Wednesday, December 28, 2005

The Dice Tower

Well, what can I say. I'm the man! I just won one of two copies of Empire of the Sun in the latest contest from The Dice Tower. This is a new game from GMT. I've been looking for a wargame for a long time. This is a great opportunity for me to dive into something on the heavy side.

Also, check out the latest Dice Tower contest to win 15 games!

EDIT: After further research on the game, I have decided that it would likely not have a good home here. So I contacted Tom and asked him to send it to the runner up. Congrats!

Monday, December 26, 2005

Weight vs weight

BoardGameGeek allows users to register a weight for each game. The meaning of this property has been the subject of discussion. There are many possible definitions for weight in the context of a game. I believe there are two definitions that are particularly useful, and that games should be rated in this way.

Weight of Rules/Mechanics: This is a measure of the complexity of the learning curve of the game and the amount of "stuff" going on. Games with a low value in this area are easy to teach and learn. Games with a high value in this area will take a long time to learn and will likely have larger rulebooks.

Weight of Choices/Interactions: This is a measure of the depth of play. Games with a low value in this area have fewer choices and interactions of game mechanics. Games with a high value in this area take sigificant effort to understand and play well.

On the chart (click for larger image), I attempted to show a number of games rated using these two weights. Don't get too bent out of shape if you think my numbers are way off; I haven't played all these games. I was trying to find some examples that filled the 4 corners of the chart as much as possible.

Apples to Apples: Low in both weights. It's so easy to teach that you don't even have to explain anything. You just deal the cards and start playing. On your turn, you just have to pick a card.

Magic Realm: This is one of the games I'm least familiar with. It is very rules heavy and not for the faint of heart. But I would imagine that once you know the system cold, it is not difficult to play.

Go: Fairly light in rules. Almost all the rules of Go can be taught in a few minutes. However, the implications of these rules are staggering in depth. You cannot play Go with any level of expertise without serious study.

Bridge: Heavy in rules/mechanics, and heavy in play. You almost need to take a class just to be able to play at all. And you definitely need to play and study for years to become proficient.

Euphrates & Tigris: For me, this is the perfect "smack in the middle" game. It has just enough mechanics and interactions to be interestingly heavy, but not so much that you need to devote part of your life to it.

Are any of my ratings off? Are there games that are closer to the 3 empty corners of my graph? Is there perhaps a third dimension that I am missing? You tell me.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Christmas Eve gaming

One of the only things that beats gaming is really good food, like pizza. We started off the evening with pizza and pier fries. Do these exist outside of Maine? They are crinkle cut with sharp edges so they get crispy. An initial frying at a lower temperature cooks the potato all the way through. Then they are left to cool for a bit. When you order them, they are dropped into hotter oil so the outside gets crispy, while the inside stays soft. No ketchup for these things--salt and vinegar!

Anyways. There was one new gamer, so I brought along a selection of lighter games.

Carcassonne: The basic game, no expansions. I thought this would be a sure thing, but it received a mediocre reception. We might try it again some other time.

What else have you got?

Around the World in 80 Days: I was initially worried because during my explanation of the rules, it seemed that it might be too much for a new gamer. However, it played smoothly, and was a hit.

Ok, next!

Tower of Babel: I hadn't played this before, but I knew the rules well enough to teach it. The mechanics were pretty straight forward, but the reasons to choose one action over another were not. As we played, I could start to see the depth of the decisions in this game. Now I understand the reason for the 2.5 weight on BGG. The game played out quickly, but the new gamer said it wasn't "fun". Well, I think I really like this game.

As a closing game, I brought out one we had previously played.

Coloretto: Always a nice filler to end the night, or when you only have 30 minutes.

Friday, December 23, 2005


My latest 3 reviews are here:

Domaine: Turf Wars

Medina: Arabian Beauty

Kahuna: Bridge Over Troubled Waters

Saturday, December 17, 2005

The games have arrived!

I just got my latest game order in. I've already played several of them solo in preparation for teaching. However, I'll just comment on the physcial quality of the games for now. I'll do full reviews of some once I get enough playing experience to make intelligent comments.

Around the World in 80 Days: Gorgeous board with a colorful but subdued map of the world, nice large wooden player tokens, and small but high quality cards. The bonus cardboard chips could have been a little bigger. The unbelievable thing about this game is the irony that the huge box is almost empty, but the board doesn't fit into it! Yes, you heard me. There are 6 large deep compartments to contain a tiny bag of bits. The board is longer than the box insert, so when put away, the sides of the box have to bow outward to accommodate it. Rather than chuck the insert, I cut away the top edge on two sides. Now the board not only fits, it stays in one place to hold all the bits in a single compartment.

Bohnanza: Standard fare for a card game. The cards are unexpectedly easy to shuffle. So many games have cards whose edges make the shuffles "chunky". That is, they shuffle with large alternating numbers of cards.

Caylus: I wanted this game before the hype started. Everything is top notch, except for the coins which are pathetic. Ystari has promised a free (plus shipping) cardboard alternative in the near future. The building tiles are the same size and quality as Carcassonne tiles. Very nice. The wooden buildings are like those in Power Grid. I would recommend bagging each color separately, so you don't have to dump everything out to play with less than 5 players. I like the fact that the 5 player colors (red, green, blue, orange, black) are different from the 5 resource cube colors (pink, brown, gray, purple, gold). Still though, when the board is full, there are a lot of colors to keep track of.

In the Shadow of the Emperor: Pretty and functional board. Nice cards, and wood/cardboard components, except for the little "dots" (who uses those things?). The insert makes you think: What game was this designed for? Certainly you can't use the slots for any of the bits in any reasonable way. I put all the cardboard bits in a separate bag and keep them in the main compartment, though they barely fit.

Merchants of Amsterdam: Hands down, the worst quality of the bunch. The cardboard sheet has some kind of sticky/waxy substance on the surface. When I ordered the game, I knew the clock was going to be problematic, but I didn't know how much. The needle has a half-inch range of movement, making every auction a "guess". As some others do, we may end up ditching the clock, and use a normal bidding type auction.

Oltre Mare: I was always on the fence with the original version of this game. The larger board and higher quality components made it an easy decision. The board, while a little on the thin side, is beautiful and functional. Too often, board designers think the board needs to be busy and bold (Runebound, Euphrates & Tigris). I could live without the "model" ships--too over-designed. I may just grab some colored cylinders from another game. The box is twice as big as it needs to be for what's in it.

PÜNCT: The board and pieces are up to the standards of all the other Gipf games. I only have two small issues. The bumps on the bottoms of the pieces are too shallow to hold the pieces firmly on the board. Quite often I would knock a piece out with subtle contact. Also, every single white piece has "dirt" in all the non-punct dimples. I can't seem to clean it out with anything.

Tower of Babel: Nothing much to rant or rave about. Standard board, standard cards, standard wooden/cardboard bits.

Now off to play!...

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Judging a game by its colors

The choice of colors in games is an interesting one. The first issue is being functional. The colors must be easily identifiable from each other when lots of pieces are on the board. This can be problematic if your game supports many players, and even more so if you are trying to be colorblind-friendly. The second issue is theme. Some games try to use colors that match the concepts in the game, or the historical colors of the "sides" involved. Some games throw all that out the window and try for something unique regardless of function or theme.

The following games are from the BGG top 50. I included only those which have wooden or plastic bits (no chits) for each player. Some games have no real notion of player color (like Puerto Rico), so I did not include them. It was a real pain to edit the colors, so let me know if I got any wrong.

██ ██ ██ ██ ...Caylus
██ ██ ██ ██ ██ ██ Power Grid
██ ██ ██ ██ ██ ...El Grande
██ ██ ██ ██ ██ ...Die Macher
██ ██ ██ ██ ██ ...Wallenstein
██ ██ ██ ██ ██ ██ Age of Steam
██ ██ ............Go
██ ██ ██ ██ ██ ██ Twilight Imperium III
██ ██ ██ ██ ......Settlers of Catan
██ ██ ............YINSH
██ ██ ██ ██ ██ ...Ticket to Ride Europe
██ ██ ............Hammer of the Scots
██ ██ ............EastFront
██ ██ ............Bonaparte at Marengo
██ ██ ............Rommel in the Desert
██ ██ ██ ██ ██ ...Ticket to Ride
██ ██ ██ ██ ██ ██ Friedrich
██ ██ ██ ██ ......Roads and Boats
██ ██ ██ ██ ██ ...Taj Mahal
██ ██ ██ ██ ██ ...Game of Thrones
██ ██ ............Lord of the Rings: Confrontation
██ ██ ██ ██ ██ ...Through the Desert

Friday, December 09, 2005

Reviews: Go and Bridge

I spent quite a bit of time on my last 2 reviews, trying to create some meaty introductions to these 2 great games. Check them out: Go and Bridge.

Monday, December 05, 2005

What's "fun" anyways?

That game was fun. We had fun playing it. We had so much fun, we didn't even realize it was already 3am. I had fun the next day trying to work on 4 hours sleep. Want to play again tonight?

What aspects of gaming give you pleasure? For me, each game I play satisfies different areas of my brain. The games I want to play depend on my mood, who I'm going to be playing with, how much time we have, the time of day, the phase of the moon, and the current terror alert color.

Social interaction with family and friends?

I enjoy getting together with both, and gaming is a good excuse. However, in other than severely light games or party games, a lot of the normal social interactions do not exist, as players are busy thinking about their next move. In these games, you can talk about anything while playing.

Games: Apples to Apples, Coloretto, TransAmerica, Uno

There are also games, by their very design, that force in-game social interaction. However, you won't spend much time talking about Aunt Martha's new cat.

Games: Diplomacy, Traders of Genoa, Werewolf

Wits and chicken?

Sometimes players need to not only evaluate what the game situation is, but also what others are likely to do. You can make choices based on how well you know the other players, based purely on the facts available, or simply guess. In some of these games, you are playing chicken--seeing who will "jump" first.

Games: Citadels, Medina, Meuterer, Ra

Figuring out what to do with ever-changing and potentially random situations?

I like playing by the seat of my pants. Intuition is sometimes more enjoyable than analysis for me. Games that defy analysis often have shorter playing times. This can be accomplished with bluffing mechanics, minimizing choices, or having enough randomness.

Games: Carcassonne, Ra, Ticket to Ride, Ys

Finding the right combinations?

In games with many possible actions or many targets upon which to perform actions, finding reasonable combinations is a great challenge.

Games: Domaine, Euphrates & Tigris, Puerto Rico, San Marco

Crunching the numbers? Reading 20 moves ahead?

Sometimes I just want to make my brain burn with like a large serving of cerebral habaneros. I may not look like I'm having fun--sitting there with my head in my hands--but trying to out-think an opponent in a deep and heavy game is very fulfilling.

Games: Go, Bridge, Chess

Some games aren't as cruel as the above but ultimately fall into the same category.

Games: Samurai, Santiago, Torres, Through the Desert

Take that!

It's fun to beat up on your opponents, and take revenge for getting beat up. It doesn't have to be a wargame to have the same "Take that!" feel.

Games: Citadels, Kremlin, Nuclear War

Have fun!

Friday, December 02, 2005


Huge kudos to Mikael Sheikh for his gaming web site SpielByWeb. Unlike "online" gaming sites like BSW, SpielByWeb allows you to play "offline". By this, I mean that you connect to the game using your browser, take your turn, and go away. When it's your turn again, you will receive an email.

There are many advantages to this style of gaming. You don't have to all stay logged into the server and play in real-time. You can play with people who have different schedules (or live in a different time zones) from you. You can play heavier games for any length of time, because it doesn't matter how many days or weeks the game takes. You can play many games at once since you don't need to play quickly (no one is waiting for you minute to minute). And you can take your time and carefully plan your moves for the same reason.

The one downside is that you lose some of the flow of the game from day to day. Why did I make this move? What was I going to do again? Fortunately, SpielByWeb even provides you with a little "notepad" area to keep track of things.

The games currently available to the public are: Amun-Re, Bus, Hoity Toity, Reef Encounter, and Wallenstein. The interfaces are graphical, very intuitive, and come with a chat so players can "talk" to each other, and a game log of all previous moves.

I am presently beta testing Santiago. La Citta and El Grande are in the pipeline. Great stuff.

Please check out SpielByWeb, and slip Mikael a few GG if you can.