Monday, January 30, 2006

BGIA Honorable Mention

The Game Table won an honorable mention for Best Strategy Article in the BGIA for Carcassonne: The Math. Congrats to Gerald Cameron for easily crushing me with his excellent series on Princes of Florence, and to the rest of the winners.

Check out all the winners! We have such an excellent and supportive gaming hobby. This process has definitely made me aware of some new content that I had overlooked.

I'm looking forward to reading and writing more in 2006. See you there!

Thursday, January 26, 2006


Not long after I started writing articles for this blog, I began to realize that the simple act of writing is not something that you can learn as easily as reading game rules. In addition, the mere act of publishing makes you more self-conscious of your quality. This is not just posting in some forum; this is your very own online journal--a reflection of yourself.

I started looking with a more critical eye at my spelling, grammar, syntax, and other less tangibles. I started to question things I never would have questioned before. And I had to look up many aspects of writing that I had never worried about in my pre-blog days.


It's amazing how easy it is to question the spelling of simple words. Is it weird or wierd? They both look weird to me. Thief? Their? The letters all look wrong in my head. Competent? I hope so. Irreverent? A goal, for sure.

I fall back on spellcheckers and online dictionaries/thesauri...or is it thesauruses?


English syntax for quoting and other "bracketing" structures is horrid, especially if you are a logical person. I try to follow proper syntax in my blog, no matter how much it shakes my sensibilities.

Sentences are hierarchies of objects. For example, we have subject and predicate. The subject may be compound, and each part may have modifiers, etc.

If someone says something, the thing they say should be completely self-contained within the sentence. If I said hello, the formal syntax would be:
I said, "Hello."
The quotes are meant to enclose the spoken text into a singular object. Logically, this sentence has no ending punctuation. The period ends the quoted sentence, but not the outer one. Logic demands:
I said, "Hello.".
This looks overdone, but what about the following:
I said, "Hello?"
The question mark ending the sentence is considered proper. But is the entire sentence a question? No. Natural language is a very silly thing--perhaps a good topic for a future non-gaming post.

Rock and a hard place

Despite hating all the illogical rules imposed by language, I am still derailed when I see some of the more common blunders:
your, you're, there, they're
different from, not different than
between two things, among three or more things
one of the pens is
I would have, not I would of
Also, for some reason I am sensitive about the proper hypenation of multi-word adjectives:
my blue-colored pen
my obnoxiously-loud cat
Adverb phrases always give me trouble. If they occur at the beginning of a sentence (like this one!), do you use a comma or not? It's unclear.
Today I played a game.
Before we score, I need to get a drink.

At some point, you have to say enough. Adhering to strict rules makes for very dry writing. Flavorful and flowing text--which I have yet to achieve--almost demands that you break the rules.

You have to be clever with...punctuation; you have to sometimes split infinitives; you have to builderize your own words. And it's ok to begin a sentence with a conjuction. And prepositions are ok to end with. You must also know when to break the rules and when not to, so as not to seem so forcefully trying to force the thing.

Of course, for those lucky few excellent writers among us, all of the above comes as naturally as breathing. We are secretly jealous of you.

First to fall over when the atmosphere is less than perfect
Your sensibilities are shaken by the slightest defect
You live you life like a canary in a coalmine
You get so dizzy even walking in a straight line

Canary in a Coalmine
Words and music by Sting

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Why do you like games?

I was asked this very question over the holidays. It was a question to which I would have thought the reply readily available, and a question that had me stumbling over my words. I couldn't answer it.

Since then I have been rolling the ideas around in my head. What is it about games that turns on that switch in my brain? Why are games different from any other activity in life?

I guess the first trigger is simply nostalgia. I've played games for as long as I can remember. I had a closet stacked full of games from the classics of Monopoly, Risk, and Dark Tower, to the lesser known Pathfinder, Code Name: Sector, and 4000 A.D., and even Star Wars: Escape from the Death Star.

Some say games are social. I suppose that is true to some extent. Games are a great excuse to get together with friends, but I find them less social than other activities. Other than party games, when I am playing a game I tend to be fairly quiet and thoughtful.

Another thought is simply that games are intellectual. I was the kid sitting inside reading books about rockets when the other kids were playing baseball. Being a computer programmer, games and game rules are a natural for me. I love the fact that games employ strategy and tactics, and that they represent a fixed domain of possibilities. A game is a puzzle--an experiment--that is waiting to be tested and solved. It is a challenge to be able to wrap your head around it, and to outthink your opponents.

But all intellectual challenges are not created equal. I don't get the same pleasure working as I do playing games, even though a lot of the same type of thinking occurs.

So maybe that's the answer. Playing a game is the ultimate intellectual challenge without any real-life risk. You can win or lose, you can bring every neuron in your brain to its knees or you can play casually, you can love the game or hate it, and it doesn't matter. You get out of it exactly what you want.

Games don't demand anything of you. They don't complain when they are left unplayed for months. You can criticize their components, dissect their design, make house rules, and play them until their bits are sawdust. They will always love you.

Next time someone asks me this question, I'll be ready.

Monday, January 23, 2006

The end in sight?

I'm beginning to think that I am nearing the end of my game collection. Of course, I've felt this way before, and within a month had a want list of more than 20. But this time, it's different...really.

As of today, my want list has 12 items, and hasn't changed much in quite a while. Every time I add something to it, I feel like I'm forcing it. I have no delusions that I am not a little bit of a collector, but deep down I still only want to buy games that have a reasonable chance of ever being played.

How do I continue my game buying spree?

Geek Buddies

Good old reliable geek buddies. They tell me what I might like. They tell me what I might not like. They convince me not to buy something. Their game comments are priceless. Their owned/rated game lists are gold.

Sometimes I pick one and scan their list looking for a game I don't know much about. I've found more than one interesting game this way. It's getting harder and harder.

Examples: Oltremare, Torres, Rheinlander

Geek Lists

I read most geek lists, usually for entertainment purposes. But once in a while I get a glimpse of a game in a light that I had never placed it. It gives me the initiative to dig a little deeper.

Examples: Jambo, Lost Valley, Clans

BGG Random Walk

Advanced search, click on random categories and mechanics. Click on random images. Click on random posts in Recent Additions. So far this has been the least effective method.

Examples: Liberté, Maharaja, Hansa

Play Online

This has been a very informative process. I've found great games I wouldn't have bought in a million years, and played terrible games I was about the order. Among BrettSpielWelt, SpielByWeb, Boite a Jeux, Ludagora, and many others, there's no end of fun.

Examples: Ra, Amun-Re, Through the Desert

Impulse Buys

Sometimes I buy something without reading the rules 3 times purely based on comments, reviews, images, or even theme. This is not a very effective method of finding something I will like, but it does get me to try a game I might have ignored.

Examples: Pirate's Cove, Runebound, Traders of Genoa

New Games

This is my final hope. There will always be new games, and reprints of older games that I didn't catch when I had the chance.

Examples: El Grande, Goa, Kreta, Taj Mahal

Are you feeling the same way? Do you have the need to buy more games even when you can't easily find ones you are interested in? What do you do?

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Spielland: Chapter 1

[This is the first chapter in a potentially ongoing series about the adventures of Derek Small. Future chapters will be forthcoming if I have the inspiration, the motivation, and the time.]

Derek Small awoke with a start. What time is it? Am I late for work...again? Where the bloody hell is my clock? And my room?!...

The brightness evinced the lateness of the day. He was definitely late for work. Composing excuses in his mind, Derek rushed to dress. But something kept nagging at the back of his brain. Something wasn't right here. What was it? Ah, yes! The room!

Derek wasn't actually dressing, and he wasn't actually standing in his bedroom. In fact, there was nothing actually there at all, except a bright haziness and a cold dampness. Derek rubbed his eyes to clear them. Yes, it was definitely fog, and now the fog was creaking and splashing.

The fog dissipated a bit. Derek could make out ropes and sails. He could hear men shouting and running about. One of them passed nearby. Derek stopped him. He was short and had unseasonably dark skin.

"What the hell is going on here?" Derek pleaded.


"" Derek asked, gripping the man's shoulders.

"Ah," said the man, trying to find the words. "You is on...sheep."

"A ship, yes, I can see that. Why am I on a ship? I was just in bed sleeping."

The man searched for something to say that might be satisfactory.

"We go to New World. We get work," he said.

Derek clenched his forehead in the way he usually did when his day started like this. Of course, he usually woke up in his own bed, but still. Sometimes his tea was bitter, or his sausages were overcooked. Now that he thought about it, those things were pretty normal compared to waking up on a ship.

Derek surveyed his surroundings, now coming more clearly into focus. The ship, with its huge sails and lattice of riggings, seemed far too small to be safe on the open sea. The part of his brain that liked to nag at him went ahem. He looked over the railing to his left. The open sea. Water undulated into the distance until it touched the sky.

At this moment, Derek realized that the surface upon which he stood was not as stable as he would have liked. His mouth tasted like bitter tea and overcooked sausages. He grabbed for the railing to steady himself.

Suddenly, a loud bell clanged above him.

"Land ho!" shouted a voice. "Prepare for docking in 10 minutes! You there! Who are you?"

Derek turned towards the voice. A tall man who was obviously the Captain looked down on him from above, his expression one of simple annoyance. He didn't wait for an answer, which was fine since Derek was still busy telling a certain part of his brain to shove off.

"If you are going to stow away," said the Captain as if reading from a copy of A Sailor's Guide: Protocol, Section III, "please let me know before we set sail."

"Rrrrright," said Derek.

The Captain turned and barked orders to various crew members. Derek, being too confused to care if it was allowed or not, climbed quickly up the ladder.

"Excuse me," he said to the Captain's back. "What is this ship?"

Without turning, the Captain replied, "We are their future in the New World."

Derek looked back upon the dozens of men below like the first one he spoke to. They didn't necessarily look excited about their future.

"The colonists. Where are they from?" asked Derek.

The Captain turned quickly. "Ahhhh. Come. Look. We are about to land. Isn't this exciting? You are about to set foot on the New World, having come all this way from...?"

"Sunbury," said Derek.

"Sunbury," repeated the Captain. "Is that near Madrid?"

Derek forced a smile. "No. Unfortunately, it's quite near Heathrow."

* * *

Derek planted his feet firmly on the dock. The ship exhaled its cargo of passengers and crew. Another man, carrying a scroll, approached from a nearby building, and began giving out work assignments.

"You three! To the fields in the south. You two! To the mills in the east!"

He approached Derek. "You!" he began to shout, but lost all conviction. "You are not on my list."

"I should hope not," said Derek. "My name is Derek Small. Where exactly am I?"

"These are the colonies of mother Spain!" declared the man. "We grow crops, and ship them home for the greater... What are you doing here? Are you a thief?"

"Of course not! Actually, I don't know what I'm doing here. Could you possibly...?"

"Because we've been having a bit of trouble, you see. Thieves from the capitol city," said the man, pointing west, "have been sneaking into our plantations and stealing our crops. Well. Everything but the corn. We don't really know why."

"Hmmm," offered Derek.

Derek turned to face the Captain. "Will you be heading back soon? I'd really like to get home."

"We will not be leaving until my ship is full of sugar from bow to stern," said the Captain proudly.

Derek wandered away from the activity feeling utterly overwhelmed. When he felt like this at work, he would usually crawl under his desk and pretend the world didn't exist. There were no desks or even cubicles here.

Derek noticed a small unoccupied building nearby. He slipped into the entrance. Inside sat four large barrels. One was open with only a scattering of dark beans on the bottom. This would do. Derek climbed into it, pulling the cover over the top. The darkness was comforting. So was the strong scent of coffee.

Coffee? Derek reached down and grabbed a handful from beneath him. He'd never actually seen real coffee beans before. And in this darkness, he still hadn't. As he let the beans roll out of his hand, he could feel 3 rather smooth, flat, and heavy objects remaining in his hand. They felt a little larger than a £2 coin, and had rough edges. Derek pocketed his newfound potential fortune, closed his eyes, and began to hum something from "The White Album".

Before he had reached the third verse, Derek suddenly realized that he no longer smelled coffee, but wine. He reached down, and, indeed, the bottom of the barrel was wet. He pushed open the top of the barrel and peeked out.

Derek stared mouth agape at the stone ramparts all around him. Suddenly, a strong hand grabbed his collar, hoisting him out of the barrel and onto the stone floor in one quick motion.

"Bad form, sir!" shouted a figure suited from head to toe in polished armor. "Bad form! This is my city! That was my wine! And this," he said, pointing to a large bundle, "is my cloth!"

The figure dragged Derek like a rag doll across the wall, and down a flight of steps.

"I don't know 'ow you got 'ere. You are not supposed to be 'ere. Comprenez-vous?" he said.

"I'll just be leaving then," said Derek, as he was being tossed into the street.

Derek sat up, taking stock of his surroundings and his anatomy. Leaning against a nearby tree alongside the street was a scruffy man fingering a blade.

"Bonjour," grinned the man.

"Oh bugger," said Derek.

Monday, January 16, 2006

BGIA Nominee

The Game Table was nominated in the following categories:
  • Best New Site (2005)
  • Best Strategy Article (2005) one two
  • Best Humorous Game Article (2005) here
  • Best Game Blog
  • Best Game Blog Post (2005) here
  • Best New Game Blog/Podcast/Videocast (2005)
Congrats to all the nominees, and good luck to everyone.

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Online rules

Sorry to pummel a deceased equine, but I need to bring up the topic of posting rules online. Why aren't the full-color rules for every game officially available online? This is a question to which I have never heard a valid answer, and one which annoys the hell out of me.

I am a rabid game player and collector. There are many, many more games that I am interested in--that I am currently waving large wads of cash at--that I have no idea if I would like. Sure, I have word of mouth, reviews, etc. But nothing beats a thorough reading of the original rules to convince me to buy. So what's your freakin' problem?

The Law

Yes, you have the right to copyright your rules. Yes, you have the right to prevent their dissemination. No one is saying you don't have the legal right to do what you do. You also have the right to create something and not sell it at all, but that would be equally stupid.

The Reality

The law notwithstanding, there is nothing you can do to prevent the dissemination of your game rules. Anyone who wants a full-color digitial scan can get them. Someone could even say to your face that they have done this, and there's nothing you could do about it. So the reality is that by not publishing your rules online, the only people you affect hurt are those who are interested in your game and honest enough not to go looking for an illegal copy of the rules. Zero upside.

The Pros of Not Publishing

The only possible reason to not publish rules online is to prevent someone from making their own copy of the game, depriving you of income. I agree. This can happen, and does happen. But for every 1 person who does this, I bet at least 10 do not buy the game because they don't know that they would really like it. Again, you lose money. Zero upside.

So What Are You Saying To Us?

Do you think your game rules are like movies and music? They are not. They are a description of your game, not the game itself. Spreading the rules spreads interest; it is free advertising that nets you more sales than a full-page New York Times ad. Locking your rules in a vault has no value.

Maybe your game isn't so good, and by reading the rules up front people won't buy it? This is like the movies. You can watch previews and read all the reviews you like, but you won't know if you like it until you see it. Then it's too late to get your money back. Aha!

Is this what you are saying to us? You want our money before we can see the rules, because you think your game sucks too much to risk letting us have a peek? Why didn't you say so...

The Pros of Publishing

Everything. Period. If you don't think that publishing your game rules online is a win/win in every possible way, then you are too stupid to be in the board game business. Don't quit your day job; the bread goes on the top of the bag.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006


I find myself using the word "texture" a lot these days when talking about games. I have used it in so many different contexts that I started to wonder if I was being consistent. For me, the concept of texture has many manifestations, but I think they are all related.

I specifically use the word "texture" because it evokes the image of a rough surface. The basic idea of texture is some form of disruption to the orthogonality of a game. In simple terms, a system is orthogonal if all of its properties exist for all other properties.

An example would be a lot full of cars. There are 4 different models of cars, in 3 different colors, having manual and automatic transmission. If all 4 models exist in all 3 colors and both types of transmission, the system is orthogonal. This is an over-simplification, but it serves my purpose.

Games with texture have something about them that breaks the smoothness of an orthogonal system. Each game and each turn does not feel the same. Furthermore, each players' decisions might not even feel the same. As with luck or weight, texture is not good or bad, but it is a factor in the game playing experience. So how does texture manifest itself?

Playing Styles

One aspect of texture that applies to almost all games is that of players' playing styles. You can play a game two times--once with a passive opponent, and once with an aggressive opponent--and the game could feel very different. Games that specifically allow for extreme differences in playing styles permit this kind of player-induced texture.

Go, for example, is one of the most texture-less games; all stones are the same; all board locations are the same. Yet every game has different amounts and kinds of interaction.

Note that I consider playing styles to be the weakest kind of texture. There are much better ways to accomplish this as a design goal...

Game Setup

Some games create texture by having a random, player controlled, or scenario type setups. Not only might each game be different, but each player may have different advantages and disadvantages.

Examples of games with random setups are: Settlers of Catan (tiles), Caylus, Through the Desert, Tower of Babel, Around the World in 80 Days, and Rheinlander.

Examples of games with player setups are: Settlers of Catan (settlements and roads), Domaine, In the Shadow of the Emperor, and Keythedral.

Many games--particularly wargames--have scenario setups. This is one of the most extreme forms of texture. Each side usually has different numbers/types of units, strengths/weaknesses, positions, and objectives.

Random Effects

Some games create asymmetry during play using a random element: cards, tiles, dice. This may result in players needing to adjust their plans or completely abandon them. Events may occur which affect all players, but because of the various strategies, the affect may not be homogenous.

Examples of this are: Settlers of Catan, Euphrates & Tigris, Wallenstein, La Citta, and perhaps Friedrich.

The Board/Components

The game board and other components themselves can be designed with texture. Spaces/cards/tiles can be different and/or limited. A piece on one space might have some unique advanatge. A player buying/owning a given card/tile may likewise get some unique advantage. In these cases tough decisions usually need to be made what to obtain and what to allow others to obtain.

Examples of these games are: Puerto Rico, Goa, St. Petersburg, and most games with an auction/bidding mechanic like: Princes of Florence, Amun-Re, and Ra.


As I was writing this, I pretty much came to the conclusion that all games have texture in one form or another. But some games I look at, and I see that texture was specifically intended...or at least added.

Settlers of Catan would be less interesting if the game setup was fixed. Tower of Babel would be less interesting if it weren't for the randomly placed discs. Puerto Rico would be less interesting if every player could buy every building.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

2005 in review

2005 was my first full year of "euro gaming", so it's not saying much that it was the best year ever. As years of my life without decent games went, however, it's right up there. I now own more games than I have room for, play more games than I can remember, read rules to more games than I own, and buy games that I may never play. 2005 was the year that I decided BGG was worth supporting, the year I started listening to gaming podcasts, the year I started reading gaming blogs, and the year I started my own.

Games Played

In my BGG profile I have games played for 2005 at around 535, but I didn't really get serious about recording them until late. The correct total is more like 1000.

Games Purchased

I bought 43 games in 2005. That's a game every 8.5 days. Of those, I played the following:
  • Around the World in 80 Days
  • Carcassonne: Traders & Builders
  • Coloretto
  • Die Magier von Pangea
  • Domaine
  • Ingenious
  • Jambo
  • Kahuna
  • Keythedral
  • La Città
  • Lord of the Rings
  • Modern Art
  • Nobody But Us Chickens
  • Rheinlander
  • Rook
  • Ticket to Ride
  • Tongiaki
  • Tower of Babel
Of the games I bought, I only played the following online:
  • Amun Re
  • Carcassonne: Inns & Cathedrals
  • Caylus
  • China
  • Gipf
  • Medina
  • Meuterer
  • Princes of Florence
  • Ra
  • San Juan
  • Through the Desert
  • Torres
The games I bought but that are still unplayed:
  • Bohnanza
  • Entdecker
  • Evo
  • In the Shadow of the Emperor
  • Liberte
  • Louis XIV
  • Magna Grecia
  • Merchants of Amsterdam
  • Oltre Mare
  • Samurai
  • Werewolves of Millers Hollow
  • Zertz
Games I Want

Of the games that came out this year, there are a few I did not purchase for various reasons:
  • Das Ende Des Triumvirats: Wasn't available
  • Kreta: Wasn't available
  • Mesotopamia: No rules available online
  • Railroad Tycoon: Waiting for board warp solution from Eagle
  • Tempus: No rules available online

These are some games whose rules I read (or information I viewed) that had me completely underwhelmed:
  • Alexander the Great: Bad rules.
  • Antike: Almost bought it. Thank you Chris Farrell.
  • Aqua Romana: Not interesing enough.
  • Beowulf: Boring.
  • Byzantium: Too much fiddle for the bang.
  • Hacienda: Doesn't sound fun.
  • Indonesia: Shrug.
  • Kaivai: Boring.
  • Palazzo: Knizia fails me?!
  • Shadows Over Camelot: Too subjective.
  • Siena: Too artsy and unintelligible.
Other Disappointments

These happened in 2005, but were games not published in that year:
  • Adel Verpflichtet: Too weird and random.
  • Reef Encounter: Although busy, I thought the rules were solid. Played online and hated it. Thank you SpielByWeb.
  • Timbuktu: I don't see the game here.
  • Vinci: Fun but not good enough to own.
Looking Forward

In 2006, the things I am most looking forward to:
  • BGG Design: I hope all the recent changes to BGG settle into something I can tolerate without massive amounts of Adblock, ChromEdit, GreaseMonkey, and Platypus work (all Firefox extensions). It could be so good...
  • Board Games With Scott: Scott Nicholson's video blog (vlog) about board gaming. Hot!
  • Podcasts: I love all the gaming podcasts!
  • Blogs: I read about 10 gaming blogs now. I hope they continue to increase in quantity and quality in 2006.
I'm hoping to pick up the following games this year:
  • Das Ende Des Triumvirats
  • El Grande
  • Goa
  • Keythedral Expansion
  • Kreta
  • Medici
  • Taj Mahal
  • Winner's Circle (Royal Turf)
See you in 2006!