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Gathering of Engineers

Ludographic considerations from the Silicon Forest

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.


  • At 7:59 PM, Anonymous Rita H. said…

    "...you have the looks and charisma of a constipated hobgoblin."

    You wife and I would disagree with you on this. Definitely a rung or two above a constipated hobgoblin!

  • At 11:24 AM, Blogger Shannon Appelcline said…

    it appears he started with the theory first and then found games to match it

    I started with the games, then as I wrote slowly discovered the commonalities among them.


  • At 3:01 PM, Blogger Game Over said…

    I agree with you that the speed potion would be a good item to swap out.. I think it is just a bit too powerful.

    I've got the 4 player expansion and the Paladin and Dragon expansion (in French). The game is very different with 3 or 4 players. I haven't yet tried out the Paladins and Dragon expansion but it looks interesting.


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