Sunday, March 15, 2009


I mentioned in an earlier article about 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, let me know.


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!?