Thursday, August 31, 2006


While waiting for some exhaust work on my car, I walked over to my local FLGS. They were packing up inside; it had closed for good the day before. It was really no surprise to me.


They were certainly friendly. Always a "Hello" and a "Can I help you find anything?" when I walked in. Always willing to chat. However, there was no practical benefit. No one who worked there ever knew a thing about any of the Euro games they carried.


They were certainly local--only 3 miles from me. So if I ever had a strange termite incident mere hours before a game day, I suppose I could run up and grab a replacement for my half-eaten game. But at their prices, I could order individual games from Germany (with shipping included) and pay less. Compare Shadows Over Camelot locally at $60 to online just over $30. Now multiply this by 10 games, and you get a $300 difference. Easily worth the 2-3 day wait.


They certainly sold Euro games, but focused on CCG's and miniatures. I've never seen anyone buying--or even looking at--the Euro game shelf. You can argue that this is not their fault, but I say it is.


Any business has to make a living. You have products, and you sell them. My FLGS also charged you for playing there. I don't know how typical this is. What's the incentive for anyone to buy or learn about Euro games in a place like this? They don't know anything about the games they sell. The only games being played there are CCG's, and it's usually a table full of immature kids.

Say I'm a Euro newbie. I walk in to a store like this. I see a copy of Ticket to Ride for $55. I know nothing about it. The owner knows nothing about it. If I want to sit and play it, it costs me $5/hour. There's no one to teach me.

I hope it's different in your area

I dream of a store with wall-to-wall Euros, with owners who I would recognize from BGG, with tables full of mature gamers playing for free (because they buy all their games there, and the prices are reasonable). It's a place where you can learn games.

Do these places exist?

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

So You Play Games?

How many times do you have the conversation? For me, it invariably devolves into what seems like a Monopoly-bashing discussion. I thought I'd write it up once and for all so I could just give people a link.

So you play games?


Like Monopoly?

Uh, not exactly.

Well, what then?

Let me start from the beginning...

There are well over 3000 board games. Pause for this to sink in. They are all registered on a website called BoardGameGeek. Pause for giggles. This site has over 100,000 members, several thousand of whom are very active. Pause for this to sink in. Members rate games from 1 to 10. At any given time, you can see all the games sorted by rank.

Where is Monopoly?

About 20 from the bottom.

What?! Lots of people play Monopoly. It's one of the most popular games ever!

Two things. One, popularity does not equate to quality. And two, active board gamers demand more from their games than Monopoly can provide.

Who says this rank is meaningful?

It's only as meaningful as the members of the site make it. Anyone who is going to go to the trouble of registering to become a member, minimally, has some question they want to ask about a game. Many registered members play 10 or more games a week, and have 100 or more games in their collections. People who have played many different games tend to be more discerning. It's not unlike wine.

You mean they are snobs.

Not at all. If you take the time to understand anything in detail, you will learn more about what you do like and what you do not like. You will learn to classify the kinds of things you tend to like. You will even find yourself re-evaluating things you previously liked. This leads to a greater enjoyment and appreciation of the thing.

You won't always get agreement even among "experts", but some games work their way to the top and others to the bottom.

You only play games that are rated high?

Well, you have cause and effect backwards. The games I tend to like are rated fairly high. However, I recently purchased a game ranked 1272--almost half way down the list. I let the opinions of others inform me, but not control me.

Ok, so explain why everyone hates Monopoly.

That is a bit of an over-statement. Of the 2971 ratings, 35 are 10's. For any game, you will always find those who love it. As for why it is not one of the top games, that's rather complicated.

One of the biggest dislikes among gamers are games with very little choice. In Monopoly, you roll dice to determine where your playing piece lands. Your fate at the destination is based on luck rather than on your choices.

How else would you do it?

That's partly the point. The designs of the top-rated games do not call for "roll and move" at all. In fact, you will rarely find a sequential track of connected spaces, except for keeping score.

So how do good games work?

There's no formula for a good game, but there are many common mechanics. For example: auction, negotiation, connectivity, area influence, role selection, action points, tile placement, etc. It's not important to understand what these mean at this point. It's just important to realize that the kinds of games you have been exposed to may have given you a very limited perspective on gaming.

I suspect if I were to explain to you how any of the top 20 games work, you would be surprised at how interesting they sounded, and that it would be completely beyond your experience.

So where do I start?

There's a different path for everyone. Think of all the games you already know. What do you like about them? What do you dislike about them? You may not even know the answers to these questions yet. When you are exposed to more and more games, you will be better able to define these things. Let's just say, for example, that the only game you know is Monopoly. What do you like about it?

I like collecting the properties.

That is called set collection. In Monopoly, it's important to get all the properties of a single color. I might recommend Ticket to Ride or Ra.

I like improving properties with houses and hotels.

There are lots of games with building actions: Settlers of Catan, Caylus, and Power Grid.

I like bidding on the properties that players choose not to buy.

There are lots of games with auctions: Princes of Florence, Goa, and Modern Art.

I like making deals with players to trade properties and money.

There are lots of games with negotiation: Twilight Imperium 3, Traders of Genoa, and Bohnanza.

Have you played any other games?


What do you like about Risk?

I like planning what I want to control and trying to take it over.

There are lots of games with strategy on a map: El Grande, Railroad Tycoon, and Maharaja.

I like attacking my opponents.

There are lots of games with player conflict: Euphrates & Tigris, Memoir '44, and Vinci.

If there are so many games with the same kind of functions as Monopoly and Risk, what makes them rated so much higher?

In Monopoly, you have no control over where you land, and hence the properties you can purchase. Your income is based on how fast you go around the board, and how many players land on your properties, which is again governed by chance. The game tends to play rather long, and players can be eliminated.

In Risk, it's more a matter of simplicity. Every territory, as well as every piece, is the same. The only difference from two battles anywhere on the board is the number of armies involved. And once again, players can be eliminated.

What sorts of game should I try first?

I recommend that you check out Settlers of Catan, Ticket to Ride, Carcassonne, and Through the Desert. These are very well-liked games that are not complex and have a nice variety of mechanics. Once you decide what you like and perhaps do not like about them, it will be easier to recommend others.

Also, if you find the above games too easy for your tastes, there are many more complex games to try. In fact, I would go so far as to say there's a game for everyone, even if they claim not to like playing games at all.

Grab your spouse, your kids, a bag of pretzels, and come on over...

Monday, August 21, 2006

ASL Starter Kit 2

I've been eagerly awaiting the reprint of ASL Starter Kit 1 for quite some time. Originally, it was scheduled for late July. It is going to the printers along with Starter Kit 3, which is in the final stages of playtesting.

I decided that I should probably just get all 3. They are not very expensive, and if I really get into playing ASL, I will regret not having them all. That thought made me wonder how long it would be before Starter Kit 2 became unavailable. I did a quick search for it, and couldn't find a single copy. Multiman Publishing still had some, but at $28 + $7 shipping, I thought I could do better, and perhaps add more games to this order.

Kevin Moody pointed me to Bunker Hill Games. They had 3 copies left. At $23 + actual shipping cost ($4.70), it was an easy choice. Sadly, they had no other games on my want list. They are located in New Hampshire, only a 2-hour drive from me, so it'll likely be overnight shipping. I placed the order Sunday afternoon, and it was ready to ship 2 hours later.

Inside the Box

Starter Kit 2 contains all the rules for 1 and 2 (merged together, but highlighted so you can tell them apart), 2 counter sheets, 2 boards, and 8 scenarios. The focus is on light ordnance (mortars, anti-aircraft guns, anti-tank guns, and artillery).



I received the delivery on Tuesday. The 1/2" counter sheet was so badly punched that some of the text ran over onto the next counters. I contacted Multiman. I've already received a pristine replacement sheet.

Good to go...

Friday, August 18, 2006


Inconsistent Traditions

Coughing, sneezing, and burping--three semi-involuntary bodily functions we all execute on an almost daily basis. Why is it that one demands nothing, one demands that others invoke ritualistic anti-satanic platitudes upon you, and one demands that you apologize? If you are going to adopt silly traditions, at least be consistent.

Speck in the Jar

You open a jar of peanut butter. Some fool used the same knife that they used in the jelly jar. There's a speck of jelly in your peanut butter. So you dig around it. Day after day. Pretty soon, there's a small mesa of peanut butter with a speck of jelly on top. How many times have you seen this? By the way, peanut butter does not belong on bread; it belongs on Oreos.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Recent Gaming

Thursday was an unusual game day. Kurt, Mike, and John came over. Mike had played before, but this was a first for Kurt and John.

Shadows Over Camelot: When I teach this to new players, I always play without the traitor. The first game went very well. We were perilously close to losing for quite a while. Some careful choices and critical Merlin plays kept us 1 Siege Engine away from losing until we could complete the final Saxon quest for the win. Our second game included a Traitor card. Once again we found ourselves perilously close to losing. We held out for quite a while, but the luck was not ours. "So we all lose?" asked John. "Yes--" I started to reply. "Not all of us!" exclaimed Kurt, flipping over his Traitor card. He had been discarding Merlin cards every chance he got. He also possessed Lancelot's Armor, which may have been the major cause of our bad luck. I had an inkling he was the Traitor, but was never sure enough to accuse. Next time I won't be so foolish.

Bohnanza: Mary Ann arrived home just in time for a 5-player game of Bohnanza. We played the standard 3 times through the deck. I was amazed at how quickly new players figured out that the best short-term result for themselves was not necessarily the best overall. Deals for some very good cards were turned down when it was obvious how painful it would be to the active player. Fun fun! I was the only player who did not buy a 3rd beanfield, and ended up with a marginal victory: 15-14-14-9-9.

Vinci: I was a little worried about this one. I love the game, but I knew it wasn't a sure thing. Ten minutes of explanation later, we were going full speed. The most anyone paid for a new civilization was 4 VP (skip 2). Mike got Field General early and wiped me from the board. Everyone caught on to the ebb and flow of the game, and the way the different civilization tile combinations affected your choices. Once I established myself onto the board again in Spain, John decided to block me off from the rest of Europe and use Diplomacy on me. Nasty! I didn't mind being picked on since I was the only one who had played before. We had to call it quits before the game ended, but we played out a complete final round. I was in last place by a bit. Mary Ann and Mike were leading the pack. Later, Mary Ann asked, "Can you play Vinci with 2?" Ah, bliss...

Roma: At various points in the past week, Mary Ann and I have played about 8 games of Roma. It has some minor flaws, in my opinion, but it's a lot of fun. It feels somewhat like Magic the Gathering without the collectibility. Each turn is like a mini puzzle. How can I best use my 3 die rolls, the cards in play, the cards in my hand, and my money to gain VP or hurt my opponent? It's fairly elegant, and the icons on the cards are a useful reminder once you get used to what all the card functions are.

[Shadows Over Camelot image by TedTorgerson.]
[Bohnanza image by yayforme.]

[Vinci image by Debate.]

[Roma image by Chris Dorrell.]

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Changes to BGG

As the newly-appointed BoardGameGeek Director of Public Relations, I am here to give an overview of a new set of policies to help make BGG a better place for all. Lately there's been far too much negativity on the site. We want BGG to be a place where everyone feels comfortable and enjoys themselves. With that in mind, the following changes are being made:

BGGian Average

All games will get a base 100 ratings of the value 10. This will artificially increase a game's rating. All final game ratings below 5 will be set to 5. All users' individual ratings below 5 will factor into all calculations as 5. The new normal curve pictured above reflects this adjustment. If you don't like a game, we will "like" it for you.

Designers and Publishers Are Perfect

Therefore, all their games are perfect. They do not need to be harassed with your opinion. If you do not like something about a game, they do not care. Even if everyone who bought a game has lots of constructive feedback to give, it won't make any difference since all games are perfect. We only care what you think if you have lavish praise to give. In fact, we prefer that you say how great the game is before you have played it. Any disagreements with a publisher or designer will get the thread locked or deleted, or your account removed. To accommodate this, we have added a "Go Crying to Aldie" button on their profile pages.

One-Month Correction Period

During the transition into these new policies, there will be a one-month period where we will allow users to atone. Please scan for low ratings under all games. Send the misguided users lots and lots of GeekMail explaining their mistakes. Make it clear you are speaking on behalf of the games' respective designers and publishers. If they give you any grief that they are entitled to their opinion, please forward the reply to us, and we will take care of it.

Friendly Atmosphere

We will not tolerate unfriendly users. BGG is a place where we all sit around patting each other on the back and hug a lot. People who have real feedback to give (ie whiners) can do so elsewhere. Users who come to BGG are not looking for honest information; they are looking for a positive attitude.

It has come to our attention that this policy will likely result in a huge drop in activity by our core users who actually want honest feedback. Go figure. Therefore, we will be downgrading our server to a 100MHz 386 running Windows 95 on a dialup connection.

[In case you didn't figure it out, the above is not a criticism of BGG or its policies. It is a poke at some of the users on BGG who just don't get it.]

Monday, August 07, 2006

Theme Redux

We all have our favorite themes in games. Whether it's fantasy, science fiction, World War II, the Italian Renaissance, trains, building cities, shipping goods, ancient Egypt, or medieval Europe, playing games that evoke events and imagery from books, movies, and historic periods helps create the setting, the mood, and the slow of the game.

If you love fantasy, you will be much more likely to enjoy "swinging your sword at the dragon" rather than "rolling the die to see if you get to remove the red cube"--even if they are mechanically the same. The theme helps you to keep the sequence of play in mind. It helps to put all the actions and events into a complete whole. And it certainly can help the designer figure out if the mechanics "make sense", and suggest possible additional ideas. But I have to say it...

All Themes Are Pasted On

Every game, no matter how "thematic" you think it is, has a pasted on theme. By this I do not mean that it was designed as an abstract with the theme added later. I mean that the theme is simply a veneer covering what is essentially a set of completely abstract concepts.

I support this notion as follows. Take any game you think has a theme. Remove all imagery. Make all maps point-to-point with lines showing connectivity. All named components become A's, B's, and C's. All shaped components become cubes and discs. All concepts, actions, and events get described in generic and mathematical terms.

Now teach this game to someone who has never played it, and ask them what the game is about. Sure, they can say the game has conflict, or trading, or auctions, or pick-up-and-deliver. But can they honestly say the game evokes anything about the Battle of the Bulge, or Italy, or ancient Egypt? Of course not.

I'm sure some of you are now thinking, "Well, you just removed the theme. Of course it has no theme now!" That is my point. If you can strip away the theme and still play exactly the same game without even knowing what it's about, then the theme is essentially meaningless, other than for your pretense. For a theme not to be pasted on, the mechanics themselves would have to evoke the specific context of the game's design and intent. I have never seen a game with this property.

I'm not saying that we shouldn't talk about theme, but please, let's not pretend it's anything more than a facade. If you like games with rich themes, fine. So do I, sometimes. But when you put down a game for having less theme than yours, do not forget how shallow a thing it is you bear.

[Die Dolmengötter image by GeoMan.]