Tuesday, April 25, 2006


Your boss comes to you and says, "How would you like to play games all week instead of your normal work?" After several seconds of blank stare followed by a thought that this might be his good twin, you readily accept the offer, running home to bring back a trunk-full of your favorites.

Instead, let's say he made you this offer. "I have 500 endgame positions from Torres. It's your final move. Over the course of the week, you must determine if you can win each game with your last actions." I don't know about you, but I would not take this offer.

A large part of the enjoyment I get from gaming is playing by intuition. I have a sense of what's going on, what I should be doing, and my scoring position. I always resist the urge to "count things out".

Some games are very conducive to calculation: Alhambra, Carcassonne, El Grande, Medina, Through the Desert, Tikal, and Torres. But even in these, I avoid constant analysis. I don't care much if others do it, as long as they don't take an unreasonably long time to move.

Even in 100% information pure abstract games (e.g. Chess, Go, Gipf series), I do not memorize openings or look ahead 20 moves. It's much more fun to have the "let's see what this does" style of play.

Of course, as you gain experience in a game, you will start to make better moves based on past failures. This internalized calculation may look like analysis, but it is really intuition. That is the key. Intuition grows as you learn the game.

For example, in Go you first learn about life and death. You may not see it happening until the final stone is played in that area of the board. Then as your intuition grows, you'll see a position and know it is alive without playing it out (even in your mind). Now you can start to apply your intuition to deeper plays potentially connected to this "live" group.

When seemingly deep and calculating game play becomes second nature, the play of a game takes on a new level. This is always something worth attaining.

However, intuition is not simply repetition of experience. Our minds have the phenomenal ability to generalize patterns and to make cognitive leaps without any conscious rationale or inference. For me, this is fun and satisfying.

[Torres image by Kimball Bent.]

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Inside My New Games

All my new games are unwrapped, opened, punched, counted, shuffled, and packed away properly. Here's a rundown of my initial reactions to the components, the boxes, and overall quality.

Alexandros: Smaller box than I had expected, but the 6-paned board is actually a nice size. The cards are good quality (same as Cartagena), and everything else is wood. Good box insert. Quality: A

Byzantium: Standard Warfrog box. Lots of lots of wooden bits. Thick player boards. Nice main board. Crappy "Caylus" coins. No box insert. A bunch of extra game bags (nice touch). Quality: B

Elasund: My initial reaction was that the box insert was over-designed, but after setting up and putting away the game twice now, I think it's actually pretty handy. The board is nice. All the cardboard tiles are very nice. Nice cards, again like Cartagena. Quality: A

Fury Of Dracula: The board was smaller than I expected from the images online, but still beautiful. Decent cardboard bits. I was missing some in my box. FFG has already replied that they are on the way. The plastic figures are just ok. The cards and small Dracula map are very nice. However, there's a huge flaw. Everything is upside-down from Dracula's point of view. The location cards and the small map should be upside-down. One round of playtesting should have flushed this out. Also, the backs of the cards have no obvious orientation (without looking really closely at the center icon), so it's more difficult to keep them all the same direction. The box insert is not designed for the components. Quality: A-/B-

Keythedral Expansion: Same quality as the base game. I just wish the backs of the tiles were the same as the original 12's so you can mix them in randomly and not know which are the new ones. [Correction: The 12 side of tiles are the same. It's the requirements side that's different. I misread the card that comes with the tiles. So you can mix them in randomly. Woo!] Quality: A-

Lord Of The Rings: The Confrontation (Deluxe): I've already slapped FFG for their box insert. The cards are very nice but too big. The stands are just ok. Since the punchout character tiles are punched one way and you can see them in the stands, it's not too difficult to see which side a given card is set to (although you don't know which character it is). If you like the game then fine, but do not be fooled into thinking this is some deluxe version for quality reasons. It is not even a normal quality version as far as other game companies go. FFG just seems happy to be the bottom of the barrel forever. Quality: C

Meridian: Nice board, very nice cards, nice pieces. All very plain, but functional. Quality: A-

Mexica: Unlike Magna Grecia, the box insert was designed to accommodate the unpunched sheets AND store everything away snugly after punching. Very nice thinking. The cardboard bits could be a little thicker. The board is very nice. Quality: A-

No Thanks!: Very nice cards. Adequate chips. Quality: B

Roma: Nice cards, cardboard bits, dice, and box insert. Dice discs could have been a little bigger. Quality: A-

Shadows Over Camelot: Days of Wonders tries too hard. The entire game is physically over-designed. Playability takes a back seat to eye candy. There's really no reason to have the 3 side boards; everything could have been incorporated onto the single main board. The plastic figures are just ok; the stand paint job is terrible (Chinese sweat shop laborers get 1 second to paint each one?). The card backs, like Fury of Dracula, do not show which way is up. The character boards are too thin. The box insert is not designed for the components. Quality: B- (DoW is on a dangerous path which is more evident with Cleopatra. Mediocre games with mediocre quality purely designed to grab your attention when on display. Good games sell themselves. Lighten up and focus on the right stuff.)

Struggle Of Empires: Beautiful board. Box insert this time. Nice cardboard bits. I haven't punched them yet, but I suspect they may not all fit into the box insert. Crappy "Caylus" coins and bad dice. Quality: B-

Tikal : Perfectly designed box insert. Nice board. Nice wooden and cardboard bits. I was missing a leader piece (already on its way). Quality: A

Nods to AbacusSpiel (RGG), Ravensberger (RGG), Venice Connection (RGG), Queen, and Mayfair for attention to quality. Nods to FFG and RGG for quick replies for missing parts.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Meeting of the Minds

[1934, 9:17am]

Parker Brothers Exec: Thank you for coming on such short notice, gentlemen. You are here because you are the best of the best. Our marketing department has determined that a board game about real estate in Atlantic City would be incredibly popular this year. Given your respective credentials, we will leave the details up to the six of you. Good luck!

Martin Wallace: "Real estate in Atlantic City" is a little thin. What's the real theme going to be?

Alan Moon: 10 Days in New Jersey.

Leo Colovini: Why do we need a theme at all? Just get some cubes in five colors...

Reiner Knizia: Don't worry about theme, Leo. We can paste it on later.

Wallace: Each player represents a powerful Italian Renaissance brokerage firm vying for control over The New World.

Moon: Will there be trains?

Klaus Teuber: They sail to The New World, settling on the shores, competing for resources.

Wolfgang Kramer: Each time a ship lands, players have a round of scoring based on who has the most and second-most brokers on each property.

Teuber: Not brokers. Settlements.

Colovini: There are 5 different kinds of properties, each a different color.

Moon: There's a deck of cards with these five colors. Players draw cards on their turn, and place a new settlement if they can play 3 cards of the same color.

Wallace: Players should be able to make deals and sell their cards to each other.

Colovini: Perhaps we need some kind of connectivity.

Moon: Trains!

Wallace: Works for me.

Kramer: Players each have some kind of pawn they can move from place to place...

Colovini: To...supervise...the building of these settlements? Some kind of...provost?

Everyone: ...Nah!

Teuber: Um...Reiner? Reiner?

Knizia: Oh, sorry. I was just making some notes. I worked out the math of a real estate market, interest rates, etc., and made some charts.

Colovini: You really think players are going to enjoy looking at charts?

Knizia: Of course not. The numbers will be seamlessly worked into the design.

Wallace: Okay, so what can you do on your turn? What actions are available?

Kramer: And how many action points should they each cost? Let's see. Build. Move. Buy. Sell. Do we want to have gems?

Moon: Gems! When players excavate to build their settlements, they find gems!

Knizia: In New Jersey?

Colovini: So how do you move around the board? I think maybe by playing cards.

Teuber: Two six-sided dice. That eliminates the luck of the draw.

Kramer: One action point per space.

Knizia: Why move at all. Players should be able to pick arbitrary spaces in which to perform their actions. The meat of this game is economics.

Wallace: It's just another bargaining chip. If I can move three spaces and you can't, then I can negotiate with you for something you have, either as some sort of deal or threat.

Teuber: And if you roll a 7, then you can steal something from another player.


Wallace: For 5 actions points, my settlement can attack your settlement. Roll 2d6...

Teuber: Yes!

Wallace: ...and add any modifiers to determine victory. But there can only be 3 attacks per real estate season.

Moon: Can you attack by train?

Colovini: I think you should have to play cards in the color of the opponent's property to attack them.

Kramer: Gentlemen! We are getting nowhere. Let's try to focus on the current topic: the components.

Wallace: A map of the Atlantic Ocean with New Jersey on the left and Europe on the right.

Teuber: Marty, forget Europe. We need a close up of Atlantic City with roads and locations.

Colovini: Five different colors of properties to own, several of each color.

Knizia: If a player owns all the properties of a single color, they get some kind of monopoly bonus.

[Everyone perks up.]

Moon: The larger the set, the larger the bonus. Triangular sequence?

Wallace: Different areas of the city should be worth more than others.

Colovini: There could be more than just property too. Cities need water and electricity.

Moon: And trains!

Colovini: And trains. And perhaps even taxes.

Kramer: Who's going to want to play a game with taxes? You might as well have human sacrifice.

Knizia: And pyramids!?

Colovini: Ahem.

Knizia: Sorry.

Teuber: This still sounds too deterministic. We need a random element. Perhaps a deck of cards with events on them?

Wallace: Events should be put on tiles that are all face up. Players should be able to choose any event they want as long as they can pay for it.


Kramer: Okay. That's 3 votes for wood, 1 for cardboard, 1 for plastic, and 1 for...metal?

Teuber: Yes.

Wallace: It's bold, but a little unorthodox.

Colovini: Sounds expensive.

Knizia: Doesn't really fit the theme well, does it?

Kramer: [spit gag] Um...yeah, good point, Reiner.

Teuber: [brushing water off his shirt] Let's take a break. It seems like we are all getting tired, and hungry to boot.

[Unanimous gasp.]

Moon: Did you just say, "boot"?

Friday, April 14, 2006

A Huge E-Slap to FFG

I'm still in the process of opening my new games from my latest order, and checking out all the cool bits, and making sure everything is included. Until today, I really thought that Around the World in 80 Days was going to be the worst box insert of all time.

Fantasy Flight Games outdid themselves again with Lord of the Rings - The Confrontation: Deluxe [sic] Edition. The 9x9 board swims freely in the 11x11 box. The ridiculously non-deluxe cardboard insert has barely enough room to hold the stands and the cards, yet the box is 75% air. There's also no place to store the punched out counters. Throw the insert out you say? Nay! It's glued to the bottom of the box!

Now, of course, someone at FFG actually designed this, and thought it was a good thing. And everyone at FFG saw the final results, and decided it was perfectly acceptable to ship it this way. If I worked there, I would have to quit out of sheer embarrassment. This is an unacceptable insert for any game, and certainly unacceptable for a "deluxe" version. To add insult to insult, my box insert was ripped, making the card storage portion useless.

So here's a huge e-slap to everyone at FFG for your impeccableA attention to quality. Now I'm off to perform some box surgery.

A Since your evaluation skills are in question: this is sarcasm.

[LotR: Confrontation Deluxe image by Purple]

Thursday, April 13, 2006

7 Stages of a Boardgame Order

For someone like me who suffers from mild OCD, paranoia, and a kind of Murphy's Law Syndrome where if something can go wrong, then I must worry about it, buying board games has its ups and downs. This is a list of the 7 Stages I invariably go through for each game order cycle.

1. Accumulate: Here's where the fun begins. For me, this is an ongoing process. I might see an interesting image, read about a game on a post/blog, hear about it in a podcast, or simply decide to look again at a game that I had dismissed earlier. This stage is the most haphazard and cavalier part of the process. More is better. Pile 'em on. I look at my Want List every day and bask in the warm glow. Fun factor: 5/5.

2. Cull: Here's where the fun continues. Some would probably find this stage laborious, but I enjoy it as much as Stage 1. This is where I perform micro-surgery on the game. Are the official rules available? Is there a 3rd party rules file or a translation? Download and read them twice. Otherwise the game gets ejected. This is why games like Age of Steam never get past Stage 2. Then I read all the reviews and Q&A. The number of questions unanswered by the rules is a good indicator of a designer's and publishers's abilities to design and playtest a game. Geek Buddy comments are next, followed by the full list of comments by game owners. I find the users who rated the game high to be as valuable as those who rated it a low. Fun factor: 5/5.

3. Find Vendor: I've only ever ordered from 4 online retailers (links in the sidebar). For me, selection far outweighs cost. If I can get all the games I want from a single vendor, I prefer that over making two separate orders. I use Board Game Seeker and Board Game Search heavily, not just for prices, but for who has what. All things being equal I favor shorter shipping time, then cost. The closest retailer to me is Game Surplus, but they usually don't have every game I want. Fair Play Games fits the bill most often. Fun factor: 2/5.

4. Order: This is where I finally have to commit. I get really excited up until that final OK button. Did I enter all the right games? Did I order the English versions? Is something back-ordered? Did I mistype any billing information? OK! Then I wait for the confirmation email, file it away, and immediately check my order status. After such a stressful experience, it's time for pizza. I always order using a virtual credit card number. Fun factor: 1/5.

5. Wait: This stage in a strange combination of anticipation and stress. I have all these cool games coming, but their fate is in the hands of the retailer and the shipper. How long until they ship? Will they mess up the order? Will it show up on time? Will it get lost? One big issue for me is the delivery day. They never estimate delivery time. So I try to make myself available the entire day. If I try to sneak a quick shower, will they come while I can't hear the doorbell? If no one answers will they leave it, or return it to the office for future delivery? I run to the window at the sound of every truck. UPS!? Nope, it's FedEx. UPS!? Nope, oil truck. UPS!? Nope, moving van. Argh! Fun factor: 2.5/5 (1 for stress, 4 for anticipation).

6. Receive: UPS!? Yes! There have been times when the truck shows up on the estimated day, only to drop something off at another house, then leave. Later, the website said "attempted to deliver, yada yada" when they never even came here. I hate those guys. I've also seen FedEx walk up to my door with a package and drop it on the stoop without ringing the bell even though the package requires a signature. I hate those guys too. Fun factor: 1/5.

7. Inspect: I immediately open the box, throwing packing materials everywhere like a 5-year-old on Christmas. However, the games themselves come out slowly and methodically, and are piled largest-to-smallest off to the side. Once everything is cleaned up, it's time for roll call. Open the boxes. Check the boards. Count the bits. Make sure nothing is missing or broken. Figure out how the inserts work, and add bags as necessary. In my two years of buying games, I've only ever had 3 with missing/bad bits. Runebound had an unpunched sheet. Evo had 2 missing markers. Through the Desert had 3 missing green riders. In all cases, I got replacements without much effort. Fun factor: 4/5.

And, of course, as I write this I am in Stage 5 of my current order, which should be arriving any hour. What are the chances that I will receive 13 games in perfect condition? Stay tuned. Same ekted time. Same ekted channel.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Big Order

The bubble has finally burst. Since my birthday is coming in about 10 days, I thought I should treat myself. I ordered every game on my want list that was available at Fair Play. They should be here in less than a week, giving me time to play with them a little before the weekend.

Alexandros - Leo Colovini. Almost a no-brainer. Looks pretty and has some interesting mechanics.

Byzantium - I'm now ready for Martin Wallace games. I read PotR last year and it just didn't click with me. Now they are all starting to sound really fun. Also looking forward to the PotR reprint.

Elasund - I do not like Settlers very much, but this one strikes just the right chord.

Fury Of Dracula - I was hooked on this game idea about 2 days before Scott Nicholson's excellent video report. I had previously read the rules to Scotland Yard, but it felt a little blah. This one has more going on and has a beautiful board. Should complement Shadows nicely.

Keythedral Expansion - The very first time I played Keythedral, I noticed that it didn't matter what cubes you collected when you get to the final row. This expansion is a direct response to that issue.

Lord Of The Rings: The Confrontation (Deluxe) - Been looking at this one for a long time. I think I can finally find an opponent or two to play with me.

Meridian - Another Leo Colovini. Not rated very high on the Geek, but what do they know. :)

Mexica - I've enjoyed Java at home and Tikal on SpielByWeb, so why not complete the set.

No Thanks! - I'm always looking for very light games that anyone can play, and that can be taught as you play. This should do.

Roma - I ignored this one because of the images. My bad. After reading the rules, it was an immediate must buy. I don't care if the Forum is "too powerful".

Shadows Over Camelot - As I said in a previous post, I just need to get this one once and for all.

Struggle Of Empires - Another Martin Wallace. I got a nice overview of this game by Kevin Moody over Vassal. It's not what I expected, even after reading the rules and the reviews.

Tikal - Thanks to SpielByWeb for implementing this game. I like it slightly more than Java, but I suspect Mexica will edge them both out.

The choice of retailer was easy this time. Fair Play had every game that I wanted that is in print except Das Ende des Triumvirats. They are closer to me than all other big retailers except Game Surplus. An equivalent Funagain order would have cost at least $150 more. And thanks to Tom and Joe, I got free shipping (of course all orders over $150 get free shipping anyways, but still...).

Games I want that are unavailable: Antike, ASL Starter Kit #1 (are you proud of me Joe?), Jenseits von Theben, Kreta, and Princes of the Renaissance. Note that I do not buy used games or from Ebay, and I don't trade. Games that I am anxiously awaiting: Aton, El Grande, Goa, Masons, Medici, Winner's Circle, and Taj Mahal. I have my eye on Cleopatra (although it would be a little embarrassing to own with all that cheesy plastic) and Tempus (going to be a tough call with no rules).

It's looking like a fantastic year for gaming. Lots of interesting stuff coming, including reprints of many games I missed the first time around. Having tried Vassal, I now have even more gaming options and potentially more opponents. The play-by-web sites are adding more games all the time. There's 2 great video podcasts (Scott's and Ted's, did I miss any?), too many podcasts to mention, and upwards of 30 blogs that I love to read.

It's getting so that I need to remind myself to eat and sleep.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Game Night

Tonight was a short, but fun, game night. As usual, I was hoping to get some unplayed games onto the table before placing my next big order. They are coming in faster than I can get them played. I would play a new game every day if I had my way, but my most common game group (my girlfriend Mary Ann) is not so willing to try new stuff anywhere near as often. So I satisfied myself with 2 medium games...

Magna Grecia: This one is starting to shine now. We are seeing where the efficiencies and the victory points lie. I started only one city on the edge the entire game, branching out from there very quickly. In many cases, I ran long lengths of road without building cities as I went. Mary Ann started in two places and seemed way behind for much of the game. At the point where I was sure it was going to end with me having 4 oracles to her 3, she managed to make a nice city and steal one. After that, they were pretty well solidified. I was sweating it for the rest of the game to just make my markets worth as much as possible. In the end, my clump of cities gave me a large market value. Me 36, Mary Ann 31.

Domaine: This one is starting to show some signs of wear. We enjoy the 2p version fine. It's just starting to feel like Tug of War. I expand into you. You expand back into me. I add a knight. You add a knight. I steal a knight. Etc. Of course there's the spatial element (cutting off domaines, collecting VP's for cities, forests, and mine monopolies), and that's fun. But there's nothing more. The game doesn't feel under-developed. I think it's about as far as you can go with this idea. Adding the auction mechanic to card selection (a la Lowenherz) would feel out of place in my opinion. It would split the game into heavy and light parts, which would feel awkward.

[Domaine image by Chris Beelby]