Tuesday, November 29, 2005


Everything has its heyday, and games are no exception.

It's difficult for me to make any sort of intelligent statements about this since I didn't know there was anything beyond Monopoly and Axis & Allies until June of 2004. Since then I have been trying my darnedest to play catch up.

I am still new enough to be surprised by innovative ideas, even in older games, but I also feel that I have sampled quite a wide variety of games.

In the past 6 months, I have seen some very interesting new games: Caylus, Punct, Antike, Triumvirats, Mesopotamia, Kaivai, Hacienda, Siena, Tempus, Byzantium, to name a few. All got my attention. A few will get my money.

But as I look at my game ratings, I can't help but think that, for now, my favorite games are likely to remain the "older" ones. Are they simply the classics? Is it just that there are more older games--obviously--than newer games? Was 2005 a slump year? Are we still climbing the hump of the board game curve?

I'd like to think that there are many great years of board game production ahead. Although I already have enough games to last a lifetime, I can't bear the thought of stagnation. I always need to have a "next order" pending--something to look forward to.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Game rules update

These are the game rules that I have read recently, some brief thoughts on the games, and what I am planning to do.

Sword of Rome: I like the premise of the game, but the implementation is just aweful. Increased complexity in a game should not be a design goal. There are too many special cases in this game for what it is. The reponse system reminds me of Magic: The Gathering, which I'm certain Camillus played in his off-time.

In the Shadow of the Emperor: Well, I missed this one last year for some reason. It was on my want list before I even finished reading the rules. Some elements of Kremlin, and some elements of games like Verräter and Meuterer. Very slick.

Hacienda: Quite a bit of buzz from my geek buddies--enough to get to to check it out at least. It falls just below my interest level for now. It has some elements of Through the Desert and Web of Power. Holding off until I get more feedback from geek buddies.

Guillotine: Could be fun in the right crowd. Not mine. A little too coarse, and not quite enough game.

Flandern 1302: Building cities using simultaneous selection of action cards, then scoring by area influence. Maybe some day. Not today.

Kaivai: The bidding mechanic in this game makes me shudder. I'll stick with Keythedral. By the way, if you want to be taken seriously as game company, when you have your rules translated into English, get someone who speaks English to do it.

Byzantium: There are no English rules available, so my impressions of the game are purely based on BGG information. The things people like about this game tend to be the things I do not like about games. That alone should be enough to scare me away, but I will wait for the full rules. Note: There is no reason to not post your rules online. Anyone who wants a high-res scan of the rules can get them. All you are doing is hurting your sales.

Tower of Babel: I ignored this one for too long. Simple game with some interesting depth. This may go over well with casual gamers as well as serious gamers. It made the want list.

Himalaya: I don't know what to think about this. I like the mechanics quite a bit, except for the fact that the sources of the goods and the destinations of the goods are completely random, making the game very tactical. That and the fact that it's not available have placed it firmly below my want level.

Merchants of Amsterdam: Geek buddies strike again. I am seriously turned off by the subjective nature of the bidding "clock". Since players are essentially waiting until it reaches a specific value, it seems that the pointer will stop near the line between values quite often. Is it on the line or not? I don't want to make that judgement every game, or have to settle a disagreement about whether it's on 150 or the line between 150 and 160 on every turn. However, everything else about the game says I want it. Stuck in the middle.

Game of Thrones: The only unread rules in my pile. I don't have high hopes since this is based on a book and it's designed and published by Fantasy Flight Games. But since I have no idea how it works, I am determined to learn it.

The release of Caylus will likely trigger my next game order, which will be on the order of 8 games. Hopefully this will happen before Christmas.

Happy gaming!

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Lines and Spaces

In my never-ending quest to find fun but useless relationships between games, I give to you my Lines and Spaces geek list.

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Puzzle Time #1

Solve each of the following puzzles. Many are game related, including the final answer. The answers to some puzzles may be used in subsequent puzzles, so you will need to solve each puzzle in sequence to find the ultimate answer. If you are stuck on one, you may still be able to get the final answer, but you will have fewer clues. Good luck!

1. What am I talking about?

2. In Carcassonne: The City, what is the only tile feature that can possibly score 4 points DURING play?

3. Find the missing word:

4. I am thinking of a number. It is the product of two PRIME numbers. The sum of these three values is 55. What number am I thinking of?

5. The following is a simple sum with all the digits replaced by letters. Figure out what digit is represented by each letter so that the sum is correct. Each letter is the same digit in all places. There is only one answer (clue: I = 2). Then find the word represented by the three digits 037.


6. Find the missing word:


7. Find the missing word in the following table? In place of #2 and #5, use the answers from puzzles #2 and #5, respectively.


8. What is the next number in the following sequence?

981 181 173 363 355 545 537 727 719 909 901 101 93 ?

9. What word can you make with all of the following letters?


10. Find the hidden clue in the following story.

Mr. Weathers sat in his old leather chair smoking his pipe. On the table next to him was a piece of uneaten toast and a butter knife. He wasn't hungry. A noise startled him. He wrenched his head to look. There was nothing there. His mind was playing tricks on him. He stared at the bookshelf across the room through the smoke and the dim light of a single candle. Upon that shelf--next to the lead crystal glasses--was a wooden case. Inside that case was his prize revolver. Tomorrow at sunrise, he planned to shoot his ex-partner for ruining a very lucrative business deal, then stick him in ground forever...

11. What board game contains the answers to #1, #3, and #9?

12. In a game about the Seven Years War, in what symbolic rectangular region is Braunschweig located?

13. What is the ISO Country Code (Internet suffix) of the answer to #11?

FINAL: What game do you get from the answers to #6, #7, #10, #12, #13, #8 and #4?

Tuesday, November 22, 2005


This is a preview of Kreta. I have read the rules, but do not own, nor have I ever played, the game. I am looking for feedback about my understanding of the game. If my take on the game play is incorrect, please let me know. If you do not know the game, then let this be your introduction to it.

Kreta was designed by Stefan Dorra (For Sale, Medina), is published by Goldsieber, and supports 2-4 players. This game incorporates the mechanics of so many other games that you might think it's just a clumsy hybrid. My inclination is that it is clean, elegant, and fresh.

The board is a simple, yet very attractive map of the island of Crete divided into 16 provinces. The setup of the game involves placing a resource (5 types) on each province, and laying out 11 Fort cards which represent the 11 scoring actions. The first 2 Fort cards are turned face up.

Victory points (VP) are scored in two ways: having the most and second-most influence points (IP) in a province when it is scored, and by collecting resources.

Each player starts the game with 1 Abbot, 2 Ships, 3, Forts, 4 Villages, 5 Villagers, and 7 cards. Each player has the same 7 cards. On each turn, a player plays one of their cards, executing its action. All played cards are left face up in front of their respective players.

The first face-up Fort card contains the number of one of the 26 Fort locations on the board. All provinces adjacent to this location will score. This can be anywhere from 2 to 4 provinces. Since the first two Fort cards are face up, players get a "peek" at the future similar to Wallenstein.

When a player plays their Castellan card on their turn, a round of scoring occurs. A player's IP on a given province is the sum of the values of all his pieces on/around that province. All pieces are worth 1 IP, except for the Villages which are worth 2 IP. Note that since Forts sit on province borders, their value applies to all provinces that they touch that are being scored. The player(s) with the most IP score VP equal to the number of little hex shapes on the province. The player(s) with the second most IP score half that number rounded down. Simple.

After scoring, all players pick up all their cards, and the next Fort card is turned face up. If the player who played the Castellan card wishes, he may discard this card and draw a new one. Powerful. I assume if you are ahead significantly, you could play the Castellan card every turn to end the game quicker, but you would probably score no VP doing it.

Four cards (Admiral, Commander, Abbot, Architect) let you place a piece from your reserve (Ship, Villager, Abbot, Village/Fort, respectively) or move pieces(s) already on the board. Villages and Forts do not move. Ships can only move to provinces with a harbor. In this way, you can setup your IP as you like in anticipation of the coming scoring round. This is similar to San Marco, except that you know what provinces will score, rather than leaving it up to the whim of the player with the Doge card.

A province with 7 units is "full" and no more pieces (Abbots, Villages, Villagers) may be added. Also, you may not add pieces to a province with an opponent's Abbot unless your Abbot is also present. You may move pieces through a full province.

The King card lets you execute the action of a card you have already played (ie face up in front of you). It is basically a wildcard. So if, for example, you have already played your Commander card, but wish to move some Villagers, you can play your King card as a Commander card. However, on the next turn, you cannot execute the same action unless another player plays their Castellan card, causing everyone to pick up all their cards.

The second way to score VP is to play the Farmer card. This card allows you to deliver a resource tile on the board to a ship of yours provided you have a "chain" of Villagers from the province with the resource tile to the province with the ship, inclusive. You get 1 VP for the first resource you collect of a given type, 2 more VP for the second, etc. as in Taj Mahal.

So what elements are present in Kreta?
  • area influence
  • set collection (4th good is worth 4 VP)
  • connectivity (can deliver goods with connected Villagers)
  • hand management (can only play cards once until recycled)
  • unit management (only so many pieces, some fixed)
  • movement points (Abbots/Villagers may move so many spaces)
  • "look-ahead" for scoring (2 face-up cards)
  • game pace management (scoring under player control)

Friday, November 18, 2005


"Is Memoir '44 a simulation or not?" This was the big question in the latest contest from The Dice Tower. I did not submit an answer because I had no interest in the prize: Memoir '44 - Eastern Front. But I think the topic is interesting enough that I will put in my 2gg here.

Ultimately, this question comes down to simple semantics. We can probably all agree that games span the spectrum from very realistic to very abstract. But where do we draw the line? We don't. The line is at a different place for each of us. In fact, for different game types, most of us are probably not even self-consistent.

For example, if someone loves horse racing, they may consider the most abstract game of this genre to be a simulation because it is very evocative to them, while a more realistic game about German politics is not.

The theme of a game does not necessarily make it realistic either. Since it was a war-themed game that prompted this discussion, I'll examine the spectrum of wargames.

First of all, I suppose I should define simulation for myself. A simulation is an attempt to model real-world cause and effect. This also applies to fictional realities (fantasy, sci-fi) insofar as we understand how those worlds function with respect to our own. When playing a simulation, you should find yourself thinking about what would happen or what should happen if I do this and not what the rules say might happen. For me, this is where I draw the line.

If you sit me down in front of what I consider to be a good simulation, I should be able to make reasonable decisions without even knowing the rules. For example, in a wargame I would never consider running a squad of 5 soldiers across 100 yards of open ground 20 yards from a known enemy machine gun. This would be insane. If the game rules gave the squad a reasonable chance to make it, then the realism of the game goes out the window, and hence the game is not a simulation for me.

But even more importantly, what is it that various games are trying to simulate? Obviously even the most highly-touted WWII simulations do not model every molecule, they do not model hits on different body parts of soldiers, and they do not necessarily model soldiers eating and sleeping. They restrict their focus to the parts they feel are interesting and relevant to the genre.

At one extreme are the squad-level games where you deal with individuals and squads. At the other end are the theater level games that deal with entire countries as a single "unit". Is this less of a simulation because it doesn't handle individuals? No. The game chooses to simulate a larger scale. The effects of all the smaller events are factored into play. But this does beg the question: If the chances of an Allied victory in WWII were, say, 47%, then wouldn't it be just as much of a simulation to roll percentage dice and say you just simulated all of WWII in a single shot? It might be realistic, but it would not be fun.

People are not likely to call a game a simulation unless there is a substantial amount of detail and/or complexity an the scale at which the game focuses. Choosing A or B, and trying to roll a 3 or 5 will not be satisfying enough. We want every little decision we make to affect the results. We want to have enough going on that we can surprise our opponent once in a while, and suffer bad luck on occasion, just like in reality.

The bottom line is that you need to draw your own line to separate simulations from the rest. Debates over semantics are pointless in themselves, but they sometimes allow us to solidfy our understanding of other gaming topics. This, in turn, allows us to better evaluate and describe games.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Das Ende Des Triumvirats

[This has been blogged elsewhere, but I can't resist discussing it again, since it is such an intriguing game.]

This strangely-named game is yet another that has drawn my attention from its visual elegance and simplicity. It is published by Lookout Games, designed by Jahnnes Ackva and Max Gabrian, and is for 2-3 players. It is loosely themed around Rome in 56 B.C. The players take on the roles of Caesar, Pompeius, and Crassus vying for Military and Political control. It's not a wargame and not a civilization game. After reading the rules, there are two things that attract me to the design.

The first is the game end mechanics. There are 4 ways to win, three of which can occur before the actual end of the game. This reminds me a little of Liberté. A player can win a Political victory by being elected Consul twice. Since there's an election at the end of each year, the game will definitely end after 4 years. However, if you have been elected once, then you can win instantly by getting 6 Citizens in your favor in the Forum. A player can also win a Military victory by controlling 9 of the 15 locations on the board. Finally, a player can win by gaining level VII in both Political and Military competences.

The second interesting design aspect is the combat mechanics. When you attack an opponent's location, it's Legions vs Legions. There's a Battle Bag with a number of cubes in it for each player. You draw a number of cubes from the bag equal to the minimum number of Legions on one side of the battle (max 3). For each cube of your color, a Legion of the opponent is removed. Place cubes of the third color back into the bag. Then remove matching Legions one-for-one. If the attacker has any left, he wins. Very simple, yet not completely predictable (as in Antike). You can add cubes to the bag during play by paying for them, or, strangely enough, by losing a battle.

This is a game where making a play to win in one direction leaves you vulnerable to lose in another (again, a little like Liberté). If you try for a quick Military victory and do not succeed, you will almost definitely lose the election. If you put all your resources into the Forum of into Competences, you may find yourself vulnerable to attacks. Some very intriguing balancing mechanics.

Triumvirats is already listed at Funagain, but not avialable yet. Looking forward to this one.

Thursday, November 10, 2005


Marquis fell way under my radar in my quest for game rules to read, partly because it just came out, and partly because it's not available at any major retailer. It's published by LudoArt, designed by Martin Götz and Czarné, and supports 2-4 players.

Each player shuffles a personal deck of the same 11 characters, and draws 4 as a starting hand. The rules are a little convoluted, but in "proper" order, on your turn you:
  • Purchase diamonds using the previous character on your pile.
  • Play a new character on top of your pile.
  • Collect money from the bank and other characters as described by the card.
  • Pay money to other characters that are the same as yours.
  • Execute your character's special power.
In some sense it has a Citadels feeling to it. The characters interact is various ways, affecting your choices. However, since there may be more than one of the same character in play, there are more options. The interaction is very compelling. When a character is assassinated, it is placed face down under your pile, so the previous character is now on top and behaves as if you had played it on your last turn. There's also a Veto card in your deck which can be played to cancel another character's actions against you.

I was getting excited to acquire this game while reading the rules. However, there are lots of little things that spoil the elegance of this game for me:
  • Fiddly mechanism with the Clairvoyant.
  • Reverse direction with the Cardsharper. There are too many direction-sensitive things in the rules to make this mechanism clean.
  • Being able to use the Prosecutor from your hand.
  • Many other unanswered character interactions that the rules simply do not cover--like so many other games with many-to-many interactions.
Overall, the concept has a lot of promise. The game might be salvageable with a few tweaks and clarifications.

Sunday, November 06, 2005


What makes great games great?

It's not mechanics. Gamers enjoy a variety of games including those with auctions/bidding, area influence, hand management, role selection, and trading. So scratch that.

It's not theme. Gamers enjoy games dripping with theme, as well as game literally dry as a desert. Scratch that as well.

It's not bits. As much as we love nice bits in our games, we will play great games with poor quality...to a point. Conversely, we still dislike bad games with great bits. 0 for 3.

The common thread that holds great games together is the choices. But not all choices are created equal. Great games have great choices.

What makes a choice great? A great choice must be difficult. Easy choices are not choices at all. In order to make a choice great, there must be many forces at work, pulling you in different directions. Finding the right balance between these forces--one that is correct for the current situation, and perhaps your strategy--is what makes the choice, and hence the game, great.

Reduced to their simplest form, there are 4 forces that are common to most choices. In making any given choice, you will likely be asking yourself:

How does making choice A:
...help me?
...hurt my opponent(s)?
How does not making choice A:
...help me?
...hurt my opponent(s)?
Great choices, by design, have specific answers to these questions that must be carefully weighed. Sometimes the answers change over the course of the game. Sometimes the weights of the factors change over the course of the game. But they are always present, causing you to chart a careful course between the extremes of disaster.

Let's take a look at how these forces play out in a sample of various games...

Taj Mahal: The main choice in this game is whether to play a card (and of course which card) or withdraw. By playing a card, you continue to compete in the "auction" for influence over the 6 areas. By withdrawing, you "cash in" what you have.
A helps me? Playing a card allows you to continue to fight for one or more of the 6 areas, with the potential of winning: palaces, goods, future influence.

A hurts others? Playing a card denies opponents a lucrative withdrawal.

B helps me? Withdrawing from the auction allows you to immediately claim any rewards you have accumulated. You may be able to claim the bonus chip, or the best placement for your palace.

B hurts others? Withdrawing denies any claimed rewards to the opponents, allows you to place palace(s) on key locations to disrupt their chains, and saves your cards for future use.
Go: Go has more choices than most games; you can play on almost any empty location. The results of these choices are very difficult to predict. Let's take a very simple choice: make a concrete play to live, or play elsewhere? Every choice in Go is like squeezing a balloon full of water. You can't compress it into a smaller volume, just control its shape.
A helps me? Playing to live guarantees the group cannot be killed. The stones might be used as a base for further expansion.

A hurts others? A live group is a threat to neighboring stones/groups. The opponent may need to deal with that.

B helps me? Leaving a potentially living group to play elsewhere allows you to gain influence, while still having the threat of making the group live at some point in the future.

B hurts others? The opponent may attack the group. Even if he wins, the outside loss may be more than the inside gain.
Alhambra: Surprised to see this one? It definitely qualifies for me. The choice this time: pick up some money, or buy a tile.
A helps me? You gain cash, of course. It may be a large value, or a handful of small change. Having a large handful of money cards gives you much more flexibility.

A hurts others? You deny the necessary amount/color of money to an opponent looking to buy a specific tile color.

B helps me? You gain tile(s).

B hurts others? You prevent opponents from gaining the tile(s). By not drawing money, you prevent new money from showing up that the opponents may need.
Ra: I added this one since it was the topic of a recent Musings On article. Ra is a unique auction game with set collection. The main choice in Ra is to invoke Ra (initiate an auction for the current tiles) or draw a tile.
A helps me? If you win the auction you gain all the tiles, as well as the current sun token. If you lose the auction, an opponent has used one of their suns, leaving you in a stronger position, and their sun is now up for grabs.

A hurts others? You may be denying an opponent a tile they need (majority of pharoahs, flood, 3rd civilization, 7th/8th monument type, 3rd monument of the same type, etc.). You may win the last auction before all the Ra tiles come out (ending the epoch).

B helps me? If you draw a tile, you are modifying the available tileset. This usually has a good effect, but you can also draw tiles that kill pharoahs, civs, and monuments. If the tile set is not particularly attractive to you, perhaps you can make an opponent pay handsomely for it, making room for better tiles. You are also potentially bringing the epoch closer to an end.

B hurts others? If you draw a bad tile that does not hurt you, then the tile set is worth less to your opponents making it easier to win. Granted, you have no control over this, but the more tolerant your position is to bad tiles, the easier it is to allow the tile set to grow.
Now a couple "not great" games...

Ticket to Ride: Let's see. You have a handful of train cards and a couple of route tickets. There's a green 5-link that will complete one of your routes. You have 4 green cards. You can draw cards, or... Or what?
A helps me? If a green card is visible I can pick it up. If not, I can draw one off the deck. If I get green, I can play my link next turn.

A hurts others? If I pick up a card, no one really cares...unless they happen to want green as well. But this situation is not really under player control.

If I don't draw a card, I can what? Draw more routes? Play another link? Draw colors I don't need? There are not really any alternatives. Ticket to Ride completely falls apart in the choices/forces department. Even as a gateway game, it doesn't even hint at greatness, and is a poor choice to present to new gamers.
Monopoly: You roll the dice. You move your token. You land on an unowned property. Do you buy it? Of course you do. Turn over. You land on an owned property. You pay the rent. Turn over. Blah blah blah. Wake me when it's over. No choices, no forces, no fun.

Forces make great games. Forces require you to think. Non-gamers like games without forces because they play games as time-killers and not as intellectual exercises.

Saturday, November 05, 2005

Not out of rules

Thanks to suggestions from a few BGG friends, I have acquired and printed off the rules to the following games for my reading pleasure:

Thursday, November 03, 2005


People have been pushing their views on others since they could grunt and make scratches in the sand, so it comes as no surprise to me that this practice makes its way into board gaming. It is no less annoying than being told what god or what politician to worship.

Yet some cannot resist the temptation to evangelize their favorite new game, or anti-evangelize (there is no other word) the same.

Some people just like to argue, and be right, no matter how wrong they are. If you say the sky is blue, they will disagree. But evangelism goes beyond that.

Some people like to make others aware of a game that they consider to be a gem but "below the public radar". This is a good thing, but evangelism goes beyond that as well.

There seems to be a need in some people for others to like the games that they like, as if their opinion is somehow validated by public approval. Anyone who says the slightest disparaging comment, or who gives a rating less than 7, gets a quick rebuttal. Insecure much? There's spirited debate, and there's pointless gainsaying.

On the flip side are the anti-evangelists. They either hate a game, or are opposing hype out of principle. They want you to hate the game simply because they don't like it. They are really no different; the motives and behaviors are the same.

In my opinion, the point of a public forum like BGG is to allow others to get information. Opinion is information. The sum of all the opinions about a game are an incredibly valuable tool for research. State your opinion, back it up with information, debate it to the point that others can understand the issues, then get off the podium.