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Gathering of Engineers

Ludographic considerations from the Silicon Forest

Monday, October 31, 2005

Pros & Cons: It’s All About the Meeple

Pros & Cons will be a (sporadically released) series on my con-going experiences, and I am using the term “con” very loosely here. My main exposure has been Portland’s local con, Game Storm, which is more traditional along the lines of Origins (albeit with less vendor presence, and much fewer skimpy costumes). I have also attended all three Oasis of Fun (OoF) get-togethers in Atlanta. OoF is a private invitational with about 80 attendees or so; I managed to get in as the first OoF was open to all subscribers of the Nigglybits mailing list, of which I was a member at the time. I will also be attending the inaugural BGG.CON this week in Dallas.

Whether the event is as tightly organized as the World Boardgaming Championships (WBC), consists of pure open gaming like OoF, or something in between, the one line that inevitably shows up in reports (usually preceded with the meta-cliché “I know this is a cliché, but…”) is “It’s all about the people”. While good hygiene is not to be taken for granted, what’s being talked about here is much more than that. It’s about getting together with like-minded people and establishing friendships, and the positive feelings that come with being part of an international community with a unique bond. Now, reader, if you think that this all sounds kinda hokey, I’m here to tell you: You’re not alone.

Being a severe introvert (hosting other personality quirks), I always struggle with the social element at cons. At Game Storm, I do not know most of the attendees and often find myself playing with less experienced players who are getting an early impression of the types of games that I enjoy. So, I take on a quiet, friendly, bland persona, and let the other players at the table take center stage. At OoF, I let my hair down occasionally, but am reminded all too often that my gaming persona - nurtured for several years within the Rip City Gamers - is something that needs to be warmed up to by others; “to know me is to love me” does not work when you’ve only got four days together.

It will be interesting to see how BGG.CON pans out. As originally defined by the planners, it shares the same open structure as the various invitational events, but several folks, who I assume to be uncomfortable with the format due to inexperience, are establishing a timetable to ensure they play specific games. This could get kind of awkward in a couple of ways. First, players who aren’t scheduling games in advance could get frustrated when they walk up to play a game only to be told “Are you signed up? Sorry…”. It is not always easy to find an opening to get into a game at these events (more on that below), and this just compounds the problem. Second, because other events are not scheduled, players signed up for a game may get “stuck” in another game, and will have to figure out how to resolve the conflict.

The one advantage BGG.CON does have over other similar events is that, socially, it is starting out on a mostly blank slate. One of my favorite all-time blog entries is Mark Johnson’s candid reflection on his 2004 Gathering of Friends experience (you can find the post on page 63 in the archive of his old journal). He describes the feeling of not really fitting into the scene, primarily due to the cliquish groupings; he writes about “a combination of an ever-widening circle [of friends] and a bunch of overlapping circles […] I guess I think of myself as being on the edge of a circle or two.” These circles are usually established in previous events (such as Gathering of Friends), and are even sometimes regional in nature (e.g., OoF has a large Atlanta contingent). It seems that the majority of BGG.CON attendees are outside the DFW area, and, while there are BGG members who are relative celebrities recognizable by their usernames and avatars, I am guessing that there is a significant “reset” when you are actually face-to-face and the constraints of online communication melt away.

So, if you are a fellow introvert somewhat anxious about BGG.CON, here are some tips on how to get through:

Be assertive. A lot of attendees at these types of events avoid excessive mingling. Generally, they find a small group of folks they are comfortable with (it could be similar tastes in games, or just compatible personalities), and play multiple games with them. As such, I find it rare that someone stands up and yells “Who wants in on a game of [title]?”, even if there is one or more open seats at the table. If you are wanting to play a game, and you see something interesting being set up, ask if there is room for one more.

Do not base your expectations on playing specific titles. Given the above, the odds of finding openings in every game that you were hoping to play are pretty low. If you decide to not join in on the scheduling, it could end up pretty random what you will end up playing. If you finish a game with 3 other folks and you feel like the compatibility is there, recommend that someone else in the group pick a game that he really wants to play. Eventually, someone will ask you to choose, and you will find willing opponents to play a game you really want to play. Note that, using this system, you will likely have to stick with a favorite game you know the rules to, unless you are lucky enough to find someone at the table who already knows the new game you wanted to try out.

Establish meta-goals. You may be wondering why I go to these events at all! Well, there are several benefits I get out of it that are not tied to specific games. I get to test my abilities against a new set of opponents, hopefully with increased challenge. I get to experience a strategy game where the groupthink differs from my local crew’s, which brings new insight. As I wrote in September, I enjoy seeing how folks brought together from different groups resolve ambiguities (such as establishing restrictions on sharing information in Shadows Over Camelot). And, of course, I like to sample games I have never played before; at BGG.CON, there will undoubtedly be enough copies of – and interest in – all the hottest new games (Caylus, etc.) that you will get a shot at some subset of these over the weekend.

Give yourself plenty of “alone” time. At most cons, I usually go out for meals all by myself; this takes me away from the pressure of social interactions for a while, and leads to a less stressful weekend. I also give myself breaks between long periods of gaming to go for a walk and listen to music. All attendees run the risk of exhausting themselves by Sunday morning; while others use socializing for their downtime, those who are focused primarily on the games themselves are most at risk of burning out.

I am sure that we all have a great time in Dallas this week. Afterwards, I will likely tell my friends, “It’s all about the games.”

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Daddy, Where Did Havoc Come From?

One of the more popular questions about Havoc: the Hundred Years War, other than “Ok how do the Dogs of War work again?” is “So how did you think up this game?”

A couple years ago I heard the great line from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, “Cry ‘Havoc!’ and let slip the Dogs of War” and thought “Man, that would make a great theme for a game.” OK, if it matters, I heard the line again in one of the Star Trek movie reruns, spoken by a Klingon Commander. Yes, I’m a geek in other subjects than games...

So I designed a game where several cards would become Dogs of War, but only when they were called as “trump” in which case they’d be the highest trump (top Dogs). Worked on the game some more, five suits (colors), a trick-taking game with some clever bidding mechanics and (it turns out) some similarities to the German card game Skat.

If you’ve played Havoc, you’re thinking “That’s not even close to how Havoc plays.” Right. Partway through design I realized I was far away from the theme line of the Dogs of War. So I finished the game up with a new theme, borrowing from the movie Three Amigos. If you happen to catch up with us at a game con I’d be happy to play it with you.

So I re-started Havoc. I wrote the Shakespeare quote at the top of three sheets of blank paper and started writing notes. The game had to have Battles of some kind. There had to be Dogs of War. Preferably the Dogs needed to do what Dogs of War originally did – they went onto a battlefield and brought back to their owners arrows, weapons or other booty. If it had battles, it needed to have a way to get troops, and I’d already decided it should be a card game. The “arc” of the game would be important, so it needed to have Battles that grew in value through the game, so players might “save up” for the big battles. At the time I just thought “important battles in history”, not any particular war.

I chose for my beginning mechanics a sort of Canasta/Rummy method of gaining cards during the game, where I’d draw 2 and discard 1, gaining a card a turn. I wanted a few open choices so I jotted down “Recruits Area,” common enough in many games. For Battling, I needed was for troops to fight, but didn’t like the general “my total number is higher than yours so I win.” So I decided on some version of “set presentation” and wrote as a start “Use something like poker hands.”

In the early version of the game, there were at least twice the number of scoring hands in the game, because I allowed things like 4-card flushes, 4-card straight flushes, etc. It was pretty confusing, especially when I decided to use a 6-suited deck of cards, which naturally led to wanting a possible 6-card “Battle Hand.” So how did I whittle the list down to a manageable size? Well, I wondered how much 12 point text would fit on one playing card – 17 lines. So that’s why there are 17 scoring hands.

That was enough to get started on a prototype. I used my trusty Sticheln deck – 6 suits, and zeroes. I made Battle Cards that grew in value, and at the time each one had about half the 1st place points for 2nd Place, and about half that for 3rd place. The earliest version did not have a Peacekeeper. I made the deck and playtested, playing three to five players by myself to work out the flow of the game and see if there were obvious defects. That helped me work out how Dogs work and how to limit their powers.

In turn, that gave me enough confidence to try the game with Rip City Gamers, my main game group and very open-minded friends. It was in those 2 or three sessions, plus one session with friend Jay Schindler at the Portland Airport that resulted in the following great ideas that we later used:

> You should have tokens for the 2nd and 3rd place finishers
> Some Battles should not have 2nd and 3rd place
> The “big” battle should be Agincourt or something famous like that
> There should be some way to keep people from just drafting cards forever

In a future article, I’ll pick up this story again, since there’s also some interest in how we got from a playable prototype to a finished game.

I’m happy to say it’s selling well, many reviewers like it and more importantly everyday gamers like it. And that means Sunriver Games will be bringing more games out that you might like.

Friday, October 28, 2005

A Lifecycle Model for Game Development

My official profession is software product development.  If you work in the software development world, be it as a programmer, tester, project manager, tech writer, whatever, you tend to be pretty concerned about the development lifecycle.  How and when do we define the product requirements?  The architecture and design of the product?  How do we predict when we’ll ship the product?  How do we know when a product is “good enough” to ship?  These questions are often polarizing – today you are most likely in the agile development camp or the traditional lifecycle camp (often considered “heavy process”).  Both camps have good reasons for adhering to their “belief systems” – understanding the context in which you are operating is critical because there’s no One True Way to get interesting work done in software development.  Life critical health monitoring systems require different attention and concern for quality than do desktop applications that get revised/updated several times a year.

I can’t help but superimpose lifecycle concerns like this onto the process of board/card game development.  The irony of this is that many software methodologists have attempted to apply manufacturing lifecycle models onto the process of software development.  I guess I’m coming at it from a different angle.

I’ll assert straight up that I think the process of game development more closely aligns with traditional waterfall-style development technologies where you take a product through very discrete stages with very little re-visiting of earlier stages throughout the development process.  The process of manufacturing a physical product like a game requires decisions to be locked in well in advance of product shipment. There are exceptions – many niche RPG game manufacturers have gone to print-on-demand publishing models that lend themselves well to revision after initial print runs (at least better than boardgames – there are still costs involved).  Another exception is the so-called DTP game market (if there is such a market), but I want to focus on games that you can pick up off the shelf and purchase.

I am by no means an expert in this area, having only “done it” once, but I still want define a strawman lifecycle model for game publishing.  I want to do it for selfish reasons as we consider what to publish in 2006.  Having a bit more structure around the process should help the three of us involved (Rita, KC, and I) talk the same language and be clear about the different stages of development and publication.

Game Development PLC

The diagram is a combination of process flow and lifecycle phases.  This certainly doesn’t capture all of the steps required, but hits on the main points.  Also, the phase transitions aren’t always crisp – rules and component development, for example, is part of prototyping but also part of game development.  I view development as the process of refining all aspects of the game into something that will be easy to learn and self consistent.

The production of Havoc: the Hundred Years War is case in point on why a waterfall-style model is required once you enter the development phase and transition into production.  We had a production collation error in one of the decks that has been very difficult to fix; fortunately, we assembled the game in discrete batches and had the opportunity to address the problem before most of the product got to market.  We also had to do a lot of real-time repair work while selling the game at Essen.

Which leads to my final point: if we have time, in the future we expect to get all of the components in final form for inspection (QA) before going to production.  I don’t mean looking at proofs (we did that), but get the cards in celo, final rules, etc.  We were literally getting all of the pieces together in the final 5 days before departing for Essen so this wasn’t an option for us.  I’m also not sure how accommodating the production shops will be, especially for a tiny publisher like us.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Games from Essen

Essen has come and gone, and it's time to review the purchases. So far I have 73 games listed as bought. (So far because I have a couple of boxes being shipped and I'm not entirely sure what was in them, so the total may be higher.)

First of all, the games that were new to me at Spiel 2005. Some of them I played before buying: Aloha, Freya's Folly, Kaivai, Lucca Citta, Timbuktu. Others were bought because others whom I trust had played or recommended them: Antike, Caylus, Die Baumeister des Krimsutep, Jenseits von Theben, Rotundo. Yet others I had a brief run through of and I thought they sounded interesting enough to buy: Big Kini, plus expansion, Celtic Quest, Movie Maker, Third World Debt, Whisky Race. Others I bought purely on faith or some particular reason: AoS expansion #4 (it's AoS dude!), AoS Reunion Island/Lunar Expansion (partly for the box to keep expansions in!), Byzantium (Martin Wallace is on my favorite designers list), Carcassonne: The Discovery (with free River II expansion; I like Carcassonne, and because of the exclusive deal with Funagain this saves me having to order from them specially), Fiese Freunden Fette Feten, Power Grid France/Italy (PG is one of my favorite games, and FF is another of my favorite designers), Helden & Zaubersprueche (expansion for Zauberschwert & Drachenei), Shear Panic (preorder).

There were quite a lot of older games that were on my list to look out for, either because they are difficult to get at home or because they are cheaper in Germany: Big City, Die Weinhaendler, Geschenkt, Im Auftrag des Koenigs, Im Schatten des Soennenkoenigs, Meuterer, Mississippi Queen: Black Rose, Quo Vadis, Razzia, Verraeter, La Citta, Lost Valley, Bus, Cannes.

There were also a bunch of games that were included free (or dirt cheap) with other games I bought: Ahoy, Titicaca, 2*Typo (buy Aloha/Ahoy, get Titicaca + 2*Typo free - I prefer to view it as Aloha/Titicaca, get Ahoy + 2*Typo free), Fruit Bandits (free for buying 3 JKLM games), Ur 1830 BC, Voc, Oraklos (for extra 10E with Bus & Cannes, which themselves were only 10E each), Badaboom (from Chris, extra copy received as trade for Havoc, I think).

I also picked up a few games for younger children for Cathy to try at school for their games program: Alles im Griff, Der Kleine Prinz, Geister & Gespenster, Im Maerchenwald, Lange Leitung, Moemmen, Schlauer Bauer, Schweins-Galopp, Geistertreppe (Kinderspiel des Jahres 2004). I don't expect to have any of these hit the table with my regular gaming groups. Useful to have around as well, if people with younger kids come over.

That leaves a few that were bought because they were cheap and/or recommended by others: Limits, Nicht die Bohne, Ole, Sabuca. None of these cost more than 3E - about 3.50. I also managed to pick up the wrong game for a couple of titles: Razzia (the old Stefan Dorra version), Die Weinhaendler. I'm not sure how I managed to confuse that last one, it's a board game rather than a card game. Looks interesting anyway, although it doesn't have a great Geek rating.

Finally, the totally impulse buys. 6 Nimmt in the metal case, because I was going to get the special expansion only available with that set and being issued at Essen. (In the end the expansion cards had been misprinted, and it was withdrawn by Amigo.) The compact version of Quo Vadis, which I didn't know was available until I'd already bought the full size version. Blokus Duo. (Most likely it's only me and Graham who'll play Blokus, so a compact, 2-player version seemed fair.) Carolus Magnus. (I've always fancied this one, and it was shrink wrapped.) Pompeji from Adlung, and a handful of older Adlung card games that were 5 for 10E.

And there you have 73 games. Total cost was just over $950. Estimated cost at on-line discount price, just over $1450. Kinda hard to compare directly, because a lot of them either aren't available here (13) or are too new to be available (27). Where I couldn't find a US price I just used what I paid. More than likely the prices at Funagain or Boards & Bits would be higher to allow for shipping charges, so I may be understating the difference.

There were a few games I tried that I didn't buy: Railroad Dice 2 (all luck of the dice thrown, no real planning or strategy), Socks in the City (just didn't seem to be much game play there), King's Progress (just didn't grab me), Skyline of the World (OK, but wasn't sure how much space I had left in suitcase/boxes). There were also a few that I got a brief outline or run through of the game, and decided not to go further. There were many games I would have liked to have tried, but never made it to them all.

I'm sure that some of those I bought will be proved to be klunkers after playing them once, but that's the risk you take when buying games without having someone else be the guinea pig first. I've only recently started buying games, so those more than 3 years old are ones I probably missed first time around, and hence the large number of older games in my haul. My next trip will more likely focus on the newer games.

That puts my Euro collection at 246, and I'm going to have to clear some shelf space to accomodate them. Fortunately I still have lots of ornaments and knick knacks in the dining room that can be moved to other display cases and shelves to make space. (Honest, dear, these would look far better in the entertainment center in the living room....) More of the wargames can be moved into the closet upstairs, leaving only those I'm really interested in and are likely to get played. (Columbia block games mostly.) I'll probably put a few games into the next auction day at our FLGS. I may yet do some more eBay, but I'm down to the last few that I either am not too interested in parting with or really aren't going to fetch enough to be worth the bother.

Everyone should be aware that November 20-26 is National Games Week. So get out there and speak to your local school or library about putting on a special event. Also check out the National Games Week web site.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Too Many Games!

I have too many freakin’ games. Boxes and boxes of games stuffed into every nook and cranny – OK, the nooks and crannies I’m allowed by She Who Decorates. I look around and I’m amazed that I’ve managed to collect so much.

I’ve whined a bit on this blog about my decision to let some things go for the first time in years (and when I say years, I mean close to 20 years), aside from a few games that I was so disgusted with that keeping them was an affront to my sensibilities. Eagle’s American Civil War comes to mind, which I shamelessly talked my nephew Alex into taking home so that he could use the figures in D&D games.

Tthe real kicker was that I simply ran out of space in the second bedroom closet, which has been the Last Sanctuary of games since my other options have been whittled down over time. My wife sews in this closet (calm down, it's roomy), and we frequently have guests over that are astonished to learn that no, they will not in fact be allowed to hang clothing in the closet because there is no room for said clothes.

Fortunately, our rowhouse has a downstairs bathroom with space for a tub/shower, and since the “bedroom” on the same floor is the Doug Room, we opted instead to put closet space where the tub/shower would go, up until now used for such useless things as ladders and extra cases of Talking Rain from Costco. After looking at this space recently, it occurred to me that I could move in a couple of relatively thin bookcases in the back and sides and use this as my main game closet.

So that’s what I did. Of course, it doesn’t hold as much as the old space, but that is a Very Good Thing. You see, it forces me to think about what games I have that are worth keeping and what games aren’t. Downsizing forces you to really think about the value of things, as we learned in a move from a house with a large basement to a two-bedroom apartment four states away several years ago. All those books? I'm not moving them...

Understand that this is a 2.5 floor trip from one closet to the other, thankfully downhill (I would have hired the neighborhood kids were it uphill, were there kids in my neighborhood). Every trip I said to myself, “Self, this is the last one for a while,” only to go back upstairs and think that one more isn’t such a bad idea after all. Three hours later (including removing the stackable/foldable bookcases from their boxes and unfolding and stacking them), there they were, the keepers.

But I made one boo-boo. The first cut, you see, was to remove the games from the closet upstairs to the bed, leaving the games doomed to Purgatory in the closet. Since my wife is 5’3” tall, the upper shelf of the closet is, apparently, free range for games. I intended to make a second cut on the way downstairs, and I did this with the games that had a Kosmos Big Box form factor (the big square ones, like Stephenson’s Rocket), and actually about six or seven more games went back in the closet. However, I neglected to do this for other form factors in the “just one more trip” mania that was my Saturday morning. So now, I will need to decide which of the downstairs games have to go Back Upstairs. Oh dear.

(Note that this is just the euros, the wargames have their own closet (in the Doug Room), although they certainly have taken over a good part of the 30 or so bookcases in that same room. I really should put up a picture, as it’s quite the space. Not that it's large, just, uhm, entropic. I close the door when my friends come over.)

I figure somewhere between 65-75% of my games fit in the new space, and I’ve got room for more if I can get up the gumption to get rid of the truly frightening amount of 2nd Ed AD&D and Warhammer stuff I bought a lot of back when I was in grad school and slowly going nuts. That’s taking up the third wall, so figure I have room for about half again as much new stuff that I’ll buy while I’m doing the books for my family’s business and slowly going nuts. But that requires me getting rid of it, and I am such a packrat. Besides, I can’t break up the complete set of Arabian Adventures modules I have, that would be Bad.

So here we are, having taken a concrete step towards The Big Purge. If anyone has gone through this process before (without a complete “sell everything” meltdown, I’m not quite there yet), I’d love to hear from you! I’ll continue the thread in the coming weeks with a list of games I’m on the bubble on.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

The Cult of the New

A few weeks ago, I lamented on how I really wasn't all that enthused about the new crop of Essen games. I just wasn't feeling the anticipation or buzz that I'd felt in the past, coupled with a focus on playing the remaining "owned but unplayed" games left Essen a bit off the radar.

Then Jodie comes back from her trip to Germany.

In her suitcase, which arrived about 14 hours after her, among other games I had asked for was a surprise - Carcassonne: Neues Land. I didn't know this was out (heck, I didn't even know it was coming) so it was a nice feeling in this day and age of information overload to get blindsided like that.

Then, there was all the talk from everyone connected with Sunriver Games and the soon-to-be-coming Havoc release at Essen.

And, the buzz kicked in. I started looking over the release list. (Rick - if you're reading this, thank you very, very much for the contributions you've made via Gamewire. You will be sorely missed.) I had Mike pick up a couple games for me while he was over there. I read some of the convention reports. All the usual stuff that a board gamer does when he's never been to Essen.

A couple days ago, though, I thought to myself "why?" I own over 380 games/expansions, yet only 16 of them have been played at least 10 times in the last 2.5 years. (I've been faithfully logging my games played on the geek since they introduced that feature.)

Why do I want more games? Obviously, I've got a lot of play left in what I have. Many of them are very underplayed gems that deserve more table time. (Stephenson's Rocket, anyone?)

I've tried thinning out the collection and rotating in new games. I've tried focusing on the games we own that I haven't played. I've sold off probably fifteen to twenty games in the last year. I'll grab a game, thinking "I'm not going to play this" and it's on the sale pile. Since it usually takes me a while to get around to actually put the eBay listing together, I usually end up taking the game off the sale pile thinking "well, maybe I want to keep this after all." And then it doesn't get played. Of course, the available shelf space to store the games isn't growing very quickly. And yet, I'm eager to get more. Makes no sense.

I'm really beginning to believe I'm a drunk-the-koolaid-full-fledged-member of the Cult of the New. Maybe it's time to stop fighting it and just acknowledge it. I should just accept that I'll be buying Elasund because Candamir seems to be relatively good (after one playing), and I need to get everything Catan. (Yes, Jodie and I have eyed the 3d Settlers edition, and no we haven't pulled the trigger on it.) I'll likely end up buying every Martin Wallace game that came out at Essen.

Sigh. Sometimes, being an addict is hard.

All that being said, the same behavior does not translate to miniatures. (much to Jodie's gratitude, I'm sure.) There's been a number of high-quality miniatures games to come out in the last couple years. Warmachine and Flames of War are the leaders of that pack. I've resisted them all except Warmaster Ancients and Flames of War. It's at least possible to play FoW in an historical manner, even if it's the History Channel version of history. And I really like the Warmaster system - combine it with Ancients, and I'm a happy camper. Of course, the fact that I have absolutely zero appropriate figures didn't stop me from buying the rulebook. Nosiree.

It's probably the combination of cost (most miniatures games cost around $150-200 for your first army) and painting time that's slowed me down. Not to mention having to find opponents, as Jodie's generally not interested in miniatures games. Wild West Skirmish sometimes captures her interest, however.

One new game that has caught my eye, though, is Infinity. The Anime/Sci-fi game coming out soon from Corvus Belli. Never been big on sci-fi gaming, but this one looks good. I've been very pleased with Corvus Belli's 15mm historical lines, so if they put the same quality into their 28mm figs, they should look very nice. I'm going to wait for reviews on the rules, though. If they're even close to as good as Warmachine, I'll probably get into it.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Against the Grain: Part 3

In Part 1, I looked at how my ratings compared to the collective BGG averages. One trend I observed is that a large portion of my Thumbs Down ratings are given to titles that have decent averages (7.0 - 8.0). This week, I look at some of those that have the highest averages.

The one game in the BGG Top 10 that I give a Thumbs Down to is Wallenstein (BGG mean of 8.02). Many proponents of the game praise the inventiveness of the cube tower which is used to resolve combat, and are also impressed with how the design blends Euro mechanisms with traditional multi-player combat (MPC) elements. I actually dislike this hybrid of MPC and area-influence design; I find that the players get so caught up in the business of money, feeding, and buildings that they neglect the required diplomacy (e.g., who should be attacking who). La Citta, for one, does a better job of tying in the VP goals with the drive to conquest. Fans enjoy the agonizing choices, but appreciate that the limited combat actions prevent folks from getting overwhelmed. I guess I just don't find most of the choices that meaningful other than the combat-related ones, and I always find the excessive downtime painful. This game would be tolerable if played within a 60-75 minute window, but I always find myself waiting a lot during the simultaneous order phase. The design is not appealing enough for me to apply anything beyond what the 80-20 rule dictates.

The last two matches (both 5-player) I played of Wallenstein were pretty bad. In the first, I had horrible luck in the drafting and ended up with my forces distributed all throughout. The other players would cede no territory to me, and I got munched up very quickly. In the second, I ended up with the central position, and the other four players (each well-established in one of the four edge regions) all focused on central territory. After that, Wallenstein became the only game I vowed never to play again.

Two cooperative games show up on this list, Shadows Over Camelot (7.7) and Lord of the Rings (7.27). What gives ShOC the edge over LotR on BGG is the presence of a traitor; note that the same mechanism is available as the Corrupt Hobbit variant for LotR, and I think it works much better in the latter. I think the lack of role-playing in my group may be limiting our enjoyment, and I do not care much for the setting; I would like to try a Wild West cooperative game, as I know our group is up to the task based on our games of Bang! and the like. Despite the simplicity of the decision-making, I would much rather play LotR than ShOC, as the latter has horrible downtime; once a player is committed to a quest, the next few turns are mapped out, yet other players may be in a more dynamic situation. In LotR, players are generally working on common quests, which makes it more engaging.

Amun-Re (7.66) is a game I may come around to some day. Positive comments are along the lines of "tough choices", "multiple paths to victory", and "lots of ways to score", but I am not personally inspired by the do-a-lot-of-things-get-a-lot-of-points family of victory conditions. Add in the busy (and mostly obvious) work of the triangular action system, and the crapshoot of the action card draw, and this one has always been a dud for me.

Carcassone (7.64) has more than its fair share of detractors, and I think the root cause of its problems can be found in a single fan's comments: "Solid turn angst. Must be played quickly due to luck factor." I do appreciate its simplicity, but disagree with the many who praise its accessibility, as I would rather introduce new gamers to games with less boring victory conditions. Another game with a rating largely due to its accessibility is Bohnanza (7.37), and here I can greatly appreciate the social element of the trading mechanism. However, I find the game wears out its welcome (I have not yet tried the variant where you only go through the drawpile twice), and it becomes way too frustrating when you do not have the proper beans to be involved in the negotiations, which really undermines the key appeal of the game.

I like the push-your-luck element of Union Pacific (7.61) well enough, but I think the playlength is far too long for a game featuring this mechanism. Contributing to the length, but not the depth, of play is the largely extraneous competition for space on the game board; at the very least, the element of having different track types should have been streamlined in development. I am not crazy about set collection and card drafting games to begin with, so tacking on a bunch of nonsense really irritates me.

Judging by its comments, Web of Power (7.58) would not rate as highly if it didn't play so quickly. My personal feelings about the game are reflected in Chris Farrell's comments: "Fails to engage on any level, either theme, strategy, player interaction, or fun". With a new child in the house, my gaming time is too precious to waste even 20 minutes on mediocrity.

Citadels (7.46) is certainly a unique design, and I can see why folks enjoy the suspense, surprise, and psychology that emerges from the guessing game. I am uncannily bad at this game, i.e., I always find myself the target of the Assassin and Thief - even when I give up and choose characters randomly! - but that is not enough to condemn the game. What is enough is the excessive downtime, luck-of-the-draw in the building draws, and the busy point accumulation which has nothing directly to do with the core attraction of the game. However, the element of fun makes this the one game on this list that I actually request within my gaming group - it's the game that I love to hate.

Two other games that I have not played often or recently enough to recall exactly what I disliked are Princes of the Renaissance (7.71) and Showmanager (7.47). I think my problem with the PotR was that it lacked the dramatic tension and keen tactics found in similar games like Puerto Rico and Princes of Florence, I found Showmanager to be awfully fussy in moving the cards around while not offering enough to raise itself above other games that have heavy luck-of-the-draw.

Possible trends:

I do not like "point accumulation" as a victory condition. This plays a big part in Amun-Re, Carcassone, PotR, and Web of Power showing up on this list, and also explains why other top-rated games such as Puerto Rico, Princes of Florence, and Goa, do not get higher than a Thumbs Up from me. Among my Top Shelf games, the one game that best fits this category is actually my very favorite game, Taj Mahal, but, aside from the Princess and small pick-up bonuses, I find that most of the scoring in Taj is more along the lines of set collecting, with palace connections having a spatial element.

I do not like games that are highly tactical, yet not too deep, because of the downtime . Wallenstein (which should be more strategic), Carcassone, Citadels, and Shadows Over Camelot are the big offenders here. "Agonizing choices", indeed.

I am apt to give a Thumbs Down for extraneous elements which add to downtime. Amun-Re, Wallenstein, and Union Pacific are guilty here. At least in the case of Wallenstein, the extraneous elements add to the theme (especially the need-to-feed and peasant revolts).

I prefer to have players engaged at all times. Most of the games here (and many of the other top-rated games I only give a Thumbs Up too) fall short, but Shadows Over Camelot, Wallenstein, Citadels, and Carcassone especially so. Maybe I have a deficiency in my attention span, but I find that I'm not the only one disengaged from the general action, idly waiting for the cue to take my own turn.

Of all the trends I looked at the last three weeks, the only one I see a strong trend for is the first trend listed in this post, something I have observed for some time now. Perhaps my ratings are somewhat arbitrary, or influenced by a variety of biases. In the end, all I can say is that I like what I like, and am comfortable saying so without apology.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

Essential Essen εκλεγη

OK, plenty of you have been to Essen, but I’m hoping my experience was different enough to make it worth reporting. The trip was made to launch Havoc: the Hundred Years War and to see if we could put Sunriver Games on the boardgame map of the world.

Sunday was my only “tourist” day. Luckily fellow designer Benjamin Corliss was on the same plane, and luckier the rental car place gave us a 4x upgrade to a Mercedes E class with a “German Girl”. Well, “she” was actually a GPS unit that we figured (in the last 15 minutes of 5 hours of driving!) could also speak English with a German accent. She led us (this is a smart map machine thingy to you with too many ideas about this already) to Bingen, up the Rhine River, through a traffic jam in Dusseldorf and finally right to our hotel in Essen.

Wednesday was set-up day, to find out booth in Hall 4, get posters and such pasted up on our walls, set out game play tables, etc. And still had plenty of time to peruse other booths and learn some good lessons about how to do the Press Conference if we go next year. Overall, learning happened a lot. And sometimes we fell into getting it right first time, like having a free mini-expansion for Havoc available. Danged unfair my sweet wife (and our other Sunriver Games partner) couldn’t be there too; that was a tough lesson learned.

We happened to be in the hall where most of the used games sellers rented space. Funny how our booth kept filling with games as the week went on! Wednesday night was a traditional English-speakers’ dinner at the Ista, followed by USA versus The World in the skittles lane in the basement. Small bowling alley, big beers about says it all.

Except for this; cheers to my friend Tim Cockitt from Warfrog. The guy who says, when there’s no room for us to sit with the “gang” - “Here, welcome, we’ll move to another room with you so we can sit and have a nice conversation.” And means it! We heard about Tim's amazing trips to real battlefields, he heard about Oregon, and we all met Mikael Sheikh who runs the very juicy Spiel By Web for all us Splotter Bus players in the world.

Thursday through Sunday are a bit blurry as to what happened what day. I actually did see and play a few new games other than Havoc I think. Freya’s Folly, Shear Panic, Timbuktu, some nice abstracts. Mostly we just hung out at our booth, demonstrating Havoc or talking about it, or showing pictures. Funagain had given us the Alan Moon's Slow Freight as an extra draw, Mimi and Doug Walker brought these cool tile bags as a draw, and Tom Powers (Boards and Bits) gave us a box of Spin Fingers that were very popular give-aways the last couple of days.

1. Our Team, number one. Julie and Chris Brooks, with their boys Matthew and Jacob, working the booth as hard as anyone. Julie with this great spiel (think Carney barker but cuter) whenever someone couldn’t get to a table to play. Chris running his very small international bank for Americans needing euros, store owners from 5 countries, and helping journalists get their copies for magazine reviews coming soon. Mike Deans, our premiere “closer” generally selling more games per table than anyone... Lorna Wong and Benjamin Corliss, running the booth with humor while Ben kept a running commentary to guests as our only regular Deutsche speaker. Doug and Mimi Walker, who tons of people knew from meeting them at the Alan Moon Gathering. Talk about famous faces selling product! And new guy Richard Bethany from Atlanta – jumping straight into a Sunriver T-shirt and great gig as a pitch man. To all of you, heartfelt thanks and a little something planned for your Christmas stockings… =)

2. Meeting “A List” People. Playing Havoc or seeing it played with Mik Svellov (Brett and Board), Mikko Saari (Gameblog), Moritz Eggert (Westpark Gamers), Wolfgang Friebe (Fairplay), Frank Kulkmann (G@mebox). Most of them even liked it. Having Friedemann Friese and Bruno Faidutti buying Havoc from us. Trading Havoc for games from other designers like Don Bone (Sagacity), Günter Cornett (Bambus) and Andrea Meyer (BeWitched). And meeting game company folks; Tilsit chatting about publishing Havoc in French, Queen Games willing to take a look at my Metro 2, since they carry Dirk Henn’s line of games. Abacus looking at another of my prototypes that might fit into their family game line. Fingers crossed and nervous, this hobby is unpredictable!

3. Meeting Friends. This makes my top three. Norbert & Marion Kuska, and Andreas Keirat & Claudia Schlee have been friends online for 6 years or more. Meeting them in person was so cool; like best friends you just haven’t seen in a while. Norbert brought me 180 games I’d bought in auctions and such and stored at his house. Andreas had another 10 or so for me, but also brought us 4 stools that really made our booth livable. If these guys and their families are typical of German game players, I can see why gaming here is such a well-regarded pastime. And with friends like these, so glad I also made friends with Nick Medinger and Ben Baldanza from Funagain, who took pity on me and helped me ship a couple hundred games home!

Next time, maybe I could even report on a few game details in my Essen report. But you’ll read all that somewhere else, or see pictures on BoardGameGeek. I’d say we were in the top 20 or so for games that people talked about or had on their lists. Not everybody loved Havoc, but enough did to tell us Sunriver will be seen again out in this playfield. To my friends who made it possible, salud.

Friday, October 21, 2005

The Economics of Havoc

As we wrap up the production of the first of what I hope will be several (hah) print runs of Havoc: the Hundred Years War, it is time for Sunriver Games to reflect on the economics of this whole business.  I’m not comfortable disclosing 100% of the financials of the whole operation, but I can certainly share a lot and I think many of you who have toyed with the idea of self-publishing are interested in this sort of information.

Let’s look at the cost side of the equation on a per-unit basis.  This will help understand what the unit cost per Havoc copy is.  Note that this analysis doesn’t include any company-level expenses, marketing, etc.  This is just production cost.


Unit Cost







Art Licensing




Designer Royalty


Total Unit Cost


So about $5 per unit.  As some of you may have seen, we did all of the assembly ourselves, and there’s no labor cost factored into this equation.

Those of you buying the game at $18.95 might be thinking “Wow! That’s a pretty good margin!”  The truth is we will probably be barely profitable as a company this year because there are a significant amount of marketing expenses involved in getting this game to market that count as company expenses.  Some of these are very enjoyable marketing expenses: Essen Spiel and BoardGameGeek.CON.  And did I mention that nobody takes a salary?  We only wish…

Later this year I’ll disclose some company P&L information for your perusal.  Our big challenge right now is how to bring two games to market next year when we really only have the cash to produce one.  There are a few things that can change this equation:

  • A second print run of Havoc happening early in 2006.
  • The partners (KC, Rita, Chris) put in more cash.
  • We borrow money from a bank.  Or from our kids.
  • We enter into some sort of joint publishing venture.
  • We take some outside investors.

We aren’t sure whether our year-over-year goal is to add one new game each year or to double each year.  We need one more number in the series to get a clue about that, assuming we do 2 games in 2006.  The economics of this whole business is such that:

  • It is hard to make much money on small print runs.  Or rather, small volume sales.  It is easy to LOSE a lot of money on a huge print run with very low sales.
  • It is even harder to make much money on small print runs of low MSRP games.  While the profit margin % might be about the same for a larger board game, the unit margin in absolute value is much higher, sometimes double or triple that of a small game.  There’s also substantially more risk in producing a bigger game.

Because of point 2, we are considering doing one “real” board game next year.

Well, that’s all for now.  Feel free to ask questions in the comment section.  I hope you find this information useful and with appropriate prodding I’ll continue to disclose this sort of information.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Family gaming

Gaming in my family is a bit hit and miss, we don't play many games at home. However, that is as much to do with busy schedules as much as anything. With two boys playing soccer, all three of us refereeing, games sessions 2-3 times a week, frequent late nights at work and other school commitments, finding time can be hard.

Cathy, my wife, isn't a gamer by any stretch of the term. She plays games under suffrance normally, although she will take a swing where she'll request to play something, but it's only once in a blue moon, and then only at the fairly light end of the spectrum. Her favorites, if she has to play, are TtR (multi-player) and Flower Power (2-player). She's happier with a book, and some music. Preferably with some chocolate, too.

Graham, youngest son, is the main instigator for playing something, and the main reason that Cathy plays - he has to be mollified every now and again. He'll play most games, and picks up the mechanisms quite quickly, even if the tactics or strategy are a bit lacking. He's played and enjoyed Wizard Kings, M44, Carcassonne, Schotten Totten, Odin's Ravens, Doom and Yinsh. In fact he beat me first time out in Yinsh. I don't let him win, and the first time he beat me at Odin's Ravens he was on clound nine for ages. More often he's too busy playing video games (if he's not off at soccer) but we get some time at the weekends.

Catriona will play if there's a game going on, normally, but generally won't request a game. She likes Bang! (in fact they all do, but I can't stand the game), Perudo/Liar's Dice, and won the one game of Settlers we played. One game I picked up from Essen was a Japanese card game, as she does Japanese at school and is very interested in it. She immediately grabbed it and is off trying to learn it (it has English rules with it), and hopefully she'll be able to teach us and play.

Colin, oldest son, will join in when available, but is mostly busy with his buddies, at church or soccer, and playing video games. He helps me out at the library games sessions I run, teaching people the games. He enjoys most games we've played, including Metro, Lost Cities, TtR, to name a few.

Around the house I don't push playing games too much. If someone wants to play then I'll certainly set something up, but it's not worth the negative Brownie points to push it. With several games sessions per week it's not a big deal anyway.

Christmas is one time when people are looking for something to do, and games get played a lot, New Year's Eve as well. Last year I got a Crokinole board and it was very popular with everyone. Coloretto is one for everyone, and the previously mentioned Perudo. I just go with the flow.....

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Tales From The Crypt, Part 1

Playing one of Mike’s new Essen scores last night with our group, Whiskey Race, it became clear that six players was about two too many. Tim, who has a very pleasant demeanor, was in the process of coasting into fifth in front of me, made some comments about how a particular move was worthwhile because it would get the game over with quicker. I in turn mentioned that it was fortunate that at least the company was good, which made him laugh and agree.

I’ve played both wargames and euros at cons, and I am here to tell you that while there are very nice people out there who share the hobby, I am much more likely to enjoy a wargame with a stranger than a euro or even a strategy game like 7 Ages. I am very fortunate to have such a great group of people to game with on a regular basis, for I have a couple of horror stories that illustrate what it’s like to play with those who are less socially gifted.

The story I shall now relate to you happened at World Boardgaming Championships, the red-headed stepchild of the old AvalonCon. WBC is mostly about wargames, but they have steadily added euro tournaments over the years. I usually spend Saturdays recovering from a few days of serious sleep deprivation, but this particular year I decided to get into the Settlers tournament.

First of all, I should say that I play for the social interaction, the game “story,” and the thrill of competition, roughly in that order, so the idea of playing a euro as part of a tournament doesn’t appeal to me as much as a friendly game. Still, I thought it would be nice to get some different approaches to the game by seeing how other people played. How naïve I was…

Game 1 had one other knowledgeable player and a newbie. We were playing with the usual setup rules (first player places one settlement, then second, etc, then reverse order), and the experienced player went first. He immediately began moaning that he had lost the game. In fact, every time the slightest thing went against him, he moaned some more. Now, I am the first person to admit that there can be good fun in moaning, but it requires there to be others at the table who know you well and who are willing to run with the joke, but in this case, the moaning was simply annoying.

To make matters worse, the newbie totally set me up on multiple occasions. To be fair, this is Settlers, and in a friendly game you go in knowing that people who haven’t played can tip the game to others with no intention of doing so. Still, it was unsatisfying for me (clearly moreso for Mr Whiney) to win in such a manner. I have learned from experience not to be “helpful” at WBC tournaments with multi-player games, as you eventually piss someone off you don’t intend to, so I wasn’t helping this poor player out as I would in a friendly game.

At the next table, I had three very good players that were actually fun to play with. The problem in this case was that we were in “prison-style” seating (long tables lined up parallel to each other), and the tables were so close that people tended to bump the back of their chair into the person immediately behind them. One player and an extremely loud and shrill woman got into a pissing contest on who had dibs on personal space. It was straight out of a movie, no lie. At least this game was competitive and enjoyable, despite the fact that I came in fourth.

Now came the cat’s pajamas, as I was assigned to the table from hell. One younger guy, who appeared to be fairly sane, a guy in his late 20’s from California (at this point, I was thrilled to see anyone from my coast), and a gentlemen in his 60’s who played the game with his wife and other couples. OK, “gentleman” is the wrong word, I should use the phrase “sociopath” instead. This guy took 10 minutes to take his turn, then immediately started urging the next player to hurry up. And that was just the start. I’m pretty sure this guy had graduated from the Bobby Fischer School of Opponent Intimidation, if at the bottom of his class.

You see, he tried to be intimidating, but only succeeded in making the guy from California cranky (to the point where I thought fisticuffs were imminent), and convincing the other players that a trade embargo was in order. Not that this made his turns any shorter, mind you. I’m the youngest kid in my family, which means I really dislike conflict, and this was perhaps the most uncomfortable game I have ever played. Other than being forced to beat a 10 year old in the Lost Cities tournament that evening, even if I did spot him one game.

As if to show that there really is a God, The Crank From Hell came in last, and I’d decided that perhaps three rounds of this sort of pain was enough for one day, if not for the rest of my life. You could not pay me to enter a Settlers tournament at this point. OK, you could, but it would have to be a significant sum. I guess that the next year they started allowing people to drink alcoholic beverages while playing, which might actually help the person drinking, but certainly not the people around them. They better use plastic bottles or someone will get hurt.

It is so about who you play with.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Chattering for Two, Part Two

This week, I wanted to continue talking about the two-player games Jodie and I like to play. This week's installment will look at games we don't play as frequently for a variety of reasons - time, complexity, (it's frequently hard to pull out Goa or E&T at 8pm after a long day of work and putting an 18-month-old to bed) or interest. Some of these games are placed in obvious groups. I'm not going to add in links for the individual games this time - I'd merely be sending you to the geek, in any case.

The Mike Fitzgerald Rummy variants. (Wyatt Earp, Mystery Rummy 1-4, and History's Mysteries.) Wyatt Earp and Jack the Ripper are our favorites out of this group, and we'll be getting Bonnie and Clyde when it comes out. History's Mysteries just fell flat for us, and Al Capone wasn't so hot, either.

Attika. We haven't played this in a few months, but we played it a lot before that. I've got 20 plays of it registered, and I'd guess 15 of them are two-player. I think that's its best configuration. Our games tend to be played defensively, but occasionally we'll have a contest where we're going out of our way to block the other. Definitely the exception, though.

Cribbage. By far our favorite game with a standard 52-card deck. We don't play anywhere near as much as we used to, but before Megan was born, our standard evening after getting home from work (on non-softball nights) was sitting on the couch playing cribbage and watching the Mariners on TV.

The Empire Builder series. Yes, they can be long. Yes, they're sort of like multi-player solitaire. But we enjoy the optimization and racing aspects. Our favorite is probably India Rails, for two reasons - it's relatively short (we can get a game complete in around 90 minutes) and it's the first one we got. Others in the series we own are Australia (tube), Russia, Lunar, Nippon and an older version of Empire Builder that doesn't have Mexico on the map. We've played with the communal delivery card variant a couple times and it hasn't caught on for us. Probably because our plays of these games are so sporadic now.

Guillotine. Light fun, love the artwork. It's a game the family will play.

Cartagena. This plays well for two. We haven't ventured into the Tortuga variant yet. Maybe someday. Requires a mode of thought we haven't been able to muster for a while.

Amazing Labyrinth. Again, nice light fun.

Oltremare. This is an intriguing little game. A spicy bohnanza in a way, though the core game actually works for two players - you don't have to resort to a duel version as in Bohnanza.

Puerto Rico. We definitely like the two player variant, but I don't think we've played it since we got San Juan. Similar ideas (when played as two-player) but the setup time for Puerto Rico is long for how long the game lasts. It's a purely practical matter.

The Kosmos two-player series. We own something like 12-14 of these games. Out of those, our favorites are Jambo, Settlers Cardgame, Lost Cities, Odin's Ravens (Jodie's favorite out of these, btw) Balloon Cup, and Starship Catan. Druidenwalzer is still on my unplayed games list.

There are a number of other games that we've played occasionally and for one reason or another, just haven't put on the table much. Some of these deserve better.

  • Samurai - this simply needs more play.

  • Candamir - just got it recently, and it's got some potential. Need to give it another couple shots, but it's a longish game. Will have to contact Mayfair about updated tiles, too.

  • Canal Grande - I haven't played San Marco, so the "divide and choose" mechanism was new to us. This one's good for quite a few more plays, I believe.

  • Duell - its a bit mechanical, but we've only given it one shot - I'd like to try it again some time.

  • Magna Grecia - played this for the first time a couple months ago at Mike's place - I think it would work well for two. We just haven't tried it yet.

  • Formula De - it does work for two (you just need to run three or four cars each) but the real fun in this game is playing an entire season over different tracks.

After looking over this list and last week's, you might be asking "where are the abstracts?" Well, that's a very good question. Many moons ago, I was a tournament chess player. Now that I think about it, its getting close to 15 years since my last tournament. I was never really that good (my final rating was somewhere around 1260, if I remember properly), but I just got tired of the scene. Theory and practice of openings just isn't my bag.

As a result, I've got a conditioned aversion to abstracts. My brain just doesn't want to go there. All you have to do is just paste a theme on top (hi, Reiner!) and I'm fine with it. But I look at games like the Gipf project or Blokus or Ingenious and I am just not interested.

Jodie and I have played chess and backgammon a few times, but it just didn't work for us. She's afraid that since I used to play in tournaments I'd beat her badly, and I'm afraid to turn the "mental engagement" switch on, so I don't really pay attention to the game when we're playing - makes for a severe lack of fun. Backgammon went over okay, but it's got those funny, cube shaped things with dots on them, so it's not really an abstract, right?

Monday, October 17, 2005

Against the Grain: Part 2

Last week in Part 1, I looked at how my ratings compared to the collective BGG averages. One conclusion I arrived at was that the set of games to which I give a Top Shelf rating appears to be free of turkeys. This week, I look at some of those that have the lowest averages. This is somewhat akin to the “Underrated Games" geeklists (although I prefer the wording used by Stven Carlberg: “Games I Like Better Than You Do”), except I will not always go into great detail about what I do like about each of these games; I need to hold something back for future blog material. Rather, I will focus on what other folks find lacking. This may help to illuminate what I am able to tolerate better than others.

The three Euros receiving the lowest averages are Dragonland (BGG mean of 6.32), Freibeuter (6.33), and Fist of Dragonstones (6.35). The criticism of Dragonland being light is the one in this article against which I would argue the most. Alan Kwan’s verbose strategy article has a few key points in it. In my last match, I actually was able to pull off the “only two pawns” strategy, which I think even Alan undervalues, as it's not just about your own efficiency, but how efficiently it reduces your opponent's scores. There is some discontentment with being reliant on the dice throws, but I have never felt this to be much of an issue in my matches; with some planning, it is usually easy to “soak” one of the dice by having your dwarf stay in the same spot and grab, for example, an egg piece. Some folks knock it for being a children’s game, but I don’t find it to be any more so than other fantasy/sci-fi games; in fact, I’m comfortable playing this game as a grown-up, whereas a combat-oriented game like Twilight Imperium makes me all too aware of the adolescent tendencies in present company, myself included.

Freibeuter has not received much exposure, but the one common criticism has been luck-of-the-draw. I like setting up for the payoffs, and experiencing the suspense of seeing whether the payday comes in. Fist of Dragonstones (my Game of the Year for 2003) has a decent mean considering the variety of complaints: luck; chaos; game length; target-the-leader. However, the primary knock it gets is for being so repetitive, as the game is little more than a series of quick auctions. Many honestly state that it intrinsically loses some points for featuring blind-bidding. I normally loathe blind-bidding, but it works for me here because there are so many rounds that the "bad luck" of getting just beat out on a bid tends to get more evenly distributed.

Air Baron (6.40) is the one Avalon Hill game I will mention here, as I feel its criticisms are the fairest, as the game could otherwise have wider appeal. Unsurprisingly, folks are turned off by the luck of the chit draw which determines the payoffs; I note that no one complains about the die-rolling for the takeovers, or the luck of the turn-order draw. Linie 1 (6.58) – also known as Streetcar – has a surprisingly low score for such a popular theme (rail-building), but many are turned off by the race bit that makes up the game’s coda. It is not the only game on this list that gets knocked down by comparison to similar games (in this case, Metro and Carcassone).

Card games usually get lower marks than board games. Two of my favorites that are less popular are Mystery Rummy: Jekyll and Hyde (6.62) and Frank’s Zoo (6.72). J&H critics generally find it overly simplistic, with the Transformation card leading to too many shutouts. I think the constrained design makes this the best of the series - the other Mystery Rummy games seem to me somewhat masturbatory - and the threat of the shutout gives the game a nice tension. Just as J&H suffered in comparison to other Canasta variants (especially Jack the Ripper), Frank's Zoo received some poor marks from fans of Tichu and other ladder games. Once again, I was puzzled to see someone think this was a children's game - perhaps there are some retail stores out there misrepresenting their products? - but even those who recognized it as a lightweight games for adults thought that the rules were too complex for what is ultimately a filler.

A couple of games that got dinged because of excessive calculations required to evaluate position are Clippers (6.74) and Medieval Merchant (6.84). Clippers predictably took a hit for the tiny port markers, but apparently folks like some variation in their games, as another common complaint was the absence of random factors. Criticisms of Medieval Merchant centered around the repetition and lack of options in a given turn. Lodged between these two is an old favorite of mine, Entdecker (6.76), which is considered by many to be overly dependent upon drawing good tiles.

Possible trends:

I am more forgiving of repetitive/mechanical/limited turns. I see this in the criticisms of Fist of Dragonstones, Medieval Merchant, and, to a lesser extent, Dragonland. I think a lot of players focus on the tactics that are available to them within a given turn, whereas these games work best with a long-term plan in place, and I enjoy the strategy so much that I can deal with the mechanical motions. This lack of planning also leads to downtime problems, and many of these games listed here require someone to keep the action moving along quickly (see my autobiographical Drill Sergeant entry in this amusing geeklist). Similar games that I give a Top Shelf rating to are Ursuppe, which probably reached a 7.3 due to the more satisfying tactics, and Lost Valley, which I’m surprised to see at 7.14. I would expect to see Lost Valley's rating fall as the game gets more exposure.

I am most understanding when it comes to Fist of Dragonstones. Each round, you plan out what your "ideal" targets are. However, as the round progresses, many things require you to change your plans: who controls the Witch; the order the characters come out; how much gold others have spent; etc. I find this dynamic element quite rewarding intellectually, while the game generates enough laughs and surprises to maintain a light-hearted feel.

Complexity is a non-factor for me up to a point. Applies to Air Baron, Frank’s Zoo, maybe even Dragonland. I don’t mind a little busyness, and often prefer it, especially if it adds some theme. Then again, it's pretty obvious that anyone who lists Blackbeard as his second-favorite game probably has no restrictions on the ratio of chrome to depth.

There is room on my Top Shelf for games with no randomness and games that consist of little more than dealing with bursts of randomness. The list includes both Air Baron and Clippers; enough said.

I don’t like the other games so much. Applies to many of the titles here. Several of these titles are among the first Euros that I played, which likely biases my opinion. I suspect that the similar games also occasionally get dinged compared to these titles, which sort of invalidates this whole exercise, perhaps. Hmm... maybe I did learn something out of this...

In any case, next week I will look at the highest-rated games to which I give a Thumbs Down score. Fire up the grill, Ma, I'm bringin' home the sacred cows!

Friday, October 14, 2005

Note: Chris/KC @ Essen

I expect that Chris (Friday) and KC (Saturday) are extremely busy with their launch of Havoc at Essen, and I would not be surprised to see no posts here until mine next Monday. Good luck, guys!

Thursday, October 13, 2005

From Essen with love...

Short entry this week, as I'm posting from Essen, where it's currently 0130.

Long journey; flight late into Amsterdam; almost didn't make the next one with luggage; KLM saved the day; meet up with everyone; busy setting up booth; sold first game!; talked with Friedeman Friese; bowled with Martin Wallace; met Stuart Dagger again; browsed through market; spent too much money; will probably do the same tomorrow; sold >50% of the Havocs sold today; ok, that is only 4 copies....; blast so far. what day is it?; roll on tomorrow!

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

The Calculus of Wargaming

Last week I went into great detail as to what I think about when purchasing a euro, with a few notes about wargaming. Since they are completely different calculations, I thought I'd cover wargaming in more detail this week.

I should qualify what constitutes a wargame, I guess, at least for the purposes of this article. The basic litmus test is that a wargame is attempting to, on some level, simulate a historical (or fictional, in come cases) conflict. In meeting this criteria, the game tends to have "chrome" (the rules that reflect the specific nature of the conflict - the Winter Offensive rules in We The People are a good example), more extensive rules, greater expense (due to a much smaller market), and a pretty standard set of bits that, aside from the cards, are often much different than those found in euros.

Some games seem to fall in both the euro and wargame camps, such as War of the Ring or Axis & Allies. For the purposes of this discussion, I shall leave out games that use miniatures as they are really in a separate category (the "shiny" category), and I tend to check my brain at the door when it comes to lots of little plastic figures. However, I will include non-traditional wargames, such as GMT's Down In Flames series and Lost Battalion's Battlelines games that use cards rather than a map and cardboard counters.

While I'm generally willing to drop $50 on a wargame, I'm finding that the economies of scale (not on my side) make this price point essentially irrelevant. Even a relatively small game like Columbia's Crusader Rex costs $60. Most wargames these days are priced between $60 and $80 retail, with some monster games like Europe Engulfed well over $100. Paper costs in the numbers that these games sell in (most print runs are around 3000 units) help drive up the price as well. I do tend to pre-order these days rather than purchase retail, so my costs are around 20% less than retail once shipping is added in.

While I used to make my purchasing choices based on the conflict and/or period being simulated, I've discovered that a good game is a good game, and who cares what the battle is? An excellent example is the old AH classic Hannibal: Rome vs Carthage. I was never much of a student of the Punic Wars, but after getting and playing what is perhaps my favorite wargame, I found myself buying books on the subject, to the point where I gave a 5-minute capsule of the three wars to a friend's son that another friend complimented me on. As such, I like to get wargames on subjects I know little about to springboard my interest. Paths of Glory did this for the First World War for many people in the hobby.

Playing time has become more and more of an issue for me, and I rarely buy games that will take more than 10 hours to play. That translates to 8 hours "box" playing time, at least for me. Even with the explosion of on-line and pbem wargaming going on, I'm just not that interested in anything I can't play in a single (long) day. I still buy the occasional longer game, and in fact I'm a sucker for WWII ETO and PTO games such as World In Flames, even though I will almost certainly never play this beast.

Map size has become increasingly important too, as I really only have room on my table for a standard 22"x34" map. Of course, some of my games exceed this limit (WiF has four maps of this size!), but in general if I'm purchasing to actually play, it's really only going to happen with a single map. Interestingly, maps in wargames are almost always unmounted to save cost, while almost all euros are mounted. I've found different solutions to the problem of getting the map to lay flat, including many maps that I laminated in the 90's. These days I use poster frames for the standard map, a sheet of plexiglass for Europe Engulfed or if the map is too big (Monty's Gambit comes to mind).

Complexity does play a role in my choices, although it's a smaller factor. The amount of chrome is definitely a factor as well. For example, Triumph of Chaos has an incredible amount of chrome just to regulate replacements, and it's different for not only the two sides, but for all of the various factions involved. Of course, the subject matter almost requires it, but there is definitely a level of chrome that will start to turn me off. Sadly, this is usually something I discover after the purchase... WWII monsters, as in every category apparently, break this rule as well.

I find that the basic mechanisms of a given wargame are the primary factor after price (perhaps even before price). For example, I really like card-driven wargames such as Hannibal because of the relatively short downtime between player moves and the general high level of interaction. Cards also help give a better insight into the conflict away from the field, allowing for political and economic factors to play into the simulation aspect without extra rules. I also tend to prefer area-based maps to hex-based maps, and combat systems that eschew the old odds-based CRT and counting factors. Chuck and I pulled out Mighty Endeavor, the latest in Clash of Arms' popular Standard Combat Series line, and I found the added math to be fairly onerous after not having to count over 15 in Barbarossa to Berlin.

Oddly, component quality has not been a huge factor for me. Cards go into protectors as a rule, counters are clipped and trimmed if necessary, maps go into poster frames. Play aids are widely available online in many cases, Living Rules are published, and many times I play the game online, so what comes in the box is increasingly trivial. It's all about whether the game is any good. A game like Battlelines that has perhaps the worst components and rules ever still gets a pass as long as it's a good game (bad example; Battlelines seems to be have horrible play balance issues, which is a shame for such a unique and playable system). In other words, where the Shiny factor is huge for euros and plastics, not so important with wargames. Very strange, considering that one of the best part of a well-built wargame is the tactile experience, but there are so many ways to improve that experience that it becomes moot.

In some cases, I will avoid wargames from specific companies. Avalanche Press has such a history of weak rules and getting huffy when anyone suggests that errata is needed, not to mention poor designs, that I only have five or six of their games. These days I tend to look to GMT, Columbia, and Multiman for pre-orders, not so much with other companies. I'll still look to other companies, but there is enough consistency with these companies that I generally know that I'm getting a good product. However, I am more likely to

Note that all of these factors are what go into my decision to buy, not whether or not I will actually play the game. In fact, I often buy a wargame that I'm quite aware that I will never play because of miserable rules, play balance issues, time to play, map size, or even just complexity. I have three of von Borries' Barbarrosa: Army Group games, and am likely never to pull these out because of size and complexity. The same goes for the Great Battles of History series, which I have eight or nine of, not to mention the various expansions. While I have to wonder what I'm thinking in purchasing these games, I also know that I am far from alone in this trend in the hobby. There are an incredible number of wargames published that are never played, indeed never punched, by their owners. I guess we're all optimists! I know I'm much less likely to sell a wargame, despite the higher eBay prices of some titles, than a euro - wargames simply feel more like family to me.

Enough of that. Next week, something completely different.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

A Little Two Player Chatter

I thought I'd take this week to look at some of the board and/or card games that Jodie and I like to play in the evenings after we've gotten Megan off to bed.

Jodie tends to prefer games that don't have direct confrontation. There are exceptions, but that's the general tendency. Also, we're usually both in the mood for something lighter and/or shorter when 8pm comes around – we save the longer games for weekends when Megan's napping.

We typically start off with a quick warm-up game. This is usually Bohnanza, 6 Nimmt!, or Guillotine. They're light, fairly mechanical, and get our brain back into game playing mode. After that, there's a number of different options. Here's a list of some current favorites in no particular order:

St. Petersburg. We've played this a lot. We're at the point where we know each others tendencies, so there's some subtle look-ahead maneuvering going on. This is a game that looked deep after two-three plays, then looked forced, then after 20-some plays is starting to look deep again, but not in the way originally expected. At first, it was the strategic plan of how you're going to build up your points coupled with the play order situation for the various rounds. Now, we're actually playing the game to maneuver the opponent into a forced play they didn't want two-three moves ahead. An unexpected development for this game.

Alhambra. Jodie has referred to this as her favorite two-player game. There's definitely some interesting timing choices, and you have a lot more control than with more players. We don't use the “give it to Dirk” option very often – probably should do that more. We've picked up all the expansions as well. They're like dim sum for gaming. Each mini-expansion tweaks the game a little bit, and you can add in as many as you want. We rarely play with more than one, however. They're really more variants than expansions. I like this approach better than Carcassonne, for example.

Carcassonne and its many flavors. This has been all over the map for us. Neither of us like The Castle, and I like The City but Jodie doesn't. We haven't played Hunters and Gatherers much at all, but I know Jodie had trouble getting into that one. (She likes it, just had trouble visualizing it.) Our favorite mini-expansion (for two-player at least) has been The Princess and the Dragon. We've got the brand new game (The Discovery) here on the shelf (Jodie brought it back from Germany last week) but don't have a translation available, so it's just sitting there taunting us.

San Juan. This has almost turned into a starter game for us.

Ticket to Ride: Europe
. The Europe edition is probably the better game, but they both play well with two. The best way to play is Europe with 3 players. The board's more constricted than four or five players and you have turns more frequently. The stations in Europe give you the chance to escape from being trapped, and the tunnels add uncertainty.

Settlers of Catan. Nearly any variant, though I don't think we've ever played Cities and Knights as a two-player game. We play two-colors each, high total score wins. I've never beaten Jodie at Siedler von Nürnberg, however. And it's usually not even close. Das Buch is an absolute gold mine for Settlers fans. We haven't been playing Settlers games as much recently, however. Just a phase, I'm sure.

There's obviously quite a few more games on this list. I haven't even touched the Kosmos 2-player or Empire Builder series. I'll get into those in a later post.

I've got a quick request for readers: if anyone knows of translations for Labyrinth - Die Schatzjagd, or Carcassonne - Neues Land, could you point me to them? It would be greatly appreciated.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Against the Grain: Part 1; Dungeon Twister

I was working on the concept for this series last week, when Shannon Appelcline posted a somewhat similar article on Gone Gaming this weekend. Our approach is different – he purposefully targets sacred cows, and it appears he started with the theory first and then found games to match it – but it is along the same lines of what I will be posting this month, Part 3 in particular. Even though I personally am able to enjoy games in the presence of advanced theory, his post is an amusing read.

Some of my local and Internet friends have told me that my tastes in games are unusual. I personally think they are confusing my tastes with my views, so I thought I would look at some numbers and see which theory they support. Thankfully, Aldie added the “BGG Rating” field to the Collection view, which makes it much easier to do this type of analysis after exporting the view.

Currently, I only use three ratings: Top Shelf, Thumbs Up, and Thumbs Down. I find that increasing the granularity quickly becomes meaningless for me. When it comes right down to it, my feelings about a game really only go three different ways. It’s not all that different from rating women; there are those you wouldn’t date, those you would date if you were single, and those that make you thankful for the sake of your marriage that you have the looks and charisma of a constipated hobgoblin. Since BGG has a ten-point scale, I use “9”, “6”, and “3” exclusively. I currently have 48 9’s, 128 6’s, and 76 3’s. So, I end up giving about 70% of games a Thumbs Up rating or higher. However, I usually do not rate a game until after several plays, and, given how many games are in our group’s current repertoire, it is easy enough to avoid games that did not ring my bell the first couple times around.

I then grouped my games by rating, and looked to see how many of the BGG community’s favorite games made it into each tier, as well as how many less-desired games made it. An average rating of 8.0 is very high; only 8 titles have a Bayesian average of 8.0 or higher (but note that I used the basic mean averages in the below analysis). Also, a mark of 6.0 or lower is difficult to achieve (not counting mass-market games, unfortunately). So, I broke down each of my tiers into those titles that received a mark of 8.0 or higher, those that fell between 7.0 and 8.0, those that fell between 6.0 and 7.0, and those that received a 6.0 or lower. This four-level system seems to fairly represent the collective inputs of the BGG ratings.

Top Shelf: 8+: 8%; 7-8: 54%; 6-7: 38%; 6-: 0%.
Thumbs Up: 8+: 3%; 7-8: 33%; 6-7: 54%; 6-: 10%.
Thumbs Down: 8+: 1%; 7-8: 38%; 6-7: 50%; 6-: 11%.

I’m no statistician, but it looks like a fairly solid relationship there between what I think makes a game “better” and what others think. All of my favorites are given respectable ratings, and, as general opinion starts to dip into “mediocre” territory, so do I tend to go. However, when you get to Thumbs Down, it’s interesting to see the numbers start tilting more towards the popular titles. Also, I’ve given more Thumbs Up ratings than Thumbs Down to the collective “turkeys”.

In summary:

  • I shouldn’t get too much flak about which games I choose as my favorites;
  • There could be common aspects which others appreciate but annoy me which could explain the rebounding trend in the Thumbs Down group;
  • There could be common aspects that cause folks to rate games poorly to which I am more open.

Next week, in Part 2, I will look at some of the games that have received my highest rating, but have received lower ratings from the rest of the BGG community. In Part 3, I will go the opposite way. Maybe I will find some specific commonalities that will illuminate some trends. In the end, maybe I will come up with a better understanding of what makes my tastes unique. In games, that is, not women.

Got in another play of Dungeon Twister last Thursday with fellow GoE blogger Mike. It was his first play, but he knew what to focus on (perhaps my previous article helped?). For purposes of this review, I will refer to the ranks as 1-4, with 1 being the closest rank to myself, and the columns as L and R for left and right. Mike used a couple of unexpected tactics that were pretty cool. First, he put one of his tokens in 1L towards the end of the initial setup. This was the square in front of my Thief & Wizard, and I had my fireball and armor in there. I revealed it early on with some action points left, but it was a square with a lot of walls that was tough for even the Thief and Wizard to navigate, and Mike’s token was the Wall-Walker! I couldn’t stop him from placing the fireball wand right next to it, then, on his turn, having the Wall-Walker exit the maze with the wand. What a devastating initial blow! Then, with my wand out of the game, Mike had his Troll pick up his treasure and slowly march forward – an unstoppable fullback, if he got lucky with the maze layout, but it wasn’t to be, as I ended up being able to wedge him into a section surrounded by walls. Although he had the initial edge, Mike played several high combat cards early on, which gave me a significant advantage in the endgame.

Aside from the combat card mechanism, another thing is starting to bug me with Dungeon Twister, and that’s the difficulty of mobility. In this match, my 1L and 1R tiles were the same color, so I was able to efficiently mobilize everyone into the second rank. However, the 3R and 4R tiles matched, and 3R was lined up so that, no matter how I rotated 2R, I could not get onto 2R without going through 2L and 3L first. Since 2R matched 4L, Mike was able to control when the right-half of the board would engage, and that gave him a pretty big advantage in a game that folks are trumpeting as “no-luck”. A potential solution would be, prior to setup, ensuring that all four squares nearest to a given player are made of up four different colors. I believe this could help solve the problem of the game being largely one of attrition with only the occasional escape.

There are already multiple expansions planned, and I would love to get my hands on them to try out some new tokens. The armor is a really bad token compared to the sword, as there is a much higher chance that you will get many more uses out of the sword. I suppose the best use of the armor is on the Cleric to force your opponent to spend a higher combat card to kill him. I continue to be impressed with this game, as it is a very simple design that can be taught in 5 minutes or so, yet the range of available tactics is amazing. I will definitely get the expansions when they are released in English (although the translation isn’t really necessary if you can download the rules and a lookup sheet on the web). I’m perfectly happy with the current set of characters, but I would like to find items to replace the armor and, perhaps, the speed potion.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

Why Can’t I Just Have It All?

“How do you decide whether a game is worth the money when you buy it?”

I think these days my price point is closer to $40. Like Chris mentioned, I don’t like feeling ripped off either. For me that can be a box with too much airspace, poorly made bits, badly written rules, even some “magic path” in the game that once found ruins re-play because there really is only one way to win.

And I’m a ho when it comes to where I shop. My local game store, Ebay, online stores, Goodwill, going in on orders from Germany, online auctions, trading, pre-ordering direct from small companies [I ordered 2 Fresh Fish games at full price from Angela Gaalema as a pre-order!] I’ll just shop anywhere.

But after all that, the issue is not so much about price as it is “Why do I want to buy that particular game in the first place?” And that has varied a lot since I started boardgaming. So I’ll meander through a list of reasons I had at one time or another to buy games.

THEY’RE FAMOUS. When I first started collecting games, I bought the Games Magazine Top 100 Issue and thought it would be cool to get all 100 of them, or at least as many as were anywhere close to my taste in games. Which meant that on the “Party Games” portion of the list, I got one not six. Some of the games were cool and fun, some are still sitting on the shelf sealed up. But getting a bunch off the list had one great side – it got me to look at games I wouldn’t have otherwise considered. This is still a decent reason to consider a game, no longer a reason to buy it sight unseen.

I’LL BE RICH. OK, this was a loser reason to buy games. Early on, I found great deals at local thrift stores, like Linie 1. My family liked it, it was a German game (ooh) and it was 3 bucks. I found C&O/B&O at a store down the street from there for 5 bucks, and ended up trading it for $40 or $50 worth of games from a real gamer. We were both happy with the trade. So all of a sudden I’m on this mad streak to pile games into the garage, thinking I’ll trade them or sell them for games I really want. No, I don’t know what I was thinking. I even went through a spell three or four years ago of buying Boardgames through German Ebay and having them shipped to a friend’s house in Germany. Kind of embarrassing to admit I’ll be finally picking those games up next Friday (120 kg of games).

GET THE BUZZ. This is a more common reason these days. Right now we’re hoping for good buzz on Havoc of course, believing more people will try it “if the buzz is good.” Before buying a new game, I read BoardGameGeek a lot to see what people think – because there’s a mix of opinion – I can see a professional review or read a game session of someone playing it for the first time. I get to see pictures, see what the bits are like, read the rules perhaps, and see how it’s being rated. Although ratings is tough – I tend to more seriously regard ratings made by gamers I know than people I never heard of.

GAMING FRIENDS. Maybe my "best" reason. I play the game with friends, or at conventions, or I see it played somewhere, enough to “get” how the game works. That also tells me more about the actual production value of the game (important to me) and might give me a sense of whether my own family would play it. It’s a great to filter to tell me why I wouldn’t buy a game too.

AUTHOR/PUBLISHER. This is another reason for me to first consider a game. I mostly like Splotter’s big box games like Roads and Boats, Antiquity, etc. So I’ll probably look closely at their new game Indonesia at Essen. Author s or publishers I like are always a good reason to at least check out a game more. We really like Monkeys on the Moon for example (thanks Dave!), so I was pre-disposed to like The Penguin Ultimatum, also by Jim Doherty. And we’ll at least try to play anything by the “big” Eurogame authors like Knizia, Kramer, Wallace, etc. to see if their newest ideas are still fresh and scrumptious.

That seems to be my short list. If I missed some that you have, bring ‘em on! Meanwhile, I gotta pack to travel. Next Saturday, if I can blog, I will blog – from Essen.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Please Sir, I Want Some More

The question of the month is "How do you decide whether a game is worth the money when you buy it?"

It is hard to answer this question without at least alluding to my philosophy for acquiring and retaining games. When I first immersed myself in this hobby in late 2002, I focused on purchasing what everyone else thought were the best games. This was mostly through word of mouth and BGG ratings. I also played with a diverse range of different groups and pretty much gobbled up whatever looked remotely interesting. I think this is a common pattern.

I’m not exactly selective these days, but my rate of acquisition is definitely slowing down. I’m less likely to buy a game that my friends have unless I think it is a perfect fit for my family. Physical space does come into play, though we recently built in some shelves in our play room so now I have MUCH more space for games. Or at least the ability to keep them more organized. I do expect to bring back a decent stash from Essen.

I think shortly after Essen I’ll start to reduce my collection a bit – I’m less interested in keeping games now that don’t get played. Glancing at my shelf, this means games like Goldland, Carcassonne (base game), and War of the Ring. The problem, though, is that I hate selling games – I don’t need the cash for them and I’m always bummed at the resale value. Maybe I should be a more active trader.

Onto the question. For games under $50, I don’t have too much price sensitivity as long as the price appears to align with what I’m getting. This may sound like a circular argument, but I’m mostly referring to the physical attributes of the game. The game can still suck, but if I got really cool bits in the process I feel better in the end. The worst scenario is getting a bad game that has costs $30 and inside the box is mostly air. I think most of the publishers out there are setting price for a particular margin over their costs, so I think quality and quantity of components is mostly even across the big publishers. There are notable exceptions where there are clearly scale issues (both big and small): I think HeroScape is a tremendous value, for example, and would only be achievable with the sort of volume and distribution a game like that gets.

$50 is probably the threshold where I get very critical – will the game get played often? Is there some other value in having the game? I have quite a few Columbia block games, and while they are on the high end price-wise, the game quality is level and I just love the maps and blocks. More and more I’m feeling the same way about Eagle games – I like their style of games and so do my kids, so a $50+ price tag for a game like Railroad Tycoon is perfectly reasonable.

Jeez, how much do people typically drop on a console game? $50? $60? Those games will be shelfware in 2 years, while my copy of Doom: the Boardgame will likely provide enjoyment for my kids when they are grown and have their own kids.

So, in summary, the cost of the game isn’t a huge factor for me except in extreme circumstances where I feel like I’m getting ripped off.