Tuesday, March 28, 2006

It Makes The World Go 'Round 2

Even though the situation is not at all funny to those involved, the darker side of my brain has to laugh, and laugh out loud.

I speak, of course, about BGG and Rocketville. Yes, that ad that everyone who has ads enabled has been complaining about. That awesome new game [sic] from Richard Garfield and Avalon Hill.

It begins with a complaint, a thread, and a geeklist. So what's the effect of all this?

Because of BGG's decision to allow such intrusive ads, people are figuring out how to disable all ads. This hurts all advertisers and BGG as well. People won't pay to turn off ads. People pay because they like the site. Now some don't.

The game itself is drawing quite a bit of negative buzz because of the ad. Therefore reviews like this will be seen by everyone. I have also read the rules and will be posting my own comments in my next rules update.

Again, this is just natural market forces at work. People have a voice and a choice. If you push too hard, it will backfire.

In BGG's defense, they have reacted properly in the past when touchy topics like censorship begin to overwhelm the site. I have no doubt they will do the right thing again.

In the meantime, I am entertained.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Game Rules Update

The past few weeks have been rife with new game rules. It almost seems like some companies are wising up to the fact that online rules equals more sales. I'd like to take some credit for that, but I think it's mostly self-realization on the part of publishers which has prompted this result. This is a good thing.

This time we have a strange mix of games from 1983 to the future.

Silk Road
: This nasty little game has a rulebook with a mere two pages. The player with the leader marker gets to auction it off. The player who wins chooses where to move the caravan, chooses one of the actions there (one less action than the number of players), then passes the turn to the player of his/her choice! The actions are all similar (buy/sell/trade goods, and a few others to break the rules), but the fact that each player gets to choose who goes next could create some real screwage. Also, the amount of information to choose from with all the action tiles visible could lead to some severe AP. Seems like a solid game, but it's still only a maybe for me right now.

Byzantium: I had to read this through twice just a feeling for how the game worked. It's definitely not for the feint of heart, yet I can see myself teaching it in only 15 minutes. Once again, I am attracted to the fact that you play more than one side and the multiple victory conditions (a la Liberte). The rules are slightly rough around the edges and not presented as clearly as they could be. Nevertheless, it's on my want list.

Mykerinos: This is Ystari's third game. In my opinion, they still have not learned their lesson about rulebook layout and graphics, or game board scoring tracks. However, the rules are very solid and the game sounds fun. It seems to fall in the filler-plus weight (akin to Carcassonne with an expansion or two). There are a lot of mechanics packed into this one: spatial play, resource management, area influence, set collection, and action selection similar to Byzantium. It's close to being on my want list, but I'm still waiting on images that show production quality and maybe some more feedback on play.

Blue Max: This old-time airplane dogfighting game caught my attention on YouPlay.it while setting up a game of Cartagena. The heart of the game is very simple. Fly around in planes using Simultaneous Action Selection to choose your next maneuvers. If an enemy plane is directly in front of you, the server rolls the die, consults the charts, and tells you want kinds of damage you have taken. Each plane type has its own properties (stability, maneuvers, engine, wings, tail, fuselage, and fuel. So far I've only played a couple of 2p games, but you can have up to 10 in a 5v5 massive dogfight. This one I am not buying; I don't think I would enjoy it offline at all.

Mesopotamia: I've been waiting a long time for the rules to appear online. Unfortunately, now that they have, I find it not very interesting. I could be wrong. It's difficult to tell with this one. I disliked Through the Desert and Hacienda when I first read the rules. After playing online, I found Through the Desert to be quite fun, and Hacienda to be yucky. So I'm in a wait-and-see mode. If it's ever available online, I'll definitely try it out.


Elasund: This one I ignored too long simply because I dislike the original Settlers. Well, the only thing it has in common is the name and the 2d6. I really like the 10 cube victory condition and the fact that if someone is ahead of you, you don't necessarily have to catch up right off, you can knock them back. I definitely need to try this one.

Mexica: Having played Java, and finding it a bit under-developed, I avoided looking at Tikal and Mexica for a long time. After playing Tikal on SpielByWeb.com and liking it more than Java, I decided to check out Mexica. It is different enough from the other two to be worth a closer look. It still has that K&K feeling to it, but is "fresh" to me.

My next game order is going to be difficult to put together, and is looking to be rather large.

Friday, March 24, 2006

It Makes The World Go 'Round

If I had my druthers, the answer would be games. But, sadly, it's money. I'm not talking about Monopoly money. I'm talking about cold hard greenA cash.

Being a libertarian by birthB, I believe in allowing unfettered natural market forces to drive the economy. Unfortunately, I also believe that the perfection of the libertarian utopia is constrained by the intelligence of its population. In essence, you get what you are willing to pay for, and not an iota more.

Why do we have Wal-Mart's all over the place? Because the majority of people want inexpensive stuff far more than they want a nice place to shopC.

What does this have to do with gaming? Isn't the entire gaming industry driven by our collective passion for games? Not really. While some designers and publishers may have a passion for games, the bottom line is that money controls what is possible, what gets made, and what we buy.

This essay is not a rant against that fact. It is simply a pondering of some of the influences of money on gaming and how that affects our experience.

Let's talk about Reiner KniziaD. Anything he designs gets instant buzz. Why? He's got 197 games to his name, and at least 15 are really really good. He's got 9 games in the BGG top 50. It's been said that he doesn't play games by other designers. But you don't get his kind of track record without some passion for the hobby.

Ok, so what? Well, games are not some unexplored land waiting to be discovered. They are invented. In some cases, quite a bit of their design is constrained. For example, there is going to be a 3rd expansion for the classic cooperative game Lord of the Rings. Do you think Knizia had a flash, called the publisher, and told him he had a new idea for an expansion? Or did the publisher say, "Hey, this game is selling well. Design us another expansion so we can milk it a bit more."?

I ask these questions without any cynicism. Stuff like this happens all the time. We can't be naive enough to think it's absent in gaming. That being said, I still trust that Knizia will do an excellent job given the very restricted space he has in which to work. It may not be the best "game" he's capable of at this moment, but it may be the best source of income for all parties involved at this time. That is not a bad thing.

Let's talk about serious gamersE. Games are produced to sell. The most profit can be gained not by catering to us, but to the masses. Even if we would be willing to pay ten times the standard rate for a game, it wouldn't be enough to make up for opportunity costs.

We may be the heart and soul of gaming, but we are not its wallet. We are the concept cars, the $1000 dresses on the catwalks. Designers throw us an occasional bone to keep us happy, and every once in a while, a consumer-targeted game misses its mark and ends up being really goodF. And in return, we fuel the hype, review their games, and even buy them.

Let's talk about BoardGameGeekG. It was created--I am sure--out of love for the hobby. It's the same reason we BGG addicts are there. But times they are a changin'. BGG now has that low-end consumer feel to it, just like a Wal-Mart. Everywhere you look, there's ads and crowds of people that you've never seen before. Most of the conversation is noise.

BGG is simply following the market. Aldie now needs BGG income to support his new full-time endeavor. Some of this money may come from BGG supporters, but I'm guessing a much bigger chunk comes from ads and affiliate programs. BGG now caters to the masses.

So this is natural and expected. What's the economic downside? There's less incentive to contribute. More and more BGG regulars are getting their gaming info elsewhere. They are writing in their blogs rather than making posts to the BGG forums. There's little effect at this point for the casual passerby, but over time I think new people will be less likely to become regulars. The reasons we became regulars in the first place no longer exist.

BGG is still the best place to go for information, rules, images, yada yada. But it doesn't feel like a hang out any more. The site keeps evolving in form and function, but it feels more like draping Christmas lights over a dying tree. There's an underlying inconsistency that's just not being addressed, and the site design is very unprofessional.

Let's talk about game quality in general. I'm probably one of the most vocal people when it comes to quality. I expect game publishers to test their games, to write clear and unambiguous rules, and to produce components that have exceptional function. Maybe they listen, but they don't really care. Say you published a game that I would consider perfect in terms of quality. Compare that to the same game with $5 cheaper components. The effect on sales is probably minimal, but the savings is huge.

Let's face it, weH complain because it makes us feel better. It takes a serious blunder--something along the lines of the RRT board warp issue--to make a publisher take action. And even in that case, I doubt there will be a fair solution.

Publishers can crank out whatever crap they want, and we will buy it. They do not care about the indignant few who can't bear to part with the same amount of cash they spent taking their significant other to see Police Academy 6. Fortunately there are forces at work in favor of the consumer. The look of game helps it sell. That at least promotes reasonable quality components. Also, more and more people are becoming informed before they buy thanks to places like BGG. If your game sucks, you will feel the pain.

Do not fret. All is not lost. In this day and age, the internet is our voice. One day the large majority of game buyers will all be talking together. Publishers and designers will not be allowed the kind of mistakes they routinely and cavalierlyI foist upon us. Okay, maybe this was a little bit of a rant. But the tide will turn. I look forward to the future, where the informed masses turn money into a positive force for the consumer.

A Colors may vary by region.
B I believe that if you have sufficient IQ, you can't be anything but a libertarian.
C I hate Wal-Mart.
D My favorite designer.
E I consider myself one.
F I mean a gamer's game.
G My favorite website.
H The royal we.
I Yup. It's a word. I just looked up.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Play By Web Update

YouPlay.It: B+

VampiRing, Blue Max, Cartagena, King Me!, Wooden Ships and Iron Men

This site sports several lesser known titles. I have only played Cartagena, and am currently involved in a learning game of Blue Max (pictured above, not my game). The interfaces are very intuitive and nicely graphical. The Game Manager is decent, but falls a little short of the almost perfect MaBiWeb. The only downside that keeps this site from getting an A- is the session-only cookie support. Every time you load the site, you need to login.

Watch your six.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Games That Won't Go Away

Usually when I find a game that piques my interest, I add it to my Want List, research it for quite a bit, then either mark it as Wanted or remove it from my list forever. A few games, however, seem to be a little more tenacious. A random image, or post, or podcast renews my interest in the game, and I start looking at it again. Some games gain and lose my attention several times.

Being an obsessive person, I am starting to think it's better to potentially waste a small amount of money on a game I can't get out of my head rather than lose sleep over games I might or might not buy.

Antike: The boards are beautiful, the rondel mechanism is very cool, the rules are at least B+ on my scale, and I really feel I should own at least one civ-type game. I was on the fence for a long time. Chris Farrell made some excellent points and got me to drop it. Scott Nicholson's vlog got me interested again. I think it's time.

Lock 'N Load: Band of Heroes: As I've said elsewhere, I've been looking for a nice clean squad-level wargame for a long time. I've been critical of the rules, and concerned over some of the component quality. The game has been well-received by most people that I've read. It does fall quite short of what serious wargamers consider to be accurate simulation, especially with regards to defensive fire. But for an honest first go at a wargame, I don't think it can really be too far off the mark for me. At a minimum, it would give me some foundation upon which to base future wargaming choices. And, with some luck, I may find that it's just what I'm looking for.

Shadows Over Camelot: Everything about this game wants me to buy it, with the exception of the collaboration rules. I seriously dislike subjectivity in games. The notion of having to basically play the game with different "house rules" with every group knots my stomach. But I will always regret not trying it if I don't get it. Since I am the game buyer and the game teacher in my groups, it's up to me. I will have to somehow come up with a set of objective collaboration rules that do not squash the fun of the game.

$150 for peace of mind is a good trade.

[Antike image by garyjames]

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Latkes and Camels

We love home fries for breakfast. Little chunks of potato fried in oil and butter with salt, pepper, and paprika. The problem is that you need to cook the potatoes the night before and leave them in the fridge overnight. Otherwise, the moisture tends to make them boil instead of fry. Not very convenient.

In the past I have tried making hash browns. Shred potatoes, squeeze and drain, and pan fry them. This too gives an odd result. I'm not exactly sure why.

So when a friend was recently talking about latkes, I was eager to try them. Shredded potatoes, egg, flour, salt, and pepper. Easy to make, and no precooking. Incredible! This was instantly a new favorite.

While eating our breakfast, we played Through the Desert. I decided to ignore caravan lengths completely, and go for palm trees, denying my opponent access wherever I could. I was able to get most of my caravans to 2 or 3 palm trees each, racking up a huge pile of 5-point markers as well as many water holes. I cut off many enemy caravans successfully.

In the process of trying to reach palm trees, however, my opponent made some very nice partial enclosures. I was constantly trying to evaluate if I should end the game early to prevent all the enclosures from completing, but that would have cost me points as well. I enjoy the game more with less AP, so I don't calculate everything out. I felt that I was doing fine, so I pressed on.

In the end my opponent got 3 of the 5 caravans, 3 enclosures for about 32 points (plus all the water holes within). Me 115, her 136. Great game, and great food.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Still Here

Usually, I like to make at least a couple of blog posts each week. However, I have been busy with some non-boardgame issues. I have been letting my current PbW games finish without starting new ones. Hopefully, I will be back to normal soon.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Area Influence

One of the most common game mechanics--yet one strangely missing from BGG's game mechanic lists--is that of Area Influence. Its implementation is as diverse as the games in which it falls, yet one thing is always true: more is better.

More what? More of whatever resource(s) the players are adding to the board and/or moving around. Scoring is based on the numbers of these resources at various locations. In some cases, the resources are not placed on locations at all; it is simply their numbers that matter. Although there are some hybrids, I breakdown the scoring systems into the following types:

All or Nothing: The top player(s) score full points. All the rest score nothing. This is a very cut-throat system, even though it appears in some light games. Example games: Carcassonne, Caylus, Through the Desert, Wallenstein, and Liberté.

Shared: Points are shared between some or all of the players' resources present. Most often, tied players either split the reward for their place, or score as if they were one step lower. Scores for 2nd place and lower have decreasing value. This is a very forgiving system. If you fought hard but only came in second, you still get points. Usually, just being there at all gives you something. Example games: Web of Power/China, Tower of Babel, San Marco, and El Grande.

Turn-Based: In this system, each player scores (or has the option of scoring) on his/her turn. This allows each player to affect the result before taking his reward. Example games: Medina, Tikal, and Taj Mahal.

There are too many Area Influence games to even cover all the ones in the BGG top 100. Therefore, I will just give a quick summary of how this mechanic works in the games mentioned above.

Carcassonne: Player(s) with the most followers on a given feature score full points.

Caylus: The player who builds the most houses on the current castle section each round gets a favor. Ties are resolved based on who built first.

Through the Desert: The players with the most camels in each caravan color get 10 points. Tied players each get 5.

Wallenstein: In each region, the player with the most palaces/churches/trading firms gets 3/2/1 VP's respectively. If more than one player is tied, they each get 1 VP less.

Liberté: This one is pretty unique. The majority in each province gets one vote (one vote per marker in Paris). However, it's not the player that gets the vote, it's the political party. Ties are broken by card play.

Web of Power/China: The player with the most monasteries/houses in a region gets 1 VP for each monastery/house in the region. The player with the second most monasteries/houses in a region gets 1 VP for each monastery/house in the region of the player with the most. The player with the third most monasteries/houses in a region gets 1 VP for each monastery/house in the region of the player with the second most. Etc. Tied players get full points. No places are skipped. The player(s) with the majority of counsellors/emissaries in each pair of regions indicated on the board (alliances) get a point for each counsellor/emissary in both regions. Tied players get full points.

Tower of Babel: The player with the most houses on the wonder gets the points in the first column of the socring table. The player with the second most houses gets the points in the second column. All other players with houses get 3 points. Ties are scored one column lower. After scoring takes place, the next line of the scoring table is used for the next wonder to be completed.

San Marco: The player with the most aristocrats gets the first number. The player with the second most aristocrats gets the second number. Ties are scored one number lower.

El Grande: The player with the most caballeros gets the first number. The player with the second most caballeros gets the second number. The player with the third most caballeros gets the third number. Ties are scored one number lower. In a 2p game, only the top number is used. In a 3p game, only the top two numbers are used.

Medina: The player who claims the first palace in a given color gets the bonus tile for that color. Any players who subsequently claim a larger palace take the relevent bonus tile for themselves.

Tikal: Each player scores the value shown on the top of each temple where they have the most workers. If there is a tie, no one scores it. Each player gets a full turn to use their 10 action points before scoring.

Taj Mahal: A player can withdraw from the card playing at any point. If they currently have the most in any of the 6 types of cards, they "score" for all of these categories. If a player wishes to continue to fight for certain majorities, they must stay in and keep playing cards.

This mechanic appears in so many games--sometimes blatantly, sometimes subtly. Its implementation is so varied that it's possible to play several different games with no two feeling quite the same. The one thing all the games share, however, is counting. You always find yourself counting to see how you will score.

[China image by chuckles2000]