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Gathering of Engineers

Ludographic considerations from the Silicon Forest

Friday, September 30, 2005

Johnny Can't Learn Games via PBW

I’ve been a big fan of play-by-web (PBW) games for several years now. It fits my busy, interrupt-driven lifestyle by allowing me to submit about a turn a day, sometimes more sometimes less. The three I’ve played the most are Tigris and Euphrates on BGG, Wallenstein on Spiel-by-Web, and Alhambra on Boite Jeaux. There’s a also a fairly inactive Yahoo! group on PBW, though you should check out their great list of PBW sites you can use to find games – join the group to check it out.

Anyhoo… I’ve learned that in most cases I just can’t learn a new game via PBW. I tried it last year with La Citta on Spiel-by-Web during a beta test and it was a miserable failure. More recently, I did the same with Reef Encounter and Torres. Ditto.

Now, I had the rules in hand and gave them a decent try. I even got coaching from the other players (thanks for your patience!). The very nature of PBW games makes it hard for me to learn in-place – fragmented play, short attention span, lack of verbal real-time discussion. I’ve had much better success learning on BSW – that’s where I learned Alhambra (ironically enough with Mikael Sheik who does Spiel-by-Web) and Tongiaki. At least there I can engage in a dialog and see real-time feedback on my decisions.

I head to Germany with the family next Wednesday for some vacation and Essen (woot!). Hopefully I’ll have internet access and will post next Friday, but don’t be surprised if you don’t hear from me for a week or two.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

I was just sitting here at work checking the GoE blog to read the latest entry and was disappointed to find that it hadn't been posted yet. It slowly dawned on me that the reason was because it was my turn........ Ack!

(Hey, cut me a break here, I'm practicing for senior moments.)

So, to continue where I left off last week, about dice, or along those lines. Normally I have a pretty much hate:hate relationship with dice in games. However, that doesn't mean I dislike dice in games, I can live with them sometimes. They're just a way of randomizing an outcome and could be cards or any other such.

Recently I was playing Wellington, the new (ish) GMT game on the Peninsular campaign, for the first time. (A great subject btw, different and it piqued my interest because of the Sharpe tv programs, which are very well done. Enough action and totty for the guys, Sean Bean and romance for the ladies. The stories are fairly well researched and stay close enough to the history to allow Sharpe to be the hero without having to totally rewrite history. Like they did in Braveheart, for example, with historical liberties all over the place. Highly recommended. Actually that makes a great present for my wife, but the boxed collection is $300. Wow! Maybe not. Back to the main story....) This game has you rolling dice for battles dependent on how good your generals are, number of troops, cards played, inside leg measurement, etc. Ok, maybe not that last one. Anyway, you each throw a bucketfull of dice and work it out. The problem is that with so many dice being thrown the bell curve is pretty wide and the ends give some really wacky results.

I was commenting about this (ok, whining, because I was on the wrong end of the bell curve; Cooley Effect, etc.) and Eric pointed out that there seems to be just as many dice rolled in other games, e.g. Manifest Destiny, one of my favorites. I also played Rommel in the Desert later, another with copious amounts of dice wristage, and I had no problems with that one. So why are dice ok here and bleah there?

At least in Manifest Destiny you have small battles that allow you to rethink strategy, you get to choose whether to continue the 'attack' or do something else. In Wellington it's all or nothing, with no way to change plans if things aren't going your way. Especially since the outcomes in Wellington can be dramatic and your entire force goes up in a puff of (cannon) smoke and you've no idea what cards the other player has that can screw with you. (An extension of that is if you've no idea of the range of cards that could be played. Knowing the range and card counting is very important in these CDG type games.)

In RitD you'll suffer some hits, but it's unlikely your entire force will get zapped in one go. (Unless it's small and facing a larger enemy force.) You will be able to retreat and save something.

In the Wellington case I think, in retrospect, that it was a little of everything. Certainly the card play caught me by surprise, when a good attack became a rather bad one on the play of the cards. And then the die rolls at opposite ends of the bell curve compounded it. Just seemed a little hokey. However, I'd still be interested in playing again. Certainly, knowing the possible range and effect of the cards, I'd play differently.

OK, well, maybe that wasn't in the same vein as Eric was discussing, but I tend to just type my train of thought. Sometimes it gets to the station and sometimes you just end up in a tunnel.

Before I stop for this week, I'll pick up on Doug's evangelising theme a little. I've been doing a lot of bringing Euro games to the masses, both here at work and in the local library. I now have a weekly general games session on Thursday lunchtime at work, and we also play Carcassonne on Tuesday lunchtimes. The library sessions run twice a month, and are more focused on family gaming. Both have had their small successes, and pretty much everyone who's come along has enjoyed playing, and several have gone on to buy some of the games. I certainly plan to keep bringing this hobby to the masses. Whether they want it or not.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Evangelism: Threat or Menace?

Chris spoke of his reluctance to come out of the closet regarding his gaming hobby to the general public. My first response was to consider myself an evangelist, but then I started thinking about what that meant. After spending more than seven years with this game group, I've discovered that I've been changing my attitude towards getting new folks into the hobby.

I spent a lot of time trying to get everyone I knew interested in gaming after I discovered euros in the late 90’s. If we went to our vacation place with friends, they were pretty much doomed to play at least one game. In some cases, this was a painful experience, with one guy wondering aloud why anyone would "waste their time" playing games. Note that this guy is a distance runner and will need new knees in a few years, so it’s hard to take a comment like that seriously. Still, it leaves a bit of a mark.

While some non-gamer friends do enjoy occasional gaming, it is abundantly clear that they do not think of games in the same way that I do. They will never have a closet stuffed with games. They will wonder why I want to teach them a different game than we played last time. They may buy two or three games, but never more than ten. While it’s nice to introduce them to a game, and they derive some pleasure from playing, they will never be hobbyists. I'll still turn them on to interesting games from time to time, but I have no expectation of them becoming a collector, or as my wife says, an addict.

The people I do get interest from tend to either be hobbyists already, or else nascent gamers who used to play games in high school and just haven’t had the opportunity or exposure to play currently. Even then, friends who played Cosmic Encounter with me in high school, often until dawn, show little interest in more than an occasional game here and there, if anything.

So why be an evangelist? Of all the times I’ve put out calls for gamers in non-gamer situations, I’ve had exactly one person show up who ended up playing regularly. That’s out of perhaps 400 people I’ve mentioned gaming to. BTW, that number is not an exaggeration: When you sing in a large choir or two and get the chance to introduce yourself, you cover a lot of bases. If we count the number of people at my former employer who read my “junk-mail” posting, it’s perhaps five times that number. One out of 2000? Hard to justify a significant effort with those numbers.

While I don’t think of myself as an “active” (or “annoying,” depending on your interest) evangelist, neither am I apologetic. I have a blast playing games, we have a great gaming group that gets along well and enjoys each others company. Gaming has given me other benefits as well; skills such as abstraction, diplomacy, teaching, arbitration, parsing rules, critical thinking, not to mention the benefits of puzzle solving. When some knuckle-dragger tells me I’m wasting my time, I usually respond that it never feels like it to me. So it’s a niche hobby. It’s mine, and I love it. I may not be trying to convert the heathen, but I'm not shy about saying to the world that I love games.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

This is Harder than I Thought

This coming weekend is our semi-annual boardgaming retreat at Doug's family's place in Sunriver. This time four of us (including three of the writers on this blog) will be attending. A sweet spot for number of players. This will also be the first time I've been able to go, so I'm really looking forward to it.

As opposed to how things have apparently been done in the past, which was a free-for-all in deciding what games to play, each person gets four-hour blocks of time in which we play whatever that person wants. We just have to come up with the list of what to play. Should be easy, right?

No, it most decidedly is not.

Four players, four hours. Do you go for one big game, or a number of them? Things you love but tend to play a lot, or underplayed gems? How on earth do you winnow down the list?

I thought about the big games I'd want to play (Roads & Boats, Antiquity, Die Macher, and others), but dismissed them for one reason or another, not the least of which being they'd likely run more than four hours. So, I figured let's do three or four shorter, medium/heavy games. That should please the gaming palette.

After making that first decision, one game immediately jumped onto my list. Stephenson's Rocket. This is a game many people in the group have said “I'd like to get that on the table again.” I concur. Okay, that's an hour or so in the books.

Now what? Well, I looked at my “owned but unplayed” list, and there's still two Age of Steam expansions on there. Germany is supposed to be pretty good with four. I love AoS, even though I'm not very good at it. So, AoS w/ the Germany expansion it is. That's another two hours. One hour left.

Hmmm... Power Grid isn't going to work in an hour. Bummer. May have to bring it anyway to play in “open time.”

Magna Grecia was a thought, but it's another tile-laying game, and Stephenson's Rocket trumps MG in this list. Hmmm...

My next three choices on the list, E&T, Goa, and Maharaja are all theoretically 90 minutes. Hmmm... let's use the Geek. Max playing time 60 minutes, 4 as num players, sort by rating.

Whaddya we get? (I notice at this point that when “N/A” is listed as playing time, it'll show up in the search. Not optimal. Aldie? Dirk?) There's some really good games on this list. In fact, that's a good question for the future – you've got four players, one hour. What do you choose?

It's tempting to choose Settlers. I know I've never played it or any of the variants with this group. Might just bring it and Das Buch “just in case.” What about the historical scenarios, though? I do like the Great Wall expansion a lot.

I thought about Torres, but we all know how I feel about action point games. Not worth the risk. Samurai could be a good choice, as is Through the Desert. Hmmm... I'm going to have to experiment more with restricted advanced searches on the Geek. Looking through lists like this can be fun.

Okay... I think I've got my list. It's not final yet, but I've got a couple days to choose.

Definites are:

Stephenson's Rocket
Age of Steam German expansion

The final hour will either be the Settlers Great Wall Historical Scenario or Samurai.

I'm leaning towards Great Wall for a couple reasons – it's lighter, and after SR and AoS, light wouldn't be bad. Also, I've already got a Knizia game on the list. And having Knizia, Wallace, and Tueber be the three designers I chose is not a bad thing.

Definitely looking foward to this.

Monday, September 26, 2005

CCG Evaluation Part 1: Forcing the Action

This is the first in a series of articles where I evalute various aspects of Collectible Card Games. I have dabbled in many CCGs. In some cases, I buy nothing but starters or pre-constructed decks (including Magic). In others, I have bought boosters, typically one box of boosters per expansion (i.e., I do not have even one of every rare). In each article, I will look at a handful of CCGs to illuminate examples of both good and bad experiences. I will have a strong tendency to refer to CCGs that I have played the most. I will also limit my discussion to 2-player games.

Most CCGs involve building up “armies” and attacking your opponent. In my experience, attacking is never mandatory, and doing so can leave you vulnerable to a counter-attack. Aggressive players tend to attack more often and have faster games, whereas passive players are content to sit back and build up further. The design balance is tricky; if the game inherently rewards the attacker, then an early disadvantage in deployment will be hard to overcome, but if the defender has the edge, then the game can end up in a virtual stalemate. I see the latter case too often. Last week, a friend and I were playing Spycraft CCG, and the two face-up missions at the head of the queue were so punishing to the attacker that we had to spend the whole game taking actions to peek at the face-down missions, making an already lengthy game longer.

In other types of 2-player games, there is usually a countdown mechanism. Wargames typically employ “turns” and “objectives”; in one of the players doesn’t achieve so-and-so by the end of the game, the other player wins. Knizia’s excellent 2-player CCG-like card games (e.g., Battle Line, Scarab Lords, and Blue Moon) all have forced card draws, with a depleted deck triggering game end. Perhaps the most elegant solutions are found in abstract games. I particularly admire Kris Burm’s Zertz and Dvonn, where respectively the actual game board and pieces themselves dwindle down one discrete step at a time, marching the game towards an inevitable conclusion. I think what distinguishes CCGs from these other games is that there is hidden information, and you often have no solid idea about what your opponent holds; initiating combat requires guts and, at times, a brief absence of rationality.

The Bad

7th Sea: 7th Sea is somewhat unique in that players build up first and can only attack when their ships are in the same sea. After the first engagement - especially if it involves a boarding - one player usually has a significant advantage and can end the game quickly. Since this first engagement is so critical, you want to maximize your odds going into it. If you think that your future situation will improve relative to your opponent’s, you try to avoid engagement and build up further. If you think that your situation will likely get worse, you try to strike as soon as possible, even if your odds of winning are less than 50% now. If both players are convinced that their odds will improve, then both will try to avoid combat, and the game can come to a standstill. Literally, there is nothing stopping both players from sitting one sea apart, continually reshuffling their decks. In practice, one player will eventually attack just to get the game over with.

I do not know of an easy fix to 7th Sea. The Duel concept introduced in later sets, which allows players to initiate 1-on-1 swordfights, helped somewhat, as it forces you to use your uber-characters before they get targeted.

The Good

A Game of Thrones CCG: The goal in AGoT is to accumulate 15 power. The most common ways for power to enter the game are by players winning unopposed challenges, and by having characters with the renown trait win challenges. Both require players to initiate challenges. The design addresses this by first giving you ways of getting around defenders (e.g., the stealth trait; effects that remove characters from challenges; plots that don’t allow players to defend in certain challenges), and then gives further incentive by providing powerful event cards triggered by winning challenges. The latest block rotation reduces this latter effect somewhat, but also helps to discourage defenders by introducing the deadly trait (if there are more deadly attackers than deadly defenders in a challenge, then the defending player must kill an attacking character); this will lead to more unopposed challenges.

The countdown mechanism comes in the Domination phase, which usually grants 1 power to 1 player per turn. Stark decks are notoriously defensive (e.g., the new Attachment which gives a character +10 strength (!) on defense); if two Stark characters face off, Domination ensures that the game will end eventually. In most cases, the game is so brutal that players will get temporary advantages and make quick runs, gaining lots of power from the aforementioned methods.

Magic: the Gathering: While Magic does force end-of-game when one player runs out of cards in his draw pile, given the low card draw, it would usually take too long to get too that point. Fortunately, games are typically over well before then. As with A Game of Thrones, Magic gives the players ways to get around defenders (e.g., the flying and landwalk traits); there is also the trample trait that lets damage get through even if the attacker is blocked. Also, because hand sizes are usually small in the middle of a Magic game, and very few cards can impact a combat in progress, players can rely on visible information to know whether an attack makes sense.

Just like A Game of Thrones can be brutal with two Stark decks, so should you be careful when pitting two White decks against each other; the latest set (Saviors of Kamigawa) has two theme decks - the green white Truth Seekers and the blue/white Soratami’s Wisdom - that are all but guaranteed to be epic slugfests.

The Great

Warlord – In most CCGs, using a character for offense means that it cannot be used for defense, which can lead to tentativeness. In Warlord, there is no real concept of defending, so there is no reason not to take a shot at your opponent whenever possible. This makes Warlord a very fast game of attrition.

Netrunner – The Corporation loses when his drawpile runs out, but not the Runner! So, the Corporation has incentive to win the game before decking out, and Agendas eventually make it to the table to be fought over. If the Corporation acts too slowly, the Runner can take free shots at his hand and draw pile in hopes of randomly drawing an Agenda. There may be a drawback in that the speed of a match is largely dictated by how many Agenda points built into the Corporation deck - if there is a large proportion of Ice, it seems the Corporation can first heavily protect his hand and drawpile, then try to score agendas - but I don’t have enough experience to know whether this happens in practice; like many, I solely play with the two-player starter decks, which have enough agendas in them to move the game along at a nice pace.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Getting Ready for Essen

I chatted the other night with my friend Andreas Keirat in Germany who has done a series of great game reviews over the years that I was reading long before BoardGameGeek existed. I’ve done a bit of editing to protect the innocent, etc. There are some interesting tips about Essen buried here; Andreas goes almost every year.

KC: I think we are planning to give you a copy of Havoc for you to review. And if you'd like to help in the booth you'd be welcome of course.
AK: Maybe I have the time for this, but it depends on how I can get my visits done… Usually there isn’t much free time in between. But I certainly will do my best.
KC: I appreciate that - I think we are in booth 4-52.
AK: I already read about your info you gave to Spielbox-Online.
KC: Oh good - what did you think?
AK: The presentation is well done at the news page, and it doesn’t have too much info to read, which helps at this page. I hate reading all about a game in advance. I want to be surprised ;)

AK: How many games do you want to sell?
KC: We're bringing 300 total.
AK: Only 300? You usually will sell about 500 I guess. If the game is good and you do some promotion...
KC: OK, we may have to shrink wrap some more games then!
AK: What would be the price for the game ?
KC: $18.95 list price - - 15 euros at Essen (or $18.00 US)
AK: Maybe 300 is better than to get sure you will be sold out. Plus about 30 for reviewers, like Spielbox, Spiel des Jahres.

KC: Might be hard to get lots of people to play (small booth!) Do people vote for us if they like it?
AK: Yes - there is a voting poll at one game magazines table. The more plays of the game, the more will vote. Usually voting is 1 (best) to 6 (worst). 10 votes or 15 are good enough to get the game listed and that’s a big point for after-sales.

KC: Do you know where you're staying in Essen? We're staying at Hotel Arosa.
AK: ah... Behrs Park Hotel, which is located right next to the fair (about 0.4 miles away).
KC: Nice. I think we're in walking distance too.
AK: The fair is easy to find and has lots of parking lots. If you have a car... use it. You don’t want to walk all day and bring back games to the hotel. I even use my car to store everything ;) It’s easy to just walk out of the fair with bags full of games, afterwards return within 10-15 minutes!

AK: Don’t forget to bring money with you. Credit cards hardly will be accepted at the stores there.
KC: Euros I assume - or dollars?
AK: Euros: you can use the credit card at the bank, but not at too many stores at the fair. Credit card payments are expensive here (for the seller) so they don’t use that too often. Europeans like to "feel" the money.
KC: Sure - and we'll get some money from sales of Havoc ...
AK: hopefully lots of money. ;)

KC: This is great info - I sure appreciate your help!
AK: No problem. That what friends/board gamers are for. ;)

Friday, September 23, 2005

Sharing Our Hobby

I’ll take a break from publishing talk this week.  I want to talk about sharing our hobby with others.

I must admit that I don’t jump out and tell other people that I’m a “gamer”, that I spend a decent amount of my spare time buying, publishing, playing, reading about, discussing, and, er, blogging about boardgames.  I still have a certain amount of reservation that other people will think I’m more of a geek than they first believed when they met me.  I usually look for some opening, some weakness, some off-chance that the other person might also have a geek streak that I can exploit by explaining my hobby.

Why is it that I’m so reserved on this topic, but I’m willing to freely admit that I teach chess at school, love to golf, am a Cubmaster at our local Cub Scout pack, or coach the Lego robotics team?  What dark secret is in my past that makes me feel a bit, well, embarrassed that this a passion of mine?

And don’t even get me started about telling people that I travel to Indianapolis to spend time with my family and, oh by the way, 4 days at GenCon.  Our that I’m going to Germany soon to spend two weeks, 6 days of which will involve being an exhibitor at the Essen Spiel fair?  It’s not that I hide it, its just that I’m not quick to volunteer it.  This is especially the case when I’m standing around at Matthew’s football practice with a bunch of other football dads living vicariously through our sons and wishing we could still strap on the pads and butt heads like mountain goats.

What sort of treatment do I need in order to free myself of this repressed anxiety about evangelizing my love for games?

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Dungeon games and dice

Where shall we start this week? I know, let's start with dungeon crawl games, following on from Dave's entry.

Many (many, many....) years ago I dabbled in Dungeons and Dragons. (Man, that feels like an AA style meeting. "Hello, I'm Mike and I used to play D&D." "Hi, Mike!" they all chorus.) This was back in the mid '70s when I was still in high school, or what passed for the same sort of thing back in Scotland, and the first D&D game was released. This had 3 small booklets and came in a box. As they say in Pirates of the Caribbean (The Curse of the Black Pearl), they weren't so much rules as guidelines. And they were terrific. We were very taken with them and played D&D a lot, often meeting at one of our group members' house for the weekend for a loooooooong session, if the parents were away . We had a great time coming up with ideas and putting together (crappy) dungeons. And then came THE DAY. (Cue dramatic music.)

It's so long ago now that I'm not exactly sure when it was, but it was after the plethora of hard-back D&D books had started appearing. One of our group had spent some time working on an adventure. It would have been very unfair to call it a dungeon, as he had spent some time putting it all together, a plot, storyline, co-ordinated rooms and timing. In short, 'a lot of effort(tm).' So, we're gathered at Mr. Napoleonic's (see last week's entry) house for the inaugural presentation of this adventure. We weren't long in when a situation came up and Mr. Napoleonic stated he was doing 'X'. (I forget exactly, what it was.) Anyway, our illustrious DM stated that nothing happened. Mr. Napoleonic was non-plussed, and pointed out again that he was doing 'X', to the same response. At this point he went almost apoplectic, and spluttered that it was quite clear from tome X, section, Y, paragraph Z that blah should have happened. At this point it all degenerated into a him vs. us, handbags at 10 paces, tears before bedtime type affair.

To this day I have never played D&D (or any other RPG type game) again. To our viewpoint the whole beauty of D&D was that it was just guidelines, not rules. You could come up with your own ideas, use whatever they suggested, or not. By introducing rulebook after rulebook it lost that original spark.

Which is a long winded way to point out that I'm very wary of dungeon crawl type games or anyhing that smacks of 'role playing'. (However, the latter part could also be related to my my dislike of party-style games which depend on one's speed of thought. A lot of the RPG games rely on you being able to come up with snappy solutions to situations or puzzles.)

I wasn't sure about Cave Troll when it was first put on the table, but it's a decent little game that has given a lot of enjoyment. I even added it to my collection, although it remains unpunched as yet. Dungeon Twister sounds interesting from Dave's description, another I'd like to try it at some time.

Which brings me back to RPGs. One of the first descriptions I had of Doom was as an RPG, and I think that put me a little on edge about it. I was very undecided about it (Ok, I openly disliked it...) but I kept coming back for more. It is now on my shelf and the boys like it as well. I just don't see it as an RPG. (btw, I'm looking forward to the Doom movie.)

Well, I was going to add some comment about dice and Euros, but I think I've warbled on enough for this week.

The Price Of Fame

I have a little extra cash right now, and while most of it is earmarked for a new (to me) car in the near future, some of it isgoing towards a few games. A few days ago, I stopped by Bridgetown Hobbies thinking I would pick up Men of Iron, recommended by Chuck. While there I stumbled across Triumph of Chaos, designed by an acquaintance of mine from WBC, Dave Doktor. As it's a card-driven wargame similar to Paths of Glory (and in fact is set in almost the same period, in this case the Russian Civil War), I immediately picked it up.

On my way to the register, I noticed the price. Now I'm more than aware that wargames these days are more expensive than they used to be. $70 is not that uncommon for most games, and even MoI in it's "slim" box is $65 retail. ToC does have a lot of cards (two 55-card action decks, plus 66 political cards and 44 leader cards), but I have to say I was very surprised to see a price tag of $90.

I have never spent $90 on a game in my life, much less one that I have yet to read a review of. I managed to swing Europe Engulfed for something less than $70 with mail order discounts and a coupon. In fact, I shudder at $65, as I didn't pick up MoI at all. I can't even imagine buying a euro at more than $50. When I was in high school 25 years ago, I though that $25 was outrageous for a game! Yet I still purchased ToC without too much hand wringing. This got me thinking about how I compute the value of a game. Since I'm not concerned with resale value or speculation, I have to somehow translate dollars into other metrics.

In fact, this will be the topic for October for my compatriots on this blog: How do you determine what a game is worth, and how much is too much?

In the case of ToC, I think that I bought it at list price (and a high list price at that) for two reasons:

First, I'm more liquid than usual (in terms of cash position, not in terms of blood alcohol). I tend to spend what I have, and while a $90 game seems to be a lot of money, it isn't a $1500 laptop and thus is a very reasonable purchase. I tend to be pretty good at rationalizations like that. Two months ago, I would have waited and bought it at discount from Fine Games or Boulder. I will also admit to wanting to have local brick'n'mortar stores in my area, so I do like to support them. Although usually not by purchasing $90 games.

Second, the game was done by someone that I know and have increased my blood alcohol percentage with on more than one occasion. "Herr Doktor" is one of the good guys in this hobby, and his passion and sportsmanship are apparent to anyone who has the good fortune to engage him in a game. Sure, buying the game from a discounter wouldn't have affected Dave's take at all, but it did increase the apparent value of the game in my eyes at the point of purchase.

Was ToC worth $90? Too soon to tell, and once I get a playing or two in I'll put up the review on my own blog. For now, I'm hesitant to speak of my concerns, as I had most of the same concerns for Paths of Glory and it turned out OK.

That's plenty for now, I'll speak more about what factors go into my "calculus of value" next week, as will my partners in crime.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Heavy Dice

Last week's posts about mechanisms got me thinking about a few things.

First off, I have an aversion to eurogames that use dice. Looking over at my shelf, there's only three games over there that use dice as a primary driver: Settlers of Catan (and variants), Pirate's Cove, and Formula De. (Age of Steam doesn't count here, the dice are a very minor part of the game.)

Yet, I cut my teeth on role-playing games and wargames. Both heavily dice-dependant. My favorite miniature wargame, De Bellis Multitudinis, uses a LOT of dice. An average turn (depending on a LOT of things) may have 15-20 dice being rolled. And the average game lasts 12-15 turns. That's a fair amount of dice. And the games usually last around 3 hours.

RPGs are, of course, also usually heavily dice-dependant. We all know legendary stories of RPG gamers and their bags of dice.

So, why? Why do I not like dice in my eurogames when I've been more than happy to use dice in activities that take a lot more time than your typical eurogame? It just seems backwards to me, yet I know I'm not the only one who feels this way. You'd think that I'd be much more willing to accept the luck of the dice in a shorter game than a longer one. Yet my preferences are the reverse. Odd.

Second, and I know I've heard at least Mike bring this up in the past as well, I've had a strong draw towards longer and heavier games lately. There's been a glut of great wargames and heavier games hitting the market recently. For multiplayer, there's Antiquity, Friedrich, Sword of Rome, Revolution, Struggle of Empires, and the new Wellington.

The two-player list is a long one, but I've been VERY taken with GMTs American Revolution series (the latest entry, Savannah, should be at my door on Wednesday) and their Musket and Pike Battle Series.

I'm not entirely sure why I've had this urge for bigger/heavier games lately. Maybe it's subconsious backlash because I have a lot less time to play games with a near-18-month old running around. Maybe it's because I've been taunted by local opponents even though we can't find time to play. Who really knows. I just know it's an itch I'll get to scratch at our upcoming semi-annual Sunriver trip in less than two weeks.

This might also be an opportunity for some of us to all report on the same game. (I know Doug, Dave, and I will be there.)

Recent gaming

Well, there really hasn't been a whole lot. Due to varying schedules, Jodie and I haven't played very much lately. In fact, the game of Oltremare we played last night was the first game we've managed to complete in two weeks. Life just intrudes sometimes. It's going to be a busy week before her vacation, so I doubt we'll get that much gaming in – we'll have to correct that after she returns.

I have managed to get a couple games of DBM in recently, however. There's been a recent revision to the rules (probably the last as the co-authors now disagree on future direction) and it's now the standard for all future tournaments. Got to get practice time... Of course, practice time means somebody's travelling as the closest opponent to me seems to be 150 miles away. I headed north a couple weeks ago and six of us got together to go over the changes. Last Saturday, Chris (no, not OUR Chris) was in town for the Timbers game and made time to push some lead. It's nice when things like that work out.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Hot or Not?

BoardGameGeek recently added a section on the profile page to list one's "Personal Top 10" and "Hot 10". While it is pretty clear what goes into the former, the latter was purposefully vague. Different users have come up with their own interpretation of what defines "hotness", and part of the fun has been reading the discussion about how the BGG gang plans to use it. One of my favorite aspects of boardgaming itself is when folks have to work through ambiguities to define their own meta-structure. Here are some examples:


  • Voting criteria: In Apples to Apples, players must first determine for themselves what constitutes a "good match", then must adjust to how other players apply their own criteria. An even looser structure is found in The Big Idea; players take turns pitching products to each other, then vote on which product to invest in. However, the rules give no indication on what basis you are to vote! Design-wise, it's a poor marriage of party game and strategy game, but trying to make sense of the whole thing is amusing.
  • Acceptance criteria: Scattergories is the classic example here, as players need to decide on guidelines for accepting someone else's word; you might recall this aspect of the game was actually highlighted in the commercial. In Kaleidos, where players identify words starting with a given letter in a picture, are you going to get away with something like "chin"?
  • Rules adherence: In Mystery of the Abbey, are you really going to require players to ring the bell? In Loco, what do you do when someone forgets to say "Loco"?
  • Information sharing: The best example here is Shadows over Camelot. The rules discourage table talk but there are no clear guidelines for what is acceptable. A group of players needs to work this out. Even more interesting is when you bring together experienced ShoC players from different groups, each with their own pre-established ideas of how things should work.

Now, social engineering does not always paint pretty pictures. Our group has refused to play Ricochet Robot since an argument ~5 years ago over whether and when 180-degree moves were legal. There is maybe too fine of a line between the examples I gave above and outright rules lawyering. I am also a believer of everything in moderation; I have absolutely no interest in Werewolf, which appears to be nothing but this. However, often what I am most interested in is not the game itself, but the playing of the game.



A game that may be hot for me right now is Dungeon Twister, which I played for the first time yesterday. This title would not be out of place in the Fantasy Flight Games line, as it shares similarities with the likes of other FFG dungeon crawl games like Drakon and Cave Troll. The thematic setting - two teams of adventurers pit against each other by an evil wizard - feels almost like that playground game where kids try to run across from one side of the gym to the other without being tagged. Most similar games have the players fighting some sort of dark force; here, it doesn't feel very good to kill your opponent's characters when they are hapless adventurers screwed by fate.

Theme aside, Dungeon Twister is marketed as a no-luck strategy game, but there are two things that distinguish it from other abstracts. First, it has the well-worn "hand of combat cards" mechanism seen in A Game of Thrones and LotR the Confrontation. Go too strong early, and you're looking at a serious disadvantage for future combats. It is one of my least favorite combat resolution methods, but it is acceptable, especially here where there is enough imbalance between the characters that it removes much of the guesswork. Second, it avoids the I-go-you-go of most abstracts; each player take 2-5 actions per turn. As there are no restrictions for assigning these actions (e.g., you can have your Thief move 5 times for a total of 25 spaces!), it makes the search tree rather large. It looked bad on paper, but, in practice, it wasn't a problem at all. Characters tend to not engage en masse, but in small clusters that get resolved before additional characters come in to clean up the corpses.

The simple rules allow for some cool tactics. In our match, I had brought a Cleric into a dead-end hallway to revive my Thief and Wizard. My opponent followed me in with his Troll, expecting an easy three-course meal. I played my highest combat card with my Cleric, knocking out his Troll, then had my Thief run past the Troll before he regenerated, closing the portcullis behind her! The Troll had no way of escaping without first going through both the Cleric and Wizard to get to the gear mechanism to open up a hallway. My Thief then grabbed some treasure and ran out of the dungeon to give me the win. I really look forward to playing Dungeon Twister more to explore the strategies. Some initial thoughts:

  • The Troll is too slow to mobilize from the starting line. In a short game, you will need him in the middle of the board for the skirmish; in a longer game, he may be able to sit back and protect half of your board as a goalie, but I would expect the opponent to keep his characters out of range and using the "5 actions" card to zoom past him. The risk of starting him further up is that he is a key target for the Wizard's fireball due to his ability to regenerate.
  • The Wizard has incredible mobility, with a one-time ranged attack in the fireball wand, and he is on the hunt for the Troll. You want to use your own fireball before your Wizard gets killed; you want to kill your opponent's Wizard before he uses his fireball, especially as you will then have a chance to use both wands. Do you engage him early on to hunt down the Troll, or do you hang him back, waiting for the right moment? Who do you send after to take the initial shot at the Wizard (currently, the Wall Walker gets my vote).
  • The Thief is an excellent escort; at the same time, she is effective in going off by herself early to try to steal some of your opponent's objects. Escorting others and moving between pits doesn't take advantage of her superior mobility, but perhaps she can move the heavies to the middle of the board before taking off on her own.
  • Getting the first wound on a Cleric is huge. Keeping him within range of the action without making himself vulnerable will be tricky.

So, there you go. My "Hot One".

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Birth of a Game Designer

I appreciate that Chris is covering the history of Sunriver Games as a publisher. Some great memories there! My plan is to somehow have my stories arc into his, but I have to go back a bit further in time to make that work out.

So some more reflection today about going from avid gamer to avid designer. I credit the RipCity gamers for most of my deeper game education. After GameStorm, I started making it to sessions regularly. These guys (well a few of them) were packrat-collectors like me, but they had different tastes so they had lots of games I’d hardly even heard of. I didn’t love every one, but I loved the gaming experience and the social aspect that Mike talked about last week. Funny how much of this sounds or feels like addiction.

First I only looked at the “hard stuff” – Die Macher, Fresh Fish – but then I had to play them . I had to have more, and more often. I’d sit at home, reading online accounts of other people’s sessions. I saw that someone made “player aids” for games, and I thought, “Man, I could do that…”

And that’s how it starts. I made a new player’s mat for Ra – it later got posted to Boardgamegeek and apparently is still in use. I made a score sheet for Carcassonne that looked like one long road, going through a walled city every five squares. I also made a scoreboard for Meuterer, and made a replacement set of cards for Hammer of the Scots, even though I didn’t even play the game until 2 years later!

So October 30, 2002, and Erik Arneson announces: “About Board Games and Abstract Games Magazine are sponsoring the 3rd Annual Game Design Competition, this year with the theme of Simultaneous Movement.” And I start thinking, “Man, I could do that.”

In fact, I’m convinced that it’s the challenge to fit a fairly narrow set of parameters, even self-imposed, that kick starts the game creation process for me. For this one, the rules were (a) easy to replicate board, (b) materials from around the house like go stones, chess men, dice, etc., (c) no cards, (d) 2 players but may also play more and (e) simultaneous movement must be the core mechanic of the game.

I thought it would be cool to have an area control game where you and I each drop multiple seeds in nearby areas, and move at the same time so we may end up going for the same lucrative board position. Essentially the basic design was a day. A lot of judges played my game Acorn, and it made the finals (top ten games). It’s still available for free, and Sunriver Games will have an updated version, as a free download, available soon.

I spent the rest of 2003 expanding, niggling, testing and hallucinating the core mechanic of Acorn into a really big science fiction game called New Eden, which Chris has a session report on and some cool pictures. My stalwart RipCity friends got tired of playtesting and re-testing. At that point, I think I was in the place where you think, “This is the big one for me. This could be great.”

Such drivel! Like a guy in our town who spent ten years making a simple game about politics and getting into a few local stores. What a waste. Bless my friend Chuck who also writes here, since he’s the one who said to me, “I think it’s time you work on the next game.”

And starting in January 2004, I designed the first versions of Pizzza and Isla Nova, soon followed by Northwest Trek and Tres Amigos. And maybe a few others before Havoc: the Hundred Years War in June. I still like New Eden (it still needs some tuning), but getting a lot of games going is much more fun for me.

Maybe you won’t like some of them.
Ok, I have another one that I want you to try.
Are you game?

PS – we’re testing “Sphinx of Black Quartz” later
today at Chris’s house. Stay tuned.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Birth of a Game Publisher

I wish I had more time to write this week, but I’m on the road again (in Memphis this time) and I need to get up at 4am to catch my 6:30am flight – I’ll keep it short. It is going to be a long end-of-year as it looks like I’ll be traveling just about every week through at least mid November. 

Early on I mentioned that I’ll do quite a bit of disclosure on the economics of publishing a (small) game like Havoc.  For starters, though, here’s a brief history of how Sunriver Games came to be.

My first meeting with KC Humphrey was at GameStorm 2003 in Portland – one of my earliest blog entries.  KC treated my family to a wonderful morning of euro games, including some real classics like 6 Tage Rennen and Viva Pamplona.  Not long after that I had a self-imposed trial session with the Rip City Gamers group at my house, where I had my first opportunity to play New Eden, one of KC’s prototypes.  I took this prototype on the road to a variety of friends and gaming groups, including a visit to Uberplay headquarters.

It wasn’t until KC, Rita, and I spent some time at Doug’s Sunriver retreat in May of 2004 that we started getting serious about trying to self publish one of KC’s titles.  After some discussions with a few other folks, we opted to limit the initial investment to just our two families to keep things simple.  This would also constrain our choices a bit to a game of the lighter sort (i.e., no big board, big box, or lots of bits).  Sunriver Games LLC was officially formed on July 26, 2004.

This is the process we used to select the first game to publish:

  • We chose four of KC’s lighter designs as candidates: Pizzza, Tres Amigos, Havoc, and Northwest Trek.
  • We scheduled two playtest days in November of 2004 and had about 20 folks participate.  Playtesters filled out playtest reports and we tabulated the results.  The clear winner was Havoc, though NW Trek was also very favorable.
  • Havoc, being a card game, was a perfect choice for a first game to publish. It is also felt better in our collective guts. QED.

In late November, we sent copies of Havoc to the various spots on planet earth for blind playtesting and further feedback.  This process wrapped up in early 2005 and we started the ball rolling on final development and design.  This is where the fun really started!  More on that process later…

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Buy, buy! Sell, sell!

This week I'll follow on from my first post on my origin in gaming, with a nod in passing to Doug's discussion on disposing of games. As I mentioned in that first post, I was first introduced to figure wargaming from my interest in building plastic model kits. That was mostly WW2, with a little touch of Napoleonics which a friend insisted on and I was interested enough to humor him. (As this occurred in Scotland, should that be 'humour him'? Now that would be an interesting way to write, in the language/vernacular/spelling of the country or location you're writing about. OK, maybe not.) I did try to get people interested in American Civil War but didn't have any takers. This was all with 1/72 scale figures, although I did try to use some of my 1/35 figures and AFVs, but mater was most dischuffed to find I'd taken the legs off the dining room table to get more floorspace.

So, Mr. Napoleonics (he also features in my D&D story, but I'll keep that for another day) was the one who introduced S&T magazines, when he took out a subscription. His games were American Civil War, Tank!, Combined Arms, Wolfpack, Sixth Fleet and one other that escapes me at the moment. (Ah, my senior moment has passed, and I now recall that the sixth game was Operation Olympic.) When the new game arrived he'd read up the rules and I'd head out to his place to have a go at the new one. Sixth Fleet was my favorite of the bunch, and not only because I beat him handily the first time we played. (Sorry Doug, Cooley's Law hadn't been discovered at this point.) From there our gaming group pooled money and bought a subscription among us, which I then took over after a year, and continued for several more years.

During this time I went to college, graduated and started work, all the while buying more games. I had also graduated to Avalon Hill games as well during this time, Alexander being my very first AH purchase. I also bought quite a few games from other publishers as well as more SPI & AH/Victory games. This continued, although at a lesser speed, after getting married.

And so we moved. All the games were packed in boxes and eventually caught up with us a few months after we arrived. The boxed games made it to the shelf, but all the magazine and zip-loc games never even made it out of the boxes. None of them got played, however. I'd take one off the shelf now and again, flick through the rules, then put it away again. During this time I continued to buy more wargames, mostly off eBay, but some at the local gaming store.

Around this time I also started playing Euro games with the local group. These were hugely entertaining, thought provoking, but most of all, short. I started buying Euro games, and they took pride of place on the game shelves. As I acquired more, wargames were shunted off into the bedroom closet to create the space required for the Euros.

And then came 'the day'. I'm not exactly sure what the catalyst was, but I think it was a comment from Eric about how many of his wargames hadn't actually been played. I actually sat down and went through my wargames and was astounded to realize just how many of them had never been played. Sure they may have had a few counters punched out and pushed around the map while reading the rules, but they were never actually played. I think that was the moment that I decided I didn't want to be a game collector, but a game player. This was quite a momentous occassion, one that even just a single year previously I couldn't have contemplated being in my future. Selling some of my games? No, you must have the wrong guy.

That was my first forey into the land of eBay sales. I'd bought quite a lot of games from eBay sales, and had a fairly good experience. Selling didn't prove to be too troublesome, and I made a decent bit of cash that I immediately turned round into orders for Euro games.

More recently I decided it was time to clear out the closet of some of the boxes that had never been unpacked. Bye bye went all my old S&T magazine games, along with some other stuff. Heck, they hadn't even made it out of the shipping box in the almost 8 years we'd been here, they weren't likely to get played in the future. So off they went.

That's not to say that each one wasn't a little battle itself. Every time I came to list the details in the eBay auction I'd read the magazine, look back over the rules, remember when I got it and wonder about trying the game one (more) time. Some copies were quite hard to part with. It took quite a fair deal of resolve to fold the map back up, put the counters into a baggie and put it all back into the envelope and hit the button to submit the auction details. I'll even admit there were one or two items I almost cancelled auctions for.

The ASL was even harder to part with. It sat on the floor beside my desk for a good few weeks before I finally did it. The prices were just too ridiculous to ignore, and much as I enjoyed reading the ASL modules, the historical snippets, I knew that they would never see the table. In the end I made over $1k from the ASL, almost $2k from all the recent sales. That will pay for a whole bunch of other toys.

But the collector in me still misses them.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

That Old Game Stench

Before I start, I will mention that while it's great that people put in links to various things in their posts, I just can't summon up the gumption to go quite that far. I figure if you are interested in something, you'll do the legwork to learn more about it. However, I have included a link to KC and Chris' new game company site Sunriver Games (in context, you'll have to read the column to get to it) as I think it is well worth your attention. In general, I will limit links to things that I feel are particularly worthy and less well known, so take the time to click on the link when you see it. Now on to the show.

Last week I talked about how much I like the acquisition part of gaming, from the purchase to the point where the game actually gets played (or not). However, there is a dark side to this rush, and that's when you realize that you have to put the damned thing somewhere and you are about out of shelf space.

Everyone has their neuroses, and I've got more than my share. Of course, it has been said that your neuroses tend to block your psychoses, so I tend to embrace them if they aren't too onerous. Sadly, one of those neuroses is my unwillingness to give things up once I have them. Yup, I'm a packrat. Not with everything, I manage to give books away all of the time now (especially paperbacks), but I still have software that I bought for my Mac c. 1997 that is unlikely to run on a modern OS and it is tough to give it up.

The worst for me, though, is games. Outside of the commercial stuff (largely dreck) that I had in gradeschool, I've saved almost all of the games I've ever bought. A few exceptions: when I got out of college I traded a lot of the old AH chestnuts such as Blitzkrieg and Battle of the Bulge to a comic book store, which was my drug of choice at the time. I did the same with a lot of the not-so-great stuff I had from high school (John Carter of Mars, for example - great in concept, but every battle felt exactly the same with the weak graphics). Since then, I've reaquired most of the AH titles via e-Bay, especially when AH went out of business in 1998. It was pretty obvious to me that I was going to be hanging on to most of my games after that. I'll note that the first wargame I bought (Panzer Leader, way over the head of this 12 year old) is still in my collection, and always will be.

Until now, when I have filled the second bedroom closet with games that are at best about 50% hits. I understand that I need to get rid of some of them, but it is very hard for me to do. Mike and KC have generously offered assistance, as both of them have been very active buying and selling things on e-Bay and other channels. Still, every warning bell in my head goes off when I think of divesting.

Maybe part of it has to do with my mother forcing me to get rid of my comic book collection when I was 13. Including, I might add, a Giant-Sized X-Men #1 and an Uncanny X-Men #94 (the first regular one with the "modern" lineup). While part of my disappointment in getting rid of these is that they are now worth quite a bit of money, I have to admit that I would almost certainly not have sold them. When I started collecting again in my early 20's (and continuing into my early 30's), I've bagged and boxed everything I got, even the dross. Ten long boxes share space with my games, with no sign of movement (although to be fair, these will be much more valuable in about 20 years).

Giving up a game feels like giving up on an investment in some ways. I bought the damned thing, so it should be worth keeping. If not, I made a poor decision originally, and I hate doing that. Also, there is something about a whole closet full of games that feels somewhat comforting in a world where our leaders have abandoned all pretense of caring about anything but votes and money.

Still, it's time for a good chunk of these long-time friends to hit the road and find new homes. I'm sure, as my father would have said, that it will build my character (although at 42, I suspect it will be more like new linoleum on the floor of my id, but Lord knows it needs it). So once KC gets back from Essen and showing off his great new game Havoc, I guess I'm going to start getting rid of games for the first time in about 20 years.

I hope it feels better when it's over.

Tuesday, September 13, 2005

An Examination of Self

When I first started writing this post, it was mostly rambling around the fact that I'm just not that keyed up about the Essen batch of releases. In fact, I've only gone to the Essen Preview page once, and that was simply to see what the new Fragor Games entry was about. (I knew the name was Shear Panic, but I thought it was spelled "Sheer". Given the title and expected theme, I bet I'll like it.) I guess it's more along the lines of "I'm not really even interested in knowing what the new releases are."

Anyway, my initial draft of this post was a stream-of-consciousness thing that was pretty disjointed. It did leave me with one major question, though, and I decided that would be a good focus for my post this week. WHY am I not as interested in what's coming out at Essen this year?

I figure it's probably one or more of the following reasons:

  1. The 2005 releases pale in comparison to 2004.
  2. I've been focusing on the games I already own that I've never played. (down to six I'm still interested in playing. Woohoo!)
  3. I've had a hankering to play more wargames, and I've got TONS of those that I've never played. (and GMT is great about sending me new ones every couple months or so...)
  4. I don't have any more room on my shelf - something's gotta go if I get something new, and I'm running out of options.

Of course, it didn't help that I went to our storage unit the other day to track something down and was just stunned by all the stuff we have that we really don't need. (if we needed it, it wouldn't be in storage, right?)

So I ask you, the reader: Should I be interested? I know from my brief look at the preview page that there's four Martin Wallace releases. I'll likely buy all of those, particularly Byzantium (Couple my favorite designer with one of my favorite themes, and I'm all over it.). Anything else? Is the Essen-to-Nurenburg release season looking promising?

Two-player stuff

Jodie and I have been TRYING to get rail games on the table the last couple weeks, but we just haven't been able to find the time. We've aborted two India Rails and one Australian Rails (old version) plays before finishing. I hate aborting unfinished games. Just wish we had somewhere to leave it up without Megan and Mika (the cat) getting "involved." May have to rearrange the hobby room and put a table up.

Beyond that, Jodie's been gung-ho on St. Petersburg lately. And kicking my butt at it as well, I might add. I do think this game is better 2-player than any other configuration. There's a real give-and-take aspect to the game in 2-player that we both enjoy. We've reached the point where we know each others tendencies enough that we're playing three-four moves ahead at times.

We've been looking at Fjords, Rat Hot, and Roma for new additions to our repertoire. At times, it's felt like we've been in a rut in what we play. (some mixture of 6 Nimmt!, San Juan, St. Pete, Bohnanza, Alhambra, Carcassonne, and Ticket to Ride.) We'll see what Jodie brings back from Germany when she leaves in a couple weeks - I'm sure there'll be something interesting in what she buys.

Addendum:
Don't forget that next Monday, Sept 19, is International Talk Like a Pirate Day! Aarrrrrr! Time to pull out those pirate-themed games.

Monday, September 12, 2005

Positively Puzzling

Alright, this is the week I get all gushy, especially with Tom Vasel's call for positivity, so I'll talk about something I have loved for a long time. With a toddler in the house, my gaming hours have dropped considerably this year. One of the things I have used this extra free time for is one of my oldest hobbies: pencil puzzles. My preferred format is the magazine; currently, the GAMES line is best, with Dell dropping off sharply since the early 90s, when they had the Champion Variety line and some charming yet brutal 5-star entries in their Logic Puzzles issues. There is a worldwide surge in interest in clever logic puzzles; Conceptis Puzzles alone has 40,000 registered users, and I imagine that Puzzle Japan well surpasses that, given the country's strong fanbase. Most surprising is the Suduko phenomenon. Sudoku is a fairly dry puzzle which has been around for decades under less exotic names; I would have been less surprised to see gangs of Diagramless Crosswords solvers hanging out at the light rail stations.

To me, the most interesting thing about these types of puzzles is that they are all solvable using brute force (i.e., just try all the possible combinations), but efficient solving techniques involve different styles of hard thinking. The type of thinking done depends upon both the difficulty of the puzzle and whether you are attempting to solve the problem quickly. I am somewhat obsessive-compulsive in that, if I accidentally stumble upon the solution while exploring a search branch, I will usually take the extra time to prove the solution is unique. In the past, I participated the U.S. qualifying round of the World Puzzle Championship, with my best finish being 3rd in the 2000 qualifiers. In recent years, some of the performances have been incredible (see the typically sharp dropoff in this year's results). Given the difficulty of the problems and the time limit, I suspect that the top solvers aren't simply superfast thinkers that can quickly prune the search tree and identify pieces of the solution; rather, their experience with these puzzle types has honed their intuition, and that they are now excellent at guessing which branches to explore. For example, in Conceptis' Fill-a-Pix puzzles, experience will show that a chain of 4s and 5s is almost always used to draw an easily predictable curve.

In board games, sharp tactical thinking is required to find the lines that are most lucrative in the short-term, while strategic thinking is useful for evaluating positions when thinking deep. I have soloed four-handed matches of Tongiaki 20+ times to help hone heuristics for the opening, hoping to find a feasible strategy for the later seating positions. With the social pressure to play multi-player board games at a fairly brisk pace, and the various random elements most of these games have, heuristics are key if winning is desired. Of course, two-player abstracts are rich with heuristics, with one of my current favorites being YINSH; Alan Kwan tells how we won the 2004 World Championships under intense time limitations - 15 minutes per player!

Here is a list of my favorite online solving sites:

Conceptis Puzzles has weekly online puzzles for three varieties. Pic-a-pix (another international craze known more familiarly as Paint-By-Numbers) puzzles come in larger sizes than those in magazines, and often feature many colors, but I find the end result being way more tedious than the magazine variety. On the other hand, the Fill-a-pix and Link-a-pix online versions are much less tedious, and scale well to the larger sizes. Since the new puzzles are released on Sunday nights, I will probably struggle at times to meet my Monday blogging deadline!

PuzzleBeast hosts a variety of challenging puzzles created by a Java program. Spend some time struggling with the devilishly simple Sliding Block Puzzles, then complete the humiliation with the ConSlide Puzzles. More accessible are The Bulbous Blob Puzzles and The Kung Fu Packing Crate Maze (which I saw in the local game store today packaged as TipOver).

Clickmazes has more puzzles along the lines of PuzzleBeast, with a less snazzy interface but a wider range of difficulty and opaqueness in the puzzles. For starters, try the classic Plank Puzzles, Full-Houze Puzzles, or the Tilt Puzzles.

Puzzle Japan is, to the best of my knowledge, the only full-fledged pencil puzzle site with a subscription fee. While their variety includes many familiar puzzle types I am not crazy about (including Sudoku), they all demonstrate that web interfaces are excellent for these types of puzzles. The sample problems for Nurikabe, Slither Link, and Light Up almost convince me to sign up, if only to support such an effort.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Don’t Count My Vote…

Looking over the list of possible game mechanics I did what a lot of you did – I didn’t find the ones I dislike most! In my case, it’s subterfuge (where the rules allow you or tell you to do something normally considered cheating).

The easiest example, though not that it ruins the game, is Dragon’s Gold – where one card tells you to steal jewels until you are caught by another player. Another favorite is in the regular card game called “I Doubt It” or any of its ilk (yes Mike, ilk). In that game, I lay down cards on the stack and announce “3 eights”, daring someone to say “I Doubt It.” But it’s OK for me to lay down 5 cards, two extras below my 3 eights, as long as I don’t get caught. And if I’m doubted, I turn over the top three cards, all eights, and the poor sap takes the whole stack – even the extras I slipped in. Clever for ten year olds.

OK, so on to a mechanic I don’t care for that is on the list – “VOTING.” There’s voting in some games, integral to the game, that doesn’t bug me at all. For instance, using cards to “vote” at the same time whether to destroy outhouses is crucial in Drunter und Drüber (if you haven’t seen this one, check it out. Up to four players, object is to smash everyone else’s buildings using roads, rivers, etc.)

Maybe it’s the blind-voting I like, I’m not sure. It doesn’t bug me in Schrille Stille either – each player is voting in secret (casting many votes) for bands that we like and bands we don’t. And the votes aren’t swayed (much) by table talk and who-to-impress.

One other honorable mention–Twilight Imperium–where we vote on new laws that may change game rules substantially. Here it seems fine to me, since I am trying to buy votes behind the scenes as part of the negotiation / backstabbing / “let’s you and him fight” story within the game.

So on to what I don’t like: voting, where often the vote is based on the personality of the person being voted for or against. Or it’s based on the presentation of that player. For example, in Balderdash we each make definitions for little-known words and “vote” for the best. But often the votes get chosen partly on who can write well, or on who you think wrote those words and whether you want to help them or not.

In Die Erben von Hoax, we vote for who we think is faking the character they just claimed. And this vote is often marred by “What do we think of you? (or your fakery skills).” Likewise in Democrazy, we all “vote” for new rules in the game. But for me, personality plays too much role in whether I vote for your new rule or not. So games where the voting aspect is tied to who I’m voting for just don’t do it for me.

And there are a few exceptions here too. Probably tied to what Mike just wrote about the social aspect of gaming always trumping the game. Right on. So, I like The Big Idea since part of the wacky fun is coming up with a bizarre product (like a Deadly Erotic Obelisk) and then trying to sell it to your friends and so gain their vote for best new product.

Last time I promised a bit more about going from avid gamer to avid game designer. Sorry, the “question of the week” takes continuity precedence. Maybe soon!

Meanwhile, I got some design time in this week on our Israeli prototype (thanks Yehuda!), a new one of mine called Sphinx of Black Quartz (any guesses what it’s about?) and a little more work on a “fewer roads per tile” set for Isla Nova, which the Dragonflight folks who played it thought looked too cluttered as it played. Always testing.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Memories

This will be a brief posting for me, but I didn’t need to think about my least favorite gaming mechanism: Memory.  This goes back a long ways for me, as I avoided classes in school that required extensive amounts of memorization.  That’s why I leaned towards physics and math rather than biology and history – I would much rather learn a core set of principles (rules) and apply them to analyze and solve new, interesting problems.

Games that involve memorization as a core mechanism turn me off.  The canonical example would be the classic Memory game.  A more recent example is Dawn Under – I like my games to be relatively stateless.

Even when I play games with extensive hidden but knowable information, I waste no time tracking that information in my head other than in a very coarse manner.  Examples would include many Knizia games (Samurai, Tigris and Euphrates) and games where card counting can give a serious advantage.

There’s probably some Myers-Briggs personality attribute I have that leads to this aversion to memorization, but I don’t know what it is.  Intuitive?  Analytic?  Any shrinks out there that can help?

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Mechanism

Hmmm. Least favorite mechanism.

This actually gave me problems, as I don't normally focus on the mechanism of a game. I just go with my gut feel, either I like the game or I don't. I can like one game with a particular mechanism, and dislike another that uses the same mechanism. Theme, components, presentation, all are factors in liking or disliking a game, and there are always other facets of the way a game works that adds to the base mechanism that muddies the waters somewhat.

Then again there are some games I dislike, although I'm beginning to wonder if that's just more a point of principle than a real dislike. I'm talking about Party Games.

I have never liked party games. They seem to focus on speed of thought, not something that I'm very good at (as those who know me will attest), hence my dislike. Plus they're just plain silly. No real strategy, tactics, forethought, planning. Leave your brain cells behind and let the first thing that hits your gob just spew out.

And yet.......

I went along to Chris' SimplyFun party the other week. I disliked all the games, as they were all party oriented. Well, except Walk the Dogs. Almost. It had some elements of strategy, tactics, whatever, but still mostly pure blind luck. However, I had a great time. True, not the games that I would choose to play given a choice. However, as I've always maintained, this is a social hobby, and the social part comes first and foremost. I would far rather play a game I disliked with a group I liked than vice versa, any day of the week. And twice on Sundays.

And yet......

The whole SimplyFun experience forced me to re-evaluate my attitude to party games. A while back, in game session reports, we were discussing Cave Troll, a game I rated highly. Doug (or Dug) stated that he disliked it, and couldn't see why we liked it so much. I retorted that we always had a blast playing it, a fun experience. Ah, he replied, but does that necessarily mean that it's a good game? Ppff, pshaw, and ptui, I responded, of course it's a good game because we had a blast. Now I'm having to rethink that position. The two are not necessarily connected. The amount of fun you have is (largely) a factor of the company, not the game you're playing at the time.

So, where does that leave me wrt party games? Do I dislike them because of nothing more than prejudice? I'm still not sure.

Anyway, back to the subject for this week. Of the various mechanisms listed on BGG, the ones I'm least likely to be interested in are those involving singing and acting, very much party attributes, especially when the drink has been flowing. Then again, the former is because I'm being nice to everyone. You really don't want to hear me sing, trust me on that one. As for acting, I'll leave that to just being part of the audience at a decent movie, play, whatever.

OK, enough blethering from me for this week. Go play some decent games!

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Session Reports

I figure that since it's still my "day" to post, I'd throw in a plug for my new session report blog, also hosted on Blogger. URL is http://dugsreports.blogspot.com. Yeah, I could have done a fancy link, but I wanted to be quick rather than cool.

I figured I needed a separate place to put in session reports and mini-reviews, and since everyone else on this blog has a separate page, why not. I also figure Chris or someone will put a link on the side of the page for me. What a guy!

Check it out.

That New Game Smell

First, the answer to the obligatory “least favorite game mechanic” question. Charles Bronson. Sorry, I meant “mechanism”. While I’m very close to being with Dave on this issue, I’ll refine it further by answering “Negotiation”.

Don’t get me wrong, I love games like Manifest Destiny and Successors, where diplomacy is critical to success (“Me? The Leader? You high!”). What I hate is a game where everything is a negotiation. Like Traders of Genoa, a game I bought, played once at Sunriver, then promptly sold. And I never sell games. I can handle Chinatown from time to time, and certainly negotiation in small doses (like in many games), but a game where all you do is negotiate starts to feel like I’m buying a car real quick.

Now on to something important: The New Game Experience. A quick show of hands: Who loves opening and “punching” a game almost as much as playing it? Don’t be shy.

We begin, of course, with the purchase experience. When my sister lived in Ashland, OR, and Funagain had a browse-able warehouse space, I used to freakin’ live for the days before New Year’s when we’d drive down for her NYE party. I’d spend a couple of hours in the Funagain stacks, picking up a couple hundred dollars worth of games, many impulse buys. Even better was unwrapping, prepping, and setting them up. I spent at least a day doing this, and it was heaven. No more, I'm afraid. My sister has moved north on I-5 a few hours, and Funagain's warehouse space is all in boxes and organized by arcane codes and on shelves that are far too tall. I still prefer to purchase games at brick'n'mortar stores, at least when I'm not buying in bulk. There's definitely an edge to the experience that I don't get with mail order, even if it is much cheaper.

I find the experiences of opening a wargame and opening a euro to be very different. To start with, there’s a much different smell with a wargame. I suppose it’s because of the components (unmounted map, cardboard sheets of counters, paper play-aids), although there is certainly a different scent with different companies. Even wargame card decks smell a bit different, so it’s not completely components. Since most euros are printed in Europe, and most wargames are printed here, that may be the difference.

Because the components are different, there’s a much different effort in prepping the game for play. I’m one of those geeks that clips the counters of my wargames, and for euro counters that are of particularly poor quality. At about an hour for a sheet of 280 counters, that’s quite a bit of prep time in many cases. And I’m not afraid to admit that while that’s a pretty anal habit to get into, I have to say that playing with clipped counters is a much more pleasant experience, and with wargames it’s all about the tactile. For me, anyway.

Euros take a lot less time to prep. Sure, you’ve got to punch some heavy cardboard, but generally they are die-cut well and not as many pieces (though Arkham Horror and it’s ilk sure give it the old college try). Sorting the pieces is generally easier for a euro as well, although I do like figuring out which wargame counters will go in which baggie. I must have 10,000 of those little technological wonders sorting my counters at this very minute.

OK, so I'm anal compulsive. Sue me.

With a wargame, there is a much different curve to learning and playing the game as well. I can pick up a euro at the local shop in the afternoon, prep the components, read the rules, and perhaps even run through a turn and be ready to play that evening. With most wargames (and this is becoming more of a problem as development time and experience start to become optional rather than mandatory), I’m lucky to be able to play the game in a few days. Even then, most publishers treat wargames like software, they’ll “fix it in the mix” a few weeks down the road with a "living rules" version on the web. It's great that they can do this, but I wish they'd try to get it right the first time. But enough complaining!

So who cares about the mechanisms, it’s all about the smell, baby! Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got a game to unwrap...

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Last Mechanic on the Island

What is your least favorite game mechanic? Why?

I was tasked with choosing the first monthly theme here on GoE, and I had quite a few ideas go through my head. They all sounded incredibly lame. I don't know about you, but it does get a bit old seeing geeklist after list go by with things like "the best games I have on my shelf" and "help me make a decision," etc. So, all the questions that popped into my head with "what's your favorite blah" or "what blah do you like best" just seemed trite. And I tend to be an optimist.

Last week we're sitting over George's place playing Marco Polo Expedition when Dave makes an off-handed comment about his favorite game mechanic. I sat on that for a while, and eventually, the thought crossed my mind "well, what's his LEAST favorite mechanic, then?" I sent that around as a proposed first topic, and it seemed to go over okay - it'll be interesting to see the responses.

So what IS my least favorite mechanic? It's actually a pretty tough question to answer. I tend to be an AGAT player (any game any time) so the idea of not liking something isn't all that natural to me. The list on the Geek isn't all that comprehensive or consistent, to be honest, and didn't help me much. There's a few candidates, definitely, but which to choose?

When I first went through the list, things like roll-and-move, acting, and singing crossed my mind. But then, I used to role-play, so acting's out. Roll-and-move is frequently used as a crutch in poorly designed games, but there are a number of good games that use it well. (Formula De, Can't Stop, DBA, etc.) I've never played a game featuring singing, so I can't rightly say it's my least favorite.

Early Monday morning, I was playing with my daughter on the swing at the park down the road thinking about this question. I decided at that point negotiation is my least favorite mechanic. When I got back I looked at the list and it isn't there. It must be a category. Since I obviously wasn't going to just be able to choose one, I went through the process of elimination to see what mechanic would be left on the island.

So, where did that leave me? I ended up with a mechanic that is a feature of games I actually enjoy playing:

Action Point Allowance System

So, now, why? Don't get me wrong - I love the seminal action point allowance games (Tikal, Java, etc.) They're solid games that give a very satisfying experience when played with the right people.

And therein lies the rub - you have to play these games with the right people. If you play them with people that play slowly or over-analyze action point allowance games can be excruciating. To the point where an egg-timer should be required. However, that would really kill the experience for most of these games, leaving a quandary. It's particularly bad the first time you play a game. Many people have trouble playing a "learning" game - they're always trying to optimize their play instead of just learning how the game works and then try better next time. Couple that with action point games, and you're practically guaranteed a negative experience.

That being said, it's not that I dislike action points. They're my least favorite. (There's that optimistic streak in me showing up again.) Having five things available to do, and only being able to do three is fine, and something we're very used to seeing these days. Making different actions cost different points adds a whole extra level of analysis - and is the part that can make the mechanic break down with the wrong mix of people.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Lamarckian Labradoodles

"What is your least favorite game mechanism? Why?"

After last week, I was determined come back more positive, but it looks like Eric’s question is gonna suck me back into the morass of negativity I usually reserve for family and close friends. So, off come the rose-colored glasses…

Looking at this question, my first instinct was “blind bidding” – but it does not appear on the list! I guess it is a list of purebred mechanisms, and blind bidding is some twisted cross-breed of “Auction” and “Simultaneous Action Selection”, similar to the mating of a German Shepherd with a Dachshund (now there’s something I would pay to see). Other bidding hybrids: Lamarckian Poker gloms two molecules of Auction onto one of Hand Management; similarly, KC’s Havoc mixes Auction with Card Drafting. It would be fun to try to stick together different mechanisms and try to make a new one out of them; I figure if dog breeders got away with “Cockapoo”, the world’s open to me, right? Are there any games out there that mix Trick-Taking with Rock-Paper-Scissors? How about Singing and Tile Placement? I think a marriage between Action Point Allowance System and Partnership, whereby partners have to divide up APs, could be interesting…

Anyways, looking over the list, an obvious answer seems to be “Paper and Pencil”, but that’s about as helpful as answering the question “What’s your least desirable quality in a woman?” with “meth addiction” or “gonorrhea”. No, what we’re looking for here is something that otherwise blinds you to all the other good stuff, kinda like “man-hands”. The problem is that some bad qualities come packaged with more attractive features; many a young man has withstood “strict religious upbringing with overbearing parents” in the pursuit of “dormant and explosive naughtiness”. While I often complain about the tedium of Card Drafting, oftentimes it is coupled with very interesting Hand Management, as in Knizia’s excellent Marco Polo Expedition.

Looking over the remaining mechanisms, there are a lot that are quite narrow (e.g., “Crayon Rail System”, “Co-operative Plan”). No, I’m aiming for something bigger here, something that I see in far too many games, pushing me to the point where I’m ready to abandon the whole hobby altogether (“drastic mood swings”). Set Collection is a strong contender, but, in the end, I’m going to go with Trading.

What are the things that bug me about trading?

  • The Frustration. One of the things I like about gaming in general is the abundance of opportunities to covertly manipulate people to my advantage. However, things aren’t so easy when the terms of negotiation are so tangible. Since getting what I want requires people to explicitly trade with me, they become much more resistant, and eventually I’m looking at an embargo in the face. In no other type of game does my past history weigh me down so much like clay slippers.
  • The Inanity. One can only wait so long during another player’s turn before turning to him and exploding “NO! I DON’T HAVE A BRICK! NO ONE HAS A BRICK! EVERYONE IS LOOKING FOR BRICK! BRICK IS ONLY ON TWO NUMBERS, AND THEY HAVEN’T BEEN ROLLED IN 6 TURNS, AND CERTAINLY NOT SINCE LAST TURN, WHEN YOU SPENT 5 MINUTES ASKING FOR BRICK!” Okay, so it's not always that ridiculous, but trading games are susceptible to those pockets of downtime ("little infinities") where nothing happens.
  • The Frailty. In most games, there is a hidden layer of depth that is masked by very obvious moves. For example, in my last match of Bohnanza, I did a trade with the person who eventually won. The trade netted us both 1 point, but kept him from being forced to prematurely sell from one of his fields. I could have rejected the trade, but I would have to convince the other players to be more generous with me (or make a similar move) since I took one for the team. Unfortunately, I find that folks, including myself, are unwilling to think that deeply, and play trading games at a more superficial level.

Actually, the real reason trading games annoy me is that I never seem to have what others are looking for. Grrr... To end on a positive note, I’m about to go spend the rest of the day playing 2-player CCGs with a friend, none of which feature trading! Here’s hoping your Labor Day was a lot less work than mine.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Question of the month: September

Being the first full week of September, each blog entry this week will answer the following question, picked by Eric: "What is your least favorite game mechanism? Why?" Choices must come from http://www.boardgamegeek.com/mechbrowse.php3.

Those of you playing from home can use this entry to post your own answers!

Saturday, September 03, 2005

A short gaming history.

A friend recently pointed out that in our gaming group, most the folks seem to have been gaming with Avalon Hill or other famous companies for most of their lives. Well, not so for me.

I'm KC Humphrey, proud member of RipCity Gamers and fairly new to this sport. So today my job is to tell you about my game history (a bit of real life tossed in to that timeline) and how I got to here, which is "avid gamer about to publish our first game and release it at Essen Spiel 2005."

Grew up in Yakima Washington. Played Clue, Sorry, Monopoly, all the blechy American stuff with cousins. Got RISK – only copy I’ve ever seen with plastic near-cubes.

Meanwhile learned guitar because I didn’t play sports, being smart was uncool and games were not helping me meet girls. Went to Japan with Boy Scouts for a few weeks, played a lot of gin rummy, bought a 12-string guitar, met girls, got hit by a typhoon (no butterfly effect as far as I know).

Took the guitar to college in Salem. Met more girls. Recorded a record album that went plywood and a little more than broke even. Played a lot of solo gigs. Played some games but owned few or none.

Went to work as a youth minister after college. Learned pinochle from the family I visited often around 6 pm (“Oh would you like to stay to dinner? Sure.”) and played more American games at church potlucks and game nights. Published a book of music for youth worship called “Son of Songbook” just before the summer of Son of Sam – unfortunate timing that.

Next… married, switched from church work to government, still a lot of social gaming. Less playing music, less meeting girls (well duh). Bought a house, traveled (no kids), worked, went our separate ways, bought some houses, played volleyball and then finally met some “real gamers,” Pete and Cece Wirfs. And it was two small games that got me hooked. One called Magic: the Gathering and another called Settlers of Catan.

A snake’s tail. Last weekend at Dragonflight a guy came to learn some of my games. Turns out he was Pete Wirf’s roommate in college and was the one who introduced Settlers to Pete. Small world indeed, or just the karmic arm swinging through a pitch.

So I got deeply into Magic – deck building, collecting, buying boxes, doing tourneys, all that. Loved it. Still like the game. And got Settlers, Naval War, Express and a few other of these wacky board games and card games.

Started working with wellness for Senior Citizens as another hobby, wrote health songs and met my sweet wife at a conference where she worked as an activity coordinator. She had kids so I finally had an even better excuse to collect games, and we moved to Gresham Oregon. Josh (middle kid) was playing Settlers at age five, the whole family plays Mah Jongg, Liar’s Dice, Can’t Stop, etc.

I started collecting games at Goodwills, Ebay and garage sales and ended up stockpiling way too many. But that got me into trading and selling games, even internationally. And in Portland, at an annual event called GameStorm, I met Doug, Dave and Mark Dee who later invited me to join RipCity Gamers. And Rita joined too, which surprised the guys by being one of the few spouses who avidly games with the group.

There’s about a page in my editor, a good goal. So next time, a bit more about going from avid gamer to avid game designer. The card proofs from Carta Mundi for Havoc: the Hundred Years War came today, so we’ll look them over and the game will print on time for release around October first by Sunriver Games. Thanks to the folks who have already played it or reviewed it.

Regards,
KC

Friday, September 02, 2005

If you don't know me by now

I suspect many of you already know a bit about me.  I’ve been doing this blogging thing for about 2.5 years, baring my soul and inundating the world with pictures of my family and friends.  As a result, you are likely wondering why I’ve decided to post weekly in this forum.  I’m not quite sure myself, but I will try and rationalize it here in my first post.

My first order of business is to explain why I blog. The simple reason is that I do it for myself.  I’ve never worried much about my audience, how many subscribers I have, or whether or not I’m fulfilling some need in the blogosphere.  My weblog is simply my personal journal of a certain part of my life – pretty much everything but my professional life (though I do sneak in comments about that from time to time).  While I’m passionate about my work and very loyal to my employer, as an officer in a public company I’m reluctant to talk too much about my work at Corillian for fear of disclosing something that, well, shouldn’t be disclosed.  Besides, it would be hard to top the writing of my right hand man, who is always happy to discuss the amazing work we are able to get done.  I’m a big fan of journaling and starting a weblog was a great way to force myself to pay attention and (usually) keep up a regular writing process.

Speaking of journaling, my first photo journal was done during my trip through Europe back in 1990 with my friend David Oppenheim.  The three month, 13–country odyssey was documented with many rolls of film and a series of letters I wrote to my future wife Julie (I was a-courtin’ her at the time) on an almost daily basis.  Julie saved the letters and typed them up on the computer, distributing the PG portions to our family members; this also gave me great material to incorporate into a narrative chronological photo album.  I recently purchased an all-in-one Canon printer that will allow me to scan this journal with photos into my computer.  Stay tuned… maybe this will show up in public space before too long.

I’ve never given a full bio on my personal weblog, so it is worth doing here to give people some context.  First, I should list the cities I’ve lived in for 2 months or more in my life: Dallas Texas, Altoona Iowa, Dubuque Iowa, Des Moines Iowa, Louisville Kentucky, Indianapolis Indiana, Albuquerque New Mexico, Omaha Nebraska, Indianapolis Indiana (again), St. Louis Missouri, Aspen Colorado, Washington DC, Santa Barbara California, Los Angeles California, Dayton Ohio, Boise Idaho, and Portland Oregon.  I changed high schools five times – it was rough at times, but I don’t regret the changes as I think they made me stronger and well prepared for college.  I attended Washington University in St. Louis on an Air Force ROTC scholarship, graduating with a BS in Computer Science and a BS in Electrical Engineering.  I also met Julie there, but was a year ahead of her.  I took off for Europe after college, spending a summer traveling before starting graduate school at UC Santa Barbara on an educational delay from the Air Force. 

The next May 18 (1991), Julie and I married in St. Louis, packed her bags and flew to California to take up residence in LA.  Julie worked as an environmental engineer while I commuted up to Santa Barbara, finishing my MS in Electrical and Computer Engineering in March 1992.  Then it was off to Dayton to serve four years in the USAF, the perfect first job for me – writing software for cockpit simulations and getting my first chance to lead software teams.  In 1996 I separated from the USAF as a Captain, heading out to Boise to work for Micron Technologies.  While I enjoyed my time there, after a couple of years I realized I wanted to work in the software business and not do IT within a company whose core business was not in alignment with my primary skills. I figured the Portland and Seattle markets would provide more opportunities to do so, and after getting a few offers decided to try out Portland and join Mitron, a small division of Genrad (neither exists today).  After a year I could see the writing on the wall (in terms of company survival) and an opportunity to join Corillian came out of nowhere so I came on board as the manager of one of the core software teams; this was in September 1999.  A year and a half later I became the CTO and have been doing that ever since.

Oh, you actually wanted to hear about my gaming bio?  Sorry… I’ll keep this short.  I think I was around 11 or 12 years old when my dad picked up Avalon Hill’s Battle of the Bulge for me.  We only played it together once or twice, but I recruited several of my other nerdy friends to join me (Mike, Mark, Matt, Dave – if you are reading this please don’t take offense – I mean nerd in the mostly complimentary way possible) and we plunged into the wargaming scene.  Most of my wargaming was with my good friend Mike Sattin; he seems to have recovered quite nicely and is now a semi-professional bass player in LA (I say semi-professional only in that he doesn’t, yet, completely support himself just on his music.  But I’m fairly certain he gets paid every time he plays in public).  The games we played back then included Squad Leader (and its expansions), Air Assault on Crete, Tobruk, Arab-Israeli Wars, and the big daddy of them all Rise and Decline of the Third Reich.  A few months after getting into the wargaming scene, my parents also learned from friends of their about a game called Dungeons and Dragons.  My group of friends was very much into Lord of the Rings at the time, so D&D struck a chord with all of us, occupying many weekends throughout junior high.  I was almost always the dungeon master, crafting pure dungeons crawls with no story lines but plenty of 20’x20’ rooms housing ancient, enormous red dragons with piles and piles of treasure.

There wasn’t too much gaming going on in high school, mostly because of the frequency of location changes.  I did get into Car Wars and some other Steve Jackson games while in Albuquerque and had a chance to play D&D a few times.  During college I played some D&D and even managed to go to GenCon after living in Aspen after my freshman year in college.  We won a major open D&D tournament there (our picture was in Dragon magazine, which reminds me that I need to scan it and post it…) and I picked up the newly released Star Wars RPG from West End Games.  This was a great RPG and it came out a few times during my final years in college.  That was about it for my gaming until… you guessed it, my discovery of Magic: the Gathering over Christmas vacation in Las Vegas in 1994.  Julie and I both played quite a bit (I much more than she), and I managed to get some friends and family into it as well.  I played in a few sealed deck tournaments and did reasonably well, but fell out of it after we moved to Boise.  It wasn’t until we moved to Portland and I received a fluke gift from Julie’s brother David for Christmas in 2001 that I discovered the German boardgame scene.  The game was Lord of the Rings by Reiner Knizia.  Some rule confusion in late 2002 lead me to the internet to see if there was an FAQ.  Hmmm… what’s this boardgamegeek thing?  About the same time, we started playing CCGs with Ken and Brandon Rude (mostly Magic, 7th Sea, and the Lord of the Rings TCG) but once I discovered the universe and thriving community of family strategy boardgames CCGs became much less interesting.

Also, around that time I met KC Humphrey who was putting on a family games demonstration at GameStorm in Portland.  From there I managed to weasel my way into the Rip City Gamers group and that’s been my gaming home ever since.  While my travel, family, and volunteer commitments prevent me from participating more than once or twice a month, those times are always rewarding.  I especially enjoy the remote gaming retreats we do.

What games do I like these days?  My interests are very broad and I like games much more often than I dislike them.  I love BIG games but rarely find the time to play them (War of the Ring, Europe Engulfed, Manifest Destiny, etc.).  I’m a sucker for cool bits, even if they are molded plastic.  I always have my eyes out for light games that kids can play, both for my own family and to help my wife in the school games program she helps with.  I play abstract games quite a bit, most often the game is chess because I run the chess program at our boys’ elementary school.

I’m helping a close friend publish a game that we will release at Essen this year.  The game is called HAVOC: the Hundred Years War.  We think it is a great game and so do a few other folks – give it a try after we ship!  The business of publishing games is very interesting, so expect to see some interesting entries right here about the financials, marketing, distribution, and more  (KC will talk about the designer side of things).