Saturday, February 16, 2008

Some Games I Like But You Don't

There's a class of games which I have an inexplicable affection for where that affection is rarely shared by my geekbuddies. They have the following characteristics:

  • Euro-games, which are...
  • high in luck
  • short in play time
  • low complexity
  • usually highly tactical.
To me, these games offer all players a chance whilst allowing cunning players to slightly improve their chances. If the best player doesn't win, so what? That's often the case even in a game into which more effort is invested. Here are some examples:

Africa - Knizia seems to able to produce work at all levels of complexity and quality. In Africa the continent is covered with discoveries which the explorers will make. Whoever manages to organise those discoveries into the most points wins. You're mostly at the mercy oof the tokens you turn over, but there are sometimes chances to score a few more points, and it's those chances you need to take to improve your chance of winning.

Celtica - Kramer and Kiesling's much maligned light offering does have charm other than the artwork. It's mostly a game of avoiding Viking encampments by managing your hand well enough that someone else has to take the heat before you do. It's a case of holding your breath longer than anyone else, but there are subtle choices you can make which improve your chances.

Tsuro - At first glance this seems to be an extremely chaotic game, and with increasing numbers of players there is increasing player chaos. However, with a bit of experience you realise that there are things you can do. In one three player game I laid my tiles such that other players had few chances too enter my side of the board, and furthermore I had an escape route back to some empty space - i.e. I was building two tracks at once. With more players you just need to play so that the other players are confined to a smaller space than you are and then hoope for the best.

Castle Merchants - I only played this once but I liked thinking about how I could build terrain to suit my cards and goals. The use of the blocking tiles might well be where the game is won or lost, but I need more experience.

Dragon Parade - With other players competing to control the dragon this can be a chaotic game. You need to examine the cards in your card, compare them too what other players are doing, and place your bets according to where you think the dragon is most likely to end up. Sometimes you win.

These games don't count because I classify them as abstract Euros (and hence are not so high in luck): Through the Desert, Alexandros, Trias, Cartagena.

These don't count because they're more strategic: Rheinlander, St Petersburg.

These don't count because they're longer and more complex: Tikal, Reef Encounter.

I think this class of game doesn't get much love because they're chaotic. Killer Bunnies is denounced as being a crap shooot, but (hang on, maybe you haven't played it... players win bunny cards during the game, at the end one of them is chosen as the winning bunny, like in a lottery) the player who accumulated the most bunnies gave himself the best chance and was most likely to win. If you played well is it really such a big deal that you didn't win?

Thursday, February 07, 2008

I Went to Fraser's Bed Room And All I Got Was Bitter And a Nasty Little Rash

Actually, all I got was two games of solitaire Einfach Genial, but that's not half as interesting as UK Squeeze's clever line.

I tried to get onto BrettSpielWelt last night for the first time in well over a year, and completely failed due to their server being down. Melissa's Aussie Games Night in Lupus Landing was a bit of a flop since nobody could log on. BSW was working well enough for me to think it might be useful, but not well enough to say ES IS NICHT GUT - GEHEN SIE AUS - SCHNELL SCHNELL. So I tried again this evening because Java applications should not defeat me, and it works. In that incomprehensible way that BSW does. I followed Melissa's instructions to get to Lupus Landing and... what next. Some nice German person offered hilfe, I think, but I said "don't try to sell me that shit I'm just here to play games". I Googled for some help, and it didn't. I clicked on everything I could see and found Fraser's house. I went in... no Fraser. I found Melissa's very nice little house (dude, leave the domestic decoration to her!) and went in... no Melissa. They might be hiding in 7ofAnn's house for all I know... but more likely Fraser is at a RL game group and Melissa is putting the infamous Otto and Biggie to bed.

But eventually I found a house where an Einfach Genial board was set up and was able to play solitaire. At the time, I should have been putting my own kid to bed, but instead he was surfing the web downloading Weird Al songs. But still, I played a couple of games.

I didn't do very well. But at least I can mostly work BSW now. This internet thing might catch on.

"To change the mood a little I've been posing down the pub
On seeing my reflection I'm looking slightly rough
I fancy this, I fancy that, I wanna be so flash
I give a little muscle and I spend a little cash
But all I get is bitter and a nasty little rash
And by the time I'm sober I've forgotten what I've had
And everybody tells me that it's cool to be a cat; it's cool for cats"

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Why I Log On-Line Plays

Towards the end of last year my monthly Games Played numbers went up from 40-50 games per month to more like 60. Over December and January, when I had leave, they were over 100. The reason was that I started playing Scrabble on-line (on Facebook) and started logging those on-line plays. I never used to log on-line plays, despite the fact that I learnt Cartagena at BrettSpielWelt from a German speaker, and played Diamant on-line before I ever saw a real copy. I thought it was cheating. However since I've been running the extended stats and wondering exactly why I bother to keep those numbers, I've changed my mind.

Consider the potential restrictions one might place on oneself for logging plays:
* Only face-to-face
* Only against human opponents
* No restriction at all.

I've been logging solitaire plays of Runebound and Roads and Boats for a long time, as to me those games lose very little by not having opponents. So the face-to-face thing doesn't worry me much. In particular, I have had situations where Scrabblette and I have played Scrabble on-line while we're both in the same house. Not logging that play would be discriminating only on whether I could get her to a physical board or not. My Games Played log is definitely not a record of my ability to organise people to get to the same place at the same time. If it was, my regular Scrabble opponents in London, Beijing and Townsville wouldn't contribute to my statistics at all.

I figure the best thing I want the Games Played log to be is a record of how many times I have played a game. Now I find games against computer opponents to often be very different to games against a real person, because against a computer opponent I can't bank on their fallibility. Playing Hex on-line I often think "I hope if I go here he won't see that counter-move", and that's often the case, whereas Hexy just hammers me every time. I enjoy taking the chance my opponent won't see something, and am pleasantly surprised when they do. To me, the games I play are not just about making the best move, they are also about making the best move AGAINST THAT OPPONENT. Consequently, I don't log plays against AIs.

Still though, there is something to be said for that too. If I play 100 times against an AI I'll probably defeat a complete newbie, so plays against AIs definitely give you some of the skills of the game. I think if I was just a bit more friendless I would do that.