Wednesday, June 28, 2006


When I started Gamer's Mind--originally called The Game Table--I wasn't sure what I wanted out of it. Did I want readership? Not really. It was simply an outlet for some thoughts and creative energy. I wanted something that was all mine, separate from the "common room" feeling of BGG.

Still, my inner geek must measure and quantify. So I added a hit counter (see the bottom of the page). Could this thing measure success? At that time, my favorite blog was Gone Gaming. It's still one of my favorites. They had 7 contributors, and I was just 1. So I said a good measure of my success would be to have 1 hit for every 7 of theirs.

Well, as of today, I have reached 20,000 hits on this blog. That represents a 6.4:1 ratio against the fine folks at Gone Gaming. But the numbers are meaningless. I am getting enjoyment from my posts, and I hope I have been tickling some lesser-used brain cells, and turning some gaming concepts inside-out.

I've got another big order ready to go in the next few weeks, so expect to hear more soon. Will Taj Mahal make the cut? Will ASL Starter Kit #1? Stay tuned.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Three Brave Knights

Sir Percival (Jim), Sir Gawain (Mary Ann), and Sir Palamedes (Mike) were all alone to defend Camelot. Since it was their first time, they all swore an absolute oath of loyalty; they would tolerate no traitorous behavior!

What did they have going for them besides their strength, honor, and courage? Percival can sense Evil, and choose the best path. Gawain's presence at Camelot allows him to be a strong force for Good. Palamedes is physically uplifted when a good deed is accomplished.

Early on, the forces of Evil were at work on the Grail and Excalibur. The knights stayed in Camelot for a short time to gather their strength, then set out. Percival quested for the Grail. Palamedes quested for Lancelot's Armor. Gawain went to face the Black Knight.

Percival held off Evil for a short time, but was unable to get the Grail alone. He returned to Camelot, then ventured to Excalibur.

Gawain fought the Black Knight valiantly. The Black Knight's true strength remained unknown until the very end. As expected, it was not enough to defeat Gawain.

Similarly, Palamedes victoriously fought for Lancelot's Armor. With this powerful relic in his possession, Palamedes could partly control Evil itself, which he did to great effect.

While our heroes were away, the forces of Evil surrounded Camelot--the Saxons to the West, the Picts to the East. Many Siege Engines lay on the horizon waiting for the signal to turn Camelot to rubble.

Many Evil events also occurred which hindered the knights. Morgana and Mordred worked their Evil deeds. Desolation afflicted thoughts of obtaining the Grail. The Mists of Avalon surrounded Camelot. But the knights were Brave, and with the assistance of Merlin, the Lady of the Lake, their Piety, and a little Fate, they weathered the machinations of Evil.

Once the growing Saxon threat was dispatched, all three knights went forth to combine their efforts on Excalibur. Quickly they did recover this artifact with a final effort by Gawain. Things were looking good for Camelot, but it was not over yet. The Dragon was growing in power, the Grail was yet unrecovered, and the fields outside Camelot were filling with enemy.

Mordred gave aid to the Picts. Gawain and Palamedes valiantly defended, while Percival desperately "held the fort". Percival could sense the fall of Camelot, so gave his life to give the other two knights a little more time. [What the inexperienced knights forgot was that Excalibur could have been used to spare Percival his fate.]

But Percival did not die in vain. Gawain and Palamedes overcame the Saxon threat, declaring victory for all of Camelot!

[This was a very close game. It was all the three knights could do during the last third of the game to keep from losing outright. We missed a couple of opportunities to use our strengths and items to best effect, but did pretty well for our first time. The time spent was engaging and quick a lot of fun. Cheers and high-fives all around.]

[SoC image by TedTorgerson.]

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

1000 Games!

Yesterday I recorded my 1000th game played on BGG. Initially, I was not good about recording. I also did not necessarily record the games on the day they were played. So this total is far short of reality. But it still seems like a milestone. This represents an average of 1.37 games per day.

I really wish I had been more careful. I would like to be able to look back and do some statistics on most/least played, perhaps which games were played more on which days of the week, and some trends. But I fear my earlier sloppiness will make these values invalid. For the past year or so, I have been much better about recording games, and intend to continue.

Many thanks to everyone who has played games with me, taught me games, answered questions, written reviews, and just been good gaming friends.

- Jim

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Recent Gaming

The past month has been good to me. Lots of gaming, and in particular, lots of unplayed games hitting the table. There's something visceral about handling the bits, watching your opponents take their moves, and looking into their helpless eyes as you crush them. Or not.

Kahuna: This game continues to be an enjoyable abstract. You would think with a shuffled deck of cards that there would be enough randomness to prevent most AP. But even with a small number of choices, and an unknown future, the decisions can be wonderfully painful. Kahuna is also a game of chicken. That is, it is often to your advantage not to commit until after the opponent does. This is because of the basic mechanic that playing a stone removes all of the opponent's bridges. Once the stone is there, you can add any bridges you want. However, you cannot wait forever. Once you get 5 cards in your hand, they start "leaking out". My play tends to be in bursts; hold critical cards until I can play enough to affect some dramatic change on an island or two.

Jambo: Another "long filler" like Kahuna. This one is losing a little ground in my ratings. Every goods card is valuable, so you try to use them all to buy or sell. Each player seems to have their own ideas about useful people, animals, and utilities. But overall, the games are starting to feel the same. It is fun, but not top tier.

Ra: This one never gets old. As auction games go, Ra has the most interesting, yet simple, mechanism. It's not as open-ended as, say, Modern Art, so your decisions are really focused: draw a tile or invoke Ra. The new edition is very nice.

PUNCT: This satisfies my need for a 100% information abstract and is a pretty game. Lately I find that moving pieces is wasteful. Trying to move pieces just to cross the center hex is even more so. Simply having more pieces in play than your opponent is a huge factor. Make threats that help your position and force the opponent to react in a way that doesn't necessarily help themselves (called sente in Go). For example, add a new piece to the board which forces your opponent to move one of his pieces. I hope this game is never "solved".

Coloretto: Filler all the way. We only bring this out when the lowest common denominator is a non-gamer, or when our brains are tired. I find the 2p variant just as satisfying--if not more--than a multi-player game.

Geschenkt: Another true filler. Played this at two different sessions recently. Both times, everyone wanted to play again. There's too much luck to take the game seriously, but it's fun for the 10 minutes it takes to play.

Ys: Finally got this one on the table again after a long break. This time we played using my fix, which takes the game up at least a half point in my rating. I do feel, however, that the character cards create too much "chaos" in the game. Some give you fixed points. Others give you an unknown advantage which may or may not materialize, partly due to the short number of turns in the game. I really like the playing of the brokers, and the gem market.

Cartagena: A long-ish filler. It would be in my style to prefer the Tortuga variant (all players' hands face up, and the next 12 cards visible), but I do not. Using the cards you have and not knowing what others have or what's coming up is more fun. Every time I play face-to-face and move one of my pirates onto the boat, I can't help but think of the sound that plays in BSW.

Samurai: I was worried this wouldn't go over well, so it sat unplayed for a long time. It hit the table in May, and was an unexpected and instant hit. I had only played a handful of games myself online, so I'm still a strategy beginner myself. I love being a beginner--that feeling where you don't know exactly what to do, when you experiment looking forward to the learning curve.

San Juan: Another long filler. The almost non-existent setup time over its big brother Puerto Rico is reason enough to play this one. I had only played this a few time on BSW, so it is almost a new game for me. So far, my Guild Hall strategy is unstoppable. Muahaha!

Caylus: Our very first 2p game took 3 hours. This included frequent stops to check the rules, and short discussions about why various tactics were good/bad. Although this game is considered to be fairly heavy as Euros go (3.72 weight), I like to treat is as medium. The randomness of the initial setup is too minor to overshadow the AP-laden Puerto Rico aspects of this game. I play Caylus without calculating out anything more than having the right cubes to pay for the actions I am taking this turn. If it ever came down to playing a "perfect" game, I would lose interest.

Mexica: The hit of June. At the time of this posting, Tikal was ranked 53, Mexica 175, and Java 176. These 3 games are commonly referred to as the Mask Trilogy because they were designed by the same two guys (Wolfgang Kramer & Michael Kiesling) and they all feature a large scary mask on the cover. For me, Mexica has passed Tikal in enjoyment. The spatial elements are simply fantastic. You can block movement by occupying a space, building canals, building buildings, or by founding districts. You can cross canals by building bridges. In fact, from a purely spatial point of view, I enjoy this game more than Euphrates & Tigris. Perhaps it's just the newness.

Tongiaki: Chaos is fun? In this case, yes. Sometimes the chain reactions that are possible are very difficult to calculate out. I've had turns with 8 or more sailings. The tiles are unknown, the game end is unknown. Yet somehow it works for me, and it's a pretty game. I recommend this game for 2p using the Native Tribes variant.

ASL Starter Kit 1: I have now passed on my scant ASL knowledge to another new player. We played scenario 1, Retaking Vierville. I played the Axis. My northern reinforcements we broken during the first turn, so I decided that I needed to bring all of my southern reinforcements directly into the center of town. This allowed the Allies a free walk across open ground for all their reinforcements from the east--a huge flaw on my part. Turns 3 and 4 saw me fighting against overwhelming odds just to hold my pitiful ground. On turn 5, I had no Victory Condition building occupied. I had only one chance. I Prep Fired using my southern stack against the northern building. Not a great roll, but enough to break one of the 4-4-7's defending it. I had 3 other good order units to use. The first had to move through open ground to get there. I took my first step. 21 FP opened up on me, FFNAM, FFMO, 9-2 leader--a 20-4 shot, 1KIA. Two units left now, both are 2 buildings away from my target building. I assault move the first one into the adjacent building. 7 FP, point blank--a 12 even shot. Broken, and 6 residual. My best option with my final unit was to move it through the same building, since the other open ground hex would subject me to terrible DRM. I assault move them. 6 residual FP even. Broken! Game over. The Allies don't even need to take their final turn. Despite some incredibly unfortunate die rolls, I consider my loss to be a tactical failure. Everything bad that happened to me was a direct result of bad choices made in turns 1 and 2. I can't wait for the reprint!

[Kahuna image by mgoddard]
[PUNCT image by minordemon]
[Ys image by GeoMan]
[Samurai image by Aldie]
[Mexica image by garyjames]

Thursday, June 01, 2006

I Can't Go Back

In the 80's I used to play Diplomacy by mail. Remember the mail? You put stuff in an envelope, write an address and a return address, put on a stamp, drop it in a box, and wait. And wait. The average turn length was one month. It was almost intolerable even then.

Of course, this was long before the Internet existed for me. It wasn't until around 1992 that I learned about Prodigy and Delphi. These were closed dialup systems where people could hang out, chat, and play some simple text games.

About a year later, I got my first real Internet access at home. $20 a month for "unlimited" access at 33K baud. Browsers were crap, but so were the web sites.

With everyone now interconnected, it's easy to play any game you want. But even in the last two years, I find technology pushing me forward, making it difficult to use what had been good enough not too long ago.

Most games are now graphical. One type of system allows you to make your moves, save the game, and email the game state to your opponent. In their own time, they do the same.

Play-by-web has eliminated the burden of sending the save file to your opponent(s). Simply take your turn and click DONE. The next player is emailed indicating that it is his/her turn.

Play by email/web games have one huge disadvantage. They only work well for games with little or no interaction during a turn.

Now enter live gaming. Players all connect to the same server at the same time, and play out their moves as if they are sitting at the same table. You can even text chat with each other. Still not as good as face-to-face, but better than playing nothing.

The real social element comes when you add voice to live gaming. You can easily teach games, and you can chat while playing. You can even play play-by-web games using voice. The experience is so much better than anything else short of face-to-face, that it's becoming difficult for me to play any other way.

You want to play something on Vassal? Sure, but do you have Skype? Skype is free and so easy to use that you are going to have a tough time getting me to play something without it. The only exception would be if all the players could not be on at the same time.

What's next? I doubt that video will fill a technical void like audio did, unless you take it far enough that you wear 3d goggles and see all your opponents sitting around a virtual table.

I really think audio is good enough. Now it's time for games to get better interfaces, and for more good games to be implemented for online play.

I would never play anything by mail any more, and it would take a miracle to get me to play by email. If you haven't done so, I urge you to try live/web gaming using Skype. Give me a poke on BGG. We can play something, or one of us can teach the other a new game. You too will have a hard time going back.