Thursday, December 06, 2012

Stefan Feld and Me

A long time ago I thought Stefan Feld was a completely disastrous game designer. Now I'm his groupie. Here's the story of what happened.

The first Feld game I played was In the Year of the Dragon in October 2008. I played this game with a cut-throat group, and it went long, i.e. about 3 hours. I had no idea what I was doing when I started, but managed to build up my holdings. Then came a series of random events which I couldn't quite deal with, resulting in my losing a lot of palaces. I fucking hate that. I hate games where you work your butt off to make progress and then it gets taken away from you. I like building games, not wrecking games. So Feld and I were not off to a good start. My BGG comment on ItYotD is: "I'd rather be sick than play this game. If this was the first board game I played, I'd be a stamp collector instead. Frustrating, boring, annoying waste of time."

A couple of months later I played The Name of the Rose. I liked the movie, I didn't like the book, but the game left no impression on me whatsoever and I had to look up whether I'd played it or not. As medieval murder mystery is one of my favourite themes, that's a pretty impressive amount of indifference. No love for Feld yet.

The next Fled game I played was finally at least OK - Notre Dame. It's another game where it's frustratingly hard to get stuff (like Dragon), but it least it doesn't all get stolen from you at once. I thought it was OK but would need to play it more to get how it went properly - I thought I'd been doing OK and was beaten very badly. I was in no rush to try it again.

The next game I encountered was It Happens... which is a dice game about anteaters. I played it because there was a very young lady willing to teach it to me, but I realised very soon that it wasn't working for me. At least it has the excuse of being a kids' game.

Months went by... The Speicherstadt appeared on I had an initially positive reaction, and started a bunch of games before I'd even finished my first play. That was when I discovered that I'd completely overestimated how interesting the game was. It feels to me that you build a points engine, and then the game finishes. So you should have been doing other stuff instead. I admit, the auction mechanism is kinda cool, but kinda cool in a technical way, not in an appeals-to-me kinda way. I stopped playing it. Feld seemed destined to forever produce games that were at best mediocre.

Then something terrible happened. I won the Big Cochabamba photo competition (blogged about previously). Oh yeah, sure, I got 9 of the hottest new games for free, but a lot of the SdJ kennerspiel nominees were by Stefan Feld. That mediocre guy, who designs games that take my stuff. WELL AT LEAST THEY'RE FREE. So I acquired Luna, Die Burgen von Burgund, and Strasbourg, with a sense of dread.

The first we played was Strasbourg. This is a very tight auction game with some other stuff tacked on as a consequence of the auction. I quite liked it, though it took me till round 3 of 5 to realise that I'd lose the game in round 1. It did feel like I could achieve stuff and get some points. But still, not a huge hit.

I was very intrigued by the theme of Luna, so while waiting for opponents I played a solitaire game. That was instructive, as I got the feeling for how the little dudes moved around. We then played a 4-player game, which was also interesting as the players' strategies evolved and conflicted with each other. After a couple more solitaire plays when the rules receded and I was able to focus on what I was trying to achieve, I decided I liked it. You can build shrines, you can get places in the temple, you can score majority points, and generally nobody takes things away from you. I liked that it was complex, I liked the theme, and I liked the bits. Hooray!

Then we played Die Burgen von Burgund, later called Castles of Burgundy (but it will always be Burgen Burgen Burgen Burgen to me). This is a cool game. I'm not a huge fan of its strategic depth as your plans will often be screwed by uncooperative dice, but it does have that Farmville thing going for it where there's always something to be doing, you're always making progress. I played this game with quite a few people, and eventually realised that it had become popular enough that there'd always be someone around with a copy, and I'd no longer need to suggest it, so I sold my copy. It's a very good game, but not something I need to keep exploring.

On the other hand, Stefan Feld was pretty much forgiven by now. The last three games had demonstrated to me that he was a designer of great diversity, capable of producing some systems worth investigating (particularly Luna), rather than being a cold-hearted miser who designed nasty games.

Consequently when Macao was suggested to me, I agreed to play. For the longest time I confused this game with Manila, in which have almost no interest. However Macao was interesting, mostly because, like Luna, there's a lot going on. I did notice for the first time, what I call the Stefan Feld Standard Design Pattern. This is a pattern for structuring the whole game - there's a mini-game for generating resources, then you use the resources to play a variety of min-games on the board involving set collection, map traversal, gathering bonuses, and so on. The games that fit this pattern are Notre Dame, Strasbourg, Macao and Trajan (and Bora Bora, it would seem). This pattern is not necessarily a bad thing, as it's a way of producing complex games that are not too hard to teach, but it is interesting to speculate on whether this is a conscious process or not.

Anyway, the most recent Feld game I've had the pleasure to play is Trajan. This is probably the most complex of the lot, with the mancala resource-generation game being quite a brain-burner even before considering the 6 or so effects of what happens on the board.

Okay Mr Feld, you're forgiven. I'm looking forward to whatever you produce next. But there is no way I'm ever again playing In the Year of the Dragon.

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Essen Impressions

Well, my experience with Essen titles is pretty sad, as I don't have enough leave in a year to get to all the places I'd like to go, but I did get some Essen games from Julian at Unhalfbricking who collects money from eager Aussies and invests it in new games for them. In order of play...

Sheepdogs of Pendleton Hill: very definitely a kids' game, aimed at maybe 8 year olds, but with the chance for some slightly cunning play to amuse adults. You place your shepherds on the hill, the players form combined flocks of sheep, and then the flocks move around. If a sheep (as part of a flock) moves onto the same space as a shepherd from the same player, they both score and are removed from the board. So the goal is to make your opponents' sheep meet their shepherd early while your own sheep trundle up Pendleton Hill for more points.

Sheepland: not a kids' game, and not a gamer's game, just an old-fashioned Euro. the board starts with 24 or so sheep on 25 or so spaces. There are 6 different terrain types amongst the spaces. On your turn you may move your shepherd, move a sheep, or invest in a terrain type. At the end, for each terrain tile you have you score points equal to how many sheep are on that type of terrain. When we played CyberKev went for lots of investment in terrain, I went for moving sheep into the terrain I already had, and the result was so close I would say both are viable strategies. This is a Euro of the complexity of Heimlich & Co / Top Secret Spies, or Clans. It's nothing special but it's not bad.

Robinson Crusoe: Adventures on the Cursed Island: I bought this for solitaire play, and probably won't bother sharing it with my friends as there are better games to play with them (see below). The game it reminds me most of is Mousquetaires du Roi - there are lots of bits of mediocre quality, and a massive rulebook, but it all works OK in the end. You spend the game sending out Crusoe and Friday and your dog to hunt / gather resources / build stuff / achieve the scenario goals, while the game throws random stuff at you to interfere with your plans. I've only played one scenario so far, but that was interesting enough. The odd selection of bits reminds me of the old version of Prophecy.

Tzolk'in: the Mayan Calendar: Now this is a proper game. You may remember the pictures from BGG, there are big plastic cogs. I'm happy to say that the cogs work well, they're meaningful, they're thematic, and they're fun except if some doofus isn't careful and knocks over all the bits. The big wheel represents time, and as you turn it it moves your workers who are placed on the little wheel so that they can be removed from the wheel to have achieved better stuff. It's something like Macao or The Circle where you plan now what you'll have available to you in a few turns, and the more you wait the more you get. The more you can get your plans working together, the more efficiently you'll generate VPs. We had basically no problems with the rules, everything was where it needed to be, the bits were lovely, and overall the game is a great experience.

Friday, September 07, 2012

Premature Enthusiasm

On Friday mornings I wake up excited that it's the end of the week and I'm going to have a wonderful relaxing weekend (and I never seem to learn that's not going to be the case). If I have time before work I pack the game box with great big long heavy games. Then I go to work and am in a complete rush all day trying to write code and sort out a million problems, and on Friday afternoon I go swimming. Then when I get home on Friday evening I look at the game box and realise I can't remember the rules to any of those games, I'd have to teach them, and I really don't give a fuck, so I unpack the game box and put in a whole bunch of easy stuff like Tales of the Arabian Nights where I can just play without too much fuss. This happens every week, I swear.

Thursday, August 16, 2012


Yesterday we had a holiday here so we could all go to the local agricultural show. I hope they didn't miss me... instead I stayed home and watched all three of the Lord of the Rings movies. They are so good, there's barely a mis-step in the whole 9 hours. I know he deviated from the books, but it was almost always for a good reason to fit the movie genre. If I had Liv Tyler in a movie I'd make up lots of extra reasons to show her as well. The reason I had to watch the movies is that I'm currently reading the books, and I wanted to remind myself of what the movies did to the story. And the reason I'm reading the books is because I've been playing Lord of the Rings: The Card Game, and I wanted to see what role the minor characters in the book played in the game. And of course I've also recently played Lord of the Rings: The Confrontation and Lord of the Rings: Friends and Foes. And of course I've been doing that because I'm an unashamed and irredeemable fanboi.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

I Do Not Know What This Post Is About

I was just rereading some of my old posts on this blog and thinking what a damned fine writer I am and how you guys must be missing me. I think since the invention of Facebook I haven't so much felt the need to write here to tell you what's happening in my life, gaming or otherwise, so you get abandoned.

Quick summary of life: Dr Scrabblette now has a good job at the University of Technology, Sydney, and commutes to Sydney for half the week at a time. I am still in Brisbane looking after the dog and the kid. The kid is very tall and still at school, but is now way too cool for board games. I'm thinking about selling him and getting a better one. The god, I mean dog, rules the household, though she's always frustrated at how hard it is to get us to play ball.

Now to games. Currently Critical Mass is meeting once a week at Chermiside, just down the road, and twice a month at Indooroopilly. I always go to Chermside, it just seems sensible. I've been playing a lot of Euros, though I do like getting to bed early on a Friday... as that's a day when Dr Scrabblette is actually home. Last week we played Die Burgen von Burgund then Lord of the Rings: Friends and Foes and my early night was about 1am. Oh well.

I've also been playing Lord of the Rings: the Living Card Game, "and loving it". As you'd know I do like a good solitaire game and I'm enjoying exploring what they can do in such a system. Luckily I am not so much a fan of winning, as it's a challenging game. I'm getting better with the guidance of AdamP. We often meet up when Dr Scrabblette's away to play multi-player and maybe have a glass of red wine. We even beat the very nasty Escape From Dol Guldur scenario.

I am gradually, very gradually, decreasing the size of my games collection. After all these years in the hobby I know what I like and what I can merely tolerate, and I'm planning to just keep what I like and get rid of the rest. Of course getting rid of games is a difficult game in itself, but since the Australian maths trades now include selling and buying games, I'm making some progress. I really don't like selling things! Any price which would make me happy because I'm getting money would also make me sad because someone else is paying too much! An excess of empathy, methinks.

A couple more things, before I go watch a movie. You may have heard I was learning French; well, I still am. It is going very well. I read "Notre Dame de Paris" earlier this year - that's Victor Hugo's book that had the Hunchback of Notre Dame in it. Victor Hugo is not at all shy about using archaic words and hard tenses, but I got through it. The classical references and Greek and Latin quotations were incomprehensible and tiresome, but also inessential. Also, although I am still a Big Fat Friendless Bastard, I'm no longer a Big Obese Friendless Bastard, I've lost quite a bit of weight through sheer bloody-minded hard work at the gym and swimming pool, and to the detriment of Lena's Bakehouse. This is a good thing!

In general, life is going well but between walking Her Majesty, going to the airport, and working out, it's also super-busy. Let's hope that in my odd moments of solitude I can get back here a little bit more often.

Monday, January 09, 2012

Beyond Maths Trades

The maths traders in Australia were discussing whether it was possible in a maths trade to offer multiple items in exchange for one in a maths trade. No it's not, it doesn't even nearly work for reasons which are obvious to mathematicians. However I thought about it for a bit, and realised that with the introduction of a pricing mechanism, there can be such a trade. So I borrowed some symbols from the Z Notation (in which I was trained as an undergrad) and wrote this spec:

Let I be the set of items in the trade.
Let U be the set of users in the trade.
Let P be the set of prices, objects that can be summed and are totally ordered.

# every item has an owner, "\fun" means total function
owns : I \fun U

 # if you don't own anything you're not in trade
ran(owns) = U

# some people assign values to some things, "\pfun" means partial function
values : U \cross I \pfun P

# For each user u, there is a function vu, which is the values that user places on items
vu = { (i,p) | (u,i) \mapsto p \in values }

# and that user at least values the things they own
\forallu:U @ owns~\limg{u}\rimg \subseteq dom(vu)

# Then a valid solution to the trade is an assignment of items to users
s : I \pfun U

# the items received by u are
ru = s~\limg{u}\rimg

# the items sent by u are
su = owns~\limg{u}\rimg \cat ran(s)

# such that nothing is assigned to the person it came from
s \cap owns = \emptyset

# and everyone gets a bargain, by their own personal pricing rules
\forallu:ran(s) @ Σ (i \in ru) vu(i) \geq Σ (i \in su) vu(i)

# For a solution to be useful, it must be non-trivial:
\neq \emptyset

# and furthermore, we would like to restrict ourselves to minimal solutions so as to not make offered trades incomprehensibly complex, so if t is a solution, then t is not a subset of s (can't find the right symbols to write that!)

It occurs to me that blogspot is maybe not the ideal medium for writing specifications.

Thursday, January 05, 2012

The Numbers for 2011

Wow, I am really crap at blogging these days! When I started blogging, Facebook hadn't been invented, so if I wanted to say something I had to say it here. These days there are too many distractions.

2007 article
2008 article
2009 article
2010 article

There are 448 games in this collection (last year 424).

The BGG average rating for this collection is 6.43 (last year 6.4).

Your average rating for this collection is 7.04 (last year 7.07).

On average you have played each of these games 7.75 times (last year 7.11). 

Your Friendless Metric is 1 (102 games played 10+ times, 46 games never played.) (last year 1, 89, 46) 

Your Continuous Friendless Metric is 3.49 which corresponds to an average utilisation of 55.24%. (last year 3.39, 55.24%)

So I had a bit of a blowout in the collection in 2011. Apart from the bonus influx from the Cochabamba competition, I added a few (notably, Thunderstone and a lot of expansions), and got rid of hardly any. That's about to change, but it hasn't yet. Also in 2011 I set up Scrabblette with her own games shelf so she can see how many games she's responsible for us owning (and not playing).

I didn't do a whole lot of face-to-face gaming in 2011, but I did join up at, and played a great many good games many times. I also played a great many mediocre games many times. Luckily Yucata keeps adding new stuff and I keep changing what I play. Also relevantly, I acquired Yspahan, Oregon, Famiglia and Thunderstone after playing them on Yucata. Each of those got a lot of plays, and so didn't affect my stats too much. I do feel kinda dodgy that I have played the physical copy a couple of times, and the on-line game 50 times, and it counts as 50 plays for me, but that's a dodginess I can live with. There are also some games I own that I play on Yucata but will remove from my collection, and some that I will continue to enjoy to play on-line and in real life.

During the year I *did* manage to achieve my goal of 55% utilisation, after trying for several years. I'm fairly impressed that I managed to maintain that even with the Cochabamba influx.

For 2012, my goal is to decrease the number of games I own. Since I have games lying all over the game room bench, that's pretty much necessary now. However I enoyed the Cochabamba gamefest so much that I intend to do a similar thing this year, i.e. acquire a bunch of games I know nothing about and figure them out and play them. Of course Tom won't be around to send them to me, so I'll have to pay for them myself... which is why I hope to sell a truckload of games from my collection. Trading *would* be an option if there were lots of new cool games up for trade in Australia, but there is not, so I'll just have to take money for them. If Scrabblette asks, that's why all those games are lying all over the game room bench.