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Gathering of Engineers

Ludographic considerations from the Silicon Forest

Saturday, December 31, 2005

KC’s 2005 Shout Outs

Here are my awards for 2005, in four categories with a bit of detail below.

Family Game. This category is for larger board games, generally more accessible to new gamers and very family friendly.
1st Place: Carcassonne: the Discovery. Of the whole series, this Carcassonne is one of the best for easy rules that make sense, some decent choices and nice graphics.
2nd Place: Shadows Over Camelot. Contrary to others’ experiences, this one hasn’t really worn out its welcome for our family yet. Great theme reflected through the various mechanisms.
Honorable Mentions.
Mall of Horrors. Rita picked this up in Dallas and we’ve played it several more times – the theme makes the whole game, and while better for “older” kids, it’s corny enough to play with all ages if it’s cast as “all make-believe.”
Castle Merchants. Great to see my friend Nick Danger’s game (real name withheld to protect his secret identity) in print after we got to play the Hippodice prototype.
Lost Valley. Another game I missed picking up in Essen, taught to us by Jeff DeBoer of Funagain in Dallas where we had a blast with it.

Gamer Games. This category is for the more serious big games. I was surprised when I reviewed the lists in Boardgamegeek that I had played so many of them.
1st Place: Power Grid: Italy/France. This is the expansion that adds Italy and France as playable maps. While I didn’t care for Italy much (too restricted in its play for me), I thought France was brilliant, and adds another side to a great game.
2nd Place: Ticket to Ride: Europe Even better than original. Somewhat accessible to new gamers, nice mechanics, plenty of tension.
Honorable Mentions.
Caylus It’s big, it’s got a fairly steep learning curve, you can really get hosed by choosing actions at the end of the road, but it’s very cool.
Big Kini. A happy surprise from Essen. While the theme doesn’t come through for me, the mechanics are innovative and the game play zips right along.
Freya’s Folly. A big game from friend Don Bone in Australia. I really like the dwarves running around down in the mines though I generally suck at this game!
Antike Learned this in Dallas – clever wheel mechanism for actions, though I didn’t quite get the ebb and flow of battle planning.
Parthenon Wonderful theme with “do all kinds of stuff to build your empire” feel to it. The game we played had a kingmaker issue, but that might have been from first time play.

Big Fun Small Box. This is the group of games that aren’t cards but are still small box.
1st Place: Shear Panic. Definitely the cute factor won me over, but it’s cool that there’s a decent game here, with nastiness to your fellow sheep at every turn.
2nd Place: Diamant. OK, it’s expensive but who cares if your friends already own it? =) Very clever, fast, good bluffing elements (will I or won’t I?) and very short, so it fits in lots of loose gaming time blocks.
Honorable Mentions.
Walk the Dogs. A Simply Fun title, great for the family and nongamers.
Gisa. A nice little game of tile drawing and pyramid building for up to 6 players, some nice theme elements.
The Menorah Game. A nice first game from our friend Yehuda Berlinger, who taught me the right way to play it in Dallas.
Tunebaya. Another one from SimplyFun, but only hilarious with right group. Think of REALLY popular songs and you’ll do ok.

Card Games. Somewhat self explanatory eh?
1st Place: Fredericus. A great surprise from Essen, taught to us by friends Doug and Mimi Walker. Reminds me of Meuterer, in that it’s more like a board game stuck in a little tiny box. Nice theme – falconing – epic monsters to battle, and unique mechanics. I’m ready for more of this.
2nd Place: Badaboom. Chris taught this to me, and the theme makes the whole game. Sure it’s got some klunky mechanics but it's just a lot of tense fun. Will it blow up?
Honorable Mentions.
Lucca Citta. Great game taught to me by Mike Deans, making walls and windows. Very clean design in a small box.
Chizo Rising. Collectible, beautiful, I have not grasped the mechanics yet by willing to try again.
Euphrat und Tigris card game. On my B list for now, although it has some cool new choices to make. I didn’t fell that it was faster or easier than the original and takes up a board’s worth of space.
Control Nut. Clever take on a traditional 52 card deck trick taking game. Some of the cards seem a little overbalancing to me, but maybe it needs a few more plays.

The game I played most often this year was Havoc (no surprise). Not in my awards list, but a huge THANKS to the people who play it. Havoc got its own awards, including Westpark Gamers Game of the Month, and Paul Tevis’ Game of the Year , so the Sunriver crew couldn’t be happier with those results.

Friday, December 30, 2005

Brooks' Best of 2005

It sure is hard to go next-to-last in this process, having read everyone else’s posts.  KC has it even harder!

I’m not sure how to assess the quality of the year overall – I’m sure someone will find an analytic process using ratings from the geek to compare this year with prior years. My gut feeling is that it was a mediocre year – I couldn’t arrive at a top 10 and I think only 3–4 of my top 5 have true staying power.  I’m not including Havoc: the Hundred Years War in any of this analysis because, well, I’m a bit biased.  I am thrilled that Paul Tevis named it his game of the year – KC should be very proud of his baby.

Without further delay, here are some favorites of the year.  First, my top 5 games for 2005.

Top 5 Games of the Year

5. Caylus – A very good game, this would score higher if it didn’t feel a bit longish.  It is also a bit too abstract to be of much interest with the boys, so it has been difficult to get out at home.  I’m still hoping to try a two-player game with Julie at some point.  Four plays this year.

4. Parthenon: Rise of the Aegean – It didn’t make my number one slot as I predicted, but this is an excellent game of you like empire building with light trading and minimal direct conflict between players.  Three plays this year.

3. Indonesia – This splotter release has some of the typical component problems found in their games – a highly stylized board that gets in the way of easy interpretation of the map, but other than that I think this is an excellent game and hope to see it come out this weekend.  I played it twice so far this year and playing time got down to about 3 hours, but I felt the time was worth it.

2. Antike – In contrast to Indonesia, Antike has one of the best designed boards (human factors-wise) I’ve seen in a while.  Very limited downtime and easy to teach/understand rules leads to a great playing experience for a conquest game. Two plays this year.

1. Railroad Tycoon – Finally a heavier train game that is themed well enough for my kids to get interested!  The components I give a B-, with my biggest complaint being the blue/purple issues on the map board.  There’s also a decent amount of chaos introduced by the cards, but that makes it more interesting to the kids so I’ll let that slide too.  Great game and one I think will come out for years to come. Three plays this year.

Since I spent a decent amount of time playing family/party games this year, here’s a list of my favorite releases in 2005.

Top 5 Family / Party Games

5. Walk the Dogs – Great components and a nice intro game for kids and adults alike.  Not enough there to hold my interest in the long term, this is still a nice diversion.

4. Pickomino – My favorite quicky filler of the year, this is a press-your-luck dice and domino game with which I’ve had success introducing to kids.

3. Manila – Hmmm, family game or strategy game?  It’s both!  I like this betting game and think it is light enough to fall into this category.

2. Eye to Eye – Similar to some other party games I’ve played in the past (Scattergories), there’s enough in this game that’s unique to make it worth picking up.  Add to that a Jr. version that is more age appropriate for kids and you’ve got a great game system.

1. Wits and Wagers – This wins the prize for creativity and fun factor.  The game includes a very innovative scoring system for a trivia game making it easy for the trivia challenged to have fun.

Now for some more miscellaneous awards / thoughts.

Game I Bought That I Wish I Had Played

Manifest Destiny – Seeing this on Doug’s list makes me even more frustrated that I didn’t get to play this year.  I missed an opportunity at Game Storm last year to try it, but won’t let that chance slide this year.  Close second is Byzantium, but I still have a chance to squeeze that in before the new year starts.

Jacob’s (age 11) Favorite Game

Railroad Tycoon – This was an easy choice for him, and he’s won the only full game he’s played so far this year.

Matthew’s (age 9) Favorite Game

Shadows Over Camelot – Dripping with theme, this cooperative game easily takes the prize for Matthew.

Julie’s Favorite Game

Ticket to Ride: Europe – This barely missed my top five list.

What I’m Most Looking Forward to in 2006

Hmmm, let’s have a look-see at Gone Cardboard.  Ahhh, some nice goodies coming next year.  Here’s my list in no particular order:

  • Tempus
  • Ticket to Ride: Marklin
  • Sid Meier’s Pirates!
  • Age of Empires III
  • Shogun
  • Stonehenge
  • The to-be-announced game from Sunriver Games.  OK, I couldn’t resist.

Have a happy new year y’all!

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Awards?

Hmmm, end of year awards. I can do that. However, unlike the previous posters I'm not going to have a game of the year. I find it very hard to pick out a single game as my favorite varies from week to week and I like too many of them to identify any one game as an absolute favorite. So, here's some categories....

Best gaming moment
Going to Essen. I've thought long about going, almost didn't go, but I'm sure glad I did. I plan on going each year now.

Best game I played at Essen
OK, despite the above, the first category is a 'favorite game'. This is over a short enough period that I can have a favorite. There were a few games I played that I really enjoyed, Caylus and Kaivai being the two favorites. I played a full game of Caylus at the hotel in the evening and came in joint last. I played only a half game of Kaivai at the fair, but it was enough to like it and buy it. I've since played Caylus a few times, and really enjoy it. I've only had one abortive effort at playing Kaivai, and we had to abandon it because I'd missed one very important rule. I'm not going to pick between these two, joint winners.

Least favorite game I played at Essen
There were a few in this category, Socks in the City and Railroad Dice 2. SitC is a stick laying game to connect the pairs of socks which I played with Morgan and then a second game with KC. Both times there just didn't seem to be any real strategy or excitement, join look for the shortest route and place your sticks. Came in a cute sock, however. RD2 just seemed to be the luck of the dice, and if you were caught where you needed white dice and there were only orange left then you were screwed and there was little you could do. Overall the winner here is SitC, if only because I've already played it twice, where I need to give RD2 another go.

Best game I was disposed not to like prior to playing it
Railroad Tycoon was much ballyhooed as Age of Steam lite. Given that AoS is one of my favorites that didn't make it sound good, and in fact, I didn't even look at it when in Essen. One look at all those big pieces and it just screamed 'kid's toy!' Anyway, I finally played it and it's a very good game. With experienced players it can finish in 90 minutes, which is decent. If only it wasn't so huge and the boards didn't warp, and the colors were better done....

Biggest rip off of the year
This goes to Diamant, an OK push your luck game. It comes with a whole bunch of unnecessary components (we didn't bother with them on any of the copies I've played) and charges you $25 (discount price).

Biggest drop of in interest
This belongs to Shadows Over Camelot. When you first open it you are overawed by the production, with beautiful components. Then you play it and it's fun. Then you play it some more and you find that there really aren't that many decisions to make. Your turn is often short and quite boring. I'd prefer to play something else.

Most boring game experience
This had to be Boggle at a recent game session. I just can't see the patterns in word games, and with 6 players the chances of me scoring anything are minimal. And so it was in this game. At least the company was good.

I just don't understand why everyone likes this game
Two candidates here, Candamir and Friedrich. I've played Candamir twice and it's been a fairly boring 2 hours each time. Luck of the draw in which tiles you look at. Luck of the draw in which cards you draw. Luck of the die rolls in which quests (or whatever the correct term is). The only player interaction is in that another play may go for the tile that you were thinking of going for. One of the few games on my 'Prefer not to play' list. Friedrich also has large problems with luck of the draw, but it adds massively asymmetric player involvement. Both the French and Russian/Swedish players have ~5% of the game play, and it's incredibly boring to have spent your 2 minutes in the past hour (4 turns) maneuvering just to find that the Prussian player has drawn better cards than you and your army disappears. Yay! At least Friedrich might be better with only 3 players.

The 'Man I hate this game, can we play again, please?' award
This just has to go to Doom: The Boardgame. I've played about 4 times and also bought it. I think it's more to do with the challenge of beating the aliens than anything else, but I do like the dice mechanism. The kids also liked this one, but every time I play and get killed I want to play again.

The 'I like this game. Oh, did I win again?' award
This has to go to Power Grid. I played this 3 times this year and won all of them. By Cooley's Law this must make it my favorite game. Even without winning, this is one of my '4' rating games. ('4' is my top rating.)

The 'Yes, I know I won, but I still don't like this game' award
This category is just made for Adel Verflichtet. I didn't like it after the first playing, and I still don't like it after the second, despite winning. Just goes to prove that Cooley's Law doesn't always hold.

Game I hardly played all year, but wish I'd played more
One of my favorite games is Bus, but it only managed to hit the table once all year. Then again, that was an epic struggle against KC, and I was sure he had the win sewn up, but I managed to swing it by only a point or two. Must play Bus more.

The 'Less than the sum of its parts' award
This award goes to Heart of Africa. All the mechanisms sounded interesting, but when we played it just fell flat as a pancake with everyone. It just didn't work as a game. No real interest in giving it a second go, either.

The 'OK, I played it again and it still sucks' award
Nur Peanuts was an immediate thumbs down the first time I played it at Doug's, and the second outing was no different. I'm not sure what it is about this one, but it's just totally bleagh.

Favorite weird game that Dave brought along
Dave certainly introduces some, uh, different games. The least said about Moby Pick the better, but Farfalia was an interesting little card game. I'd sure be willing to play it some more. (Hint, hint)

Prototypes that I wish were published games
KC has a few prototypes that I really enjoy playing, deeper strategy games which are more my preference than Havoc, although it's still an enjoyable game. I'd sure like to see them in print. Especially Edenburgh. I still like that title.... :) (Although the badger game was fun.)

Prototypes that I'm really glad aren't published games
Then again, there is one of KC's that needs a lot of work. The theme just didn't work as it would have taken about 3 hours to fully play, and by cutting it down to time just killed the theme for me. We all offered suggestions on potential improvements, but I don't know what happened to it.

The 'OK, I've lost count how many times I've played this and I still don't like it' award
The winner in this category is Frank's Zoo. Not sure what it is about this game, but I find it fairly tedious. Unfortunately when you've got a half dozen people and only 30 minutes left in the evening it's one of the few games that get played. Ho hum.

Best gaming decision
Two contenders in this category, going to Essen and joining SimplyFun. Tough choice on this one. Essen was a total blast and I'm making it a budget priority to go every year. SimplyFun is one way to help pay for going to Essen, but I'm more interested in bring games to the masses, and it's a great way to do just that. In the end I'll wimp out and declare them joint winners.

And there you have it. This will be my last post on this blog, so very best wishes to everyone for the new year, and go play some games.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

The Dougies

I really hate the week after Christmas. It seems like such an anti-climax to the month leading up to it. Not only that, but we are deluged with "End of Year" lists of the best and worst. Since Dave Barry stopped doing columns, none are very interesting or funny. It's not like this is a logical time to end the year, after all. The end of the year (and the start of the new one) should be at the winter solstice, just like the day is based around when the sun is as far from noon as possible.

That said, I suppose that if I struggle a bit to think of what has come out this year (nearly an insurmountable task for someone with my rapidly dissolving brain cells), I'm sure I can come up with something. These awards are in no particular order, I'm just typing as they come to me. Also, these are games that came to my attention in 2005, so there are a few that were actually first published in 2004. Sue me.

Best Multi-player Strategy Game: Manifest Destiny. I've been waiting for a playable version of Age of Renaissance that didn't require a calculator to get through, and this is it. My group has played this at least three times, which is a pretty good number for a game that takes around three or four hours.

Game I Most Want To Play And Haven't: 7 Ages. This came out very early in the year, or very close to it. I've gotten one shot at playing at Gamestorm in March, not a good way to see how the game works (we had a couple of characters of Seinfeldian proportions). I've come up with a fairly elegant way to teach the game, but I just need three or four other players and around 8 hours to do it. That, and some really good cheat sheets for the various Wonders/Monuments/Religions/Leaders.

A close second in this category is Warcraft with the expansion. I haven't even gotten a chance to play this in the original form.

Best New Wargame: A few contenders for this award, including Empire of the Sun, Wellington, and Crusader Rex. I haven't gotten a chance to try out Men of Iron, but I suspect it would be a contender as well. Rommel in the Desert is another possibility, but since it's a reprint I really don't feel good about including it. However, the game that really caught my imagination was a very different design by Ted Raicer, Grand Illusion. The game covers the Schlieffen Plan, the Germans' attempt to surprise the French that was foiled by armies that were a bit too mobile for the communications of the day. The game is perhaps closest to RitD in terms of general feel. My only concern is a lot of chrome to force Plan 17 (the French counterattack) and other historical parameters. I don't so much have trouble with the ideas, just in that there are a lot of extra rules to force players to play under a 1914 mindset. Still...

Biggest SurpriseSt. Petersburg. This got poor buzz from the people I rely most upon for game recommendations within the group. I ordered it on the strength of Eric's rating, and played it a few weeks ago and really enjoyed it. A bit on the dry side, but considering that I'd been told in no uncertain terms to pass on it by one other member of the group, it's quite a good game. I look forward to trying it out with two players.

Biggest Disappointment in Gaming Opportunities: Not playing enough of the GIPF series. I really need to find more opportunities for two-player gaming, both in wargames and in euros. I really like these games, even Zertz with it's "figure out this trick and beat the newbies" problem. I'm chomping at the bit to try out Puenct, the only one I haven't played against a real opponent.

Biggest Game Disappointment: The First World War. Oddly, by the same guy who did Grand Illusion. Or maybe not. Ted does a good job of wargame design, but I get the sense that this game had to be released by Phalanx. A close second was Candamir, which seemed to take a very long time for what it was. Dave seemed to really like the latter, so I'll give it another shot, but I'm not sure I'll be able to get FWW on the table again unless it's 2-player.

Company That Has P*ssed Me Off The Most: Has to be Fantasy Flight with their constant "2nd Edition" releases of games that they really should have gotten right the first time. Exacerbated by an inability to produce Update kits, which certainly would have been easy to do with Runebound (new cards and a folio with the rules changes...how hard could that have been?) I'm very tempted to get World of Warcraft, but because it's FF, I'll wait until I play it (and even then...)

Biggest Luckfest That Turned Out To Be Pretty Cool: Pizza Box Football. Outside of clock management in the waning minutes of the most complex version of the game, you have exactly one of three choices to make every play not counting kicks and punts (when there are two choices for each). Think Rock, Paper, Scissors with a lot of dice and a board that can be a little hard to read at times. And yet, it's a hoot. The company supports the game quite a bit on their website, even putting out "AI" for solitaire play. The expansion set, which adds a few plays and allows you play with NFL teams that are better/worse at various things than the generic results, is on my "get soon" list.

Heaviest Game: A close race between Arkham Horror and Railway Tycoon, the award goes to AH for compactness combined with back-breaking weight. Interesting that both games seem to have board warpage issues... Of course, AH is a reprint, and RT is a "reduction" of AoS, so technically neither qualifies, but there you go.

Best Teeny Game: Geschenkt. I'm hoping to get this title in time to take to (oddly enough) Europe in May. I might be able to find it there, but the thought of dragging my wife into a French game store and forcing her to translate for me is, perhaps, one Christmas wish too many.

Assuming I've covered my responsibilities for year's end, I shall now go read up on my Ancient World rules in the hope that I may actually get a chance to try this title out next year...

Monday, December 26, 2005

Eric's Gaming Awards (EGA) for 2005

As 2005 progressed, less and less time was available for gaming, and gaming related activities. Particularly in November and December. As a result, I'm not as up-to-date on all the newest buzz as some of the people you might read over the next couple weeks. For example, I don't know why Caylus is the greatest thing since sliced bread, and I don't know why it's not. That being said, though, I've got my own categories for my 2005 awards.

Note: these awards don't necessarily go to games released in 2005, but more likely than not, they will.

Most played 2-player game


As typical, De Bellis Multitudinis (DBM) was my most played 2-player game this year, with 23 plays. Nearly all of those were in four different tournaments, with a few pick-up games long the way. I would not be surprised to have this fall off the #1 spot next year. The time just isn't going to be there. Runners up: San Juan, St. Petersburg, 6 Nimmt!, Bohnanza.

Most played multiplayer game



I don't track 2-player vs. multiplayer sessions, so I might actually have this one wrong. However, I think it's Shadows over Camelot. Our work group got hooked on it right after it was released, then we got busy, and it hasn't hit the table at work since. It did get played quite a bit, though. Runners up: Tanz der Hornochsen, Geschenkt, Modern Art, Wyatt Earp

Multiplayer game I want to play more (wargame)



This is one that did not go over well in the group the only time it's been played (partly due to play style, partly due to an odd sequence of events), but it went over great in my other playing. Very few negative reviews have ever been posted of this asymmetrical three-or-four player historical game. Friedrich has no real peer, and is unlike any other operational wargame out there. Along with Bonaparte at Marengo, these games break new ground in wargaming. Runners up: Game of Thrones, Sword of Rome, Soldier Kings.

Multiplayer game I want to play more (non-wargame)



Given the myriad of expansions that have started to appear, I think this award for 2005 has to go to Age of Steam. It didn't hit the table much at all this year (in fact, I only logged one playing on any board) but I really need to rectify this. Runners up: Power Grid, In the Shadow of the Emperor, Goa, Roads & Boats.

Pure two-player game I want to play more (non-wargame)



Mostly, these are games I play with Jodie. We occasionally get into ruts, and our schedule has really reduced the amount of time we have for games, not to mentioned reduced the amount of mental energy available. The winner is a game I've only played once, but really enjoyed. I just want to play Pizza Box Football more. I discovered it late in the year, and haven't managed to purchase a copy before Christmas. I'll be correcting that situation soon. Runners up: StreetSoccer, Roma, Jambo.

Pure two-player game I want to play more (wargame)



I don't get to play wargames very much. That's something I really want to change. One particular series has captured much of my attention over the last year, and I really want to play it more often. The Panzer Grenadier series doesn't get anywhere near the exposure of ASL or Lock'n'Load, but it's at a slightly higher scale (each counter represents a platoon, not a squad, allowing the recreation of larger battles) and there's only 12 pages of rules to the basic series. Most scenarios are playable in a day, and many are playable in an evening. They present interesting tactical puzzles to solve, and all the games in the series play very differently. The original game in the series (Eastern Front) has been rereleased with updated graphics, 8 geomorphic maps, and 112 scenarios. That's a LOT of game in a single box. Runners up: Bonaparte at Marengo, Musket & Pike Battle Series, GMT's American Revolution Series, Memoir '44.

Biggest Surprise



When I first saw this game, I thought “yeah, like that'll be any fun.” “Dicefest,”, some people said. “Too simplistic” said others. Then Doug (I think, maybe Chuck?) brought it to our two-player gaming day, and I was convinced. Pizza Box Football is a fun game that gives a surprisingly good feel for being the play-caller for an NFL football team. Just got the expansion for Christmas, and the extra options look like they'll add enough detail to be meaty without changing the level of abstraction too much. Runners up: Geschenkt, Caribbean, Shear Panic, Tanz der Hornochsen.

Biggest Disappointment



It looked like it was going to be a winner. Combination of a top designer with a well-respected publisher starting a new line of games. How could it go wrong? Well, if you've played Palazzo, you know that it just doesn't play like a game you'd expect that is designed by Knizia and published by Alea. It's not necessarily a bad game, per se, but it isn't as good as hoped. Runners up: Shadows over Camelot, Sword and Skull, Manifest Destiny.

New release I'm most eager to play (and haven't)



This one is specifically for 2005 releases I haven't played. There's actually quite a few, as my post-Essen playing time has been rather restricted. Many of these have been played by others in the gaming group at sessions I've missed. I'm going to make it a point to get these games on the table one way or another this coming year. The winner of this category, though, was a surprise Christmas gift, and it's something I just need to play. Indonesia is the latest in the Splotter economic games, and by all accounts it's the cleanest and most streamlined. It's certainly the smallest. I've read through the rules twice in the last couple days and can't wait to play. Runners up: Caylus, Byzantium, Antike, Tempus.

Most important release of 2005



This award isn't for the best game – it's for the release I feel has had, or could end up having, the biggest impact on boardgaming or boardgame publishing. This might not be for the most obvious of reasons. There's a handful of games that come to mind here, and they all have very different reasons for being considered. Arkham Horror, however, has shown us that just because we fondly remember a game doesn't mean that it deserves to be reprinted. I understand the motivation for reprinting these highly sought after games from the past, and Fury of Dracula is due out in 2006, but it became pretty clear after it appeared that there's a reason why it had been out of print for so long. The game is long, fiddly, and just doesn't compare to more recent games. Runners up: Bonaparte at Marengo, Deflexion, Railroad Tycoon, Axis & Allies Miniatures, Louis XIV.

Game of the Year



Given that I would really feel odd giving this award to a game that I haven't played (in which case it would probably go to Indonesia) and I haven't played many of the games you'd expect to see winning this category. That being said I feel the combination of gorgeous presentation, innovative design, and the enthusiasm engendered in its players makes Bonaparte at Marengo the game of the year. Runners up: Ticket to Ride: Europe, Louis XIV, Diamant.

Most anticipated game of 2006



Here's a sneak preview of games I'm looking forward to the most that are due to release in 2006. Some of these games may not actually release, and most are in various states of preorder or are listed on “to be released” lists such as Gone Cardboard. Primary on this list, and due to release in February or March from GMT, is the multiplayer card-driven wargame on the protestant reformation: Here I Stand. This may prove to be the best full-day, six-player game in existence. Runners up: Shogun, Ticket to Ride – Märklin Edition, Unhappy King Charles!, Fast Action Battles: The Bulge.

Spiel des Dave - and other awards

My 2005 Gaming summary: What with spending March in China and introducing a first child to my household, my “games played” total is certainly the lowest it has been since moving to Oregon eight years ago. However, I was still able to make it to two cons, and other members of RipCityGamers had goodies from Essen, so I was exposed to most of the new titles. Overall, I thought 2005 was a very decent year for new releases; not nearly as bad as 2003, but a big drop from the banner year that was 2004. Note: All awards are purely subjective (e.g., “best” means “my most favorite”).

Most-played multi-player: With a continuous influx of new titles, there probably weren’t more than a couple of mutli-player games that I played five or more times. It is probably not a big surprise that the game that received the most plays was Havoc: the Hundred Years War, winning approximately two-thirds of the matches. Honorable Mention goes to Wyatt Earp, which has become our group’s standard “waiting for other players to show up” game.

Most-played 2-player: Not counting the conventions, I probably played more 2-player games than multi-player this year, and most of these were with one particular individual. Most commonly played was A Game of Thrones CCG, including a regional tournament. As it turns out, we decided to stop playing the game as of the latest base set (Winter Edition), given that the local tournament scene came to a halt this summer. Honorable Mention: In the second half of the year, I dragged Dungeon Twister and Roma to every gaming session, teaching it to folks whenever the opportunity arose.

New release I did not get a chance to play, but am most looking forward to: This past year, I was pleasantly surprised by my first plays of Klaus Teuber’s Anno 1503 and Candamir: The First Settlers; while Elasund: The First City of Catan is reportedly more in the tile-laying genre than exploration, I look forward to the higher level of direct player interaction. Honorable mention: Antike; Antiquity; Dragonriders; Neuland; Nexus Ops; PÜNCT; Reef Encounter; Vegas Showdown. And I am still waiting for my first match of TI3

New release I did not get a chance to play, and am most glad to have passed over: – I usually give games the benefit of a doubt, even after an initial disappointing match. However, every year I usually make a couple of exceptions. I actually bought Heart of Africa, brought it to a gaming weekend, opened it up, read the rules, packed it away, and sold it at a local auction unplayed. The whole game looked rather uninspired, and the bidding for the privilege to actually take a turn seemed tedious and prone to breakage. There are better games of its ilk that aren’t receiving enough table time as it is. Really pretty box, though... Honorable mention: Anything to do with Sudoku [naughty analogy omitted - let's just say that some puzzles were made to be played alone].

Netizen of the Year: Shannon Appelcline’s reviews on rpg.net (ex: El Grande) are underrated/underexposed (but I suppose that’s what he gets for putting them there instead of directly onto BoardGameGeek), and his entries on Gone Gaming mirror the care and thought (and, some may say, pedantry) that went into the now-defunct The Games Journal.

Most misunderstood game: Havoc: the Hundred Years War is not a “poker variant”. The bluffing element is vastly overrated. And it is nothing like Taj Mahal. Havoc is mostly a rummy variant, with a “choose your battles” element that’s reminiscent of area-control games.

Most heartening trend: In 2005, Fantasy Flight Games spent less time on its smaller Silver Line titles and was able to put out a record number of their big box titles. Avalon Hill (Hasbro) continues to be no stranger to the plastic figurine. I may be in the minority, but I think it is great that so many big sloppy “toys” are being released; if I were a teenage boy today, I would be ecstatic to find one of these puppies on Christmas morning. Seriously, I pity the kid who gets Carcassone as a gift; I suppose it is just the thing to play in between PBS specials, right?

Most disappointing flaw: Manila and Roma both suffer from severe variation in playing time. Both have enough going for them to continue to see play, but it really limits when you can pull it out, and you run the risk of having a protracted, tedious ending. It’s certainly not as bad as last year’s trend, where Tongiaki & La Strada both suffered immensely from the latter seating positions having major disadvantages.

Worst release of 2005: Note that I count releases from Essen 2004 onward.

Australia – All spaces are point-equivalent; as such, it seems the simple most effective strategy is to have your plane near a space that gets scored (either by you or an opponent) so you can pick up a ton of your guys and try again. It ends up being a dull exercise in efficiency.

Caylus – Ystari Games marries my very favorite game mechanism (action selection) with my very least favorite victory objective (do-a-bunch-of-stuff-get-a-bunch-of-points). Unfortunately, it is far too long for a game that is, too me, overly tactical.

Shadows Over Camelot – Play a ‘1’ against the Saxons; wait; play a ‘2’ against the Saxons; wait; … Compared to Lord of the Rings (previously, and perhaps still, the definitive cooperative game), there is not enough impact of one player’s actions on other players. The traitor mechanism is a good one; I wonder whether it was directly lifted from the superior Corrupt Hobbit LotR variant, which would be kinda ironic given how much input I gave into the latter.

YS – Ystari Games marries my very least favorite game mechanism (blind bidding) with my very least favorite victory objective (do-a-bunch-of-stuff-get-a-bunch-of-points). With nary a vestige of a theme, this is about as fun as solving linear equations for two hours.

Verflixxt (That’s Life) – Actually a decent family game; if you get stuck with a bad tile early on, there’s hope that you’ll earn a tile that multiples its value by -1. However, halfway through, the decisions get so obvious that I think this is a couple of steps back from the likes of Sorry!. Also, it has some of the worst illustrations seen in a game. I am still holding out hope that it would work okay for ~3 players, but I cannot imagine ever choosing this over the likes of Cartagena.

“Winner”: Shadows over Camelot. Play a ‘3’ against the Saxons; wait; play a ‘4’ against the Saxons; wait…

Real worst releases of 2005: As bad as the games were in the previous list, they at least serve to distract us from the real obvious turkeys out there: Camelot Legends, a logistical nightmare; Caravans of Ahldarahd, a beacon to warn strategy gamers against first-time publishers; Cow Poker, a horribly random trick-taking game with a horribly goofy theme; Die Baumeister Des Krimsutep, a horribly random trick-taking game with a horribly boring theme; and Moby Pick, which I mention because the other RipCityGamer members would lynch me if I failed to include it.

Best of 2005: My “best of year” awards for the 2000’s are three fantasy-themed games (Vortex; Cave Troll; A Fist of Dragonstones) sandwiched between two Knizia games (Taj Mahal; Einfach Genial). This year, in the absence of great Knizia releases, will a fantasy-themed game rise to the top again?

Candamir: The First Settlers – A delightful adventure game with a risk/reward system that is, in places, more original and deeper than Beowulf’s system. If I had to give up my game collection save ten, this would be one of the keepers, if only to play with my daughter when she is older.

Dungeon Twister – A lean design that can easily support additional characters, items, spells, etc., but the wide-open board gives it a very loose feel. It amazes me how thematic this game feels given the simple rules and low-tech production.

Crusader Rex – Finally, there is a “block game” that I am looking forward to playing again. The key differences here are (1) the wide-open point-to-point movement allowing for much maneuverability; and (2) the siege rules, which leads to delicious decision-making similar to that found in Hannibal’s sieges.

Lost Valley – This is a wonderfully themed exploration game. I can sympathize with those that complain about the need to leech off of other’s investments, but I like how it results in a tight little puzzle, where you have to figure out how to outscore your opponents who would like nothing better than leech off of you. The risk/reward variation in hunting may be a bit much; if one player gets lucky early, others may be “forced” to take these risks to have a hope of keeping up.

Techno Witches – I loves me the planning games, and I really like the analog nature of the spatial element here. It really feels like nothing else out there, and the scenario system will give it sufficient replayability.

Honorable mention: Diamant; Carcassone: the Discovery; Empire of the Sun; Freya’s Folly; Struggle of Empires.

Winner: Dungeon Twister. Yup, it’s back to fantasy. I have not been this excited while playing a game since Taj – and I still haven’t played any of the scenarios except for the base game. With Paladins & Dragons (and, hopefully, Fire & Water and/or Powers of Darkness) being released in English in 2006, I will likely be tested a year from now for the first time as to whether or not to consider expansions for this award.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Awards Week

This week, each member of the GoE crew will be handing out his prestigious "end of year" awards. I left it very open-ended - expect to see some wacky categories - but I suspect you will get at least a "best game released in 2005" from each of us.

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

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Waiting for Santa

OK, I’m a little too old and my kids are a little too old to try the “stay up late and wait for Santa” game. But there are still a few tricks in store. The teenagers got a new computer, they’re convinced we didn’t bring it out on vacation, and it will be under the tree tomorrow morning!

There’s another kind of waiting too. We’re at the beach for Christmas and New Years’ – a real week’s vacation – and this is the right place to bring games you’ve waited to play, sometimes for years. In my case, it’s mostly games that just arrived in a big shipment from Germany or very recent trades. In some cases these are grail games, so there’s a high sense of anticipation and positive regard.

The Terrain Game
This game I lusted after based on a picture. Hand-made, huge chunks of wood, the kind of game you want to sit out on a coffee table. The only minor disappointment was that when it arrived in the mail it was smaller than I figured. I had always thought it was hex shaped pieces about 1.5 inches across and the tallest maybe 5 inches. It’s actually about a third smaller, like 1 inch across by 3 inches. But it’s still beautiful. The game play? Oh yeah, we’re supposed to want games based on great or challenging play(!) Well, this one’s actually on the light side. But for a family gathering it may be great. We’ll see.

Tal der Konige
Definitely one from my grail list for a long time. Tal der Konige, Valley of the Kings, is a triangular shaped box and a large triangle board, with lots of yummy wooden cubes used to build pyramids in multiple colors. Managing your group of leaders, workers and thieves, some auctioning and some action points to spend. Found English rules on the Geek, so we’re good to go. Great reviews, so I’m really looking forward to this.

McMulti
I’ve had this forever, but have never played it oddly enough. It was on the table a few weeks ago at Doug and Mimi’s game day in Vancouver, but I wasn’t in the lucky four. Oil drilling, speculation, resource management, a volatile sales market. What could be more fun? Well, maybe not fun, but this one sure has the marks for tight play, good balance and interesting struggles. Hopefully I’ll learn it this week before we go up to Chris and family’s for New Years gaming.

Schmidt Acquire
Sid Sackson’s Acquire is one of my wife’s favorites. We can play on any of the many versions, but I’ve wanted the Schmidt Speile version for years. Before Avalon Hill did a new publication and made theirs three dimensional, Schmidt had already done that (here's a great picture). So we got it, we’ll play it and probably love it this week.

Sadly I just learned there’s yet another Acquire grail to chase. Evidently Schmidt also released a special edition, with a quad board – each tile A1, B3, etc, has four spaces in a block on the board instead of a single space. There are pictures on the Geek, and while it looks long it looks so cool!

Control Nut
James Miller created this clever card game, and traded Chris for Havoc in Germany at Essen. My good friend Jeff DeBoer gave me a copy as a gift (thanks Jeff!) Chris has played it and says it’s very good, so I brought it along to learn it too.

Olympia 2000
We have a friend who at one time was interested in publishing a re-print of this Stefan Dorra game. Since it was part of the German shipment, I brought it along to learn it. Ancient Olympics, where you enter athletes in various events and score based on how well they do. Some lighter fun in a card game.

Well, Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good game!

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Library session planning

I've started putting together the list of games to take along to the two afternoon gaming sessions I'm going to be running at the library. These are focussed on family gaming, parents and kids, and were hugely successful last year. We had about 50 people over the two afternoons, ranging from 5/6 years old through middle schoolers and lots of parents, and I'm hoping for the same again.

The question is, what games to take? Some of the more successful ones from last year are a good start, so Metro, Can't Stop and Pueblo go in the box. They were in constant use last year, and one family came back on the second day specifically to play Pueblo. Next, the games that have gone down well at the regular sessions this year. Emerald, Fist of Dragonstones, Ticket to Ride and Tally Ho.

So, where to go from there? Some simple card games is a fairly safe bet, so in goes 6 Nimmt, Coloretto, Lost Cities and San Juan. I'm also going to try Geschenkt and Bohnanza, both are fairly simple and the latter was a big hit with a new gamer at Nike last week. Some games that more resemble traditional board games are a good transition, so Transamerica, Africa and Freya's Folly go in the box.

I'll go with a few of the staples in gateway games, so Settlers, Carc and Alhambra are placed in the box. (Carc has been the biggest hit at Nike.) I'll need a couple of abstracts, so I'll include some of my favorites, Ingenious and Yinsh.

Some games for the younger set are needed. I want to try out Geistertreppe (2004 Kinderspiele des Jahres, and one I picked up in Essen) and Walk the Dogs is sure to be a winner, all those cute dogs! I also want to try a dexterity game, so I'm going to bring PitchCar this year. I took it along to the 2004 GameStorm family game session on the Sunday morning, and the kids loved it. I'll also include Pick Picnic, always good for some silly fun.

Room for a few more yet. I agree with Dave that Cartagena is a great gateway game. Simple rules, yet with a bit of depth and planning. I want to have some sort of bluffing game, so I'll go with the SimplyFun Texas Roll 'em. It has all the flavor of Liar's Dice, but leverages the current popularity of poker. (Then again, that may be a turn off for some parents who are against gambling. I may reconsider this choice and go for plain Liar's Dice/Perudo.)

That leaves two games I'm planning on taking. First is Havoc. I _have_ to include this. Not only is it a good game (there, KC, I said it. It has grown on me considerably as I've played it more and begun to appreciate some of the detail. But I still prefer some of your other designs! :) but I think it will click with the local people as it comes from a local designer and game company. Second is Railroad Tycoon. Yes, it's a large game, and I may just have it there as a demo rather than to play, but it really isn't that complex, so we'll see how people go. It may depend on who shows up, and if I get a family with some older kids I might just let them loose on it.

One I considered, but decided against, was Doom: The Boardgame. Whilst I think it would be a great hit with the kids, it takes a long time to play and would keep my other demo dude (Colin, my oldest) fully occupied, as it would need someone familiar with the game to run the aliens. I ran the idea past the library person and she didn't see any problem with it, which did surprise me a little. I expected them to be a little wary of a game just involving killing things. I may yet take it along just as a show game.

I'll no doubt throw in some small card type games at the last minute to pack corners of the tubs as I pack, but that's the list so far. Feel free to offer suggestions.


On the SimplyFun front I've let it lie for the Christmas period. The last date for shipment in time for Christmas has passed, so I'm not pushing for orders. I'm now looking forward to the new year and have already lined up a few parties with some people. I also had a call from the person doing the piece in the local paper. She's interested in looking at some of the SimplyFun games and would like to host a party. That's one of the things I like about this type of business, you never know who's going to be interested and it's always providing surprises.

I've finally got the details on the 3 new games that are being released in the new year and am a trifle disappointed to find that they're more party type games. I really had my hopes up for at least one more serious game.

In10sity is a trivia game where each answer is a number between 1 and 10, and you all pick your choice on a dial. There are also 3 colored dice, but I've no idea how they fit in. All will become clear I'm sure!

Take Your Pick is a choose the adjective most applicable to your fellow players. Another simple party game by the look of it.

Chess on the Loose is a bunch of variant on chess. One features a 'Frankencheck' monster and cards (shades of Finstere Flure?), another has special tiles that give points, and yet another has you collecting letters to spell words and add bonus pieces to the board.

Like I said, a bit lighter than I hoped, but we'll see when I get some review copies.


Finally, after much thought I've decided to drop off the rota of the GoE blog. I don't have enough ideas to contribute to two blogs (those who read my own blog will have seen a lot of common posts) and I'd rather focus on my own. So, next week will be my last post as I see out the end of the year. My thanks to those who have read all my inane drivel. You know where you can find it, if for some strange reason you wish to keep reading it.


OK, I lied, this is definitely finally. I'd just like to wish everyone out there the very best for Christmas, and go play some games.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Looking For Mr. Goodgame

My wife and I are going to Paris and Tuscany (the European versions) in May with another couple, and I'm trying to choose three good games to take with us for those times when we're on the train. My wife is not a gamer by any stretch of the imagination (as I've mentioned before), and our friends have roughly the same level of interest. As such, I have a few criteria I need to meet with these games, and I'd appreciate a little help in choosing games from you, my readership.

Here's my criteria:

Small box footprint - This means primarily card games, although I know there are a few games that could be taken "sans box" and take up an equivalent amount of space.

Shorter playing time - Anything longer than an hour is not going to fly. Even better is a game that can be played in a variable number of rounds so that we can scale playing time as needed.

Simple rules - By simple, I mean I should be able to explain the game in three rules or less. Mamma Mia! is a good example, as you play x cards of a given ingredient, an order if you wish, then draw back up to seven, and you try to have enough ingredients in the stack to fill your orders. The rest can be explained as the game goes on.

Play well with 2, 3, or 4 players - There may be times that just two of us are travelling, or want to play anything, so scaling well for a varying number of players is important.

I will be taking a standard deck of cards or two, and that may actually be enough. The other games I'm considering are:

Katzenjammer Blues - Great, and even better with Dave's partnership rules, but I think this is best with four and doesn't play well with two.

Mamma Mia! - Again, not a two-player game.

Money - May be a little dry, theme-wise, but this is one of my favorites.

Bohnanza - Has the huge advantage of being something my wife already knows how to play, but perhaps a bit complex for the friends with all of the trading.

Geschenkt - I'm not sure I can see playing this for two hours, but this is one of my favorites for a quick game right now.

Travel Settlers - This would really be pushing the envelope on several fronts, but I think it could be very popular once people learn it.

Travel Blokus - I've only ever played with four, although I do hear it works for two.

I'll probably end up with one "board" game, two card games, and a deck of cards (maybe a cribbage board as well).

It's a drag that no one else like video games, or else I'd get Dave (the other guy travelling, not the one who used to post to this blog) a Nintendo DS and play Advance Wars the whole trip. Sigh.
Any other suggestions?

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

My turn for a week off

Between work, holiday tasks, and taking care of a sick daughter - I've got nothing this week. My apologies.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Roma on Roma

For this week’s article, I sat down with Glengarry Glen Ross’ Richard Roma and George Aaranow to play and discuss Stefan Feld’s two-player game Roma. Roma combines the CCG-like feel of Jambo with the strategic objectives of Babel (build yourself up to victory, or tear your opponent down). The most innovative aspect of the game is the use of dice; while they are used in standard fashion to resolve conflicts, they also determine which cards you can use in a given turn. Here is a player aid that will help you follow the discussion on the different abilities.

Dave: Alright, setup is now done. Time to see what cards you have been dealt...

Richard Roma: How am I going to make a living on these deadbeats? […] I’m waiting for the new leads.

Dave: Bad deal, huh? Remember that, as part of the setup, each of you passes two cards to your opponent. This helps to balance out the initial deal. You will have to wait until your turn to draw more cards. Careful, though; compared to other games of its ilk, Roma has plenty of very weak cards (especially the Legat and Mercatus, two cards that really only work in situations where you don’t need them). The draw mechanism is similar to the Councillor role in San Juan, in that you draw multiple cards but must choose a single one to keep. I don’t mind the presence of weak cards, because otherwise it would be too easy to use all of your low-valued activation dice to draw cards. [Richard uses an activation card to draw a card.] Did you find anything good?

Richard Roma: What you’re hired for is to help us. Does that seem clear to you? To help us! Not to [mess] us up!

Dave: Well, Mr. Roma, I did warn you about using a ‘1’ die for a blind card draw. Unlike San Juan and Jambo, there is no way to get rid of poor cards in your hand (and even those with a poor defense value are ineffective at plugging holes). I also find that, while those other games do have “combos” (cards that work well together in combination), many cards in Roma are fairly weak until joined with the right card or cards, at which point they strengthen greatly. An obvious such card is the Essedum, who can weaken your opponent’s defenses, but only makes sense if you have a card that can attack. A more subtle card is the Consiliarius, who allows you to shuffle your characters around; if partnered with a Centurio (the most powerful attacker, but can only attack the card directly across from it), none of your opponent’s cards is safe!

Now, cards will rarely [mess] you up, but the card draw mechanism is designed so that you must draw many cards at a time to ensure you get a card that combos well. You do need to watch out if your opponent has a Scaenicus, who can copy any of your own character’s abilities. Also, use of the Gladiator is tricky; this gives the opponent the flexibility of re-placing the character in a more useful slot. [This time, Richard decides to draw five cards, chooses one, and puts into play a building.] Ah, your first building.

Richard Roma: Who ever told you that you could work with men?

Dave: Now, Ricky – may I call you Ricky? – buildings are a fine complement to characters. For example, the Aesculapinum coupled with a Senator can let you easily reuse the powerful one-use characters Nero and Sicarius, while the Onager is the easiest way to get a shot at your opponent’s Forum. An interesting strategy to pursue is an all-building strategy. One interesting effect of this strategy is that it kills the abilities of several opposing characters that can only target characters, especially Velites, Gladiator, and Scaenicus. The problem with this strategy is that you have to be very careful laying out your buildings in a way that lets you effectively use your dice-disks. From ‘1’ to ‘6’, a strong layout is Onager-Forum-Basilica-Forum-Templum-Turris. The Machina (which lets you rearrange your buildings) is tempting to ensure you hit the Forum early and often; however, if you get holes in your line and are forced to plug them with characters, it becomes ineffective quickly. I would rather have another Forum in its place. A lot of the BGG criticism has centered on the Forum (the primary VP-generating building), and some variants have popped up to address this. Do you think that the Forum is really that much of a problem?

Richard Roma: I subscribe to the law of contrary public opinion. If everyone thinks one thing, then I say bet the other way.

Dave: I’m with you on this one. In this way, Roma is a lot like Babel. Getting fortunate Forum rolls is similar to getting lucky temple draws in Babel; it can lead to a quick victory, but, in my experience, more often than not a focus on card advantage wins the game. The difference is that, in Babel, card advantage is a means to an end, a simple delaying tactic while waiting for the right temples to appear. In Roma, removing cards from your opponent not only restricts his options, but forces his VPs to dwindle; when he runs out of VPs, you win the game. Looking at your cards, Ricky, it seems that, like me, you prefer the military strategy. How is this working out?

Richard Roma: How are you?
George Aaronow: I’m fine. You mean the board? You mean on the board?
Richard Roma: Yes. Okay. The board.
George Aaronow: I’m [screwed] on the board.

Dave: Yes, it does appear that Ricky has you in a death spiral. Once you find yourself in the hole, you will need at least a couple big Forum scores to buy you enough time to come back (which is why I am against any Forum variant which reduces its ability to generate VPs). The Gladiator is particularly brutal in the early game, as he can target any character with instant success, and forces your opponent to spend a high-valued die to get the money to re-place the character. I prefer the subtlety of Babel, which forces you to burn one of your own cards to use the Sumerians or Medes to gain card advantage; this prevents an early-game “rush” from leading to a lopsided victory.

Richard Roma: See? ‘cause this is how we keep score, “bub-by”.

Dave: Yes, Roma is a good game for aspiring sadists. In about 10 or so matches, ~75% have been won by military beatdown, although I suspect that groupthink plays a part in this (i.e., if both players think Forums form the killer strategy, they will focus on getting Forums and complementary cards early on, leading to a VP generation race and avoiding a military crush). About half of those military victories came very, very fast, as can happen in a game based on die rolls. I’ve been on the “receiving” end of some of those reamings…

Richard Roma: Hey, pal! Your excuses are your own.

Dave: C’mon, crazy things can happen in Roma for which there is no possible defense. In my last match, I was able to activate my Gladiator four times in the first three turns. I wish the VPs were adjusted to account for the possibility of a quick military victory, perhaps a few more VPs for each player to start with. Likewise, do you have any concerns with the use of a die-roll to resolve battles?

Richard Roma: And what is it we’re so afraid of? Loss. What else? The bank closes, we get sick, my wife died on a plane? The stock market collapsed? What of these things happen? None of them. We worry anyway. Why?

Dave: Oh, it happens. In a recent match, I was pursuing a heavy building strategy, and my opponent was able to get the aforementioned Aesculapinum/Senator/Nero strategy going (which, ironically, I elaborated on just before the match started!). This allowed him to take out any one of my buildings as long as he was able to activate the Aesculapinum and Senator (and not necessarily in the same turn, which makes it such a potent combo). Fortunately, I had an Onager, so I merely had to take out the Aesculapinum, which has a pathetic defense value of ‘2’. Of course, I ended up rolling three ‘1’s in a row; by the time I was able to take it down, he had picked off several of my buildings, and I found myself in a freefall. If you don’t mind the possibility of outcomes like that, then you might not like this game. Me, I prefer it to Jambo, where you have similar luck in terms of needing to draw useful ware cards, but drawing and drawing and drawing can get a bit dull. So, have you found a good counter for the military strategy?

Richard Roma: You try to stave off insecurity. You can’t do it.

Dave: Hmm, I think I agree with you. The Turret (which gives all of your cards a +1 defense bonus) will make a difference one times out of six. In a heavy military game, that’s about two cards saved on average, for a grand total of +1 card advantage. This does not seem that significant to me. I think the best defense is buying time; if I have a Forum out and can get some quick VPs, I might fish for a Senator or Architect, so that I can quickly plug my holes in a future turn without having to pay a lot of money. This will then allow me to transition to a new game plan. Unless I can go all buildings, I find the most effective immediate counter is to strike back offensively. Do you think this game has much strategy?

Richard Roma: Our life is looking forward or looking back. That’s it. That’s our life. Where’s the moment?

Dave: Ah, that explains why you like Roma so much (and here I thought it was the name). I prefer Babel because it has tricky card management, both in your hand and on the table, in preparation for potential future attacks. In Roma, once you commit your cards to their slots, you’re pretty much stuck waiting for the right die rolls to activate them. A bit too tactical to be a “top shelf” game, but it is pretty light without having to think much about what you are doing most of the time. [George plays a character with a low defensive value; Richard successfully attacks it on his next turn.]

Richard Roma: When you die you’re gonna regret the things you don’t do.

Dave: Sadly, that is all too true of Roma. Cards with low defensive value do not get used as much as others. And this bugs me a bit, because it reduces the replayability of the game somewhat. So, are there any other specific cards that feel very strong to you?

George Aaronow: When I talk to police, I get nervous.
Richard Roma: Yes, you know who doesn’t?
George Aaronow: No. Who?
Richard Roma: Thieves.

Dave: Ah, you speak of the Mercator, who can steal VPs from your opponent in exchange for money. There has been some discussion of that on BGG. The problem is that a player can fish for the Mercator card, collect lots of money, and then buy all of the opponent’s remaining VPs at once to win the game. I don’t think the ability is inherently broken – he often brings a merciful end to a drawn-out match – as there are other areas that could be addressed that would lessen his impact. For example, there is no way to steal cards or money from an opponent, which enables the hoard-and-strike tactic. [Note: Since I wrote this article, a semi-official variant has been posted. Also, there is word that there was originally a Spy who could steal cards from your opponent’s hand. What a brutal combo he would be with the Gladiator – two card instant character kill!] The Mercator himself could be tweaked to put limitations on his usage; I wouldn’t mind something like not allowing him to take your opponent’s last 3 VPs, which would have the nice side effect of improving the very weak Tribunus Plebis, who merely steals one VP from the opponent. Speaking of merciful ends, it looks like we are almost at the end of our match. How has your endgame experience been?

Richard Roma: All the little ones, I got to go back. Can you believe this? I got to go back and close again. I mean, talk about a ----in’ beat that would sap anyone’s...

Dave: Hmm... I take that to mean that you have had some stretched-out endgames. In a VP rush, this can happen if both players lose their Forums. In a military game, this can happen if the victim gets a Forum in play, and holds off the inevitable by generating a handful of VPs every now and then; not enough to get them back into the match, just enough to extend the game length by 15 minutes or so until the victor finds a way to deal with the Forum. So far I would say about 30% of my matches have had a protracted ending. It can be pretty painful... look at that, you were finally able to crush him.

Richard Roma: Is that what I did, Dave – I humiliated you? Oh, my God, I’m sorry.

Dave: Um, that was George you beat, not me. It will be interesting to see whether, in the long run, the “better” player can win most of the time. With Babel, I was near undefeated for a long time, but once my opponents started adopting my strategies, it’s pretty even now, and how the new temple levels come out seem to influence the game too heavily. With Jambo, I had a 50% win-loss record for a long time, but my record over the past several matches has been approaching 100%...

Richard Roma: Oh, what a big man you are! “Hey, let me buy you a pack of gum – I’ll show you how to chew it.”

Dave: Well, it’s not like I’m going to fly east to vie for the “world Jambo championship". Speaking of which, the unpredictable length of Roma makes it a poor choice for tournament play. So, in the end, what do you think about Roma?

Richard Roma: Great meals fade in reflection. Everything else gains.

Dave: Yeah, it is that type of game that drives me nuts when playing it, but I end up spending a lot of time afterwards thinking about various aspects of the game. As much as I have been criticizing it, I have brought it to every game session the past couple of months, teaching it to whomever I can. I just find it so addictive (and certainly its maddening qualities contribute to its addictiveness). What do you think a new player should expect to get out of Roma?

Richard Roma: An opportunity. To what? To make money? Perhaps. To lose money? Perhaps. To indulge and learn about ourselves? Perhaps.

Dave: Why do I bother talking to you…

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Holiday Gateways

Holiday time is a great reason to introduce people to new games – games other than what they’re used to playing in typical American Monopoly Pinochle Clue Sorry families. So which games?

Here’s our list of games that we ‘typically” bring to family gatherings, office parties and other get-togethers with friends over the holidays. And to be clear, these would be “non-gamer” parties. For our hard-core friends it’s the latest Essen releases or bust!

CARD GAMES

The Great Dalmuti
This one is simple – get rid of your cards to win. Play cards by playing lower numbered cards than the person who played before you. And if they played 3 of a kind, you play 3 of a kind. If you played 5 of a kind, so do you. There’s a few more rules, but most the fun is the order of finish, from Great Dalmuti to Merchant to Lesser Peon and finally to Greater Peon. We always use bizarre hats to denote each finish position around a table.

Fluxx
“Draw one, play one.” That’s the whole rule set, at least at the beginning. Then the rules change as more cards are played … A game better for teenagers in my opinion, unless you like to play on auto-pilot. But it’s wacky fun for a game or two.

Guillotine
A surprise to us. Try to collect guillotine victims for points, by messing with the order of the line that’s waiting at the foot of the gallows. Cartoony fun which gets the theme well away from its more grisly possibilities. And enough game that new folks say, “I didn’t know there were games like this” in a good way.

Havoc: the Hundred Years War
Well, we have to put this on our list eh? With the popularity of Poker these days, we introduce this game as a crossover between “our” games and Poker. It has a theme, really nice art and strategy that gives it some depth.

DICE GAMES

Solodice, Solowurfeln or Choice
Here’s one that travels well. One set of 5 regular dice and a score sheet for each player. We play it multiplayer, regardless of its name. The dice are rolled. Each player picks one dice to “sit out” and makes 2 pair of the remaining four. The trick is, in the entire game you may only choose three numbers (1-6) to be your “sit-out” numbers. This limits some rolls later in the game as you try to collect at least 5 of any dice-pair-total that you mark on your sheet.

Liar’s Dice, Perudo or Bluff
A great bluffing game. There are 30 dice in the world to start, divided among players, and ones count as wild cards. Each rolls secretly, and someone starts by saying (example), “There are 14 threes.” The next player has to increase this bid to at least 15 threes or 14 fours (increasing one of the two measures) or call the previous player a liar. When a LIE is called, all players show their dice – if there are 14 or more threes in the world (in this example), the person who called “Liar!” loses a die, otherwise the previous player loses a die. There are a few more rules, not many. This is a great one for loud friends who enjoy cursing at each other!

BOARD GAMES

Carcassonne
A tile-laying game where you build a countryside in medieval France with roads, walled cities and farmlands. You score for completing roads, cities, areas around monasteries and farms. Carcassonne has a lot of cousins, many of which work equally well for first time gamers.

Settlers of Catan
Here’s the granddaddy of the European game invasion. The base game is as playable today as when it first came out for folks new to these games. While Ticket to Ride and its siblings are excellent examples of modern “gateway games,” Settlers and its kin still make our list for introducing German boardgames.

OTHER RESOURCES

There’s a new kid on the block, Simply Fun http://simplyfun.com/ that Mike and Chris have mentioned in their blogs. It’s Tupperware Parties for the American could-be-a-gamer set. They have quite a few cute games, some real party games, and a few lighter family strategy games. Simply Fun is a great way to invite people to at least taste the hobby, get a sense for games that aren’t Monoply, and see other adults having fun over a few games. Bravo for them.

If you’re playing along at home, feel free to send me your list, especially if you have some sure “winners” that work for you. The more we find these easy ways to make bridges to our less-fortunate non-gaming friends, the more new gamers will cross that bridge.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Holiday Anticipation

Hey, how about a quick rant about United Airlines?  So I’ve got elite status on United (1K), I’m a Red Carpet Club member (I pay for this out of my own pocket each year) and in general I think they treat me pretty well.  Most of the time I can get upgraded to first class and from time to time there’s even a power outlet at my seat.  What I want to know is this: who designed their Red Carpet Clubs, and do they have any clue about who their customers are?  Most business travelers use a layover for two do one or more of the following:

  • Re-charge their laptops and other assorted peripherals hanging off their bat belts
  • Connect to the wireless network to send/receive email, download RSS feeds (OK, maybe not everyone does this, but I do)
  • Get a beer
  • Watch CNN or some random sporting event on TV

United does a decent job with the final three (though you think they could throw us a bone and give us free wireless) but they’ve completely dropped the ball on available power outlets.  I was just in the Denver B terminal Red Carpet and the only power I could find was in the business kiosks.  Wouldn’t it be nice if I could sit in the bar area, watch some hoops, and plug into a convenient outlet to re-charge?  I suppose that’s too much to ask.  The odds of finding power are better out in the terminal.


Another side note – I caught a documentary on Smile by Brian Wilson on the HD Network provided by DirecTV last week (Tivo’d of course).  What an amazing two hours of history, music, and commentary.  Jacob and Matthew are huge Beach Boys fans and love the Smile CD (got it about this time a year ago).  My main concern is the extensive talk around drug usage, mainly marijuana and LSD, but then I was thinking it would provide a great opportunity to have a discussion about it with the boys.  The amount of HD programming on DirecTV isn’t great, but what’s there is good and there’s even a rumor that they’ll be broadcasting the local stations in HD starting in 2006.  For now I catch them with my off-air antenna and the reception is often spotty.


So… holiday anticipation.  My vacation days off this year will be centered around the two weekends, with three days of work in between.  For Christmas weekend we’ll have a huge crowd of family out at Salishan, and this means an opportunity to introduce a whole lotta games to the extended family.  Given that this will be the 11th anniversary of the Christmas-Where-Dave-and-Mike-and-Chris-Discovered-Magic-At-The-Mall-And-Got-Almost-Zero-Sleep-For-Four-Days, what should I introduce to them to recreate that experience and suck them back into the gaming hobby (fyi, Dave and Mike are Julie’s twin brothers and are about 6 months older than I)?  I’m thinking a healthy dose of Ticket to Ride, For Sale, Havoc, Railroad Tycoon, and maybe even Duel of Ages is in order.  We’ll also bring out a supply of party games, such as Wits and Wagers, Tunebaya, and Times Up.

Tuesday, December 27, I’ll be back in Portland from the coast and will host the game group down in Sherwood.

Wednesday, December 28 is my birthday and though I’ll be back working, I plan to take a partial vacation day and join Mike and company at his place for our annual weekday between Christmas and New Years game day.  Since nobody will be waiting for me at home I’ll likely stay as late as Mike will allow me.

The evening of the 29th I’ll drive Rita back out to the coast to join our families for a weekend of fun and gaming out at Salishan (the Rudes will also join us).  We’ve been doing the New Years thing with the Rudes for (I think) four years running and this will be our second time with the three families out at the coast. It will be interesting to see what comes out over this weekend – last year included a Swiss-style sealed deck Magic tournament, a Texas hold-em tournament, a multi-player game of 7th Sea, and a healthy dose of PS2 gaming.  I’m thinking of picking up an XBox 360 for the weekend.  Ha hah!  Are you reading this Julie?  Really, I’m just kidding…

OK, my power is running low and I’m getting ready to land at PDX… time to sign off and shut down.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Mish mash

A whole bunch of little stuff this week

First off, what's up with this blog? Doug has missed two weeks in a row and now Dave has missed as well. Harrumph. (Ah, I've just noticed that Doug posted on Sunday. Flew beneath my radar. [Update] I guess he changed the time-stamp and has moved it to yesterday.])


My copy of Railroad Tycoon arrived Tuesday and it went straight onto the table at our regular gaming session. I'd played this a couple of times at the weekend, at Doug and Mimi's, so I was happy to teach. It's a pretty decent game, although after the weekend playings I was concerned at the time it took. However, we blasted through the game in just over 1.5 hours, which took me totally by surprise.

Anyway, I didn't get around to tidying it up immediately, and when I came back from work today I find the board is all warped to buggery. Even with the plexiglass on top it was up all over the shop. What is up with that? $60 for a game, just to have the board all warped. I sent off an email to Eagle to complain, so we'll see what happens.


I played through part of a game of Big Kini this week to learn the rules. Seems to be a pretty interesting game, although I'm not sure it is deserving of almost taking the Fairplay Essen award. Another action picking game, which is fine as I like those sorts of games. I was hoping to play it Tuesday, but RRT took the table instead.


At the library on Monday we had a photographer from the Oregonian, the local paper. There's going to be a feature in the 12/29 edition, Family section, on games, and my mugshot will be there. Kinda scary to be up front and famous. So to speak. I was trying to make sure that KC, Havoc and Sunriver Games got mentioned, but I don't quite know what their focus will be.

I've got the winter sessions all lined up for the library. Tuesday and Thursday afternoons, from 1-5pm. I'm hoping for the same sort of attendance as last year (about 50 over the 2 days), but I'm less hopeful of achieving that this year, given the relative lack of publicity and weak attendance at the regular bi-weekly events. We'll see.


SimplyFun has been interesting. So far I've done 4 parties and 1 lunchtime event at work, and sold over $1400 of games. Not a bad total. Getting some of the people who've come along to hold parties has been a challenge, but in speaking to those with more experience it appears that other consultants are in the same boat, which makes me feel slightly better, as it means it's not just something I'm doing wrong. Anyway, that's a lot more people who are going to be playing games over the Christmas period, and I'm happy with that. Once they want to find out about other games they'll maybe come back and ask for other recommendations, as they know I have a large collection of games, and I'll be happy to show and play other games with them.

One thing I do like about the games that SimplyFun sell is that it's not just no-name designers. They have games from messrs. Moon, Weissblum, Teuber, Schacht, Dorra and Borg. Names that are very recognizable to the 'Euro' gaming geeks reading this, I'm sure. Of course, that doesn't automatically make them good games, but it helps.

There are also some new games being released in January, and I'm very excited to see what they are. One of the factors in deciding to get involved was the future possibility of more 'serious' games being brought out. They already have Drive (Schacht) and Zing! (aka Die Sieben Siegel, Stefan Dorra), and I'm hoping that they will continue to push in that direction. I'm not expecting to see Age of Steam any time soon, but you never know.

Overall, I'm very much enjoying being a part of SimplyFun so far, and I'm glad I made the decision to sign up.


I'm playing more and more games every year. So far I've played 385 games this year, more than my target, and still some rich game playing time to come. There have been quite a few new games, and also some more meaty games. I think I've played with more different people this year as well.


As everyone else is talking about wargames, I might as well do the same. As I've blogged in various places, I've gradually gone off wargames as the years have passed. Partly it's the time they take, partly... Well maybe it's _just_ the time they take. Anyway, for whatever reason I just can't seem to get myself wound up to actually play them. I still enjoy having them around and reading the rules or just looking through them, but never can get around to playing them

The 2-player weekend a couple weeks back tested my enjoyment of wargames, although, as I've also said, I seem to have this block about block games and don't really see them as wargames. I only played the one wargame, GMT's Under the Lily Banners, and I enjoyed it. I think. I'd prefer This accursed Civil War as the subject has so much more importance to me, but I'd be interested (and more than mildly) in doing more.

The EastFront game I played was very interesting and I'd sure like to play that again now that the rules are in my head. With several options in the Front series I'd like to try more of them.


Talking of rules, I find it harder and harder to get a new game into my head just by reading the rules. I'd far rather have someone teach me a new game. I guess it must be a getting older thing. It's also bad news with so many games being brought home from Essen. I have a large stack of games that I need to figure out.


Chris talked about only buying 25-30 games next year, or of having a budget. I still buy games that I enjoyed playing at any session and will buy some new ones on spec. I can't see putting a number limit or budget will work for me. I'm still planning on going to Essen each year, and I'm sure there will be a haul to bring back, although I'm sure it won't be anything as large as this year's. Yeah, right.


A mixed bag of thoughts this week, indeed. Thanks for reading this far, go play some games!

Wargame Fever

Note: This entry was composed a few days before Eric posted his entry yesterday (I have a draft up on Sunday nights), so any similarities are purely coincidental.

Since August, I have gotten a lot of wargames. Considering that aside from what I get from pre-order systems I rarely buy games from the store, that typically means something like six or seven games a year. Yet I've gotten that many in the last five months, plus a few more. The titles are, in no particular order: Crusader Rex, Carthage: The First Punic War, Men of Iron, Guilford, Savannah (the last two AmRev titles), Wellington, War Without Mercy, Fire In The Sky, Days of Decision III, Operation: Michael (MMP SCS title), Down In Flames Fighter Pack #1, and the ASL Starter Kit #2. Going back even just a month or two earlier, we see Empire of the Sun and The Mighty Endeavor. Before year end (with any luck), I'll see Twilight Struggle and C&C Ancients. And, God help me, Shifting Sands may finally see the light of day shortly after the start of the year.

That's 17 titles in six months, about five times my normal purchasing. Part of this trend is that I've had a bit more income than normal in the last six months, but also because I've had a higher stress level and I tend to enjoy spending money when I'm stressed. Unfortunately, this past month I will spend around $2000 on getting a leak in my basement fixed, which was stressful, but spending the money didn't really make me feel any better at all (other than no more drip drip drip when I go to the garage).

Here's the thing: of these games, I have played The Mighty Endeavor (aborted after a few hours), Wellington (twice, only one to completion), Guilford (short game only), Crusader Rex (once), and two year or two scenarios of Empire of the Sun. That's seven total games (if I'm being extremely generous in my definition of what constitutes a "game"), hardly what I would like to be doing.

Part of the problem is opponents. This shouldn't be an issue, though, as our local group has several people at least interested in wargames, if not actually what I would call "wargamers". Chris recently posted that he wants to play Hannibal, which I have a copy of (and very happy I bought this title when I did). Eric, Chuck, Mike, Tim, Michael, George, Chris, and at least a few others have been directly involved in playing wargames, even if it was a multi-player title like Successors, Sword of Rome, or Napoleonic Wars. There's another retired guy who lives in the area who has expressed interest, although he's across town and actually in a different state (although that's not such a big deal as it might seem when you live right on the border). Eric tells me there's yet another guy who lives in the area who is interested in the AmRev series at the very least.

So maybe it's time. Of the above games, I'm guessing that at least ten of them are playable in an evening, with perhaps another 15 titles (at least) in my collection that meet this criteria, so time shouldn't be a factor. If anything, it's all about (as Chuck says) "getting the pass" to play on a weekend. Again, this is less of a problem for me, at least lately, but it is a problem when you want to find an opponent.

Space definitely is, at least at my house where one of my other expensive hobbies (in this case, computer-based music) takes up any space that might otherwise be devoted to a long-term game table. For all intensive purposes, this means that the only long term space I have is the dining room table, which is used only when I host our group's sessions and when we have people over for dinner, which is about three times a year. Theoretically, this space should be available more often than it is, but my wife likes to have a fairly tidy house and our Domestic Goddesses try to dust around it on Thursdays. I'm certainly not leaving a game set up for more than a couple of days in this space, and even then, the table isn't that big (Europe Engulfed's map just fits on it, with one or more of the leaves extended you can fit the spare units and tables as well).

I've done a lot of pbem gaming in the last several years, but to be honest the euro titles just aren't the same (as we've all said before, it's the company rather than the game, although i admit we might as well play a good game rather than a loser). When I was a wage slave, pbem games were the thing that kept me sane much of the time, plus I had a PC at work that I could run Cyberboard on. I can run it using Virtual PC on my Mac, and they finally enabled the scroll wheel in VPC so that it's not quite as painful to get around the map as it used to be. The truth is, though, that when I play by e-mail, I wake up at three in the morning thinking about the game, and I really prefer not doing that. That, and taking a year to play one game of Hannibal tends to get old after a while.

I have tried to get a wargaming night into the schedule with my regular group, but it was largely poo-poo'ed (then suggested again by Mike a few months later!) The fact there is that if I'm going to play games with this group at large, I really prefer the dynamic that Euros bring, with minimal rules look ups and maximum fun. Still, as I've said, there are several opponents to be had, it's just a matter of scheduling (not a minor issue).

Maybe the answer is to reach out to the non-group gamers that I'm aware of and start making it a priority to game with them. Especially the retired guy, as I'm pretty open on Wednesdays. What worries me is that there won't be a good interpersonal dynamic (I have been extremely spoiled in my usual opponents, Chuck in particular is a blast to play wargames with - we had the coolest game of Barbarossa to Berlin ever at our "mini-WBC" session at Sunriver in August), and so far I prefer to avoid the risk rather than have to extricate myself from a gamer that I really don't want to game with.

I'll close by listing a few of the systems I'd really like to try out, in rough order of interest:

The Ancient World - two titles so far, one on early Rome and the other the first Punic War. This is supposed to be a great system, even if it is Berg (he tends to be a bit on the over-chromatic side). What frightens me a bit is the political rules.

The bigger block games - Europe Engulfed, Rommel in the Desert, East Front in particular. I've gotten in a few turns of RitD last August, and Chris and I tried to play a year of EE in the spring, but they all really require a full day (and I mean a full day, from 9am to 11pm) to really play. Yeah, they all have shorter scenarios, but I'd like to play more than a couple of turns.

Days of Decision - I love alternate history (the "roll your own" starting setup rules in Totaler Krieg really appeal to me), and this seems to include a lot of the flavor of WiF without requiring two ping-pong tables and several years of dedication to finish a game.

ASL - Yup, this is more of a religion than a game. I enjoyed SL back in the early 80's, and a friend and I played the first few scenarios until the hidden movement system in Scenario 4 (or D, it's been a while) flustered him so much that we left off. With the Starter Kits, this should be relatively easy to learn. Heck, I've got the official boxes from AH, plus a few Annuals/Journals, all with counters punched and trimmed and overlays carefully cut out. Given what Mike got for Journal #2 recently on eBay, I wish I hadn't "de-minted" my copy, but that's all water under the bridge.

Great Battles of History - I've got eight of these titles, including SPQR with all four add-ons (five if you count the one that ties in with Caesar). The thing that keeps me from playing these is that every game has slightly different rules, and the delta (amount of change) between games would kill me.

Panzer Grenadier - I've had the first game in this series since it came out, plus Afrika Korps. The game has always seemed to me to be not quite a finished system, a problem exacerbated by Avalanche's refusal to fix their rules other than extremely sparse errata. The rules style is a little too informal for me. However, it seems that there's a really great system there, it's just a matter of learning it. Of course, I'd really prefer not to give Avalanche more of my money because of their arrogance, which is why this is the last item on this list.

This doesn't even count the upcoming CDGs such as Twilight Struggle and Here I Stand, certainly not the games I already know and love.

As always, way too many games, way too little time.