Sunday, September 18, 2011

The Big Cochabamba Gamesfest

Well, Tom from Switzerland has been here for a few days now, and we've played all of the prize games except Safranito, which will be played soon. I think it's time I started giving some opinions. I'll start with the games I've played more than once, and hopefully do a second post when I've played the others again.

Asara - Meh. It's a family game, but there's not much to it. It's the sort of game where you can do some things to help yourself, but otherwise you're a sailor on the seas of fate, or player chaos in this instance. People take the stuff you want, put the wrong coloured cards in the wrong places, and generally interfere with your elegant strategy. Some people like that in a game, I don't so much.

Luna - I chose this because it can be played solitaire. My first solitaire play I was slightly overwhelmed by the complexity of the system, and lost to the AI opponent. My second play I taught the rules with Tom's assistance, so I guess I wasn't as overwhelmed as I thought. I played reasonably well, but we were all efficiently beaten by Tom. I know I have more things to learn. As a solitaire game it's a nice change from things like Ghost Stories and Yggdrasil and Thunderstone and Pandemic where the turns are simple and you're responding to chaos. Luna is effectively randomness-free after the set-up, so it's susceptible to analysis (and analysis-paralysis for those who are so inclined). It's the sort of solitaire game where you can think as deeply as you like, and that won't be deep enough. I like the style, and although I'm not completely convinced by the game, it's intriguing.

Skull and Roses - This is the second lightest of the games, and is a bit like Liar's Dice but even simpler. It takes up to 6 players and goes for about 20 minutes, so we've been playing it to finish the evenings off. It's not the sort of game you'd gather together specifically to play, but it's easy enough to quickly teach and play a round or two with non-gamers. Now that the SdJ has been defined as being for quite light games, I guess it was a good candidate.

Die Burgen von Burgund - I've saved the best for last! There's a school of though that says that this is one of those games where the moves are so finely balanced you can't really make a bad one, and so you can't really make a good one either. The best you can hope for is that you take the stuff someone else wants :-). And then in the end, someone wins because the scoring rules say that they have to, and you're not sure whether it was good play or a butterfly flapping its wings in Essen that caused it.

On the other hand, dBvB definitely has a feelgood factor to it, in that you can almost always achieve something, and you can't screw yourself so badly that you won't be able to make good moves in the future. So in the end, nobody feels like they played really badly and nobody's disappointed. It does take two hours though, so there is some sense that you've taken a long time to randomly select a winner - like Killer Bunnies with all the expansions. Yet despite all this, I like it, and the people I've played with generally agree.

Monday, September 12, 2011


I've received the games mentioned as the prize in my previous post. If I was a more frequent blogger (sorry) I would have told you all about them. Maybe I'll get to that. Anyway, I've been busy punching and bagging and reading rules.

Lancaster is one of the games with rules in German, so I printed out the English rules from BGG. Last night when I was reading them I didn't have a translated bits manifest, so I was trying to match the HUNDREDS of bits to their German description. There were a few things I couldn't understand, but it was pretty obvious that all the red bits went together, all the green bits went together, and so on for the five player colours. However for one component there were bits in 4 player colours, and not the 5th.

I figured I'd lost it in the sofa when we were punching it (my sister is a very vigorous bit-puncher) so I went and pulled all the cushions off the sofa. I found two pens and a scrunchie, but no purple castle. So I went to the bedroom where I'd previously tried to read the rules but fallen asleep, and searched in the bed. Not there either. So I went to the game room where I'd say on the sofa to do the bagging, not there either. So I looked for the sprues, to see if we'd missed something. The sprues were in the garbage, and the bag they were in seemed to be full of oil, so the sprues were all oily and tangled together with the world's most annoying teabag. The purple castle wasn't there, and as far as I could tell there was no place it had come from, so maybe it didn't exist at all. However it was really quite yukky searching oily teabaggy sprues.

I gave up, and spent quite a long time washing my hands and went back to reading the rules. When I got to the special two-player rules it mentioned that each player takes two of the small castle mats... that was when I decided to look at BGG for a parts manifest. Indeed, there are only 4 small castles, in 4 of the 5 player colours.

In any case, it looks like a decent game that probably won't run too long. Right now, I think I need to go wash my hands again.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Where on Earth is...

A couple of years ago, CyberKev told me we would be receiving a board-gaming visitor in Brisbane, who'd be joining us to play games for a while. Tom turned out to be a journalist from Switzerland, and he'd previously been on the panel for the Spiel des Jahre. In fact, he still received copies of the SdJ games, so that year in Brisbane we played Fauna and Der Schwarm and Zack und Pack and Sushizock im Gockelwok and my first play of Dominion, in German. But then Tom had to continue his world tour so he auctioned off his games (woohoo!), and we added each other on Facebook, and off he went.

Then Tom started adding strange photos on Facebook. Like this:

and this:

and some of Tom's friends started speculating on where these photos were taken. But then one day, it got serious. Tom announced that this was in fact "The Big Cochabamba Photo Competition". The rules were pretty vicious - there were 200 photos of famous and not-so-famous places, all with those little Kinder Surprise dudes in front. As the focus was on the toys, it wasn't always so easy to see the background. For each, you needed to post as a comment to the photo: what country it was in; where it was; what the thing in the photo was. The competition would end at midnight, New Year's Eve 2010, Switzerland time - at the time, in about six months. Whoever had the most points would win. Tactics such as copying, lying, etc, were allowed. The first 5 places would win a copy of each of the SdJ nominees for 2011, and for first prize Tom would come and teach them to you.

Wow, huge! Apart from being a very sweet prize, it was also a competition that I *wanted* to be good at. I like to be at least faintly aware of the existence of the rest of the world. The first thing to do, being a gamer, was to develop a strategy.

That involved having lunch with CyberKev. We didn't come up with a really good plan, but we did agree that essential elements of a strategy were sniping, deception, and actually knowing the answers. Furthermore, I was convinced that everybody would forget about the competition, maybe even I would, so it was best to get the answers early and be prepared rather than try to do it all at the last minute. In fact, my primary strategy was to hope that everyone else forgot.

I started by writing down the numbers 1 to 200 and writing beside each what the location was. I didn't have many answers, maybe 30. There were obvious places like the Eiffel Tower and London Bridge (in fact, both the one in England and the one in Victoria). I then spent quite a while Googling for things like "building that looks like a spaceship on a harbour", which turned out to be the Oriental Pearl Tower in Shanghai. I also showed a lot of photos to Scrabblette, who was able to identify the Wrigley Building in Chicago, and one of Stalin's "Seven Sisters" in Moscow. I Googled for obelisks and found that there's one in Buenos Aires, and a couple of Tom's photos were from there. Along with comments from other participants, I think I struggled to about 100 confirmed answers. Although the list was filling up, there were lots of gaps.

Then I hit upon the idea of searching for tourist attractions in places Tom had been to, and seeing if any of the pictures thrown up by the search looked familiar. Consequently I was able to identify Pablo Neruda's house in Valparaiso, and a few others.

The search went on. As I was trying to identify exactly which part of the Great Wall of China Tom had been to, it occurred to me that there were photos from Beijing and Ulanbaator and Moscow, and maybe he'd been on the Trans-Siberian railway. Because I would, if I was travelling the world. So I Googled all of the cities at which the Trans-Siberian railway stops. I was able to identify one of the pictures as being the "Rossija", one of the trains which runs that track. By the shape of the banister, I was able to figure out that it was at Irkutsk station.

I also had the idea that Tom might have left some clues somewhere else on the web. He is a journalist, it's his job to write stuff. Maybe he'd written about playing games on the banks of the River Don, or something. So I searched for Tom and found just one article, in German, which turned out not to mention his holiday at all.

My next idea was that as some of the photos were of Brisbane, where I live, Tom had probably invited some other people who lived in other places pictured to be in the competition. So all I had to do was cyberstalk all of Tom's friends as well. There were 35 or so people who had "liked" the competition announcement, so I looked at their Facebook profiles to see if they had any photos of their home town. This was just a little bit successful - someone had gone down the Li River in China, or to Ha Long Bay in Vietnam, and I was able to confirm my suspicions on a couple of photos.

What else could I try? I took note of the date of publication of all of the photos - they weren't all uploaded at the same time - with the idea that they might be clumped by location. They were, a little, and I was able to guess that Tom had been to Tennessee, which I think was how I figured out that the gates with the musical notes must be the gates of Graceland.

Time was passing and I had some hard ones to go. There were lots of waterfalls, so I started searching for waterfall pictures. There were lots of photos of Iguazu Falls, and a couple of difficult ones from the Milford Track in New Zealand. I got the New Zealand idea from Pancake Rocks, which I had actually been to myself. There were a few volcanoes, including one with a classical volcano shape. I searched for volcano pictures, and eventually decided it had to be Volcan Osorno in South America... but what was the building in the foreground? I searched the surrouding towns of Patagonia street by street using Google Maps but could not find that building.

I had another idea. I started searching using Spanish keywords. Don't search for "volcano", search for "volcan", don't search for "church", search for "iglesia". I told Google to return results in English, French, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese and German, and let me worry about understanding it :-). For the South American churches, that was very productive.

Occasionally people would post an answer, which would set me off searching that town and everywhere near it, in multiple languages. In particular there was this guy called Eric who was posting LOTS of answers. If he was correct, I'd post my answer as well, because the cat was out of the bag for that one. This gave Eric the impression that I was just copying him, when in fact I was spending hours searching for answers. I had loads more answers up my sleeve, but following the sniping strategy I was saving them for the last moment.

Tom also started posting reminders that the competition was going to end. That messed up my strategy of hoping everyone else would forget! However as people started posting some more answers I got a few more hints - the wooden fort in Russia and the bridge over the Panama Canal were gifts from other people. And of course if they were correct I'd post my answer.

By December, I'd seen every bridge, waterfall, church, bell tower, desert and salt flat in the entire world, in 5 languages. I'd hassled colleagues in Beijing and Quebec, and lots of people at work, and had only a few left to go.

On New Year's Eve I made a pass through, and once again answered anything that someone else had correct. New Year's Eve, Switzerland time, was 10am New Year's Day, Australian time, so when I went to bed I knew I'd still have a few hours up my sleeve. Of course I was too excited to sleep well, having worked at this competition for months, and when I woke up in the morning there were of course hundreds of notifications. However I knew I couldn't do anything about other people, I could just hope that having answered many of them before anyone else that I would win any tie-breaker. I just had a few more answers to put in, but I knew I had to be aware of Tom's clock being out of sync with mine, and I had to watch for other people sniping answers to the ones I didn't know.

I had about 16 windows open, and at about 9:45 I entered my last answers. I knew Eric was on-line, as I'd copied his answer about the Chicago Fish Board or something just a moment before. Good luck to him if he was as obsessed and competitive as me... however as he was in California he might have been partying. I spent the moments until 10am refreshing each window looking for last clues... until Tom closed down the album, and I had to stop.

Wow, what a rush! And all of a sudden, it was gone. Apart from being tired as one always is on New Year's Day, I felt lost. I hadn't planned for life after The Big Cochabamba Photo Competition. Life returned to normal.

Then, one day, Tom posted the news that I'd won. (Names removed from the image to protect the innocent.) Michael was a bit of a surprise - he'd only appeared in about December and I've got no idea how much research he did himself, I always considered Eric to be the threat.

That means Tom's coming to visit! He contacted me a couple of days ago and told me I could actually select 9 games from the list of nominees, as I may already own (true) or not like (also true) some of the final 9 contenders. So, one day some games will arrive, and Tom will come over in September and play them with me!

It's a very cool prize, but it was also a very cool competition. It's really quite amazing how much you can find on Google, and how many cool things there are in the world to see. Thank you very much to Tom, it's been loads of fun.

Saturday, January 01, 2011

Nickels and Dimes and Hits of the Year


These are games I played 10 or more times in 2010: Bananagrams, Peloponnes, WYPS, Blue Max, Palago, Scrabble, Start Player


These are games I played 5 or more times in 2010: Dominion: Seaside, Tales of the Arabian Nights, Tobago, Zendo, Avalam Bitaka, San Juan, Africa, Antike, Gonzaga, Jaipur, Lord of the Rings

Hits of the Year

The year was sadly characterised by me going to gaming feeling pretty worn out and not feeling like explaining rules. Consequently I played a lot of easier games, and other people's games (particularly AJ's), because the other people have to teach them. I don't know whether this is a fitness problem, an age problem, or an enthusiasm problem, but it prevented me playing things like Java or Key Harvest.

Blue Max - this is not really my sort of game, but my good buddy The Evil Count von Walduck built an implementation of it on his site,, so I played it quite a few times. However it didn't maintain my interest. If you do like that sort of game, go to the site and join up.

Peloponnes - This is very much my sort of game, because I play it solo :-). At about 15 minutes a game, you can experiment to see what effect different strategies have. I hope I keep playing it.

Start Player - No really, we played this. In fact we had a Start Player tournament. It was pretty silly.

Tales of the Arabian Nights I bought this at AGE in January, because Scrabblette is an Arabian Nights fanatic and I wanted to show it to her. I don't think it's as random as people say, and I try to play to win.I much prefer it with three players, as everybody's always involved and it doesn't go too long.

San Juan It's good to see at least one old favourite hitting the table, probably because I've given it as a gift so there's often a copy around. I've recovered from my malaise after writing a computer version of it, and I'm keen to play. I won a couple of games with violet building and monument strategy, whose effectiveness surprised me.

Antike I played this once a couple of years ago, and really liked the theme and thought the game was probably OK, so I acquired it in a trade. What a good idea! It's almost a war game, in that you can fight if you want to, but it's more the threat of combat that plays a part than actual carnage. Otherwise the strategy is to figure out where the easy VPs are (and are going to be) and play to get them. Eventually I started telling people that I always won with a gold strategy so that they'd take some of those points and make me think about something else.

Gonzaga I just love games with maps of Europe, particularly historical ones, and this game has weird plastic bits, so I had to have it. I quite like it - I'm a little bit hesitant because it's the sort of game where you can be randomly screwed over without warning, and that can cost you a lot.

Lord of the Rings This is one of AJ's games (which I have my own copy of). Every time I play it I'm reimpressed by how awesomely Knizia captured the themes of the book. Also, I usually win.

Attila (4 plays) Even better than a map of Europe is a Dark Ages map of Europe, so I had to have this. I finally got it in a trade, or I bought it from someone on the 'geek or something. It's not one of my favourites, but I do enjoy playing it anyway. I just can't get into my head how I can play well, and I don't remember whether I've won at all. But, I'll play any game with Visigoths.

Big City (4 plays) Another game that really talks to me, and also which I rarely win. I can't believe I've only played 4 times, I feel like I've lost at it about 10 times. Nevertheless, the bits are great, it plays superbly, and I feel like I can do stuff even if it's not scoring points.

Caylus Magna Carta (4 plays) I really really did not like Caylus, but I gave this as a gift once and when we played it I discovered there were nice rules without the provost, and I liked that a lot better. This is another game where I feel like I know what I'm doing, execute my plan, then discover that I've lost badly. Oh well.

Deduce or Die (4 plays) This is one of the best deduction games, and CyberKev managed to convince the Evil Count to implement a version of it at Hexcell, so I've played it on-line a couple of times. I hope to play more next year.

Rootword (4 plays) CyberKev felt the urge to acquire all of the games by Carl Chudyk, the Glory to Rome guy. This is a simple but odd word game, where you can steal other people's words at the risk that they may no longer be able to become words. Eventually he CyberKev sold his copy to me, so I can try it on Scrabblette.

Phoenicia (3 plays) Finally, another of AJ's games, included here because I really enjoy it and for a change, do quite well at it. I don't typically like auction games, but this one has the option to spend your money on something else which is just as good. I pretty much like the theme, understand the different paths to victory, and can handle the timing, so it's generally a positive experience.

Nickels and Dimes and Hits of the Year


These are games I played 10 or more times in 2010: Bananagrams, Peloponnes, WYPS, Blue Max, Palago, Scrabble, Start Player


These are games I played 5 or more times in 2010: Dominion: Seaside, Tales of the Arabian Nights, Tobago, Zendo, Avalam Bitaka, San Juan, Africa, Antike, Gonzaga, HJaipur, Lord of the Rings

Hits of the Year

Blue Max - this is not really my sort of game, but my good buddy The Evil Count von Walduck built an implementation of it on his site,, so I played it quite a few times. However it didn't maintain my interest.

Peloponnes - This is very much my sort of game, because I play it solo :-). At about 15 minutes a game, you can experiment to see what effect different strategies have. I hope I keep playing it.

Start Player - No really, we played this. In fact we had a Start

Tales of the Arabian Nights
San Juan
Lord of the Rings
Big City
Caylus Magna Carta
Deduce or Die

The Numbers for 2010

It's that time of the year again, when I look back on the previous year's gaming and am dismayed by the number of new games I bought and did not play, and the games that I have and love and haven't been played for years. This is the fourth time I've done this, here are the previous articles for reference (mine, if not yours):

2007 article
2008 article
2009 article

I currently have 424 games in my collection. Last year I had 425, woohoo! I've acquired a few, so I must have got rid of some as well. Oh that's right, the RSPCA Store in New Farm got a couple of loads.

There are 424 games in this collection. The BGG average rating for this collection is 6.4.

Your average rating for this collection is 7.07.

On average you have played each of these games 7.11 times.

Your Friendless Metric is 1 (89 games played 10+ times, 46 games never played.)

Your Continuous Friendless Metric is 3.39 which corresponds to an average utilisation of 54.24%.

My average rating for my collection went up from 6.92 to 7.07, as a consequence of dumping stuff I didn't like. My CFM went from 53.41% utilisation to 54.24%, which is much harder than it sounds to achieve!

It seems 2010 was generally a year of consolidation, rather than accumulation, which is a nice change. Next I need to consolidate further to games that I actually play. This is a matter of some urgency, as the games no longer fit on the shelves in the game room.

I dropped to 493 plays last year, the lowest since I really got into the hobby. I have to admit, learning French has taken up a lot of that time, it's a very time-intensive pursuit. The amount of gaming I do at home has continued to decrease :-(. My goals for the new year are to continue down this path, with maybe even a decrease in the number of games I own. They seem to breed.