-and-seek, and it's by Jacques Zeimet, the Bamboleo and Hamsterrolle guy, so it's worth investigating.

Weißt du eigentlich, wie lieb ich dich hab? - This is the game of the book "Guess How Much I Love You". If you don't have kids of your own you'll never understand this book, but if you do have kids you'll love it. Unless they've grown to the "I could strangle the brat" stage, in which case you might have forgotten. When I order it I'll have to get copies for both of my sisters as well.

Zatre - This is some sort of Scrabble for numbers. That description alone is enough to make me buy it.

Zoodiak - A game about recreating constellation patterns. Isn't it great how we can buy games about all the things we normally don't care about?

This is the last article in this series. When I get myself organised to acquire some of these games I'll post my findings.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Ratings on BoardGameGeek

There's an awesome article by Joe Grundy over at BGG about the accuracy, interpretation and resilience of the game rating system. By coincidence I went through and rerated some of my less favourite games yesterday after thinking through what those ratings really mean. The BGG ratings are given minutely short descriptions by Aldie which causes problems - 6 means "will play sporadically if in the right mood" and 5 means "slightly boring". I find many games slightly boring but struggle to think of games which I'll play if I'm in the right mood, so I would tend to give 5s rather than 6s. In an ideal world the sum of all BGG ratings would approximate a bell curve, but if everybody liked the 5 description better than the 6 description, as I do, then the bell curve would be warped. In theory, Aldie's descriptions can change the shape of the curve :-).

Consequently I have my own interpretations for the BGG ratings, and I admit that my interpretations aren't guaranteed to produce a bell curve either. But they're close enough for me.

10: Always want to play this and expect it will never change - "NEVER" is a long time, so the only game I can confidently rate a 10 is Scrabble, because it's been 30 years or so. I rate a few other games a 10 because I'm there must be some others, but they might change.

9: Awesome game and I'm always excited to play it. This is about the same as what Aldie says.

8: Very good game. I like to play. An 8 is my default rating for a game that I liked after 1 play. After I've tested the game a couple of times, if I really like it, it might go up to a 9.

7: Good game, usually willing to play. If I play a game and it's decent but I'm not really excited about it, I will initially rate it a 7. If I keep playing it and discover I don't like it, it will fall, but it might climb as well.

6: Games that are just alright. For example, Carcassonne holds some attraction for me, but it's not very interesting.

5: Games that I don't care for but I might one day want to play them. Louis XIV and El Grande are here because although I really dislike area majorities I can see that it's a game mechanic which makes sense.

4: Games that I wouldn't care if they vanished off the face of the Earth, but I might play them one day anyway. I dislike them but I might want to give them another chance or can see some little value in them. Power Grid is in here.

3: I would actively argue against playing this game or even outright refuse. This is where I rate real games that I really really hate. For example, Australia, Andromeda, Railway Rivals. Don't get me started.

2: Yes it's a game, but it's no fun. A game which is so little fun that I won't ever play it again earns a 2.

1: This does not count as a game because I cannot imagine having any fun with it. Very few games are technically broken, though some which are such as Betrayal at House on the Hill are still fun anyway, so I use the 1 rating for games which couldn't possibly be any fun.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Buckets of New Games

A couple of orders arriving and a visit to the FLGS has caused a sudden influx of new games at my house. That's a good thing, but it involves making more room in the study and also paying careful attention to the Friendless metric. The Friendless metric is currently at -17, with 42 games played 10 or more times and 59 games never played. Anyway, here are the new games.

Attika - I like this game a lot! I played it once about a year ago and I eventually decided if I wanted to play it again I'd have to buy it myself. We played a 4 player game which I won, and a 2 player game against Scrabblette which she won. I'm not really clear how she beat me... maybe better management of her new game tiles.

Trans Europa - I like this game a lot too! I already blogged about that.

Mystery Rummy: Al Capone and the Chicago Underworld - Still not played.

Skybridge - I've been wanting to buy this for a while, but the FLGS is hard to get to. I went in to buy Skybridge and came out with 3 games. The kid and I played this and it's WEIRD. I just don't get it at all. I managed to stop him laying one of his bridges and we still tied.

Quixo - Another Gigamic game. I played this in the FLGS (the kid beat me) and wanted revenge so I took a copy home and played Scrabblette and she beat me too. Maybe I'll beat BIL.

Sputnik - This is a really cool looking Gigamic game from their children's series. It plays quite similar to TAMSK without the hourglasses. I kicked the kid's butt.

Formidable Foes - We haven't played this yet. It looks very nice, but I don't think it will play like Funny Friends. I like Friedemann's attitude, so I'm looking forward to playing it.

Techno Witches - We haven't played my copy but I did play the copy I bought for my niece. With my copy we can play up to 8 players.

Blokus Trigon - We played this with 4 players and yeah, it's Blokus. It's funny having the new shapes - you just imagine the shape you need then go find it without any real understanding of whether it's there or not. I now have all three versions of Blokus, and I'm not sure why.

Memoir '44 Pacific Theater - We haven't played this yet. In fact I haven't even read the rule book.

Kahuna - I generally like the Kosmos 2 player series, though Hellas wasn't very good. Kahuna sounded dull but when I realised it was by the same designer as The Bottle Imp I decided to get it. It's much more interesting than I expected. Scrabblette suffered a big ambush attack where I took over two islands and destroyed four of her bridges in one turn. But now that she's seen what sort of game it is I'm sure she'll play differently next time.

Of course with all of those unplayed games I was feeling quite guilty about the Friendless metric so we've been trying to play some of the backlog. In fact, for the Critical Mass games meet on Friday night I packed an entire box of new or unplayed games. It's sad that I can do that, and will be able to again next time as well.

I also updated the stats program to calculate the average number of times I've played each game that I own. It was at 4.31 but dropped to 4.29 after the trip to the FLGS where it still lingers. I'll monitor that number this year and think about incorporating it into whatever goal I set after the Friendless metric goal is achieved.

Here are the other new games I've played.

Cows and Leopards - This is apparently a popular game in Sri Lanka, but either they have better rules in Sri Lanka or Sri Lankan people are simple and easily amused (and I don't think for a second that's true). Scrabblette and I played one game which was doomed for stalemate the entire time. The game came from the library in some sort of teacher's aid kit, but I hate to think that kids get taught that people in Sri Lanka play crappy games.

Chathurvimshathi Koshtaka - This is an abstract that Scrabblette brought back from India. It was described in Sanskrit in the 18th century but I'm guessing nobody has ever played it much. I did a reasonable job of demolishing Scrabblette's position but the game slowed down a lot when she was down to only a couple of pieces. If we managed to get down to one piece each, the game would not have finished. As it was, Scrabblette made some bad moves on purpose so we could finish sooner.

Spin & Trap - I've played 3 games of this now, and written a review. (BTW, I've been writing lots of reviews recently as part of a fund-raising drive to get Scrabblette an avatar. I'm hoping she'll rate some games so I can figure out what she'll play with me and so is worth buying.) It's a decent abstract that I keep getting beaten at.

Landlord - Acquired at the same time as Spin & Trap, we spent some time playing this and more time discussing what the rules probably meant. Scrabblette has emailed the publisher for clarification. The rules we used seem to work OK. It's an interesting abstract where a move can have big consequences that you can sort of predict.

Let me talk about reviews... for some reason I own a lot of games that nobody much else does. As I actually know something about the game I consider it my responsibility to write some forum articles so that prospective buyers can get at least some information. With that reasoning, all I needed to do was to identify the games which I had played and nobody had opinions on, so I added a "Users Rating" column to my "Plays of Games Owned" page. Now I can go to that page, sort by Users Rating and easily see what games I've played that nobody much has rated. They're usually the ones that need reviews or session reports. I encourage all literate readers of this blog to do the same.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Trashing Ameritrash

My mum once told me "if you can't say something nice don't say anything at all". I think at the time I'd been served curried sausages for dinner. Anyway, my personality is such that I was a whole lot quieter after that. But she never mentioned anything about blogging.

I've been watching the amazing events at BGG for the last few days and wondering what side of the argument I'm on. I like free speech, but I want people to shut up. I respect Aldie's decisions, I wish he didn't have to make them. I like Barnes' wit, I can see how he rubs people up the wrong way. But rather than go down that path too far I'm going to give honest opinions on games.

I can't tell you what Ameritrash is but I know it when I see it. Railroad Tycoon. Axis and Allies. Twilight Imperium 3. Many many games that I choose not to play. I'll admit it, I'm not a big fan of Ameritrash. Yes, I'm a Eurosnoot. So shoot me... with your tiny little plastic guns. I'm a mathematician at heart and I love to see mathematics at work. A Steiner triple system is mathematics, totalling the result of 2d6 is not.

BattleLore: I'm a fan of the Command and Colors system, rating each of them about an 8. Do they count as Ameritrash? It's hard to classify a game published by an American company that sells because of its tiny little plastic armies as anything else. So I have to admit I do like the C&C Ameritrash.

Railroad Tycoon: Takes way too long and isn't very interesting. The bizarre financial exploits of the 19th century railroad barons should be confined to history's shame file, not celebrated in games. I rate it a 4 because I was feeling kind that day.

Twilight Imperium 3: Takes way too long and isn't very interesting. The designer took some Euro ideas for this game but they didn't save it. Aimed at people who don't have a life, this game is completely unrewarding as you spend several hours building an economy so you can build space ships that you can lose with a dice roll. Only Americans can love this game - it gives them an opportunity to understand the Star Wars program. It's also aimed at people who think you should wage war just because you can... as opposed to Eurosnoots who know that you only engage in conflict if you expect to gain more than you lose, such as petrodollar hegemony for example.

Arkham Horror: As much as I aspire to despise all American culture, I often fail. Violent Femmes are awesome. House M.D. is awesome. H.P. Lovecraft is awesome. This game does a fine job of animating Lovecraft's milieu, and I admire it a lot. On the other hand, I try to avoid playing it against other people. It takes a very long time and you're at the mercy of the cards. It's also quite complex. I give it an 8, but I only want to play it as a solitaire game.

Heroscape: I bought a couple of sets of this because the bits are so cool and they were very cheap. We played once and even the kid didn't like it. Cool bits, no game. You've got to ask - are these people selling games or are they selling plastic? Of course Hasbro doesn't care. I gave it a 4.

Runebound: This game is similar to Arkham Horror in that I love the theme so much that I must play the game, but allowing other people to play as well would spoil it for me. I like to go off on a trip by myself... This is my favourite solitaire game and ... well just read my lengthy session report. I give the game an 8.5 at the moment, and I'm still buying expansions.

Nexus Ops: I only have time for one more item, so I'll make it a different one. I very much admire the design of Nexus Ops, I just didn't have fun playing it. I think the way VPs are awarded for small goals is very very good, much better than TI3, but I don't really want to play a game where I build stuff and then people trash it. It's too depressing. There's not enough maths. It's just being horrible to people, even though there is a good reason. I'm torn between disliking this game for that and admiring it for its success in achieving what it set out to do, so I sat on the fence and gave it a 6.

It seems the only Ameritrash games I like are those that play with 1 or 2 players. Sitting around a massive game board for 6 hours with people beating on me is just not my idea of fun. I'd rather play St Petersburg.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Pigs Might Fly

When you're on your way to your next board gaming event, keep an eye out for portents and omens. Burning bushes, holes in the sky, whales beaching themselves, the player to your right producing coffee, that sort of thing. Make a haunt roll now. Something very strange has happened.

I found a train game that I like.

Of course there's already Metro, which is not particularly about trains but more about connections. And indeed, my new friend, TransEuropa, is also about connections. But it has trains in it, and I like it, and so it counts.

I was particularly attracted by the thought of a game with extremely simple rules, and based on a map of Europe. I'm in love with the history of Europe and looking at a map of Europe evokes so many wistful thoughts... whereas a map of America reminds me how many Republican voters there are in the world. So Railroad Tycoon, Ticket to Ride and so many of the others immediately alienate me just by looking at the map. TransEuropa has a very nice map.

I've also been reading about connection games in this book. As TransEuropa is not abstract it has a little more going for it than Hex, for example. It's also cheap and scales from 2 to 6 players, so it was worth trying it. Also, nice sensible European people share railway lines, unlike all those stupid American railway people!

I tried to play a quick game with the kid before dinner last night and after rescuing BIL from the bathroom where the door lock had broken we abandoned the game. He showed me that he was going to Kick My Butt. That got me thinking about strategy. It's almost inevitable that the rail networks are going to become connected, so whatever I've done is going to be available to my opponents. So I want my track to be of as little use to them as possible. If there's a long hard slog across the continent to be done, I want someone else to do it and then I want to join on and take advantage of their work.

Armed with those thoughts I sent the kid to bed and challenged Scrabblette. It took only one round for Scrabblette to make the same strategy deductions, so after conceding 3 points to me in the first round she started playing warily and it was an interesting game of cat and mouse. I refused to make any play that could possibly benefit her until it was the best thing I could do for myself as well. Scrabblette tried to do the same thing, and succeeded, so she won the next two rounds and we were even at 10 points each.

However the following round was something of a strategy disaster for Scrabblette. She had a long track across southern Europe, and I had a network in the northeast. I needed to get from Warsaw to Dublin and couldn't see how connecting to her track which went to Barcelona was going to help me, so I struck out across northern Europe to get there by myself. Scrabblette didn't want to have to do all the work of connecting to me, even though she still had to get to Vilnius or somewhere, so deliberately avoided connecting to me. While she made fancy-shaped tracks, I approached Dublin. Eventually she had to connect to me, but by then I was at Dublin and with only one more piece of track got to Firenze to win the round. Poor Scrabblette scored 5 for that round, which was the worst score either of us had all game. So although cat and mouse is a useful way to play, you still must remain focused on the goal!

After a couple more rounds I finished her off. I think we played 7 rounds, which took 90 minutes. The box says the game plays in 30 minutes, but that sounds to me like they're assuming players score more points per round than we were doing. I suppose with more players the game would actually speed up as someone could get unlucky and do badly. As it was, I thought the game had very little luck and and was quite beautifully balanced. I like it.

Anyway, I must go now. I think I can hear a wolf howling outside.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Life's Too Short to Play Twilight Anything (Again)

Following my ambition to play more of the BGG Top 50, CyberKev and I sat down yesterday afternoon to play Twilight Struggle. I hadn't really heard much about it before, and had no particular prejudice against, but I was worried by the play time listed at 3 hours. Due to the rest of my life crowding in on us, we only had 4.5 hours available to play. I took the USSR and CyberKev took the USA.

I'd read the rules on BGG so I sort of knew what was going on. The big mistake I made was misunderstanding about playing scoring cards. I thought the rule that says scoring cards must be played meant that scoring cards took effect at the end of the turn even if you hadn't played them. That's not true - you must use one of your actions to play them. So when I found myself with 2 scoring cards in my first hand, I wasn't entirely satisifed. In the first turn we scored 3 regions despite having not much time to do anything in them.

I also struggled with the Space Race. I hate hate HATE HATE HATE HATE the mechanism where you roll a d6 to see if something works for you. You spend your card on the Space Race and if you roll right you can advance. If you don't, you get nothing. What, are we playing Talisman here? That's not a mechanism for a proper game! It's especially bad because you can't do anything to influence the result of the roll. In any game where the rule is "if you roll 1-3 on d6 you succeed, otherwise you fail" what's going to happen is that one player is going to succeed all the time and the other player is going to fail all the time. Game designers: don't do that!

Games which use d6 rolls properly include Igel Argern where you can space out your hedgehogs so as to take advantage of a wide variety of rolls; D&D where you roll fistfuls of the things so the numbers even out; and BattleLore where even if you roll Lore which doesn't kill anything, you still get some stuff. Talisman is the chief sucker paramount with regard to d6 rolls, where depending on the result you will become rich or totally screwed. Way too random for my tastes, and I was amazed to find such a mechanic in such a highly rated game.

Anyway, what was I talking about? Oh yeah... the Cold War. So CyberKev started off really strong in Europe and took a commanding lead on points. He maintained his lead for several turns until I realised the value of military action and started coups in a few places. He allowed me to make up some points in mil ops, and some lucky play by me got me into the lead.

Let me share my thoughts on coups and realignment. By placing influence points you can gain up to 4 influence. A coup can potentially gain you 8 influence, and I can't remember the numbers for realignment but it can be handy. Therefore placing influence is often not the best option, and I think for the first few turns we didn't really appreciate that. Anyway, back to the game.

I really like the event cards - they're well designed. I don't like how most turns I had a fistful of American cards that I needed to try not to play - that caused a lot of anguish, especially as the Space Race was so clearly a waste of my resources. When I did have Soviet cards I wanted to play them for events AND for points, so there was a lot to think about there.

We found that the game involved a lot of racing around to different continents when we figured out that scoring was going to happen there. Bluffing might work, but I wouldn't depend on it. I felt a bit rushed - I was always trying to win one more battleground country so I could dominate, whilst making sure CyberKev didn't have all the battleground countries somewhere else. The other continents simply didn't exist for that turn. That felt strange. Also, I didn't much like the idea of battleground countries. Sure, I presume they were countries where the Cold War was contested particularly fiercely, but we're recreating history here - I would have preferred the option to choose our own battlegrounds.

After 6 rounds I lead by one point. At that point we'd been at the game for 4.5 hours, and it looked like we needed another 3 hours to finish. In my opinion, 7.5 hours is way too long for any game except cricket. For that reason alone I will never play Twilight Struggle again. Although the game implemented its theme very very well, it didn't really excite me. Yes, I agree, it's a decent game, but it's not a game for me.

So who won? Well I asked CyberKev to do a final scoring after I left because although I was ahead on the VP track I didn't feel like I was doing so well. Indeed, the USA was 10 points ahead after the final scoring after Turn 6. Hmm... if it had been much worse than that I think a thermonuclear war would have looked good. Last I heard Mrs CyberKev was battling on in my place, and the war continues...

Friday, March 09, 2007

Epic BattleLore Rules Are Out

Days of Wonder have the epic BattleLore rules up on their site. Epic adventures require 2 boards but only one set, and can handle up to six players. I'd be very interested in playing BattleLore (epic or not) while Scrabblette is away next month. Potential players include:

  • The evil count von Walduck
  • Ozvortex
  • dupytren
  • scotto
  • Critical Mass
  • my kid
  • CyberKev, though he will be away next month.
Who's interested in an Easter Epic?

Would You Pay To Play?

If there was a games library in your town, would you rent games from it rather than buy them? I've posted a thread on this at BGG:

Please discuss this idea over there, rather than here.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

A Bad Month For Gaming?

How the mighty have fallen! I have been steaming along at about 70 games played per month since the middle of 2005. In the month just completed I only recorded 28 plays. Woah, what happened there!?

Well, domestic bliss, for one thing. I used to go out gaming 2 or 3 nights a week. Since the arrival of Scrabblette I have stopped going out on Thursday nights (sorry, CyberKev) because often that is the only evening we have alone together. Scrabblette and I usually play a game that night by ourselves, so assuming I would previously play 3 games on a Thursday night, that's a net loss of 8 games per month. Also Wednesday nights have gone from Book Realm to cards with the CyberKevs (sorry, RealmKeeper), which is another 8 games per month. Critical Mass is untouched - Scrabblette has accepted that Critical Mass is a part of our life.

Also in February I didn't get a chance to go gaming on any weekend - I had a lot of things on. For example, thinking about moving house, trying to get fit by playing squash, and visiting my sick mum. My weekends are crazy busy and I haven't been able to make it to QUGS regularly at all. I hope some of those things will change.

I also played fewer short games in February. In December I played 7 games of Diamant and 5 games of Xe Queo!, not to mention Loopin' Louie and Coda and so on. The only short games played in February were 3 games of Quarto. Everything else was somewhat substantial.

The substantiality is an interesting side effect of spending more time gaming with Scrabblette and less with other people. If I'm going to spend 3 hours on one game I'd rather do it at home in my pyjamas with Scrabblette beside me than in a more traditional gaming setting. In February we played Goa, Cleopatra and the Society of Architects, Taj Mahal, Wildwords and St Petersburg, each of which took a couple of hours.

It also seems that I've been playing games that I like more than usual. My stats calculate your average rating for games played in a month, and my average for February was 7.4 compared to 6.8 for December. December's average is down because I played Top 50 games I didn't even expect to like such as Railroad Tycoon and Twilight Imperium 3, but 7.4 is one of my best-rating months ever. As those numbers are not inflated by (for example) 17 games of Quoridor (which I rate a 9), that's a good result.

So was February a bad month for gaming or not? I don't know how to judge these things. I would certainly like opinions on this, as a purveyor of statistics. If I pass up a game of Scrabble (which I rate a 10) for 3 games of Diamant (which I rate a 7, I think), have I made a wise choice? Is it better to play 2 games of Tichu (rated 7) or Trias (10) and Dungeonville (5)? Someone somewhere must have a system for this.

In any case, when I got home last night Scrabblette had Through the Desert waiting on the table for me. What more could a man want?

Monday, March 05, 2007

The Adventures of Longfellow Jumbles

Mr Jumbles is the NPC leader of the band of adventurers in our D&D campaign. He's a hobbit snake oil salesman. Here is his blog.

We've played two sessions now, though the first was just rolling up characters. Tonight we started with the first real adventure - a fairly standard dungeon exploration. Of course, with the kid's hyperactive character and Scrabblette's mysterious one, nothing is really very standard.

Funny Family

On the weekend, Scrabblette, the kid and I went up to Bundaberg to visit baby psychotic tornado sister and Uncle Pete. The drive up consumed 6 hours of good gaming time, punctuated only by a visit to the kid's cousins where we played Make'n'Break. Baby Sister likes games but Uncle Pete is not so keen unless there's fighting in it... here's the story we made up about him.

"When Baby Sister met Pete he only knew three verbs. He could make sentences like PETE EAT (if he was eating, or hungry); PETE PUNCH (if he liked you) or PETE DECK! (if he didn't like you). Pete's Mum could tell Pete liked Baby Sister because she was allowed to take food off his plate. When you asked Pete to describe what he did at night when his eyes were closed he would either tell you PETE EAT! meaning he'd been dreaming about eating, or PETE NOT EAT! meaning he'd had a dream-free sleep."

There's more, about how when Pete was born he looked like a potato, and the visit to the bookshop on Sunday where Pete correctly identified books as "things Pete use to make table not rock", but that's not the point of the story. Pete was so worn out on Saturday night that he didn't even eat all of his dinner, and when I explained Funny Friends he didn't follow at all.

I wasn't sure how the kid would go with this game, but I gave him the benefit of the doubt. When I was explaining the puberty cards and I showed "Parents Separate" (get a sadness and a money), he said "hey, just like real life! I got a bike and a TV in my room!" and I knew that he would get something out of it. Scrabblette had played before (less than a week after I met her), and when Baby Sister started trying to help Pete I knew she was getting it. So apart from Pete, we were off to a flying start.

It was very interesting playing this game with non-gamers... well that's a poor description... people who didn't care so much about winning. In many of the auctions the result was negotiated before the auction happened, resulting in the card being sold for 0. For example... you can take that and let me be your girlfriend because I need to get that... and then I'll take that because I need a broken relationship. Many times we were able to find a compromise which benefitted all parties. I'd say only about half of the auctions in the game involved time being spent.

An interesting development came when Baby Sister took "It was just one time" (you must be a virgin, you get a relationship, sex and a baby). At first she tried to make her partner Scrabblette until I pointed that homosexual relationships did not produce babies in this game (unless you get the card that does that). So the kid volunteered instead. He stayed happily married to his aunt for a long time, and they had 5 babies and 5 sexes together. We ran out of sex markers so Baby Sister started sharing hers around. When I asked the kid at the end why he needed so many babies he said "because it was funny". Oh, OK, games are meant to be fun, I've heard.

Apart from the productive relationship with his auntie, the kid also scored some anonymous sex. With a man. What have I raised here? However after a few more homosexual encounters the kid was able to play his "Coming Out" life goal. At least with that card, he didn't let the theme interfere with the pursuit of victory. I wonder if he'd spent less time making babies with his aunt would he have achieve more life goals?

After doing drugs, smoking, drinking, being fat, sad and wise, and so on, I'd achieved 4 of my life goals (Game Designer, Emotional Cripple, umm...). Baby Sister and Scrabblette were laying down life goals right behind me, clearly in pursuit of victory. I needed to achieve enlightenment which required drugs when there were none to be had. For the first time ever I chose to exchange goals and drew Celibacy instead. That was an easy one to achieve, and I won the game shortly afterwards.

We finished up about 11pm after laughing ourselves silly for about 3 hours. Funny Friends is a very fun game with the right crowd, and it turns out that crowd can contain even my 10 year old. And what happened to Uncle Pete? PETE NOT EAT.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Why Mystery Rummy: Jack the Ripper is Not So Good With 4

Our regular Tichu game with the CyberKev family has turned into a regular card game. Tichu is a fine game, but CyberKev and I have many other fine games that we'd like to play some time, so Tichu is having a rest. This week I chose to try Mystery Rummy: Jack the Ripper. The buzz on the 'geek is that it's not good with 4, but the geek has lots of buzz I don't agree with so we went ahead anyway.

In the first hand we saw some of the reason for the negative buzz. With 4 players a lot of cards get drawn and all of the Victims will end up in someone's hand by the end of the first run through the deck (except... see below). That means that either all of the Victims will be played, in which case The Ripper Escapes and someone gets 35 points; or a Commissioner Resigns card will cause all victims to come out and the ripper will escape giving someone 35 points. Here's the except - the only hope for the other players is that the person with The Ripper Escapes never gets a Commissioner Resigns, nor a Scene to retrieve one from the discard pile; or else the other players are able to get a victim into the discard pile and keep her there.

Overall, with 4 players it's just difficult to prevent the ripper from escaping and giving lots of points to one person and hardly any to anyone else. People end up holding onto Victims and Commissioner Resigns cards to prevent the person with The Ripper Escapes from getting them, and the game becomes distorted from what you'd expect rummy to be. I'm not sure it's meant to be like that. I've played the game with 3 and it was fine, and maybe with 2 it would be better again.

While I'm here, I'll talk about Mike Fitzgerald's other games:
  • Mystery Rummy: Murders in the Rue Morgue - We played this quite a bit in 2005 and I still like it. It doesn't seem to have as many twists and turns as the other Mystery Rummy games, and the art is in being able to get the bonus points.
  • Mystery Rummy: Jekyll and Hyde - I've only played this a couple of times but I liked the challenge of trying to engineer a shut-out.
  • Wyatt Earp - This is a very good game where you're trying to balance going out with getting the biggest share of the reward. It needs more thought than I care to give it, but I don't mind losing anyway.
I haven't got Mystery Rummy: Al Capone yet but it's waiting for me to order from the FIGS.

Anyway, back to the session report. CyberKev scored two Ripper Escapes in the first two hands and went out to a huge lead. Our best strategies couldn't hold him back and he won easily. We then went on to play Frank's Zoo with partnership rules, which is also a good game, and Mrs CyberKev won easily there.