Play By Web
At this point it looks like 2006 is going to be the year of the explosion of Play By Web games. Many of these games are gamer's games, and they are being implemented exceptionally well. Good graphics. Good interfaces.
For me, it's been an opportunity not only to play games I haven't tried before, but also to play games I don't often get to play face to face. I am not familiar with every Play By Web site, nor all the games on the ones I do play on. This is my scorecard for those which I have. Games in red are possibly under development.
Hansa, Richelieu, Samurai, In the Shadow of the Emperor
This is the newest of the bunch, and the best. It's currently lacking in variety, but the developer is active and mentioning lots of great possibilities. The interfaces are exceptional. Consider Hansa, for example. Click the stacks to replenish. Click on the destination city to move the ship. Click on a disc on the board to buy it. Click on a disc in your reserves to build markets. Click "sell" to sell the checked discs. He's even going out of his way to accommodate us with tweaks as we play the games.
The server has a game manager, showing all your games in progress, and the completed games of the previous month. The site also has a nice forum.
Amun-Re, Reef Encounter, Wallenstein, La Citta, Santiago, Caylus, El Grande, Hacienda
Very close behind is the other relatively new site that was recently a victim of its own success. It was getting so many hits, the owner had to shut down one of the more popular games until he could find a new home.
Like MaBi, SbW uses actual game graphics with very good interfaces. They are slightly lacking in reasonable screen layout for most of their games, and the in-game messaging system is poor. They also have a nice game manager and forum, and are fairly active.
Medina, Through the Desert, Vinci
Good games. Good interfaces, although Through the Desert could have been a little better. The main reason for the B is that there's no real game manager. Each game listing is per game. With no cookie support, you need to login each time you take your turn. Thank goodness for browsers with password support.
Boite A Jeux: B-
Alhambra, DVONN, Finstere Flure, GIPF, Torres
This site's games are well implemented, but that is far overshadowed by the terrible game manager, lack of passworded game support, and general slowness of response. Also, you do not get emails (at least I don't) when it's your turn, forcing you to check frequently.
This site has a general lack of interesting games, a poor game manager, and no way to view other games in progress.
Euphrates & Tigris
Even with as much love as I have for BGG overall, I cannot bring myself to say good things about their one good game implementation except that "it works". I can't really imagine a way to make it worse than it is. The graphics and colors are horrid. The way you interact with the tiles, leaders, and the board is ridiculous. And the off-board player information is laid out like it's been through a blender. If Aldie were to ask me how to fix it--and I doubt he has time for blogs--I'd say redo the entire thing from scratch. There is absolutely nothing to save. And if that wasn't bad enough, it doesn't even implement the rules correctly.
I am excited about things potentially coming down the pipe. Even with Play By Web, you can still use Skype and almost turn it into a face to face experience.
My one huge pet peeve is that everyone seems to be coddling those with 800x600 desktops. Most of the games I play go only half way across my screen, with the players tables going off the bottom. Why is it ok to make me scroll down, but it's not ok to make them scroll right? Is it really that difficult to generate CSS that accommodates, say, two resolutions? Every game I play, all the information could fit on my screen with no scroll bars. Such a waste.
The SpielByWeb crew had once mentioned the possibility of opening up their site for others to develop games there. Legal issues aside, that would be a fantastic thing. Not only could we see more of the games we love, but we could also implement our own game designs to share. Think of the possibilities.