Monday, January 29, 2007

Weekend Gaming

This past weekend saw a surprising number of games hitting the table. So many, in fact, that I fell behind on my reading of the rules for Tide of Iron (Fantasy Flight Games) and Duel in the Dark (Z-Man games). More on those in a future post.

St. Petersburg
This is a classic for us, but it's not really shining for me any more--maybe at #50 in my ratings. At some point, the fun of the mechanics has to take a second seat to the fun of actually playing the game. This may go without saying for most people, but I do enjoy the challenge of simply "figuring things out". The strange thing is that I was wondering while playing St, Petersburg if the game Through the Ages felt anything like it: buying updates, gaining their benefits, and having these benefits feedback into future updates.

I enjoy all the Gipf-series games. Again, I think it's the challenge "figuring things out". I haven't played any of them enough to do that, and that's fine with me. I have no interest in trying to solve any of them; I just enjoy the discovery of interesting tactical plays.

A pretty Chess-like abstract. I've owned this game since its release in 1992. It comes out every now and then.

I hate to use the phrase "luck of the draw" with a game I rate a 10, but I feel like this is exactly the reason for my crushing 70-to-35 win. I got civ tiles and floods right when I needed them and when my opponent could not outbid me. My opponent took reasonable chances with end-of-round tiles and got hosed both times. You pays your money; you takes your chances.

Twilight Struggle
The big game of the weekend in terms of time. I had played a single turn a long time ago. We had both read the rules prior to playing. It took us 6 hours to play 8 turns (out of 10), before we had to call it. USSR was up 15 VP's. After this one game, I rate it a 6.

The rules themselves are fairly elegant, but the rulebook is only half the story. In any game with lots of unique cards that interact with each other and modify the rules, you must consider the cards themselves to be part of the rules. In the case of Twilight Struggle, this utterly destroys any pretenses of elegance. For a glimpse of this, check out this thread.

The other issue is the influence system. Insofar as individual countries are concerned, everything is great. Each country has a Stability Number, say 2, and you have to have that many more influence than your opponent to control it (the rules include another redundant condition). In addition, if your opponent does control a country, it costs 2 points to add 1 influence. This makes it easier to take control than to take control away. All great so far. However, the sheer magnitude of calculating Presence/Domination/Control over the larger regions of the board is too much. Every time you gain to lose control of an individual country, you need to be aware of the changes in control of the region. It's about the same as playing 7 simultaneous games of Tikal.

I think the game has some very good ideas that are implemented ad absurdum. I don't understand why it's so popular (but I don't care), or how anyone can play this game in less than 4 hours (unless they don't think at all about what card to play, how to use it, or where to place influence). El Grande does a much better job of giving the same kind of feel while keeping all of the elegance.

Tower of Babel
This is one of those games that forces you to turn your brain sideways, which I can never seem to manage. The one problem I have is that I always seem to offer every card I have of the chosen color. Perhaps this is strategically incorrect, but it worries me that there really aren't many interesting choices. Of course, you still have the choice of which disc to build on your turn, and whether or not to offer the trade card, but I'm worried enough that I lowered my rating a half point.

I finally got to try this in a team game. It much better this way. The card-play is great. You not only build up your army and react to the opponents, but you also defend your partner. Figuring out who will get what benefits, how the markers will move around, and what the scores will be is still a little too heavy for the game.

King of the Elves
My first time, and maybe my last. Too much randomness and chaos for my tastes, especially for the time required.

El Grande
My second ever play of my newest favorite game. Every time I had a tough choice between 2 or more cards, I went for whatever option placed more cubes on the board, or that removed more of the opponents' cubes. I only consciously planned to compete in the Castillo during the first scoring round. Like in my first game, I led the pack for much of the way (or was very near the front), but did not win. And, again, the scores were very close (something like a high of 108 and a low of 97). I love this game.

Vegas Showdown
Brought out on a whim to fill the final hour. This game has the individual player board solitaire feeling of Alhambra with a bidding mechanism like Amun-Re or Evo. There are a lot of ways to get VP's, with some difficult choices about what action to take, what to buy, and where to place things you do buy. This is a pretty decent offering for an Avalon Hill euro game.

A simple and pretty game with mildly interesting choices. Mary Ann really likes it. I'm barely luke-warm on it. In my favor, the game is not available through any means that I am willing to pursue, so we can only play if I borrow a copy.

Twilight Struggle image by Chad Jensen

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Game Night at the Condo

In Maine, we are used to cold weather. Today it went from a balmy 34°F in the day down to a nippy 6°F at night. But no matter how bad it gets, it won't stop us from staying indoors, having pizza delivered, and playing games. We are hearty folk.

My first time playing against a player who rates it a 10. That was my first clue that I was about to get my ass handed to me. And it was...twice. Even after glancing at the excellent Stephen Tavener's Zertz Strategy Guide, I was helpless against someone who knew even the basic tactics. This is a really good game. I knew I was going to like it before I bought it, but I was still surprised how good it is. I mean, in the end you are simply acquiring marbles by jumping and by isolation. But you are accomplishing this by forcing the opponent to set you up, and you must be willing to give the opponent more marbles than you are going to get--just make sure they are the wrong ones.

The thing about Zertz is that you really have to get over the hump of learning basic tactics. A bunch of mediocre moves equals a loss. I had to work hard to find moves that wouldn't be a disaster. My opponent kept doing stuff to me that was obvious immediately afterwards. I suspect this will be the case for quite some time. I could have played this game all night.

My first time playing with 3. The first time for the other 2 players. The thing about Goa is that no matter how many players you have, each player gets an average of 1 tile and exactly 3 actions (plus any extras) per round. So you would expect a similar scores. The only thing in the game that changes based on the number of players is the availability of the bonus expedition cards from reach the 4th and 5th rows on the development chart.

Finding efficient paths of development and evaluating tiles is difficult in your first game. This is mitigated somewhat by the fact that most of Goa is about short-term planning. You may decide up front, for example, to go for the expedition track, but if you get no nutmeg during the first round and your colony fails, then you have to try something else. If you build ships, then decide on a later action to increase your ship track, this has cost you a ship (if you could have done the actions in reverse order). Regardless, the new players did fairly well: 46, 31, 30.

Other games played: Diamant, Basari, Santiago, Coloretto.

Zertz image by toulouse

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Best Humorous Article: Runner Up

This post won the Runner Up slot for the Best Humorous Article in the recent Gone Gaming: Board Game Internet Awards. Congratulations to all the winners. There is some truly great stuff out there. One unfortunate omission was MaBiWeb. It is every bit as good as SpielByWeb--maybe even a little bit better--but is lacking the sheer volume of games. Still, everything gets better ever year: more games, more rules, more information, more ideas.

Game on!

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Unplayed Games in the Top 50

For the most part, I love to try new games. I like being exposed to new styles of games, new mechanics, and having to think in different ways. I have no compulsion to like what others like, but I do like to compare my tastes to others'. A recent discussion of the reprint of Hannibal: Rome vs. Carthage got me thinking about his very thing. Here I discuss every game in the BGG Top 50 that I have not played, as well as my interest level (out of 10):

Battlelore (interest level: 0)
I just simply dislike the M44 system of letting your cards telling you want you can do and what you can't do regardless of how obvious a move you have. However, even if you could completely choose your actions, like in a real wargame, the system is too simplistic for me to enjoy. If I was locked in a room with only Battlelore for a month, I would not play it. I'd rather talk about paint drying.

Twilight Struggle (interest level: 9)
I only played 1 turn of this online. The experience was soured by the terrible implementation. The graphics are excellent, but the usability is poor. A friend is picking this up soon, so I'll get the play face-to-face.

Age of Steam (interest level: 9)
I love Railroad Tycoon, and I'd love to try its big brother. I've ignored it for too long because the rules were never available. Some day I'll meet someone who owns a copy. So who owns the rights to Age of Steam anyways?

Commands & Colors: Ancients (interest level: 0)
See Battlelore.

War of the Ring (interest level: 8)
I actually have access to someone who owns this game. They have even spray-painted the figures to match the colors of the home regions. This game is certainly not a typical one for me to like, but some of the mechanics sound very fun. Now it's just a matter of setting aside a day...

Hannibal: Rome vs. Carthage (interest level: 7)
It's clearly a very hyped and sought-after game, even more so now with the announced Valley Games reprint. I really dislike cardboard figures in plastic stands; that would keep me from ever buying it. But I'll try someone else's copy.

Paths of Glory (interest level: 3)
I've really just never looked into this. I guess if I'm going to play a long wargame with cardboard counters, I'd rather play something squad-level.

Hammer of the Scots (interest level: 5)
I'm only moderately interested in block games since my experience with Wizard Kings. I am also one of the few people I know who thought the movie Braveheart was ridiculously bad. So it really comes down to: Is the game interesting. After reading the rules, I cannot dismiss it. But the system is a little fiddly.

Twilight Imperium 3rd Edition (interest level: 0)
I've never read the rules or seen it played, but this game has all the wrong things going for it: space epic, long playing time, modular board, plastic bits, FFG design.

Up Front (interest level: 0)
I like San Juan more than Puerto Rico, but I doubt that analogy is going to work with a wargame.

Struggle of Empires (own it, interest level: 8)
Complex game with typically poor Martin Wallace rules. I need to spend an entire day going through this game and all the errata so I can understand it enough to teach it. I know the game is simpler than it seems, but it's going to take some work to find it.

Ticket to Ride: Marklin
Ticket to Ride: Europe (interest level: 0)
You cannot make a good game by tweaking a bad design. I will never play a Ticket to Ride game again.

Dune (interest level: 6)
The rules sound pretty fun. The custom board designs look very nice. I don't know if I'll ever see a copy in my lifetime.

Lord of the Rings: The Confrontation (own it, interest level: 7)
The deluxe version that I bought is inferior in every way to the normal version, except that it has variants for all the characters. The only reason I haven't played it yet is for lack of a willing opponent.

Battle Line (interest level: 5)
The rules just don't grab me, but many people whose opinions I respect say there's really something to this.

Hannibal: Rome vs. Carthage image by ubirata

Game Night at the Condo

Tonight ended an 8-day marathon that included 5 game sessions. I don't think I'll see that again any time soon. A lot of really fun favorites were played, as well as some great new games. It's no fun going anywhere when it's 5°F (-15°C) outside, but for gaming, I'll deal with it.

Taj Mahal
I only brought this on a whim, but it seemed to be the game of choice. 2 had played before, and 3 had not. It's getting easier to teach every time. One thing that I did not make clear, however, was how the regions are differentiated. There's a subtle background on the board that's very easy to overlook. Once it's pointed out, it's obvious. I will make sure to describe that next time.

As before, I tried to play the connectivity game, while at the same time, go for the Princess card. My connectivity was sketchy, and I didn't get the Princess until about turn 7. At that point, I was in the middle of the pack with no goods whatsoever. The player in the lead was cleaning house with goods. I managed to get a couple of big connection scores to put me well into 2nd place, but I was still 15 points or more short of the winner.

This game gets better every time I play it. I think I'll have to bump it up again, but I don't know how far yet. When I analyze the mechanisms, I'm surprised I like it as much as I do. It's got pretty heavy chaos coupled with simultaneous action selection. You can play pretty conservatively and have nothing ever go wrong, but that is not the road to victory. The great things about Maharaja are the future planning, changing the future, and changing the present.

You can plan for the future by not worrying too much about the current city. Build palaces or houses ahead a city or 2. Build houses along paths players are likely to take.

You can change the future by adjusting the governor track. This can score you easy money if you have strong influence elsewhere, leaving you with another action to do things elsewhere.

You can change the present by careful switching of roles, or when a player takes your role. If you have the 6 tile and a player takes it, you can take the 1 tile and go next as opposed to last, etc.

I really enjoy the risk taking. In this last game, I had the 6 tile, 23 gold, and selected "Build Palace" for both of my actions. I was hoping that some player would have to cross one of my houses and give me a gold so I could actually perform both of my build actions. The player with the 1 tile did not have to pay me anything, and took my 6 tile! I was no longer going last. At this point my tile choices were 1, 2, and 4. Although I didn't need the 4 tile, I chose it so the player with the 3 tile would have to go before me. I got really lucky; he was unable to complete his "Build Palace and House" action, so we all got 2 gold from the bank. Bling!

3 of the 4 of us built our 7th palace on the same turn. Money broke the tie. I came in 2nd again.

Taj Mahal image by garyjames

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Game Day at the Condo

The holiday gave us the opportunity to get together during the day for a longer gaming session. As usual, my preference is to get unplayed games to the table. We've had a new gamer join us for the past few session. He shows huge potential, so we've been trying to expose him to as many different styles of games as possible.

This was one of my early gaming experiences on BSW, but, until today, I had never played my physical copy. Medina is much more subtle and devious than the rules would suggest. The opportunities for stealing bonus tiles, blocking expansion, using up palace colors, and generally screwing opponents are everywhere. Of course, you do not appreciate this until it happens to you. Despite my prior experience, I only managed to eke out a win: 43, 41, 39.

In the Shadow of the Emperor
I managed to convince the group, now 4, to try this. It's not an easy game to teach; it's got so many interlocking mechanisms, and you skip the first 3 phases on the first turn. I started as Emperor, won 2 electors, and kept the throne in the first round. In the second round, I lost all electors and the throne; I was hoping to play for position and get all my aristocrats on the board. The 2nd-round Emperor kept this position for 3 rounds, as well as Mainz. This turned out to be more profitable than I guessed, ignoring this player for another I thought had more VP's. The 4th player was Emperor for the last round, but it was not enough to come back: 23, 17, 17, 15.

Power Grid
The last type of game we wanted to show "the new guy" was something with economy/finances with a building theme. It was either this or Railroad Tycoon. We opted for the easier to setup and play. The power plant market was very strange this game. The 36 plant became available very early. The player who grabbed it lagged way behind the rest of us for many turns. No further ending position plants (eg 5-6-6 or 4-6-7) were available for a long time. During the final turn, we were all able to build 17 cities (I had over 250 elektros), but only 1 player was able to power them all.

Medina image by cIo_OIs

Friday, January 12, 2007


I played my first game of the new Entdecker tonight, and now I regret not getting it out sooner. It was full of familiar yet subtly different mechanics that work really nicely together. Entdecker has tile laying, exploration, area influence, money/piece management, and a press-your-luck element.


The game comes in a standard square box with a full-sized 6 section folding board--impressively big. Players' bits are all wood. The tiles are about the size of Carcassonne tiles but only half as thick. The coins are thin as well and only printed on one side.

My only real beef with the components is the huts and goods. The game comes with seven 2-piece cardboard huts into which you place goods markers (to hide them) which are printed on both sides! To randomly select a marker, they include a cloth bag (for 9 little cardboard circles)! Not only is this a huge waste of material, it's also really annoying to use. The simplest solution would have been to have 9 discs printed on 1 side that you mix up and place face down where the huts would go. I may make some nice wooden discs for this.

Tile-Laying and Exploration

I suppose a good place to start is to compare Entdecker to Carcassonne, since most people know it, though I found that you almost have to unlearn your expectations of the tile-laying idiom to play Entdecker.

The edge of the tiles is either water or land. All the water edges are joined with white dotted lines forming "sea routes". This creates 6 possible tile type: all water, 3 water + 1 land, 2 water + 2 land (opposite), 2 water + 2 land (adjacent), 1 water + 3 land, all land. The board starts out mostly empty. There are 6 face-down stacks of shuffled tiles, and 6 face-up stacks of each of the specific types.

In Carcassonne, you draw a tile and place it wherever it fits. In Entdecker, you place the ship on the edge of the board or on any tile you can get to from the edge of the board that still has open sea route to explore. Based on which edge you start on (or which edge you have to use to get to the tile you start on) and how many opponents forts and settlements you have to pass (see below), you might have to pay.

Next you decide how many tiles you want to explore and pay for them ahead of time. You must choose either the unknown tiles (1 gold each) or the known tiles (4 gold each). You draw them one at a time, placing them where they fit along open sea routes next to your ship, then move the ship onto them. A tile that doesn't fit is discarded, and you are not compensated for it.

Your exploration ends when you have played all the tiles you have paid for, you reach a dead end, or you decide to stop. At this point you may pay to place a unit (scout=1, fort=3, settlement=6) on the current tile if there is land there.

At this point any single-space holes are filled in; there always a tile that fits any given space. This is very different from the nasty "make cities unfinishable" stuff in Carcassonne, and also requires no one to use a turn to complete. It happens automatically. Also, holes of any size with land all around the outside are filled with all-land tiles; you have explored the entire coastline of the island.

All completed island are now scored. Again this is different from Carcassonne. Settlements beat forts and scouts. Forts beat scouts. The winning player gets 1 VP per tile of the island (plus any bonus shows on any of the island starting tiles). 2nd place gets half round up. 3rd place gets half again rounded up, etc., Very forgiving. Settlements and forts go back into the players' supplies.

Players now take turns to place all the scouts on the scored island onto the seven jungle paths. The first player on each path gets to peek at the value of the good (5, 10, or 15). Subsequent scouts form a line away from the hut. Each path also has an eye printed on one space. The player who later plays a scout on the eye also gets to peek. At the end of the game, the player with the most scouts gets the value of the good as VP. Ties are broken by who is closest to the hut.

Interesting Mechanics at Work

The first one is of course the tile-laying. You can risk buying the cheap tiles, or pay through the nose for a known result. However, no matter how many tiles you place, you can only buy one unit. So placing 5 tiles might not help you, unless it closes off an island before another player can occupy it, or gets you to a location you wanted.

You can't play wherever you want. You can only extend open sea spaces, and even if you are on a tile with land and draw a tile with land, you cannot place that tile on the other side of the land. You always have to place the new tile so that the ship can move onto it. This makes the board expand in fun ways. Some very lucrative sections may be choked off or completely blocked, unless you are willing to spend extra money to start in the expensive locations. Bottlenecks are also good places to play forts and settlements since other players have to pay toll if they go through that tile to select a starting space.

Fighting for islands isn't really as vicious as Carcassonne. In Carc, it's all or nothing for cities. In Entdecker, if you have 7 scouts on a 9-tile island and I have only 1, you score 9 VP and I score 5. There's less incentive to fight. In fact, it's the opposite; since the second place player gets so much, it may be more profitable to find an island you can keep to yourself.

At the beginning of your turn if you have less than 4 gold, you have to roll the die, collect that much gold. Every other player gets that much plus one. I'm not sure how this fits into the theme of the game, but it certainly makes you think twice about spending too much money. If you consistently go below 4 on your turn, you may be the only one rolling the die for income, giving all the other players an extra gold.

You can use the fill-in-the-hole system to help you. If there's a 3-space and you can place a single tile in the center, the other 2 get filled in automatically. If the center tile has land and you can get a scout onto it, this can give you a big payout.

The last thing I want to bring up is something that was quite unexpected, and possibly cost me my first game. Although scouts are the weakest unit in terms of winning control of islands, they are incredibly important for control of the huts. Even if it gains you nothing to place one on an island (eg still in 2nd place), it's almost always worth adding a scout when you stop your exploration. In my last turn of the game, I added the final tile to an island containing an opponent's scout. I thought I was being clever by keeping enough gold to build a fort. I got 3 VP to her 2. If I had built a scout instead, we would have each gotten 3 VP, and I would have been able to place this scout on a path resulting in a 10 VP swing. A great lesson.

I lost the game 100 to 116.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

BGG and Greasemonkey

I spent the night learning a little about Javascript, a Firefox extension called Greasemonkey, and the Document Object Model (DOM). Javascript is a language that can be embedded in web pages, for one thing, to tweak content on the fly. Greasemonkey allows you to manage these scripts, edit them, assign which web sites/pages they work on, etc. The DOM is an internal representation of everything on a web page, even the stuff you can't see. Using Javascript, you can "walk" around in the DOM of a loaded page and modify things.

For a long time, the crazy colors and layout of BGG have really bugged me. There are too many shades of blue, and the modules appear to have randomized margins and padding. I spent some time poking around the DOM of BGG. It's really a huge mess in there! This is not meant to be a criticism. I understand how BGG has slowly evolved--tweak after tweak. It's really hard to grow something and keep it live and organized at the same time.

I was hoping everything was done with styles. For example, if you have a style that describes the background colors for the main menu, the recently viewed, and the modules, then you can modify that color in one place and it will affect everything. Unfortunately, that single darker blue color is defined all over the place, sometimes in styles, sometimes embedded in the HTML itself. This mean the script has to find all these places and modify them all. Also, since some of the places that needed to be tweaked can only be found by location (few objects in the HTML have id's or class names), any future changes to the layout of the DOM of BGG (eg different table layout, etc) would break the script. I managed to tweak everything I wanted, but I am not fluent enough in Javascript to claim that I did it in any reasonable way.

These are the things I tweaked in this first round:
Too many shades of blue. I made the main menu and the recently viewed header the same blue as the normal modules. I also made the lower portion of the main menu light gray. Now there are only 3 background colors on the page with the exception of the BGG logo.

Every "box" on the front page now has an 8-pixel margin on all sides, even the edges of the browser window.

I removed the footer, since I never use it.
Here's a before and after image of the changes:

Here's the script I used to do this. You need Firefox and Greasemonkey to use it.

Game Night at the Condo

I brought a completely different selection of games with me this week hoping to find something that would click better. We did our usual floundering trying to figure out how to break up 7 players, 2 of which were caught up with Guitar Hero II.

Liar's Dice
We started with a quick 6-player game of Liar's Dice. I was eliminated first, which was fine since the pizza was almost there and someone had to get the door.

Merchants of Amsterdam
A selection from my bag! This game is kind of an odd Knizia offering. It certainly wasn't given the "red carpet" of production values as was his due. The game played very smoothly, even with the crappy timer. I think the reason is that everyone is watching the needle, waiting for a specific value. So it's always clear when someone says, "Stop!" where they intended to stop it (we used the system where the current player always stops the timer). Can the current player bid on the current auction? Overall, it's a very good game. Each of the 3 different areas of influence work slightly different, yet they are inter-connected. Going for the monetary bonuses is counter to getting a majority. Good forces. We had one player only win a single auction, and he won the game by a hair: $1.46 million, $1.44 million, $1.42 million, $1.19 million.

It's not often I play Ra face to face. We finished MoA long before the other table finished Caylus, so we broke this out. We used these excellent player aids, but they mess me up because I'm used to laying out my tiles my own way. The second round only had 5 auctions before the Ra tiles ended it. The main focus of the game seemed to be not getting screwed with Suns. One player was shooting for the high Sun total, but I managed to tie him. Another very close game: 42, 41, ??, 28.

A light closer, which almost takes a little too long to be termed a filler. Still it played much faster this second time. The bidding was higher overall. I went for a lot of specials, but didn't end up with many mines in the end. One player scored more than 100. In our first game (last week), the high score was only in the 50's.

Merchants of Amsterdam image by GeoMan

Monday, January 08, 2007

2006 in Review

2006 was a very good year for gaming. I picked up many games that I had always wanted to own, some out of print, some reprints. I found a real gaming group...or rather, they found me, and we play once or twice a week. I've been exposed to many games I otherwise would never have bought or even tried. I've made some great new friends. I've kept this blog going pretty much full speed.

BGG is maturing quite nicely; the features and functionality are improving. Games are still pouring out from the designers and publishers at a rate I can scarcely keep up with.

Gaming blogs and podcasts are going strong. My favorites are those that simply discuss specific games. I love to read (or hear) about why others like or dislike games, and about games I don't know. Sometimes I will even get a new perspective on a game.

2006 Hits

These aren't necessarily games that were published in 2006. They are just games that I played that struck the perfect chord for me.

ASL Starter Kit #1
Thanks to Kevin Moody and VASL, I was introduced to this excellent system. I don't think I would have made it through the 12 pages of rules without someone to hold my hand. Wargame rules are simply not written for euro gamers, no matter how simple the game. I have since picked up Starter Kit #2, and am awaiting the soon-to-be-reprinted Starter Kit #1 and newly-printed Starter Kit #3.

I was on and off this game a few times when it was first announced. I read a lot about it for and against. I'm very glad I bought a copy. I've only played with 5 and 6 so far. The "micro-turn" and rondel mechanics really make this game shine.

Excellent 2-player abstract. Simple play with 4 victory conditions keep you on your toes. Despite the seemingly simple board, no 2 games are the same.

Die Macher
I don't really know if it's the interlocking systems, the sheer number of mechanisms, or the aura surrounding the game that attracts me. I just know I played it once, it took about 7 hours, and I never felt the time go by. While this is not a "play every week" game, I hope it's a "play a couple of time a year" game.

O Zoo le Mio
Looks like a kid's game; plays like a gamer's game. I ignored it too long, and now I own it.

Railroad Tycoon
If I had to pick one game that I played in 2006 that struck me as the most fun, it would have to be Railroad Tycoon. Getting past the warped boards, the silly trains, and the ridiculous empty city markers, there's a really good game here. Because of this, I really want to try Age of Steam (someone else's copy).

I was surprised that I liked this game so much. I had read the rules and decided not to buy it. After playing it once, I immediately put it on my want list. The combinations of simple actions give you some very interesting decisions.

2006 Misses

Die Säulen der Erde
I played this a few times on BSW. It's Caylus-lite with about 50% randomness and 50% chaos. It's so bad, it's sure to win the next SdJ.

Roads & Boats
A multi-player solitaire puzzle game where the only interaction is stealing goods that your neighbor can't guard. If you want to advance some technology, you have to collect a goose and 2 paper. To make a new goose, you need to leave 2 geese alone in a hex (there can't even be a log there). However, if you have a goose and 2 paper in a hex without some vehicle (eg donkey or raft), they kill each other. Sound silly? Is silly.

Winner's Circle
Random. Downtime. Pain. Light brown. Medium brown. Strain.


These are games I'm looking forward to this year, either to play for the first time, to buy in my next order, to be released, or to be printed in English.

Die Baumeister von Arkadia
I'm about 80% on this one. There some good feedback on it, but some intangible thing about it says "under-developed" to me.

I'm also 80% on this one. Rules would help.

I was 100% on this game from the blurb alone. Now I'm down to about 60% based on feedback. Is it even going to be reprinted in English...or at all?

On the Underground
This will be on my next order.

Through the Ages: A Story of Civilization
I'm very close to 100% on this. I don't care if it takes 4-6 hours to play. It just sounds fun. Is it going to be picked up?

This will be on my next order.

My Wishes

I wish board designers would get a clue about function over form, about the use of color and contrast, and about layout. I wish board designers would talk to the bits designers, the box designers, and have actually played the game.

I wish companies that should know better would spend the extra freakin' day it would take to clean up their rules so we don't have to ask 37 questions on BGG to have a 100% ruleset.

I wish that plastic became so expensive that games with stupid plastic figures would have to switch to wood.

I wish Aldie would fix all the crazy colors and crazy layout on BGG, and that I wasn't so OCD about it.

I wish people who made online modules for games would stop thinking it's a good thing to use a scan of the board on the screen, if that board needs to be 3000x2000 to actually see anything.

I wish my game group met every night.

May all your purchases be 10's!

Railroad Tycoon image by garyjames

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Game Day at the Condo

An unexpectedly warm and rainy winter day kept the skiers indoors. This was good news for sun-fearing gamers like me. We lounged around in t-shirts with the windows open and dug into the goodness...

A new game for me. As soon as we started playing, I knew who the designers were; this game had Brunos written all over it. And as expected, it was light, random, a little chaotic, and fun. I found the "passing the money around" thing a bit odd, but it did make up for those players who get the last few cards to claim. Mayors and saloons were brutal. As the game progresses, it becomes much more work to figure out who is leading so you can Dynamite them. All in all, it's a reasonable filler.

El Grande
The game of the day for me. I've owned it for quite a while, but never had the chance to play. This game is great--well deserving of a top-10 spot. I was worried it might turn out to be too chaotic based on some comments, but I found the chaos to be just right. The decisions on which bidding cards to play and which action cards to draw are excruciating. The one thing I was not expecting--even knowing the rules beforehand--was how much actions can affect other actions on a given round (eg moving the king to affect where others can place Caballeros, placing a scoreboard to block a future scoring action, etc.). The Castillo mechanic is fantastic; I need to learn to remember what in there better, since it cost me many points on one round (Castillo scoring as well as subsequent movement to a region). I knew I'd like El Grande, but I didn't think I would really like it. After one play, it's a solid 9. I wanted to play again, but others preferred lighter fare...

Black Vienna
I played this once before, and I was determined to not make any mistakes. Black Vienna is a pure deduction game, in a similar vein to Sleuth. It's not particularly difficult, but it's really easy to screw up. Any error will cascade into a completely wrong guess, or minimally some conflicting data on your sheet. Players draw a card and place it in front of a player. That player answers by placing 0-3 discs on the card. Then everyone gets quiet while they add the new piece of data to their information and try to deduce more information. As with my previous game, I made an error. Before I had even figured out one of the three solutions, Mike called "Black Vienna!" and was correct. I couldn't believe he had had enough information to do so. After correcting my error, I found that I wasn't that far from having 2 of the 3 solutions myself. Next time, dude!

Modern Art
A light classic that gets deeper with each play. I was bidding particularly conservatively this game, trying to force things too much. I need to learn to go with the flow of the artists and figure out what players are doing. After 2 rounds I was up to 325, but only ended with 428. The winner had something like 570. The one good play I did was to play a Lite Metal double auction card alone at a time when the player on my left was going to cash in on Yoko. If he passes, one of the other players would surely have played one, and he would have lost his turn. So he played Lite Metal, which meant he couldn't play Yoko and would not likely get another turn.

After my shameful mistake on Wednesday, I gladly accepted the chance to avenge myself. We had one new player who picked it up very quickly. After only 3 queries, I had found my partner, but hadn't exchanged any information yet. One of our possible missions was to move a pawn to Madame Zsa Zsa. This required knowledge of her attribute, so I pursued this when I couldn't encounter my partner. As luck would have it, my partner queried me next and I dutifully passed him my mission and my attribute; he now knew our mission: to move the Ambassador to the Embassy. On my next turn, I met the Ambassador, queried an opponent for attribute, and had to move the Ambassador somewhere. I wanted to move him right next to my partner so he could easily get him to the Embassy if that indeed was our mission, but I thought this would be too obvious, So I moved him next to me, and 2 spaces away from my partner. Strangely enough, this is the mission I completed incorrectly in my last game, so as soon as I knew it really was our mission, I went over all the facts again so as not to repeat my mistake. On my next 2 turns, I managed to get my partner's mission card and complete our mission!

A typical end to our game nights after all the wimps go home. We played 2 great, tense games. My defensive flicks and shots on goal were dead on tonight. I won the first game 1-0, and the second 2-1.

El Grande image by garyjames

Friday, January 05, 2007

What You Are Doing vs What You Are Thinking

My attention was recently directed back to Die Säulen von Venedig after reading this post by Susan Rozmiarek. Based on initial pre-Essen reports, I had this game on my watch list, but removed it after reading the rules. It hasn't been well received thus far by its non-English owners judging from its #1110 spot on BGG, but the session reports I have read are fairly positive.

So I asked myself, "What makes me interested in a game after reading a blurb about it, but lose interest after investigating further?" Certainly the bits can draw my attention--and they did to some degree here--but that is not the whole story.

When I first look at images of a game, my mind starts to construct the sequence of play. What would these bits do? How do they get played and/or moved? What actions score points? And, of course, after reading the blurb, my made-up concepts about the game are replaced by the real concepts. But, in both cases, there is a common thread...

What You Are Doing

I think what attracts me and many others to a given game is What You Are Doing (WYAD). The images and the blurbs convey this. The theme and overview support this. In the case of Die Säulen von Venedig, you are building the city.

This is such a common thing in games. People love to build things: cities, railroads, castles, zoos, civilizations, empires, kingdoms, coral reefs, electric grids, plantations, you name it! Building things usually involves placing various tiles and bits on some sort of square/hex grid or onto a network of connections.

No doubt you recognize most--if not all--of the above themes. But why are you building? In Carcassonne, players build one big map together. The goal is not to build the biggest map. In Euphrates & Tigris, players build up large kingdoms, yet the goal is not specifically to do so. In fact, you could win by destroying a kingdom. Likewise, in Die Säulen von Venedig, players all contribute to building Venice. So what's going on here?

What You Are Thinking

Of course, what makes all of the various building games unique is the mechanics used to build and the ways in which scoring occurs. This is what I am calling What You Are Thinking (WYAT). You may have no interest in building at all. You may be trying to score points, position yourself to score in the future, or block the opponents' ability to do the same.

In Die Säulen von Venedig, you can score points by building, but you can also score when players use your pillars, when players build along the canal when you control the Gondola, or by meeting certain conditions on some cards. In addition, each time you use a card you lose it, passing it to the player on your left. So there are times when you might not do something beneficial to you because you don't want to help another player even more. In the end, you may not be thinking about building at all.

What's It All Mean?

Nothing or everything.

If you approach a game based on WYAD and think, "Hey! This looks cool. You build up a city on pillars," then you might be in for disappointment when you realize that part of the game relies on simultaneous action selection, or that the cards/roles are random. If you like building games no matter how they work, then WYAD might work fine for you.

If you've read the rules (or any sufficiently detailed review), then you are able to see both WYAD and WYAT, and can make a solid judgment.

I think it's very likely that many people buy games based on WYAD and leave them gathering dust based on WYAT.

So What's the Forecast in Venice?

It's back on my watch list. Shrug. Sometimes I want something lighter and more random. I don't exactly know where to fit this game. It's a little heavy for my non-gaming friends, and a little light for the game group. It might work for either in the right circumstances. Is it going to be printed in English?

Die Säulen von Venedig image by Knutster

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Gaming in Three Dimensions

This article is not about Heroscape, or any other game with a 3-dimensional model for a board. Nor is it about miniatures. It is about choices, and the factors involved in making them. Usually, I make an effort to quantify game properties, but in this case, I will just discuss these 3 areas qualitatively. For lack of better terms, and to go along with my analogy, I'll simply call these 3 dimensions Width, Length, and Depth.


Width is the number of types of choices or actions you have available to you on your turn. Games with a small Width tend to be less complex, and easier to teach insofar as the rules are concerned. Games with large Width can create Analysis Paralysis as you weigh all the possible options.

Examples of games with small Width: Go (play a stone), Ra (draw tile, invoke Ra), Ticket To Ride (draw cards, build track), Taj Mahal (play card, withdraw), Carcassonne (play tile, then play meeple or not), Through the Desert (play 2 camels).

Examples of games with medium Width: Puerto Rico (choose 1 of 7 roles), Tigris & Euphrates (2 actions: play tile, play catastrophe, move/place/remove leader, draw tiles), Railroad Tycoon (build, urbanize, improve, deliver, take card, western link).

Examples of games with large Width: Struggle of Empires (each tile represents a different action/ability), In the Shadow of the Emperor (each card represents a different action), Reef Encounter (10 possible actions in many different combinations), Maharaja: Palace Building in India (9 possible actions of which each player selects 2), Caylus (placing each worker is, in effect, choosing one of many, many possible actions)


Length is the number of possibilities (eg places to play) you have for a given type of action. In games with more than one type of action, some choices have few possibilities, while others have many. Therefore Length may not be symmetric across the Width. Games with very small Width may still have Analysis Paralysis if one or more of the choices have large Length.

Examples of games with small Length: Antike (all actions expect Maneuver are either automatic or have few options), Puerto Rico (all roles except Builder).

Examples of games with medium Length: Carcassonne (on average, a tile can be placed in a handful of places), El Grande (hand of cards, 5 piles of tiles), Goa (5 tracks to invoke/upgrade), Puerto Rico (Builder).

Examples of games with large Length: Go (play stone anywhere), Tigris & Euphrates (play tile anywhere), Railroad Tycoon (build anywhere), Samurai (play tile(s) anywhere).


In this case, the word Depth pretty much matches the normal use of the word: the effects and future implications of a choice. Depth also measures how much your choices affect other players, and likewise, how their choices affect you. Even in game situations with only 2 choices (eg a normal turn in Ra), Depth can cause serious consideration; 2 choices with large Depth may be more difficult than 10 choices with small depth. Games with small Depth are tactical; your choice affects the immediate game situation, and little else. Games with large Depth are strategic; your choice affects the entire game. Depth affects how heavy a game feels, as well as how difficult it is to play well.

Depth is the most difficult dimension to discuss in terms of small/medium/large. Even in games as simple as Tic-Tac-Toe, every move affects the entire game. So in this case I am making a judgment call on how much thinking I do when evaluating a given choice. In some cases, pure calculation is being performed, while in others, intuition takes over. Chaos (number of players, and how much the game state will change before it is you turn again) and randomness (cards, dice, drawn tiles) tend to lower Depth (or perception of Depth) because long-range planning is less predictable.

Examples of games with small Depth: Alhambra, Hansa, Carcassonne, China, Ingenious, Niagara, Ticket to Ride.

Examples of games with medium Depth: Ra, Puerto Rico, Euphrates & Tigris, Amun-Re, and the GIPF games.

Examples of games with large Depth: Go, Chess, and perhaps some of the heavier euros like Age of Steam (never played) and Die Macher (played once).


Of course, all of the above is complicated by the fact that most games have sequences of play. In one phase, you may do something automatically, and in others you may have many complex choices. Choices may be interwoven among players, or even broken down into sub-choices in such a way that you can change your mind on the fly.

Whatever use Width, Length, and Depth are, they are always present for me when evaluating a game. Other than small in all three, I don't think there are any combinations that correlate well to games I like or dislike. It seems that many of top games at BGG have small Length, and medium Width and Depth, which translates to an elegant and somewhat meaty game.

Can you apply these properties to your own tastes?

Game Night at the Condo

A 6-hour game night with pizza, chit-chat, and Guitar Hero II in the background allows for exactly 2 medium games to be taught and played. We had 11 people show up, but since there was at least 1 non-gamer, they played a bunch of lighter games at the B table (Wits & Wagers, Catch Phrase, and Ra). 4 of us sat at the A table...

I was hot to play this again. 2 players were new to it. After only 3 rounds, I knew who my partner was. But since many of our possible missions involved knowing the other players' identities and attributes, I needed a lot more information. It wasn't until the 7th round that I was able to inform my partner of my mission (D), and not until the 9th round that I was able to query him for his mission (C). In previous rounds, I was positioning my pieces and the Ambassador to be as close as possible to the various objectives. Once I knew our mission was C/D, I knew I had already completed our mission. I claimed! My partner was dead quiet. Had I made am incorrect deduction? No. He was my partner. His mission was C, and mine was D, and the C/D mission was "Move the Ambassador to the Embassy". Wait!... Oh my god! I'm Fiddlebottom! It's not C/D! It's D/C! We have to get the Ambassador to location 8! The good guys loose in a fit of dyslexia, and I hang my head in shame.

My second play offline, this time with only 1 new player. It's tough to give good advice to a new player. There are so many ways to play, and some of your choices hinge on which bonus cards you have. After the first scoring, the new player had 7, and I had the most with 18. The auctions in the New Kingdom were brutal since some provinces had 2 pyramids and some had none. The player in last place managed to acquire 3 temples and push the sacrifice up to level 3, netting him 9 points. He won by 2 points.

Inkognito image by juan-agustin

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

2006 BGIA Nominations

The 2006 Gone Gaming: Board Game Internet Awards nominations are closed. This year, I have been honored with 5 nominations. I'm glad I was able to entertain those of you who read this blog. There was a lot lot of great stuff in 2006. Good luck to all the other nominees! Vote early and often...and use Diebold where possible. I have a lot of new games yet to be played, a new order going out soon, and plenty more opinions to unleash. So lots more coming in 2007.

I was nominated for the following:

Best Game Blog:
Gamer's Mind

Best Review Article:
Shadows Over Camelot: What's all this then?

Best Industry Article:
So You Play Games?

Best Humorous Article:
Meeting of the Minds

Best Article Series:
ASL Primer I
ASL Primer II

Check out all the nominations at the main site. There are some really nice sites, blogs, articles, and podcasts that you might have missed.