Monday, October 31, 2005

Out of rules

I love reading game rules. So much so in fact that I haven't read a book in a couple months. But my reading material has run out. Of all of the games I am interested in, I have either read the rules twice, or they are not available.

The following games are on my list to check out if their rules are ever posted online:
What else should I be looking at?

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Ode to Carcassonne

Upon this land, the sun revealed
Quiet roads as yet unknown.
Upon the walls, emboldened shield,
The greenest grass in every field.
Behold! The land of Carcassonne!

With modest plans for its design,
The Meeples came from distant lands,
With dreams of cloth and wheat and wine,
And roaming room for every swine,
They took their tools into their hands.

It started out in harmony,
With open space for all to share.
The Meeples planned and did agree,
To build their home from sea to sea.
But no one had become aware...

Towers filled the autumn sky.
Built from stones the land bestowed.
The cloister bells rang on high,
To tell them that their dream was nigh,
But the pleasantry plateaued.

Their status would not remain unflaunted.
Their avarice it grew unchecked.
The lesser Meeples simply wanted,
To send their fellow knights undaunted,
Into cities granting more respect.

Soon the Meeples were at war.
The cities, farms, and roads, as one,
Became the source of bad rapport.
Not even monks could they restore,
The damage that was done.

On the final day a farmer crept,
Upon the tallest tower,
To view his domain while others slept.
But in his sudden grief he wept,
For there were no more farms to conquer.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Anyone can comment now

I enabled the "anyone can comment" feature along with the word verification feature. Have fun! :)

Thursday, October 27, 2005


People's lives are full of repetition. We have daily cycles, weekly cycles, and yearly cycles. It makes things easier to remember when we do them as part of a routine. Games also follow this form. Whatever the terminology--turns, rounds, phases, epochs, kingdoms, dynasties, passages--we play games in loops.

Game rules are almost always described as a sequence of actions, repeated some number of times, or until some condition occurs. In computer programming, one of the tasks of the programmer is to find loops in processes. This allows the code to be elegant, and often, more efficient. Likewise, properly delineated loops in game rules make the description of the game more elegant and easier to understand.

Let's start with a simple example. I will use capital letters to indicate actions or steps of a game:
The above game has a setup phase A, a repeating main phase B, and a final phase C. To indicate repetition, I will enclose the looping steps in parentheses. The above game could then be written as:
A description of the above steps in a rule book would be easy on the eyes and easy on the brain. A more complex example:
Where is the loop? It's CDE. This could be written as:
Ok, so far so good. But games are not that simple. There can be loops within loops:
A little analysis yields:
The inner expression repeats many times within the outer repeating expression. It's still complex, but the latter form is much easier to understand.

So what's the point of all this? As game players, we look for the loops in games to help us understand the flow of the game, and to more easily remember the rules. We rely on the designer to be the "game programmer" for us, find these loops, and describe them properly. When this process is flawed, we can either learn the game as it is written (the wrong way), or we can imagine that it is done right, putting it into its proper form in our minds. The latter method allows us to remember the game easier, and to teach it better.

In order to give some real examples, I need to introduce 2 more annotation concepts:
The vertical bar means OR. In other words, do step A or step B.
Square brackets mean the step is optional. And you can combine them:
Do step A, or step B, or neither.

Let's take a look at Reef Encounter--a game with a lot going on, a rulebook with a lot going on. Some say the rules are terrible. I disagree. The problem with Reef Encounter is that it tries desperately to be thematic about a topic that most of us non-marine-biologists cannot possibly internalize. But I digress...

Reef Encounter actually does a very good technical job of describing game turns. There are 10 actions (which I label A-J) that you can take during your turn:
Basically, you may do A, then you may do any of B-I in any order, then you may do J. There are some restrictions on how many times you can do certain actions, but that is not relevant here. This is explained fairly well, and a chart is included that shows it.

For you masochists who want to see the annotation for the entire game, I'll use Y for game setup, and Z for final scoring:
Another example of good looping is Santiago. There are 7 phases during a turn. During the 1st phase, the player the left of the Canal Overseer (from the previous turn) bids first. So what do you do on turn 1?

A poor choice would have been to describe phase 1 using optional steps, like: If this is the first turn of the game, assign the Canal Overseer randomly, otherwise... This would have looked like:
Instead the designers found the right choice. They assign the Canal Overseer as part of the game setup, then allow the turns to flow smoothly:
Now let's take a look at an example where the rules are a little more complicated than they need to be because of improper loop delineation: Amun-Re. I respect Knizia designs, and I love this game, but it still works well for this example. The annotated sequence of play is:
A is the setup, and I the final scoring. BCDEFG are the phases of the rounds. H is the steps to take at "half time".

The rules describe each round of play as having 6 phases, with the 6th phase being optional. Do you see the problem? This description would result in the following abbreviated annotation for the first "kingdom" (3 rounds) of play:
But G really isn't an optional step. It's simply a step that is never taken in the first 2 rounds, and always taken in the final round. A better way is this:
Repeat the 5 phases, then do the 6th. Understanding where the loops occur and how to handle optional versus required steps is important to impart understanding.

Now a worse offender: Mystery of the Abbey. The actual game play sequence looks like:
A[B][C] A[B][C] A[B][C] D
A[B][C] A[B][C] A[B][C] D
A[B][C] A[B][C] A[B][C] D
A[B][C] A[B][C] A[B][C] D
A[B][C] A[B][C] A[B][C] D
A[B][C] A[B][C] A[B][C] D
A[B][C] A[B][C] A[B][C] D
A[B][C] A[B][C] A[B][C] D
A[B][C] A[B][C] A[B][C] D
A[B][C] A[B][C] A[B][C] D
A[B][C] A[B][C] A[B][C] D
A[B][C] A[B][C] A[B][C] D

A is Move Pawn. B is Encounter. C is Action. D is Mass Bell. E is Mass So what's the problem? The rules look like this:
1. Move Mass Bell (first player in turn only)
2. Move Pawn
3. Encounter
4. Action
This is ridiculously confusing, and has probably led to numerous groups playing the game with 3 or 5 rounds because they blindly followed the directions.

The proper way to handle the Mass Bell is this:
Setup: Place bell on (1) space on mass card.
Each player:
1. Move Pawn
2. Encounter
3. Action
Move mass bell.
Mass: Hold mass and setup new bell/mass card.
This correctly reflects the sequence of events and the looping. The final abbreviated annotation is:

I think perhaps people who are programmers would make the best rules writers, but maybe I'm a little biased.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

In the beginning...

Well, you know what happened. But time passes--more years than can be counted by the smartest sloth hanging from the smartest tree. And through these huge spans of time and unnamed ages1, Man, having developed more brains than was good for him, got Ideas.

The first Idea was to come down from the trees. Man was once nominated for "Species of the Year" by the Galactic Council, but lost because of the poor dismount.

The second Idea was to start using sticks to hit each other with.2 Before long they had microwave ovens, sofas, and free time. Millions of people with lots of free time equals large quantities of boredom.

It's a little-known fact that when emotional states build up on a planetary scale, Things happen. Things are almost always bad, because the Universe itself is cynical, and not without a certain twisted sense of humor.

In this case, the Thing that happened was the creation of a god--but a god so inconsequential that it did not even have name. Gods created in this fashion abhor themselves by nature.3 They do not want to exist.4 This new god of boredom looked upon Man and sighed. He had his work cut out for him.

Let there be television. And there was television. And the god could feel his strength grow! Bugger. It seemed that Man could not put his newly granted gift to any useful purpose. By the time the gift had gone full circle5, the god decided to try something new.

Let Man assemble with one another and engage his mind. And there were board games.6 And they came in all shapes, size, and colors. And Man was no longer bored! In glory, the god could feel his strength wane. But before fading into divine oblivion, the god, in one evil breath, let loose upon Man one final curse.

Let all these games come in varying degrees of quality. Now Man had to congregate into large groups in order to debate the goodness and evilness of games. And Man realized that not everyone liked the same thing. And Man broke into many different groups, and waged war on the other groups.7

And then there was BoardGameGeek.

(1) Actually, they were named, but Uggh Ughh isn't very interesting.
(2) By this point, the Galactic Council had given up on the planet entirely.
(3) For example, the god created by vacuum.
(4) And it has nothing to do with having a lowercase "g"...really.
(5) Starting and ending with a bunch of people trapped on an island.
(6) Actually, they existed long before this, but you try telling that to a god.
(7) Those who remember the god curse him under their collective breaths for the shambles their lives have become.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

I am blessed... the secular sense of course.

Last night, I got to teach Power Grid to my girlfriend, my brother, and his wife. It got a reasonably warm reception, and was followed by a quick game of Citadels for 3.

Tonight I got to play my first game of Taj Mahal against the formidable trio of Chester Ogborn (cornjob), Mary Weisbeck (sodaklady), and Joe Gola (Gola). I had read the rules a couple of times previously, and have had it on my want list since then. But after this single playing, I'm fairly certain it is my favorite game ever.

I am a fan of Reiner Knizia designs, but I still view each new game with a healthy amount of skepticism. Taj Mahal is simply the perfect blend of mechanics: semi-random board setup, intricate player interaction, multiple scoring systems, fast tactical points, slow strategic points, controllable set collection, connectivity, competition for limited special powers, and a large dose of teeth-grinding, sweat-inducing decisions about when to withdraw from card playing and where to place palaces.

The game ended 46/44/44/40, and it was up for grabs right up until the final visit. I haven't been so completely won over by a game since Ra--another Knizia favorite. I am eagerly awaiting the reprint.

Taj Mahal finsihed just before midnight. Ten minutes later, my girlfriend asks if I want to play Keythedral. If you know me at all, you know this is not really a question, since I will play any of my games any time.

This was only our second game of Keythedral, so we were both keen to try some different strategies. In our first game, I was not happy with the tile layout, and decided that it was the cause of my loss. Oh, and because she played really well too (trust me, she isn't glaring at me right now).

We were both a bit more careful this time choosing our tile and cottage locations. Does the 2nd player always get a final cottage next to only 2 tiles? About half way through the game, I had bought significantly more Keythedral tiles than she had, giving me a 64 to 36 lead. I had also bought and used the first 4 law cards. She had cashed in several resource cubes for craft cubes, so was sitting pretty with a gold, a stained glass, and an iron cube.

At this point (about 1am), she said, "I'm hungry!" So we took a break and put together some homemade pizza. While it was cooking we continued our game. For those of you out there with non-gamer significant others, or ones who go to bed early, or who have never had pizza at 2:00am...nya nya.

After another couple of turns, I managed to pull ahead a bit more. We were now working on the "10" tiles. The tide began to turn. She had 3 fences in play, and had removed 2 of mine. She had 4 houses to my 3. I could negate them fairly well when I was the starting player, but not enough otherwise. Her pre-paid craft tiles allowed her to snatch up Keythedral tiles in early actions, while I was helplessly making trades.

In my one effort to get a craft cube ahead of the game, I traded 4 resource cubes for gold. In our game tonight, none of hte "12" tiles had any gold, so I ended up having to "trade down" to get an iron cube. Ugh.

In our first game, all the "12" tiles were composed of craft cubes. This has the unfortunate effect of making the endgame degrade so that players only need the most cubes, not any specific ones. This time, we got all the "12" tiles that contain some number of resource cubes. This made the endgame tense all the way to the final purchase. I am thinking of picking up the expansion.

She had a Price Decrease law card, and I negated it with a Price Increase law card. We didn't know how to rule this interaction, but decided that the player making the purchase could use the effects in the order of their choice. She bought the purple/white/red tile with white/red/green cubes, and still had a pile of cubes in front of her.

The final tally left me with 91 and her with 87. I was glad to see that it was possible to comeback from being so far behind with nothing more than some fence kicking and craft cube investing.

What a nice weekend. And the best part was that the winner and loser get pizza.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Through the Desert vs Go

Through the Desert has been compared to Go in many threads on Board Game Geek. This comparison is made because both games have an area enclosure scoring mechanic. This comparison is a bad one.

Don't get me wrong. I like both games...quite a bit. I am not insulted by the fact that a new game is being compared to an ancient one. I am not insecure about the chromatic deficiencies of Go. I am perfectly able to appreciate both games for what they are. This is not an attempt to claim one game is better than the other.

My beef with the comparison is that people who are trying to get information on one game may dismiss it because they did not like the other, when in fact, the game play bears little resemblance. It's almost like comparing Checkers to Maharaja because they both have point to point movement. Very misleading.

To properly analyze this, I need to break down the two games, so that only the area enclosure aspects are left. So I will be ignoring the palm tree, oasis, and longest caravan aspects of Through the Desert, since they have no overlap with Go. Also, Through the Desert has a hex board while Go has a square board. For simplicity sake, let's put them both on a square board and concentrate purely on the tactical aspects of a single area being enclosed. I'll use captures of the lower right corner of a Go board. Note that Through the Desert uses the spaces themselves, and that Go uses the intersections. For the purposes of this discussion, this is irrelevent. The dot shown here is a convenience on a standard Go board for placing handicap stones in games between players of different strengths. It has no significance.

The first and most important difference is where you can play pieces. In Go, you can play on almost any empty space. In Through the Desert, you can only extend an existing caravan. Realistically, the number of reasonable choices at any given moment might not be too different (maybe 30 for Go and 10 for Through the Desert). But for the purposes of basic area enclosure, the tactics are extremely dissimilar. Take the following position:

In Through the Desert, if it was White's turn, he could try to hedge in Black as much as possible, maybe resulting in this sequence. It's just a race to the edge--each player playing 2 camels at a time, trying to cut off the other as much as possible. The same kind of thing could happen on the other end of the "wall". And when Black is all closed off, he's got his prize.

In Go, since you can play anywhere, you might play at 1 or 2 to attempt to gain some control of the corner. You are able to choose locations where you can create strategic influence or tactical results. I won't get into the possible responses here. The point is that Black may not get any territory in the corner. He may attempt to go to the left, go up into the center of the board, or simply abondon the stones for now. In this situation, Black may now not feel very safe. This is because, in Go, stones can "die" and be removed from play...

This is the other big difference between the games. What areas are safely yours? In Through the Desert, once an area is completely closed off, it is safe. The points are yours. In Go, an enclosure is only as good as its shape. If the opponent can create another enclosure inside yours, they can steal some of your space, or even kill you. That is: completely surrounded (no empty space on any orthogonal side except the edge of the board) stones or groups of stones are removed from the board and count as points for the captor.

Black has 5 points of space, but if it is White's turn, a stone at 1 kills all the Black stones netting White 16 points (10 spaces, including those under the Black stones, and 6 prisoners). This concept is known as "Life & Death". The stones remain on the board unless captured outright. If you do not play Go, but are interested enough as to why 1 kills Black, I can show you outside of this discussion. I hope you are curious.

This does not mean that every enclosed space in Go becomes a complex nit-picking endeavor. As you gain experience in the game, you become more able to recognize absolutely safe areas, areas that will be safe if you respond correctly to the opponent, areas that are "up for grabs", and areas that are doomed. Each kind of area has its place in the game. In fact, areas that are doomed can save other areas on the other side of the board in certain cirumstances. Curious yet?

Here's another interesting situation in Go. Black seems to have a few points in the corner and a couple future prisoners. But look carefully. If Black plays at 1, White captures all the Black stones by playing at 2. If White plays at 1, Black captures the three White stones at 3. Neither player can capture the other, so this section of the board is a seki--a draw.

These are just 2 of the many tactical situations in Go. As these kinds of local situations approach each other on the board, many complex interactions result. Skilled players are able to play stones that affect multiple areas many spaces away. In Through the Desert, the complexity of the game never increases over time; it's always a numerical and group-think exercize of the same depth (I'm not saying it's easy).

These two games are night and day. I have only touched on the differences. You should try them both. If you do not like one of them, do not let this stop you from trying the other. I put a bit more emphasis on Go, because I believe it is less accessible (not something that many board gamers would be exposed to, not played at game conventions, not talked about on BGG, etc.), and that some people probably tend to dismiss it like they do Chess. Both Go and Through the Desert can be played for free online, so there's no reason to make assumptions. Play them!

Let me try to sum up my feelings of both these great games...

Through the Desert: Light to medium weight abstract for 2-5 players. Bring it out to play with friends during a session of general gaming. The thinking during the game is mostly numerical: touching palm trees, playing on oasis chips, making sure you have one or more longest caravans, enclosing portions of the board. If I take 5 here, he will get that 3, and she will get that 11-point section...

Go: Heavy abstract for 2 players. Can be played and enjoyed by casual gamers like any other good game. If you want to play at any reasonable level of skill, Go becomes a "way of life" kind of game like Chess, or Bridge, or Advanced Squad Leader. The thinking during the game is more intuitive than numeric. If I try to solidify my corner, he will get huge influence on the other side. If I approach on the left, he will have to run out into the center...

Screen captures are from the SGF editor of the CGoban program, the internet client for KGS Go Server.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Rants & Raves

Ok, it's me. So it'll be more rants than raves.

The new games are in, unwrapped, opened, punched, bagged, etc. Let's take a look at what's cool and what's not about the boxes and components...

Amun-Re: Although a nice-looking game overall, it suffers from over-design. The publishers went out of their way to make everything too complicated. The plastic insert has shallow slots just deep and wide enough to hold the various tokens when they are carefully stacked together. A nice deep and rounded bin would have been much easier to use. The plastic used for the blocks and pyramids has white speckled imperfections all through it--similar to the stress marks you get when you bend it. I don't know if this was intentional, but it just looks like a mistake. The start player and temple markers should have been wood instead of cardboard stands. The player info cards are a nice touch.

Keythedral: A game with this many different part needs a better insert. The art on the tiles/tokens is very good, except the "house" side of the cottage tiles should not be so dark. A few of the octagonal tiles were put on the wrong side of the cardboard sheet causing them to have the rounded and flat edges on the wrong sides. This makes it easy to pick them out even when looking at the back. The "Keytown Mat" is only required because of a single Law Card! This is a ridiculous addition to the game. Just leave all the cubes in a single pile.

Liberté: Beautiful board. Nicely-colored thick wooden pieces and markers. My only problem with this game is that the insert allows the board to slide to one end and fall into the large compartment causing it to bend over time. I had to construct a cardboard retainer for the compartment where the cards should go to keep the board in place.

Magna Grecia: Choice of colors was poor (brown, red, orange yellow). Coloring tiles in the center rather than on the edge was a bad choice. Coloring the action tiles on the edge rather than just in the center was a bad choice. The box insert was designed with the unpunched sheets included, making a gap under one corner of the board that allows it to bend (another custom fix here). Like Amun-Re, the box insert also had over-designed places for the tiles. Bins people! Bins! Sorry, no good stuff here. I read the rules before I bought it, and knew I would like the game, but the physical designers seriously blew it with this one.

Die Neuen Entdecker: Average overall. The tiles are thinner than I expected. The box insert is over-designed. There are 3 tiny circular wells to pile the different-sized round tokens in. There are 4 shallow bins in a larger deeper bin for about 100 tiny pieces...and a cloth bag. Do the pieces go in the bag or the bins? If they go in the bins, they will be all over the place if you carry the box anywhere. If they go in the bag, why have the 4 separate bins?

Princes of Florence: Very good overall. Nice thick player mats and score board. Reasonably thick buildings and other tokens (could be a little better). The box insert is very good. Bins!

Ra: I've never seen the older Ra in person, so I had no specific expectations for this new version. Overall I am very happy with this one. Reasonably thick tiles, wooden suns, nice board. My only question: Why are the suns in a heavy ziplock bag and the scoring tokens in a non-resealable bag? Boggle.

San Juan: What can I say? It's a nice set of cards, PR-style roles and trade house tiles. Why the scoring pad and pencil? To fill out the empty space in the box? Does anyone use the scoring pad?

Through the Desert: Ok I saved the best for last. The best rant that is. I read the rules for this and decided I wasn't interested. After playing it online, I found I enjoyed it more than I expected, so I bought it. This game is a symbol of everything that is wrong with Fantasy Flight Games. Box insert: one huge bin for all the camels, riders, palm trees, oasis chips, and all the scoring chips. A complete mess. Riders: they barely rest on the camels. If someone breathes too hard, they will fall off. I had no idea this issue existed from the pictures. The oasis chips: they need to be shuffled and chosen randomly, yet the backs of them have a pattern on them that is not consistent. After one visual sweep of the back of the cardboard sheet, I could pick out all the numbers just by looking at the back of the chips. If anyone at FFG had bothered to play this game, they would have discovered all these problems. So either they did not playtest, didn't listen to the playtesters, or both. After my Runebound disaster, seeing the quality of Citadels, and reading reports on games like War of the Ring, I think it's both. I am inclined to never buy another FFG game ever.

People who design boxes, inserts, boards, pieces, counters, and tokens need to stop messing around and think for a change. A game is a single entity, not a mishmash of components designed by 12 people and jammed in a box. Talk to each other!

Sunday, October 09, 2005


Awards schmawards? What are they for? Who are they for? Why have them at all?

As gamers, we are no different from many other groups in society. We like to put our hobby up on a pedestal, to show it off. We want to give our hobby an aura of importance. It's the same with any sport, craft, or even profession. What better way to do this than some kind of competition in which the winner somehow trandscends the hobby itself.

But unlike sports, we do not have a "home team" to root for. We are allowed to enjoy all games equally. We can own and play all the games that we like.

What good does a handful of award winners do? Do more people buy these games simply because they won awards? I'm sure this is true. But is it a good thing? Yes and no. Awards foster a certain amount of interest, including outside of the gaming world. We see this more and more lately. But should a gamer buy a game--or even adjust his opinion of a game--because of an award. Absolutely not. We now have enough information at our fingertips to make very informed judgements before every purchase.

So who are these people who deem themselves capable of rendering judgement for us all?

Spiel des Jahres: Votes are made by committee. The last 3 years' winners were:
International Gamers Award: Votes are by committee. The last 3 years' winners were:
Deutscher Spiele Preis: Votes are from the industry's stores, magazines, professionals, and game clubs. The last 3 years' winners were:
Nederlandse Spellenprijs: Games are nominated by committee and voted on by the Dutch gaming public. The last 3 years' winners were:
All opinions are subjective. The opinion of a small group of people--whatever their credentials--is even more so. Well-known reviewers would not retain their positions for long if they did not go out of their way to find the good aspects of a game. Stores want to sell more games, especially popular ones that already have some momentum. Publishers and designers want their own games to sell.

Public vote is better than committee. But who is the public, and what are they going to vote for? The public is everyone--the serious gamer, the average gamer, and even the non-gamer. Why do the non-gamers even get a say? What do they know? It's a bit like taking a vote on the best solution to Fermat's Last Theorem. Low-end gamers are not in a position to appreciate the design of a game.

This is why gateway games should not win awards. They are not representative of good games at all. If I told someone I played Euro-games and they replied, "You mean like Settlers of Catan or Ticket to Ride," it would take all my willpower not to gag.

That brings me to my ultimate point. What should the criteria be for an award? It should not be the game that sells the most. It should not be the game that the general public likes the most. It should not be the easiest game, or the most accessible, etc.

In business and in sports, there are natural forces at work that make the best people rise to the top. You would not put Little Joey on a professional football team just because gosh darnit he plays his little feet off and is cute as a button in the uniform. Best is best, and while we all have our opinions, we all know good from bad.

We parade clothing on runways that no one will ever buy. We make concept cars that no one will ever drive. Great games are games that show us what games can be--form and function.

Game awards should be for gamers games--people who write and read game blogs, people who are fixtures on BGG, people who own 100's of games, people who spend a significant portion of their lives playing games. They don't have to be heavy games, but I think they would tend to be. They should include game play, physical quality, and even rules quality as part of the criteria. There does not have to be a single winner. Any games that "pass the test" win. As an additional litmus test, I would add the following: If you had to give the same game to all your gamer friends as a gift, what would you choose?

So, for your amusement, I hereby announce "The Ekted Awards". I include games I am waiting on that will likely make my list.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Game order!

I love game order days! This one was triggered by the arrival of Ra, one of my favorite games to play on BSW. This list represents all the available games on my want list with the exception of Adel Verpflichtet and Vinci, both of which I have just started playing.
I think I have finally crossed the inevitable threshold; I am starting to collect games. Some of these games may never hit the table in my gaming circles. But I don't care any more. I want them anyways. There's a bunch of great stuff coming in October/November, so I anticipate one more big order before Christmas.

I dropped Mini Inkognito from my want list.

Monday, October 03, 2005


Prompted to some degree by this article, I was thinking about what will happen to boardgaming in the future. What will technology do to our hobby? Let's start by looking at what technology has done for games in the past.

My first recollections of games that were more than just a board, pawns, cards, and dice are Operation and Bermuda Triangle. Both of these games used unique mechanisms to manage a physical/dexterity aspect of the game, but nothing more. Players were responsible for playing the game.

Then came the electronic versions of existing games: Electronic Battleship, Electronic Stratego. The game was the same, but the electronics in the board added some extra fluff to the game--in these cases, sounds.

Around this same time, a number of unique games appeared where the "computer" did a bit more. In Code Name: Sector, the computer tracked the locations of hidden but moving submarines as you pinged them from surface ships. In Simon, the computer generated a random sequence of colors flashes (and matching sounds) that players had to be able to replay. In Electronic Detective, the computer created a case for the player to solve using deduction. In Stop Thief, the computer controlled a hidden thief as he ran secretly around the game board, opening doors, smashing windows, etc.

In Dark Tower, the computer controlled the whole game: buying goods, combat, treasure, inventory, etc. Other players could see you moving on the board and hear the sounds invoked by various actions, but you could not tell your exact situation.

In all these cases except for the games that simply play sounds for you, technology allows the game to exist. Without it, you would need an extra person to "run the game" for you.

So how far do we go?

As Groggy mentions, we could have a flat panel display on a table top with software that implements and displays all our games. It would make sure we followed the rules, and manage all the information for us. This is the same thing as playing games online, except that we are all sitting across the table from each other. I think this is too far.

When we play games online, we sacrifice that face-to-face social aspect of gaming for the benefit of being able to play games we don't own, can't find, or can't find local friends to play with. But it's more than that. We love to interact with the game. This means moving our pieces around, rolling dice, drawing and playing cards, and watching others do the same. There's no substitute. In fact, I am finding that when I play games online, I often forget many rules because the server does all the work for me.

There's a new game by Reiner Knizia called King Arthur. I can find little information about it, but what I do know is that there's some kind of conductive ink on the board. When you move pieces around, "the game" detects this and reacts appropriately. I don't know how much of the game is controlled by the computer. The first review states that one player had a hard time getting to board to detect his moves, and that the sound quality was hardly a step up from Dark Tower. My instincts are that the techie aspects of this game are fluff.

I guess for me, technology needs to be incorporated insofar as it makes the game possible, but not so much that it interferes or causes more work for the players. I hate the thought that technology, and particularly computers, will make game systems that are too complex to describe to the user.

For example, what if Wallenstein came with a tiny computer gizmo instead of the cube tower? It would certainly allow the box to be smaller, and you could even have additional "modes of operation" that would allow for variations. But how do you model the cube tower as an algorithm? Being a programmer, I can think of many ways to do it. But I would not want to be a game player letting a gizmo decide my fate without knowing how it worked. When you can look down the insides of the thing, you can develop some intuition about how it works and what to expect. All the mechanics of a game need to be accessible to the players.

In the future we may see games implemented on flat-panel table-top displays, but have the feeling these types of devices would be primarily made for computer games (maybe akin to the old arcade football games with the large track balls). Board game implementations on them will be more like games on cell phones--an afterthought.

I love my computer, and I do many things with it, including playing board games. But I don't think I'll be letting go of my cardboard, plastic, and wood for a long time.