Saturday, December 05, 2009

Holy Cow, India!

It's time for our annual holiday again. Remember last year we considered OMGESSEN!, but didn't get ourselves organised and ended up in WTFCAIRNS? instead. This year we've planned for months to go to HOLYCOWINDIA! and we're leaving tonight. It's very exciting and somewhat stressful - I don't remember ever going away from home for this long before.

The plan is to do some of the standard tourist stuff, e.g. the Taj Mahal and Jaipur just to mention two games (but not Bombay), but also to meet Scrabblette's family which is spread all over the country. It seems that in India, like Australia, places that are near each other are still quite far away, and we'll be spending lots of time travelling. That's good, I want to see what the countryside is like. Very very different to Australia, I think.

The nephews and nieces know that I'm the board game guy, so we're taking over a load of games that have been retired from my collection. I would take more but we're limited in the baggage we can carry. We're also taking Trivirsity to play ourselves - it's easy to carry, plays quickly, and all three of us can play.

My dog knows something is going on, but she doesn't know whether she's involved or not. She suspects not, or else she'd be dancing around the house getting in the way. In fact Miss Jane will be coming to stay with her, which will be fun for both of them. At least Miss Jane will know that we're coming back one day.

My stats program will be at the mercy of the elements. It's too complex to leave notes for Miss Jane on how to deal with IP address changes and hardware restarts. If your stats stop being generated, I'm sorry they'll have to wait till the New Year. I do hope to record a few plays myself while I'm away, so I'll be as interested as anybody.

Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, and good gaming until then.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Santorini


The moment I saw it I was entranced by Terraliptar's photo of this game on BGG. When Gord eventually decided to make some more copies, I got him to send me one. I didn't realise it wasn't going to be exactly like Terraliptar's customised copy, so Scrabblette and I fixed it up by painting the domes and putting it in a proper box. So now, my copy is just like the one in the photo.

Scrabblette and I played a couple of times, but it's one amongst many many games I own that are underplayed. Consequently, when I headed out with the kid on Sunday afternoon, to a location where there would potentially be gamers, I took it along. The planned worked out excellently - Darryl the gamer had come along and offered to sit in one of the comfy chairs and play games with me (notice stern scowl from kid who knows everything).

I hadn't played for a year or more, so we muddled through the first game with Darryl knowing much more about the rules than I did. Eventually I spotted a winning fork and won the game. For beginners, a fork is when you have the option of two good moves and your opponent can't prevent both.

Darryl then suggested we use the God Powers, which had never really interested me. I drew Hermes - "you may move two steps each turn", and Darryl drew "if you place a dome you can play a turn with your opponent's piece". Darryl had the good sense to set up a lot of places where he could place domes, so when I moved two spaces and set up a threat, he'd play a dome, move me somewhere stupid, and destroy the threat. I managed to win that game by setting up a threat that took two steps to get to, and blocking Darryl's access to the place where he could build a dome.

We played again with different God Powers. I had the power of pushing my opponent's pieces one space if I started next to them, and Darryl had Aphrodite - if I started my turn next to his piece I had to end my turn next to his piece. So I could push him around, I just couldn't get away from him! I figured that was a pretty useful power.

In Santorini one is always trying to get away from the opponent and set up a winning move before the opponent comes stomping in his muddy boots and puts a dome on your plan. On a 5x5 board, getting away is quite a challenge - often I would use a threat to coerce one of the opponent's men to go somewhere awkward. Pushing was another option! Sadly in the third game Darryl set up a winning fork that I didn't see coming, and beat me.

That was all the gaming for the day. When a storm suddenly hit the park we ran for the car as fast as we could and still got saturated. Anyway, Santorini is a great game, and it's a crying shame that someone like Gigamic hasn't produced it yet.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Wordle

Wordle produced this map of the words I use in my blog. We do a lot of this at my house.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

A Good Heart These Days Is Hard To Find

Here's an interesting story about board gaming which has made me think, and also got an annoying song stuck in my head. When I was at uni there was a student in the year below me who lived at the same residential college. Because of his haircut we called him Feargal Sharkey. I never had much to do with him, but I met him again at a barbeque a couple of years ago. He has kids now.

Not long after that, or maybe even before that, it's all hazy now, Feargal also turned up to a Critical Mass day of games, as he's a long-time gamer buddy of one of the Critical Mass stalwarts. So, although we don't see each other so much, Feargal and I are basically friends.

Anyway, on Sunday at Gencon Oz I was playing games with some little kids (aged 7 and 8) while their dad was playing Chaos In The Old World. Feargal had temporarily lost his kids in the seething maelstrom of geekness so sat down to play Giro Galoppo with us. I cafrefully explained the rules to the kids, with special emphasis on the Things You Should Not Do, i.e. you should not play a card which lands you on a jump or the river or the moors. The 8 year old totally got it, the 7 year old totally did not. The 8 year old rushed to the front, the 7 year old lagged sadly behind. I was in second place with a slight chance of catching the 8 year old, so I set out after her. Feargal was at the back with the 7 year old.

As the game rushed to its quick conclusion, I noticed that Feargal was making some bad moves himself. Awful moves. Even worse than the kid who totally did not get it. In the end, the little girl won and Feargal came last. I mentioned later "Mate, you are the worst Giro Galoppo player I ever saw." Feargal just smiled.

I wonder whether Feargal knew that the 7 year old had just won Viva Topo! and totally flogged us in two games of Whirlpool?

Monday, September 14, 2009

Stop Crying

A few weeks ago my kid started playing Mafia Wars on Facebook. Until then I'd ignored it, just like everyone else, but I figured at least I could sign up and help him passively. I had a bit of a poke around, clicking on a few things, but it didn't make much sense. My kid was generous enough to help me. The days went on, and I was surprised by how complex a game it was. It didn't make much sense. I'd managed to buy a few properties and get some income going, and I helped my kid when I could. Then I got robbed.

I mean, some other BASTARD attacked me and damaged my properties and reduced their income. I couldn't believe someone could be so mean. I was ready to give the game up. I consulted with a couple of mates who also play it, and they didn't think that me being robbed was very exciting news. I repaired the damage and thought about it.

Eventually I went to the Zynga forums (Zynga is the company that makes the game). I found an article written by a poster called "Stop Crying", and it was his guide to how to play the game. His basic point was, when something bad happens, stop crying and play better. Suddenly I got it. After a week or so playing, I finally understood the game.

Very soon I was cruising the streets of New York looking for someone to beat up. I got good advice on how tough was tough, and set about making myself that way. A couple of weeks later I was almost invincible, for my level. And I was nasty... I started robbing myself, working on the hypothesis that the weak must suffer for the strong to prosper. That's what the game is about.

Of course, I'm only strong for my level. I'm level 80 and the toughest player I know of is just over level 1000. That's amazing. He could wipe me out without breaking a sweat. Of course, I'm so insignificant as to be below his attention, which is why it doesn't happen. Mafia Wars encourages players to interact with others at about their level, so of equivalent strength.

It turns out to be a very good game. The most fun is when you rob someone so badly they put you on the hit-list, and then when you've recovered from being killed you go rob them again. Because the correct response to being robbed is not to provoke the robber, it's to get tougher so he can't do it. Or else to ignore him so he goes away.

Does the "stop crying" principle apply to confrontational board games? Not so much, I don't think. Mafia Wars has the benefit that damage you receive can be repaired - you heal automatically, you can save up to repair your properties, and the bad guys just can't take your stuff at all. Board games are generally less merciful - when someone destroys your stuff in Twilight Imperium, it's gone, and you're hosed. Board games also work on the principle that all players are equal, whereas Mafia Wars somewhat segregates players of different strengths. Furthermore, board games have only one winner, and the others can be reasonably called LOSERS. Mafia Wars doesn't even have an end, so although there's necessarily less emotional involvement in the outcome, there's no point at which it's ascertained that you're a loser.

Anyway, please excuse me, MarshmallowBear keeps hit-listing me, and I'm gonna go rip him off some more.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Sweet Jane Loves Sheep

Then came a terrible fire. It turned out Liliana had built the 3 children's bed rooms of some sort of flammable stone, and the place died with an awful sound... actually the sound of 3 little girls being burned alive. Sweet Jane was distraught! Maybe she even became slightly unhinged... maybe there was some sort of madness gene in the family. They were left with nothing but sadness, a two room wooden hut, and three burned chunks of meat.

Jane and Liliana were left with no choice but to start again. Liliana built a fireplace and then a cooking hearth, and took night courses in wood carving. Sweet Jane gathered wood to build new rooms. On the very day that Liliana built the new rooms, two babies arrived in the mail from Magnus Spiele - Jane had been shopping! They named the two girls Marianne and Nina.

Magnus Spiele had had a sale on on baby lambs, as well, and Jane bought some of those. They were called Fluffy, Floppy and Lumpkin. Floppy was very tasty, but Fluffy and Lumpkin were kept as the girls' pets and slept in their beds with them. With Sweet Jane's tender care, Marianne and Nina and Fluffy and Lumpkin grew to be big and strong. Liliana set them to work, gathering clay and reeds, going fishing and sowing vegetables.

Time went buy, and Magnus Spiele had another sale, from which Sweet Jane bought a baby boy called Rumpelstiltskin and some boars called Snorky and Snumpy. Liliana still hadn't finished fencing the pastures, so Snorky and Snumpy lived inside as well. It was all very cosy. Eventually Liliana did get around to fencing the pastures and made the animals live outside... just on the same day that some cows called Buttercup, Daisy and Lakshmi arrived in the mail.

What a house they had! Animals and children in every bed! Faeces of four different species in every corner! Fortunately, Sweet Jane was born for that sort of work, and she was an excellent mother to all of these little mail-order orphans. Admittedly, every now and then one of the babies ended up on the dinner table, but you would have done the same in their situation.

Life was good for Jane and Liliana. Rumpelstiltskin built a basket weaver's workshop when he was 4, and they all lived happily. For a while.

Editors Notes: K Deck, Sweet Jane played by Wet Nurse and Animal Keeper. Score 62 points (target 55). No minor improvements - Wet Nurse doesn't work well with them.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

The Ballad of Sweet Jane

Those of you who've been reading my blog since December may remember the story of Sordid Johan, a particularly demented individual who made several careers in farming. Let me tell you about his cousin, Sweet Jane. Those of you who know me in real life may think you know which Jane I'm talking about, but you're wrong. That one probably doesn't even have a sordid cousin.

Sweet Jane was a caring soul, who lived in a small wooden shack with her partner Liliana. They'd met at university where Liliana had been studying forestry and Jane had been looking for a husband. An alcohol-fuelled night on a field trip showed Jane that she didn't really want a husband at all, she wanted Liliana. Together they set up house.

Times were tough. Jane hadn't graduated, and wasn't qualified for anything. Liliana grew trees, but had trouble with anything edible. One desperate day Jane went fishing and Liliana "found" some sheep and slaughtered them. The empty plowed fields outside the hut seemed symbolic of an empty future.

One day Jane said to Liliana, "Why don't we put some of this wheat in the ground, instead of just keeping it lying around the house?" Liliana's botany lessons suggested such a thing might work, and while she was out planting forests the next day she did just that. Astonishingly, the wheat seeds turned into wheat plants.

Whilst continuing to eat sheep, the future was looking brighter for Jane and Liliana. They harvested some of Liliana's forests, and made plans to experiment with putting vegetables in the ground to see what would happen. Jane's rock garden had grown ominously large, which gave Liliana an idea... she built an oven and baked the wheat to make bread. No more lamb! The future was bright indeed! Yet, still, Jane felt unfulfilled... she needed something Liliana couldn't give her.

Babies. Sweet Jane dearly wanted babies. Lots of them. One day while Liliana was working hard on building their house, Jane secretly visited a nearby village where there'd been a horrible massacre. Coincidentally, it was the village where her cousin Johan lived. Apparently the parents of three adorable triplets had been horribly murdered, and the words "red right hand" were written on the walls in the victims' blood. Late that night Jane returned home carrying three baby girls.

She named the girls Hilda, Hattie and Holly. Jane nursed the babies so they grew up big and strong. By the age of two the girls were going fishing and sheep-rustling by themselves, which was just as well because Liliana couldn't cope with the excess work of feeding three new mouths. The girls worked furiously hard, and many improvements were made to the house - a pottery, a joinery, and stone walls! Sweet Jane was happy.

Editors Notes: K Deck, Sweet Jane played by Wet Nurse, Liliana played by Forester. Score 56 points (target 50). No minor improvements. Hilda, Hattie and Holly appear courtesy of "Song of Joy" by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. Yes, it's likely all of my Agricola stories will be in poor taste.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

I'm In Love With Bombay

I recently bought a copy of Bombay, the game from Ystari which obviously has the wrong name. I obviously wasn't hung up on the Ystari thing because I disliked both Caylus and Mykerinos, and haven't bothered to try the others. However I do love Bombay.

It's essentially a pick-up-and-deliver game, with the sex appeal coming from the elephant miniatures which can actually carry two little cubes of "silk". I was just explaining to my boss today how good interface design in games prevents you from doing the wrong thing - nobody will accidentally have 3 bales of silk in Bombay. Players have 3 action points on a turn with which they may move, purchase silk, sell silk, build palaces, or, if there's nothing better to do, just get some money.

The market mechanism is quite clever. There are 17 silk cubes in total - 5, 5, 4 and 3 in 4 colours. Each phase you draw 9 of them to place on the markets, and the most common get the cheapest price. This means that if you know the colours - purple is 4 and yellow is 3 - you can buy uncommon colours at good prices. Obviously if you have 2 yellow still on your elephant when 9 are drawn from the bag, yellow is not going to be the cheapest colour and that's quite an asset you have there.

The action points and movements are not quite so inspiring - it always seems to be just a bit too far to go to achieve quite what you want. Restricting yourself to what you can achieve profitably is part of the art of the game. More interestingly, once a player has built a palace on an intersection, if another player passes through there the owner of the palace gains a rupee. Going out of your way to avoid other people's palaces often isn't feasible, so building palaces can be quite lucrative. If movement was easier, that wouldn't work, so the designer has balanced the movements and actions nicely to support the palace toll.

There are 4 cities on the board - Bombay, Indora, Nagpur and Hyderabad - and each demands 3 different colours of silk. With these sets of colours allocated randomly, and the locations at which you can buy each colour allocated randomly as well, the starting conditions of the game are different each time. The best move for the first move of the game depends on how far it is to the silk vendors, how far it is to the cities that demand those colours, and what colours are available. Furthermore, there may be multiple excellent moves - the first player may buy the only yellow, the second player may buy an orange which is in demand nearby, and the third player may rush to build a palace on the intersection the others need to cross. Sometimes there really is nothing good to do, and that's when you can take a rupee.

There are bonuses at the end of the game, and they're extremely important. The person who has the highest combined total of palaces and clients (loose women collected along your travels) gets a large bonus, with smaller bonuses for the minor placings. Players who've sold at 3 of the 4 cities get 4 rupees, and if you've sold at all 4 you get 8 rupees. These bonuses make the palaces and tolls strategy, and the buying and selling strategy approximately equally viable. What combination of those strategies you choose depends on the tactical considerations along the way.

It's common on BGG to say that the game is weak because it's a viable strategy to never do anything and take a rupee each time - in particular Tom Vasel said this in his video review. I mentioned this to Scrabblette who pointed out that if one player did that in a 2 player game it would be equivalent to the other player playing solitaire. Of course I couldn't resist, and sat in bed playing the game. I played twice and scored something like 26 and 29, whereas the recalcitrant player only scored 18. In the 5 player game I played I scored 33. I think one of the players scored less than 17 (which is what you would score by doing nothing, as each player gets one less turn in a 5 player game), so he would have been better off doing nothing... but chances are he got screwed over a few times. Yes, some players might score better by doing nothing, but they won't win.

Finally, Bombay plays astonishingly quickly. In our first game Scrabblette and I were amazed to discover after a few minutes that we were a quarter of the way through. I think our first game took 30 minutes, the 5 player game maybe stretched as long as 75 minutes, and the solitaire games were about 15 minutes including lots of thinking. It's an impressive achievement to fit this much room for thought and strategy into such a small time.

Overall, I'm very impressed with Bombay. It has great bits, multiple ways to win, player interaction, all the things that people say they want in games except for Daleks and an interminable playing time. It's currently rating 7s on BGG, which astonishes me, as this is a truly great design.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

WYPS

Someone mentioned the game of WYPS on my geeklist the other day, and being the word game geek I am I checked it out. It's very cool! No doubt some of you are familiar with the Game of Y, an abstract strategy game that looks like this:

The object of the game is to form a single chain of your colour that connects 3 sides of the board. This is very much like Hex. It has all sorts of nice properties like someone must win, and only one person can, and the rules are dead simple.

WYPS is similar, except that rather than just taking turns to place pieces on the board, players add words.

The letters in the top left corner are the NEW letters you may use in your word. They go on empty spaces. The letters in the top right are the letters that will be used to replace the ones you use for your opponent's turn. The letters on the board are in two colours - yours and mine. My new word MUST involve at least one new tile, and whenever I add a tile I add it in my colour. My word may involve as many old tiles as I like. And when I've made my word, I can change of the letters in my word from your colour to my colour.

And the first player to connect all three sides with a chain of their own letters wins the game.

Easy, huh? Well there's quite a bit of strategy of the abstract placement / blocking / forking type, and also the word-finding buzz that makes Scrabble and other serious word games so good. WYPS is not available in physical form yet, but the designer Richard Malaschitz is working on that. For the time being you can play WYPS on-line at littlegolem.net. I think I've played 20 games so far.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

To All the People I've Offended...

King Toad is a GameWright children's game where as part of play the players have to say "Ribbit", then poke out their tongue from 1 to 4 times, then say "Ribbit" again. I submitted to BGG photos of Big Ben showing how a toad catches insects:


and Little Ben getting it half right:

The pictures were rejected because they didn't show the game, were irrelevant, and were offensive.

Eminem said it best.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Does Winning a Game Make You Like It?

I don't like console games. The kid got a GameCube last week and has been playing Medal of Honor or something on it. I tried to play with him but (a) I'm really bad it, and (b) I have no ambition to be better. I don't want to play any more. A similar thing happened on the PS3 as well but I can't even remember the name of the game. I've also noticed the same problem with board games - Bucket Brigade / Honeybears was really dull, Niagara annoys me to the point of hysteria, I enthusiastically dislike El Grande... yet I really enjoy many abstracts and word games which are ranked down around 4000 at BGG.

What I'm wondering is, do I dislike games because I suck at them, or do I suck at them because I dislike them? I don't know if I can tell. I suck at Chess and Go as well, but they get some degree of respect from me. I can't locate any highly-ranked game that I dislike despite having won at it, except maybe Railway Tycoon... and that loses most points because it was too long. To be fair, though, and game I don't like I don't get experience at and so I'm not in a position to win.

I'd like to better understand why I don't like some games, but I can't think of insightful experiments.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Should You Play Games With John?

I recently created a Facebook quiz along the lines of "How well do you know me?". In general those quizzes are pretty stupid, but they need not be - they're just general purpose multiple choice quizzes. With sufficient effort you could implement university assessment on Facebook! Anyway, my questions were along the line of:

1) All the best games involve:
a) trains
b) zombies
c) pirates
d) dice
e) black and white

to which there is exactly one answer that matches me, but I'm not going to say what it is.

Sadly I made a mistake on Question 5 - I reordered the answers and forgot to change which was the correct one. I'm not able to go back and edit the quiz. In this discussion I'm going to change the marks to reflect the answers I intended. Congratulations to CyberKev and Scrabblette who know me well enough to tell me I had a mistake.

Top of the class is, of course, Scrabblette, with 90%. She got the question about Kramer wrong. Knowing Scrabblette she would have looked on the extended stats site to find my most-played Kramer game and picked that one.

In second place, and scoring very highly for someone who doesn't even live with me, is Pateke on 80%. Pateke did live around here for a while and we played games like St Petersburg and Hansa, but sadly he left to travel the world. I miss you dude! We were meant to game together!

Next, on 60%, is my brother-in-law who is now working in Iraq and is not often available to game. For someone who can't remember which one is DVONN and which one is Gobblet, that's a good score.

Ack... I'd better wrap this up as it's time to go to work. Other notable scores were CyberKev with 50% (just as well, since we game together about once a week whether we're compatible or not); both of my sisters on 40%, and Kalyani on 10%. I find down around 30% are the people who have a significantly different idea of fun to what I do. Actually, I suspect they're right and I'm wrong.

For more details, go here : http://apps.facebook.com/quizdoyouknowme/quiz.jsp?q=11103616

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Tilted

I haven't been doing a lot of gaming over the last few months, due to a sense of ennui or existential angst or general slackness or something. And the anime thing which I mentioned earlier. But I think also I'm changing what I want from gaming, or maybe what I'm getting from it. Scrabblette has mentioned that when you do something as intensely as I do gaming it becomes like work, and that's definitely the case. I've been doing this for 5 years and 3000+ plays, and I've potentially taught people how to play 1000 of those times. That's definitely a lot of effort.

One thing I've definitely been feeling is that I'm less interested in playing new games, less interested in acquiring new games, and more interested in playing the old ones. My efforts to decrease my collection have been stymied by (a) reluctance to simply dump games, and trading doesn't really decrease the number of games you have, and (b) Scrabblette still assesses my collection on whether a game is good or not, not on whether I need to own it or not, so she resists many of my attempts to get rid of things. When I went gaming last night I stuck St Pete and Puerto Rico and Upwords in the game box. They're all old favourites, and that's what I want to play.

This morning I have been revising my ratings on BGG in line with how I feel at the moment. Although there have been no huge revisions, there have been a significant number of small ones, so I feel that rather than my tastes having seismically shifted, they've just tilted a little. Let's review some of the changes.

Torres - from a 10 down to a 9. Yes, it's a great (intense) game, but I don't always feel enthusiastic about it and doubt that I will want to play it forever.

Trias - from a 9 down to an 8. I used to rate this 10, but I don't think I've won in the last few years. That in itself is not enough to get it demoted, but dammit, I KNOW what I'm doing, and I often come last. I don't even think it's because people pick on me. I don't think the game rewards experience, and if it rewards skill I'm damned if I know what the skills of the game are. My current hypothesis is that the strategy is illusionary.

Axiom - from a 9 to a 10. I really love this freaky game and I can see there's a lot of play left in it. It's easy to teach and it messes with your head. I just need an opponent. Other than Mikey, 'cause he beat me.

Milleranagrams / Snatch - both gained a point. These are very similar speed anagramming games, which, as mentioned in my previous post, I rock at. For putting me in the zone they get high ratings.

Thebes - from an 8 to a 7. I find myself not so keen to play this, and when I do I see the winner being determined by the luck of the tile draw rather than strategy. I don't mind some luck in my games, but that amount of luck in a game that requires that amount of thought seems unfair. I would dump my copy if I was allowed.

Memoir '44 Expansions - several dropped a point. I've realised one of the great things about Memoir is that it's simple, and the expansions make it not simple. Yes, they're fun, but they're not as good as the original.

That's enough of that sort of talk! My feelings of boredom / yearning / unfulfilled desire remain strong, so I expect I will continue to tilt in the coming months. I can be sure I'm not tilting towards Ameritrash like some other BGGers have - if anything I'm tilting towards word games and abstractness. Maybe I'm getting old or something.

Intensity

There are a few games that I find very intense, i.e. when I'm playing them I get extremely involved and find myself on edge. Examples include Pick Two, Taj Mahal, St Petersburg and Domaine. These are great games, no doubt, but I don't find the same thing with other (allegedly) great games such as El Grande or Cosmic Encounter. I don't know what the difference is, I guess it's something in the mechanics intrigues me and sucks me in.

Anyway, the problem is that I find some of those games, in particular Taj Mahal, to be so intense that it's exhausting. In a given evening, I can only play one game of Taj, and sometimes I look at it on the shelf and think "No, I can't face it this evening." Having to teach the game first, which is almost always the case, makes it even more work. As a consequence, I will often put something easy to teach like Metro or Qwirkle in the game box instead of Taj.

So what should my rating for Taj be? A game that is totally awesome but I can't always play? I'll always play Metro, so should I rate it higher than Taj even though it's clearly a lesser game? I've bumped my rating for Taj up to a 9 nevertheless, as I feel I should rate the game on how I feel about it in the right situation, i.e. when my blood sugar levels are right and I've had plenty of sleep.

By the way, playing Pick Two with me is intense for everybody. In case you haven't played, there's a large pool of letter tiles. Each player starts with 8, and needs to arrange their tiles into a valid crossword formation. When someone achieves that they say "pick two" and everybody takes 2 more tiles, and they rearrange their crossword to add them. When someone has achieved that, then they say "pick two". And you keep going until the tiles run out, and score (negatively) for the tiles you didn't fit into your crossword. Speed word games are my forte, and I like to keep the pressure on, so my opponents find it hard work. Some people admit there's no point playing against me... but I don't care because I am in the zone when I play and that's a great feeling.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Over My Dead Body

I was asked the other evening, during a game of the painfully tedious Cavum, whether I'd ever played Through the Ages. No, I haven't, and I don't intend to, but I decided to do some investigation to solidify my reasons. The first thing I discovered was that I totally had it confused with Age of Empires III, an Ameritrash game I have no interest in whatsoever. So, I had even more reason to do the research.

The first place to look is the number of players and playing time. It's 2-4 players, which sounds reasonable. A minimum of 2 players suggests to me that it's not a negotiation game, which is good news to me. A maximum of 4 means that I'll only be waiting for 3 other players between my turns. However the playing time is 4 hours. This rings an alarm bell - what the hell is happening for 4 hours? I don't like long games, so at this point I'm looking for clues that I'll dislike Through the Ages for the same reason as I'll dislike other long games, so I go to the last pages of the user comments.

Miklos Kuti says "3 player game, from start to finish with rules explanation took 7 hours". OK, I've already decided I will never ever play this game. Chris Farrell (who is not me) says "This is a totally linear game in which all you can do when it's not your turn is sit around and wait. There is no player interaction to speak of. And that downtime can get extreme, especially late when players have many actions." Chris Darden says : "It's like Race for the Galaxy except not as elegant, the turns take 10x longer, and you can target specific people to hurt their progress. Not only can you target people, but the opportunity exists to dogpile on people (with person after person attacking the same player on the same turn). This will not only take the leader down a notch, but knock him out for a good, long time."

Oh good, so there's screwage as well! There's nothing that makes me more miserable than concentrating on a game for hours to then be screwed over by some jealous arsehole. Maybe next time they make their bed I could come shit in it... it is completely beyond me what's fun about a game like that. So, the only way I'll be playing Through the Ages is posthumously. I guess that means CyberKev will have to organise the time and place...

Friday, May 29, 2009

Spirited Away?

OMG WTF has happened to Friendless? He hasn't written on his blog for a month except for that piece of crap about the harem which wasn't even funny, and just look at how few games he played in April:



Has he lost interest in blogging? In gaming? Has he stopped playing with himself?

I think it is a bit of some of those. I know I haven't felt like playing complex games so much, preferring to carry around games that are easy to teach rather than those that are interesting to play. Sometimes, when you teach five games in an evening, it's just not so relaxing. Critical Mass is now every week, which is kinda good, except I'm teaching games all the time. New people are being trained up as geeks... one day they will teach me games.

Besides that, Scrabblette is working hard in the evenings and I have no regular opponent. The kid is now obsessed with youtube and some sort of really fricking annoying dancing and music and on-line games and so on, so he's no use to me either.We've also started going to the gym so I spend quite a bit of time physically exhausted. However, there is one much more sinister thing going on in my life...

Anime.

I bought the kid a couple of volumes of manga (Japanese comic books) for Christmas, and read one of them on the bus on the way home from work. It was Death Note volume 1. Holy dooley, it was so good! Over the next few months I bought all of the other Death Note volumes (12 volumes at $15 each), and several other series as well. None of them are anywhere near as good as Death Note, but some have my interest.

Then in about March we discovered there was an anime (Japanese animation) meet-up near us, so we started going along to that. The kid had a great time because he got to hang out with cool people who knew the same pop culture as he did, as opposed to people like me who got bitten once by Harry Potter and aren't having a bar of that Twilight crap. So I asked the guys for anime recommendations and ended up watching X by Clamp and some Studio Ghibli movies (such as Spirited Away).

I recognised what was happening to me from what happened to me when I discovered BGG - I'd found a new topic of interest and I was trying to become an expert in it. That's how I operate. I was reading anime sites, browsing shops, asking for recommendations from everyone I could find. Once I realised that, though, I decided I could do it a bit smarter than I did with board games where I had to buy pretty much everything I wanted to try.

I discovered that the Brisbane City Council library has a reasonable range of anime and manga, so I've been borrowing lots of those. I've discovered I don't much like the boys' manga (such as Naruto) and the girls' manga (such as Peach Girl) is more readable but tediously boring. I do like Hayao Miyazaki's movies, but otherwise the things I enjoy are pretty hard to find. That's why I'm confident that anime won't take over from board gaming.

Nevertheless, doing all this research takes a long time. I almost own all of the Studio Ghibli movies now, which Scrabblette's niece approved of when she visited, but it took me maybe a dozen evenings to watch them. Hayao Miyazaki is the creative genius behind most of them. He combines "nice" stories with stunning art and (preferably) some spiritual elements to produce some very cool works of art. When I get my harem my concubines will love them.

There's a whole new world in manga. Japanese people have very different ideas on sex to Westerners, so there are genres like "yaoi", which titillates teenage girls, and "ecchi" which titillates teenage boys... and these are astonishingly popular. Everyone's heard of "hentai" which involves tentacles, and then there's all the fighting anime which is put on Western TV to get five year old boys hyped up. In Japan, there's manga or anime for every taste, and I really do mean every taste.

Anyway, this thing will sort itself out. Eventually I will be sick of crappy anime and look for something to do, and Runebound will still be there, waiting for me.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

By the Time You Read This I Will Probably Have a Harem

I just went over the road to grab my lunch from the cafe, and while I was waiting started reading a teen-girl magazine - it might have been called "Girlfriend" but as the masthead was torn off I can't be sure. Anyway, the first 20 pages or so were various quizzes and self-assessment tests such as "What's your Facebook IQ?", "Does he really love you?", "What's your dominant chakra?" and all that sort of crap. It occurred to me that this is exactly the sort of thing BoardGameGeeks ask all the time - "How many plays have you recorded?", "What's your favourite genre?", "What game should I buy next?". And if there's one person poised to exploit statistics for personal fame, it's me. With a few tweaks I should have some star sign histograms and Ladio Gaga vs Pink comparisons running pretty soon, and then the teenagers will adore me.

I will just talk to Scrabblette about adding a room onto the house to keep the girls in and I can start inviting some fans over. I bet this is how Hugh Hefner started.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Indian Games




















Scrabblette recently returned from India with a swag of Indian games for me. You'd expect a country of a billion people to have a history of unique games, but we haven't seen much evidence that's actually the case. Chaturanga is a predecessor of Chess and is an Indian game; and Parcheesi is famous in the west as Trouble and Ludo, but otherwise there don't seem to be many of them. OK, two of the most popular games of all time are Indian, but where are the modern Indian games?

One company which is trying to preserve Indian gaming heritage is Kreeda. This company is a very small operation producing affordable games for an Indian market. This concept excited me, so Scrabblette procured anything that looked interesting.


















Sadly, Kreeda games are not up to the quality we've come to expect from Rio Grande (though they are about the same quality as Milton Bradley). Vanavaas and Search for Sita are simple roll-and-moves aimed at teaching children the stories of the Ramayana. Ashtaa Chemmaa is a form of Parcheesi, and Kalanay Belanay is a completely choiceless game. Sadly, the rules to Dahdi did not make it back from India (we suspect Scrabblette's nephew may be involved). Chaturvimshathi Koshtaka is almost an interesting abstract game, but suffers from the same fault as many traditional games in that the rules are not precise enough to describe a game with any tension.

The pick of the product line is Battle of Lanka, another game based on the Ramayana. For those who aren't familiar with the story, the climax of the Ramayana is a battle between Rama's army, including his champion Hanuman, and Ravana's army.
















The game is a card game where players are attempting to collect larger armies than the other players; including accessories that the armies use to increase their power. The cards don't particularly match any of the Ramayana stories I've read, but I'm just a beginner in Indian culture. We found the game to be quite playable, particularly with 4 players.

I have a bunch of games from another Indian publisher as well, but this article is long enough already, so I hope to post again soon.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Palago

I mentioned in an earlier article about gamerz.net that Cameron Browne had designed a game called Lambo. Lambo is a fun game to play on-line, but it just screams "Bakelite!" and you always wish you had tiles to flick around. As I said, Lambo had become a very interesting game, so Cameron talked to the people who specialise in Bakelite hex tile games, the Tantrix people, and they agreed to publish his game. It's a marriage made in whatever good place atheists believe good marriages are made in, because Cam has many tile-laying designs.

Lambo had to have its name changed, though. Originally the name was derived from Mambo, one of Cam's previous games and also the name of an Australian clothing company. While the name Lambo probably wouldn't run into any trademark issues, it also maybe didn't inspire people to think of a great game. The name Palago is more likely to work - it has the "Go" part, reminding people of a great two player game which is nothing like Palago, and a "Pala" part which reminds people of the Pacific islands of Palau where Oliver Sacks found so much to write about. Or maybe people will have not heard of either of those parts of the name, and they will think it's a cute little game.

During the week my copy of Palago arrived, and I showed it to everyone who'd sit still. I still think it's a very interesting game, though I've been unable to convince my opponents yet. Maybe it's better if they don't get beaten. If you're interested, you can play and buy Palago on-line. If you want to play on gamerz.net, let me know.



Confrontation

Many of you are probably wondering "how come John is writing on his blog all of a sudden?" The fact of the matter is that I always have things to say, but don't often have the time. Today I've decided to neglect everything else and make the time. That's why I will go to work tomorrow in dirty clothes and with no breakfast, and no work has been done on the stats in a week. Don't complain, you got blog posts to read.

One of the features of games I often discuss with CyberKev is confrontation, in particular the difference between multi-player games and two-player games. In a multi-player game, I don't understand why people feel the need to attack me, when other people are plainly nastier, smellier, and less deserving of victory. I even have a special T-shirt for wearing to game with CyberKev, as illustrated on Ozvortex's blog. I get particularly annoyed because whenever we play a game where the primary strategy is to attack the leader, CyberKev wins. I don't get how he does that. But when he says "hey, look how well John's doing", what I hear is "everybody let me win". And almost inevitably, that's how it works out. CyberKev should go into politics.

When we discuss this, CyberKev asks questions like "what about two player games? That bastard opponent is picking on you all the time." Um, yes, of course. In a two player game, what is good for the opponent is bad for me, and vice versa. It would have to be a pretty odd two player game to allow a move which was bad for both of us, though I'm sure if Santiago or In The Year of the Dragon were able to be played two player they could achieve it. But generally, if my opponent picks on me in a two player game, I'm not shocked by their meanness.

I've been reading "Hobby Games: The 100 Best" for a few months now, and I was surprised to read a comment in it in the review of Vampire: The Eternal Struggle:
Still, because VTES requires at least three players, with most sessions including four or five, games feel less confrontational than traditional one-on-one trading card duels.
Huh? I thought about it for a second and realised that yes, two player games are confrontational. That's kinda the definition. But they don't confront me (just so long as I get my rent money by next Friday). Even when I play squash on Saturday mornings I don't feel like I'm confronting my opponent. We're just doing an exercise which happens to require two people.

I get the impression from what I read on BGG that some people, particularly non-gaming wives, do feel confronted in two player games, even in Lost Cities - the opponent is mean if keeps the cards that you need, apparently. When I first started gaming with Scrabblette she seemed a bit taken aback by how mean I was when I played games, but she soon learned to play like me - to win. To me, it's much more confronting when my opponents have to choose whom they screw over and they choose me - they could have been nice to me, but they chose not to.

I tend to avoid games where hitting the leader is an important strategy. If I'm the leader it's because I'm doing something right. There's some sort of meta-skill related to being able to convince others who the leader is while not obviously being a conniving backstabber that CyberKev has that I don't. (BTW, I'd like to point out that for all of the negotiation / political games CyberKev has beaten me at, he has always always played honorably, and that just makes it more amazing.) I prefer games where you can see what the objective is, and whoever plays best to achieve that objective wins the game.

Being blocked by an opponent is much more acceptable to me than having my stuff taken off me - I guess if I'm going to be interfered with I prefer a subtle nudge rather than a brutal shove. In a great game like St Petersburg, for example, you might block me by taking a card I want into your hand - and that disadvantages you as well, whereas in a crap game like Twilight Imperium III you were in my base killin' my dudez! *MY* dudez!

Anyway, I've run out of ideas for this rant for the moment. Inspire me with your tales of confrontation.

Eat the Germans!

Yesterday we (me, Scrabblette, the kid, and Sammy the puppy dog) went to visit our friends Marianne and Ronja, because it was Marianne's birthday. At the left is a photo of Sammy greeting Ronja at my front gate when she came to visit once. Sammy and Ronja like to hang out together, complaining that we won't let them inside. When we do let them inside they get very excited and run around knocking things (like people) over.

Anyway, Marianne has a lot of German friends, so the party roughly consisted of two groups - the English-speaking gamers, and the game-speaking Germans. In the afternoon we united for a game of Werewolf, capably moderated and explained by CyberKev (who deserves a medal for always moderating and rarely getting to play). There were 15 of us all up, making it the biggest game of Werewolf I've played, and the maximum size supported by my deck. We had two werewolves, a seer, and 12 villagers.

Of course, I got to be a werewolf. I was kinda looking forward to relaxing on the deck, eventually being eaten and having a quiet afternoon, but the luck of the cards meant I'd be prowling the streets all night and having to shave twice in the morning.

On the first night the werewolves awoke, and my co-lupine was Nina, one of the German people. I knew from experience that killing someone I knew to be a threat was bad, for example, my kid usually makes life difficult for me in Werewolf, but killing him would throw suspicion on me, so he had to live. I didn't know who Nina knew, so we couldn't easily choose a German person for the same reason. However there was a guy who was neither a gamer nor German, so we killed him. Poor guy.

Morning came, and I instantly adopted my villager attitude. Working on the same theory that I'd used to avoid killing the kid, I asked who knew the guy who had been killed. Wolfgang immediately jumped on me, saying "you're asking a lot of questions, maybe you're the werewolf!" which of course was very true. I think though if I'd been a villager I would have done the same thing. Luckily, though, the rest of the group responded with "you're very quick to accuse, maybe YOU'RE the werewolf!". I decided to keep my mouth shut and see what happened.

Eventually the group had 8 votes to lynch Wolfgang (an unfortunate name for this game - it means "he who goes (hunts) like the wolf"), including Nina but not including me - I didn't need to be seen to be murderous, and they strung him up. Night came, and when Nina and I opened our eyes she suggested one of the German guys, so I agreed. Morning came, and I just quietly watched. Nigel and Marianne were leading the discussion, and was working on theories involving the people sitting near the dead people - Lucia, Hubertus and Nina. Again the tall poppy syndrome struck, and Nigel was lynched. It was dangerous to say anything in this game! It's not really like me to be quiet in Werewolf, but I might have been even if I was a villager, with this crowd.

Hubertus suggested Nina may be a werewolf. I wasn't clear where he'd got that idea from - maybe he was the seer? I kept him in mind. Hubertus is easy to trust, and was a potentially dangerous adversary. I didn't want to speak out against him though, so I had to see which way the village was leaning. I think they lynched Lucia next (this time, because she was too quiet). As Marianne had been throwing some accusations in the completely wrong direction, Nina and I ate her that night - best to give those suspicions some sustenance :-). Sorry, birthday girl! For some reason though, the crowd turned against Nina again. Hubertus pointed out that she had been quick to jump in on some of the bandwagon votes, which I'd noticed was true, so maybe she'd been a little careless. I'd been very careful about that - only voting to lynch Nigel when the day was really dragging on and we had to lynch someone to progress the game. Anyway, on the second and final vote to lynch Nina, I voted with the villagers. Sorry, partner! I even joined in with the cheering when we discovered she was a werewolf.

That was just in time for the village - I think we were down to 8 players now, and if two of them had been werewolves that would have been terribly difficult. The village was still in with a chance, with only me standing between them and victory.

I was still trying to figure out who the seer was. Hubertus didn't obviously have any information he shouldn't have. Someone did ask what the seer knew, and Scrabblette gave an awkward answer, so I suspected her as well. However I thought if Scrabblette was the seer she would have checked me out, and she hadn't been speaking against me, so I wasn't sure. I did have the feeling though that the seer was in the group of three to my right - Scrabblette, the kid, and Newman - so I killed the kid. It wasn't him.

With the noisy people out of the game the quiet people were forced to talk more. DrAnnalog is always very quiet, Miss Jane started to speak up, Werner started to speak up. Suspicion was still aimed at the German end of the table though, and the villagers chose to lynch Lucia who'd been under suspicion for a while. She was not a werewolf. Overnight, I killed Scrabblette who was indeed the seer, and had only checked out innocent people, most of whom were dead now.

With only 6 of us left, the argument boiled down to "who voted to lynch Nina?" and "who didn't vote to lynch Lucia?". I was on the villager side of both of those votes, so there was still no suspicion on me. At this point I was working with DrAnnalog and Hubertus to figure out which of Werner, Jane and Newman was the remaining werewolf. That was a good position for me to be in. It was clear that all of us were on the right side of one of those votes, which didn't help at all. In the end we decided to kill Werner. There was no good reason to, but that certainly didn't worry me! It was someone else's idea so I went with it!

Overnight, I killed Hubertus, leaving DrAnnalog, Newman and Miss Jane in the game. I completely trusted DrAnnalog, but I was suspicious of Miss Jane and not sure about Newman. At this point I was playing a fairly active role as a villager, which is of course what a werewolf needs to do. DrAnnalog was looking at Miss Jane, and that was whom I was hoping to lynch as well, so when Newman indicated he would agree, we strung her up.

With Miss Jane died the last hope for the village. Overnight I ate one of the remaining villagers, and woke the other up in the morning and ate them as well because I'd run out of cereal. A glorious victory to the werewolves!

Nina, despite dying played a fundamental part in the wolf victory. She helped some of the early bandwagons get rolling, and my betrayal of her was an important factor in the victory. For example, when Miss Jane was defending herself, her argument was "I voted to lynch Nina, so I'm not a werewolf", to which I responded "I voted to lynch Nina too, so you have to die."

The closest I felt I came to being caught was right at the very beginning, when Wolfgang accused me. Good work to Wolfgang, but I was luckily able to retreat and let him become an example to others. It was an excellent game, though stressful and tiring. BTW, Germans are crunchy.

Battlestar Galactica

One of the hot games on BGG at the moment is Battlestar Galactica. I've been ignoring it. If it doesn't come with a life-size miniature of the '80s Cassiopeia:




I'm not very interested. Nevertheless, that was what was on the table at CyberKev's place, so that was what we played. Adam gave a quick rules explanation, some of which I followed, but I figured there was so much writing on the board it would all become clear. That was almost true by the end of the game.

First of all, I would like to say OMGSTARBUCKSAGIRL! I hope those coffee people don't mind that they've named their chain after a hot little blonde girl, instead of a (presumably) hot little blonde boy:



Maybe he was the male equivalent of Cassiopeia in the '80s? Anyway, more cute girls is better. When we chose characters Phil took Starbuck so I couldn't have the other cute pilot - if we're playing characters I like to choose someone I don't mind looking at for several hours. If I wanted a female character I needed to be the president, and with my feeble understanding of the rules I figured it was best for the human race that I didn't do that. I took Gaius Baltar instead.

Of course, I was completely ignorant of the fact that Baltar is well-known for being of dubious loyalty. In fact, looking at Wikipedia, there's a lot about him I was completely ignorant of. It's interesting that in the '80s series Baltar was a shadowy, obviously evil guy, but the modern-day equivalent is that he's a womaniser. How times have changed! I wonder if he's evil enough to smoke?

At the start of the game each player receives a loyalty card, like in Shadows Over Camelot, except this card tells them whether they're a Cylon or not. The very clever mechanic that represents Baltar's dubious loyalty is that he receives two loyalty cards, and if either says he's a Cylon then he is, which gives him about a 50% chance of being one. I wasn't, but of course I was under suspicion.

To complete the list of roles selected - Trevor was the admiral, CyberKev was the president, Adam was the Adama pilot, and the Evil Count was the janitor or handyman or something. So, onto the game.

The first two things that happened to us were Cylon attacks, so we sent the pilots out to fight them. That didn't work very well - Starbuck got injured and Adama had to go get petrol for his Viper or something. However the Cylons weren't obviously hurting us either - I guess if combat was more effective it would be more of a fighting game than the sort of political cooperation game that it is.

I quite like the way cards are played to achieve cooperation or betrayal. Each player has a hand of skill cards of various colours - yellow is political, blue is engineering, and there are 3 other colours. As a minor politician I was drawing two yellow cards and some others each turn. At the end of your turn you have to take a crisis card which represents an obstacle to be overcome by the crew. The challenge specifies what colours can be used to defeat it, and what total value in those colours must be attained to succeed. Cards of the other colours count as negative. Two cards are drawn from a random pool and added to the contributions, then each player adds as many cards as they like without revealing what colours those cards are. When all the cards are collected, they're shuffled and the total calculated. Nice cooperative players like Baltar will have contributed the good colours, but wicked wicked Cylons might have put in the other colours. Given that there were only two random cards added to the pile, if there are more than two bad cards contributed, someone is a Cylon.

That didn't happen to us for quite a while. In fact we were a team of overachievers, regularly scoring 10 more than we needed. We figured either the Cylons were not revealed, i.e. the Cylon loyalty cards would come out in the second round of loyalty, or the Cylons were trying to be tricky. Either way, we were doing well.

Some of the crisis cards have an icon which means "progress on the hyperjump track". After you've revealed a few of those cards you have the option of warping the ship and actually making some progress towards Earth. If you decide to jump before you're not quite ready you might lose some of the colonist ships on the way which costs you population. Oh goodness, now I've got to explain that as well. The BSG (as opposed to the BGG, the BFG, or even the BBG) has a certain amount of fuel, food, population and morale. The crises that befall you whittle away those values, and if any of them fall to zero the Cylons win. The BSG is escorting a fleet of colonist ships containing, for example, ugly dirty people who don't get to be on the TV show. When the Cylons attack, and they have no Vipers to fight, they destroy colonist ships, each of which costs you some amount of fuel, food or population - so losing fights means you come closer to losing the game, and having no Vipers defending is pretty bad.

Anyway, when you hyperjump you leave behind all of the Cylons you were fighting. You may alos not be organised enough to get the word out to all of the ugly dirty people, so you may lose some population as well. We figured a few times that if we didn't jump the Cylons would destroy colonist ships anyway, so if jumped early and lost some population we'd still be better off. The show's not about those people anyway.

When you hyperjump you move a certain number of steps toward Earth. The Admiral draws two travel cards, each of which grants you a certain number of steps and a penalty, and of course the higher the number of steps the higher the penalty. Our Admiral was extremely cautious, meaning that after 3 jumps we'd only moved 4 steps of a required 8. Not only were we still a long way from home, but the game was taking a really long time and I was starting to doubt the loyalty of the Admiral.

After 4 steps, more loyalty cards are handed out. If you receive a Cylon in this batch, you suddenly discover you're a Cylon. By that time we knew there was a Cylon amongst us, and as the bad cards were red - pilot cards - we suspected Phil or Adam. Even worse, we discovered that the Evil Count von Handyman was a Cylon sympathiser and we had to throw him in the brig.

The game then entered a long political phase, during which the BSG seemed to be becalmed. Although the handyman was in the brig and was known not to be a Cylon, it was a political argument to try to get him released. We needed to pass a yellow-purple skill check, and someone kept throwing in red cards. We strongly suspected Adam(a), and wanted to throw him in the brig as well, but that was a purple-green skill check and red cards kept disrupting that as well. The Cylons were also out to get the Admiral, i.e. trying to depose Trevor so they could steer the ship themselves. Looking back I can see the beauty of the struggle, but at the time it just seemed to drag.

Madam President brought some sanity to the situation with an inquiry into the imprisonment of the handyman. When Adam(a) blatantly voted against releasing him from the brig, we knew we'd found a Cylon. Shortly afterwards, we figured out that Starbuck was a Cylon as well. BOTH of our pilots were bad guys. We began to think we were screwed, as there was nobody to fight the Cylons and they'd just pick off our colonist ships whenever they got the chance.

Still the game did not end. The interstellar wind picked up and we started moving again. The political machinations over the Admiralty had been resolved in our favour, and the Handyman had been appointed Acting Admiral. He certainly drove a lot faster and more recklessly than the previous guy. As the nuts and bolts started to fall off the BSG we jumped twice, and were in sight of home - just one more warp to win the game.

There still wasn't much hope though. The Cylons called all of their friends on the CB radio and told them where we were, and we were under attack with no defence. Adam(a) finally played a super-crisis which pushed us over the edge, and I think the last of our population died. The Cylons won!

Well, it might have been exciting, except by this time I was trying to sleep between turns. We'd been playing for 4 and a half hours or so, which is more than I care to spend on any game, especially after my bedtime! I can see how parts of the game are well-designed, and it all seems to work, but... I just don't care. I don't care for the theme, and I don't want to spend that long playing any game. If you like the TV series, and if you like long games, and if you like Ameritrash, then this is an EXCELLENT game for you. I won't be playing it again, but I hope you enjoy it.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Find a Home for Frankie

This is Frankie. You can read his story on DrAnnalog's blog. He needs a home. How can you say no!?

Friday, February 20, 2009

Friendless Sings the Blues


Last year Scrabblette and I went to the Brisbane International Film Festival and saw an animated movie called Sita Sings the Blues. It's an animated movie combining part of the Ramayana and some '20s American jazz music. Strangely, it works brilliantly. However the author has a problem - although the recording of the jazz is out of copyright, the arrangement is not. I don't even know what an arrangement is. But before Sita can be released, the author has to pay $50,000 in copyright fees. That would be easy enough, with half the world on the "no copyright, free content, information wants to be free" bandwagon, but of course hardly anyone has heard of the movie. So far the effort at questioncopyright.org has only raised 15% of the required money.

After I donated my small amount, I received a copy of the movie in the mail. The author is going to release it for free download when she's allowed to. You can help! Make your donation, watch the movie, and tell everyone how great it is!

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Happy Birthday Melissa!

The legendary Melissa celebrated her birthday yesterday. Wouldn't she have loved to get a Norden gateleg table OMGLIKE I DID! I only got it because my study kinda sucks - it's too hot in summer, too cold in winter, and too far from the rest of the house, which means I've been using the dining room table as my study for a couple of months. Scrabblette wants to use the dining room table for her study, so we had to find somewhere else for the computer to do. It disturbs me a little that I have a new table and its primary purpose is not to play games on - what am I turning into?

BTW, for anyone considering purchasing one of these from IKEA, here are some interesting facts. They weight 42kg, and aren't on wheels, so they're not as portable as you might think. The screws are made of a really soft metal so I had to screw 31 of them in by hand, which gave me blisters. The assembly took me about an hour I suppose, and wasn't very hard if you've done as much IKEA stuff as I have.

Friday, February 13, 2009

My Game Room: A Video Tour

Here's a video tour of my game room. It's no Academy Award winner, as I was learning how to use the camera and it was early in the morning. But, it might be enough to make you jealous.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

More Glory to Rome

In response to Todd D.'s question above, we're using version IV of Glory to Rome. Which we did again tonight. This time we used the building powers, and although the game took longer this time we played with the full deck, so we got the proper experience. We were also a whole lot more savvy - we were wary of putting valuable stuff into the pool, and played more jokers and so on.

In our first game, I won because I had a lot of builders. I think I might have even had a builder client. I had some good stuff in my stockpile and squirreled it away and got good points that way. In the second game that was never going to work.

I started rather poorly I thought - building a purple building and a blue building. With so much work to do, I invested in Architect and Craftsman clients. When I finally finished one of those buildings it gave me the special power that any leader or follower cards I played went into my stockpile... which was pretty sweet. I also made a building that allowed me to play a card from my hand into my stockpile when I was Labourer. So I had a steady stream of cards going into my stockpile, and the clients to build with, so I just needed to crank that machine to get some good building done. One of the things I built was a Statue (+3 VP), so I ended the game on 17VP.

The Evil Count had a good machine going, with Architects and Craftsmen as well, whom he could also press-gang into Labour. As he was sitting to my right I had no hope of working a Labourer strategy, so the direct stockpile feeding worked nicely. CyberKev had a sweet building which gave him the benefit of marble buildings before he completed building them, so he started a lot of those. I couldn't see what Ozvortex was doing so well, as he was down the other end of the table... I think he had a Labourer client as well, which took away some of the Evil Count's advantage.

Anyway, I had no great strategy other than described above, but I realised that I was ahead on points and should try to end the game, so I did. I'd considered leading Merchant, but the Evil Count had a wicked combo which would have gamed him at least 6 points, and I think CyberKev and Ozvortex would have benefitted a lot as well, so it's lucky I didn't.

I do like Glory to Rome, but the building powers change the game quite dramatically. The Evil Count's building which gave him effectively 2 or 3 free Labourer clients meant we just couldn't put anything into the pool. CyberKev had special powers for all of his marble buildings and so had a hand size of 11. I felt completely underpowered - all I could do was build buildings. I like the effect of buildings in Puerto Rico, where they have a power but it's not so blatantly strong. Sure the hacienda gives you more guys, but its other subtle effect is to make the game end faster. The small market is not so great, but the few times you use it it's sweet. Glory to Rome's buildings tend to hit the game with a hammer.

In the end though, we liked it and will play it again.

Conflict of Heroes

I recently got excited and bought Conflict of Heroes Awakening the Bear - a game about the Eastern Front in WW2. I was hoping it was a heavier version of Memoir '44, which I love. Instead it's a lighter version of ASL, which is not so bad but not as good as I'd hoped.

I've only played ASL SK1, only Scenario 1 at that, but I'll try to compare them. The things that are missing from ASL include: leaders, the CRT, rules about carrying machine guns, counter exhaustion, and all of the fire phases. Leaders are abstracted away as Command Action Points - action points you can use to do whatever you want. The CRT is replaced by a random chit draw, and the chits remind me very much of the results from the CRT in ASL, but they say on them what the effect is rather than me having to remember. The fire phases are replaced by a very clever action-reaction system which I guess I'll have to describe.

The game takes place over a number of rounds - 5 in the first scenario. Each round consists of a number of player turns. On a player's turn he may activate up to 1 unit and receives 7 action points (APs) to use with that unit. APs can be used to move, fire, rally, whatever. Throughout his turn the player takes a number of actions which can be: expend APs (on the activated unit), expend CAPs (on any unit, even those which have run out of APs), play a card, or take an opportunity action. An opportunity action is where you take an unactivated unit and do one (any) action with it, and it loses its chance for activation later in the round. So to use an unactivated unit you have two options - use CAPs, which run out, or use an opportunity action which prevents activation later.

Anyway, after each of the player's actions, the opponent has a chance to take an action in response. As the opponent has no activated unit, he can't use APs, he can only use CAPs, cards, or opportunity actions. These moves are non-optimal use of resources, but sometimes necessary. For example, if it's your turn and you try to run your guys across a field in front of my machine gun, I will use CAPs to shoot at you. Or, if you turn your tank on my machine gun emplacement, I will use an opportunity action to move them into the forest out of your line of sight. If you can force me to use my CAPs and opportunity actions on defence, there'll be fewer action points I can use on offence.

When you choose to do no more actions on your turn, the turn marker passes to me and I can now do as many actions as I like, but again I can only activate one unit (to get APs) on my turn. Other units can be used, but they need to be powered by CAPs or OAs. We alternate taking turns until both of us in succession choose to use no action points on a turn - either because we're exhausted, or it's tactically wise. Then the next round starts, and all units get refreshed (so they can become activated again), we get our CAPs back, and we dice for initiative. Once you understand how it works it's pretty sweet.

The physical components of the game are very very nice. The map boards are like those from ASL except they're heavy enough to double as tank armour. The chits are chunky and attractive. The cards... OK, I don't like the artwork on the cards so much, but physically they're fine. The rule book is kinda big - don't try to read it on a crowded bus - but it gets its message across (caveat: I'm only up to the part where it says "now play scenario 2"). The box is a bit flimsy, and mine was damaged before it got to me. If only they'd taken lessons from the guys who made the C&C Ancients box.

In play (I've only played the first scenario) the game feels similar to ASL. Gun emplacements control a large space, so you need to avoid them. This provokes tactics like sneaking towards the objective under cover of forest so you can get to a position with a good view. Roads are not as powerful in CoH - roads are exactly equivalent to open fields as far as I can tell, so the ASL strategy of controlling the road is not as effective. I'll have to play more to get a better feel, but I'm sure with CoH I'll get to tanks much sooner than I ever will with ASL SK, because that will probably be never.

Overall, I'm quite impressed. I could still go for something a little simpler, but I do appreciate the strength of the simulation compared to the complexity of the rules. Memoir is a great game but it is practical for infantry to run across in front of a tank without being scared, and that's maybe not so realistic. Conflict of Heroes gives much of the ASL feel, with only a fraction of the complexity.

Saturday, January 31, 2009

New Games This Month

I haven't done a whole lot of gaming this month (i.e. not as much as I want to) for a couple of reasons. Firstly, my personal game slave Scrabblette was away, and secondly, Scrabblette came home again. Scrabblette is one of my favourite opponents, but when she got back from being away for almost a month we had a backlog of movies to watch, presents to play with, a dog to dogsit, and so on. In particular I haven't played many new games this month, but that's also quite deliberate - I already have a lot of games that I like, and I'd just like to play them a lot more. As I've only played 4 new games I can give each of them a quick review.

Curses - Curses is perhaps the stupidest party game I've ever played. It has a lot of competition, e.g. The Dancing Egg Game. In Curses, each player is given curse cards requiring that they behave in some manner, such as they have to talk like a pirate, or they can't bend their elbows, or they have to wave their hands around whenever they speak. If a player fails to do any of the things required by their curse cards they can be called out as a curse breaker, at which point they lose the curse. When they've lost three curses they're eliminated from the game. The funny part comes when they have to talk like a pirate and not bend their elbows and wave their hands around when they speak ALL AT THE SAME TIME. It can be hard work, and if you play with kids like I do it can be fairly merciless. Add to those curses a requirement that whenever you're touched you have to say a nursery rhyme (in a voice like a pirate), and add kids who keep poking you, and you've got a challenging game. It is of course, kinda funny, and the kids loved it, but I'd prefer something a lot more cerebral.

Glory to Rome - This is a card game somewhat like San Juan on steroids, where each card can be used as raw materials, a building, or a character. The objective is to build enough buildings that you can steal enough raw materials to become the richest player. It's a pretty clever design, and I enjoyed the basic game. I haven't played the advanced game yet, where the buildings have special powers, but it seems there'd be a lot to keep up with. Although I liked the game I wasn't so impressed with the components, so I hope a bigger publisher picks it up. It definitely has depth and deserves a lot of play.

Slam Dunk Card Game - I would normally avoid children's card games, but this was designed by Knizia so it's worth a look. A guess it's a combination of Ra and Snap. Only Reiner could make it work. Essentially there are some donut cards which are worth points in particular combinations. Some are just worth negative points. One player lays cards down, and the others may slap their hand down on the table at any time to get the cards that have been laid. At the end of the game players calculate their points from the cards they've collected, and whoever has the most points wins. It's not so interesting, but I would play it with kids.

Der Schwarm - This is a German game based on the book by Frank Schatzing (which he wrote in German). I don't really understand the plot so well, but it seems there's something (called The Swarm) growing in the ocean which can change ocean currents and possess sea creatures. Players play research expeditions competing to find out the most about this swarm. The swarm is meanwhile eating their ships, attacking them with sea creatures, and generally being difficult. In our sole play we misplayed a rule which made it a bit too easy, but we liked it anyway. Players gather their actions by a Vikings-like auction, then execute those actions one by one. There's some cool player interaction as you see what actions other players have gathered and prepare to defend against them. Exploring the swarm is something of a connection game, and there are ships, whales and a giant crab which are remiscent of Escape From Atlantis. The kid and I enjoyed it, and we went out the next day and bought the novel (in English). It's almost 900 pages so I'd love to see the kid read it.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Most Played Designers, 2009 Edition

Lacxox's geeklist (http://www.boardgamegeek.com/geeklist/38463) reminded me of the articles I wrote a couple of years ago about how many plays were recorded for each designer for the users pf the stats. I realised that now I have the plays in a database, an updated version of those numbers is no more than an SQL query away. In case I forget, here's the query:

select d.name, sum(p.quantity) from designers d, plays p, games g, gameDesigners gd where p.game = g.bggid and d.bggid = gd.designerId and g.bggid = gd.gameId group by d.bggid order by 2 desc
So that's ALL plays recorded by my 600+ users (including plays of expansions). What are the answers?

  1. Reiner Knizia 69673 plays - an average of 117 plays per user
  2. Alan Moon 26208 plays
  3. Wolfgang Kramer 20931
  4. Thomas Lehmann 17086 - holy dooley, I bet they're mostly Race
  5. Klaus-Jurgen Wrede 16975
  6. Andreas Seyfarth 15938
  7. Richard Garfield 15481
  8. Klaus Teuber 14935
  9. Richard Borg 13120
  10. Michael Schacht 13104
  11. Uwe Rosenberg 13103
  12. Bruno Faidutti 11843
  13. Friedemann Friese 10283
  14. Donald X. Vaccarino 8877 - the new sensation, it's all Dominion!
  15. Stefan Dorra 8430
  16. Martin Wallace 8404
  17. Aaron Weissblum 7992
  18. Brunot Cathala 7625
  19. Dirk Henn 6615
  20. Michael Kiesling 6469
  21. Rudiger Dorn 6282
  22. Sid Sackson 6249
  23. Bernd Brunnhofer 6109
  24. Franz-Benno Delonge 5965
  25. Stefan Feld 5963
I've left out Uncredited (2nd place) and Michael Tummelhofer (practically identical to Brunnhofer). Here's a quick list of the next guys: Burm, Gimmler, van Ness, Colovini, Daviau, Hostettler, Cassasola Merkle, Tavitian, Cornett, Maublanc, Yianni, van Moorsel. I like this list much better than Tom Vasel's list of allegedly great designers I've never heard of.

Now, what if I do this: (which are the most played games)
select g.name, sum(p.quantity) from plays p, games g where p.game = g.bggid group by g.bggid order by 2 desc

Let's go till we find something I haven't played :-).
  1. Race for the Galaxy 13103
  2. Magic 11023
  3. Dominion 8878 (Donald X. Was 8877 above, the database must have been updated)
  4. Lost Cities 7480
  5. Carcassonne 7324
  6. Ticket to Ride 6451
  7. San Juan 5984
  8. Settlers 5935
  9. Puerto Rico 5846
  10. Power Grid 5560
  11. Agricola 5521
  12. St Pete 4580
  13. Ingenious 4429
  14. Tichu 4387
  15. No Thanks! 4375
  16. Diamant 4313
  17. Ra 4280
  18. Hive 4049
  19. Loopin' Louie 4003
  20. For Sale 3956
  21. Crokinole 3856
  22. Bohnanza 3735
  23. Pandemic 3714
  24. Category 5 3690
  25. Coloretto 3544
  26. Liar's Dice 3521
  27. Go 3387
  28. Hey! That's My Fish! 3360
  29. Tigris & Euphrates 3340
  30. Can't Stop 3335
  31. Memoir '44 3220
  32. Notre Dame 3217
I haven't played Notre Dame, and don't really need to.

Friendless Metric Planning

We had a Critical Mass day of games today. I played Crokinole, Vikings, Fairy Tale, Fist of Dragonstones, La Citta, TransAmerica and Buyword. But that is not what this article is about.

I realised while I was playing Vikings that it's a great game that I should eventually play 10 times. Actually, if I had fewer games I could see it easily getting to 30, but lets' not get ahead of ourselves. Remember that the Friendless Metric is calculated like this: count how many games you've played 10 or more times, and call that number n. Then figure out how many times you've played your nth least-played game. That's your Friendless Metric. Mine is currently at 1, and I'd like to get it to 2. To achieve that, I need to increase n by 39, or play 39 games so that they increase to 2 plays (or else dispose of them). Let's say I do half of each, which games would be the ones that get to 10 plays? Last year I increased my number of games played 10 times by 25, so 20 would be a reasonable number for this year.

OK, so Vikings is one of them. It's currently at 5 plays. My opponents are still falling for the fishermen trap, so I need to educate them. Then I need to start playing with the special tiles. I couldn't ever be bothered playing with the auction variant - too much time wasted for negative amounts of enjoyment.

Rheinlander is currently at 9 plays, and I like it a lot, so I'd expect it to hit 10 this year. It's a 45 minute multi-player war-sort-of game. That's about how long that sort of game needs to be.

Tri-virsity and Ticket to Ride are at 9 plays each, and Scrabblette likes both of them, so I suppose they'll be played during the year. Scrabblette also likes Carrom (8 plays), Attika (8 plays) and Alexandros (7 plays) so it shouldn't be pushing the friendship too far to get each of those to 10 plays.

Cathedral, Igel Argern and Xe Queo! are at 9 plays each, but don't get played so often. Gecko3D and his kids will probably play Igel Argern, and I'll probably be able to convince Uncle Scott to play Cathedral and Xe Queo! Xe Queo! hasn't been played for a long time though. It's a very quick 2 player game, so it doesn't really fit in often at games meets, the kid is over it, and it's not Scrabblette's sort of game at all.

I'm up to 10, but it's getting a little more difficult. I cart a lot of games to games meets, but often end up playing other people's games. Maybe 1 in 5 games I take to a meeting gets played, and it's often the latest thing rather than an old favourite. For example, I played Stone Age 5 times last year without really trying, because other people wanted to. I would have preferred St Petersburg.

I played Africa 7 times last year because I pushed it on a lot of people. That's because I really like it! Not everybody else did. But it's easy to explain and quite quick, so I can probably get it played another 3 times this year. Rumis is currently at 9 plays, and one more seems practical.

What about Kris Burm games? Several are already over 10 plays. I would like to play GIPF much more, but it's not on gamerz.net and I've used up a lot of my potential plays with Scrabblette and Uncle Scott already. ZERTZ is currently at 8 plays, so I hope I can find 2 more plays of that this year.

A week or two ago CyberKev and his wife Dr Annalog came over and played Mystery Rummy: Jack the Ripper with me. Dr Annalog likes card games, so maybe if I play my cards right I will get one more play of Mystery Rummy: Rue Morgue this year. Scrabblette is not so keen on card games though.

Now we're getting into the really difficult territory - games that require 5 or more plays. I've left out some games, such as Lord of the Rings and Shadows Over Camelot which are at 7 or 8 plays, but I can't really predict when I'm going to play them next. Scrabblette doesn't go for the thick themes, but they sometimes happen when playing with other groups. They may get to 10 plays this year, but I'm not betting on it.

Now, wishful thinking territory. Upwords is at 5 plays. I really like Upwords. All I need to do is invite Miss Jane over for dinner every week, and I'm sure I'll be able to arrange it. Scrabblette sometimes plays Upwords as well.

Ingenious Travel Edition is at 4 plays. Scrabblette likes this, but will there be 6 opportunities to play it? Last year we played 2 games while waiting in restaurants, and I think 2 games on the tilt train. Opportunities like that don't come along every year.

Kogworks is also at 4 plays. The kid says he likes it, but it's hard to get to game with him these days, what with Habbo and iTunes and skating and being too cool for Dad. At least he still likes Pandemic. Uncle Scott may have to be my Kogworks victim, or maybe his boy young Benny.

Asterix and Obelix is only at 3 plays. It's a very light and simple card game, but it deserves more than 3 plays. I think I've almost booked Scrabblette for the entire year. Maybe the kid. Maybe Benny. Maybe I can make new friends.

Finally, Hacienda. I like Hacienda a lot, but I've only played it 3 times. I want to understand it better. I might be able to get Scrabblette to play, but it's more the sort of game that gets played at games meets. 7 plays in a year at games meets would be a lot though. Still, I fancy my chances better with something lightish like Hacienda than with Key Harvest or something hefty.

Goodness. This seems like a tough target. I have some playing to do.